The inclusion of technology in the classroom is no longer a consideration but an expectation. Using data to drive instruction is essential for 21st Century schools. The Common Core State Standards require students to judiciously use technology to collaborate, research, to be creative and innovative, and to strengthen critical thinking skills. The U.S. Department of Education lists the inclusion of technology in teaching and learning as a leading factor in the improvement of student achievement. Since the adoption of No Child Left Behind in 2001, there’s been a push to be more strategic in the use of data–to make precise instructional decisions based on what students are learning or have learned, rather than a ballpark guess as to how they’re performing. Educators are given the opportunity to be more precise with technology, both in planning for instruction and implementing it in the classroom.
There’s no wonder technology is beneficial for students. It allows students to receive a personalized plan, targeted to their specific needs. There’s no time wasted focusing on what students already know and have mastered. Digital tools in the classroom assist a wide range of learners in ways teachers may be unable to do, and they do so more quickly.
Digital resources are abundant, and administrators and school leaders want teachers to use them in their classrooms, as much as possible. Just as digital technology grows, so does our need to push it into the classroom effectively. Here are a few considerations administrators must make to integrate digital learning into their school’s classrooms best.
Provide Technology or Routes to Obtain it
The first step in giving students access to technology is to have it available in classrooms. Money is a large hurdle to procuring technology, true, but no teacher wants to use outdated technology to teach his or her students. If finding money in your budget to purchase technology outright is an obstacle, there are other ways to obtain it. For instance, technology grants are popular among teachers who strongly favor of the use technology in their classrooms. Often these teachers are required to take a course or make a commitment to using the technology regularly, if not daily. These teachers are typically willing to use their own time to procure digital opportunities for their students. To get you started, Edutopia.org has compiled a list of grants and resources to obtain money, the majority of which are technology related. Research grants and funding options at your district and school to provide more teachers with better access to digital tools. District’s education foundations are great resources for obtaining money directly or writing proposals on your behalf. Make these opportunities available for more teachers, and you’ll see a marked increase in the interest of digital learning.
Offer Quality Professional Development
For teachers to use technology in the classroom or effectively use data to drive their instruction they need professional development opportunities to teach them how to do this effectively. Most teacher preparation programs today weave digital literacies into coursework but fail to delve deeply into the topic. Teachers who’ve been on the job for more than ten years are, on the whole, seriously lagging behind the digital power curve. These teachers are open and receptive to technology, but they often lack the knowledge, training, and confidence to use it. Providing high quality, ongoing professional development programs devoted entirely to technology arms teachers with the skills they need to meet the needs of their learners effectively. Some professional development should focus on how to analyze data. Others can focus on the use of hardware and software teachers can use in their classrooms. Teachers can use each other as resources as well; they are great resources when it comes to web products. Set up a professional development session gallery walk where teachers spotlight their favorite digital learning tool.
Give Teacher Incentives
Rolling out any initiative requires a degree of buy-in necessary to be successful. Teachers have no shortage of expectations placed upon them by teams, administrators, divisions, and even their state. They often don’t like to hear about a new expectation, especially one that may make their workload heavier–in the short term. This is why, as a school official, it’s important to approach your staff first and see what technology they’re currently implementing. Just like teaching students, it’s important to find where your teachers are before diving right into setting expectations. It’s possible that there’s a good deal of digital learning already happening in your school and your efforts could be best spent bringing what’s currently being used to all staff members. Just like student population, each school’s staff is different. Find out what digital tools work with your teachers and students. Doing this research beforehand will ensure that your teachers feel valued in the decision-making process, and they’ll be more receptive to making changes.
After the preliminary research into what technology is currently used and which tools are preferred, it’s time to take the buy-in to the next stage. Given the heavy workloads of teachers, it’s important to approach any change you’re asking of your teachers in the name of students. Give them the research. Explain why you’re pushing for digital literacy. When teachers know that this isn’t just another educational fad that will fade away, they’ll be more likely to invest their time and energy.
For those teachers who need an additional push, setting expectations is helpful. The expectation must be uniform for everyone and achievable. And hold yourself to the same expectation! For instance, you might require teachers to attend one technology session of their choosing and then implement that technology into their classroom for the desired period. At a staff meeting, teachers can share with each other what worked best for their students and why. Giving teachers collaborative opportunities to work on the implementation of technology pays off in dividends. Dedicating meeting time, teacher workday hours, or planning periods solely to the technology initiative will keep teachers focused. But you’ve got to make room for this to happen. Take something off their plates or shuffle around other priorities to make this happen. Let teachers know you value technology by giving them time to work it into their curriculum.
Good teachers are made, not born. Most teachers become better over time through a lengthy process of trial and error. Some are lucky to have good mentors who push them to become better teacher versions of themselves. Instructional coaching is a shortcut to the same end. Coaches are experienced teachers who view their peers’ teaching and offer unbiased, non-evaluative feedback on the teaching they witness. These coaches are skilled in viewing all parts of a lesson, ensuring all learners are engaged, and best practices are utilized, among other things. The most highly skilled of instructional coaches can evaluate the use of technology in the classroom and determine whether the methods used are appropriate for the expected outcomes. They can critique specifics of the use of technology: do students know how to use the digital tools? What parts of the technology did they struggle with? How could the technology be modified to better meet the needs of the learners?
Instructional coaching is an invaluable tool that allows an experienced outsider to view the efficacy of teaching tools. It takes a brave teacher to submit to the practice, but the reward is great. Teachers spend less time on trial and error and more time being a better teacher for their students.
Prepare Tech Support People (just in case)
One often-overlooked part of including technology in the classroom is the support staff. When technology is working smoothly and properly, teachers love using it. When things don’t work as planned, no one wants to waste time troubleshooting. If you’d like your teachers to implement technology, you must prepare yourself for a learning curve. You must anticipate stumbling blocks. Good news is, you already employ someone who can handle this! Your information technology coordinator to the rescue. Have a plan in place that this person will be available to your staff to at a moment’s notice, especially in the early stages of technology integration. When technology doesn’t work in a classroom, teachers will revert to whatever method is easiest for them, defeating your digital technology push. If there’s a trained professional ready and waiting to assist them with their tech troubles, you’re ensuring that your teachers will see their technology plans through.
If your tech support person is overloaded, consider adding leadership roles for tech-savvy teachers. They can act as point people to assist their colleagues. Provide extra professional development opportunities for these teachers, and if funding allows, give them a classroom set of technology as motivation. Use their knowledge to conduct future professional development sessions.
Ultimately, the best way to integrate digital learning into the classroom is to empower teachers. By providing them with the information, resources, professional development, and support they need, school leaders can effectively implement a comprehensive digital learning program that works for schools, teachers, and students alike.