PEOPLE NEED TIME

05/18/2016
TECHNOLOGY
By Art Willer

Today we are all experiencing the technology revolution.

There are so many good things about this revolution – wonderful tools to communicate with, go-anywhere-find-anything Internet shopping, convenient on-line banking, and ever-less-expensive pleasures!

At the same time, this revolution is making many of us feel stressed about keeping up with it all.

As a publisher, my company has felt tremendous pressure to bring in new technology and adapt our business to new ways. The threat for companies is that if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind.


The successful implementation process begins with a thoughtful plan, discussed with everybody who will be affected.

As educators, we are under pressure to learn about new devices, and somehow adopt new ways we are supposed to be teaching with. The threat for teachers is that if we don’t keep up, we’ll be left behind.

Let’s all take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Again. Breathe in and exhale slowly.

Now that we are calmer, let’s review some basics about our jobs and how we change.

Schools exist for the sake of their students, not for the sake of technology.

We might feel that the sky will fall in unless we buy more technology as soon as possible, but it really won’t. Our school will still be standing, and our students will still be smiling at us, when we take a moment and put that purchase order on hold.

And we must put purchasing on hold, until we have taken at least three important steps:

  • We have assessed why we are purchasing the technology we are purchasing.
  • We know what we are going to do with the new technology.
  • We have planned a process by which people are going to change and acclimate to the new resources.

One of the pleasures of my job is to speak with educators who are doing a great job for students.

For example, a district technology coordinator and I were discussing how his district would upgrade to a more current version of our software. “The update was free,” I argued, “so let’s get it installed!”

I was encouraging him to do a wholesale distribution to all his schools, but he replied that they would roll the new software out to one of the schools. This would confirm the software worked well and the teachers were happy with it, before he sent it out to other schools.

I had to concede, “I hear experience talking.”

This coordinator understands that rolling out our software is not his mandate, and that the sky will remain in place no matter how long he takes. He also knows that his schools stand to lose far more if he rushes, than they gain when he takes a plodding approach. This coordinator acted in the best interest of his schools and ultimately the students in them.

In another example, a teacher and I were discussing the new technology she and her colleagues were bringing into their school. They had acquired some iPads for grade six students and some Chromebooks for younger children. They had not purchased either technology in any large numbers yet.

They were taking their time, experimenting and learning best uses of the technology. Based on what they had learned each week, they were deciding where they were going next. They were moving forward, one thoughtful step at a time.

This teacher and her colleagues recognize that new technology presents an opportunity to better serve their students. They are motivated to move forward.

With their students’ interests at heart, they are taking any amount of time as needed to learn about the new tools, and identify the best way they can use them, before they commit to larger investments.

Sometimes I hear from educators struggling with less positive situations. For instance, more than one teacher has shared, “The district took all our computers away and replaced them with mobile devices. I had no say in the matter.”

Some people argue that this is the only way to get people to change. Make the decisions for them.

Arbitrarily dropping technology into schools or any other organization, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of people and processes:

Implementing technology is not about buying products, but about changing the people who will use those products.

The successful implementation process begins by collaborating with the people who are affected.

Effective implementation continues by knowing that technology can change very quickly, but people take time.

Needing time is something to respect. Wise people never rush into change, including wise teachers.

The successful implementation process begins with a thoughtful plan, discussed with everybody who will be affected. Wise teachers discuss the changes with their students, because they are affected too.

The plan sets out milestones at which progress is evaluated. At each milestone, the plan itself is altered based on what has been learned to that point. In other words, the plan evolves and becomes a product of the implementation process.

The teacher in my better example demonstrated this understanding by saying they were going a step at a time, considering what they had learned to each point in the process and deciding their next step from there.

At this point in writing, I stopped to search the Internet for some corroborating research about why technology in schools so often fails to deliver on its promise. Readers can easily find for themselves the countless articles listed when they search for “why technology fails in schools.”

Then I searched for “why technology succeeds in schools.” It was no surprise that I got a very different list of links, mostly about how hopeful people are. There were few that cited measurable gain. One positive story did catch my eye because even the title reflects what this article promotes: “Maine’s Decade-Old School Laptop Program Wins Qualified Praise” (Huffington Post).

Lasting progress and benefit, always takes time to create. Success is never unqualified.

In every success story I have observed — whether in schools or any other sector of society— the people in the situation have been the key ingredient. Everybody involved has had a clear idea of where he or she was headed, and why he or she was going there. They have worked as a team, and they have learned by jointly experimenting and debating their achievements.

A sense of urgency has always been present, never a sense of panic.

Leadership is always present in the form of respectful behavior, and thoughtful guidance.

The better leaders I have observed are those who have consulted with and taken direction from the people they are leading.

Effective leaders are not pushovers, but they are people who readily admit they do not have all the answers. They know that sharing knowledge and sharing in discovery, is a powerful way to harness everybody’s talents, and to advance the shared mission.

Finally, a plan is always present, an evolving plan that everybody knows and everybody has a say in.

Let’s all take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Again. Breathe in and exhale slowly. Now, what are you going to do with the rest of your day?

Art Willer has a Master of Education degree in curriculum development and implementation from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (U of Toronto). He is a former classroom teacher, instructor of teachers, and the founding president of Bytes of Learning Incorporated at www.bytesoflearning.com.

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