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Let Them Play: Approaches to Technology Integration and PD That Empower Teachers

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In Drive, Daniel Pink argues that mastery, autonomy, and purpose motivate people in their careers. A study by The Economist and Google for Education found that giving teachers autonomy makes them better teachers. For more information on the study:

Giving teachers autonomy with edtech spurs mastery and purpose while empowering them to innovate.

Do your district's professional development and edtech practices honor mastery, autonomy, and purpose? Are teachers trusted to use edtech? Is access to apps, websites, and new releases restricted? When leaders see new tools, do they have a sense of urgency to get them into the hands of teachers and students to create new possibilities?

Exploring the answers to those questions can only improve technology integration. Here are some approaches to technology integration and PD that empower teachers. 

Let teachers play. No perfect choreography necessary.

Be careful about the edtech PD you provide - it may be the farthest limit teachers take something. Why not introduce, let them play, and see where their minds go? There is no need for a perfectly choreographed plan when putting devices, tools, and strategies in the hands of teachers and students. Let them explore, have fun, and innovate. Forget walk before you run - just run. Play, get your hands in the dough and make mistakes.

Further, there is no for need fully formed use cases before encouraging teachers to experiment with a digital tool. This is especially true for free edtech. For example, Google released Tour Creator, an easy-to-use VR content creation tool, in May 2018. Imagine waiting to create a perfect slide deck before sharing that news with teachers! Share the news and see what teachers come up with.

Confusion isn't Catastrophic!

Edtech tools should be easy and intuitive. Even intuitive tools can cause confusion when used for the first time. That's not the end of the world. Don't we want kids engaging in productive struggle and emerging having figured it out? That should apply to teachers as well. Teachers don't need to get it right the first time and shouldn't be afraid to fail. We learn from mistakes!

Sweat effective differentiation and empowerment, not alignment.

Of course, all instruction needs to align with student needs and the curriculum. Having said that, edtech coaches needn't sweat alignment in messaging. Teachers, counselors, and administrators use technology in different ways. Within each group, there is differentiation. Using edtech is an art - not a science. No two teachers do it exactly the same way. If one district coach suggests a strategy with a tool, and another suggests a different one - great! Coaches need to differentiate messaging and strategies for their audiences' needs. This means messaging alignment can actually impede effective differentiation. Uniformity and conformity suppress innovation. If everyone in the district receives the exact same coaching, regardless of their needs, how will innovation occur? The real test of edtech PD is this: after receiving it, do participants feel empowered to apply what they just learned?

Mandating teachers complete a PD to receive devices in their classroom is not fair to students.

Do not make completing a PD a condition of getting devices or hardware such as Spheros into a classroom. Not only does that deny some kids access to technology but it values district-created PD over teachers playing, exploring, and researching. Believe in your teachers. Of course, provide PD, but let teachers play and iterate as well.

For G Suite districts - Use the rapid release track.

This one is specific to Google for Education districts but its spirit applies to all edtech. G Suite allows districts to use rapid release meaning that as apps are updated or created, users get the new experience as soon as possible. G Suite often adds new apps such as Jamboard and Tour Creator. Google Admins need to quickly get these into teachers' hands to start the play and innovation process. The downside to doing this is any mistakes made will break the internet. Just kidding. They won't!

What do you think? Does your district let them play when it comes to technology integration and PD? Please comment below or tweet me at @TomEMullaney. Thank you for reading.

The image I used for this post is from the United States Air Force Medical Service.




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Tom Mullaney is a Digital Learning Integration Designer for the San Francisco Unified School District. Tom's education experience includes Special Education, Social Studies, and educational technology coaching in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. He is a Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer. Tom hosts the Sustainable Teaching Podcast and contributes to the BamRadio Network EdWords blog. Use his TED-Ed lesson to teach your students about the French Revolution. Contact him on Twitter, @TomEMullaney or via e-mail, [email protected].

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Guest Thursday, 18 July 2019