education, cloud computing, technology, social media, leadership.

Failing forward, part 2 #growthmindset

I think there is a lot to learn from athletic coaches. Yes, I think some of them put the classroom second to the field or court, but I think that is changing. However, if you want to learn about failing forward, talk to a good coach.

When learning sports, coaches rely more on the idea of learning by failing than in many educational arenas. Missed a tackle? Get up and try again. Struck out? What happened? How will you react next time? Muffed a serve? Let’s run it again. And again. And again. And again. Great players become engrossed in the challenge. Small successes build a thirst for more. Great teachers help them see the goal, and let them have as many tries as possible to get it right. Sure, there are contests to see where everyone is at, but those experiences are just higher-stakes versions of the same try and fail, try and succeed dynamic.

Funny how few classroom exhibit this behavior. Teachers whose students really strive to learn, build that trust and optimism by employing the same methods good coaches do. Once the challenge is set, students get as many attempts as possible to reach the goal. The teacher guides by helping them see where things can be improved, and by being there for support in times of loss of confidence, much like an athletic coach.

But here’s what happens too often in classrooms: Every dang try gets recorded in the gradebook. Every try becomes high stakes. That’s not how any of this works. In fact, the research consistently proves that this is detrimental. Students need room to fail and learn from failure.

Watch a kid play a video game. They play and fail, play and die, play and get lost, play and get stuck. They don’t often quit when they fail. They quit when they succeed. In fact, players have told researchers that games that are too easy become boring quickly, as do games that are too impossible. There is a sweet spot where the player knows the goal is achievable. Kids as young as four learn this. Maybe younger. Watch a toddler try to get something they want. They will try and try again.

This is the reality for learning. In fact, the classroom is often one of the only places in life where one cannot learn from failure. Most jobs don’t even record errors with the precision that teacher does when they grade homework and practice.

I was fortunate to be able to work with a progressive principal a few years ago to build authentic grading. I didn’t grade homework, practice tests, or learning activities. I tracked progress a bit, but it was for the benefit of the student only, so they could see how they were growing.  At the end of the year, the results were dramatic. Students had learned more with far less hounding by me. Effort and motivation became intrinsic. Work completion actually went UP when I didn’t grade it. One student, who tried more often than anyone else to reach a certain target, said after succeeding, “I feel like I slayed a dragon.” Like my daughter, she beamed with pride and a new confidence that she can succeed even when things get tough. I bet she never felt like that about a graded worksheet.

If you would like to stop grading homework and attempts at learning, don’t wait. Find a way. If you need advice, check out the work of Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink, or Mark Barnes.

An Ode to Failing Forward

I’m not sure who originally coined the phrase “failing forward,” but it has8065324319_6efdc37cfa been in use, in many incarnations, by all manner of great pioneers. John C. Maxwell wrote about it. So did Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Frank Lloyd Wright, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk. There are so many successful people who describe the art of learning through failure, you would think that this would be the cornerstone of education. So why is this concept so difficult to grasp as educators? Recent research By Carol Dweck has brought failing as learning back into the limelight, but I still see so few educators truly embracing this as a core tenet of what they do in the classroom.

I remember just a few years ago, as our daughter was breezing through the third grade, that the power of failing forward became much clearer to me. My daughter was great at school. She liked praise, and liked having things done. She turned in her work, and as a result, she had a lot of success. Then came multiplication drills. These one-minute tests were administered daily in succession. First were calculation drills for the multiples of one, then of two, then of three and so on. Daughter was plowing through them. She came home every day and reported to us which one she had conquored that day, and we praised her on her brilliance. Fives went by with a chuckle. Sixes were conquered just days later. Sevens persisted only a few days more. Then she got to the eights. The eights changed everything. She got stuck. a week passed and she had yet to get past them.

Then two weeks passed. Tears began to accompany the daily report of her battle with the crazy eights. It was taking its toll.


We encouraged her:

You’ll get them tomorrow, honey,” said we.

“I just can’t. I can’t get them,” said she.

My wife and I began discussing a parental intervention. This was, as I explained, everything that is wrong with this “drill-and-kill” educational system, and my wife offered to go in and speak with the teacher to help her understand the toll the eights were having on our daughter. Something needed to be done. However, we decided to give it one or two more days, just for good measure.

