The Most Dangerous Phrase In The World

If you’ve been in education for a while there is a phrase you’ll hear regularly if you listen for it. It’s just seven little words but the impact of those words can be enormous. The people who utter this phrase often mean well, but it rarely leads to much that is positive. This phrase can kill a potentially good idea, ruin a worthwhile initiative or demoralise others who want to make a difference.

It may just be the most dangerous phrase in the world.

The phrase is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

You may have been on the receiving end of these words. Perhaps you came up with what you believed was a brilliant, clever, innovative or time-saving idea. You honestly feel your idea can improve an existing outcome and make a huge difference. So you approach your colleagues with your idea, knowing that by making just a few simple changes the world will be a better place. And while they might listen and thank you for your interesting suggestion, they inform you of all the reasons why your idea cannot possibly work, because the way things are currently done is just the way they’ve always been done.

It might not be said with these exact words, and it sometimes comes in many variations. There’s “We tried that years ago and it didn’t work”, or “We’d never be able to do it because the others won’t go along with it”, or “That might be ok for other schools but it would never work here”, or even the time tested “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However it’s phrased, the message is essentially the same; we like the way things are and we don’t want to change them.

The irony is that while all these phrases are used to resist change, the world around us constantly changes. Change is just a natural thing.

We want our students to learn, which is just another way of saying we want them to change. Of course we want them to be better tomorrow than they were today. We want them to know more at the end of each term than they knew at the beginning. We want them to be more mature, have more wisdom, and make better decisions. All of that is based on the idea that they need to change. We call it growth.

And yet, far too often in schools we see systems and processes that stubbornly resist change. We see outdated curriculum, often locked in time by static syllabii and aging textbooks. We see processes being repeated each year, often without ever stopping to consider whether there may be a better way. We sometimes stick with “proven” tools and technologies without looking around to see if there may be better alternatives. And we also see the occasional teacher who does not realise that their 30 years of teaching experience has in fact been one year of teaching experience, repeated 30 times.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it”, or TTWWADI for short, is the reason we see the same old worksheets, the same old assessment tasks, the same old resources, used year and year. It’s also often the reason that we structure our schools in ways that contradict everything we know about how students learn most effectively. We want to make decisions in the best interests of our students, but we don’t because those decisions often contradict the way we’ve always done things.

Despite the fact that the outside world changes constantly it is still far too easy to find classrooms that don’t. TTWWADI-thinking does a grave disservice to the students that pass through those classrooms.

I recently overheard two sisters talking. The younger of the pair had the same teacher that her elder sister had five years before. Despite the five years that had passed, the older student was listening to her younger sibling talk about the work she was doing in class and remarking “Oh yes, I remember doing that assignment when I had that same teacher”. Unless that assignment was perfect and timeless, repeating it year after year without considering alternatives makes is seem like that teacher is simply on autopilot.

As this new school year begins, stop and think about what you’re doing. Are you reaching into your files and digging out the same teaching program you used last year? The same activities and worksheets you gave your students last year? The same letters to parents that were sent home last year?

If you’ve been in a school for more than a few years, think about how much has changed in the world around you. Even just five short years ago, most of us were not storing work in “the cloud”, or working collaboratively with others on shared documents, or learning by being digitally connected through various social streams. Technology provides great examples of these rapid changes but it’s hardly the only area of change. (Although you could probably argue that technology is the main driver that is forcing change in so many other areas). However you look at it and whatever the driver may be, it seems that change really is the only constant.

So why do some teachers embrace change and get excited about the possibilities of doing things in new and different ways, while others cling doggedly to doing things in ways that they have always done them? Why do some people immediately dismiss new or innovative ideas because they are not “the way we’ve always done it”?

Before exploring that question, it’s important to also recognise that just because something is different does not necessarily mean it’s better. Some of the things we repeat year after year may be done that way because they actually are the best way to do them. It can be exhausting to constantly be reinventing wheels that have already been invented. We don’t need to throw out everything we do and start again but we certainly should look at everything we do with fresh eyes and continually ask ourselves the critical question “Is there a better way to do this?”  

