ISTE Standard for Coaches : 7b: Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology.
Question: Question: How do we compassionately help teachers with limited technology experience, effectively communicate their knowledge and methodology through digital platforms?
There is nothing more stressful than trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Teaching is a profession rife with ego, with many classrooms self-contained economies, whose leaders do not take kindly to outsiders. This is particularly true in rooms where the educator has found a pattern that has ‘worked’ for a long time with few hiccups. As an instructional coach, how do we walk into that space and ask for change without overwhelming or upsetting our already overworked educator?
Will an endless slew of studies done on this new methodology be enough to sway their opinion? Will the offer to model in order to show how effective the new strategies could be in their classroom work? How about relationships building? Is that the answer to creating transformational change? Will that new app truly make the difference between a classroom discussion that falls flat and one that is remembered for years to come?
Some of these work, some of them will not, and I believe we need to start with the knowledge that the way to make a real change in how teachers approach the use of technology in their classroom is to start at a grassroots level. We have all been the unlucky beneficiaries of decisions made about our curriculum by stakeholders who have never set foot in our classroom, and to make a lasting change in the minds of teachers, we need to come into their space with a clear vision of the changes needed, how the transition towards that change could go, and sound reasoning for why the changes need to take place.
One of the most influential books I have read is “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership”. There is a section in it that speaks to understanding the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges. The authors use the example of an older woman whose pride it has been to still be able to drive at ninety-five years old. Her friend and family notices that there are scrapes and dents on her car when they meet up. The situation could result in one of two responses. They could take the car to the shop, and the fact that she is not seeing as well as she used to could come to light and her driving privileges could be taken away. That response would fix the technical problem, but this would be an immense loss, as she is very proud of the fact that she is still able to drive at night. The adaptive challenge of needing to learn how to ‘refashion her identity and finding ways to thrive with new constraints’ would still be present (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, p.20).
Whenever there is change, there is loss, so it is important to address that loss early and often in order to create a ‘relationship-based environment’ where there is a built up sense of trust with our teachers. Something that I do not think is talked about enough, but the authors focus on in “Adaptive Leadership” is that “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.” When we are asking a teacher to make a change in their curriculum, or their method of delivering learning, we need to be cognizant of the relationship that they have with their own past experiences. Students, successes, lessons, and the memories and nostalgia that come with those, are tied to that curriculum they created over years of struggle and stalwart determination. To build relationships that are based in change, we must first help them understand that we recognize, and truly appreciate, the years of service they have given over to the community of learners and teachers who have come through their door.
I believe it is important, as change-makers, that we are able to celebrate what has been effective in building positive, engaging learning environments as we move forwards in our technological revolution in the classroom. “As in nature, a successful adaptation enables an organization or community to take the best from its traditions, identity, and history into the future.” (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, p.22)
There are many examples of creating transformational change in classrooms all around the world, and technology has been instrumental in creating frameworks of learning that are student-centered, intellectually stimulating, problem-solving, and future-focused with a global lens. If we settle on just one methodology, we lose out on the innovation that is occurring in our own backyards. I’m in the midst of reading “Leapfrogging Inequality”, where the author has compiled nearly 3,000 innovations in education from all around the world to come to a better understanding of how we can propel education forward at a pace to meet the technology revolution’s needs, as well as the many pressing basic human needs that so many of our students come to school without.
From their research, and from what other, reputable resources have already expressed to us time and time again, they bring to the forefront that “…changes in teaching practice improve student learning more than any other school-based interventions,”(Winthrop, 2018). As instructional coaches in a digital age, it is more important than ever that we are able to build relationships to help with the clear articulation of how technological innovation is not only essential in the classroom, but can provide solutions to a myriad of issues that are common in our schools today. From organizing project-based learning, to enhancing the accessibility of resources for student-led inquiry, to embedding social-emotional and special education supports, technology – in its many forms – needs to have solid supporters in our schools who understand it and how to implement it. This is important not only for our students, but for the teachers who need to sift through the endless stream of new gadgets and who are left in an overwhelming state of mind. As Aguilar said in The Art of Coaching, “those of us who intend to practice it as a vehicle for transformation must be responsible for presenting a clear definition of what it is, who we are, what we do, and why we do it.” (Aguilar, 2013).
Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. John Wiley & Sons Inc..
Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Cambridge Leadership Association.
Winthrop, R. (2018). Leapfrogging inequality: Remaking education to help young people thrive. The Brookings Institute Press.