Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forget the Unchangeables

I speak with a lot of faculty, staff, and administrators about teaching with technology.  And nearly every single time, one of the first questions I am asked is, "What do we do about all the faculty who don't want to change?  Who are resistant to trying new things?  Who don't believe, for example, a cell phone could ever have a place in a classroom?"  The fact that this question is asked so much is, I think, indicative of a bigger problem. I think it's time, folks, that we reframe our focus. 

Yes, many faculty are resistant to change.  Yes, many faculty refuse to accept new forms of technology in their classrooms.  We need to accept that this is the way it is.  We need to accept that we can't change everybody's perspective on what teaching and learning should look like.  After all, academic freedom is at the core of our teaching values, right?  

Why would I suggest such a thing?  Because as so many of us sit around tables building plans and strategies to figure out how to change the unchangeables or worse yet, throw in the towel and give up hope because all we see are the unchangeables we are ignoring and, in turn, risking the greatest assets to the future of our educational system -- the changers. 

Have you sat down and engaged in a Twitter chat using the hashtag #edchat?  Or #flipclass?  Don't know how?  Just go to Twitter.com and in the search box enter either of those two terms (#edchat or #flipclass). These are called hashtags on Twitter and when you send a tweet with a hashtag, they can easily be filtered into a search stream creating a 'chat' like scenario.  By doing this, you'll see tweets sent from educators around the world sharing resources with each other about how and why they're using emerging technologies to reinvent their classrooms.  These are teachers committed to change.  These are teachers driven by an internal passion.  This passion doesn't stop at the concrete curbs surrounding their schools or campuses.  It doesn't sync up with an academic calendar.  They don't wait for professional development or teacher inservice days to learn.  They're always learning, always sharing, always innovating -- and social media tools like Twitter and mobile devices like iPads and smartphones enable their learning and facilitate connections with their growing global networks.  They understand how to use technology to change the way students learn because they use technology to learn.

All of you have creative, risk-taking educators on your campus.  There may be just one or there may be many -- but they are there.  They may share a lot with their colleagues and they may share absolutely nothing, but that does not mean they aren't sharing with someone, somewhere.  Last year I enrolled in a full-day Google workshop to learn how to use the latest Google tools in my classes.  It was an awesome day.  The facilitator was fabulous -- someone I had known previously and is part of my own personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter.  I won't name that person here, as I do not have his permission.  Throughout the workshop he referenced how he uses various tools in his own classes.  We had a few casual conversations throughout the day and at one point I asked, "Wow, what do your colleagues think about all this great stuff you do in your classes?  Do they love it or what?"  He shrugged his shoulders and said, "They don't know what I do. There's just no interest."

I do not intend to put words in anyone's mouth here.  These are my own observations ... and I certainly welcome yours. I think many of our innovative teachers -- regardless of the level they teach -- feel smothered by bureaucracy, frustrated, unsupported, exhausted, overworked, unappreciated, and may even at times question if they've made the right decision to become an educator.  Last summer after I finished presenting a keynote at a conference, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes and said, "I was going to resign this year.  After hearing that presentation, I'm going to give it one more year." As we approach that one year mark, I find myself thinking about her and wondering where she is in her journey.

Folks, this is our crisis.  Let's try to stop focusing on the unchangeables and shift all that energy to those who are already out there changing the world.  


Tracy Marshall said...

Thank you, Michelle for your post. It is nice to know that there are others out there that want to use technology to serve students and bring them into the work force with 21st century skills. As an instructor at a community college, I feel that it is my job to get students ready for life after college in addition to teaching them my subject matter. And, I have felt all those feelings you have listed..."smothered by bureaucracy, frustrated, unsupported, exhausted, overworked, unappreciated..." and I have questioned if I should be an educator at all. When I feel frustrated, smothered, and alone in my approach, I think back to the students and their experience as people and that they are being prepared to go out there in the real world. Then I think that it really does benefit them to learn from all kinds of people because there are all kinds of people in the world. Some instructors are very traditional, some are "hard", some are funny, some are energetic, some incorporate 21st century skills. And, I do believe more instructors should incorporate technology in the classroom, but I now think that working with different types of instructors is also good. This helps prepare students for working for a traditional boss, or engaging with co-workers of different personality types. This can be part of the learning experience as well.

Unknown said...

Tracy, Thank you for bringing such a rich texture to this topic. I love your perspective. Hold on to your passion and stay focused on your students. And let's please stay connected. Are you on Twitter? If so, please connect with me @brocansky. Onward!

Michelle Miller said...

I agree with you on how technology needs to change our classrooms. Everyday there are more and more new technologies being invented. As teachers it is our responsibility to stay up on the new technologies, so we can use them in the classroom. Many times students know more about technology than teachers, and this can make it hard for teachers to keep their students interested in the class. Students today are bombarded with simulation from video games, to television, and social networks on the internet because of this it can make it hard for students to want to learn from a lecture. This can cause students to be bored and not participate in the lessons. There are so many technologies out there, and we need to do our part in finding out more about them. At first I was skeptic, I was thinking how can some of these technologies be used in the classroom. I think that as long as we are careful and set boundaries, then anything is possible.

R.Brounstien said...

I totally agree that this is a modern crisis in education. Students are moving forward with technology while our schools are not moving with them. There are a myriad of causes that are holding teachers back. In order to change education, these issues must be addressed. Administrators are cautious about new technology because they fear the “what ifs”. Schools do not have the funds to stay current with the technological advances. Teachers fear using technology in the classroom because they have not been trained and supported. College teacher education programs are not teaching how to use technology in the classroom. The list goes on and on. Can the “unchangeables” really be blamed for not changing with so many factors against them? I am not suggesting that tech savvy teachers exhaust themselves trying to make them change, but wouldn’t it be a disservice to our colleagues to give up?

