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


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

Don’t be afraid to make some people angry

In leading change, you’re going to make some people very uncomfortable, Magiera said—but you can’t shy away from innovation just because “you’re going to make some people mad.”

She showed a quote from Marzano that said administrators leading second-order change “must be willing to live through a period of frustration and even anger from some staff members. No doubt this takes a great personal toll on a school leader and might explain why many promising practices have not led to improved student achievement and ultimately have been abandoned.” But knowing it’s the right thing to do can help school leaders move forward with the change, Magiera said.

It also helps to find a crew of like-minded adventurers you can rely on when the going gets tough. “It’s important that you have a support system to tell you you’re not crazy,” she advised.

As CTO in Des Plaines, Magiera got a call from Google earlier this school year, asking if she would be interested in having her teachers pilot the company’s Google Expeditions virtual field trips with their classes. The call came on a Thursday, and Google was set to show up the following Monday.

Not wanting to miss this opportunity, Magiera said yes—but she didn’t think to check with the union first. She set about asking teachers if they would participate, but she received blowback from a union representative who objected to the lack of notice. Still, when Monday rolled around, the students in the participating classes “had these amazing experiences,” she said. They got to virtually visit remote places such as the Borneo rain forest, the ocean floor, and Mt. Everest. “I can’t wait to tell my parents where I went today,” one student told her.

Magiera acknowledged her mistake in not approaching the union first, but she said she didn’t regret saying yes to the opportunity. If she had worried about making people angry, those students never would have had such a transformative experience, she noted.

Share your “crazy pills”

After this two-day pilot project had ended, teachers who had taken part were looking for ways to continue leveraging the Expeditions technology, even though it wasn’t yet available commercially at the time.

“We had a team building homemade Google Cardboard kits,” she said, referring to the simple virtual-reality viewers that students use to experience Expeditions. Of course, these were the “hoorays” in her district, who were gushing about what their students had just experienced. But Magiera used their enthusiasm to help drive interest among the rest of the staff.

“Allow teachers to tell their stories,” she recommended. As these early adopters shared their excitement with colleagues, “more and more people were slowly buying the crazy.” She likened their enthusiasm to an addiction, adding: “Innovation is the only safe drug we should allow in school.”

Don’t get complacent

Magiera concluded her talk by quoting the entrepreneur, scientist, and author Astro Teller, who said: “Our ambitions are a glass ceiling in what we can accomplish.”

“Don’t let your own ambitions be your glass ceiling,” she urged attendees. “Remember to be courageous, and don’t forget that you can. If I say I can’t do it, I’ll never try.”

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