Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology and AFL - signs of change

Today I was working with a group of secondary instructional technology leaders, secondary teacher librarians and learning leaders. We were discussing the connections between assessment for learning (afl) and technology. And as we discussed, we talked at lot about the challenges of both afl and technology as change. Take a look at the backchannel from our morning to see some of our discussion.

As I was reflecting on the challenges that this group faces in trying to support teachers, I was reminded of a graphic a teacher friend sent me last week. (I wasn't able to backtrack it fully to site it properly - if anyone finds correct attribution, I'd like to know. This wiki is the earliest use I could find.)

Change, particularly transformative change, is a very difficult thing in education. Because I work in technology and professional learning, virtually everything I read is focused on how to create change in one way or another. I liked this graphic because it really summarizes how gaps create barriers to the change process. It also helps me to think about why many of the teacher leaders I work with feel frustrated.

Technology requires both pedagogical and structural change that never really stops. Software, hardware, filtering, and policy must adjust as new technologies are available, and many people need to be a part of the process of deciding to change. Most of the time, those people aren't teachers, but they hold the keys to the resources that teachers need to make the change. Teachers fall into loops of frustration and treadmill because they can't access the resources or there isn't an effective plan for action, and teacher leaders are sandwiched between the angry teachers and the needs of students. Trapped by the inexorable slowness of institutional evolution and pressure from teachers and students who want change, teacher leaders can sometimes feel powerless.

At the same time, we teachers are often the source of our own confusion, anxiety and resistance when we don't want to use technology. Sometimes we can't envision why a technology is worth using and feel it is pushed on us. We often feel that our skills sets aren't as good as they should be, or as good as our students, so we feel heavy anxiety and say we "don't do computers." We are also busy people and don't want another thing to do - and while extrinsic incentives may cause us to use technology in the classroom, only a deep belief in student centered learning will cause us to use it well.

Back to frustration for teacher leaders, who are swished between desires of the converted and the slow pace of change, then pressed from above by the confusion, anxiety and resistance of those who don't want change at all.

Many divisions, including my own, have made tremendous progress in the last few years. I have seen us change filtering policy, put more money into professional learning on many subjects, and start to provide teachers with laptops. All of these things are correlated with better student outcomes and deeper student engagement. I know we are on the right track. So why are teacher-leaders frustrated, even as we are excited about the opportunities technology and afl offer for our students? I actually think it is a good sign. Stay with me here for a moment. . .

Take a look a the wallwisher exit slips from the end of the day. Many of these people want in, not out. That is a sign of people who believe in students, want to help teachers and can articulate what they need to do to gain more opportunities to influence how professional learning happens in their schools. I know frustration isn't always a sign of good things, but in this case I think it is a positive portent. If we can keep giving them resources and reducing the barriers, many of the teacher-leaders I worked with today will keep working until they can actually create significant change.

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