I do do Technology but …..

I’ve been reading the discussion on the blog post “Why “I Don’t Do Technology” Isn’t Acceptable” over at Connected Principals and it’s very interesting and there are some good comments that have ensued, sign that the topic is very much on people’s’ minds. I also happened to follow a link to this post by Doyle where the discussion continues.

As usual, I find myself somewhat agreeing and yet disagreeing, which most of you who read here know is consistent state for me! I was intrigued by the post because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. In fact, it’s been said a number of times by such well know bloggers as Will Richardson, Marc Prensky and Scott McLeod, as well as others. It’s been said again and again that it is not acceptable for teachers not to use/have a basic understanding of technology because students’ lives are immersed in it or something akin to this. And I don’t completely disagree. I just might look at things a bit differently because of my experience and background.

But, before I get fully amped up here, I really would encourage you to read through the two posts that I have mentioned.

Making Analogies

Gerald Aungst’s post begins with these two analogies:

Imagine an episode of CSI where the main character doesn’t “do” technology:

“Tonight, on CSI: Miami, Horatio Caine investigates a brutal crime wave using only his wits and his sunglasses. He matches fingerprints, tire tracks, and fiber samples…by hand! His new motto: ‘DNA? We don’t need no stinking DNA! Sherlock Holmes got by with a magnifying glass and a deerstalker! Why do I need technology?’”

Imagine the conversation you have with your doctor when he diagnosed you with cancer after a brief examination.

“Aren’t you going to run some tests? Do a CT scan?” you ask.

“No, I’m really not comfortable with technology. I manage just fine without it.”

Ridiculous, no? Then why do we tolerate similar comments from educators?

Although there is a good discussion in the comments about this, what I take from this is that, in both cases, the two people mentioned aren’t necessarily users of the technology that is supposedly being used. Given, Horatio does have access to other people who use technology, he really doesn’t use that much himself. Instead, each member of his team uses technology at different times to assist in providing pieces which build a picture but Horatio is really a master of pulling together all that information to solve the crime. It’s not about the technology but about Horatio’s incredible understanding of people in combination with the different information he is provided that makes him great at what he does. This rings true for one of my favourites, NCIS. In fact, if I could work on any of those teams, it would be with Gibbs and his team. If you could bring that mixture and chemistry together in a school, whoa! But I digress…..

In the second instance, the medical profession, my experience is that it isn’t the doctor who actually uses the technology which is touted but other people with specific skills who use the technology. My latest visit to the optometrist involved me sitting down with 5 people, each with a particular skill-set, as part of the entire experience. The optometrist hires people with these skills to assist them, they don’t have all the skills themselves. With my luck, I also had to have my yearly physical just recently. During this procedure, the doctor used the following technologies – electronic thermometer, blood pressure machine, stethoscope, wooden tongue depressor, electric flashlight, digital scale, rubber hammer and some other items that are rather personal in nature. Some are indeed new but some are, well, very old technologies. He then sent me for blood work, which he did not do but two other people were involved in this procedure plus a number of others in the lab section, each doing a particular specific set of analysis. Some required high-tech equipment while others, that needle thing, isn’t new at all. But, it wasn’t the doctor himself that did all this. He had a team working with him, each with a specific skill set that may, or may not, have used certain technologies.

Where is this leading? Well, it isn’t the doctor who uses the technologies but others around him, those he has hired or who have been hired to assist. The doctor doesn’t need to know how to use them, she/he only needs to know they are available and then only has others use them as she/he sees fit. She/he may use new technologies but, then again, may not.

As Doyle points out in his post:

I’m a retired doc–before I stopped succoring the afflicted I saw the mess high tech mania produced in medicine. Mr. Aungst’s example of the CT machine is an interesting example, because of the quandaries it has created, and because of the change in skills that have resulted.

Classic appendicitis (and many subtle variants) can be diagnosed by history and physical exam alone if the practitioner has learned how to do this. CT scans are quite useful in certain situations, but are often superfluous, and can, at times, mislead. They certainly tangle up a few DNA molecules (which are usually repaired), and they are very expensive.

