Having both a clear vision and a healthy school culture are essential foundations before adopting new and innovative practices. According to ASCD, school culture is the way “teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share.” These beliefs and values have a huge impact on instructional decisions and student learning. So if a school is adopting a new technology initiative, school leaders should take the time to create a shared vision and culture for using technology. If teachers believe in the positive influence technology can have on student learning, then there will be forward momentum by staff working towards a common goal. Likewise, a school should have a strong and prevalent mission and vision statement. Aguilar (2015) argues that a school mission and vision help educators to feel that they are on the same page and that it offers direction when decisions need to be made. A shared mission statement and vision “motivates, unifies, and guides all stakeholders in their day-to-day operations” and comes “alive in the hearts and hands of those doing the work” (Aguilar, 2015).
Creating a Shared Vision and Culture
How do coaches inspire educators and create a shared vision and culture for using technology? How can principals, teacher leaders, and coaches ensure staff buy-in? Below are some helpful tips to consider when working with your school’s staff.
Laugh. Try and include humor in your staff meetings – look up comic strips regarding teaching and/or technology. There are a lot out there. It is a great way to break the ice and create a more laid-back and comfortable environment.
Ask for opinions. Asking teachers what they think creates buy-in. If teachers get to help create the school’s technology vision and culture, they will take more ownership.
Communicate that every voice counts. When creating a shared vision, make sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. “When more students are involved in the class, their confidence increases, and they will drive their learning proactively rather than passively letting the teacher own the experience” (Piotinsky, 2019). While this statement was talking about students, I think it can apply to adult learners as well. Here is one activity you can do with your staff to allow them to express their ideas.
- Chalk Talk (Foltos, 2013, p. 106-109)
- There is only one rule: no talking. Participants discuss their ideas using chalk, whiteboard markers, pens, digital devices, etc. This keeps the conversation from being dominated by a small minority of outgoing teachers. Teachers can draw lines to link ideas, highlight or add stars for emphasis, or include follow up questions on certain ideas. This is a great way to flush out ideas and give everyone a space to contribute.
Emphasize growth. The school vision regarding technology should encourage staff members to try new things and be risk-takers. Educators need to move out of our comfort zones to grow. However, this can be hard when there is the “added pressure of high-stakes testing and emerging models of teacher evaluations” (Marcinek, 2014). Principals need to encourage teachers that they are looking for small baby-steps. Nothing crazy. They can assure teachers that it is okay if the wifi drops, or the lesson doesn’t go as planned during an observation. The focus should be on the process toward the learning goals or objectives (Marcinek, 2014). Coaches can also support a risk-taking environment by being upfront about their own mistakes in the classroom or by being vulnerable during staff meetings and professional development. We all are on a never-ended continuum of learning and perfecting our craft. Without mistakes, we won’t get better. #failforward
Personalize professional growth plans. Once the vision statement has been created collectively, teachers should be empowered to pursue tech-related goals that are interesting to them. Perhaps that is using technology to make learning activities more engaging, collaborate with students and experts outside of their schools, or create tech-infused performance tasks that demonstrate their learning. Choice and agency is a powerful way to increase ownership and engagement.
Dedicate time. Once the school’s technology mission statement and vision are created, staff should spend time collaborating and reflecting on how they are working towards the shared vision. By dedicating and protecting this time, you communicate to staff that it is a priority. If there is never a time and place to do this work, the school’s tech mission and vision will be lost.
Carrying It Out…
How do you carry out the shared vision? How do you define 21st-century learning and evaluate lessons for effectiveness?
Once you have a technology mission statement and vision, it is helpful to give teachers and staff the practical tools on how to carry out that vision for 21st-century learning. Les Foltos (2013) outlines a helpful process coaches can use with their staff in order to establish a “norm” of effective learning. Start by having your staff collectively create a portrait of a graduate and discuss what skills students need when they leave your school.
This will give your staff an idea of what the ultimate goal is. Next, discuss what are the traits of effective instruction. In other words, what do we (the teachers) need to do in order to equip students with the 21-century skills they need to be successful. Some items that may be on your list are:
- Help students develop communication and collaboration skills
- Work through a problem-solving process
- Encourage student agency and give choices
- Have students analyze and synthesize information
After a list has been written by the staff, connect those traits of effective instruction back to research. This is an important step so that teachers’ and coaches’ thoughts on traits can be grounded and justified (Foltos, 2013, p. 109-110). This list can be turned into a checklist that coaches and teachers can refer to when planning new lessons or evaluating existing lessons for effectiveness. That way everyone is on the same page and knows what the norm is. “The norm for effective instruction is a road map that describes what teachers need to do to improve their practice and specifics on how to shape teaching and learning activities to reach their goals” (Foltos, 2013, p. 105). With the help of educational leaders, coaches, and teachers, Les Foltos created the “Learning Design Matrix” that provides a shortlist of the various qualities of effective instruction.
Your checklist of effective instruction can become a powerful tool, but only if teachers are given the dedicated time and space to collaborate with coaches or other teachers to develop these instructional skills. The checklist may also be overwhelming for teachers, but coaches can work with them to choose small, specific goals that are more manageable. For example, amplifying student voice with the use of technology or have students engage in active learning.
Creating a shared vision and staff culture for embracing technology is a big feat. However, it is paramount to ensure staff buy-in. Once teachers share in the vision, pedagogy and instructional practices will begin to shift which will have a direct impact on whether our students are ready for an ever-moving, fast paced, digital society.
Aguilar, E. (2015, July 16). Cultivating Healthy Teams in Schools. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/cultivating-healthy-teams-schools-elena-aguilar
ASCD (n.d.). School Culture and Climate. http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/school-culture-and-climate-resources.aspx
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2018). Learning Design Matrix. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek
ISTE Standards for Coaches (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Marcinek, A. (2014, May 20). Tech Integration and School Culture. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/tech-integration-and-school-culture-andrew-marcinek
Plotinsky, M. (2019, October 10). Creating a Classroom Culture of Shared Ownership. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/creating-classroom-culture-shared-ownership