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This too shall pass - not

Long, long ago in a district far, far away (actually 5 years ago and about 75 miles away), I help kick off my first 1:1 program. Since that time, I have helped plan and implement two more 1:1 initiatives in my current district. And we are undertaking another ambitious project to dramatically increase the access to our elementary students to technology resources by adding significant numbers of Chromebooks and Chrome Tabs this fall.

I've learned a lot from these experiences, thanks mostly to the incredible technology staff who are far better organized and detail oriented than I am. I've learned that one cannot over communicate with parents and the community. I've learned that many teachers would prefer highly prescriptive direction in the use of devices. I've learned adults can't control, only guide, how kids use devices. I've learned that true equity in a district for all learners cannot be achieved without allowing kids to communicate and participate socially online, regardless of the discomfort it may cause adults. I learned that technology is not a silver bullet in improving education. Well, maybe I've always know that.

Anyway, I found the post in which I reflected on advice to teachers I wrote just before my first 1:1 launch. I think has stood the test of time...


Over the next couple weeks our district will start its first 1:1 initiative. I don't think I've ever been as excited about a technology initiative in my 37 year career. Or as anxious. Our middle school teachers are being asked to undertake some seriously large learning experiences - new technologies, new teaching strategies, new resources, and new classroom management techniques. But we stand to also make some huge improvements in achievement, engagement, and climate.

This is a biggie.

The curriculum director and I have been tapped to give a short "keynote" to start off the first day of professional development next week. I think I get 5 minutes. Here is my pitch:

As a veteran classroom teacher I dreaded my administrator going to a conference. Invariably she would return with a new educational “silver bullet” for improving teaching and learning and expect us teachers to implement it. This usually meant a ton of additional work despite being already very, very busy actually teaching. And unfortunately, these new processes, techniques, and plans were abandoned when the next “silver bullet” rolled around. Yesterday it was Outcomes Based Education. Today it is probably Essential Learning Outcomes.

A survival strategy that many of us adopted was to keep doing what we’d always been doing but use the vocabulary of the new thing. We’d keep quiet during staff development sessions and quietly pray, “This too shall pass.” It was difficult not to become cynical about any change effort in school because we knew there would be another initiative coming before we could finish implementing the first one.

The use of information technologies in schools is a different matter. As we look at society in general, technology has had and continues to have a powerful impact on the way things are being done. To think that medical CAT scans, online banking and shopping, or computerized diagnostics of motor vehicles is a “passing fad” is erroneous. And to think that the use of technology in schools is a “passing fad” doesn’t make any sense either.

Classroom teachers have a finite amount of energy and time to devote to change. So why not invest in effective changes to our teaching practices that will stay with us, not until the next “silver bullet” comes along, but for the remainder of our careers?  (from The Classroom Teacher's Technology Suvival Guide)

Here are three guiding strategies I have found helpful:

  • Keep in mind that technology does not increase student achievement. Technology used in supporting best practices increases student achievement. Think best practices, not best technology.
  • Integrate technology in activities and units with which you are not satisfied, not your great lessons. Use technology to solve problems and meet challenges - not cause more.
  • Use technology that personally empowers you as a individual and learner. If you don't use a technology, don't ask your students to use it. It's like trying to teach a novel you don't like.

Even if we try to ban or ignore or minimize student use of technology in our classrooms, it will still have an impact. Our children live in a technology-rich world and their habits, their learning styles, and their expectations are all being shaped by non-school environments. Do we stay relevant in kids lives?

OK, I am over my five minutes....

What would you say in five minutes to teachers embarking on a voyage to unknown places?

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