The obvious downsides to CT imaging is that it takes time (and time is an issue with appendicitis), and it requires tossing some radiation through a living critter. Less obvious is the erosion of skills in tech-dependent docs. By the time I left medicine, CT scans were evolving from an overused, nonessential tool to standard of care, partly because the less experienced docs felt no need to refine the clinical skills needed to accurately diagnose appendicitis–because they had CT machines….

Most teachers I work with and know do not have the luxury of several other specifically skilled people ready to perform a specific task waiting for their referral. There may be others who can help them but often it isn’t immediate, or nearly as quickly as when I visited the different professionals on my visits. And teachers do not work with one patient at a time. Most importantly, they do not deal with a constant such as doctors do with a human body. The human body, for the most part, is the same for each of us. When we visit the doctor, there is no need to look for the heart, liver, lungs and other such things, they are usually in the same place for all patients. But, imagine if you will, if every patient was unique – had a unique body structure. That each heart was unique and, although it pumped blood, it might not be the same as another heart – it was composed of 8 different compartments, the size of a football and beating at a unique rate. Do you think that the technology for heart surgery would have evolved as rapidly as it had? I mention this because the oft used medical analogy doesn’t do justice to what teachers are doing each day in dealing with an ever-changing group of people who each have unique needs and who may have needs beyond the experience of the teacher…..

Experience is important

The following article was one I found just today. Larry Ferlazzo makes some good points about the importance of experience. Although there are many dimensions to this topic, the real reason I bring this up because I’m going to draw on my own 20 odd years of being a teacher/teaching administrator and a father of eight children. I sure hope no one is offended by me doing this!

There are many people advocating technology usage, whether for collaborating through social media for PLN learning purposes or within the classroom. However, a great many who have developed great followings are, in fact, not teachers. They are consultants, technology coordinators, system technology coordinators or others who’s livelihood is directly related to using technology in education or depends on people learning to use technology in education. They may at one time have been teachers but, now, that role has changed and that change has meant a change of perspective. They may still have a passion but the focus has changed because the experience has changed. I have mentioned this a few different times only to have people say “Well, do you think they don’t know what it’s like in a classroom? My goodness, they’re _________________!

Usually I stay away once this happens because it won’t turn into a win/win in any way. Most likely, this is happening as some read these lines. So, instead, I’ll relate a situation in which I was interviewing someone for a position at a school where I was principal. This person was an experienced teacher, had taught at many different grade levels, had been an administrator for a number of years, had taught at the university level as well as being an author and other such things. This candidate had moved back to the classroom the previous year after being away for a period of time and, for personal reasons, was moving to the area, saw the job app and applied. As we discussed what had taken place over the years, I was intrigued on how the transition to the classroom this past year had been so I asked. The candidate stopped, paused and then proceeded to explain that, with all the experiences, they were not prepared for the changes that had taken place since last being a full-time classroom teacher. The work they had needed to do with new curricula, assessment and expectations for sharing were much greater than expected even though they had been part of some of it as an administrator. I knew from experience that this was someone who was a master storyteller and who would have students engaged but to hear that moving back to full-time teaching had been much more difficult reaffirmed for me that with that change comes separation and the longer one is away, the less aware one is of the magnitude of the changes taking place.

Duties of a teacher

In the rapid-fire changing field of technology, it is hard for someone to keep up with the changes that are occurring unless that is part of their job or how they put bread on the table. Some say that teachers have a duty to keep up with these changes. I’ll call bu****it on that one. They don’t have a duty. We seem to be confusing wants with needs. Teachers need to provide an educational environment for students that will allow them to successfully experience the outcomes as outlined in curricula. You may not like it and may have a personal philosophical belief that teachers/schools need to be doing more but that is yours own belief. It doesn’t matter how loud you shout, how often you print it, how many ways you disperse or how many people you get to follow it, it is still a personal belief. To foist that on others by somehow making it a moral issue or an issue for the good of “future generations” is still a case of you, as an individual, believing you know what is best for the rest and, as Tom Whittby points out:

If there is one thing that can be learned from politicians it is this: Facts do not matter! If you say something often enough, and long enough, people will believe it, regardless of the facts. That seems to be the case when it comes to adult perceptions of youth and Technology. (Tom is referring the Digital Native discussion)

It seems it has been said loud and long enough that you can’t be an effective teacher without using technology.