Then it happened. We knew it the moment we saw her step off the bus. She was walking at least two inches taller than the previous day. She positively beamed. She sprinted home with a paper clutched in her hand. She screamed from the moment she hit the door: “I got it! I got it! I got it!” She spoke for half an hour about how great it felt to finally finish off the eights. Her teacher had given her a hug. Her classmates cheered. She cried tears of joy. She said it was one of the proudest moments of her life!

And were were going to try to take it from her. Had we intervened, she would never have known the exhilaration of accomplishing something REALLY hard. Her confidence renewed, she breezed through the nines, tens, elevens, and twelves in a week. She found out that getting stuck was part of the challenge and she hasn’t forgotten it. Neither have I. I make no claims to suggest that minute drills are good for learning math, but they were good for her. Not because of what she learned about math, but what she learned about failing and suceeding.

She is in seventh grade as I write this, in an accelerated math class, and I still hear her say things like, “this is SO hard. It’s going to take me forever to get it.” That doesn’t sound too positive, but think carefully about the message there. No mention of quitting. No mention of defeat. Just a statement of difficulty.

The eights taught me a lot about success and failure, and it made me think a lot about how I structured learning activities in my own classroom.

…to be continued…

The best thing we can teach kids about world tragedy: It’s ok to not know how to feel.

This past week’s tragedies in France and Beirut have brought terrorism home again for Americans. While my heart breaks for all of the victims of mideast violence, the attacks in Paris hit me hard. I think many Americans felt the same way. Yes, there is a curious phenomenon going on when the attacks in Beirut get a smidge of the attention as the Paris attacks, but we do pay more attention when things seem closer to home. The murder in our neighborhood seems more tragic than the one in Manhattan. Likewise, the Paris attacks were more real to me because I have been there. I know people who live and work in Paris. I have walked some of the streets that were scenes of tragedy.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about how we talk about tragedy and its aftermath with children. In the past days, I have seen several excellent articles, including this one by Common Sense Media, which outline how to discuss world tragedies in the news with students. I want to talk a little bit about our role as teachers and how students look to us to make sense of things.

On 9/11, I remember discussing the events of the morning with startled and shocked ninth graders. We discussed who did it (guesses), the motivations (conjecture), and what would happen in retaliation (supposition). In retrospect, my role should have been to help them understand that some events are very complex and can’t be explained easily. I’d like to think I did that, but I didn’t. I gave my opinions. I entertained theories about what had happened. I never admitted I didn’t know much more than they did.

Following the tragedies of this week, my heart and mind have been troubled by a flood of voices with solutions. Social media and news media have carried these voices farther and projected them louder than they might have been in 2001, but those voices are almost all knee-jerk reactions with dubious understanding of the world or the people in it. In other words, everyone has an opinion. When you don’t, it begs you to form one on the quick. That isn’t a really great environment for processing.

We need to tell students that it is ok not to know how to feel about a tragedy like we saw this week. It’s ok not to know how one might solve the problem of terrorism. We don’t have to. That isn’t a prime responsibility of a student in school. We need to admit that we don’t know much about it, because we know we don’t. Most of us don’t know much about the real politics of the middle east. Even social studies teachers have a limited understanding at best. Sure, it may be a teachable moment, but in truth, very few schools have an expert in Mideast policy on staff. We need to encourage them to listen carefully to what they hear, and also think very critically about the motivations behind the messages. We need to let them know that most people who speak on the subject don’t know much more than they do. We need to caution them against racism and xenophobia borne of fear. We need to let them know that people are often motivated by events such as these to push an alternate agenda. We need to let them know that they don’t have to form an opinion right now. It’s ok not to know.

We need to teach that some things are too complicated for a simple answer. What’s more, we need to make kids wary of anyone who claims there is a simple answer. The politics of the middle east are a puzzle that the top minds in governments around the world struggle to understand, and we need students to realize that for all the talk and vitriol that follows an act of violence, that very few people really know what they are talking about.

We need to help our students understand that it’s ok not to know what to make of violence and tragedy.  We need to help them see the human side of tragedy and strife, and leave the empty conjecture and armchair politicking for the talking heads on cable news. We need to remind them, as Common Sense Media suggests, that they are safe and that their confusion is normal and healthy. In the grand scheme of things, this is confusing and emotionally troubling for all of us.