Carol Dweck’s work on the ideas of Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset is a good place to start. Without restating all of her research, essentially Dweck found that people see their world differently depending on whether they embrace a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. That is, whether they believe they are capable of growing and changing, or not. Those with fixed mindsets tend to believe the abilities they were born with, or that they have right now, are the abilities they will always have. Those with growth mindsets believe that they are capable of growing, so they see change as an opportunity for learning and trying new things. Ironically, having a fixed mindset is not fixed; once you realise that you are limiting yourself with this kind of thinking you can catch yourself doing it and consciously decide to respond differently.

Responding differently is hard. It’s not always easy to see past “the way we’ve always done it” and reimagine how things might be done differently because many of us have not been conditioned to think this way. But you can start by consciously and deliberately asking yourself one very simple question. Begin by asking yourself “Why?”

  • “Why are the desks in my classroom arranged like that?”
  • “Why do my students do that same geography assignment every year?”
  • “Why do we always study that same novel?”

Thinking bigger, consider some of the many aspects of school we take for granted, such as…

  • “Why is our school day structured the way it is?”
  • “Why are our lessons 50 minutes long?”
  • “Why does the school day start at 8:30 and finish at 3:00?”
  • “Why do we group students according to the age they were born?”

As you begin to ask “why?”, take note of your answers. If you find yourself answering the question with “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” then dig a little deeper. Why have you always done it like that? Is it because it is the best way? Maybe it was the best way at one time, but is it still the best way now? Could there be a better way? So many of the things we do, we don’t even think about anymore. We get so used to the way things work that we forget to question them.

One easy (and fun) thing you can do is simply to visit other schools. Just walking into a different environment and looking around can be enlightening. When you walk into someone else’s classroom you cannot help but notice how things are done differently. You find yourself noticing little things and saying “That’s interesting. I wonder why they do it like that?” You’ll see ideas that you hadn’t thought of. Ways of doing things you hadn’t considered. And when you return to your own classroom you’ll see it just a little bit differently. Looking outside the world you experience every day helps you have fresh eyes.

Consider this. Kodak, the once great film and camera company, is these days little more than a footnote in the history of photography. The reason? Their entire worldview was rooted in the idea of film cameras and film processing. When digital photography came along they dismissed it as a fad because it was “not the way we’ve always done it”. They failed to respond to the changes around them and that failure hit them hard. History is full of similar examples where entire industries – often large, seemingly entrenched empires – have been decimated because of their failure to respond to change. The Swiss watch industry refused to adopt the quartz movement because it was not the way they always made watches. It took them years to recover. The record industry initially rejected digital downloads because they were not they way they always distributed music. They eventually relented, but it put them years behind where they could have been had they chosen to lead that change. The list goes on.

There is no denying that we live in a world of enormous change, where a single technology can make “the way we’ve always done it” obsolete very quickly. As educators, we need to be leaders in the ability to change and adapt and learn. The students we teach today will be the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and world-changers, and will be the ones who must address the big, wicked problems that need be solved in our future. If we want the education we offer to our students to be the key to making the world a better place, then we need to develop mindful, creative, critical thinkers, who constantly ask “why?”

We will never get the future we want if we keep saying “that’s the way we’ve always done it”.

An edited version of this post was also published as an article in the March 2016 edition of Education Technology Solutions Magazine


Removing Friction

videostoreWith Google turning 15 last week, I’ve been pondering  about just how much friction has been removed from our lives because of technology (and web technology in particular).  Thanks to the web, many things that were once difficult, expensive, complicated or time-consuming have been made less of all of these things, and much of the inherent friction in these things has been dramatically reduced, and in some cases even eliminated completely. This removal of friction hasn’t always been painless, and many industries have been decimated by the massive disintermediation that  digital technology has brought to them.

