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10 ways to change the minds of tech-reluctant staff

"Removing technology from its stature as something mystical and powerful is something I stress to whomever I'm working with," says one reader.

We often hear about tech-savvy educators and administrators who have an array of best practices and whose love for technology is evident. But as anyone who’s ever been part of a school or district knows, not all teachers and administrators are as comfortable or familiar with technology.

In a recent “Question of the Week,” we asked our tech-savvy readers: “How do you get tech-reluctant teachers and administrators to use technology effectively?” Here are our readers’ top answers (edited for brevity).

1. Use technology for personal reasons first.

“To get educational staff on board with tech, encourage and support them using tech for their non-work purposes. As soon as they develop comfort using tech for their personal purposes, that comfort level will easily transfer to work situations.” —Phil Shapiro, former instructional technology coordinator, Arlington Public Schools, Arlington, Va.

2. Emphasize how it helps them specifically.

“As a principal, I make time to offer and teach the [professional development] myself. I make the training mandatory and ensure that I do the trainings in a helping tone as opposed to an administrative tone. If teachers feel comfortable integrating the technology, and feel as though they are supported, they are more willing to incorporate it [with] ‘buy-in’ as opposed to ‘something we have to do.’ I also, as much as I can, go into classrooms and model lessons using technology. I try to make a point to emphasize to the teachers that time on task increases learning for students. Engagement = student success. Technology, when implemented correctly in classrooms, can yield large amounts of time on task!” —Dr. Chris Marczak, principal, McGavock Elementary

“During the past 12 years, and through all of the technology changes we have encountered, I have found that the most effective way to get others to effectively use technology is by modeling. First, you need to figure out where technology can be used in their classroom and to assist in their role as an educator. Second, find technology resources that can be effectively used for that particular educator. Lastly, model and demonstrate how the technology can be used effectively – if you can’t model it, then find someone else who can! Once teachers realize that effectively using technology will help them teach and be a more effective educator, then the reluctance gradually fades away.” —Jeff Duncan, assistant principal, Highland Springs High School, Henrico County Public Schools, Va.

“I have been presented with tech applications that could be used in hundreds of different ways and have been hurried through a presentation with a presenter who is trying to meet the needs of forty or fifty different educators who teach at levels ranging from pre-K to grade 12. [I would like it] if presenters were to follow the cycle of effective instruction by first beginning with narrow, focused presentations; and second, by training in shorter, more frequent sessions that include plenty of time for guided practice, and end by providing a well-developed lesson or activity that can be used  immediately upon returning to the classroom. Technology training should be followed up with on-site peer support. One-size-fits-all in-service doesn’t work.” —Terrie Alger, reading facilitator, Pablo Elementary School

3. Take small steps.

“The best way to get tech-reluctant teachers/staff/admin to effectively use technology is to provide hands-on training where they are able to experience the technology on their own. We had a school wiki and an in-service where teachers were able to experience some of the great things on their own. I then encouraged them to choose one to implement. By taking small steps and trying it out on their own, teachers are more apt to try it in the classroom. I made sure that our own in-service time was engaging and fun, so that they would see what their students could do.” —Pamela Jimison, principal, Community Christian Schools

“Look for the ‘teachable moment,’ which is sometimes a narrow window of opportunity. When a teacher really needs to know, recognize the opportunity to jump in with ‘let me show you how to…’ followed immediately by ‘this will be easy for you.’ Keep it short and sweet! Teachers/staff/administrators respond better when you show them one tip at a time instead of everything you might know about technology.” —Judi Key, media specialist, Hagood Elementary and Holly Springs Elementary Schools

4. Pair staff members with a knowledgeable co-worker.

“Step 1: One-on-one, hands-on training with a co-worker or peer within the room that the technology will be used. (Peer/co-worker should have something already made for the reluctant staff member to use, like a morning message/meeting or graphic organizer.) Step 2: Have that peer/co-worker available during the time the reluctant staff [member] will be using it (tough in the school environment). Step 3: Encourage and congratulate that staff member at even the smallest successful task. Step 4: Peer/co-worker needs to continuously check on reluctant staff to assess if more training is needed and if staff is comfortable with technology.” —Jacki Kratz, classroom technology specialist

