Work With the Willing: Moving Teachers into the 21st Century

13 01 2008

Given some time to reflect over the holiday break, I’ve been thinking about the essential structures that must be put into place for a successful technology integration program (or, as I would prefer to call it, a 21st century school). I started really thinking about this last year, when my then-tech director, David Sinclair (now at Taipei American School), and I started building a framework for our integration program.

This is now the third international school where I have helped institute a fully integrated technology program, and between my experiences in Munich (before the blog), my work with David at M’KIS and the planning that we’ve put in place here at ISB, I’ve realized that schools need:

And then of course, there’s the teachers…

Clearly there are so many pieces to this puzzle that it’s no wonder that those of us truly excited about the possibilities are feeling alone, frustrated, exasperated, discouraged, even if we are learning from our mistakes. We try to bring change to our schools, often at the individual level, only to see those ideas fall apart at the seams. We try to push departments froward with curriculum redesign, only to become overwhelmed with the differing factions. We try to mandate change at an administrative level, only to see certain individuals find a way around the standards set. Clearly we need all of these pieces working together to institute any real change. But we can’t forget about supporting the teachers. They are, after all, the linchpin to our success. We can change curriculum and document new ideas until we’re blue in the face, but the teachers are the ones that have to actually change.

One of the things I’ve realized after trying to get this ball rolling in three very different schools with three very different approaches to 21st century learning, is that, when it comes to teachers, you have to start out by working with the willing. Sometimes it’s hard for school leadership to accept that you can’t get everyone on board at once. Even if you set out a mandate clearly detailing that every teacher must change their classroom practice, it doesn’t mean it happens instantaneously.

When I came on board at ISB, I was so over-enthusiastic about my position, the direction the school was heading, and the amazingly supportive leadership, that I had have a hard time reining myself in. Why can’t we get everyone on board in one year? Why can’t we have an expectation that all teachers have classroom blogs by the end of the year? Why can’t we update and adapt all curriculum plans to embed technology in one year? We really don’t have any time to waste, so it’s full steam ahead – no matter what the cost.

Unfortunately, the reality is that teachers are bombarded with expectations for all areas of their profession every day. Sure, they all know they need to “keep up” with technology, but it’s mixed in with all those other expectations we all know and love – from grading to parents to classroom management – and who has time for something that may not end up making the job any easier? And we can’t forget that every teacher has their own specialty, their own personal interests and expertise that they bring to their classroom. Do they all have to bring technology? Ultimately, I think they do – I just don’t think it all happens at the drop of a hat.

So, I recognize that I have to be a better salesman, to parade my wares more tantalizingly, to suck as many people in with my exciting and alluring advertising strategies (this perky blog included), but frankly, I’m not really sure that’s the only issue. I think teachers need to be ready, and willing, to change. Because 21st century teaching is not just about turning on the Smart Board and plugging in the laptop. It’s about changing the way you do business in your classroom. It’s about flattening those walls, taking a deep breath and jumping in – feet first. And the only way to really sell that adventure is to find a teacher who wants to buy.

Back in August, when I arrived here in Bangkok, we had a great team meeting about how to embed 21st century literacy into our classroom instruction – specifically how to change the way teachers teach. I advocated for a 3 step process:

Year 1: Work With the Willing

In the first year, connect a small cohort of teachers that are personally interested and invested in changing their classroom practice. A group of people that want to do new things in new ways, who want to try and who aren’t afraid to fail. This could be one teacher per grade level, or one per department, depending on what works best for your school. These teachers would then work very closely with the technology facilitator to embed 21st century skills into their classroom practice – not on just one project in the year, but in their daily interactions with students. They would begin to explore how multiple pieces fit together because each new project they begin will build on the previous learning. They would see how different tools can handle different tasks and how bringing all those tools together, along with thoughtful planning, higher level thinking and creativity, and engaging teaching makes a truly 21st century classroom. As a group these teachers can meet together to discuss strategies and ideas, they can be a support structure for this new adventure, and they can start planting seeds in other teacher’s minds.

