“Technology is ruining this generation.”
“I will never use technology in my classroom.”
“I’m sure there are better ways to do this, but I’m a bit old-fashioned.”
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone – statements like these can be overheard in some shape or form in classrooms and district offices everywhere. Such sentiments may seem harmless, but, left unchecked, they can pose a significant obstacle as you try to build a Future Ready school district. Although the percentage of detractors has diminished throughout the years, there are still people who see technology as an ominous threat to their established principles. District leaders are searching for ways to overcome those barriers and foster an all-inclusive, high-tech culture from the central office to the classroom and everywhere in between.
There is an overwhelming amount of research, case studies, and anecdotes on how best to approach such a paradigm shift. Based on our own observations, we have condensed the data into four high-level objectives that can serve as a starting point for any school district that is ready to plot out a technology-driven roadmap to the future.
1. Know that change will be difficult
A high-tech culture may start out as a top-down ideal, but it requires mass buy-in at the individual level in order to stick as anything more than the trend du jour. District employees will need to believe that change is in their best interest and – perhaps more importantly – that it is in your students’ best interest. The best laid plans are those that are founded on trust. Set your expectations high, but make it a point to acknowledge and address the concerns of your stakeholders from the outset. A little empathy will go a long way and frequent communication is the best approach to take in an undertaking as massive as a total cultural shift.
If developing a high-tech culture is important to you, then everybody will need to see that it is being treated as such. District and building administrators and technical staff will need to work together to develop a timeline, complete with milestones, objectives, and built-in flexibility. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful influencer, so eliminate as much unknown from the picture as possible. Involve your community by forming a newsletter committee to release quarterly updates and success stories through social media and internal channels. Always lead with an explanation of the importance of each objective and how it fits into the big picture; then ask your building administrators and technical staff to do the same when relaying information to their teams.
It is important not to downplay the adjustments involved and risk alienating those who might otherwise grow to accept and understand the culture shift. There may even be some who decide to leave the district rather than adapt to an environment that makes more and better use out of technology, but these will be the vocal minority. With a clear vision and enough support, you can expect most of your team to get behind the change, especially when it becomes clear that this “digital literacy thing” is more than just a passing fad.
2. Focus on outcomes instead of tools
Throughout the process of building a high-tech culture, you will doubtless feel that you are repeating yourself at every turn when faced with objections like “technology isn’t right for my students” or “my methods work just fine without any devices.” These statements contradict decades of research that has consistently revealed a positive correlation between blended learning and student outcomes. When it comes to weighing the pros and cons of education technology as a supplement to effective instruction, the pros have it in a landslide.
Need some support for your cause? Try sharing these resources with stakeholders:
A high-tech school district culture is not just for teachers, either. Human resource offices, payroll departments, and registrars are just a small sampling of the roles that will directly benefit from more and better technology integration. Are you still using paper forms to request time off or enroll new students? The word “outcomes” is not exclusively reserved for student achievement; it can just as easily refer to return on investment or productivity, both of which can be improved with a high-tech culture.
3. Follow through and keep the bar high
In school districts, as with any other large organization, major initiatives succeed or fail based on the resources that are allocated to them and the follow-up to make them stick. Any obstacles in your effort to build a high-tech culture will need to be addressed quickly and emphatically, or they may become insurmountable. In those instances where compromise is necessary, it is important not to stray too far from your ultimate goal, which is for your staff and your community to understand and be comfortable with the use of technology as a tool to improve outcomes.
One approach that has proven successful in other districts is for district leaders to remove the crutch of “the old way.” Even the most careful, phased initiative can find itself undermined by the pull of the familiar. You can mitigate this risk by setting – and sticking to – hard deadlines for your transition to electronic workflows and methods. If you want to go paperless, it will not do for your business office to continue using old, manual forms for some processes just because there is “too much” upfront work involved. If you ask teachers to communicate with parents and students via online mediums, then compliance should be an essential part of their review process. If your existing technology infrastructure does not support your initiative, you will need to find something that does. There is no shortage of edtech vendors in the marketplace, and you can be confident that someone out there has developed a tool to fit your specific needs.
You will encounter sticking points, but the worst thing you can do is to pull back. A major culture change is disruption at its finest; if you find that some individuals are refusing to adapt even when offered a high level of support, then you may have to continue on without them. These are hard decisions to make – decisions that have a direct impact on the livelihood of dedicated educators and central office personnel – but technology will no longer be optional in the next evolution of K-12 education.
4. Treat culture change as an ongoing priority
People have a tendency to snap back to established attitudes and behaviors the moment they feel that the pressure to change is no longer being applied. You can overcome this obstacle by reinforcing your district’s commitment to digital literacy at continuous intervals until "the old way" is no longer a nostalgic concept, but a distant memory.
Results are the glue that hold a high-tech culture together. Communicate your successes and spread the word about improved outcomes, cost savings, and new efficiencies at every turn. Even the most stalwart opponents of education technology will be willing to adapt their mindset when they see students thriving or talk to colleagues who have used tech tools to free up extra time in their day.
As long as you know from the outset that the process will span several years and undergo continuous changes, you should be able to plan for the long term success of this important initiative and create a support structure that can keep the message alive for as long as necessary to ensure that high-tech becomes the new normal.
Want to learn more about how to provide your district with the tools necessary to pursue a high-tech culture? Contact us today – we have an industry specialist near you just waiting to share best practices from districts like yours.