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How to Get Teachers on the Tech Bandwagon

A successful tech initiative taking place in Michigan

By Tim Klan and Judy Bowling

Teaching with technology can be kind of like getting onto a roller coaster or auditioning for a play. For some, it’s thrilling. For others, it’s terrifying.  Some jump right in. Others may reluctantly try it after much prompting. And still, others will flat out refuse to have anything to do with it.

Livonia Public Schools in Michigan is an example of a district that embraces the idea of teaching with technology. The district is in the last year of a major overhaul of all of its buildings. This includes installing new technology in all buildings. The district added 900 Epson BrightLink interactive displays, upgraded the WiFi in every building and bought 10,000 Chromebooks for students to use. But even when a tech initiative is supported district-wide, getting all of the staff on the tech bandwagon can sometimes be a challenge.

Great professional development can help.

When Livonia Public Schools launched its tech initiative, it wanted to create a professional development program to help staff get the most out of their upgraded equipment. It spent more than a year planning how to do this. The result – Level Up LPS, a one-day professional development program focused solely on teaching with technology. The event takes place every year in August to kick off the school year. It’s organized it like a mini-conference complete with keynote speakers, food trucks and 100 peer-led breakout sessions on how to use the new technology in the classroom. The event included time for teachers to network and to practice what they’d learned. The district gathers feedback each year so it can make the next event even better.

This initiative has been extremely successful for the district. It gets teachers excited about using the new equipment. The structure of Level Up LPS works well for Livonia Public Schools. But regardless of how a tech PD program is organized, there are a few universal tips that can help any district create a program that will convince teachers to get on that rollercoaster or step onto that stage.

Meet teachers where they are. Staff members may be in different places in their tech journey. Some might need to learn the basics – how to use the projector, navigate the software and operate the microphones, document cameras and other accessories. Others are ready to learn about the pedagogy and see examples of how specific curricula are used in a technology-enabled environment. And still, others are ready for hands-on practice. School districts should offer opportunities to meet the needs of staff wherever they are in their journey. Everyone should be able to design tangible plans on how to start using tech tools immediately to deepen student learning.

Push teachers out of their comfort zones. Because Level Up LPS was a one-day event, Livonia Public Schools had to provide a lot of information in a short period of time. Some teachers said they were overwhelmed. But the district took that as a good criticism. PD no longer looks like it did 10 or 15 years ago when it came to the teacher in the form of a small, site-based, group session.

Today there are so many opportunities out there for teachers to seek out engaging, enriching PD, whether it’s attending a full-day edcamp style event, or reaching out to other teachers and experts through social media and video conferencing. Part of a tech PD program needs to be teaching staff how to embrace new experiences like Level Up LPS and to get excited about the possibilities that technology brings to the classroom. This may be uncomfortable for some. But doing this will help participants get more out of their professional development experience and may inspire them to seek out additional opportunities throughout the year.

Make it interesting. Launching a PD event with a great keynote speaker is kind of like a pep-rally before a game. Livonia Public Schools brought in sought-after keynote speakers such as Adam Bellow, Eric Sheninger and George Couros, whose messages resonate and inspire and get staff excited about learning. When planning professional development, call in experts to help, even if it is remotely delivered via a webinar, video talk or written speech. It also helps to have a few interactive activities or unique ideas. For example, Livonia Public Schools brought in food trucks to keep people from leaving during lunch. It also had a student panel and networking sessions. The whole day was meant to move staff forward in using technology to strengthen student learning and also to build connections and relationships. Adding multiple voices to a PD program, ensures that all audiences for the technology are heard and helps it become a way of life in the classroom.

Show them the “why.” Whenever schools change the way things are done, there are growing pains. A trainer can share a new way to teach, but if the teachers don’t understand the benefits of doing it that way, it may be difficult to get buy-in.  It’s important to show teachers why they should implement technology in the classroom, not just how to do it. For example, one of the popular training sessions at Level Up LPS was on collaborative writing with Google Docs. Not everyone understood why using this tool was better than using a standard word processor. But when they saw the real-time writing and editing in action, they realized why it was helpful.  It was the same with sessions on social media and video conferencing tools. Many staff members didn’t understand how to use these tools for teaching. They didn’t realize that they could use Twitter for professional learning or use Skype to arrange a live interview for their class with a book author.

Another session demonstrated how to use equipment like the Epson interactive displays to facilitate group projects. For example, in math class, one group can use the display to share its math problem with classmates. The other students can then use the interactive pens to annotate on the image as they work together to solve it. Giving real-world examples like these are important. It’s not enough to just show staff how to use the technology. A good training program should help them have “aha” moments. It should help them understand the “why.”

Make it relevant. Tech PD should relate directly to what teachers are doing in the classroom at that moment. In the case of Livonia Public Schools, the district had become nearly a 1:1 district with Chromebooks. So naturally, its PD program had a big emphasis on best practices for teaching with Chromebooks. Other years it focused on other things that a lot of its schools were doing at the time such as the maker movement. Every year the PD sessions became richer and teachers got more out of it because the district made the sessions relevant to what teachers were doing at that time.

Technology doesn’t have to be scary. The trick is to get staff to view new technology as an exciting opportunity rather than an intimidating task. Think about how it feels to get a new smartphone or a complicated video camera. It may have pages of instructions or lots of features and functions that you don’t understand at first. But you’re excited about learning how to use it because you know it’s going to be an amazing tool.

The same is true when it comes to teaching with technology. Professional development should focus on how to use technology as a tool to improve learning outcomes. That’s the end goal, and that’s what will excite teachers. The tools are just part of the journey. A good PD program will recognize this and will help everyone enjoy the ride.

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