Want to Incorporate Online Learning? Invest in the Teachers
Teachers count. As we lead forward with the inclusion of technology as a vehicle for teaching and learning, it is important to remember and communicate that teachers count. In the learning to read, for example, Frank Smith writes,
Children do not become readers because of methodologies...Children learn to read when conditions are right...None of the responsibilities for ensuring the appropriate conditions for learning to read can be met by experts or authorities outside of the classroom...The only person authorized to make all these responsible decisions should be a competent teacher (p. 39).
Learning is a behavior, an attitude and a skill. Key to that behavior is the way we think and how that affects the way we act. How we approach the explosion of the uses of technology in learning will be affected by what we believe and how we behave. Included in that behavior has to be evidence that teachers count.
According to author Carol S. Dweck, in her book Mindset, there are two mindsets, the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset." According to Dweck, those believing their qualities are "carved in stone" are of the fixed mindset. They believe they have "a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character" (p.6). The growth mindset, on the other hand is "based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts" (p.7).
Those mindsets describe not only the basis of how the adults think and behave; it describes how those adults approach the children with whom they work. Beyond the leadership, those who are the closest to the children, the teachers, will facilitate or disable our ability to move forward with changes in teaching and learning. So the investment in continuously improving teacher quality is essential. "[E]nhancing teacher quality is one of the keys-and the way to achieve this is through ensuring that every teacher in the school has the mind frame that leads to the greatest possible effect on student learning and achievement"(Hattie. 2012. p.191).
Teachers can adapt. One example is the addition of interactive whiteboards. Beginning in the last decade, schools began installing these digitally connected, interactive, boards in classrooms with the promise of improved student learning. Teachers began learning and experimenting. Granted, a few left them turned off. There are advantages to these boards, most certainly. They provide lesson capture, lesson sharing, lesson archiving, allow for embedding video into a lesson, (which saves transition time), allow for what previously took time, as teachers wrote on the blackboard, and allow them to do that writing in advance and record it. Interactive whiteboards have proven, when used well, to be a valuable teaching aid. But, we have not seen a leap ahead in student achievement. New technology alone won't make the difference. Teachers guiding the exciting use of technology by students might.
While teachers were discovering how to best use existing classroom technology, other technologies like tablets and iPads, Google Glass, and new apps for Smartphones were being developed and made readily available. Although one-to-one technologies are not flooding our schools to date, it is more likely due to an issue of finance than reluctance. What we do have in many of our buildings is the technology to provide various blended learning models, such as the rotation, flex, and enriched virtual models. It is in our hands. Its use needs to be led.
The tension between leading change and leading others to change needs attention. There are those among us with fixed mindsets and there are those among us with growth mindsets. How to lead both will involve a differentiated approach. Using new technologies with old teaching ideas changes little. Using new technologies with an understanding of how they can respond to the manner in which children learn opens new vistas of learning and expands possibilities.
In order to use the potential that technologies offer our learners, investment in teachers is required. Knowing teachers' mindsets, their fears, and concerns and attending to them while leading forward is crucial. Developing their interest in and their appreciation for the application of these technologies is essential. Leaders need to model as well as direct this change. It is important they know how to use these technologies and understand their potential before, as well as alongside, the teachers.
Teachers have been under a great deal of stress. They have been working to understand and implement new sets of standards and curricula, while being evaluated each step of the way. And surely now they are being asked to improve the inclusion of technology into their teaching repertoire. How we lead the power of technology, to break open the learning environments for students, should include checking our own mindsets and behaviors. Investing in the teachers is paramount. Leaders elicit followership by being excited and motivational...and by being trustworthy. It seems like an easy answer.
Dweck, Carol S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballentine Books
Hattie, John (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge
Smith,Frank (2003). Unspeakable Acts Unnatural Practices. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann