3 Vows for a Prosperous EdTech Marriage

This post by Jack C. Shaw is part of our Thought Leader guest blog series.

August 20, 2013
Jack Shaw
Senior Consultant to Amplify Insight

CATEGORIES Professional Development, Technology Integration

This post by Jack C. Shaw is part of our Thought Leader guest blog series. 

Marrying education and technology in the classroom isn't formulaic, but one thing is clear:  if teachers don't use your <insert awesome transformative tech solution here> it won't ever be effective.  

One of the best parts of my job is learning alongside thousands of teachers as they wrestle technology into their classrooms. After a while, you notice actions that really make a difference.  I'd like to offer three of these actions as vows to consider before your next edtech wedding, and a couple examples where making them paid off. With any luck they can help you achieve a more productive, and happy, union. 

Repeat after me: I <state your name> promise to:

1.    Use will as the way to develop skill.  

Help teachers WANT to do something and they'll work tirelessly to learn HOW to do it, and translate this knowledge into meaningful action in the classroom.

Teacher development typically focuses too much on how to do something and too little on why doing it has value.  Improving skill is obviously important, but will is a powerful way to influence teacher behavior and a more supportive way to increase skill.  

The Productive High School describes the will/skill relationship.  Teachers are motivated to teach because they see it as important.  They will invest in something new if they understand its meaning and importance, and act if they believe it can help them successfully teach students.  

Who took the vow?   The Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC). "This initiative spread like wildfire by carefully merging research with "the wisdom of practice" to make literacy instruction the foundation of core subjects.  Teachers immediately understood the value, and sprung into action. "I never saw myself as a teacher of literacy.  But now it's amazing.  I teach reading, writing, and content…all one big train."  --LDC teacher from Fayette County, KY.

2.    Use different verbs

EdTech initiatives are often too pushy; they should lead by pulling.

I ran into Michael Fullan in Seattle the other day, and he discussed the importance of balancing three verbs: pull, nudge, push. (See here for more on this.)

Fullan points out that building a coalition of willing teachers is essential to spreading the use of education innovations: "peer-driven change should be about pulling people into exciting changes and sometimes also pushing and nudging them beyond what they perceive as their limits, for their own and their students' benefit."

Who took the vow?   Edmodo. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who pulled-in teachers faster than Edmodo. Maybe some schools pushed Edmodo on the teachers, but rapid adoption came from teachers pulling in their peers and students organically; a perfect example of distributed network growth.

3.    Practice the mirror and the window

Teachers aren't the problem in implementing edtech in the classroom, they're the solution. Find a mirror to help locate the problem.

EdTech initiatives are bound to include a mix of failure and success. How people respond to each can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

Jim Collins introduced the analogy of the mirror and the window in his book Good to Great.  Effective leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well. At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility.

Who took the vow?   Senator Angus King, then Governor of Maine.  Maine's Learning Technology initiative faced challenges the moment it was announced in 2002, yet it's running more than 10 years later. Governor King looked in the mirror repeatedly as the initiative evolved, and found a way for all 7th and 8th graders in Maine to have 24-hour access to a laptop to facilitate learning; artful leadership at its best.

The views in this post are those of the author and not necessarily of Common Sense Media.

Jack Shaw is single dad of an impish 10-year-old daughter and a patient 16-year-old horse.  He splits time between Boulder, CO and Brooklyn, NY as a senior consultant at Amplify Insight bringing the School by Design resource optimization software to life.  You can follow him on Twitter professionally @schoolbydesign and semi-professionally @jackcshaw. The photograph is by Maria Rosaria Sannino.