Take the music industry as an obvious example.  In the space of about a decade, we’ve seen a huge shift from the idea of buying music on plastic disks to that of downloading music from “somewhere on the Internet”, hopefully by still paying for it with some sort of subscription model like Spotify or Google Play All Access, but all too often pirated for free from torrents and filesharing services. Aside from the  freedom of cost, it’s far more about the freedom of choice. I use the All Access subscription service and I love how it lets me think of pretty much any song I want to hear and immediately stream it directly from the web. I’m listening to more music than before, and paying what feels like a fair price for it. The record companies who used to control the music business are no longer in charge, and in a post-Napster world, the idea of buying music one CD at a time seems so outdated. Along with the power shift in the music business there have also been massive disruptions to the way the money flows. Artists are free to bypass the labels. Thanks to the web, to YouTube, to iTunes, etc, indie artists have the same opportunities that were only afforded to big names bands attached to major labels. More musicians can now play in this space, and it’s all thanks to the way the web has removed so many of the friction points that used to exist between musician and listener.

Example two. We saw the photographic film business almost vanish in a few short years because of digital cameras. Those 24 hour film processing places that either didn’t see the change coming, or didn’t react to it fast enough, were simply crushed by the revolution of digital photography.  It was a case of evolve or die, and many simply died. Kodak, once the titan of the photographic film industry, closed down their film production business and these days they are barely more than a footnote in the history of photography.  The inconveniences of shooting with film, like being able to take only 24 photos at a time, the fact that you couldn’t see what you shot until you got the photos back days or weeks later, and of course the expense and inconvenience, all conspired to make film photography an easy target for any technology that would make it simpler, faster and cheaper. While a few diehards still swear by film, it turns out that for the general photo-taking population, digital photography removed so much the friction from the cumbersome process of taking photos that the old ways of doing things became obsolete almost overnight.

Thanks to my Apple TV and Chromecast I haven’t set foot in a video rental store in many years.  The fact that  video rental stores still exist at all is just because of that percentage of the population who are still hanging on to their old ways. I’m sure that once Netflix arrives in Australia it will be the final nail in the video store coffin. These online digital download services remove almost all of the friction from the process of renting videos. No more getting in the car to go to the video store, no more futzing around with disks and having to remember to return them, no more sitting through endless ads before the movie starts, and no more late fees. Delivering video over the web has removed most of those pain points, and in the process has virtually killed the physical video rental business.

Then there is banking. I hear my 81 year old mother talk about how she still goes to the bank to get money out, or to the post office to pay her bills. Although I’m old enough to remember what that was like, I can’t imagine doing it that way any more. The web has removed so much of the friction from those things, there is no going back to the old way.

The list goes on… thanks to the web, we can more easily keep in touch with old friends, share our locations, publish our ideas, map our way through strange cities, and much more… faster, cheaper and more simply than ever before, and decimating the incumbent industries along the way.

Although I still know plenty of teachers who complain that technology is hard, that it’s all too overwhelming, the truth is that technology, and the web in particular, has made things easier than ever. It’s easier than ever to network with ideas, learn from others, and connect our students with the learning experiences we want them to have. Thanks to the rise of the web, we are living in a time which is, potentially, the fastest, cheapest and easiest it has ever been to be a learner.

So ask yourself, how has the web changed your classroom? Your school? Your profession? Your life? Are you doing the same things you’ve always done? Or have you seen these changes coming and reinvented your approach to the way you teach and learn? Has the web changed your job, and in the age of the Internet, have you reconsidered what exactly your job IS these days?

It should be obvious that the world has changed forever because of digital and network technologies, and that the genie is never going back into the bottle. Despite the apparent fact that a large number of schools still believe that they can keep doing what they have always done and everything will be ok, education is no more exempt from these changes than any other industry.

What are you doing to ensure that your classroom will not become the educational equivalent of a video store?

The Digital Shift

old tvIn 1963, when I was born…

Television was delivered over the airwaves. In black and white. We had four channels to choose from and we had to get out of our seat to change them. And we hardly ever heard a swear word.

