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Oh No. Not Another Tech PD.

I’m used to teaching at tech conferences. Teaching at a tech conference is like standing in front of a group of children holding a handful of candy; they are hanging on your every word, and they know that when you’re done talking, they’re going to have something SWEET to take home. They’re the best audiences; they’re there because they want to be, and they love to learn.

District training is another story entirely.

Teachers in a mandated professional development training session are a lot like students. Your three “Type A” teachers are sitting in the front row, furiously scribbling every word into their trendy notebook with a matching chevron-wrapped pen. The second row consists of teachers feigning polite attention, but eventually, they tune out while alternating between writing lesson plans and checking their Facebook. And then there’s the last row… either sleeping, talking to each other about that new ELA teacher who wears *gasp* flip flops, or mumbling about what a complete waste of time professional development is and THEY WOULD RATHER BE WORKING IN THEIR CLASSROOM RIGHT NOW. 

Yeah, I get it.

Technology is not every teacher’s cup of tea.

I think the problem is that so much of it is forced upon us by well-meaning instructional technologists and district personnel, and teachers have become cynical and disillusioned. A lot of these “magic bullet” technologies are completely irrelevant to what we teach, and it becomes a major PAIN to incorporate it because it has nothing to do with our content.  I’ve had some pretty crappy tech dumped on me in my short tenure by several excited administrators. The conversation always begins like this:

We want ALL OF YOU to use this EVERY DAY. It’s going to CHANGE the WORLD!!!!

Um, nope. And I’ll tell you why.

Technology is not a one-size fits all endeavor. Nor is it a magical, mystery, data machine. Nor is it going to improve EVERY SINGLE STUDENT test score by 150% (true story, one company actually pitched that. They did not appreciate my ill-timed derisive snort.) The sad fact is, technology is only as good as the teacher who uses it. That’s why it’s crucial that instructional technologists and administrators start listening to what the teacher needs.

An ELA teacher might benefit from a vocabulary program; a computer science teacher will not (especially if the vocabulary program doesn’t include technology terms.) A better solution may be a program that allows the teacher to design the word lists. A math teacher might see the value in a pre-packaged gamified math program that adjusts to the student level; other math teachers may hate that idea because they recognize that the kid has learned how to game the system to consistently work at an “easier” level.

The point is, the teachers KNOW what they need. Talk to them before you sink a huge chunk of your budget into a tool that won’t help anyone. They may not be able to articulate the exact program they need, but hey, that’s YOUR job to figure out. Teachers number one complaint is I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

So give them something they want to make time for.

Hint: It’s not going to be the same thing for everyone. Differentiation, y’all.

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