Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Struggling With Technology: Some Answers

Recently, while teaching a "Technology for Dummies" class to 40 veteran teachers, I asked them why they were there. "What urged you to sign up for this workshop?" I inquired. We went around the room, and I heard over and over the same lament: I want to know how to use technology in my classroom, but  don't have the support in my school.

On my long drive home that afternoon, I reflected on this disconnect between teachers and technology--one that I have heard over and over from educators across the country. And I was curious about why teachers from every grade level, subject, and size of school blame their tech "guys."  It is very easy to blame them--I have done it myself. After all, they are the experts in the building, and we so often crave their expertise. And when we don't get it, we feel abandoned while these new worlds of apps and sites and clouds go whizzing by us.

I think however, there is a conundrum here. Technology teachers were trained to be teachers in their own classrooms. And that's what they do--they do the research they need to do, plan their lessons, and  go in and execute those lessons just like the rest of us, all while maintaining the technology that exists within the building.

They have not been trained to be PD providers or teacher leaders. They have been trained to be computer teachers. And they feel like classroom teachers expect them to be more than what they can be. The reality is though, that teachers need them to be different than they are. Because of this, our schools should be taking two imperative measures:

1. When hiring new technology "teachers," hire those who have been specifically trained through tech integration programs. We need technology experts who think like educators and can help provide onsite PD daily to their staff across curriculum and grade level.

2. Help current technology staff shift from the old paradigm of being a tech "teacher" to becoming a tech "integrator." Provide them with readings, workshops, and exposure to current pedagogy in their field. The old paradigm of having a computer teacher is outdated. But we have many talented people in the field who just need guidance and support to mold into the new paradigm of integration. This needs to be a priority.

In the meantime, teachers need to stop complaining about not having the support. We need to shift our own thinking.

1. Teachers need to play with technology and not be scared. No child has ever said that they won't use technology because they haven't received PD in it. They get on, they play, they make mistakes, they get frustrated, and then they figure out how and when they would use it. Be that person. Learn from your students. You do not have to have everything figured out in the beginning.

2. Classroom teachers need to become PD providers and teacher leaders in their own buildings. Don't wait for somebody else to do it. Once you know how to use an app or you find a transformative website, you must share it. Go across the hall. Bring it to a meeting. Send out an email to your colleagues. Model what you wish your tech "guy" would do. Because in this day and age, we are ALL "tech guys."

3. Start a "tech junkie" support group. Meet once a month and share your frustrations, epiphanies, struggles, and successes. This will increase collaboration among you and your colleagues, and suddenly you will see everybody in the building becoming a teacher leader in terms of technology. 

I too yearn for a technology expert who can come running to my side every time something new comes out or every time I have a question. But that will never be the case. And even when we all have technology integrationists in our schools, the world has become too vast for them to treat every teacher's classroom individually. So not only do we need to retrain our tech people, but we must retrain ourselves--take risks, experiment, and always share.

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