The work that these teachers in these different classrooms do then becomes an example for other teachers. They showcase their projects at faculty meetings, they present at conferences, they bring new ideas to department or grade-level meetings. And the key is, because these are actual classroom teachers doing this (not just the technology facilitator who just knows how to do this stuff), their voice is so much more powerful.

Year 2: Mentor the Willing

In the second year, the teachers that changed their classroom practice in year one will become mentors to a second group of willing teachers. The same idea applies only now the teachers from year one are leading the way. Now, because there are multiple teachers adapting their classroom practice, they can work together to develop official curriculum planners, to start institutionalizing the changes they have made in their individual classrooms.

Plus, this opens up a second group of teachers for the technology facilitator to work with. Now you have 3 teachers per grade level: a teacher mentor who went through the process the year before, the teacher they’re working with, and the teacher the facilitator is working with. In most schools, that would be the whole grade level. At some schools it’s only half, or less. Either way, you have classroom teachers inspiring change in other classroom teachers.

Year 3: Bring the “less than willing” on Board

In the third year, teachers from year 1 and year 2 will now be mentoring a new teacher (again, those that are willing). The facilitator will mentor another group of teachers (can be a group of willing teachers, or perhaps a group that are mandated to change classroom practice by admin). Given that you now have 5 teachers per grade level doing new things in new ways, building off previous years work, collaborating with their other 21st century teachers, you can now begin to change common assessments, and to formalize the projects that have been developed over the years.

I’m still working on pushing this 3 step process through. I know it’s frustrating to see something so close yet so far, and I know it seems like if we could just get the technology authentically embedded (and we don’t need the teachers on board for that, do we?) into the curriculum in one fell swoop, we’d be done before we started. But teachers are special folk. If they don’t want to change, they won’t. We have to show them, we have to prove why they should. And there’s no better way to do that than with other classroom teachers sharing their success. And those successes aren’t going to happen with a technology facilitator forcing a teacher to change (as if they could, given that they’re never going to be a supervisor to other teachers). It’s going to happen when a teacher wants to change and asks for help.

So, I wonder, if we had all those initial pieces in place, and we started working with the willing, could we do it in three years? Could you change an entire school (or school division) from the ground up in three years. I think you could. In fact, I wonder if any school already has every piece in place…

Tags:  21stcenturyinternationalschool, flatclassroom, classroom21st century literacy, globalcitizens, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development


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21 responses to “Work With the Willing: Moving Teachers into the 21st Century”

    13 01 2008
      Graham (18:48:14) :     

    Thank you for your lucid and comprehensive summary of where you have been and where you intend going. I think I’m up to the year 2 process and hoping that those I brought onboard last year are still interested and will have the time/inclination to want to share their new skills and directions. I think the difficulty is in the “proving” bit. In our system, here in NSW, Australia we are so overshadowed by the exit exam (HSC) that the teachers will only get excited about something that will improve exam results. Life-long learning skills, engagement and constructivist pedagogy don’t cut it unless we can show an improvement in test and exam results that may translate to “the big one” at completion of Year 12.

    We did very much as you have suggested in my previous school (before I took over the ICT role). Things essentially go well up the end of the third year. Then its common for schools to run an evaluation of the whole program. Such evaluations usually tell you what you already know (1/3 love it, 1/3 hate it and 1/3 don’t know), but in my case it coincided with a new headmaster, whi didn’t reallt support the use of technology. He told the staff that they could do what they felt most comfortable with and made it clear that technology use was not a priority. That essentially sent us backwards three years. As you have said, support from the top is crucial.

    I’m not being negative. I’m going to go through all of the links in your blog and learn as much as I can from your examples. I’ll be starting on the year 2 processes, in my new school, within the next few weeks and pushing gently (I promise).