Innovation takes time, but there is no time to waste.

I’m in the middle of my third district-wide tech implementation. Actually, two presently. My current district is working hard to make sure everyone becomes adept at using Google Apps for Education and Schoology effectively to support innovative digital learning. I have led similar implementations in my previous districts, and studied others as part of my doctoral work. One thing I have learned in all of these experiences is that it takes time. How much? Well, that depends on the plan and the leadership.

My first experience with a system-wide transition was another Google Apps shift. We planned a year to get everyone trained and confident. It was ambitious, but short-sighted. It was realistically three years until Google Mail, Drive, and Calendar became our new normal. Rogers’ model for diffusion of innovation seems fairly accurate, but the timelines, well, they are a bit less predictable.  The tipping point in that district was when new leadership used the new systems exclusively, and stopped enabling laggards by offering materials in both formats. That was a small step with large returns. In year four, it was clear that every man, woman, and child in our district was capable of creating and learning with Google Apps. This investment continues today and it is probably difficult for many in that system to imagine going back. In truth, once a few years of staff turns over, there are people who simply do not know any other way.

My second such task was short-lived, at least for me. I was only in the district for one year. In the life-cycle of the transition effort there, let’s say that was year two. Everyone had had basic training and the early adopters were off to the races, but there was a stagnancy present. That year, I worked on inspiring the infrastructure and administration to fully embrace and innovate with the new tools, but progress was slow. There were mixed messages and confusion as to the reason for the change. Many felt it was a downgrade. Nevertheless, we continued to take our message to the masses one by one, earning converts the slow way. Without a mandate or even a clear message from building leaders, it was important to make the case to each person individually. We did, and it worked. By the end of the school year, we had moved enough of the staff over to the new system that the administrators began to follow suit, which instigated more change and dialogue. As I speak to my replacement in that role, it sounds like they are nearing the tipping point. By year 4, the new system should be the norm there as well.

The point of all this is that these are situations where a clearly defined innovative change was intended and an organized implementation plan was in place AND it still takes four years or more. How long would it take if the plan were less clear or the efforts less organized? I suspect any school who would like their teachers to move away from Scantrons but have been unsuccessful in that attempt would tell you it could take forever.

For what it’s worth, here are a few of the key ingredients I’ve learned shorten the transition time considerably:

  1. And this is a HUGE one that can cut years off the plan: Get the administration to change first. If they are seen as drivers of the change, it will go over sooner. If they have a passive resistance to it, others will follow.
  2. An organized plan for training that includes time for the kinds of labor necessary for change. Expecting people to shift on the fly on their own time will be challenging.
  3. Have a clear rationale. If the advantage isn’t instantly clear, buy-in will take much longer. The more student-centered this message is, the better. De-mystify the change and make it clear that it is benevolent and not trite or political.
  4. Change the system, not the people. There may be work needed to change systems to work better with the new plan. Will parent communication be affected? How will lunch schedules be different? These seemingly minor questions can grind an innovative change to a halt before the students actually get to change their learning and creating.
  5. Sell the transferrable skills. Things change. We get new phones, but we don’t go to classes to learn how to work them. What if the LMS changes from Edmodo to Schoology? No big deal, we will be able to apply the techniques we used with Edmodo in the new system quickly. The tools may change, but a large portion of the skills can carry over. It is important to reassure people of this and give examples.

This isn’t the job I signed up for!

In my line of work, I think a lot about resistance to change. Much has been written about resistance to change, all far better insights than I can provide here. I would particularly recommend an article titled “Change or Die” by Alan Deutchman.

I’d like to refine the thoughts of Deutchman a bit and consider specifically the resistance that I see exhibited in schools I work in (and all I have in the past). Perhaps it isn’t just stubbornness and perhaps it isn’t about how we are wired exactly that motivates teachers to resist change in schools, even when it’s clear that the changes would be beneficial to students. Certainly stubbornness, laziness, and foul attitudes may be at play, but I propose that sometimes it is about a teacher preserving the culture of the career they chose.

