Teachers are valuable. Educational trends may come and go, but one thing remains constant: teachers are the necessary navigators to guide student learning. This is why it is so important that we support each other in the current tech revolution happening in classrooms all over the world. For teachers my age, the graduates of Facebook’s original college-only site, it is a natural change to embrace. For more experienced teachers, who have seen two-decades plus of educational philosophies come and go, the tech revolution can be harder to sell.
Schools can offer all the full-staff professional development that they want, but it’s not enough to make it stick. Would we toss a textbook at a student and say, “Learn that." No. We can’t expect the one-and-done approach to work for teachers, when we shudder at the thought of teaching students that way. Walk the walk. Practice what you preach. Whichever cliche works for you, it’s true. We need to meet teachers where they are with their tech skills, the same way we are expected to differentiate our classrooms.
Many schools have already figured out that the solution to this need for differentiated professional development is the coaching model. For an experienced teacher who isn’t sure how to best organize their own digital lives, trying to show them how to organize their classroom’s digital life is like putting the cart before the horse. Here are the steps I have been following this year when working with teachers new to the tech generation:
- Make it relevant. As with any educational program, pedagogy, or philosophy, there needs to be buy in from the stakeholders. I start by sharing a Learning2 Talk from Jeff Utecht. In 20 minutes, he manages to paint a very clear picture of why incorporating technology into our curriculum isn’t a trend, it’s a necessity. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNGbNFwxQT8
- Make it personal. What tech things have they personally been struggling with lately? Organizing their computer files into folders? Navigating Pinterest? Understanding the 1,098,087th rumor about Facebook’s privacy settings? Spend time working through some of these issues. When teachers feel confident using tech tools in their daily lives, the transition to their professional lives will become a more natural process.
- Make it safe. I just learned about Google’s awesome reading level search option last week. It made my day, and my students now love it. Yes, I, the tech coach, am constantly learning new things. I’m never afraid to admit when I don’t know something, and I am always happy to share when I find new things. No one likes a know-it-all. Showing teachers that you are also constantly learning and trying new things will hopefully make them feel more comfortable doing the same. The other important thing to note here is that the coach or mentor is NOT an administrator. There’s no “Do this or it will be reflected on your next evaluation.” The coaching sessions should be a safe environment where teachers are comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, hesitancies, and questions.
- Make it logical. Oh, you are getting ready for a unit of inquiry about silk manufacturing in Madagascar? I wonder what the difference would be in a silk community if they were able to set up their own Etsy shop and directly sell their silk products to people around the world? That unit on inventions? I just saw the coolest thing on Kickstarter where someone made a suitcase with a built-in luggage scale. (Genius, by the way!) Tech integration should not be some sort of awkward activity forced randomly into a lesson plan to meet the tech requirement. It should naturally reflect how technology is being used in the world today to solve actual problems.
- Make it a success! Follow-up with people. This is what traditional professional development is missing. How do you know how it’s going if you never ask? Sure, we may evaluate our workshop presenters at the end of PD day to tell them how they did, but where’s the survey from them two months later asking how it’s going in our classrooms? Checking in with people also creates accountability. When the topic of authentic tech integration is being brought to their attention on a regular basis, they can’t run away from it. This is why regular meetings with a coach or mentor are vital.