How to transition reluctant teachers to confident facilitators

To renew learning with technology is to give teachers and students practical strategies and methods in their environment. Its easy to peddle snake-oil, but a lot harder to compliment with practice. This post is to help newcomers get to grips with self-development of professional practice, and overcome the ‘fear and pressure’ in taking action and becoming a confident user.


I’m beginning to  wince at the now obligatory ‘Twitter Shout’ when talking to newcomers. It’s impressive to show the world is connected to you and you to it, but the imperative to me is to connect teachers to students and students to outcomes first. Another niggle is to read or hear the orbital leadership questions “How do create 21st Century blah …”.  I find myself wondering if they added “to boldly go where no teacher has gone before”, it might at least get an overt laugh. They miss the point time and time again.

The challenge is to teach every day in technical ways that initially need no more skill than sending an email with an attachment – and focus on practice, not technology. There is a problem when the pitch is too high by both ‘technocrats’ and ‘leaders’. Many teachers say they feel further disconnected and powerless after hearing the 21st Century call to arms.


Emotionally, we want teachers to feel ‘wow, I want my class to be like that all the time’ and ‘I can do that!’. There are a number of ways to achieve this, but lets look at one, peer observation (which is not new at all).

‘Team teaching’ in the classroom (with or without an expert mentor) –  supports and allows peer observation in authentic settings. This strategy provides focus on practice, techniques and student behaviour through observation and reflective notes. It might be a focus on the way students are given instruction; they type of instruction; the time management of activities; the type of questions being asked or reactions to events. Secondly, agree some facets of their teaching that they feel they want to work on with technology. Agree some element of the class that they wish to try-out. 10 minute activities are great for focusing practice and student attention. So in an hour, 15 minutes is given to the newcomer trying out agreed methods and techniques.

I’m advocating very simple tools and services – no where near the levels of skill needed to podcast or use an IWB. Newcomers need things they can learn in 10 minutes or less, then go and try for 10-20 minutes. It’s the gamer approach to learning. Easy entry, easy win then level up and try again.

They came back to Liberty Square with a message: update the attractions. The Liberty Square ad-hocs were the staunchest conservatives in the Magic Kingdom, preserving the wheezing technology in the face of a Park that changed almost daily. The newcomer/old-timers were on-side with the rest of the Park, had their support, and looked like they might make a successful go of it. (Doctorow, C. 2003 “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”)

I advocate professional learning for newcomers to focus on ‘transitional technology’ – learning how to be an effective facilitator in online spaces;  building learning communities; moving between online, classroom discussion, exams and essays, to support and promote socially constructed,  meta-cognititive learning. Teachers are often highly successful and want to stay that way, don’t scare them off.

Lethargic students who ‘game the system’ can be overcome more easily if you use a online ‘space’ well. Gifted students can be extended, slow ones catered for etc., but most of all, teachers operate inside, not outside the system, holistically on their practice to norms in their classroom. We never put the calculator at the centre of a maths lesson – so why assume that the laptop will be the centre?

Create (and model) activities that are sufficiently motivating to participate in , neither too facile or too hard and discouraging time-wasting, which leads to being off task conflict. Buddy up; start simple and don’t get intimidated by the snakeoilers.

I’ll be running a 5 hour, over 5 week course on this soon.

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23 thoughts on “How to transition reluctant teachers to confident facilitators

  1. Here here Dean. Love the reference to ‘orbital leadership’ – getting tired of this 21st century lingo – all we need is to move 10 minutes ahead.

    Tidy work tiger🙂


  2. Dean: Can you elaborate more on what you see as snakeoil messages? Is that primarily a focus on too use that is disconnected from kids and classroom practice?

  3. Yes, despite the speeches even those political or systemic leaders who have the capital seem lock stepped to do so. The attainment expectations become popularist; Every PPT quotes Prensky (digital-natives), Pew (generations online) etc., and often out of context to suit that viewpoint, not the classroom. The people we are talking to are often successful teachers – who have seen trends come and go; we have to see these people as transitioners – not immigrants – and model ways for them to strengthen practice with technology.

  4. Dean – not sure that I agree with you. There was ample opportunity for you to take this idealogical viewpoint before you moved to Macquarie. Your systemic leader expended capital wisely, and allowed for a flavour of passionate conversation across the blogosphere, within schools and across sectors.

  5. I like this post, but I’m not sure if I entirely agree.

    It seems that we think that we have to keep it simple for teachers who are somewhat reluctant to transition. Some think we should take a similar approach with students as well, but I don’t agree that anyone has to start at the bottom rung of the ladder before learning more sophisticated skills. In fact I feel that you can get on the ladder wherever you want, no matter what your level of knowledge.