“What we did was to choose the most tech-savvy teacher and give her an extra prep period and a stipend to spend time with these reluctant learners. She speaks the language of teachers and can empathize with their situation. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are planning on expanding this role for next year.” —Rob Bridges, head of school, Muskegon Catholic Central

“I work at a Japanese international school in Hong Kong. Getting teachers, staff, and particularly administrators to use new tech in my school is quite difficult. Our [staff operates under] a mandatory 3-year placement, with teachers shuffled into different grade levels and additional responsibilities every single year, so our staff—with the exception of long-term contract hires like me—have very little time to learn skills outside their new responsibilities. We are also extremely tight for money, so … buying new software, interactive whiteboards, and the like is really difficult. So, getting people to adopt new tech requires not only demonstrable cost savings, but also demonstrable efficiency improvements and very user-friendly interfaces. There is no time or money for extra training, so anything I introduce has to be really easy to use and/or already widely adopted.

“A few years ago, an allied school with an IB curriculum upgraded [its] interactive whiteboards, and my school got a hand-me-down. I’m now teaching my colleagues how they can use the board to save class time, improve student interaction and accessibility. While it’s increased my current workload, I’m quite excited to see my school moving forward with this. Now I just have to be careful to make sure all of the programs I train them on have Japanese versions with an intuitive interface!” —Colin Walke, Japanese International School, Tai Po School, Japanese Section, Hong Kong

5. Let students lead.

“The most effective use of technology is simply to teach the tools in the classroom, assure mastery, and let teens loose. They love it, but do not waste class time with practice. Assign home activities, which can be taken to libraries, friends, etc. Skill development is the key here, not assignments that cannot be properly supervised. Students will surpass teacher knowledge. That’s a given.” —Betty Clemens

6. Allow paid leave for educators to get up to speed.

“There have been many approaches to helping tech-reluctant staff embrace technology, from merely encouraging them to using scare tactics or coercion. I think the biggest challenge for those who are not already techies is simply a combination of their limited free time and the perception that to become tech-aware will take an enormous amount of time and energy. Sadly, however, the tech-reluctant are going to find themselves soon out of the loop of standard education and at risk of losing their jobs. The solution is for educational administrators to do the really hard thing of devoting paid leave time to training the tech-reluctant, while at the same time making sure that the leave is not just an overload. How administrators accomplish this will be their own challenge, but the fact is that we simply have not paid enough attention to the need for training.” —William Badke, associate librarian, Trinity Western University, Associated Canadian Theological Schools and Information Literacy, Langley, B.C., Canada

7. Be sure to offer continuous training and support.

“Districts need to provide consistent technology professional development for staff members that allows them the time to become comfortable and proficient with the use of the technology. The 1-4 hour sessions usually provided for staff members to learn new software/ hardware is not adequate for all staff to become comfortable with new technology. Districts need to provide continuing opportunities for staff to practice with the new technologies in a collaborative environment with staff members of different levels of comfort and proficiency, so that they can learn at their own pace and provide adequate classroom support for each other.” —Michele J Burke, math/computer science teacher, Woodland Park High School, Colo.

8. Plan a fun event.

“I think it is about using a variety of techniques that teachers can discover and find a context for the use of technology in authentic ways in their own classrooms.

“• Tech breakfasts: Every now and then we have a techy breakfast. Of course, the breakfast is cooked by the principal (me), which is sending a good message. One team will share how they are integrating technology into their programs; for example: Web 2.0 tools, jing, using vodcasts to demonstrate progress, using e-portfolios in the classroom, learning journals, etc.

“• Speed dating: Teachers with strengths share how they use a device or a Web 2.0 tool in their classrooms. They get 5 minutes individually with a teacher colleague as a taster.