Radio was only available using an AM signal. In mono. If you didn’t like the song that was on, you could switch to the other station. If you wanted to listen to music on the go, you had a small transistor radio with a tinny speaker or a single earpiece. And if you wanted to hear “your show”, you had to listen while it was being broadcast.

Newspapers were printed on paper and printed every 24 hours. The time between a story happening and us finding out about it was often several days. Which stories made it into the newspaper was decided by an editor somewhere. The text on the page was made by rolling ink across the tops of slugs of lead in shape of letters, assembled to make sentences, and then pressing those inked letters against paper. The paper was then folded, cut, bundled onto trucks and delivered to your local newsagent where you had to go to buy it.

Photography required the use of film, a long strip of plastic covered in a silver emulsion. You could take either 12, 24 or 36 photos at a time. Once you’d taken all the photos that would fit on the roll (and only then), you had to send them away to be developed. This usually took about 2 weeks.

Moviemaking also required film. It was a continuous strip of 8mm wide plastic and required a dark room and a projector to view it. Each reel went for 3 minutes. They were expensive to process, and hardly anyone ever bothered to edit them. Having sound was an expensive luxury.

Music was stored on round black disks called records, which had long spiral grooves etched into them that mirrored the soundwaves that described the music. It was, quite literally, an analog of the waveform. Later, you could get audio cassettes that could hold either 60 or 90 minutes of music. You had to flip them over halfway through, usually in the middle of a song. Solving technical problems with cassettes required the use of a pencil. The audio quality, in hindsight, was awful.

oldphoneTelephone calls were made from home, sitting next to the phone. If it was a long distance call you had to think in three minute blocks of time. You only called long distance on special occasions like Christmas or birthdays, and you had an egg timer sitting next to the phone. Telephones were made for making telephone calls. That’s all.

It’s now 2013.

In those 50 years that have passed, most people would agree that some of these things have undergone a few changes, and those changes have occurred mostly because they went digital.

Television went digital. It is now far more likely to be delivered over a cable In full high definition colour and 3D, with 5.1 surround sound. If you don’t like what’s on, you can choose from hundreds of other channels. If you want to watch something else entirely, you can stream on demand via YouTube or some other web-based video service.  Oh, and there probably will be swearing. Lots of swearing.

Radio went digital. You now have dozens and dozens of high quality FM transmissions to choose from. You can take your listening mobile in your car, or go portable on your MP3 player or phone. You can timeshift your listening by storing your favourite radio shows as podcasts and listen whenever it’s convenient. Or listen to stuff that you find interesting that would never make it on the radio.  All for free.

News went digital. Multiple streams of news, based on your interests, can be delivered to you almost as it happens. You can choose your sources; global, local, hyperlocal. You can contribute to the stream if you choose. You can comment, argue, debate. You can participate. Twitter redefines what we mean by news, and can help start revolutions in the process. We can find out about anything, anytime, anywhere. For free.

Photography went digital. You can now take as many photos as you want, in massively high resolution. You can see them immediately after you take them. You don’t have to wait. You can enhance them, fix them, or delete them if you don’t want to keep them. You can share them instantly with anyone, anywhere in the world. Immediately. For free.

Moviemaking went digital. You can now shoot movies in ultra high definition. With sound. You can view them immediately, edit them in ways that only professional studios could once do, share them easily with your family and friends. You can send them to any device you like, to watch right away. For free.

Music went digital. The processes for creating, storing, distributing and sharing music are dramatically different. Using services like iTunes, Pandora or Spotify, you can listen to any music you like, whenever you like, however you like, on whatever device you like. It’s delivered in high quality stereo. It’s editable and remixable. You can swap and share music with others, anywhere in the world. For free.

Communication went digital. Telephones have morphed into mobile “devices” that can be carried anywhere, making you contactable wherever you are. Voice signals now travel the world over thin glass threads at the speed of light. VOIP software like Skype or Google Voice let you talk to anyone, anywhere, for as long as you like, with multiple people. With video too if you want it. For free.