Consider the fact that until about ten years ago, almost all classrooms were essentially the same, and so was nearly every teaching job. At least, you could say, teaching Kindergarten was essentially the same everywhere, as was teaching high school physics. And this stability drew people to the profession because, I believe, it was transparent as to what the job consisted of and what was expected. People entered the profession and, for all intents and purposes, got what they expected.

Now things are changing. In some cases they are changing quite swiftly. The emergence of 1:1 digital learning and standards-based instruction are just two examples of fundamental changes in the day-to-day job a teacher does. Teachers have had to evolve. I am on the front lines of this change, and often the stress and consternation these (and many other) changes bring good teachers. I struggled to fully understand this. After all, I wondered, did they expect to do the exact same job for 40 years?

I’ve found that is exactly what some expected. And why wouldn’t they? The industry had hardly changed for over a hundred years. The evolution of technology in education, as well as accountability standards, testing, PLCs, greater attention to special education services and more complex discipline expectations has created a fundamental cultural shift in the way teachers and principals do business.  I was privileged to have one teacher with whom I was working share his honest unvarnished thoughts. Here is a paraphrase of what he shared:

I got into this because I was good at it [the content] and because I was good with kids. I didn’t want a stereotypical job in business or retail. I didn’t see any real long-term opportunities in the private sector for my skills, so I chose this. I chose it because I could be comfortable doing what I do from day-to-day with little variation. I chose this job because I understood it and I was good at it. Now everything is different. I have to know about data and statistics, I have to work on a computer for a big chunk of my day, and there is paperwork at every turn. I didn’t sign up for all that. In fact, I chose this job in order to NOT have to work with computers or paperwork, because I am not good with those things, and those things were not a regular part of this job when I chose it.

At this point this teacher is near tears. I finally understood. It isn’t about being stubborn. It isn’t fear of change. It is the mourning of the loss of a certain work culture many people have become accustomed to, and may well have chosen intentionally this career because of a work culture and expectation that is as they expected it to be. I think many people in education did honestly expect to do the same job, more or less, for 40 years, and that was the attraction.  The job has evolved so much in the past ten years or so, that people may wonder if it still the same job they may have pursued at the beginning of their career. And age isn’t even a deciding factor. I have heard similar concerns from teachers at the very beginning of their careers, who also explain that the job is much different than they thought it would be, and they felt quite unprepared.

Perhaps the preservice preparation programs in higher education need to do better at addressing this schism. Perhaps professional development should focus less on adding skills, and move to retraining teachers to redefine what they do. Maybe some of this is already done in some districts.

What I think really needs to happen is a truth and reconciliation process to help teachers and administrators who feel the job isn’t what they signed up for work through their fears and anxieties, while honing and refining the skills needed in today’s workplace. Perhaps teaching people flexibility and growth is more important than teaching them how to do what is now required in education. Instead of shaming laggards and resisters, we need to care for them. I think they are facing some extreme challenges in revising what they thought they would be doing in their career.

I’ve been thinking of starting a “I hate technology” support group. Its goal would be much like any other support group: to be able to grieve loss, build support structures, and work through feelings. After all, the loss of a job is a stressful thing. Perhaps by addressing the fears and anxiety and giving time to grieve, people can bury the old practice and embrace a new situation. I’m not sure who will attend or what they will get from it, but I’m willing to try. When I left the classroom, I left it behind completely. It was helpful. Perhaps others can make peace with their loss and move on as well. We shall see.

Stop using the term “tech-savvy.”

We need to stop using the term “tech-savvy” to describe teachers (or other school staff) who are better at integrating technology in their learning environments. It is detrimental to the innovative culture of the staff, and demeaning to those who are considered not tech-savvy.  A few points to consider:

