As classroom instruction has moved online, have you found yourself struggling to adapt? If so, you're not alone.
Today on the podcast, Sarah Gilmore and Katierose Deos, co-authors of Integrating Technology, joined my colleague Jaclyn Karabinas to talk about the stressful shift from in-person to online and blended instruction, and why we shouldn't get too caught up in what the newest and shiniest teaching tech is.
They both argue that while a level of comfort with online teaching tools is now necessary, our grounding principles about what we know is right for students should be guiding us now more than ever.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Jaclyn: Welcome, Katierose and Sarah. Thanks for coming on the podcast again.
Katierose: Thank you for the invitations.
Sarah: Thank you.
Katierose: It's lovely to be here.
Jaclyn: When I was thinking about today, I look back. I knew you had been on the podcast in the spring, but I couldn't remember when and when I looked back at it and I saw the date, I thought, "Whoa." It was March 5th and things were just unraveling here in the United States. And so I was just thinking, how are you both doing, especially with your skill sets being really critical in this moment?
Sarah: Yeah. It was a crazy time, right? It is crazy when you kind of look back at stuff from that time. I even find this when I'm watching TV and I see people in a bar or having a party and nobody's wearing masks and everyone's very close to each other, and this is almost a sense of kind of cognitive dissonance and you're like, "That looks so cool, but also dangerous. I miss it, but also I'm scared." I have that when I look back at anything kind of March or before like it was another time, a different era. And it was such a strange time as well to publish a book, possibly the worst time to publish a book because at that moment, it came out on March 10th and that was just not a time for people to engage with professional development texts.
So on the one sense, it was hard for us because we really felt this kind of urgency and this relevance inside of ourselves of saying, "We can help. We have something to say that can help, and we have a skillset that can help." But we really felt like we were kind of looking in from the outside, banging on the windows of the moment, like "Let us in so we can help you," and inside, the teachers going, "Go away, go away. I don't know how to use Zoom. Go away and come back in six months when I know how to screen share."
So I think we have this feeling now of hopefully, this now is more of our time because our focus is so much more on that kind of transferable, deeper aspect of using technology to enhance learning more broadly and education more broadly, and I think we're kind of beginning to phase out of that crisis of that kind of tool specific, "Teach us how to use the stuff," and now, more kind of how do we use this stuff meaningfully and sustainably.
Katierose: It's so interesting that you say skill set because my school, we're back on campus and when I think about the skill set that I'm having to use right now, it has so much more to do with humans and relationships than it does with technology at the moment. And I think as schools now are shifting from crisis mode into a more, I wouldn't say stable, but a different, the new normal, I think we really have to be aware we're working with humans; and so being able to work in a way that helps them manage the cognitive load of what we've been through and where we need to go now.
So yeah, my skill set at the moment is nowhere near integrating technology into the classroom. It's so much more of taking care of people, which is lovely, but it also really makes you think about, "Okay. What can I control in this setting right now? What do I have an influence on? And then what do I just need to accept that this is where we are right now?" And there's nothing I can change about that. So it's been a very interesting started the school year, I have to say.
Jaclyn: I think that you both explain it really well. Even with this example of you talking about how it is technology integration, understanding how technology can create meaningful learning opportunities is something you do. And yet right now, that isn't at the forefront. I was thinking about in the podcast that you did in March, you really talked about some things that are now on display for the whole world to see that we all know working in schools. One being how schools are complex organisms with all these interdependent parts. One of them being like what you just explained, really caring for people and building relationships. But also that the finger pointing that you talk about and the finger pointing about who's to blame for things not working the way they're supposed to, or teaching and learning not flowing the way people expect it to, that's something that really led you to the book. So you talk a lot about mindset in the book, and I just wondered if you could tell a little bit about your perspective of mindset when it comes to technology integration as a part of this whole complex system?
Katierose: So we outline in the book, what we call the integrate model, and that identifies the six kind of interdependent elements that exist within a school that can support effective technology integration. One of those, as you said, is mindset. And I think at the current moment we're at right now as a whole world within the field of education, it becomes... everything kind of hinges on that at the moment and I'm seeing this in the school. All the experiences that teachers have, everything from your own school experience, to your teaching experience, to the culture you grew up with, all of these things contribute to your mindset. The past six months of what teachers and leaders have lived through also contributes to your mindset, especially related to your technology mindset. And so it's going to be really important, I think, as leaders move forward and teachers move forward in this next phase to think about, "How am I working to create a positive institutional mindset within my school?"
