From Now On
|Vol 11|No 4|January|2002|
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The short version of this case is that teachers learn new technologies best within an adult learning context that provides great amounts of informal, highly customized support from colleagues who can generate trust while demonstrating skills and partnering in the construction of lessons that make sense.
Metaphors for Facilitator of Learning
Those who are assigned the job of supporting the growth of other teachers might quickly acknowledge that the terms "coach" and "mentor" may not adequately describe the broad array of functions and strategies required to achieve success. While coaching is quite apropos in many respects, it assumes that the facilitator will take a superior position to the learner - an assumption that would not match all situations or partnerships, since sometimes the facilitator is an equal partner in an invention or unit building process that is intriguing and challenging for all concerned. At other times the facilitator will profit from the sagacity and experience of the teacher who is supposed to be the recipient of assistance.
As a foundation building exercise for determining the traits of effectiveness, it pays to broaden one's conception of the many different roles a facilitator might play over the course of a month or a year in the position.
If the goal of the program is to reach most of the reluctant, skeptical, more traditional teachers, then care must be taken to avoid those roles likely to alienate or anger such teachers. For more on strategies to reach the reluctant teacher, see "Reaching the Reluctant Teacher" at http://fno.org/sum99/reluctant.html.
Signs of Effectiveness
Schools can measure the effectiveness of facilitator programs by tracking evidence of change in the daily practice of participating teachers in comparison with non-participating teachers.
In order to gather evidence of change in the daily practice of teachers and the types of learning enjoyed by students, a school contrasts the responses of participating and non-participating students and teachers to the two surveys below and repeats the survey every 2-3 months to track change. There are two forms of the EDP - one for teachers and one for students.
Scoring the EdTech Daily Practice Survey (EDP)
Certain clusters of questions provide evidence of growth or lack of growth in different aspects and on different program goals.
Districts may also add or delete questions to customize data collection to match local goals and interests. Each district or school may devise its own interpretive scoring strategy to create a statistical portrait of change.
Items 7, 9, 13 and 18 in the Teacher Survey, for example, all measure the level of commitment to personal and collaborative professional development.
A very positive response could be rated as a 4 point response, while a less positive response could be rated as a 2 point response and negatives could be -2 points and -4 points. A fully positive response to all 4 items would result in a score for that cluster of 16. A fully negative response to all 4 items would result in a score for that cluster of -16.
Teacher and student responses could then be charted over time for each cluster, showing the number or the percentage of staff members and students at each score at each point in time.
For those wishing to employ a more generic approach, a printed 6 page scoring guide to the EdTech Daily Practice Survey is available for shipping in February for $ 25.00 plus shipping. Order online at http://fno.org/fnopress/books.html. Prepayment is required.
Metaphors for Technology Facilitator
Cheerleader (back to top) Encouragement is fundamental. In order for teachers to risk a change in daily classroom practice, they must have the courage to move forward. The facilitator provides emotional support, recognition and relief from isolation and exposure. The teacher can experiment with a partner alongside, reducing the possibility of failure, embarrassment and frustration.
Sidekick (back to top) The facilitator does not have to be a lead teacher or an expert in all things technological or pedagogical. Sometimes it is better to tag along, admire, congratulate, offer support and allow the experimenting teacher to take the lead. This contradicts some of the standard definitions of mentoring because the mentor is almost always presumed to hold a superior position. Such power relationships can work to undermine the effectiveness of the position as they might provoke feelings of resentment.
Listener (back to top) Clearing the way for growth and change requires an intimate understanding of the needs, preferences and styles of each experimenting teacher so that support services can be customized. If the facilitator presumes to know all the answers without asking lots of questions and listening actively to each partner's unique interests, success is unlikely.
Fan (back to top) Teachers who make major strides toward changes in daily practice deserve admiration, applause and recognition. The wise facilitator avoids personal stardom and puts the experimenter in the spotlight. The facilitator exudes enthusiasm and respect like any avid fan.
Ally (back to top) Some changes in daily practice might require special adjustments in existing rules and procedures. The facilitator helps the experimenter steer through bureaucratic and organizational challenges, clearing the way so that the innovation stands a chance of thriving.
Finder (back to top) Successful change often requires resources that might seem rare or elusive to a teacher hard pressed to manage a full course and student load. The facilitator can help to gather and deliver such resources, whether they be links to curriculum rich Web sites, model lessons or release time to work on unit development.
Matchmaker (back to top) Some of the most lasting change happens when teachers partner with colleagues. Because the typical school day allows little time for the creation of teams and coalitions, the facilitator brokers and manages the team building process, putting good people together to invent unit plans and launch projects. Some match making occurs across schools.
Good Cop (back to top) In crime shows, one cop often takes a hard line with a prisoner while the partner follows up with gentleness, kindness and lots of support. In the case of schools, recent pressures for change from the state have created a situation in which facilitators can come to the support of teachers hard pressed to manage the new expectations of state standards.
Reporter (back to top) Who is doing what? If a teacher makes great strides, will anyone else ever hear about it? The facilitator can make sure these achievements are recorded, reported and broadcast in ways that are motivating and encouraging. If the teacher prefers a low profile, the facilitator respects that preference but makes sure to share quietly the teacher's successes with the administration and others.