And the best part of all? Because all of these things share the same digital heritage of zeros and ones, they can be easily mixed and mashed, and can live on the same clever device, bringing us true digital convergence.

So think about it. Think about just how much the rules have changed.  In a mere 50 years – barely a blink really – we have gone from a world where things that were hard to do have become easy, things that were time consuming to do have become instant, things that offered few options now come with seemingly unlimited choice, things that were expensive have become virtually free, things that were once scarce are now abundant.

Think about what that does to the world. What happens to economics when scarcity swaps places with abundance and expensive things become free? What happens to the human experience when time-consuming things become instant and difficult things become easy?  What happens to society when things that once required special training and special equipment are now within the reach of anyone who wants to do them?

In less than 50 years we have essentially shifted from an analog world to a digital world. The implications of that change have affected virtually every field you can think of. It’s difficult to imagine how an industry like banking or travel could possibly have ever functioned without the use of digital information and communication technologies. Like it or not, this digital genie is never going back into the bottle.

So, what are your survival strategies for a digital world?
What sorts of things do you do to feel at ease in a digital world?
What are the essential skills, mindsets and attitudes that one needs for a digital world?
What moral and ethical stances make sense in a digital world?
How do you become a productive, responsible citizen in a digital world?
How do you stay safe in a digital world?
How do you decide what is public and what is private in a digital world?
How much do you share in a digital world?
What defines appropriate in a digital world?

These are the sorts of questions we should be asking ourselves as we aim to be productive members of a society gone digital. Ironically, while some of these things require a serious rethink, many of the answers may simply be an evolution of those that applied in the analog world. The question is, which ones?

And once you figure it out, how do you help children figure it out? Because for them, this is the only world they’ve even known.

A Remarkable Life

Nanna Brown and II know this rather personal post is out of character for this blog, but I felt I wanted to post it anyway…  I hope you don’t mind.

My grandmother died this week. The funeral was today, and it was a tough day to get through.  I was brave on the outside because my mum needed me to be, but on the inside, I cried a lot.

I really loved my Nanna Brown. She was an extraordinary woman who, at nearly 98, lived through most of the past century.  I had never really stopped to think about it, but when I looked at the list of world events she’d lived through it was astonishing.  I know we talk a lot about change, and the pace of change, and how important it is to deal with the changing world we live in, but in my nan’s lifetime she lived through both World Wars, as well as an assortment of other wars and a Great Depression.

She was just over 1 year old when the first transatlantic flight was made, 15 years old when Penicillin was discovered, 24 when construction started on the Golden Gate Bridge, and just a few months older when the Hindenburg disaster happened.

At 32 she saw the Atomic Bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she was 39 when the world’s first jet airliner went into commercial use, and 48 when the first human went into space.

At 50 years old, she watched the construction of the Berlin Wall, and at 77, she watched it come down again.  When she was 80 the European Union was founded, and she was 88 when New York’s Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11.

She grew up before television, before radio, before cars, before the Internet. While she was alive, so was Gustav Eiffel, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Sigmund Freud, Walt Disney and Henry Ford. She was born before, and died after, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Benito Mussolini.

What a remarkable period of history to have lived through!

The last few conferences I’ve been to all had keynote speakers who repeated the same basic message… the world is changing and we better get good at dealing with change.  As much as we edtech types like to carry on about adaptability and the need to learn to deal with dramatic changes in our world, we sometimes tend to forget just how much the world can change in one person’s lifetime even if that person grew up before the invention of the Internet, Social Networking and the rise of China.

I was really close to my nan, and I’m glad I was with her just a few days before she died. She was a truly remarkable lady.

If you’re interested, this is the eulogy that I wrote and read at the church today…

A couple of days ago, I was asked what I remembered most about Nan.  There are lots of memories of course, and although I’d not really thought about it before, I’m starting to realise that many of these memories have profoundly affected who I am as a person, the way I see the world and the way I’ve grown up.