Part of that is recognizing that everyone that works within that school, everyone that's collaborating together has experiences, has opinions and beliefs and those all have value. Whether or not you agree with them, that's regardless. They still have value, and they're part of the package of that person. But within this field and when you're working within a school, there are expectations professionally. I think, as leaders, we need to start working with staff to recognize what their current mindset is, accept that that's what it is, and then start identifying where in your practices that having a negative impact and then let's work from there.
Sarah: It was so important to us to kind of include that in the model because it is this piece that it kind of goes unsaid. There's this sort of expectation that teachers will just do the thing. We'll buy the stuff and they'll do the thing, right? But teachers are human beings who have opinions and beliefs and all the rest of it. If we just assume or expect or demand that teachers are going to get on board without questioning; well, for starters, that's unrealistic, but more importantly, where the strength of teachers lie in some ways is this critical thinking that they bring to the profession that protects our students from fads and flashes in the pan, and the fact that we have educational reforms that flip-flop on a kind of like by decade basis, but we bring that continuity and that kind of student-centric view of saying, "What is it that my students need?"
So the fact that teachers can be hesitant about change or development or tools is not a bad thing. It's a good thing because it's what keeps the ship steady and going along a path instead of changing direction every five minutes. But within that, we have to then provide space to explore the mindset that the teachers bring to our context to unpack it, "Where does it come from? How is it impacting on our practice?" And to have those conversations because that, in our experience, is kind of the most transformative thing that you can really do with a staff to move your technology integration forward is to have that human conversation about... That's what mindset is. It's not just how we feel about technology, but why we feel that way and the impact that it has on our practice and what can then I, as a leader, do to support my individuals, my teachers, and my organization in developing that mindset in a positive direction?
Jaclyn: I love how you both described this humanity in teaching. And I feel like I always enjoy going back to thinking about the humanity in education, and thinking about all the things that happen in education where the humanity is removed, both for teachers and for students, and this is one of those pieces. Like you just said, Sarah, you buy the thing and they'll do the thing. That's this very black and white thought process of, "Well, you don't have it. Now, you do. Now, you can do the thing." It makes me think of this not only are teachers human and students are human, but teachers have this wide range of talents from class to class, and that doesn't invalidate somebody else's talents just because technology integration isn't one of them, but it really makes this moment very challenging when people don't have a mindset of what technology is supposed to be in this moment with everyone remote or hybrid learning.
So I was thinking about what do you see as the difference between the mindset of embracing technology before March and now, and what's something that we can embrace as a mindset that will help us sustain?
Sarah: Well, I think it's really an interesting moment, that it's almost like if you look at it like an experiment almost that before March, technology was an option. And sure, we believe it was kind of more than an option, that it should be something that's embedded and integrated because it gives us these opportunities, it breaks down challenges for kids, but it was optional in the sense that you could opt out. You could just not do it. And lots of teachers did just not do it. And then remote learning came and it became not just optional, but crucial, It was the way that learning could be facilitated, the only way, you know? So there was this element of kind of requirement and need that in some ways has a positive impact, I think, on mindset and seeing... it opens up the kind of opportunities for teachers of, "Oh, look what I can do. Maybe it's not so scary after all."
But I do also think that this aspect of being forced to do something by circumstances beyond your control is damaging to the mindset in some ways because there's this very negative experience associated with it of loss of control, of fear, of anxiety, and not just being forced to go online with teaching, but being forced to go online and help your kids learn online at the same time, or manage your small children, or work in the same room as your spouse and all of these kinds of things to add all of this stress to it. So I do think that there's this shift there that occurred that's both positive and negative in the experiences that it brought to teachers on a personal level, but also the opportunities that it brings us potentially moving forward to have learned things about how technology can enhance learning that we would not otherwise necessarily have learned, certainly not in this timeframe.
Katierose: And I agree with you, Sarah. Unfortunately, the shift happened because of our context, but it kept people in this perpetual state of being uncomfortable and that's incredibly wearing on people. Whereas sometimes when you integrate technology for a lesson, maybe you're a bit uncomfortable, but then you're okay. But we were in this perpetual state, which I think, like Sarah says has much positive and opportunity that came from it, it can also be very damaging for some people. My hope now is that as people move forward, whether they're remaining in a hybrid or a blended learning setting, or they're back on campus like I am, that we're able to take a breath, but also move forward without just going back to our comfort zone.
