Saturday, October 25, 2014

Too Much, Too Soon... Or: How to Create Teacher Stress on Your School Campus


It's hard to believe that we are just 25% through the school year. It's been such an odd year. It's my third year as a site principal, fifth year at the school. As a third year principal, this is the year the magic should happen. I've followed the traditional administrative path of 1st year listen, 2nd year discuss, 3rd year implement.

And so we've implemented.

New classes. New Common Core Math Pathways. New (amazing) staff. New opportunities for Professional Development. Increased enrollment. Bond passed.

That's a short list and it doesn't include the biggest change of all: Increased Access to Technology.

So let's back up a bit and take a wider lens at the conversation.

If you ask almost any teacher today what they'd like more of, technology in the classroom will surely be in the top five comments they'll share.

Our district, knowing a strong deficit in this regard, created a new position of Chief Technology Office and hired what I often call the best hire by USD over the last decade: Andrew Schwab.

Andrew was exactly what our teachers and administrators (especially me) wanted: someone to centralize and support all of our technological needs. He started slow, met with teachers and administrators, and did everything a new staff member should do. Yet, teachers and administrators clamored for more. They asked for 1:1. They asked for updated computers. They wanted improved wifi.

And Andrew delivered everything and more.

-Our school has received a minimum of tenfold in access points for individual and improved wifi connection.

-A new MacBook Air for every staff member

-A shift to GAFE tools for education

-1:1 in every 6th grade classroom

-A dozen additional ChromeBook carts for check out

-Ten staff members labeled Tech 1's or Tech 2's, able to provide support and professional development

It was everything our staff (including myself) had been clamoring for over the past five years. And yet, the collective teacher stress increased exponentially.

Here's why:

Technology cannot just be given to a teacher without professional development and more importantly time.

The professional development gives them a chance to explore how to best implement the technology into the classroom. If a student takes notes with pen and paper or if a student takes notes on a Google Doc, there's no difference. The added benefit is how the technology allows collaboration and other sharing opportunities through its implementation.

Time is perhaps the most important ingredient. The tech-ready teachers won't need the time. They'll figure out how to best implement the gift of 1:1 Chromebooks immediately. For the rest, however, there needs to be an understanding that they'll have time to implement the technology into their classrooms.

Sadly, this time isn't something that can just happen during a staff development day, a trip to #fallCUE, or on a random prep period. Our teachers need the time to play and explore. They need days, not prep periods, to figure out how to best implement the new technology into their classroom. They need release days to observe other classrooms. They need the opportunity to get comfortable with the technology.

And I'll be honest... despite our best efforts, this didn't happen.

Our teachers weren't given enough time to work with and work through the added technology in their classrooms.

Fortunately, our staff has been amazingly supportive in how they've dealt with the situation. We have had teachers open up their classroom prior to the school day for other teachers to get technology help. Our assistant principal has arranged for classroom subs to allow for random observation days for teachers looking to see how the technology is being implemented in other classrooms. I've given time for staff development during our weekly Wednesday meetings.

Still, it's not enough.

And it's because we went too much, too soon.

To me, it wasn't that fast. To many staff members, it wasn't that fast either. But they aren't the average staff member.

To those teachers who didn't want to exchange their hard drive MacBooks for a new MacBook Air... for those staff members who don't fully understand the benefits of labels in gmail... To the teachers who were frustrated with the initial limitations of Google Classroom... It was just a rough start.

And it led to increased stress levels among the staff.

A disclaimer about the UMS staff - They want to be cutting edge. They will work hard to provide a better student experience. They are always willing to go above and beyond.

But for whatever reason, it was just too much. Perhaps it was the insecurities of not wanting to disappoint our students, their principal, the new CTO... Perhaps it was just influx of Chromebooks and self-imposed expectations on how to incorporate the tech into their classrooms.

Whatever the reason, the message that our staff was a bit overwhelmed was received.

And so we slowed down. I communicated that the tech infusion was not a sprint nor a marathon; it was an opportunity to break down walls and encourage student interaction in their classrooms.

The expectation wasn't that they'd implement everything yesterday but instead slowly feel comfortable on incorporating pieces into their daily lessons as they saw fit.

And yes, I have offered professional development through #fallCUE, weekly staff meetings, or upcoming staff development days. That's not the message though.

The point of including an influx of technology into the classroom is to have a very slow expectation of how the tech will be implemented. However, even if you let your staff know that the pace will be slow and supportive of all, there will be an increase in stress among your staff.

The reason is simple: teachers don't want to disappoint. They know they have just received a Chromebook cart worth close to $20,000. They want to show their appreciation through results that truly aren't possible just yet. They need time to review, reflect, and implement. They need support. They need professional development. They need time.

And so I've tried to temper expectations and tried to share that this isn't a race we're trying to win. We were already winning. All we've done is provide something to enhance the amazing delivery of content and connection our teachers are already providing.

It's a very timely example of just too much, too soon... and how it leads to teacher stress. Perhaps unavoidable, but a worthy tale of how to best support one's staff during these implementation times.

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