The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh.
Earlier this year I wrote two blogs about technology supporting transformation in school. I spent part of the second one discussing the problems of implementation, including the ideas of consultant Craig Jerald. He believes that however thorough the planning, the implementation stage is the most difficult, and where the failures usually occur.
It’s because, from long experience and observation, I completely believe Craig Jerald’s conclusion, that I ask you to bear with me as I return to the subject. I’m motivated by the fact that over the short time since I last wrote, Windows 10 has properly arrived, refocusing attention not only on the rich features of the operating system itself, but on way it is improving access to Microsoft technologies that offer new ways for learners to learn and teachers to teach. Over the same period we’ve become aware, too, of the possibilities for one-to-one offered by an ever-broadening range of affordable devices. Perhaps, more than ever before, teachers and school leaders have in their hands the tools to support real transformation of teaching and learning.
This time, though, I want to focus on one key aspect of implementation, that of the need to engage teachers willingly and pro-actively in the process. In order to help my own understanding of this, I like to visualise a multi-seat bicycle, pedalled by a whole team – a bit like the one in ‘The Goodies’, shown here:
As you can see, leader Tim Brooke-Taylor is a total convert, dedicated to forging ahead; Graeme Garden is happy to follow along for now, while Bill Oddy, bless him, is failing to take the enterprise at all seriously. In other words it’s a perfect illustration of how technological implementation so often works in a school or college– you’ve all got a Bill Oddy. I can look back and name some of mine. Mind you, some innovative teachers and technology leaders would probably add a fourth seat, occupied by someone facing, and pedalling, in the opposite direction.
In my many visits to schools reporting for Microsoft, and others, on their own innovative projects, I always ask about implementation, particularly how new ways of working are rolled out across maybe a hundred or more teachers and other staff. Thankfully, we seem to have moved beyond the time when the plan consisted of throwing in lots of devices and hoping for the best. These days, I invariably learn that there’s a carefully planned and phased process, often building on departmental ‘champions’, together with a CPD programme that may well include a ‘helpdesk’ or ‘clinic’ facility. The pace inevitably changes person to person, but the overall story is usually one of people wanting to learn and be engaged. Sometimes, though, I’ll be told, with diplomatic delicacy, that,
‘Of course there are always those colleagues who would rather not be involved at all.’
Such reluctant folk are sometimes labelled ‘blockers’. That’s hardly fair, though. It’s not so much that they want to stop progress; they just want it to flow around them and leave them alone. They are, in fact, reluctant to leave their comfort zone.
One of the best articles I’ve read on the phenomenon of the comfort zone is conveniently called, ‘The Comfort Zone, Risks and Change’, by educator and technology consultant Dr Jamie McKenzie.
And before I go on and draw on some of his ideas, let me point out that Dr McKenzie wrote this article in January 1993 in his online journal ‘From Now On’, which is still going strong at fno.org
One of the great pleasures of reading the article is to enjoy its still lively relevance to the present day.
He begins by pointing out,
‘We are all, to some extent, creatures of habit. We rely upon and trust routines to guide many of our actions and decisions……The rules are clear. The expectations can remain unspoken. We can rely upon what has worked in the past.’
Educators, he suggests, are especially likely to settle into comfort zones.
‘…..because so many people have done their best to make life uncomfortable for us in recent decades. The constant babble of outside attacks and reform initiatives has inspired many school people to “circle round the wagons” in order to protect the system.’
I’ve been aware of ‘wagon circling’ once or twice. Sometimes it seems to those involved to be entirely logical. Where a teacher is well established in an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ school, producing a steady stream of A and A star students, whence the incentive to change? To which we can only turn for the answer to Dr McKenzie again, who points out that though we may resist change, the world will always change around us.
‘In times of rapid change and turbulence, what worked yesterday may not work today. In such times, the comfort zone is much like the sand into which the ostrich sticks its head.’
However, he goes on, although it’s important to move people out of their comfort zones into a riskier, more adventurous way of thinking and working, it’s equally necessary not to assume that the aim is to create a new comfort zone. It’s not, he says, like remodelling a restaurant, with new paint and a better menu so that everything can settle down again afterwards. Instead, he writes,
‘Teachers must continue to take risks, abandon old ways and become not transmitters of knowledge but facilitators of learning.’
But the question remains of how to move people on from their comfort zones. To some extent that’s about basic leadership skills, but there are other factors. On the lively website run by blogger ‘The Daring Librarian’.
I discovered a series of rubrics written by tweeter Justin Tarte (@JustinTarte). These include,
‘Don’t focus on reasons why not to change, but instead start thinking about what will happen if you don’t change.’
At that point I realised that the key to getting anyone to change anything – to stop smoking, lose weight, change that terrible old car – is that they must actively want to change. If they don’t want to change, then they won’t. Obvious? OK, but how often do we behave as if we can change someone by straight persuasion?
Justin then adds,
‘It’s not really the device that we’re using, the hot new teaching method, or how we are sharing on social media that kids will remember 10 years from now. It will be our willingness and daring to try it, model it, and use it in the classroom that they will remember. That is a most powerful life lesson.’
So, say to your reluctant innovators, what will really stay with your students, long after they leave, will not be your sound and solid coverage of the curriculum, but your openly risk-taking ‘let’s try this together’ approach.
Here’s a June 2015 example from the American website School Planning and Management by Paul Solarz, a 5th-grade teacher at Westgate Elementary School in Arlington Heights, Ill.
‘I was one of the most reluctant teachers to use technology in my classroom, ‘ says Paul. And then;
‘I finally decided to have a student-led classroom: I asked the students to solve their own technology problems and help their neighbours solve theirs, because I don’t know everything. It worked. They made signs with the passwords to websites and hung them on the bulletin board. They created videos to explain how to do things. And they help one another.’
Solarz, soon became the classic example of the enthusiastic convert, to the extent that Illinois Computing Educators named him 2014 Educator of the Year in the K-12 classroom. Will Paul’s students remember him, and his way of working?
And so, the way out of the comfort zone begins to show itself. You must want to take more risks, try more new things, become fearless in courting the failures from which you will learn. Then you will realise that some of the most effective guides who will take you by the hand on this journey are your own students, who, in turn will remember, and be affected by, their partnership with you.
For further evidence of that, you need look no further than the experience of the many far-sighted schools, including Microsoft Innovative Schools, where digital leadership is shared, and where appropriate, led, by students. Some have designated student leaders; others prefer a more open acceptance of ideas, wary of creating a specific group. Different schools do what suits their ethos, but get this right and you are in a creative circle – you want to change because you want to help your students, who, in turn, will help you to change.
That’s how creative teachers and questioning, self-motivated students are made.