A lot of times, I find myself working just as hard, or harder, to inspire folks as I do to inform them. While I am consistently helping all the teachers I work with to increase their purposeful use of technology in the classroom, I find that too often I am encouraging veteran teachers to come over the threshold and begin using it.
A significant challenge -- which seems sort of counterintuitive -- is the fact that these are folks who already know how to teach their curriculum. And to compound the issue, students, parents, and administrators have told them for years that they are pretty good at delivering it. And then I show up to encourage them to teach in significantly new and different ways.
Building on Expertise
Refusing to lose the great assets veteran teachers can bring to the effective use of technology, I would never suggest that they simply toss away those years of experience and start fresh. Rather, I advocate for blending current technology with their years of classroom experience, strong control of content, and thousands of interactions with kids and parents. Combined, technology and experience create an improved ability to support even more kids in becoming even more successful. (Watch this Edutopia video in which a veteran teacher takes on technology.) So here's the question: Where is the best place to begin convincing teachers who don't use technology about the power of these tools?
At home -- that's my answer. You see, I think many educators are more apt to carry technology use over from their personal lives into their professional ones than to take it on as a new part of their job. A teacher who uses a digital camera to share images of a home remodel as email attachments with her grown children has begun to understand the power of digital communication in a personal way. A teacher who uses online resources to plan a trip has begun to understand the power of the Web in answering any question one is curious enough about to ask. Once they experience the power and ease of current digital photography or Web-based research in their personal lives, the stage is set for helping them bring technology into their classroom teaching.
Making Technology a Reality
In my experience, there is one best practice for supporting teachers in integrating technology into their personal lives. A colleague in Alaska put it in action there, and I was reminded of it recently. Here's how it goes:
In the spring, all staff that have signed continuing contracts for the next school year receive this announcement: "Staff Summer Technology Buy Plan! You may purchase any laptop or desktop computer, digital still or video camera, or other digital peripheral for up to $2,000. Bring the receipt to the business office and fill out the appropriate forms, and the school district will reimburse your cost up to $2,000. During the following school year, we will take the amount reimbursed out of your paycheck over the 26 biweekly pay periods in equal installments with no interest. For interested staff, we will hold after-school sessions to answer questions and to provide advice and training for any technology you are considering buying."
The results are striking in the few school districts where I have seen this happen. Teachers who were hesitant about buying new technology were willing to upgrade. Teachers who had never owned a computer saw this as a chance to jump in. And conversations in the faculty break room began to change:
"I found a great Web site with information about bed-and-breakfasts outside Edinburgh. They have pictures and everything, so we are having a blast plotting out our trip to Scotland this summer. There must be something like that for upstate New York, Sal. I'll show you the kind of stuff we're using if you'd like. I've bookmarked them on my laptop."
"Isn't there a way to make a digital camera stop giving people red eye? Has anyone figured it out on his or her camera? You have? Great! Now, show me how to do it before it drives me crazy!"
"You have to see the pictures I took at the picnic on Saturday. You have to see a couple of them at least. What email address do you want me to send them to?"
"Our daughter Alicia is getting married this summer. I want to do one of those slide shows with pictures from when she and Anton were little kids to today, but I'm having a hard time getting the music to keep on playing through the whole thing. Didn't you do one for your Christina last year? Could you take a look at what I'm doing wrong? I have it with me on my laptop."
And so discussions are created for using technology in classrooms:
"You know, the power to use attachments with email is incredible, but with our school's system, you can do it one better. How about making your handouts for that astronomy lesson you do available as documents that kids can download? Then, when a student needs another copy of something, or a parent wants to take another look at the rubric, they can just head to your Web site! It's really easy. In fact, if you're using attachments already, you'll get this right away. Let me show you how it's done. I'll use my laptop."
And on and on goes the learning. It starts at home, then is shared with colleagues, and -- with careful nurturing -- transitions into the classroom. So what do you think? Have you seen something like this happen in your school? How would you rate yourself as a tech-savvy educator? I look forward to hearing what you think!