Helping high school teachers adjust to a 1:1 laptop environment

In my spare time I have been reading a book by Chip and Dan Heath Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The book has been on the best seller list for a while, and I was reminded of the book in a Apple Educators presentation a few months back. I think the book has some important insights for technology integrators and school leaders trying to develop 21st century learning environments.

In many schools, there will be a huge degree of staff inertia that needs to be overcome to successfully achieve the aims of an eLearning initiative. Many staff would rightly see themselves as excellent educators, who help students attain the highest grades in the final examinations. These teachers are also protective of their classroom space and are hesitant of change. Below are some thoughts from the book, picking up on the SwitchFramework.

Directing the Rider (the rational mind of the teacher)

  • Finding the bright spots: In a school it is always important to identify where the change is already happening, and to use these as examples to what works within the school culture. With your feet in the ground, and in classroom, the technology integrator will quickly identify the leading lights or early adopters. In some schools, these bright spots will help management identify the factors that assisted certain teachers changing their teaching practice. These can then be replicated across to help other staff.
  • Script the critical moves: Best practice suggests that you need to explain to staff what specific change is required. Usually staff are unsure on the vision or do not understand the meaning of a 21st century classroom. It is important to clearly articulate what small essential thing is required in teachers classroom. In my opinion a critical move for staff is to place five pieces of work per unit of work on the school online learning environment. This critical move will focus on something achievable to support change in a laptop school.
  • Point to the destination:“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” The vision of an eLearning initiative is important and how this is articulated to staff is even more important. It is really difficult for staff to envisage what a 21st century classroom looks like, as this seems like some kind of utopia. United World College of South East Asia has developed a very powerful vision for learning at it’s school. It is worth a read (see here), as it clearly points to the destination they are aiming for. The issue is always how this vision is understood by staff and is how it becomes included in the school culture.

Motivate the Elephant (the emotional mind of the teacher)

  • Find the feeling: Somehow technology integrators need to find a way to help staff truly understand why change is important. This could be through modeling different styles of teaching to a group of teachers. A teacher centric approach and a student focused lesson. Teachers need to feel the difference to understand how most current teaching styles have not changed in 100 years. A presentation by Sir Ken Robinson – changing the paradigm was inspirational to me, but you can find lots of other resources.
  • Shrink the change: For most teachers the idea of changing your teaching style is a rather serious preposition. Creating small actions that overtime can snowball is something that will help teachers adjust. At our school we ask teachers to set an eLearning goal each year. For some staff these goals represent rather small shifts. For instance they may experiment with using videos to record science experiments. Making the change seem manageable is an important step for some struggling staff.
  • Grow your people: A positive learning environment within a school is an important element in developing a good 21st century culture with infused technology. Some schools grow staff by having open classroom weeks, where teachers visit their peers to seek inspiration. Casual coffee clubs where ideas germinate and spread are best practice at leading 1:1 schools such as Shanghai American School.

Shape the path

  • Tweak the environment: My key experience as a technology integrator was the difference that occurred before and after, having laptops in the classroom. They shift from taking students to the lab, to having laptops in the classroom is the biggest environmental change that can occur to create a 21st century classroom. Without a commitment to infrastructure in any setting will inhibit change. Also small things like having glass walls, that allow other teachers to peer into classroom are nice environmental changes that sustain change.
  • Build habits: Part of using laptops as a teachers is reteaching yourself essential administrative skills. That is why most schools, roll out laptops to staff a year in advance of the students to develop the teachers habits and skills. Forcing staff to use school online calendars, having to open the school’s online learning environment to find the morning notices are all small things that develop habits. Helping school leaders to use a wiki to record minutes of meeting and disseminating these to staff are good ways to build habits in all staff.
  • Rally the heard: Behaviour is contagious within a school and you need students to help spread the behaviour. Ask students for feedback and encourage them to share ideas between classes and with their teachers. Sessions where regular teaching staff share their ideas are very empowering. Rewarding and recognizing good teaching practice is equally effective in motivating the teaching staff  After a while, staff dislike hearing the same ideas from the same integrator. Staff involvement is a good way to rally the heard.

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