Sunday, January 30, 2011

From Leaning Back to Leaning Forward

Administratively speaking, one of our biggest challenges in the Edtech reform era is to help teachers understand the power of integrating technology into classroom instruction for powerful learning. Working through tech anxiety, implementation dips, confusing vocabulary, constantly evolving digital tools, etc. is a challenge, an almost seemingly insurmountable task, and it's not the only challenge schools are dealing with. Through my lens, leadership matters as we reform and integrate. 

Rushton Hurley, director of Next Vista for Learning, was recently interviewed by The Journal about bringing teachers on-board with technology. Hurley says that the more administratively "top-down the approach to having teachers use technology, the greater the chance teachers will see it simply as a necessary minimum to meet or even an annoying requirement to avoid if possible." He also suggests "solving resistance problems by working together [administrators and teachers] to figure out if the issue is what the technology is or how it is being used."

Recently, our school district migrated to Google Apps for Education. The administrative team didn't mandate use of any particular apps (other than Gmail and Calendar), we didn't press, but allowed people to experiment as readiness, time, and motivation allowed. What naturally happened is that a certain population of teachers became very interested in the tools (Blogs, Reader, Docs, Moderator, Sites, etc.), starting integrating the tools into classroom instruction, and then asked for more training and development. So we (the administrative team) sent them to the TIES Education Technology Conference in Minneapolis. The conference was catalytic.

We then brought in three Google Certified Teachers (who are also Google Certified Trainers) to work with our entire district. These individuals had the classroom credibility, they had the real examples and actual demonstrations, they had candid answers to genuine teacher concerns, and they had (have) the authentic passion, zeal, and spark; their approach to powerful, digitally-oriented learning was contagious. The result of this series of events is different (I think) than if the administrative team had mandated use of the Google Apps. Teachers saw colleagues who were successfully integrating technology and who were open to help those trying to do it. Also, during the Google learning sessions, teachers saw and began working on digital learning tools (make and take) that they could immediately begin using in the classroom. One teacher commented after leaving a Google Session, "I'm going to do that on Monday." 
After the "Google Day" the administrative team had an informal and completely voluntary rush of teachers advocating for a 1:1 school environment. To the administrative team, that was the most significant and notable result of this initiative: We had teachers coming to us to ask for a 1:1 environment because they saw how digital-age tools could amplify learning, make communication easier, and allow for exponential collaboration.  So, instead of the top-down 1:1 initiative where we would have pushed, pried, evaluated, and mandated, we empowered, listened, built on strengths, and invested in credible and meaningful development based-on teacher examples.

At the beginning of our Google Apps for Education, we truthfully had people leaning back with skepticism; they had pushed backward from the keyboard because of the Docs delay, the advertisements, the confusing vocabulary, the different way of organizing emails, etc. At the end of the day when the Google Certified Teachers were at our school district, teachers were literally leaning forward. 


  1. We had blast. Thanks for the opportunity to work with your ENTIRE district. Go Cashton!

  2. I double what bf said... It was a fantastic experience to work with your district. I loved the spirit of help and support I witnessed between staff members. Keep up the great work!