    Thanks again for collecting so much useful stuff together all in one place.

    13 01 2008
      murcha (18:57:08) :     

    Enjoyed reading this blog as it is something I have been thinking about a lot as well. I am working with one other teacher in our school to lay the “eplanks for a virtual classroom”. We too have decided to establish a strong online social network for ourselves, use the web 2.0 tools and gradually bring on the staff who are most willing. With the excitement shown by our students and those willing staff, and the demonstration of powerful learning that they gain, it will flow gradually onto the other staff in time.
    (We have also started short 5-10 min ‘pd spots’ at staff meetings for all staff with just quick brief tips and suggestions on things they all use eg email, outlook, image manipulation and uploading etc. That works well and they can use it for both private and school use.)
    Thank you for sharing this post

    13 01 2008
      Sujokat (19:04:07) :     

    Great post Kim . This is the brick wall we are all facing and none of us are particularly patient people – especially the twitter addicts! I really agree with your plan and the way you decide to break the changes into manageable and measurable bits. I hope you do update posts on how it progresses and I will be keeping a copy of this for showing admins at my school.

    13 01 2008
      Allanahk (19:52:59) :     

    I think the strategy is a pretty sound one. Over three years gains are more achievable.

    In the NZ model we have three year ICT contracts where groups of schools can support each other with an ICT facilitator to model and inspire.

    The system seems to have worked, with me at least!

    13 01 2008
      mscofino (21:08:22) :     

    Graham,

    Isn’t it scary that those exams, which actually have no bearing on how students will be able to manage life and a career “when they grow up” end up dictating everything that we, as teachers, do – all the way down to primary school?

    Equally is scary is how one person, in the right position can change the most critical aspects of a school. One person can bring a school into the 21st century and one can send them back to the 20th – that’s all it takes when that person is the headmaster….

    murcha,

    I love your “PD spots” idea on tools that teachers use every day – I think I might have to try to put that into effect here at ISB. It’s all about making things easier for teachers – but sometimes we skip past the basics and rush on ahead and end up leaving the rest behind. A great reminder!

    Sujokat,

    Twitter is definitely changing my perception of time… E-mail is too slow for me now! Instant access in one area of my life means I tend to expect it in others as well – not necessarily going to happen anytime soon!

    Allanah,

    I totally agree – you need time to make a real change, and to institutionalize it. I love the idea of groups of schools supporting each other. I wish international schools would interact like that!

    14 01 2008
      Doug Johnson (01:48:12) :     

    Hi Kim,

    You are rather kind here. The expression in our district is “Work with the living.”

    This is a wonderful model. It does assume the “willing” are willing to sit still for three years and not move on to the next new thing. This makes your year three a challenge.

    My sense is you also need to be setting minimum expectations of all teachers every year – the living as well as the living dead.

    All the best and great entry!

    Doug

    14 01 2008
      Jeanette (02:10:30) :     

    Loved this post, Kim. As a principal who’s only been exploring these ideas for about a year, I’ve been encouraging faculty exploration as appropriate, but I recognize that it’s time for a more coherent approach to moving faculty forward at our school. Your plan provides some great food for thought.

    It’s so true that it’s hard for the ‘converted’ to have patience with the ‘unconverted.’ But you hit the nail on the head with this: “when it comes to teachers, you have to start out by working with the willing.”

    And with this: ” Even if you set out a mandate clearly detailing that every teacher must change their classroom practice, it doesn’t mean it happens instantaneously.”

    I believe we can’t mandate excellence – we can only mandate compliance. And I don’t want compliance – I want excellence. Mandates aren’t the way to go, and your summary of all the expectations, challenges, and demands already placed on teachers is a perfect explanation of why mandates would be doomed to fail – not to mention being disrespectful of our teachers and their already very hard jobs.

    I’m looking forward to continuing my work with the willing at my school, and to continuing to follow your progress, as well.

