"Let us move forward with boldness and not retreat back into the comforts of the past." - David March
Changes in educational practices are often debated. The next new thing comes and goes and in the end a lot of things never really change. The reality of the matter is we are teaching students, and with that said, we must prepare students for the future they face. We must equip them with the tools to problem solve, think critically, and create. This is not some revolutionary idea that I have created, it has been debated for years, yet progress remains too slow in many ways. Teachers today have incredibly difficult jobs as they must continue to teach the core components of education, while keeping up with the world around them. How do you prepare your teachers and students for the reality they face?
As far back as the 17th Century schools in the US were centered around the 4 R's of education; Reading 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Religion. These early elementary schools were founded on the power of Reading literacy as an avenue for students to branch out and realize the possibilities of the world around them. Without Reading Literacy it is tough to quickly gain high levels of knowledge on many different subjects. Life is still the greatest teacher, but the ability to read provides hope and opportunity just as it did over 200 years ago, to those privileged enough to be taught to do so.
Fast forward to 2015, 239 years from our first day as a country. Reading is still the most powerful thing any person can learn to do. I would argue that digital fluency would come in a very close second. The reality is that a lot of people still survive every day with little to no technology knowledge. I know many people that live happy productive lives while their only dealings with technology revolve around what is essentially forced upon them. 239 years ago the three R's were the key to someone achieving new knowledge, but today the gateway that is opened along with digital fluency is like nothing our founders could have ever begun to imagine. When you look at the fact that the internet as we know it really didn't start to take shape until around 1995, in the last 20 years things have changed more than the previous 200+ years combined.
As teachers are pulled a million different directions and measured based on children taking standardized tests, the growth in digital fluency remains slower than students deserve. I do not blame teachers, but I do challenge all teachers, and educational leaders to fix this problem. You see as a professional educator today, it is NOT OK to simply shrug off your lack of classroom technology interaction with the idea that "you are just not good with tech." Your students deserve better, and quite frankly you deserve better.
Leaders, you must have some sense of urgency to build this digital fluency capacity in all teachers under your guidance. You must find time and make training available that allows teachers to flourish. The key for administrators is you must expect it from your teachers, and yourself. Teachers, you must let down your guard and roll up your sleeves. Don't continue to make excuses or let the fact that technology is not a big deal in your personal world negatively impact your student's future. Technology is here to stay, and you are teaching students, not a subject. Students proper use of technology should not be hindered due to your lack of understanding.
So you agree, now how do you go about building this capacity in your teachers so your classrooms run like clockwork. There are many different theories depending on who you talk to, but I firmly believe the key is to improve lessons. If you actually look at the lessons you are teaching, and ask yourself how it can be improved, I believe that you will find ways that technology tools can enhance your lesson. You see too often teachers learn about a new tool, and they want to try it, so they build a lesson for that tool. This is backwards and often unsuccessful for long term buy in. We have to think about the desired student learning goal. Then ask yourself what can you do to make sure that goal is taking place, followed by how could I step it up a notch from there. Often times this is where technology can become the avenue for lesson improvement.
The image at the top of this article is a combination of two well known 21st Century "frameworks." Using the ITL Research for the 21st Century Learning Design and Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills we have a mechanism in place to generate meaningful conversations with teachers. Wagner provides the reality of what the job force is looking for as they hire our students, and the ITL Design offers a way to look at a lesson and give it a rating based on the different rubrics. Neither of these pieces address specific devices that must be used from a technology perspective, but they provide the mechanism to help teachers think about how they can shape their current lessons to better match up with the skill set that students need. Once that need for change has been embraced we can begin to figure out how to work toward digital fluency.
Technology tool training is another aspect all together. If we can get teachers thinking about how to modernize their lesson, they will be better prepared to realize which tools they need to learn first. Tools change and often times the same thing can be done with any variety of tools. While there are a few core tools that can easily be introduced and used district wide, most tools are completely interchangeable. Provide the training that introduces teachers to different options, but keep the bigger picture in mind. Tool training by itself has been proven to be ineffective in making student gains. The best way to encourage meaningful change is by adjusting the mechanism to attain the desired student outcome, which is of course the lesson itself.
Until a true philosophical shift has been made by leadership and accepted by teachers as necessary, no level of tool or lesson training will make an impact. The collective whole must agree that things need to look different. When your district is ready to embrace that, the rest will start to take shape. Look for more on this process in the coming weeks, the complexity is real. Change takes time, and often will be slower than we want. If you are already behind, you cannot waste another minute.