What Teachers Want… And What Leaders Can Do

This post from Edudemic highlights trends in educational technology, which have shifted noticeably in 1 year, not for mention the last 5 years. They describe the top 6 trends as:  Innovation, collaboration, assessment , open resources, blended learning, and space design. These shifts are accelerated by the access and demand for technology that has transformed the notion of what teaching and learning can be. However, making these shifts across countless classrooms is more than declaring that you are purchasing technology or online resources .  The digital transformation must focus on designing powerful learning experiences that leverage technology to personalize, engage in deeper learning, and communicate with a global community. To innovate, the learning community must embody a mindset that allows for continuous growth and development. Moreover, If we want teachers to embrace technology in the classrooms and transform learning experiences, we need to bring them into the conversations.

Over the past few years I have been asking teachers across diverse schools, districts, and states what they feel they need to be successful as their district embarks on various stages of the digital transformation. (SIDE NOTE: after each of these conversations with teachers in small focus groups, leadership meetings or in workshops I am often told how thankful they were to share their experiences. They had never been asked before.) Their answers always point back to the same big ideas. To transform learning environments teachers want:

  • To build a shared understanding of the role of technology in the classroom. They want to know how they are expected to use of technology and have a clear picture of the ideal learning environment. It’s not that teachers want to just be compliant- it’s that they have a huge responsibility as they enter their classrooms every day to do what’s best for their students and make sure they are successful today, tomorrow, and in their distant future. When teachers have high expectations they often meet and exceed them.
  • Personalized professional learning Teachers want support based on their current level of content knowledge, skills, and comfort level with technology.  They need multiple access points and systems of support to develop the desired competencies. Teachers regularly suggest the following structures be embedded in the work day to facilitate their growth and development:
    • Communities of inquiry to find and solve problems together
    • Online resources to learn topics of choice at their own pace
    • Opportunities to observe other teacher’s practice
    • Opportunities to experiment in a safe environment to integrate what hey have learned
  • Access to high quality digital content. With changing standards and learning expectations, teachers frequently describe a lack of resources to high quality content to meet the desired shifts.  In lieu of these resources and time, teachers can revert back to old textbooks or purchase the newest unit on Teachers Pay Teachers to try and stay ahead of their students.  They understand the power in being able to design powerful learning experiences for their unique group of learners, however with the many roles that teachers must take on, they are cognizant of not reinventing the proverbial wheel.  They want some structure (often in the form of an instructional map) to help plan what they should be teaching but they also want flexibility to do what’s right for their students. Providing access to high quality digital content and resources is a critical step to empowering teachers to design robust learning experiences that engage all students.
  • More frequent observations and feedback to develop their practice. Teachers have been far too isolated and the teaching professional is plagued by a culture of closed doors.  Although this is changing, observations and feedback or coaching are still far from common practice in most schools I visit.  When given the opportunity, teachers appreciate observing peers and reflecting on their own practice and want to do it more.  Teachers want feedback from colleagues they trust and have a relationship with to provide more regular feedback to push them to the next level. Too often feedback and observation comes in the form of an evaluation rather than in the spirit of growth and development.
  • Structured Collaboration. Teachers regularly cite lack of time as a barrier, however they recognize that not all time is used as productively as possible, especially when it comes to collaborative time.  Teachers like to learn from their peers and thrive when they have regular collaborative learning opportunities during their work day.  Facilitating this time to ensure teachers regularly plan, analyze, and determine next steps for effective teaching and learning, accelerated by technology is a critical factor in its success.  When these structures are in place teachers often learn new strategies and increase their effectiveness and efficacy through the collective knowledge and support of the learning community.

Teachers want clear expectations but autonomy to do it in a way that meets the needs of their students and works for them.  Too much structure is stifling but too little can be just as crippling. Leaders are crucial in setting the culture and tone of how teachers learn and take risks in their practice. To fully realize the potential of technology, we have to experiment with the trends to develop best practices.

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