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Conductor vs. Caboose: Enabling Education Professionals to Lead the Technology Train

Gain insight on how educational professionals can overcome challenges with the learning curve of changing technology in the classroom.

My life has always revolved around the education profession in some way, shape or form. My parents, in-laws and wife are all teachers. I was destined to work in the education profession and thus began my career as a long-term substitute and ended up spending 19+ years as a Technology Specialist and athletic coach for a large public-school district. 

The education sector and digital transformation

I’ve come to realize in all my years of experience that educators’ agendas are always full, and they are constantly being asked for more. More and more cars are added to the track each year, especially when it comes to technology. It’s where the teacher sits on this technology train that determines the quality of the implementation

Adoption of new technology is most effective when employees are driving the train, rather than just along for the ride.   

The mission challenge

There are thousands of things that education professionals do behind the scenes. Supporting these teachers are department leaders, behavior specialists, technology support staff, custodians… the list is long. It is truly a community within itself — each department buckled together to provide a healthy educational environment for every student. 

The mission statement of my school district was “to ensure all students are capable, curious, caring and confident learners who understand and respond to the challenges of an ever-changing world.” However, as a Tech Specialist I saw many situations where dissent and frustration grew from the administration forgetting to apply this same mission statement to its staff. 

As the technology in the classroom grows by leaps and bounds, so does the demands on the educational professionals. From web pages to online data collection, paperless grade reports and school budgets, everything is integrated with technology. Even inventory of library books is largely dependent on the technology at hand. 

Problems arise because these educators are actually living in this “ever-changing world” without proper training. There’s excitement to implement the latest gadget or application, but we forget to prepare the staff so they are also “capable, curious… and confident learners.” New technology is simply pushed out, expected to be mastered, and then leaders move on to the next innovation. A link to an online guide or an email simply stating “contact me with any questions” are all that usually accompany these new programs.

Staff members jump through the hoops, learning what they must do to get by, but never fully realize the potential of the new tools available to them. They’ve gotten along just fine without this latest tool, so unless it makes their life easier and less stressful, it’s just one more derailment in their day. 

A teacher who is confident in the tools involved within a lesson will incorporate it in new and innovative ways. Otherwise, they are simply waiting to get off at the next stop.

Overcoming frustration

As a Tech Specialist, I was frequently frustrated when new technology or online applications were presented to teachers and then we were expected to support these applications without any heads up, formal training or references to rely on. 

I can’t tell you how many times a staff member would come ask for help on something they had just seen during a professional development demonstration. Not only did I not have any background on the new tool, I had no perspective on how it should be used. The teacher and I would have to learn on the fly. 

For every teacher that approached me for help, I’m sure there were others too busy or apprehensive to reach out. Information on how to use it may spread by word of mouth, but more often it would become another tool not utilized.

Comprehensive training will transition the employees from passenger to conductor of these technologies. Command of new technology is vital to successful implementation. 

A teacher that is confident and excited about a new tool will find numerous ways to use it and the excitement will carry over to the students. The development of new methods will be organic rather than forced. 

Outside the classroom, if faculty and staff feel capable with new analytics or collaboration tools, they as well will seek out new ways to utilize them. These extra resources will provide insight and support throughout the district and the effects will be seen in classrooms. Creative lessons will be shared, financial opportunities will be found, and common issues will be more easily diagnosed. Staff will take ownership and embrace the commute. 

Proper education for rollouts is vital. When busy people are forced to learn without quality support, it becomes a hindrance rather than a benefit. From laptop OS upgrades to online reporting transitions, it’s not just the end user who needs the training but also those people they rely on. 

The technology world is only going to continue to be ever-changing at a faster pace. It is imperative to care for and develop the educators as well as the students. Take the time to prepare, so everyone can get on board. 

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