  1. I have seen little evidence that people have any specific aptitudes which allow them to learn how to use technology any faster or with any more clarity. The deciding factor is almost always EXPERIENCE. Those who practice it, learn it. Same as shooting free-throws, baking muffins, or building bird-houses. Too often we describe natural aptitudes as a “have it or not” scenario. In truth, people who practice something get better faster than those who don’t.
  2. Tech-savvy is also often associated with an implication that age is a key factor. I have seen little evidence of this either. Last year, my most innovative teacher, by far, was in her last year before retirement. In fact, on that staff, of the top ten most innovative teachers, seven or eight were late-career professional. Sure, there were some other great early-adopters of all ages, but there were also a seemingly disproportionate number of early-career teachers doggedly stuck a rut filled with Scantron machines and worksheets. In fact, on that staff, I spent a majority of my time training teachers in their first five years of service how to integrate digital learning effectively. We assume that since someone has been exposed to computers all of their lives that it gives them a leg up. The truth is that technology now changes so rapidly, that any previous technology know-how become obsolete swiftly without a continuous evolution of methodology.
  3. When we use the term tech-savvy, it implies that the challenge of staying current is easier for some than others, which has two interrelated outcomes. First, those identified as such believe that they have they have arrived at a place where they can rest on what they know. This is obviously not a great mindset for growth. Second, and perhaps more troubling, is the fact that those not identified with this dubious title are left to ponder the meaning. For some, it means throwing up hands and using it as an excuse to be a late adopter or laggard as new strategies are presented. For others, it becomes a source of shame or embarrassment that causes even less interest in continuous improvement. None of these are confidence-building or empowering feelings.

So, what can we do? All stakeholders in a school settings can begin by simply eliminating this kind of language from their conversations. Instead, we need to use language (and actions) that highlight progress, not place. Replace “tech-savvy” with “early adopter” or “…has more experience using that tool.” Replace “not very tech-savvy” with “still learning how to use that tool,” or “doesn’t have enough training…”

The most important thing we can do is make it clear that people are all capable and able to learn to use digital technology effectively in their practice. Don’t allow people to self-deprecate or belittle themselves as “not very tech-savvy.” We need to encourage them to replace his phrase with. “I’m still learning.”

By changing the conversation, we can change the attitudes to encourage more growth and confidence in everyone on our educational teams.

Getting back into the blogging groove.

At one time, I was a 2-3 blog a week kind of guy. It was pretty easy. I would blog in the morning before the kids came into the classroom, or for a few minutes at the end of the day, or even during my lunch break.

Then I left the classroom. After the 2013/14 school year, I left my longtime post as an English teacher for the life of a technology integrationist. I took a position in the relatively small district of Princeton, MN and did that work for a year, before being offered a position nearer home in the Elk River Area school district, a large district.

While I love the flexibility and diversity of my job, even more so this year than last, I still miss the routine of being a classroom teacher. It was easier to build good habits such as blogging. So I lost my groove. I have not given myself time for reflection and sharing because I have felt too busy with new jobs and responsibilities. Yet, I know this is important also. I think that professional reflection is a great motivator for growth. I also think sharing is important to helping others grow.

So, I am going to rebuild my habit for intentional reflection through blogging. I have put dates and times for this on the calendar, and I will try to keep them safe.

If you are a reader of this blog, thank you. I know there has been very little content recently. I hope to change that. I need this. I hope, on some smaller level, others do as well.

10 things any teacher can do with technology to upgrade their class.

There are lots of ways teachers can upgrade to more 21st century, digitally-relevant classrooms and lessons. Here are 10 that just about any teacher with Google Apps and even limited tech skills can do.

1. Publish work online. Students work harder and produce more quality work when they are creating with a world audience in mind. Publishing written work, websites, or even pictures of projects is fairy easy and not terribly time consuming. Make use of your class website to create links to a shared folder, or shared document created in Google Drive to share with the outside world.

2. Grade less. If you hesitate to assign larger projects due to the labor involved in grading them fairly and efficiently, make use of simple applications such as Google Forms to have students both self-grade and peer-grade projects. It produces far more authentic feedback, and takes less time to manage than doing the grading yourself. Even if you are not comfortable ceding that responsibility to the students, make use of forms or other digital applications to easily whip through your rubric and give accurate, speedy, and detailed feedback.

3. Make your materials available online. With Google Sites or Google Classroom, you may never need to chase make-up work packets again. Train students to look online for what they missed in their absence, even if it is right there in your room (assuming you have at least one student device). Use your school’s scanner to make digital copies, even if your classroom materials aren’t. After all, you are probably already at the copier making copies, right? If possible, make yourself a digital copy while you are there!

4. Offer a backchannel. During movies, labs, or any activity that might call for some quiet reflection, use, Twitter, or the discussion board attached to Edmodo, Moodle, or Schoology to open a background discussion about what is going on. You may need to discuss etiquette and expectations, but it can be a way to get even the quiet ones into the game!

