Are you a Hooray, Hmm, or Hell No educator?

By Dennis Pierce
July 5th, 2016

When it comes to innovation, there are 3 types of people, according to ed-tech leader Jennie Magiera


Change is hard. How can you get reluctant teachers to embrace change and try new innovations in teaching with technology? At ISTE 2016, popular ed-tech speaker Jennie Magiera shared several strategies for doing just that—turning those “yes, but…” objections into “what if…” adventures.

Magiera, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher who is now the chief technology officer for School District 62 in Des Plaines, Ill., said there are three types of people whom ed-tech leaders will encounter when they encourage their staff to innovate: “hoorays, hmms, and hell nos.”

The “hoorays” are those who are eager to try new tools and techniques in their classroom, she said. The “hmms” are those who watch with interest but aren’t ready to dive in right away, and the “hell nos” are those who actively resist.

To use the language of researcher Everett Rogers, the “hoorays” are the innovators and early adopters of Rogers’ Innovation Curve, and they make up about 16 percent of the population; the “hmms” are the early and late adopters, who make up 68 percent of the population; and the “hell nos” are the laggards, who comprise the final 16 percent.

Too often, ed-tech leaders focus the bulk of their attention on the laggards, Magiera said. But it’s the “hmms” in the middle of the curve who represent the most promise: If you can get this 68 percent to adopt change, then you’ve got a critical mass behind your efforts.

Here are five key takeaways from Magiera’s session that can help ed-tech leaders inspire classroom innovation more effectively.

Understand the impact of change

The statement “I can’t” comes from either fear or disbelief, Magiera said: Educators are afraid of failing, or they’re worried the change will have a negative effect on their classroom or their students.

When we ask someone to embrace change, “we’re messing with their understanding of what it means to be an educator,” she noted. “We’re moving their ch’i.” That puts people in an uncomfortable position, she explained, because their professional identity is at stake.

Citing the research of John Marzano and others, she described the difference between first-order change, where stakeholders see the change as consistent with their existing values and norms, and second-order change, which is a paradigm shift that’s much harder to implement.

Second-order change affects the culture, communication, order, and input within a school environment. “Think about how these are impacted by the change,” Magiera said—and be prepared to address these aspects when you’re leading school transformation.

Build a culture that supports innovation.

To encourage innovation, you must build a culture in which teachers feel safe to explore and try new ideas in their classroom, Magiera said. Here are some things you can say to your staff to help establish this kind of culture:

  • Make sure your students fail. This might seem counterintuitive, but “in our quest to help students become better versions of themselves, sometimes we over-support our kids,” she observed. Instead, teachers must give their students the space to learn for themselves and to experience their own successes—and Think of “FAIL” as an acronym for “first attempt in learning,” Magiera said, adding: “Once you FAIL, then you can SAIL—or have a subsequent attempt in learning.”
  • Don’t teach topics, teach children. “There’s more to what they do in school than understanding the difference between polyhedrons and spheres,” Magiera said. She described how one of her colleagues at a school in Chicago demonstrated what’s possible when students are given the chance to use technology as a tool for social change. The school was in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, an area plagued by so much violence that it had been nicknamed “Chi-raq” or “Terror Town.” Lindsey Rose’s fifth-grade students “hated that people were talking about their town so negatively,” Magiera said. “So they decided to create a counter-narrative.” After reading The House on Mango Street, Rose’s students created a YouTube video about how they felt about their neighborhood. “Their message went viral,” Magiera said, and it was picked up by the local and national media. “This was the first time … that news trucks were lining the streets of the South Shore to tell a positive story.” The project also had a profound effect on the students’ sense of identity and self-worth.
  • Learn to relax. Magiera shared a comment she heard from a student panel, in which one of her students said: “Teachers just need to relax and have fun. I mean, your students all know you’re human.”

Next page: Making people angry is OK