Teacher to principal as they are sharing bus duty one morning…. “One of my teacher friends told me about the neatest free tool on the internet that will make it possible for students to publish their writing anywhere around the world. I don’t really know much about how it works, but I would love to do this with my students. What do you think of this idea?” Do you notice any problem with this scenario? Are there a few missing details? How do you think the principal will respond? It’s not that far-fetched and doesn’t usually result in the desired outcome. As an elementary principal for 25+ years in the US and a university professor who taught technology integration courses for several years I am very aware of the issues related to technology use in schools from both the user and administrative perspective. In this section I will provide my perspective as a principal with practical tips and resources regarding the change process and how to obtain support for technology-related issues. I hope it will provide some food for thought to other educators, whether a teacher or a principal initiates the change.
Above all, I believe we owe it to our students that we continue to make the integration of technology and Web 2.0 tools a priority for all students and not just leave it up to those teachers who are the early adopters. We can’t continue to ignore or brush over those teachers who state that they aren’t comfortable with using technology and excuse this behavior. As has been stated in many awareness-raising presentations we have seen, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.” Did You Know 4.0 by Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8)
Teacher Advice from a Principal Perspective:
Principals are very busy people with responsibility/accountability to many different stakeholders. That will sound like a “so what” statement to many and an understatement to principals who live and breathe the daily, demanding, on-going responsibilities of an administrator.
There are so many reasons (excuses) that teachers express that keep them from moving forward with technology integration in their classrooms. Sometimes these hurdles seem insurmountable to them and it can’t be denied that there are times when the technology you need just isn’t working. This is no small concern when you have a room full of students in these days of emphasis on “time on task” and accountability for those all-important test scores. Over my years as a principal, I found it very helpful to review the “Stages of Mastery of Technology” that were provided by Jamie McKenzie back in May 1993. (http://www.fno.org/FNOMay93.html) I created a visual image of these stages using Inspiration software so I could have it posted on my wall as a reminder that teachers, just as students, are not all at the same developmental stage in their learning. Understanding the change process helped me to be more sensitive and accommodating in providing the kind of support they needed as they moved through these stages. (http://www.slideshare.net/pgeorge/stages-of-mastery-of-technology/) Sometimes it’s the “just-in-time” support they need that will make the difference in their willingness to try something new. Because I am a tech advocate and personal user of technology I frequently made “house calls” to spend a few hours on an evening or weekend to help a teacher cross that hurdle and create a newsletter or interactive PowerPoint presentation for their students. But this kind of support doesn’t need to come from the principal. It can come from anyone willing to collaborate and help. Many teachers call upon their own children to help them learn how to make technology work for them.
The principal may be a person who advocates for increased technology integration in their school, but more than likely they are not. It is rare for a principal in my experience to be the technology leader for their school although these numbers are definitely increasing. However, it is possible for a principal to be an essential support person who willingly advocates for resources, professional development and enthusiastically supports creative, effective use of technology in classrooms. The principal of today can be a “technology leader” by supporting instruction that facilitates collaboration, communication and connections. Ideally, the best way for principals to support the use of 21st century skills is to model the use of them in their own work. One resource I created to use as an introduction to faculty to let them know the importance of integrating technology into their instructional methodology was a PowerPoint presentation that reinforces for teachers that although technology is a powerful instructional and learning tool, it will never replace a good teacher. It is simple, but reassuring to teachers.
Tips for teachers (when approaching a principal with a great new idea involving technology)
1. Ask for an appointment to discuss your idea. Don’t stop them in the hall or mention it in passing in the teachers lounge. They have too many things on their mind to remember it and follow up on it.
2. Be very clear about what you are requesting. Stay focused on one topic and provide a written page that BRIEFLY summarizes your request with related details. Along with your enthusiasm this will help to educate your principal about your request.
3. Follow your very clear request statement by stating what you believe the educational benefits will be, and begin with student learning benefits. Provide your rationale of the benefits for students, yourself as the teacher, parents, and colleagues (if applicable). If you’re not clear in your own mind what these benefits are, have an informal brainstorming meeting with other teachers in your school who may also be interested in incorporating this tool. This type of collaboration will strengthen your request, both because it clarifies your rationale and also shows broader interest and support.
*Important Note: I will be listening for those points that indicate how the technology will provide “value-added” to their instruction and not just be “using” technology. It must be a tool/strategy that enhances and strengthens the learning experience for students and doesn’t just replace a paper/pencil task such as a worksheet with an electronic version of the same worksheet. How will this technology tool help them to do something that they couldn’t achieve without the technology?
3. Do your homework.
• Come prepared with actual, successful examples that demonstrate what you want to do. If it is something you can best demonstrate on your computer, bring your laptop with you or invite your principal to meet in your classroom so you can go directly to the examples you want to share on your classroom computer.
