Moving the mountain

Creating effective and sustained change in education is akin to moving a mountain. When you move a mountain, it usually involves quite a lot of explosions, debris, change of structure and what you’re left with does not resemble the original form. The material is the same but the solid impenetrable mass is now broken down, much easier to move and reshape.

For many educators trying to effect technological changes in schools, it may seem that they are indeed facing a mountain. No matter what they try, it still seems to loom there unchanging, unmoving. It almost seems to be a force of itself, daring someone to try and change what is going on in any real way. “Movements and programs come and go, I will continue to do what I do until the end.”

Now, teachers may not come out and say that or consciously even be resisting but they provide enough rationale for not looking for change: not enough time, not enough resources, not enough internet access, poor hardware, not enough PD, don’t know enough, too many other initiatives, too many other social demands in the classroom. Every single one of these is going on in classrooms and schools. As schools become the ever-popular dumping ground/fix-all for so many of the problems that are in society, there would seem to be no time to even consider having teachers spend more time to work with something that they are not comfortable doing. Besides, what really is the harm anyway? With all the other things that children are facing, is not having a “horse and light” show to teach reading really a problem?

Before I answer that, I have to explain that I am a defender of teachers and teachers’ time. Time with students, working with them and helping them is the best use of time. Teachers need to given support to help them with students who have behaviour and learning difficulties. New initiatives need to implemented with existing programs not on top of them and curricula objectives need to integrated across subjects not in isolation so that teachers have to do the integration work.

Now, is using technology to teach necessary? No. Should it be done. Absolutely.

While it may not be a necessity by overlooking the use of technology, teachers are doing the same things as someone overlooking the use of ballpoint pen and its impact on schools. That one piece of technology had a great impact on school, although those of us who’ve had it around don’t even think about it. However, talk to someone who remembers it and there is usually a story or two about the adoption of that pen. ‘Tis the same with this new technology. The difference, from my perspective, is that teachers are fearing this technology change more than any other before. While there are many who are accepting and embracing this change, there are still a majority who do not. There are many reasons for this but the bottom line is that this fear needs to be addressed.

So how do you move a mountain without blowing it up or destroying it? I have no clue. But I do have some ideas about changing the ideas of teachers. In my career, I have moved several times. Each time, it seemed, I’d be in the position of bringing technology into use in the school. In my present location, when I arrived email was not used by everyone. So, I made it mandatory that teachers use their email daily and began sending memos and information via email. Some really resisted and I had to spend time with them, helping them get use to using the software. Today, it’s standard fair in the school. This past year, our staff began using a wiki to log information, plan school events, record upcoming events and share templates. Was it easy? Nope. But, I worked with staff who were struggling. My secretary began putting information for teachers on the page and I showed teachers how to get daily updates via email. All teachers check email and wiki daily. Some are beginning to use it to post information for staff. A few have asked if they could use it for classes. We just made it part of the teacher culture.

Next will be using audio equipment and some of the software online to share photos and information. Slowly teachers are being introduced to these ideas and adoption is taking place. The idea now is to increase the speed of introduction and adoption. When the whole staff is included in the adoption of the technology and people begin to see the use of the it and how it saves a great deal of time and helps us to organize, then teachers who are resistant are less vocal. Just this past week I was included in a conversation with Kim Cofino from the ISB via Ustream in which there were many of the school teachers in attendance. Not all participated but they the exposure was great for them. The past two days I have been working with another administrator helping them get their information ready for a graduate class they are taking from Alec Couroso.

Small steps are important. Bringing people along so they can see the benefit and having it save them time really heps. Providing that one-to-one help is so important. As Michael Gregory, a member of the Ed Administrator2.0 ning, effectively captured this:

I have been in this dormant stage for a month now because I’m struggling to understand and put in to words how/why teachers don’t see what seems obvious to us regarding the value of the tools of Web 2.0 in the classroom. More importantly, why they don’t seem to realize that students are wired differently than of years gone by. Probably of more significance, is that the students are wired differently than the teachers themselves. This is unique for most teachers because in past years there has not been such a technological difference between student and teacher.

Now he and I have been discussing the whole wiring issue but, besides that, he is dead on. There is a gap and it will continue to grow. I know many people are like Michael, in a “dormant stage”, as they struggle with the whole issue. I’m hoping that this post might give some ideas. It’s also a discussion over at the ning that I’d encourage you to join, especially administrators. We need to help teachers overcome their fears, addressing them not dismissing them and giving them the time that they need to adopt.

Again, thanks to my network for the comments and ideas.


  1. Jen


    Rather than think of it as a mountain, I prefer to consider it a living organism just sitting there ripe for infection. Get viral! Grasp hold of the few who do see the value and feed the infection. Give them every toy you can and let them infect the others. Don’t bother trying to change the people who are never going to do it. You (not you personally, but any reader) don’t need to be a martyr. Celebrate those who adopt successfully. Help them learn from their mistakes. Help them free-up time and get more satisfaction from their work. Infect them! (It’s also fun to think about blowing stuff up, though!)

  2. Reply

    I speak on technology only as a student teacher. There are plenty of places in our program that require understanding of technology. That isn’t the problem.

    Unfortunately for student teachers, technology is described as changing the face of education, as it were, and it’s important to be knowledgeable in the ways of tech — tech is all over the place.

    What isn’t emphasized, though, is that the schools — the poor schools in ghettos and barrios — our new teachers teach at won’t have these resources. LCD projectors might be in a department or two on a campus of 3400 students. Most of them are teacher-purchased.

    If technology isn’t available, why force student teachers and new teachers to use it as a crutch? That’s the current effect of the program.

    So, rather than introducing students to an exciting, new way of understanding the world through technology, technology encourages student teachers to introduce our students to a world of ineffective teaching in poor schools. Technology-dependent teaching doesn’t work in the absence of technology.

    That’s the first problem. Deal with it first.

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