Having returned from a busy few days at London's BETT conference, like many, I returned to school yesterday to a rather horrendous collection of emails that had gathered in my inbox over the course of five days. This, despite the fact that whilst in London, I had a really interesting conversation with a group of school leaders who believed that e-mail is no longer the most efficient communication tool for schools. The argument was that we need to shift the communication mindset, encouraging teachers to go and find the relevant pieces of information, which of course, relies on the right information being available in the right place and at the right time.
This would certainly have helped reduce the number of emails I came back to yesterday. What is even more depressing though is the content of many of these emails. Over 80% of the emails in my inbox at the start of this week served no purpose other than to transfer information. Very few were asking me questions, asking for advice, support and guidance. That is frustrating because ultimately, my responsibility is to offer exactly those things to our teachers as we strive to encourage greater use of technology in our classrooms.
So... what are the questions that people should be asking but aren't? I have spent today considering this question. As someone responsible for the use of technology in our school and its impact on Teaching and Learning, what do I wish people would ask me more often?
What do I do when the tech doesn't work?
It is too easy to ping out an email moaning about the fact that something isn't working. It is frustrating, you are trying to do the right thing and use the technology that is in your classroom, but then it all goes wrong and your lesson is left in disarray. In my role, such emails fill me with dread. There is often little that I can do if it isn't working, it isn't working and someone with superior technology expertise probably needs to take a look! However, how awesome would it be if our teachers knew the technology well enough to navigate through the glitches themselves? Perhaps someone who is using technology to enhance their lessons effectively is someone who is comfortably continuing with the learning they'd planned without the technology?
How can I use technology to support ALL pupils in my class?
I think we are almost starting to take what we are doing for granted. We are so used to seeing children using technology regularly, that we underestimate the quality and effectiveness of what we are doing. However, I am always most proud when our approach supports students who would otherwise struggle to access elements of the curriculum.
We all have students who could benefit more from effective technology use and I would encourage teachers to seek advice from the experts in their institution to find out more and to identify the best tools to support the children in their class. Even something as simple as dictation and how best to approach this is something that I still find some teachers are unfamiliar with, yet a quick chat or a demo is all it takes to get this into a teachers toolkit.
How does our approach sit alongside research and pedagogy?
I haven't come across many educators who questions the thinking behind Bloom’s Taxonomy in relation to lesson planning. And yet, we still come across teachers who are not convinced about the importance of technology in the classroom.
My surprise relates to the question of whether you want your classroom tech to be solely focused on information gathering or will it be used to help students create? While there are times when using technology for lower-level Bloom’s tasks is appropriate we’re missing wonderful opportunities if we remain stuck there. Once teachers appreciate this, it becomes clearer as to why our approach to technology is so important in that it is facilitating a more project-based approach to learning and encouraging a deeper level of learning and personalisation.
This is a really powerful conversation to have though and I would encourage staff to discuss this, as ultimately, it justifies and highlights the importance of effective technology use.
How can technology help make MY life easier?
This is huge. The easiest way for us to get teachers onside is to show them how our approach to technology can save them time and make their life ultimately easier. Automation can undoubtedly speed up tedious, time-consuming tasks. Even apps or services which offer a digital work-flow can save teacher time at the photocopier or time-consuming marking. Engagement tools can help streamline assessments and discussions. I would love to have an email drop into my inbox tomorrow seeking advice on this point as it would be an easy win.
Is our approach the best option available?
No school can claim to have a staff that has 100% buy-in from staff. Everyone might do and say what is expected, but I don't believe for a moment that everyone agrees on how things should be done. I hope to some degree that they don't and I appreciate those that question it.
These teachers are often identified as being the trouble-makers or the ones who are struggling to be open-minded and flexible. Whereas the exact opposite is in fact true. From experience, these are the teachers who care the most. They aren't questioning what they are being asked to do because they don't want to change their approach. They are being vocal because they fundamentally believe that they should be doing something differently.
This doesn't mean that an institution should change their approach or that they are going about things in the wrong way. It means that they need to allow teachers to use the technology in a way that works for them and this is why I believe the growth in mobile devices is so valuable. What is important, is that all teachers appreciate the 21st Century skills that we are targeting to prepare students for the modern world.