Next year is looking to be a pretty exciting one from the perspective of technology and education at my little school on Vancouver Island. Due to space constraints we have decided to do away with the computer lab and buy 20 laptops instead. I couldn’t be more delighted. We have also committed to putting projectors in most of the teacher’s classrooms so that they don’t have to book out a projector cart every time they want to access the internet as a teaching tool. And finally it is looking like about 20% of my job will be dedicated to supporting teachers shifting their classrooms.
All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about the ingredients needed to shift a school from our current model to one that really leverages the power of technology to improve learning. Here is what I have got so far:
- autonomy (feeling in control). I think that is important to recognise that teachers all have different teaching styles, and comfort levels with technology and risk. Any attempt to implement a blanket set of expectations about how and when a teacher should shift their practice will, I believe, be met with resistance. Instead I am hoping to shift my school in consultation with all the teachers and try to tailor suggestions and support to each teacher’s needs and comfort level. In a nutshell, I think that by asking teachers for input and actually listening to their suggestions the conditions for autonomy should be met.
- mastery (getting better at something). My thinking around this one is that in order to feel they are moving towards mastery in the area of technology integration teachers need to know where they are going and how to get there. This means that they need to be exposed to examples of best practice that work, and they need to be able to see a clearly articulated set of skills or steps that they can follow to get there. My plan for next year is to meet with each teacher to establish a benchmark for where they are in their skills and set measurable goals for where they want to be by the end of the year. My hope is that rather than feeling overwhelmed by all the things they can’t do, they will start to celebrate what they have achieved.
- purpose (a sense of something larger than ourselves). I am approaching this particular condition by starting the conversations now about change and the skills we need to be teaching our students so that they are prepared for this century of rapid change. This sense of purpose is not something that can be imposed; everyone has to come to it in their own way at their own time. I figure the best I can do is provide opportunities for discussion and reflection. I recently did a pro-d session on this topic and used slides like the one below:
In an ideal world we would be a laptop school and every teacher would be able to count on getting his or her students online whenever and wherever they want. In our case that is not currently feasible and one of the things I am struggling with right now is how to best distribute our current collection of desktop computers amongst classrooms, and streamline the sign out process for laptops, so that not much class time is wasted in set up. The more I think about set up time the more I realize that it is really detrimental to any meaningful classroom shift. A few minutes each class might seem inconsequential, but they add up, and they may well be the barrier that decides whether a teacher will or won’t use the technology. This is why I feel ubiquity (or the illusion of ubiquity) is important; the technology just needs to be there and work when it is needed. Period.
This same idea of ubiquity applies to software and ways teachers share their classrooms online. We run a password protected intranet based on WordPress MU. We have had some success with it but it is not yet ubiquitous, it takes quite an effort to access and contribute to this space. Two barriers we have run up against are:
- The walled garden model. Putting a password between our school community and the information on our intranet has made accessing this information work, and as a result the potential of this online space is not being realised. I have come to believe that the better way to go is to drop the wall and focus on educating parents and students about how to use a public online space safely.
- Media. Little things like picture files being too large to upload to our website are holding teachers back from sharing their classrooms as much as I would like. My goal for next year is to have a simple batch picture processing program on every teacher computer that they can use to quickly change the sizes of images before uploading them.
This seems to be one of the most pervasive barriers to change. In particular I think that parents and teachers can react negatively to the use of social media in the classroom because it is an unfamiliar medium to them and they feel ill equipped to keep kids safe in this space. To preempt this particular reaction I think it is important to have a very clear Acceptable Use Policy worded in a positive, not punitive way. In addition, one of my goals for September is to have agreed on clearly worded policies around the use of students names, images and work as we move towards sharing more of their stuff online. The bottom line is that we need to come out of the starting gate clearly showing that we take Safety seriously and have thought carefully about it.
This is a quote I came across in a Connected Leadership for Connected Learning course that I recently audited, and I can’t get it out of my head. I think that “compelling invitations” are a really important part of shifting a school, and I don’t necessarily think that they should be coming from me. My hope next year is to establish a bi-monthly time where teachers can meet and share different success stories from their classrooms, and in the process provide a wide variety of “compelling invitations” for other teachers to innovate. I also think “timely support” is crucial. It is human nature to be more willing to take a risk if there is a safety net below. This is going to be a challenge for me as I only have 20% release time to support teachers and I think the key is going to be in empowering everyone to be both a risk taker and a safety net.
That’s what I have so far. What am I missing? Anyone have any other advice?