Busy Teachers and Innovation

A mentor teacher once told me, “When I want something done, I ask a busy person. That way, I know it will get done.” Teachers often express that their professional lives are too busy to permit much experimentation with technology. Yet, somehow every school has a minority of teachers, often very busy ones, who are doing wonderful work with new technologies. Why?

Maybe this results from priority-setting. Even the busiest person makes time to focus on his or her top priorities. When I present new technologies to a group of teachers, some hear what the new tools can do and find that they fit perfectly with their existing teaching strategies. Others find the capabilities of the new tools intriguing but foreign. Those who prioritize technology are always able to find the time for it, both teacher time for learning and planning and student time for completing new, sometimes time-consuming, activities.

Those who find technology socially isolating or excessively complicated are unlikely to devote time to it. I trust that training and schoolwide discussion help paint a rich picture of the realities and potential for new technologies to support teaching and learning. A multi-faceted training program offers workshops, individual support, classroom/office visits, online resources, and tech-shares. A tech-share provides an opportunity for teachers using technology to share their work with their peers, explaining the teaching objectives and evidence of learning. In order to understand how young people are using computers to connect with each other, teachers should hear students’ voices and study this with great interest.

I don’t buy the popular belief that technology can change pedagogy. Only teachers change their teaching strategies. More likely, the right technology allows a teacher to amplify some aspects of his/her practice that he/she has always wanted to do a better job with. Teachers may even find ways to use new tools to reinforce existing teaching strategies, good or bad. The concept that technology can change pedagogy by itself leads to bad policy, such as large, public technology programs that fund only computer acquisition and not professional development or support staff salaries.

I started this blog post headed in one direction but finish in a familiar place: a focus on teachers. Choose technologies that have potential to match teachers’ objectives, support teachers as well as we can, and share exemplary work broadly.

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