Today’s K-12 teachers and administrators face an uphill battle when it comes to getting—and staying—on top of digital developments that can affect how they teach and the population they’re teaching.
With the world of technology changing constantly, how can school districts implement strategies to help the staff change with it?
John Rogerson, who received his master’s in education, leadership in educational administration degree from Capella University in 2004 and is now principal of Fox Meadow Middle School in Colorado Springs, has spent a great deal of time researching this issue. Here, Rogerson offers suggestions for schools struggling to incorporate technology into the classroom.
Q. Why is it important for teachers to be current in technology?
A. We need to teach our students with the tools they actually use now and will use in their future careers. That doesn’t mean we should abandon basics, but there’s no reason not to use new tools to teach the basics.
Q. Why do many schools struggle with this?
A. Part of it is what I call “planning paralysis.” Many schools are way behind. They’re talking about installing interactive whiteboards when these are already almost obsolete. They’re still discussing what 21st-century skills are and how they should be taught; meanwhile, the first generation of the 21st century is entering high school.
It’s also often the case that teachers and administrators don’t know what’s out there, or how to go about finding new things. Or they may think new technology is too expensive. It can be, but if you’re not in a wealthy district, you just have to think outside the box.
Q. What advice do you have for districts that want to explore newer technologies?
A. Much of my advice is rooted in truly understanding what you need from technology and how your teachers will react before bringing it in.
- Bring in new technology for the right reasons. Do it to prepare students for their future studies and careers. Don’t do it because you think you can get publicity from the local paper or TV station. Getting some positive press because your school is making an effort to be technologically up to date is good for the school and the school district, but it shouldn’t be the main goal.
Questions to ask internally:
What’s going to grow our students?
Why are we doing this?
How are we going to do it? What’s the path?
Remember instructional strategies first, then the technology.
- Don’t forget to set clear, concrete goals, along with action steps to achieve those goals and data that will tell you if it’s working or not.
- Don’t do it alone. Surround yourself with experts. Look for opportunities to attend technology in education conferences. Find people, and that includes students, who know what’s happening and what’s coming. People are happy to help. I talk to other school districts all the time to learn what they’re doing and how it’s working.
- Identify the people who will get on board right away, and those who won’t. Don’t try the approach of “everybody in the school will do this at the same time.” Sometimes technology efforts can be blocked by teachers who are hesitant to use new tools, poorly trained, or just simply aren’t comfortable with the technology. Don’t expect everyone in your building to be excited about this, and don’t push them faster than they’re comfortable.
- Build a leadership group. By identifying those who will be excited, you build a culture around growth mindset. Understand that the whole process will take longer than one or two years. And don’t forget the students—show them you’re willing to learn along with them. Make it meaningful for the students.
- Make your school a safe environment to fail. Start with your leadership group. Get them adapted, and then let others see what they’re doing. Use professional development sessions and hands-on tutorials. Use your leaders as in-house trainers to work with those who are slower to adapt.
- Understand their concerns. You’ll have teachers who will say, “If I do this wrong, I’ll be branded as a failure as a teacher.” No! They need to know that won’t happen. Give them small successes, help them to larger successes and, most of all, help them move at their own speed so they’re not overwhelmed. If you push for speed, you’ll fail. When something goes wrong, bring back that growth mindset—what can we learn from this?—and move forward.
- Don’t let teachers quit. Work at their own pace, yes; quit, no. Encourage them to involve their students. They can be powerful role models by turning to students and saying, “I don’t know the answer/how to do this, but I’m going to learn.” That not only gets them working with the technology, it preps students in how to succeed, too.
- Learn what to let go. Any time you add something new to a crowded school roster, you have to talk about what you can remove. You can’t keep adding initiatives without taking some out. Implement new technology and practices at a reasonable pace, and you will have more success.
- Get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be started. Sometimes you have to build the plane in the air.
Interested in incorporating technology into your school? Capella offers free digital-specific professional development for teachers, as well as customized programs for school districts.