Trying to change teacher practice? Enlist ‘Bob’

Skeptical staff members are important allies in convincing others to try new approaches

teacher-techPerhaps the most frequent question I get from school administrators is: How can I get my teachers to use technology?

It’s often voiced by a school principal, ed-tech admin, or superintendent who wants faculty to change their instructional practices.

As most administrators know, top-down directives are not going to convince teachers to use technology.

Directives don’t change beliefs, and they often provoke resentment. Nor do “one off” talks by outside experts bring about substantive and lasting change.

Classroom practices are most acutely and profoundly changed by peer-to-peer interactions over a sustained period—whether formal presentations at gatherings or informal exchanges in the cafeteria.

(Next page: Choosing a teacher to model tech use)

So, many administrators decide to put faculty members in front of their colleagues to present on the use of technology in the hope that these presentations will get more teachers to use technology. A sound strategy.

But they choose the wrong person.

These faculty presentations are often delivered by tech-savvy, “early adaptor” teachers. At one faculty meeting I attended, a chipper, tech-loving-twenty- something got up in front of her teachers and presented an elaborate and complex demonstration of technology in her classroom. Looking at the audience, I could almost read the anxiety and apprehension in the eyes of the veteran faculty members:
“I could never do that!”
“I don’t understand half of what she’s saying.”
“I can’t believe the administration expects me to do this.”

The tech demonstration not only failed to persuade the faculty to use technology, it had the backlash effect of heightening faculty anxiety and reluctance.

Me, I’d enlist “Bob.” I met Bob some years ago.

And I know you’ve met him, too. Bob is a veteran, respected teacher who is reluctant to use technology.

He’s not intransigent, but he’s a skeptic who questions its value and voices reservations. The Bob I met was close to retirement age, but he agreed to try some technology in his classroom and present at a year-end faculty meeting.

Bob’s demeanor was gruff, and his get-to-the-point presentation went something like this:
“I tried a Google Document. It’s online and a way students can write and peer-edit. Here’s what my students did. [Proceeds to explain example on the screen.] I could see their edits anytime I wanted and all their changes to their essays. I could leave them comments and not wait until I got paper drafts days later in class. It worked pretty well and the kids tell me it was helpful getting quick feedback. They showed me some other stuff you can do. I’m not completely sold on it yet, but I’m gonna try it out a little bit more.”

Bob’s presentation was short and uncomplicated. He certainly wasn’t the savviest or most enthusiastic tech integrationist I’ve seen. But you could sense what many of the faculty were thinking:

“Wait. What’s Bob doing up there??”

“Hmm. If Bob’s willing to try this stuff ….”

“Gee. If Bob can do it, well, I can do it.”

Many administrators try to motivate faculty by rolling out tech-savvy colleagues and instruction technology specialists who often spin long and involved presentations on what a teacher can accomplish with technology —“Someday.” But, most teachers need to start with something limited, concrete, and relatively simple that they feel they could do—“Monday.”

A “Monday” activity might be simplistic and not immediately change teacher practice in substantive ways.

But, a series of Monday activities can be stepping stones that lead teachers to new insights, burgeoning confidence and the eventual realization of a Someday project.

Strategically, Bob is the most important faculty member to move technology integration forward at your school.

But Bob is not tech-savvy. Tech-savvy, early-adopter types will look to use technology whether administrators encourage them or not. They are a distinct minority and not your primary concern.

Bob is not intransigent, either. He is not that unbending faculty member who will never use technology, no matter what you say or do. Luddites are also increasingly in the minority. And if intransigents at your school become your primary focus, you may only succeed at giving yourself an ulcer.

Most teachers, like Bob, are somewhere in the middle of the tech integration spectrum. They are somewhat open to using technology, but they’re skeptical and have reservations and anxieties.

Bob represents the largest and most consequential group in your quest for increasing technology usage. Swing Bob’s large group toward early-adopter practices, and you’ve increased tech usage—and isolated Luddites. Lose Bob’s group and tech usage will stagnate, if not reverse.

Enlist your Bobs wisely, and you’ll find that you’ll have less of them in the years ahead.

Tom Daccord is the director of EdTechTeacher, a professional learning organization.

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