I read a blog post recently which talked about a gathering of technology product executives and politicians who came together to express their vision for learning using technology in education. The author seemed quite pleased with the ideas that were bandied about. I did not disagree that technology may play a big role in education, but I was struck by the fact that there were no classroom educators in the group. I am always offended when politicians step up to pose as education experts so I did leave a comment on that post and now I would like to expand my thoughts here.
There could have been five times that number of technology executives and politicians in that room discussing the changes in education which technology can make, and the end result will be little change. The missing element in that formula is the teacher element. If technology is to have a greater impact on learning, there better be teachers on that bandwagon. Technology by itself will sit and gather dust, unless teachers are shown how to use it to accomplish what they need to teach by using it. Forget about the paradigm shift in education for kids. We need a paradigm shift in education for educating educators.
The simple answer that most people throw out to address the problem of teachers needing to change, is to change the way we train teachers. Quite honestly, the training of new teachers is not where the problem lies. Young teachers are trained well in the philosophy and methods of teaching. The real learning however, what really makes a teacher, a teacher, takes place after a teacher gets a job teaching. It is the culture of the school and the district in which that teacher works that will have the greatest influence on that teacher. It the school’s culture that will allow that teacher to grow to his, or her greatest potential, or it will stifle that potential in the name of status quo. If the culture of the school does not support the use of technology tools for learning, chances are neither will the teacher. Of course there are exceptions, but most people go along, to get along when it comes to their job. It becomes a matter of the culture changing the new teacher rather than the new teachers having any effect on the culture.
The real answer for change is not just in changing the way we teach kids, but rather in the way we teach their teachers as well. The model for professional development used by most schools was developed for another time. If we are looking for a paradigm shift in education, we need to start with the educators. A great deal happens and moves forward in our world in a short period of time. Staying relevant today is not a passive exercise. It requires some amount of participation, involvement, or mental exercise. Technology offers the tools and opportunities to those educators willing to learn and use them. It is that will that must be worked on.
There seems to be little serious consideration for revamping professional development in anyone’s long-range plans. We espouse life-long learning, but we do not support it and few really practice it. It is a difficult task involving reworking contracts, and addressing long-standing procedures for professional development. It should be obvious that these methods are not meeting our needs so why not consider change? To make any effective change in education, as far as an impact of technology goes, concentrate on training teachers in technology. There might be 500,000 teachers actively collaborating and communicating using technology and Social Media for their personal professional development. That may sound impressive, if you fail to consider that there are 7.2 million teachers in the USA. Technology will have little effect on the children in our education system unless it has an effect on the system’s teachers first.
Give teachers the technology training that they need, and the support they need to use it. Don’t stress the bells and whistles of technology but specific ways it can be used for learning. Throwing technology at anyone without training and support is useless; worse than that, it is irresponsible, yet it is done every day in schools in this country. Educate the administrators in technology, so they can understand how outdated policies as well as policies based on knee-jerk reactions hinder technology in education. As long as we are instructing educators in Technology, it would be most helpful to instruct IT people in education. We need IT people and teachers blending their skills to make things possible, not telling each other how things won’t work. Make meaningful professional development for teachers and administrators a priority and you may someday see a vision for kids’ learning enhanced by technology come true. The real paradigm shift in education must be in the education of the educators and the culture of schools.