    14 01 2008
      David Truss (04:49:59) :     

    Kim,
    You have offered such a gem here. Not only do you put a positive spin on ‘The coalition of the willing’, but your links will take some very worthwhile hours of exploration, examination, and consideration before I can move on.

    To me the biggest challenge is to ‘Bring the “less than willing” on Board’ while not coming off as a techno-evangelist. For this reason, I love the suggestion of ‘embedding’ technology into the curric.
    I think this will be something we see happening soon enough! What will make it a success is finding exemplary examples to lead the way- thanks for being such a great role model here!

    14 01 2008
      Sue Waters (07:08:37) :     

    Sorry Kim would love to say 3 years and it is achievable but it isn’t. The reason why is you are dealing with change and change management. When embedding innovation I like to consider the Roger’s Innovation Adoption curve. In the first 2 years you are probably dealing with the Innovators and Early Adopters, perhaps the Early Majority — these individuals will quickly engage and become involved with using the technology. The hard group will be the Late Majority and Laggards. The level of support, processes and what motivates them to buy in will differ with each group and unfortunately the last groups will be the hardest to get engaged.

    Effectively we are talking a large scale change in an organisation and we have to accept that the time frame will be more like 5-10 years. Our organisations need to have strategies for long term implementation — which you are trying to do which is fantastic — compared to many organisations whose plans are ad-hoc based on a few days or weeks of support.

    14 01 2008
      Rick Biche (08:12:20) :     

    This is such a timely post. It is very easy to find posts about the need for change but here is one about making it happen. Teachers are the key to this and bringing them along cannot happen overnight. Like any change in education or really any other institution, a plan has to be in place. My school has drawn heavily on your blog for our own plans and this post will be no different. Thanks for your hard work and great insight.

    14 01 2008
      mscofino (10:53:38) :     

    Doug,

    Thanks for the feedback – you make a good point about the enthusiastic possibly being held back while we wait for the others to catch up. I wonder if we can have rotating programs for those that are early adapters to keep them up to date as we work through the other groups of teachers?

    Jeanette,

    Exactly! Compliance is not what we’re going for here – it wouldn’t be acceptable in other areas of the job, why should it be OK here?

    I think one piece that’s very important (that I may not have been really clear about in my post) is that this should be a formal group – so that everyone knows it’s rotating around until everyone is a part. Not just an under-the-table see who’s interested kind of thing. It needs to be institutionalized from the beginning.

    David,

    I hear you – I always get the “but your a tech person” response when I show my enthusiasm about new ways of teaching and learning. We need more examples of “regular teachers” (or better yet, “music people” and “math people” and “PE people”) being excited and enthusiastic and sharing examples of success.

    Sue,

    Oh boy. 5 – 10 years, huh? I guess I’m being over enthusiastic once again. Is it possible that the different size of the organizations make a difference, or is it just the personalities involved. I will read your link now to find out more. Thanks for the feedback – at least now I can speak with some authority that it doesn’t happen in ONE year!

    Rick,

    Absolutely – without a plan it’s so easy to get steered off track. New things come up and the original intent is forgotten. I think all of this needs to be set out in writing somewhere and formally institutionalized into school practice just so it doesn’t get left behind. I’m so glad my work has been helpful for your school!

    14 01 2008
      Paul harrington (21:19:24) :     

    Kim,
    I am sure that many of us responding here have in our own school’s at one time or another, been quilty of trying to push fellow teachers into areas which they are either not ready for, or have other more important PD issues
    Your ideas of tantalizing your colleagues by dropping in tasty morsels of web 2.0/ global connectivity is certainly a good model, and one which I certainly have deployed.
    Once your colleague has become curious about how the technology can enhance their teaching, and perhaps more importantly their pupils learning then you have a basis on which to move forwards.
    They will also of course realise the value in developing a Personal Learning Network which will enable them to tap into the growing band of helpful teachers in the online world.

