Harnessing teachers as drivers of change
In this article from Nesta, we consider teachers as drivers of change.
Most often, it is teachers who are the arbiters of when and how a technology is used in their school or classroom. They are also the ones with the most valuable insights into their own practice and the needs of students.
This positions teachers with great potential to positively contribute to the impactful use of technology in schools. However, this potential often remains unfulfilled. Across many of the interviews with teachers carried out as part of this research was a sense that technological change was something that happened ‘to teachers’ rather than ‘with teachers’. Too often, top-down programmes of change are imposed on schools leaving teachers - who in most schools are highly-trained professionals with unequalled insight into practice in their classrooms - repositioned as someone whose job is ‘largely to implement protocols and carry out instructions’.
As Michael Fullan writes: ‘If you take any hundred or so books on change, the message all boils down to one word: motivation. If one’s theory of action does not motivate people to put in the effort– individually and collectively– that is necessary to get results, improvement is not possible”.
Approaches to motivate and engage school leaders and teachers as active agents contributing to success can be broken down as follows:
A clear vision driven by outcomes (not technology) that addresses an urgent need: Too often the ‘technology’ part can dominate the vision of a product or programme, rather than its impact on teachers and learners. In the report from Nesta, each case study has a powerful vision driven by learning or social outcomes, for which technology is just a tool. Even where technology is presented as a tool towards an outcome, that outcome must be sufficiently urgent. As Colin Hegarty, Founder and CEO of HegartyMaths, argues, ‘The first thing you need to scale a solution is a genuine problem that schools feel a need to address’.
Provide a credible path to delivery, with high-intensity support during initial implementation: The school is a high-stakes environment for first using a new technology, with little room for manoeuvre if problems occur. The importance of training and support alongside the rollout of new hardware or software has already been emphasised (see ‘Scale’), but this is particularly important during the initial phases of a change programme. Articulating a clear and credible delivery plan - with contingencies to provide extra support if problems occur, particularly during initial implementation - was repeatedly cited by school leaders as vital to assuring schools of the likely success of a programme.
Create an opportunity for teachers to be part of a wider community or network of learning: In many of the case studies, schools were motivated to engage with a programme through clearly articulated opportunities for learning from their peers. These can be structured through more formal networks of schools disseminating best practice (see Case Study 5) or informal networks online (such as the Facebook groups used by teachers using Khan Academy in Brazil, see Case Study 9). These networks should be linked to efforts to ensure sufficient attention is paid to teacher training and capacity building and are helpful in ensuring that the impact of a programme remains sustainable after any initial implementation support decreases.
Thank you to Lucy Turner and Toby Baker at Nesta for their permission to share this extract from their report with you. Read the full report and case studies referenced here