Teachers are notoriously hard on themselves. We often tell students take educational risks, but we don’t like to do this ourselves. When adopting a new technology program, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give teachers is learn to take a risk and “Get out of your own way.”
Recently my school started a 1:1 iPad program. In the early phase of teacher training, we dealt with our fears. Teacher concerns included:
• how much time they would have to spend learning the apps.
• teaching students how to use the iPads effectively would take up time they should be using to teach the standards
• they wouldn’t know enough about how use the iPads
• the students would know more than the teachers
And that last worry was the kicker.
Our students are growing up in a completely different world than the one in which we were raised. We realized this generation of students doesn’t remember a world without the smartphone. The internet has ALWAYS been around for them; technology is touch-based and user friendly. My friend’s eleven-month-old daughter can turn on a smartphone and flip through pictures using the touch screen. At eleven months old, she expects to interact with technology. Like our current students, she has no fear of it, no fear of the learning curve, no hesitation in trying to make a device do something when she interacts with it.
In discussing this with my teachers, we realized how uncomfortable we are with learning technology. We want to know it before we are expected to use it. Our students expect to use it in order to know it.
Changing our mindset
To succeed, we needed to adopt the students’ fearlessness and get out of our own way. I told my teachers I wanted them to:
• be comfortable using the iPad, not every app
• design lessons to be content-focused, not app focused
• be willing to take a public risk and be comfortable with not being experts on all of the apps
• take baby steps. After all, since so few schools had gone 1:1 with iPads, there wasn’t much to compare us to- any forward motion would be a success!
• have my permission to have lessons fail spectacularly
Of course, that failure never occurred. In their first classroom lesson my teachers realized they didn’t need to know it all. Teachers introduced the app and the lesson. Students figured things out and taught each other. The teachers learned from their class, the class learned from their teacher. It was a beautiful experience.
But then something even more amazing and unexpected happened: The learning went viral. At break, students from one class taught students from another class about the app. Suddenly, everyone knew how to use it. The teachers’ greatest fear- needing to know how to teach the apps as well as the content- suddenly became a non-issue. Viral learning had occurred and filled in the blanks in students’ knowledge without teachers even trying. Almost instantly, our teachers’ fears dissipated because they realized they could focus on their content area.
By getting out of their own way, and being willing to accept they don’t need to know everything, they were able to take the learning and teaching to a new level:
• Student collaboration is at an all-time high,
• learning is exciting and participatory
• we are blazing new trails
• “Let’s figure it out together” has become our new mantra.
And all because we decided to get over our fear, and get out of our own way.
John Calandro is Principal of Santa Lucia Middle School in Cambria, CA. He’s happy to share his experiences in going 1:1 and getting teachers past their fear. You can reach him on Twitter: @mrcalandro or via his email: email@example.com