5. Foster collaboration. Use shared documents, spreadsheets, or slideshows to allow several students to create at once. Live-time collaboration is a real-world skills. Get kids involved early on. Why should 32 kids each write their own essay, when groups of three can discuss the topic, and use higher-level thinking skills to decide what the most relevant information is to be added, and then practice teaming skills as they create something together.

6. Upgrade traditional materials. Why use paper maps when Google Maps is considerably more educational? Why use traditional timelines when digital ones can use videos and images? Why make a poster when they can make a website. If the devices are available, there is little reason to use obsolete materials.

7. Get connected. There is so much to learn from colleagues outside our district. Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are just a few ways to connect with thousands of other educators that teach just what you teach. Connect with them and save a step on that new unit, or get a great idea to upgrade your next lesson!

8. Trust the students as learners. Want to try that new tool in your class, but no time to learn it? Who said you have to? Great teachers are fearless, and are willing to say, “ok, gang. Today we are going to try to see how PowToon works. Let’s see what it does!” Students are fine with this. They love being involved in the investigation and experiment process. Have them show you when they figure things out, and then share with everyone. I’ve taught entire courses this way.

9. Ask for help. Chances are, your district has specialists, coaches, or peers who would be more than happy to help facilitate something new. However, they can’t read your mind. Share what your learning goals are, and see who can help. If no one can, see #7 or #8 above.

10. Work smarter. Try to remind yourself that the technology way might be a bit more work on the front end, but almost always pays double on the back end. Sure setting your classes up on Google Classroom takes a bit of time, but once students are submitting work online, and you are able to manage it efficiently and from anywhere, the dividends pay. Setting up your site might take time, but you can use it over and over again for a long time. Invest in the front end and reap the benefits.


Bonus tip: When in doubt, ask Google. Ask the question directly in the search bar: “How do I add pictures to a Prezi” or “how do I set up a Google Form?” You will get videos and written help.




Choice projects in the 21st century.

The school project has evolved, and it is exciting for students and teachers. It may take a big shift, but many teachers are reaping the benefits!

The olden-days way to assign a project was to give specific instructions as to how each individual component was to be completed. This was less learning opportunity than learning recipe. If students assembled the ingredients in the correct manner, they got a good grade. There was little interest in displaying knowledge or learning, just completion.

Eventually, most of these projects gave in to a less compliance-based experience. It has been popular for some time to have choice projects. In this model, students are to show their learning by doing any one of several designated projects. The best part of this model is that students can seek the type of project that best suits their learning style and interests. Choices may have included poster, diorama, skit, model, etc. The more tech-savvy of these projects may come with several digital tools which students may choose to show their learning.

Even better, is a real shift in the teaching and learning dynamic. I call this the choice project on steroids. The students learn the entry-level material and are given several open-ended questions to research. The project is literally the display of learning.  In this project-based model, the means of showing learning is not specified, only the final criteria for evaluation. The instructor creates or collaborates with students to create a rubric that represents the ideal learning represented in the project. Quality indicators may include professionalism, accuracy, research, product, fidelity, etc. Notice that there are few references here to the poster or website. Students will choose those as they please. One student may begin preliminary research and feel they can adequately show learning through the building of a scale model. Another student who is adept using Photoshop, may choose to show what they have learned by way of a video scrapbook. Another student whose passion is music may express the learning in an epic ballad. Minecraft model? Why not? Does it meet the learning targets? If so, go nuts!

The beauty of the third model is that it is the learning that is the focus of the effort, not the medium. When the learning targets are emphasized, the resulting in increased autonomy and self-direction, as well as increased learning. Students enjoy the openness of the challenge, and the ability to build upon their passions. Some students may need a bit of a nudge, so it is a good idea for teachers to allow for some brainstorming and sharing or proposals early, so students can bet a better idea what they can do based on the choices of others.

There are a few keys to making this kind of project meaningful: First are clear learning goals and criterion by which learning can be evaluated. This should be built into a detailed rubric. Second is enough research or exploration to happen BEFORE the manner of learning expression is chosen. Finally, a reflective proposal is important so students build their own parameters and plan to follow.