So where to begin? How do we fix the “unchangeables”? I am not certain of the answer except that it has to begin with each teacher. Teachers that are already using technology in the classroom need to be sharing, encouraging, communicating, and most of all persevering. And teachers that are not using technology in the classroom need to take a chance and just begin.

Beginning anything new can be strange, uncertain, and even scary, but it can also be exciting and life changing. I am a “changeable”. Before this year, I have used very little technology in the classroom. This spring, I have begun a Masters in Education with a Concentration in Online Education. What inspired me to change? It was the great teachers that I have known in my life. They have encouraged me and inspired me to be the best teacher I can by remembering that being a teacher doesn’t mean that you stop being a student…always learning. Don’t give up on us…we can change.

Susan Davis said...

Dear Michelle, I appreciate your approach of "the glass half full" rather than "the glass half empty" in embracing and proliferating the use of technology to teach and motivate our youth. I am a middle age teacher, but this is only my second year of teaching. Although older in age, I believe myself to be a "changeable." Because of my age, I may be stereotyped as being set in traditional non-technological ways of education. Instead, I find that I am intrigued and excited to find that I am part of such a challenging and volatile time in educational history. In this world, change is inevitable and the pendulum has been set in motion particularly fast for the field of education. I presently work for an on-line Pre-K through 12 cyber charter school. I, like many of the "unchangeables", was somewhat doubtful of how on-line education would work, especially in my field of special education. However, being an individual that is always open to testing new ideas, I found I was willing to give on-line education a try for my students. The results have been simply amazing, children who are free to be creative and be themselves without fear of being ridiculed and judged, children that feel encouraged and rewarded for their differences and are free from bullying. I find it very worrisome that our brick-and-mortar schools hold the mindset that they must build their own cyber schools separate from the regular classrooms. Why are they not revamping their regular classrooms to include all the technology possible, not creating separate classrooms for the select few? I am pleased to be in a school that realizes that technology = education and education = technology. In this day, they are not to be separated Just this evening, I witnessed my 15 year old daughter using her laptop to review blogs while simultaneously using FaceTime on her Ipod to spend time with a friend, while her friend talked with her about watching her AppleTV. Our children are there, those teachers that do not come to this realization will literally be left in the dust of their desk; those who embrace where are children are will be propelled into the vibrant -multi-tasking world that our children reside in daily. So much for the old adage, "Johnny turn-off the TV, the music, and all other electronic devices and do your homework." The tools they need to do their homework and to succeed today are on these devices, even our books are on these devices. Simply Amazing!

sarah.loeliger said...

Your post really struck home with me because I work at PACYBER, a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania. For us, being a school that solely relies on technology means that it is important for us at PACYBER to understand that our school can never become complacent, due to competition and other forces that could hinder our time as a cyber charter school. It is our job here to always be looking for the next best technology and looking towards the future. Whether it is integrating better laptops, different personalized tablets or mp3 devices we need to look towards the future. I am also aware of many brick and motor schools in our area that do not use much technology still when working with students. This can leave our students that live in this area with a disability when it comes to technology. The world is integrating technology every minute of the day and we cannot fall behind.

I am thankful for my time with PACYBER and the time and effort they put towards moving further into the future when it comes to technology and like you said one thing that can truly hinder any progress towards the future is in fact the unchangeable people of this institution. Everyone should be welcome to change and not see it as something that is here to prevent them from completing the job. It is a new way of giving students a better education.

Hopefully in the future I never become an unchangeable and hopefully I am around to see the ideas you post in this blog and the ideas of many others come to play not only in my educational setting but in many others.

Here are two links to two websites about not becoming complacent and becoming an unchangeable and how to move past them.

This link takes you to a book about a group of penguins that must choose that moving and changing is more important than becoming complacent.

The blue ocean strategy talks about not losing the battle of being different in an ocean of people, products and companies that all do the same thing.

Valerie said...

Dear Michelle,

I thank you for your very innovative and uplifting blog. I am in my late forties, and I have been introduced to online learning in 2007, and now I am interested in online education as a teacher. I am going about my teaching career differently because I want to teach adults. Adults have busy schedules and lives, and it is more challenging to get them in one place at the same time. Presently I assist a class at my local parish once a week, and our team has created paper outlines of class discussions. The class seems to get overwhelmed with all the reading and paperwork that is presented, and so I have decided to attempt something new in my third year with this course. Initially, I thought I would present the course lessons in the form of a blog,; however, I have decided that I want to expand it further. I would like to set up a wikki for the students to interact with one another.
Your mention of the twitter program sounds intriguing. I have bought my first data package cell phone only last week, because I have been intimidated by the smart phones and i-pads. Your google workshop mentioned that there is just no interest out there. Speaking from personal experience, I think it is more fear than lack of interest. Reaching beyond our comfort level in this media saturated culture is an absolute necessity if we are going to be open to learning and changing. I am proud to say that I am willing to change, however I am a bit slower in doing so.
Your blog has opened up my eyes to the enthusiasm behind the learning experience. This can work for any topic an educator attempts to teach. Thank you for your insightful, energetic, and enthusiastic posts, I have gleaned a lot of inspiration from your writing and presentation.


Valerie Joy Kreilick,
Mesquite, Nevada