I ran across this post recently (thanks to a member of my PLN who posted it on Facebook). It outlines "10 Things School Leaders Do to Kill a Teacher's Enthusiasm for Technology." It's written by a school principal who describes himself as the leader of "of an entire staff [of] avid technology users." As an avid tech user myself, I get it. In that kind of environment, trying NOT to kill the enthusiasm of teachers who are already tech savvy, instructionally adventurous and digitally connected is a worthy goal, indeed. However, I've never worked with a entire staff of techies. For most of my career I've worn the crown of Queen Geek - the nerdy leader of a rag-tag group of techie teachers who, like members of a really bad cult, spend lots of time trying to get others to drink the Kool-aid. That's not to say there aren't lots of great connected educators out there who see technology as an effective compliment to already strong instruction. There are. However, in my experience there are also still many, many teachers who remain either afraid or suspicious of technology - which, to my way of thinking, provides a window of opportunity for the school librarian whose charge it is, (among other things), to act as both an instructional and technological leader within the school. Rather than simply avoiding the kill switch when it comes to teachers and technology, it's our job to discover enthusiasm, where there seems to be none, and then cultivate and nourish it - which is no small feat! So... this post isn't about how NOT to squelch the spirits of your already techie teachers, it's about how to help your more hesitant colleagues discover and embrace their inner geeks.
1. Meet teachers where they are:Years ago, when my BFF John Downs, became the tech facilitator of my school, he started his first meeting with the staff with this (or another very similar) clip from SNL. Then he promised to NEVER be this kind of IT guy. And he never was. To this day, John has the uncanny ability to a) be patient with every request and b) teach/reteach even the most basic tasks without ever sounding condescending, annoyed or exhausted. That said, I'll admit that this is something I've struggled with. While, with a student, I can explain over and over and over again how to select the right printer - with the last explanation being as sweet and encouraging as the first - there's something about having to do the same thing (repeatedly) with adults that brings out the Nick Burns in me. For me, being more like John and less like Nick takes work. But it's important work, so I do it. Of course, there are times when we have to ask the teacher to "move" so that we can troubleshoot a problem or experiment with the variables, but in most situations it's vital to take each request for what it is (a cry for help!) and empower the tech wary teacher by putting him/her in the driver's seat while we patiently direct and encourage them from one chair over. Accepting where a teacher is, treating their requests with respect and showing them how to do something (as opposed to doing it for them) is not only empowering but it also builds trust that can be leveraged the next time you want that same teacher to take an instructional risk.
2. Listen: If there's one thing I've learned over the years it's that teachers are not shy about sharing when something is going wrong or when their workload is out of control (which, let's face it, is all the time!) In fact, when I was in the library, I sometimes felt like the school psychologist - an open door and available ear whenever something went wrong (and of course when it went right!) I was happy to listen, but I also soon learned that these conversations are the perfect opportunity for to showcase technology as the solution to a problem. Indeed, while sharing my enthusiasm about the latest app or web 2.0 tools is GREAT, sharing that enthusiasm in the context of helping the teacher achieve an instructional goal is BETTER, because it gave me the chance to prove that using technology isn't just "one more thing" for them to do, it's a way to fill a legitimate niche, solve an authentic problem and/or make their lives just a bit easier.
3. Model Tossing Out The Instruction Manual: During my first meeting with the librarians in my district this year, I gave them an assignment that required the use of one of several web 2.0 tools. They were instructed to work in groups and were provided guidelines for the content of the assignment. However, I gave absolutely no instructions regarding how to use the technology itself. Needless to say, there were a few tense moments and a lot of nervous faces, but after some initial fretting, they dove in, worked together, quickly figured out the logistics and spent the rest of the time on content. When it was over, I made sure to point out that every group finished the task successfully and within the allotted time with NO directions regarding how to use the tech tool itself. Then I said, "if a room full of old ladies can do it, imagine how quickly your students will catch on??" Teachers sometimes use the excuse that their schedules, pacing guides, etc., are already too full to allow for the teaching of new technology. To that I say, no problem! Kids don't NEED to be taught how to use each new app or tool. Rather, they need to be given strong, consistent, cross curricular instruction regarding safe/ethical use of technology and then be allowed to explore, select and figure out individual resources on their own. Some teachers really struggle with this - but given the chance to see it in action with their colleagues can help ease their concerns and inspire them to take a chance.
