We know technology can be a transformational tool for improving student achievement and engagement, and for driving school innovation. However, districts lose millions of dollars each year in unused education technology products, often because teachers lack professional development support that can help them overcome their fears around incorporating technology tools in their teaching practice.
Our research on the Dynamic Learning Project pilot (DLP) shows that when teachers have access to classroom technology coaches, they are more open to trying new technology tools and more empowered to use those tools in impactful ways that drive student engagement and learning.
Trying something new can be intimidating, especially when teachers are concerned about how to salvage a lesson if use of a new technology tool fails. As one DLP teacher put it, “It’s a little nerve-wracking when I’m learning a new tool and the students are learning it at the same time.” Coaches ease these fears by providing teachers with low-risk opportunities to try new strategies and tools with a safety net. Prior to implementing a new tool in the classroom, they can meet with teachers one-on-one to practice its use. During implementation, coaches can model use, co-teach side-by-side, or observe the teacher while poised to jump in if necessary.
One coach explains it to his teachers this way: “I’m going to ask you to try something new that you’ve never done before, but I have skin in the game, too, because I’m co-teaching with you. If it’s a complete disaster, you have another adult in the room to pull you out of the tailspin.” If a lesson fails, or if the teacher needs to adjust course part-way through, the coach serves as a thought partner to reflect with the teacher afterward on what can be learned from the experience. In this way, said another DLP teacher, the process of collaborating with a coach “really removes a lot of the anxiety around using technology.”
One early career high school math teacher was afraid that if she used technology to give her freshman students more independence and agency, productivity in the classroom would decrease. To assuage this fear, her coach suggested starting small with just one class period. Together, they piloted a “choice menu” of technology tools that gave students “the opportunity to choose from a few different avenues of displaying mastery.” Then, they met to discuss what worked and why, and to troubleshoot issues that arose. Seeing initial success with this “beta test,” the teacher began to feel more at ease “letting go of the reins” and making her classroom less teacher-directed. By the end of her collaboration with the coach, the teacher found that her initial apprehension had not been warranted; she reflected that “using technology to give students the opportunity for choices and creativity really leads to more engagement. Their grades have gone up. The quality of their work has gone up.”
Teachers are often afraid to try new technology tools because they worry they will lose control of their classrooms. Over the course of two years, we conducted 14 student focus groups to better understand this teacher concern from the perspective of students. The students we spoke with agreed that technology use during class can sometimes be a distraction and provided examples of “annoying” and “disrespectful” behaviors by their classmates, such as using technology to listen to music, send messages to their friends, or watch Netflix, rather than participating actively in a lesson. However, they went on to explain that these distractions occur when they feel their classwork is boring and irrelevant to their lives, and that this misbehavior is much less likely when lessons are engaging and they “actually have a motive to learn.”
These insights from student focus groups highlight the importance of designing engaging lessons and being responsive to student voice in how technology is harnessed in the classroom. An effective technology coach works with teachers to incorporate new technology tools in impactful ways that drive student engagement and learning.
Districts are more likely to see a return on investment in new technology when they provide teachers the support they need to implement it in their classrooms in ways that improve student outcomes. By harnessing the power of classroom technology coaches, districts can empower educators to overcome fears around using technology.
For more tips and best practices on building a successful coaching program, check out our new Instructional Coaching Playbook.