    I have seen teachers with fairly rudimentary tech skills take on rather sophisticated technology, because they saw an outcome that could have an impact on their teaching. So selling the idea or getting teachers to see the need is vital.

    Not that we want to make it difficult of course.

    Maybe I have misinterpreted some of your post (I have read it quite quickly), but I am uncomfortable with the idea that we have to keep it simple.

    I’m open to someone changing my mind though…

    • I am talking specifically about newcomers, not those who have used/are using technology. But, for many, getting into their classroom and showing them simple things; builds confidence and they are more likely to continue. Running a learning community is complex; though the application is not, but using something like TinyChat leads to that over time.

  6. Could not agree more Dean. You have raised points that ring true to me. I sometimes feel like a snake-oil salesman at times. I pontificate and I present but lately I have rarely practiced. Bless me Dean for I have sinned. It has been several months since I last used technology in the classroom.

    I had put more effort into the classroom and moments of technology integration up to a couple of years back. Lately, however, the handling of two senior classes preparing for the Higher School Certificate here in NSW has consumed my time. I presently feel hamstrung by the system.

    Quite right, “connect teachers to students and students to outcomes first”.

    Technology for the sake of technology. Never. I harp on the fact that the desired outcome must always be met with an appropriate strategy or tactic. Occasionally that strategy may just involve a little technology. Simple, yet effective.

    The terms “21st century technology”, “digital immigrants (etc)” and even the good old “web 2.0” grate with me. I particularly abhor the first two terms. I still find myself using “Web 2.0” as it seems to be the only language or common point of reference that some educators understand. “21st century technology”? So what I say? Big thrill!! Ooohh! Ahhh!!! Why not just say “the present” or “now”?

    I had high expectations for the 21st century as a young person. I even thought I might be teaching history in a space full of weightless students somewhere in a school in the vicinity of Saturn by now. Given the climate change gloom, financial crisis, dire international politics and the abject failure of religions around the globe I cannot feel that the 21st century is turning out to be a bit of a dud. So, for me, regardless of technology or not, the term “21st century” is a bit of a dirty word.

    A number of the big names on the circuit are full of sh*t in my opinion. When was the last time they actually taught for a year or more in a school? A real school with real teachers and real kids, all of them with real expectations, real highs and real lows? Even a school that is well equipped? Some of the speakers have simply no idea. They preach their platitudes through rose-coloured glasses.

    What do I think? Professional development via small increments. Just in time. Situated. Pass a colleague a better powerpoint. Show them a neat and useful Google search trick. Show them how to really find their files on that computer. Build up their confidence incrementally. Start something up and then let them finish it. Start with small steps. Really small. Steps that provide a sense of achievement rather than a sense of frustration.

    Ten minutes or less. Now that is an axiom that applies well to software. If you cannot grasp and even usefully master a piece of software in ten minutes or less then it is poorly designed. If a task that incorporates technology cannot be mastered in under ten minutes then it is too bloody hard. Full stop.

    Dean, you have presented good strategies for reluctant or reticent teachers. You know, I struggle with reluctant and reticent students too. There are many that still prefer to be given notes in the hand, notes on the board or powerpoint screens. “Give us the notes!” they proclaim. Many could not give a hoot with respect to technology. That’s another story. Another blog post.

    • Do you think Twitter is a big deal to youth online? Given most of them have been on messenger for over a decade, strengthening their friend networks anyway?

      • It’s one way if you need to see change. We need newcomers to feel that they can do the task, no matter how simple. I believe it’s also about habit; in some ways, when we start, we need to have an enabler at the side thus making sure that the learned skill becomes “embedded” into practice.

        I have seen this with the pd session we ran in April – I have not told you this, but I have had about a dozen emails and phone calls out of the small group of twenty asking questions and finding out more about what they were introduced to on that day. I kow what we introduced them to wasn;t mind blowing but I am satisfied enough to see that change has taken place there.

        Good work, man.

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  8. thank you Dean for articulating this important idea – I think it can be rather easy for the gap to appear enormous between confident IT users and beginners in IT; extremely easy to leave someone feeling intimidated, even as an experienced and expert practitioner in their own classroom.Teachers don´t like to get “left behind” and that´s how one feels whenever someone demonstrates yet another new Web 2 thing!! So far i am pioneering a wiki for my dept in school as the VLE platform is so hard to use – I am the only one to use it!!, Another wiki for our Primary MFl teachers and ourselves to contribute to – more success with this as we have been able to write a bid together on line – that is a HUGE step forward! And some of my classes are using things like wordle and quizlet to make quizzes. But i am in the category of reasonable user, good teacher but feeling overwhelmed by the push to keep ahead of the game. I found your post encouraging.
    Head of MFL
    Blue School, Wells Somerset GB

  9. This is a big multi-dimensional area that can’t be simply agreed or disagreed with.

    I agree that technology should be non invasive – it should come naturally to the learning environment – many traditional IT suites and software are dreadful in this respect.

