Empower those around you, and everyone thrives

The large amount of online resources built to enhance student learning is staggering. There’s no dearth in what can be implemented. Instead, the hurdle to teachers adopting new best practices is actually trifold:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of communication
  3. Lack of confidence

Time is a person’s most valuable resource. When dividing a day between eating, sleeping, being with loved ones, and earning money, it’s difficult to learn new things. Responsibilities pile up pretty quickly for adults, and this means less time to explore unfamiliar territory.

Communication has traditionally been poor throughout many schools and school districts. There are a myriad of reasons why this is. In my opinion, a major reason is because a lot of people feel more comfortable going it alone. Collaboration and transparency get the heart beating quickly–better to stay an island.

Confidence grows when you’ve had time to learn something and experience success. Some walk around with false bravado, but most of us appreciate exposure to new curriculum and technology before confidence and mastery appear.

I believe one of the best ways to enhance student learning is by giving teachers more time, better ways to communicate, and helping them gain mastery over technology (which, for me, is synonymous with curriculum) and instructional best practices so they are confident.

That sounds really nice, but how is this accomplished?

Professional development (PD) can initially be daunting and expensive, but every school district has the ability to build effective professional development sessions. Coordinators just have to start with one idea in mind: crowdsourcing.

It’s important to unpack “crowdsourcing” before moving forward. I’m using the word in the following way (my definition): “Contributing to the collective good by outsourcing work within your tribe so everyone benefits.” To crowdsource in education, you build capacity within fellow teachers who in turn create passionate edtech niches and share that passion and knowledge with everyone in their school or district.

Boom! That’s it. Instead of paying consultants to come in and blah, blah, blah about something teachers have heard over and over, pay teachers to seek out best practices, learn them, harness them, and share them with as many people as possible. The money is staying within the district and local community, and a sustainable network of motivated people can teach colleagues. (If you’re wondering about the nuts and bolts of this human infrastructure, check out what I wrote here.)

And don’t let this be forgotten: Motivated people are necessary because they continue learning. We need individuals who will learn, teach, learn again, teach, and so on because everything is in flux. The need for continual PD has never been so important, and there’s no way for one person to know everything. To create institutions of learning that actually foster learning, everyone needs to evolve. If you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker. If you’re not learning new things, your knowledge base is dwindling.

Recently, my school district put the above into action. In one day we offered twenty-two 50-minute sessions taught by teachers within our school district. Attendees picked five of the sessions they thought would be the most helpful. We named the event PBVCon, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Why did a majority of teachers like it?

  1. They had time to choose their own path of learning. Autonomy is a powerful thing.
  2. They communicated with knowledgeable presenters with skin in the game, and they communicated with each other.
  3. Their levels of confidence grew. Perhaps not to an extravagant degree, but there was definitely an increase in the belief: “I can do this!”

Time, communication, and confidence. Crowdsourcing, which is just another version of the age-old technique called “jigsawing,” is the most powerful method schools and districts can adopt in order to help students.

Empower those around you, and everyone thrives.

Crowdsourcing in education

It’s not easy setting up a 1:1 environment across a whole school district–even if it’s a small school district. Some of the necessary steps include purchasing devices and carts, configuring devices, running cable, installing access points, constructing a system for damaged computers, troubleshooting, and much more.

The good thing about all these tasks is they result in outcomes that clearly show whether or not the objective was met. The devices are either purchased and configured or they’re not. The cable and access points are either installed or they’re not. Being able to pick up and fix damaged computers occurs or it doesn’t. The effects are tangible and easily quantified.

This isn’t the case when you want teachers to use devices in their classrooms. There’s no magic number of PD sessions necessary to win over a teacher’s affection for web based programs. There’s no special place or time in which PD sessions can be held that will foster the effects you’re seeking. One-size-fits-all approaches are obviously useless, and so are many of the consultants who promise to build ‘capacity’.

You can create a perfect technological infrastructure, but you can’t make people use it–this is true. So what do you do?

You find individuals who see value in the technological possibilities at each school site. You then pay those people as much as possible (even if it’s a measly stipend) to serve in two functions:

  1. Provide communication to each school regarding everything from device maintenance to instructional best practices.

  2. Teach teachers how to blend student learning.

Those are straightforward objectives and wonderful ways to start this portion of the deployment. Here’s something that’s very important to remember:

As these technology leaders perform their duties, they will naturally develop niches about which they’re passionate. Some will geek out over Google products. Others will become cliff divers and explore the new programs that are continually being created. Some will discover tricks and tools of which you’re not aware and begin sharing the information with colleagues. When this happens, your 1:1 deployment is finally getting started.

This is because no school or district can have one all-knowing sage who is an expert at every technological tool. Even one tech/instructional coach with no family who sleeps, eats, and breaths edtech can’t keep up and master every product out there. Because of this, it’s extremely important for the instructional leaders at each school site to build their niches and be the go-to person for that particular specialty. That way when teachers have questions, they can be guided to the answer by someone who has a depth of knowledge concerning the pertinent hardware or software.

Crowdsourcing is accomplished in many fields, and education is no different. If anything, crowdsourcing can be done most effectively when learning is the objective. The internet makes this possible, of course, but so does the disparate skill sets and interests all teachers possess.

Purchasing 1:1 devices is straightforward. Building up leaders isn’t, and that’s why people are the best investment.