4. Provide Time to Play (with Support): Like kids, teachers need time to get to know new technology. My library bestie, Jennfier Northrup, does a great job of scheduling after school work days for her staff -- during which they can come to the library and experiment with a new tech tool while Jennifer is in the room. They don't have to ask her questions, but they can if they wish. I am doing the same thing with the librarians in my district this year. I've scheduled a year long PD opportunity that includes monthly play dates where my colleagues can experiment and explore with the safety net of having me nearby in case the internet explodes. Take it from me, these training wheel sessions are so productive and are crucial for helping the real technophobes out there take the risk of trying something new. Plus, giving up your time to work along side them goes a long way towards conveying the message that we're all in this together.
5. Praise, Praise and Praise: I cannot stress this enough: teachers need kudos too! Whether it's a congrats email cc'd to the principal, a mention at the faculty meeting or photos of students utilizing technology in your fledgling techie teacher's class posted on the school's webpage, there's nothing like a gold star to validate the efforts your teachers are making. Trust me, even the most shy, unassuming, under the radar flying teacher wants to be pat on the back for taking a chance and changing what they've always done. That said, if you're certain the teacher will be mortified by public recognition, then praise their students instead. Make a phone calls home to a few parents congratulating them on their student's work - making sure to mention how AWESOME the teacher is, ask students from the class to be new "tech ambassadors" to the next group of students who are going to give the same new technology a go, or ask the PTSA to feature the project in their next newsletter. As school librarians, we have many venues through which we can praise our proteges and it's important that we never forget to do it.
6. Put the Learning First: I've heard my buddy Marlo Gaddis say that "you'd never look at a marker and say, 'Wow! Look at this great marker! I think I am going to plan all of my instruction around it!' And yet that is what we sometimes do with technology." If that's true (and I think it is) it's no wonder some teachers can't be bothered. Now, more than ever, teachers are not only overwhelmed by all the stuff they have to do, they're also keenly focused on delivering standards based instruction that meets the demands of the new curricula. What's more, we should be sharing that focus. As such, the technology we use and share, the resources we promote and use collaboratively must be chosen ONLY because they help us impact student learning. Otherwise, what's the point? That said, while it's true that some teachers are, without question, technophobic, I think others are just technoweary. For some teachers, it's not a matter of being afraid to try new technology, rather, what they fear is letting go of the instruction they believe works. They're not afraid of the internet, they are afraid of their students failing. And that's a valid concern. As Geeky Gurus, it's our job to make sure that a) every time we encourage teachers to integrate a technological resource into their instruction, we do so because we believe it will impact students and b) that our classroom teacher colleagues KNOW that's our goal. When we put the learning first, not only will some teachers be more apt to follow us, but they'll also have more respect for what we do.
Whether we're talking about reading, beefing up pedagogy or incorporating technology into instruction, I've always thought of the librarian as a bespectacled Pied Piper. One of these days, I'm going to invest in a button that says "I Know Stuff." and whenever someone gives me a raised eyebrow of concern in response to whatever I'm selling, I'm just gonna point to my button as proof that I am someone to be trusted. I'm sure that will work. But until then, I need and rely on strategies to help my more wary colleagues step outside their comfort zones when it comes to trying something new. Of course, these are just a few such strategies. In fact, I'm sure there are countless others. So, if I've missed something, PLEASE share it in the comments. You don't even need a big "I Know Stuff Button" to convince me. I'm already a believer. :)