    15 01 2008
      Anne Reardon (21:03:41) :     

    Hi Kim,

    I’m going to add my thanks for this post. I’m in a similar position to yours, but instead of one school, I’m responsible for a whole district. That will necessarily lengthen our timeframe for change, but I like the structure that you’ve described…almost a “pay it forward” idea. Teachers who are willing and interested learn and then pay that forward to their colleagues by sharing what they’ve learned and done.

    As you and some of the others who’ve commented also note, then the challenge becomes continuing to move the “willing” forward while still having the time to bring the – shall we say…reluctant – along (hopefully not kicking and screaming).

    Thanks again for a very real, constructive post.

    Anne

    31 01 2008
      mscofino (13:14:26) :     

    Paul,

    One thing I really need to start focusing on is helping teachers develop their own PLN. I think it’s hard to really understand the value of such a network unless you’re part of one. And creating your own network takes time and effort – not always readily available in the classroom.

    Anne,

    You have reminded me to be so thankful that I’m only working with one division of one school – moving a whole district forward is a much bigger challenge!

    2 02 2008
      Jim Coe (22:58:39) :     

    Hey Kim,

    I agree with you that teachers need to be willing. The fastest way to kill an idea or resource is to require everyone to do it. I am in my first year as a instructional technology resource teacher and have been putting your process into practice with great success. I quickly realized that the “sale” was key. I found the core who were ready to try something new either because they were trailblazers or fatigued by the “same old same old”. I have given them all the attention they need to make sure they succeed during the first half of the year, and, now, am planning on giving them opportunities to share their successes with the rest of the faculty. Thanks for your concise, comprehensive reflection on the labor of love we engaging in each day. I have a few colleagues who would benefit from it!

    Jim

    3 02 2008
      mscofino (00:11:56) :     

    Jim,

    Fantastic! How great to hear such a wonderful success story! There is something very powerful about letting go, and letting those that are ready take the lead. Not only will their experiences be more authentic, because they were ready, but the more reluctant teachers will see others “just like them” making a change and it will seem that much more within their grasp.

    7 11 2008
      Michelle P (00:19:38) :     

    Hi Kim,
    Although I have read your posts before, it is only recently that I have really dug in, so I guess I am a little late to the party. I like your three year model and can totally relate to feel of urgency to push forward faster. One piece that I have discovered time and time again when I sit to work with teachers is a sort of lack of direction when it comes to what they want their students to know at the end of the day, what are they walking away with? I am still so far from where you are, but I hope to get there soon. (Impatient as always.) What do you do when you sit down with teachers and they answer your question, “So what do you what the students to know or be able to do at the end of this?” and they reply “You know, Iwant them to know some major things about Mexico.” Pause, exhale. “Okay, what?” “Well, you know.” And then the sort of perturbed shrug and look away.
    I know that some of it is a need to become more comforatable with technology but some is a need to reevaluate what we are doing and why. Have you ever had this experience and how do you handle it?

    8 11 2008
      mscofino (09:00:27) :     

    @Michelle,

    This is something I struggle with myself. It is always surprising to me just how frequently teachers actually don’t know what they want their students to walk away with. I can’t even imagine trying to teach a unit without knowing what the end goals are!

    So, when this situation arises, and it does, I usually try to lead by example. We can work slowly through the activities for the unit and try to find out if there is a goal already embedded, or we can just start from scratch and develop the goal ourselves. Usually this depends on the teacher’s comfort level with curriculum planning.

    It’s a very fine line to walk, though, and it can be stressful, because in essence, this is just good teaching – nothing to do with technology. So balancing the collaboration piece, with the modeling piece, can be a very political experience.

    No matter what, I do believe it is critical to only move forward when you have clear outcomes. I was at a conference earlier this year where the keynote speaker said something along the lines of “don’t involve yourself in mediocrity” and it just resonated with me. If you’re going to work with someone, it only makes sense to make sure its a valuable use of everyone’s time.

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