The Greek philosopher Plato refused to write because he believed that writing eroded memory. His followers also believed writing was untrustworthy and an act of deviance. Eventually, they came around, but suffice it to say that resistance to innovation is certainly nothing new. As educators, we can all appreciate the reality that resistance is a part of human nature. We can also be grateful for the lessons we can borrow from history to help teachers overcome modern-day classroom technophobia.
The lead pencil, for instance, was being used for a long time before it ever made its way into the hands of students. At seventy-five cents per dozen, pencils were much too expensive to use in schools. Joseph Dixon, the founder of the Dixon Ticonderoga Company, attempted to change that when he invented a new technology. His wood-planing machine mass produced 132 pencils every minute, lowering their cost to a penny each. By the 1870s, an average of 20 million pencils were sold annually, but they were still not embraced by teachers.
Even with the introduction of the eraser pencil-head around 1903 — something that’s now in virtually every student’s hands — most educators still resisted. Teachers feared that erasers would lead to careless writing. But of course, they’re now widely in use, and we know that’s not the case.
It also wasn’t until 1939, ten years after the University of Iowa created the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, that pencils became commonly accepted in the classroom. And of course, the fusion of the pencil and the electronic test-scoring machine allowed tests to be graded automatically and changed the minds of teachers everywhere.
Knowing that we can anticipate change and that resistance to change is normal does not necessarily make it any easier. Teachers who resist teaching with technology are no exception.
Here’s the question we must answer: How can we convince teachers who are hesitant to use technology in their practice to take a leap into the wonders of the 21st-century classroom?
Marion Ginapolis, Superintendent of the Lake Orion School District in Lake Orion, Michigan, offers an expert opinion on the matter: “It is not about the technology; it’s about sharing knowledge and information, communicating efficiently, building learning communities and creating a culture of professionalism in schools. These are the key responsibilities of all educational leaders.”
Here are four practical ways to help reluctant teachers use technology in the classroom.
4 ways to encourage teachers to use technology
1. Train me
Money spent on technology without proper training is money wasted. It’s like having a new car without any gas to run it — it sure looks impressive sitting in the driveway, but it’s not going anywhere without fuel.
You need to support staff with technology training, especially those who do not use it regularly in their personal or professional lives. Technology-centered professional development is critical to long-term success in this endeavor. The digital transformation of schools is already challenged by the ever-accelerating pace of new educational technologies and the ability to keep up with their implementation. Many teachers still struggle given the amount of professional development they must undergo for non-technical areas. But with the right support, they’ll be able to better adjust to using technology in the classroom.
Ideally, every school district should be equipped with instructional technologists, instructional designers, technical support faculty, web development assistants, and video production staff. As unrealistic as this may seem, it’s a worthwhile investment. Professional development resources will manifest themselves differently depending on your school’s situation, but it’s important to have highly qualified staff available to help teachers with training and consulting.
2. Show me the data
Some teachers are quick to dismiss technology use as a fad; cynics need opportunities to see how technology benefits students. It’s hard to argue with credible data that demonstrates how technology has improved learning — when teachers see that their colleagues are getting results in the form of higher test scores, increased enrollment, and student satisfaction, they’re less likely to resist adopting technology. Success stories convince teachers that technology is worth using in the classroom to help their students learn.
Additionally, decision-makers need to recognize that teachers are on the front lines and know what’s best for their students — so they need ample opportunities to observe technology in the classroom instead of embracing it blindly.
In a perfect world, the motivation for implementing technology in the classroom would be entirely intrinsic. Sometimes, however, change needs a nudge. Nobody knows this better than teachers, which is why extrinsic rewards for students are occasionally used. Just as a teacher might ask themselves what they can offer their students to get them to change their behavior, school leaders can ask what they can offer to skeptic teachers to get them to dip their toes in the waters of new technology. The dangling carrot will be different for everyone, depending on their circumstances. Is it a financial incentive such as a stipend or a bump in their department budget? Could it be an extended release time or relief from an assigned duty that they dread? Or perhaps it’s a green light to attend that tech workshop they’ve been looking forward to over the past two years.
Administrators who know their faculty well will know precisely how to motivate them. Arguably the wisest decision is to offer an incentive that somehow directly relates to teaching. For example, you can reward teachers who are able to demonstrate that they’re using technology best practices as you begin rolling out these programs. This type of incentivizing may not be that difficult if a culture of rewarding excellent teaching is already in place.
4. Pay attention to consensus
Picture a newly hired teacher who comes from a well-respected, tech-savvy school district in another state. She joins the team of five fifth-grade teachers, excited to put her background in technology to good use for the benefit of her new students. She soon realizes that only one of her new team members has a similar background of using iPads in the classroom. The other teachers on her team are adamantly against student use of iPads and reluctant to use most other educational technology. The other experienced teacher resigned herself long ago to the ways of the majority and knows that even one more ally is not enough to tip the scales of the “we’ve always done it this way” majority. There is no consensus — not even close.
There are two options: to continue trying to convince the majority of the team that iPads are extremely valuable for student learning, or to accept that the majority is opposed to such an initiative. No teacher should ever be left alone to accept such a fate, nor should students be denied the learning opportunity.
The culture of the department and the school must continuously be on the radar of school leaders. In this case, they must recognize that the lack of consensus is harmful and intervene. Can the two teachers use iPads on a contingent basis and be allowed to demonstrate their success? Can the other teachers be given specialized training? Is a shift in teaching assignment necessary? The options are many, but the first step to success is having school leadership that is aware and recognizes the difference between healthy and unhealthy consensus.
There are many ways to convince reluctant teachers
A teacher’s skepticism is reasonable and can be expected when teaching tools and strategies change. Often, it’s resistance that exposes the potential weaknesses of a plan, ultimately contributing to a desirable outcome. As we saw here, there are innumerable ways to encourage teachers to use technology in the classroom successfully.
But of course, these things take time — not all teachers will be so quick to embrace technology, and some may never change their minds. The bottom line is that all changes must be made with the best interest in mind. With proper training, relevant data, teacher incentives, and awareness, you can give your teachers the gentle nudge they need to explore technology use in the classroom.
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