    I agree that much of the rhetoric on “21st century” risks alienating many people.

    However, the concepts behind the 21st century rhetoric are vital – they aren’t about technology – they are about mindset. If you ignore the mindset then you will be using technology ineffectively – like choosing the wrong tools for the job – like using every new tool as if it were a hammer.

    I have to bring in the old argument about e-boards – my definition of these are Expensive Boards – this technology is often simply used to continue what we did with blackboard and chalk but in a more expensive way to little benefit. “Orbital” leadership want innovation but regard ticking off the installation of an e-board in every classroom as just this.

    A major problem is that the education “system” is too locked in to traditional 20th century methods to fulfil the promise of”21st century” approaches AND technology.

    So, it’s not just teachers that need to “get it” but “orbital” leaders as well – “orbital” leaders need to adjust the system so that it too is 21st century.

    • Thanks for the comments. I am talking about quite small, but effective changes; such as dealing with database driven URLS vs making it easy for kids to cope/copy using TinyURL as general practice, using FlickrCC not Google Images. So I really am talking about 4 or 5 simple things; that can be learned and used in a few minutes … that has a direct impact on performance.

  10. Your post is a good one – will spark off some good debate amongst my colleagues.

    There are some additional comments I would like to make.

    Many teachers have been “traumatised” by 20th century tech – the horrible & complicated client server things like Microsoft Office – stuff that demanded IT dept support and large scale teacher training. People used to this generation of tech have expectations that tech is hard – that there is a disconnect between tech and use.

    I’m always surprised with the anxiety people show when I mention a web 2 tool – the expectation is that they will need to go on a course and have lots of support.

    New tech (21st century, web 2 etc) is relatively easy – its consumer oriented and designed to operate without tech support – its self service for consumers. This stuff is usually very easy and fits into your 10 min window.

  11. I think teachers are quite capable of these skills beyond the simple ones. I think the key is that teachers need to see that the tools are worth their time. I am not willing to put hours into learning something new just because I say I can use technology or have my kids produce podcasts. But if I see a huge benefit to my students’ learning because of a tool, I’ll take the time and energy to learn it. And the teachers I know would do the same. I wonder if people are reluctant until they find that it is worthwhile. That the use of the new tools is worth the limited time in class.

  12. I can’t thank you enough for posting your thoughts. I have been a teacher over 16 years and am feeling confident with my skills. However, when it comes to teaching new technologies I regret I am trying to catch up with the latest applications. I enjoy learning new things, but I am surrounded by a plague of colleagues who are resistant to change. Posting this topic will be more effective coming from someone like you with your experience. I can so appreciate your words when you said that “The people we are talking to are often successful teachers – who have seen trends come and go; we have to see these people as transitioners – not immigrants – and model ways for them to strengthen practice with technology.”

    I recently went to a workshop on 2.0 applications and the panic among the colleagues set in immediately. The science and math teacher left that conference feeling incompetent, insecure, and defensive. I began to think, how can we get teachers motivated for this change? Your blog will be something I can forward on to my colleagues for encouragement. That, perhaps, is a start.

    I can’t even begin to describe to your readers how far behind some schools are. Should this be surprising? No, but it is frightening. The very idea of critical literacy is just beginning to catch on, but we have a long way to go. I am amazed when I hear that there are classes with laptops for every student. Let us not take this change in education for granted. The truth is, a vast amount of us are woefully unfunded in this area and our teachers are either not being trained or are in the initial stages of training. I hope that you continue to post your ideas for those “simple tools and services”, or “quick 10 minute” ways to integrate technology into the classroom because if the teachers lose their confidence, it will not be effective to the students!

    I also enjoyed your other two blog postings:
    5 Ways to create spectacular classrooms
    Why PBL and Web2.0 make great ingredients for lifelong learning
    After reading these, it made me wonder… I can see that this helps with communication, collaboration, higher order thinking skills, etc., but what are the implications that 2.0 has on a student’s general reading and writing skills? Are most kids more motivated, and in return do their skills progress? Just wondering….

    Thanks again,

    • Thanks for the reply. To your question … I think that online text and printed text is approached differently – aside from the fact online is hyperdynamic and tends to bounce students around. My personal view is that much of the soft skills, and indeed models such as PBL are problematic to assess in terms of current outcomes; they are embedded skills that may or may not facilitate ‘better’. I think that teachers see a progression and maturation of some students to their learning, or at least that is the feeling I get from working with them and reading their blogs. Motivation however … well that remains an issue; I think student are more relieved that motivated when using read/write web in class; its hard to tell if they are more motivated or appear more motivated – it all comes down to assessing it. There are plenty of academic papers to suggest both …

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