  • When I was very young – before I started school – I remember waking up one morning to be told by Nan “we’re going to Japan this morning” and finding a little low table in the middle of the dining room floor.  Nan had set a Japanese breakfast on the floor and we had to sit on cushions and eat with chopsticks.  Nan taught us to have a sense of the whimsical, a sense of the unexpected, a sense of curiosity about the world.
  • When we were young, my cousins and I used to put on plays in Nan’s house.  We were often short of a character, so Nan would volunteer to dress up as an extra character in these childhood plays. The one that I think we all remember the best – because even to this day we still talk about it – was our production of Robinson Crusoe, and we can still see Nan playing the part of the savage boy, Man Friday, dressed in a leopard skin stole, her hair all messed up and her face painted black with boot polish.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of humour, a sense of fun and to never take ourselves too seriously.
  • When I was quite young, I remember going with Nan to the African Lion Safari in Sydney. There was a rather long, high swinging rope bridge there and as I walked across it with Nan it started to swing dramatically.  I was petrified and started to cry and scream. Nan calmed me down by explaining that it was ok, it was safe. That the people who built it obviously didn’t build it to fall down, so why would it fall down?  As she unfolded the logic of why the bridge was safe, my worry started to disappear and suddenly everything seemed ok.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of bravery, a sense of calm, and most of all, a sense of commonsense.
  • A couple of years ago, we took Nan for a drive down to Denman and Yarrawa, where she grew up as a child. She loved going for drives, and would always be pointing things out, telling stories, admiring the Hunter Valley landscape which she loved so much. She managed to find the house in which she was born and as we drove around the area she told us lots of stores from her childhood.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of history, a sense of self, a sense of heritage.
  • I remember sitting down at a family dinner one day, with the whole family there, and realising that there was one too many plates set at the table.  When I told Nan that she’d miscounted, she replied that, no, she just likes to set an extra place in case somebody unexpectedly dropped by… she wantedl them to feel welcome and to be able to join us without feeling like they were intruding.  Nan taught us to have a sense of welcome, a sense of pride, and sense of giving.
  • And that’s the thing that stands out the most about Nan to me… her love of people. In all the years I knew Nan, I never once heard her talk poorly about anybody.  She always seemed to find  the good side of other people, and always managed to find something nice to say about them.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of goodness, a sense of the positive.  A sense of humanity.

There are so many things that Nan taught us all. When we lose someone we love, it’s hard to not feel sad and upset and to grieve about the loss of what we no longer have. But I know that everyone in this room could come up with a list of their favourite “Nan moments”… those treasured times when she made you laugh, or made you think, or made you see the world a little bit differently to the way you’d seen it before.  Although Nan isn’t with us anymore, if we can remember back to those special moments she created with each of us, I’m sure we’ll find that there are ways in which they’ve touched our lives that will live on for a very long time.

I’d like to think that it’s those moments that are the real legacy Nanna Brown leaves with us.

Lifelong Learners?

I got interested in computers and their potential uses in teaching and learning way back in 1982 when I was at Art School/Teachers’ College. I met a guy named Colin who worked in the media center at the art school who had taught himself how to program in AppleBasic on the original Apple IIe machines. He was doing all sort of really interesting stuff with these machines, writing his own programs for randomised poetry, creating graphics, creating maths problems, etc. Colin and I became good friends and I asked him to teach me how to program too. It was INSTANTLY obvious to me that computers and technology generally could be used to support, assist, extend and just generally make learning a whole lot more interesting, and even as a preservice teacher in the early 80s I was always trying to come up with interesting ways that computers could be used to make school more interesting.

Like most colleges at the time, the college I attended didn’t offer any computer-based courses. I went and had a chat to the Dean and asked why. I still remember the conversation… he didn’t know why, he just assumed that a computer was used for administrative stuff, keeping lists of students and managing who paid fees, etc, but hadn’t really thought about their use in education. After some fast talking, I managed to convince him to let me vary my course units for the next semester to do an off-site computer programming course and have it count towards my regular course credits. And so once a week for the semester I traveled across town to a different college to do a three hour programming course.

