Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Overwhelming Flood: Supporting Teachers Using Technology

We've had several days of heavy rain, but my basement has stayed dry so far. Our sump pump has running almost continuously.

Growing up on the West Coast of the U.S., I didn't have much context for life with a basement, let alone a sump pump. But I've learned the value of that submersible pump in a hole in the corner of the basement. The good people who built our house were planning ahead for the eventuality of lots of rain, and they put a series of tile lines (think 4-inch [10 cm] plastic tubing with perforations on the top to let water in) under the basement floor to drain water away from the inevitable cracks and crevices. These tile lines all drain into a sump--a pit in the corner of the basement--which fills up with water when it rains hard, as we've had these past few days.

A sump hole with a submersible sump pump. Thanks to Joan for this image.
Here's where the sump pump comes in: it can be submersed in the pit, and pumps the water up a pipe and out through a hose and out into the backyard. And while the water is still around...it isn't in my house.

The trouble comes if the pump can't keep up with the rising flood of water, or if the pump fails entirely. We had the former situation a few summers ago. Our sad little sump pump was running overtime, and still couldn't keep up with the rising water. So I spent a whole night bailing water out by hand, by the bucketful, to keep the basement dry.

It can be disheartening to have to fight the flood that way. You can see the water creeping up. And you know there isn't a thing you can do about it...so you just start bailing, and hope you can keep up.

I think there's a parable here about how some teachers feel in response to technology. I've written before about my list of tech skills and attitudes I believe all teachers should have in the 21st Century, but I also think we need to be realistic about what this looks like for some teachers. I'm not so worried about the technophiles--they're fine enough playing with things and figuring it out for themselves. It's the technophobic teachers I'm thinking of.

I think they can see the water rising, and they are feeling like their bailing is futile.

So how can we support teachers in using technology well? How can we keep them from feeling overwhelmed by the flood?

When I'm worried my sump pump is going to fail and I'm going be bailing like mad to keep the basement from getting soaked, I just want a spare pump on the shelf that I can drop down into the hole and help out. I want a backup to help bail me out.

Maybe that's what technophobic teachers need too? A backup, someone to help bail them out when they're worried they'll be inundated. A go-to person--or even better, a group--that can support them without making them feel dumb for asking the question.

When I was serving as Technology Coordinator in a K-8 school, I played this role to some extent. I was "the guy" when things went wrong. (I used to say, "If it plugs in, it's my problem.") If there were technological problems, of course I was there to help to the best of my ability. I provided just-in-time support as well as training and coaching for my colleagues. (And taught computer classes. It was a job-and-a-half, really.)

The trouble for me was finding the right balance of support. I had some colleagues who would come and ask me for help with every single little thing without ever trying to figure it out for themselves first. This is, in my mind, sort of like calling in a plumber to install a new sump pump at the first sign of a sprinkle. On the other hand, I had some colleagues who never asked for help until they had been struggling with a situation for hours, or even days. Sometimes it would be a problem I could help with in just a couple of minutes; sometimes not. But it was my job to help! This is, in my mind, sort of like saying, "I don't really need the sump pump at all--I'll just bucket bail it." and then collapsing in exhaustion when the rising water starts spilling across the basement floor, wishing you had a sump pump installed.

Both of these situations are a little out-of-whack, and both were draining for me as a Tech Coordinator. And, in my experience, both situations usually were technophobic teachers but with opposite problems.

In light of both of these situations, I'm advocating for a peer-mentor--or even better, a professional learning community type group--to support teachers in their technology use. I think this will help to keep technology support personel and technology integration specialists from getting burned out, and in fact provide better support and collegiality for both technophilic and technophobic teachers. Having a person (or persons) to ask questions and experiment with and learn alongside would likely be more of an authentic learning experience for all the teachers involved!


  1. Who sets the direction your school's PD takes? Is it based more on individual preference or administration's requirements?

    1. Great question, Urbie. In my last school, the administration had arranged our PD structure in such a way that teachers had choices in the PD they would participate in. There were multiple options facilitated by various members of the faculty and admin team. We used a loose PLC-like structure of flexible groups, and had a sharing element built in for some accountability. Overall, it worked quite well. Of course, no system is perfect, but teachers generally preferred to have some voice in the PD, and overall responded very positively!