Most teachers are heading back to school buildings this fall with a new understanding of the variety of EdTech and STEM tools available to them. Teaching virtually or hybrid at least part of the 2020-21 school year was educational for everybody!
So as we transition into a new school year, there are definitely going to be tools we want to keep – as well as tools to set aside. But how many really beneficial EdTech purchases went unused by the majority of teachers in a school last year?
The answer might be as high as 90% in some districts. But the biggest issue isn’t always deciding which tools to keep or let go. It’s getting teachers on board with those decisions and implementing those tools into their classrooms.
Why is this a problem? Top-down directives hardly ever work. An administrator saying, “Let’s put in a makerspace!” isn’t necessarily going to motivate teachers to use it.
So what will?
Business and government organizations know that instituting large-scale changes can be so challenging that they actually bring in outside firms that specialize in organizational change management to help them implement new tools and policies.
Administrators and teacher leaders can use some of the same strategies to get teachers on board with their STEM and EdTech purchases so that they get used and students can benefit.
Change is hard…but not impossible
In the business world, there are several change management theories and structures that help them bring large-scale changes to their organizations.
But each structure has its own focus. Depending on the type of organization (or even the type of changes), one choice might be better than another. For instance, some are better suited to:
- Larger organizations (Kotter 8-Step Process for Leading Change)
- Smaller companies (Bridges Transitional Model)
- Strong hierarchies (McKinsey 7-S Framework)
- Free-flowing structures (Nudge Theory)
Obviously, education is quite different from most businesses. When we’re talking about the problem of unused tech products in schools, we’re usually focusing on a relatively small group of teachers.
And we know our teachers are often strongly independent!
So while there are many change management theories, the Prosci ADKAR Model is ideal for encouraging change within schools. Developed by Jeff Hiatt, an expert in organizational change management, the focus of this model is on the individuals within the group, so it’s supremely applicable to our teacher colleagues.
The Prosci ADKAR Method focuses on the challenges that prevent individuals from being able – or willing – to jump on board with new initiatives like magnet school themes/subject-area focus or EdTech solutions.
So let’s take a look at how each stage in the framework functions.
The ADKAR Method says that the first step is awareness of the need to change. But in schools, it might look more like teachers being aware that the product is there and available.
How many schools have a 3D printer that most teachers don’t even know is on campus? How about teams where one teacher advocated a schoolwide license for an EdTech tool but the other teachers don’t know it’s available for them to use, too?
The first step is making sure that your team knows what tools are available to them at your school. The best way is to not make purchase decisions in isolation. Team decisions tend to lead to better outcomes, anyway.
But it’s also a great idea to keep an open record of what has been purchased. There are a number of ways to do this:
- A shared Google Doc.
- A regular announcement at staff meetings of what’s been purchased and what remains available.
- An icon or page on the staff portal that alerts users when updated.
- A monthly tech update/newsletter that lists what’s available and what’s being considered (as well as what’s being expired and let go).
Or, even better, a combination of approaches.
An example: rather than a webpage that’s passively available for teachers to find, perhaps try a monthly email newsletter that’s actively pushed out to staff and reiterated at weekly grade-level meetings.
Whatever approach you take, the trick to a successful awareness effort is that it is active and updated often.
The second step in the framework is a desire to use the tools. But how do you make someone want to use something?
Teachers need to see where this is going to fit into their plans and that it makes something they have to do easier. If the tool doesn’t make something easier, then it absolutely needs to be doing something important that was missing.
For example, a mobile phone app that makes classroom management notetaking and student behavior tracking easier is probably going to be easily adopted. It’s:
- something teachers have to do anyway,
- on a device every teacher has available (so it’s more convenient than paper tracking),
- and is pretty simple to use.
A makerspace, on the other hand, is a challenging integration to get teachers involved with because it’s:
- an additional responsibility,
- something they must go out of their way to use,
- and comes with a pretty steep learning curve.
Widely adopted tools tend to have a strong base of teacher advocates who show fellow teachers not only how to use their tools, but also why they should use them. Teacher ambassadors tend to be the best way to get more reluctant teachers on board.
Decide who your school’s teacher ambassadors are. Who is excited to use the tool that you’re trying to get the team to use?
