Teacher standing with face hidden behind book and scared to use educational technology.

In my consulting as well as administrative technology work, I am often asked the same questions by different schools and officials. One of the most common is: “How do you get teachers who are hesitant or resistant to use technology?”

I am keenly aware that many of my colleagues are not, for various reasons, gung ho about educational technology. And it’s interesting. Quite often, the teachers who are hesitant to adopt new educational technology are great — in fact, amazing — educators. They are frequently veterans and usually leaders in their academic field and within their institutions.

In my role as tech advocate, I habitually find myself trying to coax these established educators to use new tools and incorporate new methodologies. Here are some ways I have found to be successful in this endeavor.

1. Do not set out to “fix” anyone’s teaching

If you’re working with veteran educators, this is especially important. They have been successful in their field for many years, often decades. Perhaps they teach an AP course and are used to a high percentage of 4’s and 5’s on the AP exam. Maybe they teach a writing class and feel that they are effectively preparing their students with advanced writing skills. Regardless of their specialty, approaching a hesitant teacher with an eye to radically change their curriculum and pedagogy can feel threatening and critical.

Teacher getting help from a mentor about  using educational technology

Instead, try this: observe what they do in the classroom that’s made them successful and build out from there. Offer suggestions on how to make their good teaching practices more efficient or effective, using tools that clearly make tasks easier to accomplish. Perhaps DropBox will facilitate distributing handouts in the classroom, Google Drive is a better alternative to emailing drafts back and forth, or Google Earth can provide more interactive exploration of the Grand Canyon. Tailor your approach to each faculty member, with specific ideas to facilitate and/or enhance their teaching. As they become comfortable with new tech, they will very likely be open to conversations about other digital tools you are using in your own work.

2. Be open and alert to each teacher’s technology wants and needs

If teachers express a want or need for educational technology in the classroom (a particular browser, program, hardware, etc.) accommodate them! If teachers feel you are there to help them, they are more likely to reach out. The best way to demonstrate your desire to enhance their teaching is to jump through their hoops to meet their needs. If a teacher wants to use Safari, don’t dismiss their interest in favor of Chrome. You may know the tool that is “superior,” but remember it’s about their level of comfort.

3. Use peers to model and train

Teachers respond better to other teachers who share their situation. They trust them. Such teachers are “pre-vetted.” They understand what it’s like in the classroom, what can go wrong, how students can respond, etc. The absolute best way to get educators to feel comfortable seeking help with technology is to make the point person someone who does not assess their teaching. It is important to limit, if not eradicate, the intimidation factor often associated with asking for help or training in a particular tool. If a teacher feels that they are being assessed or judged (and perception is key here), they simply will avoid seeking advice. Make sure that the technology point person is someone that their peers trust and admire.

4. Give them time to “play”

Teachers are not done at three o’clock. Many work 10-12 hours a day during the school year and on weekends too. In my 12 years of serving as an educator, I have never had a “summer off.” Instead, summer is slightly less busy and my time more flexible.

Teacher holding tablet and playing around with educational technology.

Remember we’re working to lure hesitant teachers into the technology fold. Do not hold training days in the middle of the year or distribute new hardware or software in August. May and June are the best months to introduce new concepts. If you are rolling out new iPads or Netbooks, hand them out at the end of the year, just before summer. Let your faculty have the summer to play with the new tool, get comfortable with it, learn how to use it. Letting teachers edge up to a new hardware tool at home will remove the intimidation of performing under a watchful eye, and also allow them to get acquainted at their own pace. It can also help them to have “tool awareness” as they build lessons for the Fall.

I would also encourage allowing faculty to treat their school tools as their own. Let them put their music on it, have administrative privileges, set up personal email, and more. This promotes the extra level of comfort that comes with a feeling of ownership. Set up certain parameters (no illegal activities, no questionable images — and retain the rights to delete malware) and provide some education (“safe” versus “suspicious” software, best practices, etc.), but let them make the laptop or tablet or other mobile device their own. By providing your faculty the ability to intimately connect with their technology, you are providing them the capacity to really explore it and understand how it works. Give them wide latitude and allow them to be their best, professional selves.

5. Make professional development “real” and pertinent

Don’t be afraid to differentiate your approach to professional development. Most faculty are realistic about their abilities when it comes to technology. Likewise, provide them opportunities to become effective users of real and pertinent tools that they can employ in their particular subjects and classroom. Math teachers will probably benefit more from a workshop on Geometer’s Sketchpad than quizlet. While they may seem like babes in the technology woods, in truth, your faculty members are sophisticated professionals. Treat them as such. Focus on their pedagogical needs when you present tools. Don’t geek out.

6. Pick hardware and software that’s easy to use

The best way to overcome hesitancy with your faculty is to provide them with hardware and software that is easy to use. Modern devices and apps are more user friendly than ever. Pick tools that have “drag and drop” features, are nearly devoid of bugs, and have a low learning curve. If an educator is intimidated by coding or thrown off by a product that’s prone to crashing, they are not going to use it. Teachers know that their students get frustrated and restless if they cannot move quickly through the learning process. Technology that does not work transparently will be readily discarded.

7. Don’t sit in judgment!

I cannot emphasize this enough. It is easy to think that hesitant educates do not adopt new technology because they are lazy or stubborn or uncreative. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that modern education is now a high-stakes, test driven environment. State tests and AP exams determine job security, funding, and professional perception. Experimenting with new tools and pedagogy requires not only a learning curve but some risk-taking.

Gavel used in a courtroom.

The idea of “starting over” in your methods of teaching while being hyper-aware of the severe consequences for failure is daunting to all of us. Recognize this as you approach your faculty. Assuage their fears (give them test score amnesty for a year or assure them that you will present a united front should parents become frustrated). Assume the best of your staff, because that is what they are willing to give.

The world of educational technology is exciting, but it can also be frightening for some. There are a lot of tools out there and the connected world can seem chaotic to the uninitiated. Be professional with your fellow educators, understand their concerns, meet their needs, and be a champion for their growth and success.

This post appeared originally in March 2013 and was written by Jennifer Carey.

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