Top 10 #edtech gripes and excuses, and how to answer them…

As an integrationist, I hear a lot of gripes about educational technology. Some complaints and criticisms are valid and well-deserved, and some are stupid, mean-spirited and detrimental to students. Sometimes the best move it to let it be. Sometimes it is good to respond with a logical, rational response. Here are some of the gripes I hear most often and a suggested response. I’ll leave the judgment as to when to use the responses and the intensity of said response to the tastes of the individual user.

I’m tech illiterate / I’m not good with technology.
Hogwash. By using this defense, people shift away responsibility.  The implication is that some people are naturally wired to be good with technology, and once they declare themselves “not,” they get a pass on any responsibility to remain current. Remind them that there is no such thing as someone who is “tech savvy.” The honest truth is that the only difference is in how brave people are. So-called “tech-savvy” people are simply more brave and unafraid of technology. They may, in fact, be far worse at learning how things work than anyone else. As gently as appropriate, help them understand this distinction is far more about interest than ability. The expectations of students and parents do not allow for anyone to get a pass from educators who are not interested in technology enough to be relevant in today’s world.

We don’t have enough machines. Maybe the complaint is that the school or district is not 1:1, or that there is a premium on shared devices. Either way, it becomes easy for some educators to throw up their hands and decide that if they can’t get 24/7 device access for all students, then there is no point in ever utilizing technology. This is a perfect opportunity to share with them the research by Dr. Sugata Mitra (either by paraphrase or with one of the videos) that proved that kids often learn even better when sharing a digital device than when they each have one. His research, among many other monumental discoveries, showed that kids learn intensely even if many students use one device. Most of the time this is a feeble excuse that deflects a lack of ingenuity or effort, but when this is a genuinely held belief, teachers should be supported as they explore any of the many alternatives to having 1:1 devices. Shared machines, home digital work, and “bring your own tech (BYOT)” strategies could all be employed, often in concert, to achieve a richer learning experience for all.

I don’t trust the internet connection enough to do online work. This gripe is about the ghost of past experiences and the fallacy of the rare event being thought of as common. How often is the internet really down?  Have some real data. With little doubt, your institution has comparable internet up times to any other educational institution and probably better than most other institutions. In the case of my district, I can safely say that our internet is up nearly 99.5% of the time school is in session, and I can bet that beats my home state’s giant institutions like 3M, The University of Minnesota, Target (Corporate), or United Healthcare. But let’s say, for sake of argument, that the internet is down 10% of the time (nearly impossible by today’s standards). Even if the internet were down that often, an innovative educator would still be able to provide rich instruction nine lessons out of ten, compared with zero for the person who uses this as an excuse as to why they refuse to use internet-based content or instruction. It’s a flimsy excuse, and it needs to be reframed consistently so people see the occasional outage as a part of life, and not an indication of a faulty system.

What happens when something goes wrong? I often wonder how people who ask this when considering digital-age lesson strategies are able to function in daily life. As a teacher, I have had walls broken through during construction projects, water pipes burst, fire drills, epileptic seizures, violent outbursts, lost or stolen materials, and any number of a thousand more unplanned, unexpected problems while teaching. Good teachers just tango on. Sure, sometimes things in digital-based lessons don’t work. So what? Tango on. What if they ask a question I don’t know the answer to? Ask the group. Educators need to let go of the idea that they must master a technique or tool before using it with students. That’s not realistic, nor is it realistic to expect everything to be perfect. Instead, educators need to trust that students can learn together, and that trying and encountering problems is a part of life. Shouldn’t we be modeling this for our students? Best answer: things WILL go wrong, don’t let that stop you.

Kids already use too much technology. Yes, young people use a lot of technology. Trouble is, the ways in which they use technology tend toward very slim applications, namely social interaction and absorption of media. Educators have a responsibility to help them see how to learn with technology. We can guide very rich learning experiences that will become a cornerstone of their work and life in the future. Don’t assume that since they use a lot of technology, they know how to use it for learning and creating. Most need help with this. If this is a value judgment from an educator, remind them that the past is past. We are preparing them for a digitally-rich society (which it already is). We do them no favors by dragging them back to the 20th century to learn and grow.

