Imagine I walk up to you at the Outback Steakhouse and I have a name tag on that says ‘Steak Expert.’ You might ask me what I recommend (which is the Porterhouse w/mushrooms of course) and then order. But instead of what I recommended, you go ahead with the Top Sirloin because that’s what you ordered last time.
Basically, that situation happens to me everyday.
I just finished my first year as the Technology Coordinator after 17 years wonderful years as a Social Studies teacher and I am in some combined state of exhaustion, excitement, and uncertainty. We have a significant amount of successes to celebrate at our school and the general feeling of most of my colleagues is positive in regard to how technology is enhancing learning. Being 1:1 in grades 6-12 has advantages that allow teachers significant freedom to design interesting units of study. Because it is an international school, we are free from the shackles of a standardized testing culture. Alternatively, it has presented our school with all of the painful challenges that come with disruption. Mindsets and philosophies have been challenged, while passionate educators grapple with one another over what skills are to be emphasized and to whom that emphasis should be focused upon. Bottom line: Really BIG questions about technology are being asked by everyone involved (why technology? what to give up? whose job is it?). Complex questions that will require a synthesis of solutions & expertise — questions that will require communication and collaboration.
Borrowing from a cognitive device we all use called representative heuristic, I will replace the more difficult question with an easier one: Who do people trust to make important decision about technology in school? I am certain that this is the question that we ultimately ask when faced with impending change in any complex situation. Do I trust the decision-maker let alone the decision? Most high functioning schools embrace a shared decision-making model that is based on – wait for it – trust, because why would a school hire a teacher or an administrator unless there is a basic trust in their abilities or their intentions. To get to the point of this post, I continue to believe that the most important qualification for success in groups is trust. So here are FIVE important things I have come to understand about schools and trust.
1. Teachers should share their thoughts on curriculum and instruction as much as possible. The people doing the sharing are transforming learning; these people are easily connected to and, because of their transparency, can be trusted.
2. Trust the technology only as far as you have been willing to see it’s effect first hand. It is nearly impossible for things to work all the time. That being said, there are a number of situation where teachers want to apply a technology tool to a learning task but never actually tried the tool (or tested it’s effectiveness in that context). Eventually the teacher gives up and stereotypes other tools as having the same problem (remember – we stereotype because, cognitively, it saves us time).
3. Administrators are the foundation for a high energy, highly invested educational environment. Teachers will trust the decision-making of Administrators if they see three things on a regular basis: 1. Administrators in their classrooms. 2. Administrators providing feedback on unit design. 3. Administrators who have the energy to be visibly holding all stakeholders accountable to their defined roles.
If this happens, then, unconsciously, relationships will develop that will necessitate shared decision-making and articulation of a vision. Without these things in place, I am unable to even approach the concept of technology integration with an administrator because the staff view will not be shaped by trust but by suspicion and the prospect of more ‘work.’
4. Establishing trust with a captive audience requires a relationship that has the other person’s best interest in mind. Bill Walton was one of the greatest centers in the history of basketball. No question. What made him great was that all of his teammates understood that Walton was there to make them better so they could all win – together. According to Walton, “to be a great team player, one must find legitimate happiness in the success of others…and that is not an easy thing to do.” It is not always easy to do what’s best for students. I have never been particularly excited about laptops in the hands of grade school students but I can not get past the fact that school experience should mirror the real world in as many ways as possible. If I don’t create a learning design that mirrors real situations requiring collaboration, communication, and fluency, then I am doing my captive audience a huge disservice? How can they trust me?
to be a great team player, one must find legitimate happiness in the success of others…and that is not an easy thing to do. – Bill Walton
5. Trust the experts in your communities. Whether it’s the 10,000 hour rule or the well-read individual, every learning community has those “go to people” who have been there, done that….or at a minimum, have insight into a problem. More importantly, if a situation arises around a particular problem like scheduling or professional development, find the experts who can construct the necessary solution. If a community says that we are going to focus on literacy as our number 1 focus, then as the technology coordinator, I will be adamant that that focus requires a digital literacy component. If the community is going to ignore that perspective, then there is no trust – mutually.
Steering an entire school is a huge responsibility that requires constant monitoring of the climate inside and outside of the campus. Almost a year after taking this job I can definitely say I have learned more than I actually was able to teach others – which is a good thing. If anything I hope people have trust that I will do what is best for our students because that’s what they deserve.