The following year, I managed to convince the Dean that such a course should be a standard offering for everyone planning to be a teacher. To cut a long story short, the college did start to offer a course called “The Computer and the Art Educator” held offsite at another nearby university, and counting towards our regular course credits. This course used primitive graphics tablets, graphic software and programming skills to explore how computers could extend themselves into classroom use. It was 1983. I was rather pleased that I was able to play a part in helping other people see what appeared so obvious to me.

Funnily enough, there were many of my college friends who could not see the point of computers at all, and would argue with me that they had nothing to do with what happens in a classroom. They just weren’t interested in learning about something that didn’t interest them.

Since that time, I’ve worked with a lot of teachers to help them see how much better learning can be with the wise use of technology. I’ve tried every approach I can think of, and at the end of the day, I still don’t know why some people just “get it” and some just don’t. To me, it’s so darn obvious! Having taught in a technology rich environment for over 20 years now, I have seen over and over how the use of technology can motivate, engage and inspire students to learn better and to be better. I’ve seen kids just “switch on” when they learn with computers. More than that, I’ve seen how the use of technology for learning can actually change a teacher’s practice and pedagogy for the better. I’ve seen the effects of increased student motivation and engagement, and I’ve experienced the evolution of my own teaching to take a more student focused, more choice-driven, more differentiated approach to my teaching.

Ok, so having said all that, it drives me crazy when I see other teachers who simply don’t “get it”. I’ve experienced the frustration of working with supposedly-intelligent adults who appear to be unable to move beyond the ability to cut-and-paste. I even had one colleague at a previous school admit that she had been avoiding technology for years, and I found out that she did not even know how to use basic mouse functions. How do you even function in a school these days without these skills! The frustrating thing about these situations, for me, is that part of my role in this particular school was doing technology support for the staff and despite every effort to provide support for these sorts of people, they always managed to avoid any help that was offered to them. No matter what model of technology support we tried they managed to avoid taking advantage of it.

They remind me of the people in this video clip… as soon as the external forces stop, they stop too and then seem incapable of moving forward for themselves.

So that’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other is people like you and I who probably just need a bit of guidance to get started and then we assume some responsibility for our own learning. We accept that if we want to learn something new, then taking on the task of learning it is actually up to us, not someone else.  Any assistance we get from others is seen as a bonus, not a requirement.

I will go so far as to say that those teachers who actively avoid learning about (and teaching with) technology are abdicating their basic responsibility as teachers because they are failing to model and live out the basic quality that every teacher should have – curiosity and a sense of lifelong learning.

Every school’s prospectus I’ve ever seen talks about how they aim to produce students who are “independent, lifelong learners”, but so many teachers continue to display an embarrassingly low level of responsibility for their own ongoing learning, and are therefore poor models of what they expect from their students. I find it frustrating that so many teachers willingly accept that there are certain unavoidable parts of their job, and yet they steadfastly resist adopting the use of digital technologies and act as though they are free to pick and choose what parts of their job they are willing to enact. Why is the embracing of technology for learning still seen as so optional by so many?

The answer is probably that they don’t yet see the benefits. They haven’t seen the kids’ eyes light up when they do something truly interesting with computers or technology. They still see it as another optional add-on to their already busy day. They see technology as something that has to be “bolted on” to what they are already doing, instead of something that can help them do what they already do even better. They might have experienced failure in the past because of something that went wrong, something that didn’t work, and they don’t want to look foolish again. Perhaps they just think that if they can hold out for a few more years, this will all go away, or they might make it to retirement. (although I think age has very little to do with it)

Of course, this is not true of all teachers, and there are many, many excellent educators that embody and model all of the traits of lifelong learning that they expect from their students. A lot of teachers are very good at this, but there are still far too many that don’t.  And frankly, I think that’s unacceptable.

Image: ‘I am still learning