Posted in Technology Integrators

Establishing Credibility and Trust

When I worked for MLTI, I often lead workshops for teachers I had never met before and might not ever see again. Sometimes teachers were attending the workshop not out of choice but because an administrator required it. I soon learned that I couldn’t just jump into the content in these sessions; I had to take the time at the beginning to establish credibility and trust. I had to convince them that I knew what I was talking about and that I would treat them with respect and not make them look foolish. I also learned that I had to do this within the first five or ten minutes or I would lose them.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t very skilled at this at first, but over time I developed some techniques that seemed to work. Usually this involved telling a quick story or asking a simple question designed to engage the group and help them feel comfortable working with me. Sometimes I resorted to admitting what I didn’t know or mistakes I’ve made in the past. Once, when I was asked to present at a conference for visual and performing arts teachers, I decided to develop something that would appeal to art teachers but also draw on my experience as a literacy teacher. The title of the session was Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels, and I’ve presented it several times in many variations since. But that first time, as I stood before an audience of art teachers and introduced myself, I realized I had to do something to convince them that I, an old middle school English teacher, might have something of value to share with them. It suddenly occurred to me that they were all artists, and I had the gall to talk tothem about a highly visual medium! I remember just blurting out, “How many of you read comics when you were a kid?” Every hand went up. I then admitted that I did notread comic books as a kid and even now, when I read comic strips in the newspapers, my eyes go right to the text. I went on to explain that although I didn’t read them, I had learned a lot about comics from my son and from research, and I was there to share what I had learned. As I looked at the faces in the room, I could see that they were with me. After that day, I used that opening question every time I did that session, and it always worked.

Two teachers talking
Every conversation matters.

I’m in a different situation now, as a technology integrator for an elementary and a high school. Establishing credibility and trust is much more complex when teaching teachers with whom I will have an ongoing relationship, and it takes longer. In my workshops and presentations, I always tried to do it within the first few minutes, but I’ve been in my new job for a little over a month and I’m still working at it. As eager as I am to get into classrooms, to plan projects, and to team-teach, I know it will not happen immediately. Getting teachers to trust me and to feel I have something to offer will take time. Each weekend, I try to take some time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished during the week, and today I realized that every parking lot, hallway, or lunchroom conversation I had this week was important. When I exchanged stories with individuals about past teaching jobs, when I listened to their concerns about kids who were distracted by games on their iPads, even when I responded to a distress call about a jammed printer, I was building relationships.

It’s a beginning.

Image: © Andrew Greenstone. Used with permission.

Posted in Teacher Workshops

Do Teachers Really Need Software Training?

I recently attended a workshop for teachers where they learned how to flip their classrooms. I don’t like the term “flipped classroom” (a topic for a future post) but I do like the idea that teachers can create content in other media than print, and they can capture demonstrations and lectures for future reference. At the end of the workshop, one teacher said something that I’ve been pondering ever since. She said, “I won’t remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why, and when I’m ready to do it, I’ll ask for help.”

Too often we spend our precious technology professional development time walking teachers through a step-by-step tutorial for using a particular tool rather than talking about why to use it, and I’ll admit that I sometimes fall into that  trap. Software “training” (another term I dislike) is effective only when the trainees are in a position to start using that software right away and for a particular purpose. In a business, when the company switches to a new accounting program, they send everyone who has to use it to a training session. The employees then return to the office and begin using that software immediately as a major part of their work. This does not happen in education. Teachers may attend a summer workshop where they learn how to use a piece of hardware or software, but it may be weeks or months before they can use that tool to teach a particular skill or concept. And too often they learn about the software in isolation, with no discussion or thought given to how it supports their curriculum or why they need to use it at all.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t demonstrate and give teachers time to explore hardware and software tools during our PD time, but it’s foolish to think that technology integrators or professional development providers can teach teachers all the technical skills they need in this ever-changing world. Software, hardware and web tools change too frequently and there are too many of them. I think the best we can do is inspire teachers to think about their curriculum and their practice, decide which tools will work for them, and then find a way to learn on their own.