“• Tech Ex: Each teacher has a tech expert to show them a new skill. We invest money in training the tech experts, who range in age from 10 years old to 13. Each teacher is scheduled to meet with their respective tech expert once per week for up to 30 minutes. The tech experts are expected to personalize the learning for the teacher. This is more effective than peers doing this job.

“… Principals can set expectations around the use of technology over each term. The expectations are set at the beginning of each year in a collaborative way. I check up regularly to give positive feedback.

“Teachers use e-portfolios for their appraisal. Student teachers use e-portfolios to demonstrate to us that they have met the graduating standards by collecting digital artifacts to demonstrate mastery. This has really forced us all to become tech savvy.” —Owen Alexander, principal, Takapuna Normal Intermediate School, Auckland, New Zealand

9. Realize technology can be intimidating.

“Meet faculty and staff where they are, and provide them with continuous support. These are two ways to encourage effective use of technology by reluctant teachers/staff/administrators. Meeting faculty and staff where they are involves differentiating training into stages: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Doing this sends the message that ‘not knowing’ is okay. It lessens feelings of intimidation, lack of self-confidence, and fear of making mistakes. Additionally, no one would have to sit through trainings that either go way over their heads or that present information already known. Providing continuous support requires revisiting training participants to evaluate and to further assist with the transfer of technology skills taught, encouraging support from colleagues, providing the opportunity to showcase what was learned, and emphasizing that using technology is often time-consuming and frustrating.” —Mamzelle Adolphine

“My opening line for technophobes is always, ‘You’re looking at one of the least technical people you’ll ever meet.’ And that’s because it’s true—I am not a technical person, but I’ve been successful with technology because, although I appreciate and respect its potential, I don’t fear or kowtow to it. Removing technology from its be-all, end-all stature as something mystical and powerful is something I stress to whomever I’m working with—that essentially technology is just a tool, a means to an end. Next, I would employ an interdisciplinary approach to ask the person I was training the best way they liked to learn. For example, if they liked to cook, then encourage them to approach learning a particular new technology the same way they would baking a cake. Or if they like to tango, then they should apply the same strategies of learning a new dance step. Pushing the focus on technology to the back of the brain and allowing a person’s creative passions to step forward helps inspire anyone to overcome their tech obstacles.  Before you know it, they’re using technology without realizing it.

“Eliminating tech jargon and simplifying steps to make it easier for the user to get started immediately is another important strategy. Let them be drawn into the technology if they decide to venture deeper, but respect their willingness only to learn the basics. Finally, I like to employ a hands-on approach immediately. If it’s equipment, I let them start pushing buttons and playing with the machine right away, having fun with it; and the same goes for using software. I also like to let the user know that technology, like humans, is imperfect, and because it’s designed by different people that often it can be clunky and poorly designed; it’s them, not you.” —Britt

10. Make sure the technology works—and is easily available.

“Do everything necessary to make sure it works when they want to use it! It’s very frustrating to plan a lesson that includes technology, and then it fails to work when you need it.” —Jennifer Bova, director, OWL Teacher Center, Lindenhurst, N.Y.

“I think the biggest impediment to using technology for teachers is lack of access to effective tech tools. I am an ‘early adopter’ and also a ‘power user,’ but most of the tech tools I use in my classroom were purchased by me at my own expense, using money contributed by the law practice that I ran before I retired to become a teacher. Second, I think the software tools available to teachers are generally of pretty poor quality. For example, my school uses a popular grade book and attendance program that is garbage. It doesn’t allow teachers to access student data in hundreds of ways that could support more effective instruction. By way of comparison, in the late 1980s I was using litigation and law practice management support software on stand-alone DOS based computers that was easier and more intuitive than the software I have on my school computer today. Schools are spending small fortunes on technology tools that are broken, poorly designed, or simply not functional for things that teachers need to get done.” —Christopher Dahle, sixth grade math and science teacher, Ortega Middle School, Alamosa, Colo.

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