• Come prepared with pros/cons of the strategy or tool in anticipation of questions. If you are aware of any “cons” be prepared with a suggestion for how you might address it. For example, if parents may be concerned about internet safety on your classroom blog, be prepared to tell the principal your plan for ensuring safety for your students. Have an example of a blog user agreement you will ask students and parents to sign. Find an example on the internet such as this site that does a nice job of explaining the value of blogging http://education.qld.gov.au/learningplace/communication/blogs/aboutblogs.html or this site that provides an explanation, sample blogs and many other resources. Blogging in Education by Peggy Steffens (http://www.amphi.com/teachers/psteffens/blogging.html)
• This site provides a great handout “Why is Blogging so Great?”
• This site provides an excellent example for a high school blogging policy that could be easily adapted for elementary schools.
• If you know there will be IT concerns related to such things as security, viruses or bandwidth issues, be sure to share your idea with your technology coordinator or IT person to learn as much as possible about these issues. They may need to be helped to understand the educational value of your request so they can support you in finding a way to successfully implement it. One of my tech colleagues recently provided a great example of this. She made the point that the network people want to be considered apart of the educational team and be involved in the discussions as to what resources will be provided to students and teachers. She found she received much better response when she “educated” folks to the reason she wanted certain things and how they would be used in the classroom rather than just telling them we need this. One example she provided was: Think how many calls to the Help Desk could be eliminated by giving teachers podcasts on how to do simple things with their computers. If the network support personnel can see the value of these services for any user (teachers, students, parents, community) they will be much more supportive. Communication with any and all of the potential decision makers is essential to your request, but it’s also important to follow established channels of communication. Don’t go to the Governing Board to complain about a lack of technology support in your school if you haven’t started by stalking with your principal.
• If there is a purchase cost involved, bring the information. You can always provide the specific ordering details once the request has been approved (vendor, address, cost, method of payment, etc.) but it is very helpful for the principal to know an approximate estimate of the total cost of the item you are requesting, both short and long-term.
• Wrap up your meeting by re-stating your request and clarifying specifically what the next steps should be to ensure that your request doesn’t just get placed on a very long “to-do” list.
• And finally, after allowing a reasonable period of time for the principal to respond to your request, be sure to follow up to check on the status and to offer further support or information, if needed.
Strategies to Motivate Reluctant Teachers
If you happen to be a principal who has a faculty that isn’t showing interest in integrating technology in their classroom and your district has provided them with the necessary tools, you may need to consider some ways to motivate your teachers to an openness to learning more about technology so they can begin using it with their students to improve student achievement.
A question that frequently comes up from technology facilitators and school principals is: “I understand and fully support technology integration, but how do I get teachers to buy into using technology? When asked this question in a recent conversation with David Warlick that was shared by Darren Draper on his YouTube video “Hello Teachers” (http://youtube.com/watch?v=omWi_XQgbvU) David’s response was “To be honest, I don’t have to sell it that much. I show them the power of the tools and the technology speaks for itself.” Many edubloggers repeat the notion that “Interest leads to motivation”, one with which I completely concur. While principals generally create the agenda for faculty meetings, a teacher could easily ask to have a regular 5-minute sharing time in each faculty meeting to focus on technology. Think of it like the “Book Talks” that teachers and librarians give students to motivate them to read a new book. Make it short and sweet. Limit each person to 1-2 minutes maximum. That will make it feel much more manageable for busy teachers and you can fit several in a 5-minute time slot. Give it a catchy name—Technology Teasers, Tech Tidbits, or “I Heard it on the Technology Grapevine.” Invite both your early adopters (who will eagerly accept the invitation) and those who may just be beginners but have used one strategy or tool very effectively. Don’t attempt to teach people HOW to do it in a faculty meeting—just provide enough information to tell them what you did and how it worked and leave them wanting to learn more. Often one “story”, especially one told with excitement and enthusiasm, will inspire others to try it out and be willing to share in a future meeting. To take this one step further and begin to embrace and model Web 2.0 tools, a wikispace could easily be created to capture these “stories” and tools by providing a place to access this information. A wikispace entitled “Have You Seen This?” or “Don’t Miss This” could be the perfect place to share those tools and resources they are excited about because ANYONE can contribute to the ideas, not just a webmaster.
And finally, another important step for principals then becomes how they can evaluate the effective use of technology they during their regular teacher observations. These pre/post observation conversations can go a long way in emphasizing both the importance of integrating technology for strengthening instructional delivery and extending the conversation in ways that the teacher understands this is a priority. This is the perfect opportunity for a principal to keep this priority in the forefront and to show interest and support for those teachers, who are willing to take risks, make changes and integrate technology into their instruction. If this is a priority for a principal, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to their teachers when their principals are evaluating them. This was expressed eloquently in a brochure created by Greg Farr for his teachers and shared in a recent LeaderTalk blog posting: “Standards versus Expectations-Leave No Doubts.”. (http://principalblogs.typepad.com/leadertalk/2007/09/standards-versu.html)
The challenges for both principals and teachers as we move forward with 21st century literacies are great, but also very exciting. It’s essential that we continue to collaborate and communicate with other educators to find successful approaches to meet this challenge.