Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this is the third international school I’ve worked in – and the third school that I’ve helped shift from the “computer class” mindset to an “integrated” technology program. In all honesty, it’s quite amazing to me that every school I’ve worked in has very similar problems, very similar history in terms of technology education, and very similar ideas of where they want to go. And the majority of the staff has the same fears, concerns and questions about how this “new” technology environment will function.

What’s really interesting to me is that:

  • If all of these schools are facing similar issues, why isn’t there a common process or framework to work through them? Why aren’t we more actively sharing (and I don’t mean the individuals contributing here on the blogosphere, where sharing is the name of the game), I mean the schools themselves. We’re all linked by accrediting bodies, councils, etc., why isn’t there any help or insight offered through those networks? Is it competition?
  • If all these schools are working through these issues – some sooner than others (MIS started in 2001 – and I’m sure they weren’t the first), why isn’t there a common understanding of what needs to be done to move forward? Why does it always feel like reinventing the wheel every time we move to a new school?
  • If the group of international school teachers is a closely connected network, and let’s face it, it really is, why aren’t more teachers arriving at schools with some background in this model of teaching and learning and anxiously paving the way for those teachers that may not have transitioned as recently? Why are we always selling this idea like we’re the first ones to ever think of it? Shouldn’t most of our new teachers (and possibly administrators) have experience in this model already?

As you could expect, each of the schools I’ve worked at has approached this transition a little differently – from administrators mandating change, to allowing the enthusiasm of a smaller group to push the thinking of the whole, to strategically placing influential and enthusiastic teachers in positions of leadership. No matter what the model, I do think there are some commonalities that must be addressed when making the shift to a 21st century learning environment.

Vision & Philosophy

Given the fact that we all need to work together to make change happen, it only seems logical that we need a uniting vision and shared understanding of the goal we’re trying to reach (see: example vision). Expecting teachers to change their practice, without providing a thought-out vision and philosophy for why they should change will only result in frustration. In order to work towards a common goal you need to ensure that all staff have a shared understanding of the school’s vision. Staff buy-in from all levels is essential to the success of institutionalizing this type of change. There are lots of places to get started thinking about this kind of vision, from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, to NCREL, to TechLearning, to the Alabama Best Practice Center, to Apple, to AT&T, to Information Fluency, to the 21st Century Learning Initiative, to the AASL, to all of the wonderful edubloggers that are sharing their vision and their school practice.

Leadership

Although it would be absolutely wonderful if change could spontaneously happen because teachers have a shared vision for their future, the reality is that, at some point, school leadership needs to clarify and confirm that this is the direction the school is heading. There needs to be an official acknowledgment of the vision and philosophy and clear expectations that change will happen. I’ve heard plenty of teachers say, “if the Head of School doesn’t tell me to do it, it means I don’t have to do it.” Right or wrong, that’s the reality of our schools. We have school leadership for a reason: they help us steer the ship, and they define our course. We look to them for the priorities – and they need to take the responsibility to share them with us.

Paradigm Shift and Transparency

Along with a clear vision and philosophy for why this shift is so important and what your desired outcomes are, you also need to develop a clear framework which details exactly what the roles are for each individual involved (see: example framework). From teachers, to teams, to coordinators, to facilitators, to administration – each person on staff will be responsible for some aspect of this transition and they need to know how they fit into the bigger picture. From roles and responsibilities to the process of putting this vision into practice, this framework needs to be completely transparent to all stakeholders (including parents). We all share a common need to understand where we fit in the big picture – laying it all out for everyone involved just ensures that everyone has the same picture.

Curriculum & Professional Development

Embedding this new model for teaching and learning into the curriculum development process is a natural way to institutionalize change – if it becomes part of our curriculum, it becomes part of our teaching and learning practice. As new aspects of curricular units which authentically embed technology are collaboratively planned, these changes need to be clearly documented in a shared curriculum mapping tool (whether it’s Rubicon-Atlas or a wiki – the tool doesn’t matter, as long as the changes are clear and visible).

Along with shifting curriculum practices, teachers will need professional development support through technical training, pedagogical training, mentorship, outside voices, on-site experts, and one-on-one support. This could include the establishment of a professional learning network for teachers like Julie Lindsay has done at Qatar Academy, or it could be the creation of streamlined and consistent professional development like we have running at ISB, or developing a formal teacher-mentor program.

Staffing & Equipment

All of this thinking and learning will, sadly, be lost without the personnel and technical resources to make your vision a reality. Although schools usually (but not always) see the need to increase software and hardware purchases, oftentimes, because the expectation is shifting to embedding technology within the core curriculum, staffing can be overlooked. Why would we hire someone with no teaching load – someone who just “helps” people all day? Unfortunately, without the human support (which can range from being a teaching model in the classroom, to curricular or pedagogical support, to technical support, to a “safety blanket”) the technological troubles can end up feeling insurmountable for teachers new to this model of teaching and learning – exactly what you don’t want.

Infrastructure and Communication

Once staffing and equipment are sufficient, clear infrastructure and communication strategies need to be put in place. Who to contact for technology support, or how to book the school’s hardware or peripheral equipment, or where to find the latest information about available resources all needs to be documented, explained and demonstrated to all stakeholders, and then utilized effectively over the course of the school year. Having resources and knowing how to access them or how to get support are all very different things. Oftentimes technical troubles become emergencies simply because the lines of communication or infrastructure are unclear.

Resources

To help teachers and administrators cope with the rapid pace of technological change, developing easy to use resources (like “how to” sheets for both students and teachers, or common rubrics and assessment tools) can make the use of new tools far less intimidating. Keeping these kind of resources in a central location where they can be accessed any time and adapted based on individual teacher’s needs is essential – as is promoting and sharing the usefulness and success of these types of documents. Creating a school-wide technology toolbox takes the pressure off the teachers and allows the experts in each area to shine.

Reflection and Adaptation

No matter how well you plan, it’s only to be expected that we will all face very different individual situations, and anyone trying to implement something new needs to be aware that challenges will need to be faced. It’s an important skill to be able to quickly identify problems or concerns and face them head on. Whether it’s parental questions or difficulties among teachers, it’s important to expect the unexpected and to have adaptive, self-reflective, and changing strategies for dealing with the causes of roadblocks or problems.

Another important aspect of reflection is sharing our successes. Finding consistent ways to publicize success – not only within the school, but also to the wider school community, helps teachers gain confidence, explore new areas of teaching and learning, and promote positive attitudes towards this change. We can often get bogged down with solving problems, but sometimes the solution is sharing success.

Working through these challenges at three different schools in three different countries and cultures, I’ve realized that you really do need all of these pieces in place in order to ensure that change happens and, perhaps more importantly, that new paradigms stay in place after the initial push to change has passed. We all know that passionate voices can inspire and propel change, but what happens when those voices move on? As one of those passionate voices myself, I want to ensure that any changes I help create become a part of the daily life of the school.

I’m sure there are other pieces to this complex puzzle that I forgot. What am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, flatclassroom, classroom, 21st century literacy, globalcitizens, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development, professional development, training