(Play interesting music in quiet interlude – signal that I’m about change my hat)

As a father with 8 children ranging from ages 2 to 19, I would like to think I have gained some experience as a parent. Having moved my family 7 times and myself as an educator/administrator 9 times, I hope to have also gathered some understanding of children in different places and the impact that moving has on children. Now, having been an early adopter of technology and having made to the move to the much hated “Dark Side of Mac” before it was the cool thing to do, I’ve seen the impact that technology has on children who have access, especially when they are able to work with an adult who can help them with the technology. All this to say that great teachers don’t need technology to be great teachers! You’re thinking, where the hell did that statement come from. Well, because I’ve moved around, I’ve witnessed the impact that teachers have had on my children and other children in many different school settings. I’ve also witnessed a seriously insane number of “programs and learning systems” that my children have learned within and, can say with all confidence, it’s not the program or material or the technology but the wielder of that which makes the difference in learning. I’ve watched incredibly talented young teachers miss something with a student – for lack of experience – that a veteran teacher will bring to my attention. I am deeply worried that these judgements of people which are perceptions based on “doing this or not doing that” are being held and carte blanche statements are being made and supported. “Well, any educated person can see…..” Really?

Having supervised my fair share of teachers and worked within PLC’s before most anyone knew what they were, my experience is that those teachers who connect with their students don’t need to use technology. They may use it but they don’t need it. Teaching is about touching others just like reading is a contact activity. When you begin to make “need” statements about tools, the essence of what you are discussing becomes lost in a debate over which tool is better.

Rambling on

One of my favourite things to do is to put movie posters, interesting facts or other such things on the ceiling in my room. Why? Because when the students start to look up, it signals that I’m losing their interest. I also believe the same for cellphones and texting. I’ve learned that, for the most part, if I am making a connection with those students, they won’t need to text. At one point, I had students create interesting posters to put up on the ceiling – for some it was a way to help them with focusing. I allow students to use cellphones in my classroom and plan for their integration if possible. I also have students randomly text someone not paying attention telling them to pay attention. They love it! That is my experience. I also work with a teacher that captivates students without using technology – they learn a great deal in the class. How do I know? I have an in – my own children sit in the class. I’ve learned a great deal about what is important for students by listening to the conversations of my children and their friends. You know, technology rarely enters the conversation. What is important is the connection – the relevance that the teacher has for the students – the willingness to meet the student at some point and then move them along in their learning.

As I have documented, my own children span the spectrum of learners from highest class average to learning disabled to my one son who we’ve yet to really identify – he’s just a very eager and energetic young boy! To be absolute about what skills these children will need in their future is something I’m much too humble to predict. What I surmise is they will need to have empathy for others, whether in their own home or across the world, they will need to be able to adjust to change in a way that many of us could not imagine a few short years ago, they will need to be able to work by themselves and with others in order to achieve a goal, they will need to understand there are many different opinions about almost every topic but, at some point, you will have to decide what you believe until it can be proven otherwise – not just by those who are the loudest and they will need to be able to adapt and overcome, continuing on without blaming the past or others. Of course, you can disagree but they aren’t your children.

So as a school administrator, I must be wary of my own advice since the students we get are the best their parents have and, although I have particular views about learning, technology and schooling, parenting, discipline and expectations, my responsibility is to follow the guidelines that are set out – those determined by the division and province – because I chose to be in this position. Those are the expectations that parents have for learning and to which we, as a school, will be held accountable. It, therefore, includes those teachers who use technology and those who, for whatever reason, do not.

Ineffective vs Different

I’ve always been a little different – as most people who know me in any way can attest. My experiences, mostly garnered from an inability to leave well enough alone, a bit of a stubborn streak (my parents’ side of the family) and an understanding that knowledge and learning are vital to growth, have brought me to this juncture as an administrator. It was not where I expected to be. As a teacher, I was always looking to those I saw as being experts, master teachers, from whom I could learn because, well, I really wasn’t. I read which led me to be involved in graduate studies and other online studies and initiatives, international symposium and other educational learning experiences. I was different. Now, as an administrator, I have worked with a number of teachers who fit that mold and are always striving to improve.

