A Potential Starting Point by Ryan Bretag

How do we get schools to embrace and effectively infuse educational technology into the environment? For quite some time, all roads have led to this question and many thoughts have been expressed on how to best make it happen: bottom-up, top-down, viral, focus on the innovators, create PLN/PLC/etc, make tech hardware ubiquitous, focus on pedagogy, more time, enhanced professional development, and so on.

While each of these surely could lead to more teachers making technology a transparent reality in their classrooms, they are pieces to the answer that need to be put together to be effective. In fact, it seems when we force these pieces in isolation, we are causing too much downshifting by adults forcing a return to their zone of comfort.

At the same time, some of these need to be avoided entirely.

1. Top Down or Bottom Up Top down produces a false sense of movement and only causes change in those that would change anyways. Yet, people continue to call for administrators to "step up" and force the hands of teachers. Those calling for this are probably the same ones that would resist if it was anything other than technology because this is not how effective organizations function nor how professional want to be treated. At the same time, bottom up will continue to produce the bell shape curve never creating systemic change. To produce a lasting impact and create a culture open to change, it must be a centered approach where administrators model, support, believe, and apply positive pressure, and teachers share, collaborate, mentor, and push/pull one another.

2. Focus on a Few One of the discouraging things I continue to hear is reference to the innovation cycle of innovators and early adopters with a cry for "forget the laggards". How can we accept this if we believe all students deserve this sort of learning environment? How can we believe in a bell shape curve for adults when we fight so hard against it with our students?

3. Assuming the Value of Tech is Clear High school teachers are really familiar with the problem of just teaching content and hoping students "bite". Most students simply will not go for it. They need context. They need connections. They need relevance. Just like our content, we may see the answers for all three but success only comes when our students have and believe in the answers, too. The same is true for our colleagues.

A Starting Point

After struggling myself with the answer to the question posed in the beginning, it is becoming more apparent that this is simply a bad question, the wrong question. The question really is how do we improve the classroom and school experience for students and teachers? For that is a question in which all teachers, all administrators, and all students should be asking, discussing, and negotiating. This is why the following is a starting point for schools to stimulate discussion that leads to the development of a learning ecosystem.

  1. There are three essential questions that all stakeholders should be exploring: what does it mean to be well-educated in the 21st Century, what does this mean for teaching and learning, and what are the core values and methodologies that should be apparent in all classrooms? Discuss, negotiate, and come to consensus on these as an organization.
  2. Based upon number one, three fluid profiles should be developed: student profile, teacher profile, and school/district profile.
  3. Establish a three tier (foundational, just-in time, and innovation) professional learning approach rooted in professional development best practices
  4. Foster and support the tenants of a learning community especially meaningful collaboration and time
  5. Create organizational readiness, horizontal and vertical capacity, and change empathy/awareness

Yes, schools could grab a host of documents, reports, or consultants that could TELL THEM the answers to the questions in number one and establish the profiles in number two. But, that may just be the easiest way to remain exactly where schools are at today. It may seem like they are moving. It may seem like they are creating change. There not!

Over the long haul, it is nothing but a mirage because it is not part of the DNA of the organization. It is not something created together.

Is it not time that schools create the path together instead of hoping a packaged program does it for them? There is obviously much, much more to be added to this list but this is the starting point I believe should be happening in districts right now. What about you? What is your starting point?