I have just completed a learning journey in Prague. I was one of the very lucky teachers who were invited to be part of the 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. In this forum were over 100 teachers from all around the world. Each teacher had a project that was considered to be innovative. These projects pushed the boundaries and many used technology to transform teaching and learning.
While it is all well and good that students of these 100 teachers get to have exciting learning experiences, many students are still experiencing the status quo. How can we lead other teachers into using technology to transform student learning? How can we lead other teachers to design learning for the 21st century? Teacher resistance often comes up as a barrier. IMHO I like the term “resistance”. I don’t think teachers are actively resisting new approaches. It is not as simple as that. All teachers want the best for their students. To explore this I am going to use the iPhone as an analogy.
I currently own an iPhone and I am heading towards the end of my phone contract. I can choose the stay with Apple and upgrade to an iPhone 5 or move to an Android or Windows phone. At the moment I am very confident in using my iPhone for my needs. My iPhone is synced to other applications I use often and it is synced to my iPad. I use it to organise almost every aspect of my work. I have experimented and tweaked my iPhone over the years and made it work exactly how I want for my needs. It will take much more than a phone shop staff member to show me an Android or Windows phone to convince me to switch. Why should I let go of something that works for me for something else I don’t know how to use and may not do what I need it to do? The new phone could be great, but it might not. It is a massive risk to take.
My iPhone story is similar to why some teachers are hesitant to adopt a different way of designing their learning. Their way of teaching is like their iPhone. They have spent time and effort to learning, experimenting and tweaking the way they design learning for their students. Their way of doing things has worked for them.
A teacher with an innovative learning design is in some way like a phone shop staff member, trying to convince a long-term iPhone user to switch to an Android or Windows phone. If I was the teacher being convinced I would ask these questions:
- What are the advantages of this new way of learning design over what I currently have?
- How does this fit in with the way I do things in my classroom?
- How complicated will this be for me and my students?
- Can I experiment with it it first? Can I try a version of it and see how it works for me?
- Who else is doing this?
These questions are from Rogers’ 5 factors of diffusion of innovations and are asked by consumers before they decide to adopt a new technology. Are these questions considered when new practices are being showcased to teachers? There is little point in running professional learning sessions one after the other on innovative practices if teachers feel that it is too complicated or see little advantage over their current practices.
Leaders need to take teachers on a learning journey. We can’t just continue to show and tell teachers about teaching approaches they are unfamiliar with without considering their individual professional journeys. Just like a lot of people won’t just stroll in and buy an Android to replace their iPhone because a person say it’s better, teachers wouldn’t adopt a new way of teaching without many experiences that convinces them it’s the right way to go for them and their students.