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Is teacher buy-in worth the effort?

When it comes to technology and innovation, how important is teacher buy-in for learning success?

Thinking back to what teachers hated to use in the classroom when I was a young student, the only tools that really come to mind are colored chalk and overhead projectors. But in today’s technology-dense culture, when no classroom is spared from the onslaught of new technology and instructional innovations, how much attention should be paid to what teachers prefer and what they loathe?

This may sound like a callous question, but it’s one that’s been cropping up in wild abundance this year on eSchool News.

Experts make the case for and against teacher buy-in

Recently, Alan November, the founder of edtech consulting firm November Learning, wrote a piece for eSchool News explaining that the use of technology in the classroom is critical for student achievement, and that teachers must buy-in to ensure that the technology—and pedagogical practices using this technology—is harnessed to its full potential.

Attending the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference in Chicago this year, one of the most pushed points during a panel on what makes a successful “future-ready” school was to acquire teacher buy-in.

“It’s critical to remember that you can’t leave teachers behind in all of this,” emphasized presenter LaShona Dickerson, director of technology for the Lafayette Parish School System, LA. “To get the best expected returns on tech and innovation implementation, you have to involve the teachers.”

However, a former long-time teacher (now the vice president of Learning and Development for Discovery Education), recently wrote a piece on why teacher buy-in is sometimes overrated and can actually “paralyze innovation” within the school or district. She writes:

“Understanding the balance between growing buy-in and launching innovation has never been more important than in today’s era… as new ideas about teaching and learning go in and out of style, teachers have a right to feel some initiative fatigue. However, the fact remains that today’s world is a digital world, and in order for our students to be successful beyond graduation, they need an education that prepares them to operate productively in our society as it is. This reality makes the digital transition not a fad or something we might be able to get to, but rather, an immediate necessity that cannot always wait for optimum levels of teacher buy-in.”

This was a sentiment echoed in part by one of the CoSN panel’s attendees, the superintendent of one of Virginia’s largest school districts, who explained that securing buy-in from everyone in order to launch a new campaign was almost an impossibility — both in terms of number of staff and time constraints.

Going on the gut

As someone who doesn’t have hard data in front of her concerning teacher buy-in, I can’t say for certain how directly student achievement correlates to educator buy-in.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t speculate — based purely on memory and common sense — that buy-in does have an effect on student learning. I may have used that colored chalk in rebellious sprees after school despite the teacher not liking it, but my opinion of my teacher was influenced.

Outside the colored chalk years to more mature ones filled with learning software and computer labs, I continued to see the teachers who didn’t take joy in trying new things, or experimenting with the possibilities of what could be, as relics.

And why does a student’s personal opinion matter? Because when a student begins to view his or her learning mentor as irrelevant, the information imparted by that mentor is shaded in irrelevancy as well. And nothing says ‘don’t bother to learn this’ than the feeling that it doesn’t matter.

(Next page: If teacher buy-in matters, how can schools get it more quickly?)

Since teacher buy-in matters, make it easier

I agree that taking years or even months to get teacher buy-in is not feasible for schools and districts under pressure to improve student achievement. But since buy-in can influence student learning, how can schools do a better job of getting teacher buy-in, quickly?

According to November, one piece of the buy-in puzzle is to understand that teacher hesitancy in using technology or changing to a new innovative practice is often based in the fear of failing; of being reprimanded by administration or teased by students because of this perception of failure. Hesitancy is also due to a “sense of loss” of tried-and-true methods. He writes:

“I am convinced that the difficult work of transforming teaching and learning with the help of EdTech is not about teaching teachers how to use new tools; it’s really about the emotional side of letting go of control and managing the anxiety that comes with a sense of loss.

November emphasizes that in order to build teacher buy-in, administration and leadership must understand these emotional barriers and offer support — both in their communications and school and district practices.

Outside mitigating emotional turmoil, Samuel Mormando, director of Technology for Garnet Valley School District, writes that offering professional development in a style that mimics what the district would like to see in the classroom is a great way to achieve teacher buy-in. He writes:

“All sessions are driven and organized based on feedback from staff and analyzed by the district’s LEAP Committee, all utilizing face-to-face, synchronous, and asynchronous blended instruction. Our teachers choose their specific learning topics at their own pace with their preferred instructional model.”

The question of teacher buy-in is a critical one at this peak time of technology and innovation saturation in education. We welcome your comments and opinions!

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on edCircuit here.]

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Meris Stansbury

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