I’ve also had to work through the dismissal process a number of times because the teachers weren’t different, they were ineffective. Ineffective teachers are those who aren’t doing what needs to be done in the classroom for learning to take place and aren’t interested in improving. Effective teachers come in all sorts of shapes and colours but they are effective as teachers – remember as it is required of them. Some are master teachers. Having been through the dismissal process a number of times, I often wonder why people confuse those teachers who don’t conform to our vision of “good/effective” teachers with truly ineffective teachers? Yet there seems to be a growing stereotype that has “non-technology luddites” as being ineffective which is far from true. Different maybe but not ineffective.

Do Technology I Do

I do do technology. I have done technology for years. I use to be frustrated by people who didn’t do technology – like my wife. Then, one day, I had a epiphany. Actually, it was my wife hitting me with a verbal 2X4. I had shown her, yet again, how to do something with email. In doing so, I was obviously less than kind in my actions. It was email for crying out loud. Now, just to add context, my wife holds two degrees, is a French Immersion teacher, has travelled to various countries, has studied not once but twice in France and picked me as a husband. She’s one smart lady. But technology isn’t easy for her. On this occasion, she stopped me, looked me straight in the face and said ” I am not stupid. I am not incompetent”. I hadn’t said that. Really. She then continued – “The way you look when you have to explain again how to do this makes me not want to ever ask again but I need this to get done. You make me feel useless.” How do I know that is what she said? Because one doesn’t forget such things. EVER. My wife is a tremendous teacher who has taught at almost every grade level. Yet, there she was, feeling less than useless because of my actions – remember I didn’t say a word. From that point on, I have never looked/interacted with anyone who cannot/does not use technology without first stopping to ensure my own superiority isn’t plastered all over and remembering that occasion. Great leaders are humble, they look for ways to help people without bashing them with their superiority and then lift them up to heights neither of them imagined possible. Yeah, in my world, it’s okay not to do technology. But, it’s also okay to stare at the ceiling once in awhile;)


  1. Reply

    Once again, a thoughtful, honest post.

    I think the doctor/professional examples are used out of context. Not only for the reasons you state but because they are very specific uses and are not implemented until sufficient training has been done.

    With teachers, we don’t give them time and the use of technology is so wide, varied and immersive that it can’t be done in a set period of time.

    I’ve pretty much abandoned talking much about it to teachers unless they ask. They’re just too busy to have to make another big shift. Sure, I believe understanding the way technology is changing information, Learning and communicating is essential for all teachers. I don’t think guilting them is the way.

    I’m trying to be more sensitive to teachers and the really hard demanding job they have. The story about your wife speaks volumes about trust and relationship as they key to support and change

  2. Reply

    Hurrah! My teaching career started out in technology then I went to classroom teaching for over a decade and now I am back in technology. I get more frustrated with techies who carry the “no excuses” attitude than with teachers . . . I understand the myriad responsibilities that weigh a teacher down–especially a good teacher. I was so frustrated about this “no excuses” smugness — no, arrogance– that I wrote a post about, Fix the Problem, Not the Blame. It seems we need more than one type of mind shift. Thank you for your beautifully articulated post. I hope that it falls upon the right ears. 🙂

  3. Reply

    I read Joan’s comment and it reminds me of something I once read,

    “Teachers do not resist making changes; they resist people who try to make them change. Once coaches abandon the role of change agent, we can build trust and rapport and engage teachers in nonjudgmental conversations about their experiences, feelings, needs, ambitions, and goals.” Evocative Coaching, by Bob Tschannen-Moran, Megan Tschannen-Moran

    Technology is actually pretty easy. I would argue the doctor example is easy. It’s about training someone to perform a task or learn a new skill. With time, anyone can learn this. The real hard stuff, the stuff that matters to me is understanding how technology is changing the way we learn. I guess where my concern lies in how can we say we care about and care for students and neglect the primary medium by which they learn and consume information? I still don’t think blaming and shaming them is the solution.

    I think this is really the key.

    “Great leaders are humble, they look for ways to help people without bashing them with their superiority and then lift them up to heights neither of them imagined possible.”

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