Advocate (back to top) Experimenting teachers may not have the time or the influence to argue their case for change in whatever forums require attention, but the facilitator can do the presenting and arguing for them.
Ombudsperson (back to top) Change can lead to conflict, misunderstandings and hard feelings as teachers step out of behaviors that have endured for many years. Two teachers with conflicting styles and interests may collide as they each try new ventures, finding themselves both wishing the laptop cart in the same week, for example. The facilitator may act to reduce conflict, ease problem-solving and make fair treatment a priority.
Equal Partner (back to top) The facilitator may meet with a team of 2-3 teachers to build a new unit. The team is a group of equals. The facilitator may have more unscheduled time available to serve the interests of the invention team, but no one needs to assume a leadership role. Sometimes a "flat" team works better. The savvy facilitator avoids situations that create bad feelings because of perceived inequalities.
Learner (back to top) While many facilitators may be selected for their positions because they are seen as experts in curriculum rich integration practices, expertise is fleeting in the technology field. Smart facilitators present themselves as hungry learners rather than stuffy experts. They model adult learning and questioning rather than resting on their laurels.
Go For (back to top) Sometimes the experimenting teacher is too hard pressed to launch a new project. Perhaps a few quick errands will get them the special supplies or other resources they need to achieve lift off. The facilitator earns lots of credit for being willing to perform these errands enthusiastically.
Confessor (back to top) Things do not always work the first time. The path of experimentation may be littered with sharp edges. Students might complain about the changes and undermine the experimenter's feelings of success. If the facilitator is a good listener, the experimenter can unload feelings of guilt or frustration without fear or embarrassment, moving quickly to thoughts of strategy and change rather than bogging down in paralyzing emotions.
Sage (back to top) When the facilitator has seen others crash and burn using certain strategies, that knowledge helps to protect others from repeating the same mistakes. The collection of such history and understanding is akin to sagacity - wisdom forged in the fire of experience. Sagacity is different from expertise - kinder, gentler, softer and less haughty. "Been there. Done that."
Judge (back to top) While judgment can bruise and intimidate, the sharp edge of evaluation is an essential aspect of invention. The creation of new lessons, new programs and new initiatives works best when ineffectual aspects and elements are shed in favor of those which ring true and meet standards. If the standards are generated by participants, then the facilitator can avoid accusations of arbitrary or capricious judgments.
Performer (back to top) The facilitator should be able to walk the talk, but should also avoid hotshot maneuvers or flash dancing. Star behavior is likely to undermine trust and receptivity.
Downloader (back to top) It is rarely appropriate to drop ship or unload what the facilitator knows onto the experimenting teachers. Even if the experimenters say "Tell us everything you know about templates," the smart facilitator resists the temptation to step into such a feeding, filling or fueling role. In the long run, expertise is likely to undermine the relationship by feeding anxieties, uncertainties and discomfort about hierarchy.
Arranger (back to top) If a major goal of the program is the development of reasonably autonomous teachers - educators capable of developing and launching effective lessons without strong partners nearby, then the facilitator must take care to introduce the most powerful roles to the experimenters in the hope that they will take these roles onto themselves. If the facilitator does too much arranging, there is some danger that the experimenters may never take up the challenge. In the case of lesson building, arranging refers to the modification and adjustment of early efforts, as a musical arranger might alter the tempo and instrumentation of a particular song, bringing in unusual instruments or an entirely new bass line. If the facilitator re-arranges the first efforts of experimenters, they may resent the changes and the presumption that the facilitator (or father?) knows best.
Conductor (back to top) The facilitator hopes the experimenters will become effective conductors of student learning experiences, but unlike the conductor of an orchestra, the effective teacher will often provoke and manage student learning without standing up in front of the room waving arms. The facilitator might be tempted to try to orchestrate the efforts of the experimenters but will generally find conducting to be a role best passed along to the teachers.
Coach (back to top) The coach tends to call from the sidelines, but partnership may be more important (and effective) rather than superiority and expertise. The culture of schools is remarkably resistant to systems that aggravate perceptions of inequality.
Guide (back to top) How will teachers ever learn to find their own ways if they have a tour guide or museum guide always pointing out the main attractions, telling them what to think and feel and explaining things in great detail? The role sounds innocent enough, but guidance can develop dependencies rather than autonomy. "Leave the driving to us!" The facilitator shows the experimenters how to create effective guidance systems of their own.
Composer (back to top) The facilitator expects that teachers will show students how to make their own music, create their own melodies and invent their own ideas. Teachers will grown in their capacity compose effective unit and lesson plans but they will also see the importance of nurturing the growth of student composing skills.
Mentor (back to top) Mentor relationships work best when the person being mentored has requested assistance, has identified a trusted person as a potential mentor and has invited advice and support. A substantial difference in either age or experience is often an underpinning of such relationships. Such relationships rarely succeed when imposed or directed by others. In the case of educational technology, districts often select relatively young, technology savvy teachers to serve as mentors for teachers who may have more than twenty years of classroom experience. While the veteran teacher might feel like a novice when it comes to technologies, those feelings might not translate into a welcoming mat for a young mentor. Issues of pride and self concept can block learning rapidly.
Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
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