I never got training on this! This is perhaps the most valid gripe or excuse on this list. Certainly there is an expectation that certain tools and techniques are taught to employees, especially those that are part of mandated use, such as a learning management system or parent portal. Trouble is, this can’t be a catch-all excuse. There is a responsibility for all educators to stay at least marginally current on technology. Some educators can literally not be bothered to learn anything even remotely technology-adjacent unless they are formally trained. Picture the young child whose parent drags them through the store while the little one drags feet and whines. What’s in it for the child? They get to do as little as possible and train the parent not to bring them along the next time. So it is with some educators. By using this as an excuse, they put the pressure back on the administration, tech staff, or their peers, and also train them to ask less and less over time. Feet-draggers need to be reminded that willful ignorance is a choice and cannot be alleviated by a training session. Kindly explain that there are many opportunities online to learn what is not offered formally, and that there is support as they catch up. For some, it is good to make it clear that the needs of the large group will dictate that they keep moving forward, with or without a willful straggler. This is a tough discussion, but one that technology professionals and administrators need to have with those who have decided to challenge the system by demanding to be spoon-fed the kinds of skills most adults instinctively gain by being a part of society.

Why do it that way when the traditional way is easier?  Sometimes this is a really valid question. Most of the time it is a crutch and excuse. The key response here is “is the easier way relevant in today’s world?” Most of the time it is false equivalency: “why use Notability when a traditional notebook will do just fine?” Sure. sounds reasonable. But can the traditional notebook be shared? Collaborated on? Saved in multiple formats? Annotated? Illustrated? Disseminated and analyzed? Probably not, and that’s just an ordinary example. The best response here is whether it is easier for the students or the teacher? Is there any upgrade to the digital-age method? Finally, educators need to be reminded that if it’s all the same otherwise, we have a responsibility to model digital-age methods wherever possible, so students have a sense of how professionals use digital tools effectively. Today’s students are not likely to ever use paper and pencil for important professional tasks, if they ever do at all.

We just got training on this tool, and now that technique is already replacing it. What’s the use? Ok, this is sometimes a generational thing, and sometimes just an unfortunate consequence of our fast-paced society. It really can’t be helped. The best tool or technique for the job is bound to change from year to year. Tech directors and integration specialists can help minimize the whiplash, but there is no other alternative but to stay current. Students tend to be much more resilient to this than most educators. Response: that’s the world we live in. The alternative is to obsolete ourselves. We must stay current to the best of our ability. The days of mastering a particular tool and owning that for a decade are over, and they will never return. Look at tech skills not as owning, but as renting until you trade it in for something better.

I’m just not interested in technology in education or anywhere else. I’m a traditionalist. Great. Enjoy that in your private life. Being an educator means that you put the student’s needs first. If it is good for students, but you don’t care for it, too bad. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Get over yourself. For more on this, read THIS great blog post by Dr. Scott McLeod.

I don’t have the time. This is the grand-doozy of them all, because in essence this statement is true for most teachers. Teachers are being asked, year after year, to do more with less, to promote programs and participate in initiatives rarely of their choosing, and to give up quality instruction and connection time to make way for a litany of tests and evaluations. I was there. I see it. It’s true. You don’t have any extra time. I get it. I really, really do. So, with that in mind, let’s embrace ways to alleviate the stress and create time? Let’s digitize materials and save some trips to the copier every time someone needs a copy of something. Let’s learn how to really use productivity tools so we don’t spend an hour of each day sorting email. Let’s have students take on the role of evaluator so you don’t have to take 150 assignments home to grade every evening. The person who most needs to embrace educational technology is the teacher hanging on by a thread. I know, I lived it. I almost walked away from my profession. Then I got smart. I streamlined my most wasteful minutes and got back time to teach and think on important things. It is very difficult to trust that the front-end work will pay dividends tenfold on the backend, but it does. We need to answer this question with real empathy. It is a real anxiety in teachers, and it is something that we can help with. Remind them that teachers all over the world, in even more stressful situations, thrive by using tools to become more efficient educators.

In the end, whether you are a tech professional, an administrator or coach, we need to make sure that educators remember every day and every hour that we work for the children, and their needs are our priority. Caring teachers make adjustments necessary to be meaningful to their students, and poor teachers hide behind excuses and inflexibility.


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