Gather those teachers. Get them collaborating to create a plan and share their excitement with their fellow teachers.
The next element in the ADKAR method is knowledge: do teachers know how to use the product?
The mistake many schools and districts make when trying to get teachers on board is starting at training rather than desire. But if teachers don’t know why they want to use it or can’t see where it fits into their plans for students, then no amount of training is going to get them on board.
But once you’ve got a few teachers who want to learn how to bring a tool into their practice, then training should take place. If it’s an easy tool to learn, then the desire doesn’t have to be as strong; curiosity can be enough of a driving force to get teachers to participate.
However, the more challenging to master, the more useful the tool must be.
One way GE brought 3D printing into more schools and classrooms was to make the platform easier for teachers and students to access. Before their proprietary platform was introduced, schools had 3D printers that most teachers didn’t know how to use, let alone be able to introduce or apply in their lesson plans. It was a waste of money and space.
Training and a simplified interface made the tool more accessible to teachers so that students could benefit.
Bonus note: to make training really effective, teachers must actively use the tool during training. Hands-on time with the product is essential to get everyone to the next step.
This stage in the framework asks schools to make sure that teachers have the ability to implement the tools as planned. It shouldn’t be left to the individual teacher to go out of their way to figure out how to “make it work.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as explaining what skill the tool helps to teach or assess.
Maybe it’s illustrating where it could replace a task in their unit plan.
Or it could be scheduling their class for time using the tool with a mentor or facilitator – especially if the teacher is still learning how to use it (this is great for coding platforms and other STEM tools!).
But this is where schools face quite a lot of conflict: it’s not always within the teacher’s control that they can’t bring the tool into their teaching practice. For example, it may seem like more trouble than it’s worth to keep students on-task while using a product. Or maybe a license for an EdTech tool that expires and takes weeks or months to be renewed by the school bookkeeper.
It’s at this stage that the most problem-solving may be needed. If teachers are struggling to implement the tool, identify the barriers.
What’s holding them back? It could be a legitimate logistics issue or even an internal conflict of expectations.
Once those barriers are recognized and removed, you can make forward progress.
The last element in the ADKAR model is to reinforce all the work you’ve done to sustain the change. Have you made it part of the practice and the culture?
If it’s a tool that most teachers will get on board with, then it naturally becomes part of what your school or organization does.
Reinforcement might also take an active focus on reiterating training and use policies. The Brookings Institute created a 2020 report entitled “Realizing the Promise” which frames it this way: “…past experience in rolling out education programs indicates that it is as important to have a strong intervention design as it is to have a solid plan to socialize it among stakeholders [emphasis added]”.
The key with reinforcement is that it works for your school and your teachers. Culture shifts as grade levels increase, and what might be valued at a small, rural charter school may not be the same as what teachers value at a busy, public middle school.
This might be as simple as saying, “Thank you for being one of the first people to really give this a try!” or even a “Congrats on being our most prolific program user!”
Or it could be the recognition that goes with opportunities like leading professional development.
Figure out what your team values and offer that to reinforce the good changes they’re making.
First step: Get your teacher leaders involved
Remember that the process takes time – especially if trying to integrate a tool within the school culture.
The way to begin is to bring your most reliable team members into your plans. Who are your teacher influencers? Who gets on board with techie stuff easily?
Start the awareness campaign with them, then hopefully:
- Awareness: As they make the changes and get on board with your purchase, they’ll be able to start sharing their successes with their colleagues.
- Desire: Their colleagues now know about the tools and – hearing that a respected teacher they know has done good things – now want to give it a shot in their classes next week.
- Knowledge: Maybe they ask for help, join an online professional development seminar, or figure it out on their own.
- Ability: More teachers are able to implement it in related lessons.
- Reinforcement: At the next staff meeting, the grade level lead gives a shout-out to the teachers who have been doing cool things in their classes with the program.
The key takeaway is that by focusing on a few team members at a time, eventually, the culture shifts. Teachers learn from each other and they are far more likely to try something new when a respected colleague has been successful with it.
And since EdTech tools only have value when they’re used, the students will start seeing the benefits, too.
What tips have proven valuable to your school for instituting the adoption of new EdTech tools? Let us know @SAMLabs on Twitter!