He was Bouncing off the Walls

That’s what a workshop participant said about my contact for some recent work I did here in North Carolina — a client school district I personally care a lot about (think Barney Fife). They’d originally contacted me about doing a workshop for their staff development team on integrating Web 2.0 applications into the curriculum, looking for best-practice examples that they could take forward to the teachers they serve. I declined!

Now I’ve said from time to time that one of the perks of “trying to make a living without a job” is that I can pick and choose from among the jobs I’m asked to do. To be honest, the number of times I’ve declined a job could be counted with the fingers of one hand, leaving me enough for a cub scout salute — and a free thumb for for balance. But I did it that day, because I have become increasingly uncomfortable about going out and teaching something — telling teachers (or staff developers) here is what you should do and here’s how.

Something about giving a guy a fish comes to mind.

Now it’s not that I disapprove of teaching something. Some things need to be taught and some contexts require it. It was appropriate to teach teachers what a blog was, a couple of years ago, and to suggest how students’ blogging might result in more effective, reflective, and constructive writing. However, any teacher who doesn’t know what blogging is now, has left their classroom door shut too long.

So the district called me again a few weeks later, saying that they wanted to rent two afternoons of my time, and what could I do that would help their staff developers support teachers in using Web 2.0 applications. So I told him about the conversation I facilitated at EduCon a few months ago, using a yet-to-be-named idea plotting tool, and how this “unconference” approach was designed to help educators understand the fundaments of Web 2.0 applications (or whatever) and to discover or invent ways of using the tools to facilitate high order learning.

Long story-short, I was bowled over by the ideas that the educators came up with when they were working together to boost traditional learning activities up Bloom’s (revised) Taxonomy, springboarding off some of the qualities of the tech-infused classroom (Technology-Transformed Learning Environments). You can read more about the process here (My Educon Conversation).

We ended the afternoon with a meeting to map out my second afternoon with them, and it was mentioned how uncharacteristic it was for my contact to be so hyper at 3:00 in the afternoon. I walked away with a heightened belief that teachers and teaching are an isolated and insulated experience — that we find a way to teach something and then do it the same way for 30 years — and this is a huge barrier to retooling classrooms. Educators desperately need the resources, the avenues, and the time to re-invent themselves in collaborative conversations and that this needs to be an assumed route in our “Race to the…” future.

4 thoughts on “He was Bouncing off the Walls”

  1. Hello again : )

    Giving a fish to a guy, huh? I like it!
    I really enjoyed this post because I just had a skype conversation with a teacher about this same topic. I asked his opinion on whether or not he thought it was wise for districts or schools to hire or name a lead teacher as a “tour-guide,” being one who devotes all of their time to technological advances, finds the best practices, and then teaches them to the rest of the staff. OR, should teachers be responsible for doing this on their own? (not that they would!)

    So, he said it was interesting because as an idea it is nice, but the majority of teachers are not teachable.
    Like you said, a teacher will learn a method and use it for the next 30 years.

    It is a tricky situation indeed.
    Thanks for the post!


  2. Lauren,

    I have to disagree with your comment that “the majority of teachers are not teachable.” I am currently working with teachers facilitating the infusion of technology and have found the complete opposite is true. The majority of teachers are excellent learners, albeit in different ways. There will always be conscious objectors to any kind of change or initiative. The key is that excitement is contagious. Many of those objectors will come around once they see the excitement of their peers and from students pressuring them to try something new.

    The most effective method as I’ve found it is to introduce the technology and show its features to teachers. They will naturally make connections to their current practice and want to learn more. In fact, teachers will feed off of one another when they have the opportunity to share what they’re doing, wanting to learn more about the technology.

    You are correct when saying that without a “tour-guide” teachers will not learn the technology themselves. The reason is time. There is never enough. A teacher’s main focus must always be their students and classroom. With all of the paperwork and extra-curricular activities they are involved in, as well as having a life, it is incredibly difficult to set aside time to learn about and experiment with technology. This is where the “tour-guide” method can be extremely effective. When the “tour-guide” comes to a classroom to work with a teacher, they have that time to play and experiment with technology, pressure free. You are giving them the time they need to learn.


  3. “the majority of teachers are not teachable.” Ouch. I think this is an unfair representation of our profession and, in my experience, simply not true. It is disappointing to hear that type of comment come out of an educator. If people are not learning, you need to examine the ways in which you are teaching them, not take a defeatist mentality that no one can learn.

    As David mentioned, telling teachers what the best practices are is ineffective. Everyone teaches differently, so what may fit into my teaching style may not work for you. However, the “tour-guide” method can be effective for two simple reasons.

    1. Exposure. Teachers need to be purposely exposed to new technologies in order to give them the opportunity to use them. You don’t need to tell teachers how to use them, just show them the features and potential. Teachers have great ideas. If the technology will enhance something they are already doing, you will literally see the light bulb go off in their heads and their eyes light up. A teacher will only teach the same thing for 30 years if they don’t find anything that is better.

    2. Time. The #1 reason teachers don’t incorporate technology into their classrooms is because they don’t believe they have the time to learn about, play with and plan to use it. The “tour-guide” method offers teachers time to actually experience these technologies, with someone who knows how to use them. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard teachers say with excitement, “I’ve never had the time to actually try it out.”

    As David clearly pointed out, you don’t want to have a “pedagogy expert” working with teachers to implement technology. That doesn’t lead to effective implementation. What you do want to have is someone who can support teachers that are ready to try something new. Once one teacher gets excited about technology and tries something new, it spreads like a wild fire, either through teachers or by students.

  4. I was on a visit to another school today, and had a wonderful opportunity to sit in on classes of two different teachers. One was a seminar-style room, where the class was prepping to do a news-magazine for the school’s history department. The other was a series of 2-minute presentations on artists by the students for an audience of students and teachers.

    And (to bring it back to your point), I was struck by how much both teachers seemed afraid of their students making mistakes or seeming dumb — especially in front of me, a visitor. The audience during the presentations wasn’t allowed to ask questions. The students had to give their presentations (death by PowerPoint!) and get off the stage rapidly so the next person could go. The slide shows (about artists!) contained virtually no images, and only five slides each. In the history class, the students moved from planning a newsmagazine to developing a glossary…

    I don’t know the last time I read a copy of NEWSWEEK or THE ECONOMIST when it contained a glossary. I’m pretty sure the editors of those magazines expect readers to know what the words mean. It seemed very much like both of these lessons were on autopilot — product/project-based learning that had reached a certain point of evolution, and then gone no farther.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *