Teachers need training, too

19th January 2018 at 00:00

Whatever attitude they hold towards new technology, teachers need training in how to use it. Technology underpins so much of what they do, whether they realise it or not. There isn’t a teacher in the land that has not, in the course of their day, used or felt the benefit of technology, be it a printed sheet of typed instructions at one end of the scale or an immersive virtual reality experience during a lesson at the other.

Teachers must simultaneously be challenged and supported in order to develop expertise with new technology innovations and implement new learning in their classrooms. That is a difficult balance to achieve, especially because, in every school, there is a mixture of experience and expertise, from Luddite, through casual user to technological genius.

So how do we get tech training in schools that works for everyone?

1. Before you start

Prior to thinking of training teachers in anything technology related – whether it’s a new website, a device or an app – school leaders need to realise that a piece of technology alone will not improve standards in the classroom.

Technology use in school is akin to a firework: it makes a fabulous light show with pretty stars and beautiful noises, but soon fades then disappears.

Schools usually fail to see that technology has to link with learning to be used successfully. “Train-track” learning is a good analogy. View the technology and the learning alongside each other, like a train track.

Think about what you want the staff to learn, how the technology would supplement this and how you could continue to utilise this connection to further staff and pupil knowledge. If the case stacks up but your staff struggle with technology, why not just ask them what training they want? It is a simple way to get staff on board and give them ownership of their own learning.

I recently did this at my school, when the majority of teaching assistants mentioned technology as an area they wanted help with. I sent out a questionnaire about what they wanted to learn and how.

Staff feedback was extremely positive and we now have suggested topics for technology training sessions for teaching assistants.

Next it is important to evaluate all school staff, to identify your tech champions, your blockers and your head-nodders: knowing your audience is the first step in any training, ed tech or otherwise.

Implementing new tech can be frightening for teachers on so many levels. Whether it is a fear of letting go of control, or that you do not have the right skills, or a concern about e-safety, online data or cyberbullying, many staff are simply scared. Tailoring your training to meet their needs will go a long way to allaying these fears.

Likewise, by identifying staff who have a decent grasp of technology or are enthusiastic adopters of change, your technology implementation can get a boost right from the start. Talk to these staff about the technology you will be introducing, show them how it works and how you intend to use it in school.

You can use these “champions” of tech in several ways: they can be supporters during training sessions, holding back a negative vibe; they can buddy up with staff who are less confident, supporting them through training; and they can even lead some of the training themselves, calming staff concerns with a team approach.

And then you need to plan. A lot. It is important to plan any training with technology, taking into account the school context, staff evaluation, the curriculum and school priorities.

There are a number of elements that dictate the length and duration of any training. Usually, a significant amount of money has been spent on new technology and, therefore, you need to plan several teacher training sessions to embed the technology into their practice. It’s about getting value for money, for example, having a one-hour staff meeting is clearly not sufficient to train people on new iPads but is quite sufficient to share a new iPad app.

2. Training with a purpose

Technology is so entwined in our daily lives that even the most stubborn tech resistor in your school will use technology in some way. The trick is to utilise even the smallest tech usage as a lever for change.

Most staff have email, order their shopping online or read the BBC website. Telling them that they use technology already and that this training will be just as easy to get to grips with is a positive start, so tweak your approach to make it seem this way.

What I find is that staff are motivated and skilled but lack a belief in their own ability to create tech-integrated lessons.

It is about reassuring them that they regularly create learning activities for many other subjects and that they can do this using technology.

I create mini activities, using the tech I am training them in, that challenge their creativity. For example, when I train teachers to use a particular iPad app, I will show them how the app works first. I will then give them a series of challenges to use the app to create some teaching activities. This method not only helps them to see the benefits of using technology with their students but also that they have the creative skill set to adapt it for their classroom.

When planning any technology training, find the right balance of doing and talking: nobody wants to be talked at for an hour. Also, you will deny the best aspects of technology by having a “look, don’t touch” approach. Be practical but not too technical – the less jargon the better.

3. Classroom techniques

For some reason, teacher professional development rarely gets the same treatment we give to classroom practice.

Even though the students in this instance are adults, they will still benefit from good-quality teaching. So when you are planning an ed-tech training session, consider how you can implement good class-teaching principles.

Most of the time, you will have a room full of teachers with a considerable range of skill levels, so you should differentiate your training as you would for students.

By taking this approach, you increase the likelihood that everyone in the room will get something out of the training.

Ongoing assessment during a training session is essential. You should closely monitor teachers’ understanding during a session and be prepared to act based on the feedback you are getting.

It is very important that you are flexible: if you realise that something is not going quite right or an aspect of the training is leaving some people puzzled, it is OK to stop and investigate that further.

Ask questions: to bring in the audience as well as to make sure that they are paying attention and that you understand how things are going. Try to avoid the worst-case scenario where you conduct technology training and believe that all staff have understood, only to realise months later that you will have to repeat the training.

4. Educate through play

Play forms an important role in every technology training programme I undertake: just because I am teaching adults, it doesn’t mean that I can’t utilise the best aspects of play that influence children’s learning.

When I bought iPads for all of the teachers to use, before I did any formal training, I handed them over to staff to try out over the summer holidays. I gave them no instructions, just a reminder about the school’s responsible use policy.

This enabled teachers to learn about the iPad at their own pace, self-educating by Googling problems and learning in their own time by playing with the technology. Staff used their own initiative, boosted by a subconscious permission to experiment. There are elements of risk to such an approach but this was a calculated gamble.

In my first training session after the summer break, I found that I did not have to concentrate on the basics of iPad instruction and could focus instead on more complex uses in the classroom.

So I always have a portion of training dedicated to letting staff “play” with technology. Teachers tend to react very positively and it establishes an ownership of the tech that produces an extremely creative output.

5. Post-training

After any technology training session, I always revisit what has been learned, whether it is in a formal observation, questionnaire or an informal staff chat.

I may have to revise the skills that have been learned or how to use a certain piece of technology. This is best done either through an hour’s staff meeting or a half-day’s session to revisit the original training.

Julian Wood is deputy headteacher of a primary school and a master computer teacher

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