New Year’s Observations: Supporting Educational Change & Teachers

I read an article the other day in Edweek about a recent study of teachers regarding the many educational reforms/changes they have seen and been asked to implement in the last couple of years. The article, Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been Too Much” by Leana Loewis, reports on results from a survey done by the Edweek Research Center. I won’t repeat all the findings, as you can read the article and look at the results yourself, but the gist is there have been a crazy amount of education reforms teachers have been asked to make, from standards, to pedagogy, to assessment, to evaluation, and, frankly, it’s exhausting and they are getting tired. And often these changes happen all at once with results expected immediately. A quote from the article that says it all: “Teachers are incredible. They keep up with it because they have to.”  But – at some point, somethings gotta give. In large part, what teachers need is time and support, and this made me think back to something I wrote in my personal blog about change and how educational leaders can support these teachers who are struggling with so many reforms. I’d like to share my 3 suggestions for supporting teachers and change/reform as we begin this New Year.

Observation 1: CHANGE IS EMOTIONAL – change is hard NOT because we don’t want to change (often assumed of teachers who resist change), but because there is often a lot of emotion behind the change. Teachers may want to embrace new curriculum, or learn new roles and new skills, however…they may have LOVED what they used do use or do still want to do that – and it’s emotionally wrenching to have that taken away or altered. In a sense, teachers may be mourning for what is gone and nostalgic about how perfect it was (which it most likely wasn’t). There may be an emotional road block to educational reforms…one that can be overcome, but it will definitely take time, support, and understanding from leaders, students, parents and other teachers, as well as commitment on a teachers part to persevere.  So leaders – remember this about your teachers when it comes to implementing new educational reforms- it may be an emotional reason vs. fear of new or different resources/strategies. Try to address the emotion and provide relevance and reasoning for change and time and support.

Observation 2: RESISTANCE/RELUCTANCE TO CHANGE IS MULTIDIMENSIONAL – It’s easy to tell someone that if they learn a new skill or strategy, that things will be fine or be better. But learning that new skill/strategy or knowledge might not be the true road block – it could be that they don’t understand the relevancy to what they do, or they have preconceived notions or beliefs that cause resistance, or they are missing some necessary background experience/knowledge.What matters here is again, time to learn, but more importantly, dissemination of background, relevance, and connection to what they do and how these new or different skills/resources/strategies will make things better. Without a reason, a purpose, a connection, learning the how-to won’t ever change the internal beliefs and therefore never change behavior in a lasting, effective way.

Observation 3: SOME CHANGES MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE – it’s hard to accept, but not everyone can, will, or needs to change, whether that be a skill, strategy, or knowledge base.  What is important is to understand this, try to provide all the time, information, and support to push change along, but in the end, accept that some folks are not going to change and be prepared to deal with it. Whether this means encouraging them to find another place that fits their needs and interests, providing alternatives or simply accepting status quo, forcing those who are not ready, willing or able to change does NOT lead to success.

In education, we tend to introduce education changes, with little training and little time and expect miraculous results quickly. Real change, with long-term benefits is not quick – so let’s take this new year to really look at what we are expecting from our education reforms and assessing whether we have provided that time, addressed those emotional needs, provided reasoning and support. If you want success, you have to work at it.

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Teachers & #Edtech – Ready-to-Use Lessons Can Be A Support

I am a little obsessed with edtech and integrating technology into math classrooms. It’s what I have been doing forstock-illustration-70753375-mathematical-vector-seamless-pattern-with-geometrical-plots the last 16 years of my educational career, first within my own school and district, and then, throughout the country through my work with Key Curriculum, McGraw-Hill, Kendall Hunt and Casio. I read a lot about the infusion of technology in schools these days, but my reality, when I go to schools and districts throughout the country, is that the use of technology in mathematics education is actually very, very limited. There are of course countless reasons for this – a big one being funding. Most schools I work with have 1-2 computer labs that math teachers rarely get to use, or they have a laptop cart shared between 15 math teachers. They have calculators – sometime – most of which are broken, have no batteries, or they honestly don’t know how to use. There are also the instances where there is a lot of technology available, but the teachers don’t know how to use it, don’t have resources to support it or they haven’t had a chance to find a place where it would support their curriculum.

The reasons for not using technology are many. But – in my own personal research, one of the biggest deterrents to integrating technology is lack of training and support. A recent survey of teachers by Samsung shows teachers do not feel prepared to use technology in classrooms.  Not a surprise. Unfortunately, the majority of professional development is still the one-stop workshop, where new technology/apps/ are bought and teachers are trained for a few hours on the tool, with little or no emphasis on teaching with the tool, which is the most important aspect of technology integration. Technology is only a tool – and when used appropriately, can enhance and expand learning. This involves more than learning how the tool works. It involves looking at the curriculum and instructional goals, determining what tools (of which technology is only one) are going to provide the best fit, and then creating instruction that incorporates the tool as part of the learning, not as an add on, not as something extra we do after we learn.  This is what is missing most of the time – helping teachers make technology fit into their instruction as part of the learning, not as something extra.

One of the things I found in my research is that if teachers are provided with pre-made, ready-to-use lessons that can replace current lessons and use the new technology, they are more likely to start using it, especially in the beginning stages of learning. Lack of confidence is a huge reason teachers don’t use, or continue using, new technology – this is helped if they are given a push, especially in the first stages of learning, that allows them to use technology without too much stress – i.e. the lesson is ready to go, there are teacher notes/guidelines, and it FITS INTO THEIR CURRICULUM. In the Samsung survey, 80 percent of teachers said it would be helpful to have pre-existing lesson plans that help them easily integrate technology. I found this was one of the strongest indicators of continued integration of technology in my research.  It’s one of the things Key Curriculum provided for Sketchpad, it’s one of the things Casio provides for their calculators.  If teachers are given new technology and ready-to-use lessons that show them and students how to work with the technology while learning required content, they are much more likely to use the technology.  And – the more they use, they more confident they become with it, the more likely there will be continued implementation.

To go along with ready-to-use technology lessons, ones that scaffold learning for both teachers and students, is stock-photo-41836894-colleague-students-using-laptop-in-librarycollaborative lesson planning. Teachers should have the chance to work together to plan lessons to incorporate technology. Again, in my own research, teachers expressed how the monthly collaborations with other teachers from around the district, as well as the online sharing community, really helped support their own efforts to integrate technology and gave them new ideas. Sharing ideas, planning for where technology is appropriate, learning from each other – all of this is powerful in helping teachers be more confident in using technology in instruction. There is no reason for teachers to reinvent the wheel for every lesson – if there is a premade lesson out there, or a lesson another teacher has tried, that will support others integrating technology, there should be sharing and collaboration.  Teaching is a profession, not an isolated, individual endeavor – we should be working together to improve and help students learn and help each other learn.