A model of the TPACK framework
The TPACK Framework (Rights free image from http://tpack.org/)

I often return to the TPCK (or TPACK) framework developed by Mishra and Koehler to explain these ideas. This framework illustrates the types of knowledge teachers need to successfully integrate technology into their practice. While teachers need Technological Knowledge (TK), it’s only at the center of the model, where all three knowledge types intersect, that effective teaching and learning take place. Rather than helping teachers gain only TK (and assuming they will find the intersections on their own), I prefer to spend as much time as possible helping them see the possibilities for those intersections.

My husband once described a software training workshop for teachers that he attended. He said that teachers sat passively, followed the steps that they were shown, and created exactly the same product as the one being demonstrated. He said he learned a few tips and tricks about the software, but left with no idea how he would use it in his music classes. He didn’t learn anything that he couldn’t have learned from the help menu or through a simple Google search.

If we don’t spend our PD time in software training, how will teachers gain the technology knowledge they need? I’ve begun encouraging teachers to take responsibility for their own training. I suggest that when they realize they don’t know how to do something, they try one of these remedies:

  • Check the help menu of the application you are using.
  • Google it.
  • Search YouTube.
  • Ask a colleague.
  • Ask a student.

Gaining Technological Knowledge (TK) is something teachers should start doing on their own, as they need it, not when a training session happens to be scheduled. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to demonstrate tools and answer how-to questions, but I hope to base more of my work on those intersections with Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) and Content Knowledge (CK). The workshop I mentioned above had the right mix of TPACK. I hope to hear more teachers saying, “I may not remember how to do this, but I’ll remember why.”

Posted in Conferences and Institutes

Reflections on the Middle Level Education Institute

This past week I attended the Middle Level Education Institute (MLEI) at Bowdoin College.This institute has a long history as a place where Maine’s middle level educators can meet to learn from consultants and each other as they work on team and individual projects. I’ve been involved with MLEI for several years as a consultant, but I decided to attend this year as a participant. This allowed me to work on my own project (this blog) and to observe the facilitators and other participants through my professional development lens. I left with the impression that everyone felt this was a highly effective PD experience and I’ve been pondering why ever since. What did they do right?

Teachers working on the marshmallow challenge
Participants work together on a marshmallow challenge. Photo by Nancy Doda.
  1. They took the time to build a learning community. So often, I feel pressured when I’m leading a workshop to jump right into the content and I never really get to know the people in the room. Even when I worked with a cohort at another 3-day institute, I didn’t take the time to do this well and I regret it. The four facilitators did this intentionally, starting well before the institute began. They created a wiki and asked each participant to create a personal page, so I felt I knew something about everyone before I even met them. During the institute there were opportunities for whole group discussion as well as partner and table talk, and there were activities that caused us to regroup often and talk with other people. There was a back channel for comments and questions that we were prompted to use for specific purposes but that was also available throughout the three days for sharing. We ate lunch together every day which led to informal discussions.  I think the size of the group (around 35 or so) made this community building easier, but I believe it’s possible with larger groups too.
  2. They modeled good practice. Chris Toy introduced his Mr. T model that’s an acronym for model, reflect, and transfer and throughout the three days that’s exactly what happened. The facilitators did not simply describe their practice, they modeled it. When Mark Springer and Nancy Doda introduced  how students can have a voice in curriculum decisions, they let us experience it as we negotiated our curriculum for the institute. Jill Spencer didn’t merely describe active strategies for engaging students but modeled them too.
  3. They provided ample opportunities for reflection. Throughout the three days we were introduced to a variety of tools and strategies for reflection and the facilitators built many reflection pauses into the schedule. Again, this was part of Chris’ Mr. T model and I appreciated the time to think about what I had just experience and to ask myself, “What does this mean for my practice?”

Perhaps the most significant outcome of this institute for me, as a professional development provider, was a reminder of the power of team teaching. Some of the most satisfying experiences I have had as a teacher of teachers have been when I worked with a partner or a team of facilitators. There’s something about teaching collaboratively with people who trust each other and share a passion for their content. Everyone in the room senses that trust and passion and wants to be a part of it. That’s how I felt at this year’s MLEI.