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Tech Talk Live Blog

Thinking Like Teachers: Overcoming Lack of Buy-in From Faculty

Douglas Harvey


Sometimes it seems as if educators and technology staff in schools are speaking different languages. This is to be expected as the two roles come at a common goal – providing a quality educational experience for students – from somewhat different perspectives. The educator is in the classroom, dealing with students directly on a day-to-day basis, and tasked with ensuring that each student learns. The technologist works behind the scenes, and is tasked with ensuring that the infrastructure and tools are in working order to serve the needs of students, faculty, and administration.

This difference can lead to miscommunication and conflict since the two roles rarely overlap in the same space – neither sees how the other operates on a daily basis, nor do they get to understand the thought process behind things such as policies and requests. A teacher may be angry that it takes so long to unblock a website he needs for a lesson; a technology staff member may feel incredulous that a teacher is making a last-minute request for a website to be unblocked when time is needed to check out the site to ensure it will run properly for the teacher without causing problems for the network. Put more simply, the teacher is focused on his context – the classroom – while the technologist is focused on his context – the network and hardware.

This is not conducive to a positive culture for a school, and ultimately serves to derail technology roll outs. How can a school change its culture so that communication between faculty and technology staff occurs in a productive manner that serves the ultimate goal of student learning? The way I see it, the best hope lies in helping both sides come to a true understanding of how the other half thinks and more importantly why they think as they do.

The place to start is by identifying those teachers who are open to technology, and thus share the affinity of the staff member, but who are not necessarily technology “geeks.” That is to say they are not the first in on every technology, but are not opposed to or fearful of using technology. They fall in what Everett Rogers calls the “early adopters” in his famous Diffusion of Innovation Theory  – the 13.5% of any organization or group who will explore a new approach or tool to see if it has value, but are not going to adopt it simply because it is “cool” or “neat.”  They are important as they are more likely to discuss their thought processes honestly, as opposed to being either defensive or overly optimistic.

In talking with and observing teachers and technologists in schools over the course of my career, it seems to me the best situations are those in which teachers and technology staff spend time in the world of the other. This promotes opportunities for open communication that in turn allows each side to understand the perspectives and reasons behind decisions. This can be done by engaging in some of the following activities:

  1. Shadowing: Set up a program that for a day or several days allows teachers and technology staff to spend a large amount of time alongside the other in a typical workday. Allowing teachers a day or several days to observe technology staff in action can make seemingly oppressive policies seem much more reasonable. Conversely, a technology staff member watching the day-to-day life of a teacher can lead to an appreciation of how a teacher prioritizes his time. Admittedly this can be difficult to do in environments where everyone seems to be overworked, but the time spent shadowing can lead to time saved free of bickering and complaints down the road.
  2. Co-teaching: If your contract allows for non-instructional staff to engage in instructional settings with students, this approach can be highly effective. Working together enables technology staff and teachers to gain trust by sharing expertise and knowledge in support of a common goal. It also provides a window into the classroom experience for the staff member, and the planning for technology resources for the teacher, but in pursuit of a shared short-term goal.
  3. Inclusion of technology staff in team meetings: This can be difficult without a faculty member on the team who is already in good communication with the technology staff member. If done incorrectly such meetings can devolve into gripe sessions. However, if such meetings can be solution-oriented, with the technology staff member valued for their insight, trust can be established such that dialogues can safely begin.

All of these approaches share in common an assumption that both the technology staff and the faculty are going to enter into the process open to honest communication.​​

Watch Dr. Harvey’s complete Tech Talk Live presentation, ​Thinking Like Teachers: Overcoming Lack of Buy-In from Faculty, here.​

After receiving his D.Ed. in Instructional Systems from the Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Harvey began teaching as Assoicate Professor of Instructional Technology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Having taught several hundred teachers and technology coordinators, provided in-service training to schools, and been involved with schools as a consultant and as a board member, he has gained insight into factors that make technology support work in educational settings.

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