*The following is an article I wrote for the November 2013 issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology*
Good Grief! Be Supportive of Teachers When Implementing Tech
So your district has approved a 1:1 initiative for your building. You’ve chosen the device, solved the financial part of the equation and you are one week away from handing every student in school a device that you hope will transform the way they learn and that teachers teach. Simple, right? Not so fast. Although you’ve made a convincing argument for using technology in the classroom, have you considered the reactions of the very people who will be most instrumental in making this transformation occur? How are you going to support teachers dealing with the emotions that will result from this type of implementation?
As we began our 1:1 iPad implementation at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, USA, in September 2012, I noticed that staff members were experiencing a variety of emotions and reactions to the change. The more I learned about what they were feeling, the more it reminded me of the five stages of grief described in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying. Kübler-Ross suggests that people who are grieving generally go through five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—when they lose someone close to them. Every person, she writes, will deal with this grief in his or her own way, but there will be some commonalities.
I’m not suggesting that the emotions and feelings teachers experience when implementing a 1:1 initiative are as deeply felt as the profound grief of losing a loved one. And I wouldn’t say that educators necessarily suffer this transformation in stages. But there are parallels when administrators, teachers, and even students are asked to make this type of shift. Recognizing these reactions and knowing how to respond will go a long way toward minimizing the negative impact and creating a positive progression to the common goal: the transformation of learning and teaching.
What they might be feeling: There is nothing wrong with the way I teach! This is only a phase, and it will eventually go away. Adding a computer to my classroom isn’t going to help my students as much as reducing class sizes would.
Why they might feel this way: Teachers are professionals who take pride in the way they deliver information and how they interact with students. Let’s face it, people who choose education as a career have passion for the subjects they teach and enjoy helping young minds discover the same excitement they felt when going through school. To teachers, learning is a lifelong skill and something they enjoy.
How to support them: Celebrate success while pushing the bar higher. Find those pockets of excellence in your building and share them with others. Use a variety of staff to present examples of innovative lessons at department or building meetings or include examples in regular newsletters and announcements to staff. The more exposure to innovative examples of integration teachers have, the more comfortable they will become, and the easier it will be for them to take risks and try something new. Successful innovation is contagious. It is crucial that administrators and technology integrationists capitalize on the fact that teachers will do what is best for their students. Given enough time and support, teachers will blossom in this environment.
What they might be feeling: Just what I need—an administrator coming into my classroom and telling me what is best for my students. I know my students better than administrators do. Why don’t we spend the money on more teaching power?
Why they might feel this way: Teachers want to voice their concerns and be reassured that administrators understand the significance and extent of the changes. It would be easy to interpret this type of reaction as evidence that teachers are too old to change, stuck in their ways, or just whining. But the fact is, they just want to be heard.
How to support them: Teachers need time to be able to learn new tools, talk with each other, and plan for the use of technology in their classrooms. Carving out specific, dedicated times for these conversations to take place is integral to the transformation of learning and teaching with technology. If possible, combine mandated or required activities with professional development that is dedicated to technology. If that’s not possible, protect the meeting times so that other subjects don’t override the tech PD. Staff must be assured that they will have time to discuss, plan, and experiment when it comes to implementing technology.
What they might be feeling: If I am expected to change the way I teach, you need to take something away. We are going to need better support from administration on the discipline issues that will occur because of the devices. Something has to give, as I don’t have time to learn all of these new programs and applications. Are we going to get paid for our time?
Why they might feel this way: Teachers are used to being in control of their own classrooms, but with the integration of technology and the changing instructional paradigm, some or most of that control is transferred to the students. This is a difficult concept for both teachers and students. Some students also have difficulty because they are used to the teacher disseminating information and now are being asked to not only find information but also apply that information and creatively display their understanding.
How to support them: Involve new and veteran teachers in the professional development program. Use a “train the trainer” model and have members of the teaching staff receive additional opportunities so that they can turn around and help “tutor” their colleagues. As these tutors feel more comfortable in their roles as peer coaches, expand the number of trainers to offer even more resources for staff. Teachers will seek assistance from peers they trust. Therefore, the more staff you involve in this model, the better.
What they might be feeling: I am never going to be ready. There is no way I will get through all of the content I am supposed to teach. How will I ever be able to troubleshoot a device that I don’t understand? My students will know more than I do, and I will be embarrassed. How will I ever have time to learn all of the applications that are available?
Why they might feel this way: Teachers have dedicated their lives to helping students learn. This internal drive causes pressure and a feeling of inadequacy and ineffectiveness. They realize that technology integration will be worthwhile but are doubtful of their ability to be effective.
How to support them: Encourage teachers to step out of their comfort zone. Make it clear from the beginning that it is OK to fail when trying something new. Create a risk-friendly environment where teachers are comfortable stepping out of the norm and potentially having a lesson fail on the first attempt. These experiences are opportunities for growth and should always be encouraged.
What they might be feeling: How did I ever teach before? I feel rejuvenated, and I can’t wait to get to work in the morning. I can’t believe what my students are capable of doing. Did you see this project my students created? How can I share my students’ work with my colleagues?
Why they might feel this way: With some successes under their belts, teachers feel a sense of accomplishment. Teachers and students alike are thinking and creating out of the box. Classrooms are a buzz of activity with teachers and students collaborating in all parts of the learning process. Creativity and critical thinking have become the norm in the classroom.
How to support them: Professional development (PD) is crucial to keep everyone on track. PD should not end when the devices are handed out. PD should increase and focus on a deeper integration. Create a culture where the PD opportunities are consistent, flexible, and differentiated. Consistency is essential. Schools should offer PD throughout this process and at a variety of times, places, and paces. Tech support should be available so teachers don’t feel like they are stranded on a desert island.
Offer individual, small group, and even large group PD sessions. At times, teachers will want to work alone, but other times they might want to seek out colleagues they can learn from without feeling intimidated or embarrassed. Small or large, topic-focused or interdisciplinary—a mix of groups is important to allow colleagues to share ideas and individual teachers to get extra one-on-one help.
Differentiation is a key component. Just as classroom instruction needs to reach all types of learners, PD offerings need to address the full technology spectrum. The professional development system should support all levels of technology proficiency and allow for growth.
Teachers aren’t the only people who will feel the impact of changes in instruction. Administrators and students may also go through some of these stages. Many times, students expect to be spoon-fed information because it is easy for them to sit through a lecture, but it takes effort to be involved and engaged in the lesson. Administrators, like teachers, were often taught in a more traditional setting. It can be difficult for an administrator to visit a classroom and hear multiple conversations happening at once, see students out of their seats, and get a feeling of organized chaos. Regardless of who is going through the stages, there is no correct path, only a desired destination: transformation of learning and teaching.
"He who learns from one who is learning drinks from a flowing river"
Native American Proverb
Native American Proverb