In his book Leading Change, well-known Harvard Business School John Kotter writes these words on the pace of change in our world:
“The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.”
If you work in the education space, you’re seeing how digital tools are transforming the way classrooms operate. Mobile devices and online content can empower students to take ownership of their learning—from kindergarten to the college level. All this excitement around education technology should make getting buy-in for new initiatives easy, right?
Unfortunately, many IT professionals have experienced the challenges of attaining the support they need to move forward. Lay out the costs of EdTech to the school board—from new hardware and software to the time and training required—and hands will raise. Didn’t we just buy new routers last year? Isn’t our Internet fast enough? Another scenario: present teachers with an exciting new tool, only to hear through the grapevine exactly which of your naysayers hasn’t even taken it out of the box.
Any new technology requires buy-in to make it successful. How can you convince everyone involved that your EdTech initiatives are worth investing in? Here are five ways.
1. Show them what’s at stake
Well-planned, thoughtfully-executed EdTech initiatives can increase academic performance, drive down costs, and increase student engagement, among a million other possible benefits. However, schools that are slow to modernize classroom technology will inadvertently have a negative impact on students’ futures.
Lisa Nelson, Technology Director at Douglass Independent School District in Douglass, Texas, was able to launch a successful 1:1 computing program for grades 7-12 last year, even though her district’s small size and rural location made it challenging. Why did she push so hard for EdTech? For the sake of their students.
Lisa writes for EdTech Magazine that “there’s no way a young person can compete in the workplace for trade jobs or prepare themselves for college work without tech literacy.” Make it clear that by giving students digital experience early on in their education, you’re investing in their future success.
Meeting the expectations of today’s students (and recent graduates entering the teacher workforce) is also key. Ensure your school leaders understand that you risk placing yourself at a competitive disadvantage if you eschew next-gen technology.
Students expect that tech will be a part of their lives wherever they are—school, home, or work. That’s why in a recent webinar (along with Lisa), Matt Federoff, CIO of Vail Unified School District in Arizona, said that he provides reliable wireless connectivity everywhere across their 19-school district—“across every site, on school buses… every corner, because that’s the expectation.”
2. Demonstrate the value of your EdTech investments
Will the benefits of EdTech outweigh the costs? That’s one of the most important questions purse string holders want to know, and advocating for technology funds can be difficult in budget-strapped districts. “Unless you have a superintendent fairy that gives you what you want, we’re all having the challenge to get the money to put towards technology,” said Lisa.
It’s one thing to request money for something fun and tangible, like iPads, Chromebooks, or digital projectors, because stakeholders can easily see the benefits. But requesting money for the unseen hardware and software that runs your IT infrastructure can be challenging, said Lisa. Help stakeholders see that without a network that can support new devices, the new devices won’t work. Your budget holders must understand that “investing in the backend part of this to work these devices is just as important as the devices themselves,” she said.
If your school leaders are tempted to follow bunny trails after trendy devices or opportunities, challenge them to look ahead five years, and strive to invest in what’s going to pay long-term dividends, said Lisa. Investing in your infrastructure will keep your tech running. And illustrating the impact this investment has had on past tech success will help to justify continued spend.
Watch the webinar “How Tech-Driven Schools Survive and Thrive” for more insights from Lisa and Matt on overcoming EdTech obstacles.
3. Involve teachers early on
What kind of technology do teachers want to use as part of their curriculums? Involving teachers in the decision-making process early on, and listening to their needs, will help secure their buy-in later.
Teachers don’t like decisions behind made for them behind closed doors, says Lisa. In getting their support for a 1:1 laptop program, she said “We didn’t buy the Chromebooks and just give them to them. We really included them in the process. ‘What is it you’re looking for? How can we help you?’” With teacher support from the beginning, “they own the program,” Lisa said. “It’s been a big, big help for smoothing over some of the issues you would have in implementing any program.”
Find the teachers who are excited about digital technology use and want to help you push new initiatives through. Lisa recommended even bringing them with you to speak with stakeholders.
4. Provide thorough professional development
“Really good, consistent professional development is a key cornerstone for all the initiatives I’ve implemented over the years,” Lisa said. Providing thorough training ahead of time prevents teachers from being overwhelmed when they’re in the classroom with students.
Lisa also orients her work schedule so that she is available to help teachers when they’re having trouble. Even though it may mean longer work hours, she said, “I like to be their support staff.”
5. Let students help champion the cause
Once you’ve rolled out new technology, you’ll likely still have less tech-savvy educators who are not interested in changing their didactic methods. If non-techie teachers aren’t using the digital resources you’ve provided, you may not even have to step in, Lisa said. Rather, it’s likely that students will take up the cause for you.
According to Lisa, her students will often push teachers to adapt of their own accord. They see that certain teachers are using technology more than others in the classroom, and, seeking consistency across their school day, go to teachers themselves to request change.
“Their first question is, ’Why can’t we do classroom like [so-and-so]?... You’ve got to change and modify because we don’t want a different situation in every single classroom.’ They really want it to be consistent,” Lisa said.
When buy-in seems impossible
What do you do with the sticklers who just won’t get on board with EdTech? After 25 years working in education technology and successfully taking his district completely textbook-free, Matt has seen his share of sticklers. There will always be “a good solid cohort of 5-10 percent of teachers who never quite get there,” he said. But those teachers don’t worry him, because “within five years they’ll have retired.”
The bottom line: as time passes, buy-in for EdTech initiatives is going to get easier and easier to get because the “traditional” way of doing things is less and less prevalent. “We just graduated 1000 students who never used a traditional textbook,” said Matt. “Time is on our side in terms of traditional ways of delivering curriculum… [they are] rapidly going away. And teachers expect that.”