December 12, 2017 by Rhonda Kinstner
Narrowing down the focus of my innovation project was a process in itself. As an instructor of technology, I could think of so many changes I’d like to make at my school, but ultimately, it was classroom innovation that I considered to be the biggest concern. The truth is that teachers in my building have ready access to the digital tools they need, but they haven’t been motivated to use them more effectively. I decided that I would focus my innovation plan on motivating change. My literature review included much evidence that professional development alone wouldn’t change how we teach. It’s time and continuous support that need to be the focus, and neither are easily accessible in the world of public K-12 education. It became clear to me that I could potentially make the change I wanted if I approached professional development differently, in a way that would motivate. My plan was to create blended learning environments throughout my building – classrooms in which teachers would use technology tools to combine their traditional teaching strategies with more innovative processes. When I decided to focus on creating blended learning environments, I had the power to scope out apps to any iPads in the building, providing whatever tools our teachers might need and suggesting new ones that they may not have used before. I had the ability to model the use of the devices, so that my colleagues could see innovation in action. If I could provide evidence that it’s effective, and that it’s worth their time, they would be more willing to try something new.
In the fall of 2016, I began hanging TECH NEWS posters in the faculty bathrooms at school, where I knew that people would read them. The newsletter shared information about the tools students were using in the lab, and included suggestions about recommended apps, and how iPads could be used creatively in the classroom. The publication got people talking. Some asked for me to share it with them digitally, and others took advantage of the information and asked me for help using technology in their rooms. I began to push in to their classrooms to assist them with introducing new technology tools to their students.
I believe that social influence is perhaps the biggest of the six main sources of influence (Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan, Switzler, 2013). Based on my experience, nothing compares to observation of those around us as a way of making change. The teachers I worked with talked to other teachers, and I realized we were on to something. I began team teaching with willing participants in my building. We planned lessons together, combining their traditional strategies with my more innovative tools, and we created activities that allowed students to approach learning from a different perspective. During the spring semester, I pushed in to the classrooms, gradually releasing the instruction and lesson to the teachers.
The push-in was successful, and student results were great. The teachers I worked with shared their experiences with other teachers in their grade levels, which encouraged them to try some new tools as well. By May, the push-in had generated quite a buzz, and changes were visible. Then, I found out that my two most innovative volunteers were being transferred to another, more innovative school. It was disappointing to lose two of my biggest influencers.
I planned my call to action to start officially during the fall of 2017, knowing that the loss of my innovative trendsetters would mean I’d be essentially starting over. My principal had been very supportive, and welcomed my leadership in staff meetings, when time was allowed. So I designed my plan to include scheduled staff meeting instruction, combined with push-in team teaching. I would share a participation chart in the lounge, and gather feedback from every teacher I worked with throughout the semester. I was actually excited about making change.
Then, I returned to school in August to a new principal, new staff meeting scheduling, and new job responsibilities that no longer included iPad app management. Not only did I no longer have access to purchasing apps and scoping them out to the iPad carts; I couldn’t even see what apps had been provided to which classrooms in my building. Teachers were just as upset to learn that they would have to put in IT request tickets for any changes they needed made to iPads. That changed everything. It added more tasks to my co-workers’ already unforgiving schedules. It communicated to me that it’s not my job to manage apps or how they’re used. Adding to the disruption was the fact that my new principal, who is awesome and extremely supportive by the way, had higher priorities for building improvement. She welcomed my participation in team teaching and pushing in, but there just hasn’t been time for me to provide instruction during staff meetings this year, which is a result of district mandated presentations and building improvements. That’s understandable. And the fact that our meetings were scheduled differently this year changed my entire schedule and plan, anyway.
In a nutshell, I have seen some great success in innovation at my school, despite the fact that my plan hasn’t been executed like I’d hoped. I am still available to willing teachers, and I continue to post my TECH NEWS, but getting the group together for instruction and discussion just isn’t an option at this point of time. That doesn’t mean I stop trying to make change. It just means it’s time for Plan B.
Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change: 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.