If there’s a front line in the ed tech revolution shaping school districts across the country, it’s filled with great teachers.
While any successful tech initiative or program—from a new learning management system (LMS) to virtual reality headsets—requires administrative and IT leadership, it also requires informed and empowered teachers. They’re the ones who interact with the tech on a daily basis. They’re the ones who see firsthand how students respond to it. And they’re the ones who recognize when new tech is hindering learning instead of helping it.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR TEACHERS
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, there’s a common language and set of expectations PreK-12 teachers should use and have when it comes to integrating ed tech in their classrooms.
While the entire report is worth exploring, it does isolate several guiding principles for teacher preparation programs, and provides guidelines teacher tech leaders should keep in mind for their own classrooms:
- Focus on the active use of technology (such as coding, media production, design, etc.) to enable learning and teaching through creation, production, and problem-solving. Training for fellow teachers should be more engaging than just slides on the screen.
- Build sustainable, program-wide systems of professional learning to enable transformative learning and teaching. Because technology continually evolves, teachers should receive ongoing opportunities to hone and refine their skills.
- Ensure experiences with ed tech are program-deep and program-wide rather than one-off courses. A single ed tech course does not help teachers continually use a technology program in the classroom. Allow teachers to design lessons with the integrated technology as part of the pre-service experience.
- Align efforts with research-based standards, frameworks, and credentials recognized across the field. Students deserve teachers who can readily use new ed tech tools, so by creating common credentials it can ensure all teachers are on the same page with tech.
Teachers, of course, are natural leaders. But they may not be natural tech leaders. With a little knowledge and initiative, however, they can take on more of a technology leadership role in their schools and classrooms.
Here are five helpful tips for teachers who aspire to take on a technology leadership role.
TIP 1: MAKE IT PERSONAL
One of the hallmarks of great teaching in a tech-driven world involves complementing classroom technology with personalized learning, a topic we’ve covered in a previous blog post.
Standalone policies such as 1:1 programs don’t lead to personalized learning on their own, notes Anne Olson, director of state advocacy at KnowledgeWorks. She draws attention to teachers from Wisconsin’s Howard-Suamico School District, who discovered that tech tools are best paired with innovative curriculums and aligned instruction.
“Computers, tablets, and smart phones are ubiquitous,” she writes. “Learning can truly thrive when educators are given the agency to help students use these tools in new, creative, customized ways to support their educational experience.”
TIP 2: COLLABORATE AND LISTEN
Yes, teachers are the primary face of tech programs for their students. But that doesn’t mean they should go it alone. Another recommendation for teacher tech leaders, we found, was to collaborate with IT and administrative decision makers.
Effective instructional leadership requires teachers to become their own technology specialist. And that, according to Patrick Ledesma at Education Week, requires “the expertise and skills to communicate how technology issues affect the administrative and instructional functions of the school and to make recommendations on how to implement policies and support efforts.”
He adds: “The technology specialist must establish a productive relationship with administrators and meet weekly to keep them informed of all ongoing and upcoming issues and projects.”
TIP 3: AGREE TO DISAGREE
Not everyone on a team gets his or her way all the time, and the same is true when it comes to educational technology. Any savvy leader recognizes there will always be wins and losses when it comes to playing a part in the decision-making process.
Consider this insight from a KQED news report on empowering teachers: “While not everyone in a school is going to agree on how to approach every problem, if the process is consistent, individuals can trust that even when they don’t get their way, it will be OK.”
If you have a strong, productive relationship with your school administration, then you’re likely to feel more comfortable expressing your disagreements. “There has to be space for different perspectives,” the KQED report notes. “Teachers have to know that support from leadership won’t be pulled away at the first bump or disagreement.”
TIP 4: KNOW YOUR TOOLS
It’s not enough to just be handed a tech tool and know how to implement it on day one. You have to become your own expert, your own troubleshooter, and your own champion. This means that when it comes to ed tech like school-owned laptops or filtered high-speed Internet, the great teacher tech leaders know the ins and outs of what they’re using, and can help their fellow teachers.
Knowing their tech tools requires teachers to be not passive but active learners (advice they’d no doubt give their students). According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, educators shouldn’t be afraid to be co-learners alongside their students and peers:
Although educators should not be expected to know everything there is to know in their disciplines, they should be expected to model how to leverage available tools to engage content with curiosity and a mindset bent on problem solving and how to be co-creators of knowledge. In short, teachers should be the students they hope to inspire in their classrooms.
TIP 5: KNOW YOUR RESOURCES
Resources abound when it comes to helping teachers become what the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology appropriately calls “Future Ready.”
Here’s a list of some helpful links Education Dive found to help teachers become savvier tech leaders in their classrooms. They include best practices, videos, assessment tools, and roadmaps for success.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Characteristics of Future Ready Leadership: A Research Synthesis.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s Personalized Professional Learning for Future Ready Leaders.
- Future Ready Schools’ Future Ready Framework.
- EdSurge’s Guide to Becoming a Future Ready Leader.
EMPOWERING THE FUTURE
“The true power of technology,” says Olson, “lies in the development of, and agency for, teachers to cultivate the tools to meet the ever-changing needs of their students.
Yes, technology is revolutionizing 21st-century PreK-12 education. But that doesn’t mean great teachers will become a thing of the past. Rather, with a little initiative and a lot of empowerment, teachers can play just as powerful a role in the future of ed tech as the most innovative program developer.