But take this as an opportunity and see where technology has actually enhanced the learning for your students because not all students did this home learning come as a cost. We had several students that actually did really well because lots of other barriers that they have in the classroom didn't exist at home, and that also needs to be said and recognized. So as we move forward as schools, I think when we're talking specifically about mindset and things like this, I think it's about having the mindset to be willing to be uncomfortable again to find those opportunities where technology can act as a tool to enhance learning.
Sarah: I think part of that, that came up in one of our courses, was this conversation around need versus advantage, that one of the ways to help teachers kind of move forward in their mindset with technology is to demonstrate a need that technology can address. For example, the one that I always use because it came from our own context was you take all these photos of your kids in the classroom with all these grand ideas of printing them and putting them into portfolios or whatever, and it's so challenging because Zach and Lucy are in this one, and Lucy and Jim are in that, and it takes up so much time. So then you have something like Seesaw or digital learning journal, you see, "Okay. Well, the need I have is to organize these photos and that helps me do this in a more manageable way."
I think part of moving the mindset away from the kind of the trauma of this moment for teachers is where's the advantage? Not just the need. We need to use technology because it's the only way we can teach our kids right now, but there are true advantages, as well as needs to doing it in this way for some kids and for some contexts because that is the piece kind of moving forward from this is this question of, where can we take what we have done previously in traditional in-person classroom teaching and evolve it? Where can we look for what we were doing previously and say, "That may have been familiar, but it wasn't optimal and maybe there is a better way to do this; better for me, better for the kids, as opposed to just being, 'I have no option right now. I'm going to have to do it like this. But when this is over, you better believe I'm going back to exactly how I did it before.'" Maybe there's things we don't want to go back to doing exactly how we did it before.
Jaclyn: I know. Well, I think you're right. There certainly are things that we don't want to go back to and you really even answer the next question I had on my mind, which is just thinking about how we shift our mindset to sustain the year. Really, it is looking to see what we can do that we couldn't do before and looking for those successes. Like you said, we can't discount the students that really thrived, whether it's in March or thriving now because of those barriers. And there are a long list of barriers they could be, from cultural to social, emotional, to various learning needs. The list really does just go on. So I think when we can get into a space where we can learn from those and find what we're going to take forward with us, that's when we'll really be able to see the silver lining because I think it's really hard. Everyone's exhausted right now. It's really hard to see... And if you say, "See the silver lining," some people get frustrated. "I can't. I can't see the silver lining now."
Katierose: Well, let's be honest. They actually want to spit in your face or take the glass, which is totally valid.
Katierose: But I think you're absolutely right. And that's where we have to remember that we're working with humans and we need to take care of the human piece because without that, we can talk, we can set up professional development, we can do all these things, but if people aren't in a place where they're ready to engage at that level, then it doesn't matter. It all comes back to like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and if they're not feeling cared for, if they're not feeling secure, then that inhibits what we're able to do in that moment. So I think coming out of this crisis too, when we think about all the pieces that contribute to effective technology integration, purpose, resources, pedagogy, curriculum, leadership, this past six months has kind of exposed some of maybe the cracks or the seams that aren't quite together, quite interconnected.
I think it's good to make that note and recognize these things and make sure they have a place and you have them stored. So that way when the time comes and you can look to the future, you can address some of these cracks in a way that's sustainable, in a way that's integrated into your vision as a school. That way, it lives beyond the classroom as well.
Sarah: I think are those cracks you talk about, and I've experienced this with some of the teachers that we work with in different contexts, is the way that being in kind of that day-to-day normal traditional school setting with all of the kinds of supports that it has, has at times, allowed us to stop thinking about what we want to teach or what we want our students to learn and be focusing so much more on what we want to do. And that that move into remote learning has kind of forced us to really refocus on this, "Well, what I was going to do is not going to work, but why was I going to do that? What did I actually want them to learn? What was the core learning that I had in mind for this?" I had a conversation with a music teacher pretty early on, who was preparing for fifth grade graduation and what he was going to be teaching was the graduation performance.
That was what he had planned and like, "How am I going to do that? How are we going to do the graduation performance?" I was saying, "Well, why do you do a graduation performance? What are the learning objectives? What do you actually want the students to get out of doing this performance? Is it about confidence in a performing situation? Is it about practicing? Is it about pitch? Is it about singing?" and so kind of broke that down and what are the advantages to this situation then that I will allow you to teach what it was that you wanted to teach, but in a different way, so all of the students can still do a performance, that they can do on the instrument that they have at home, which you couldn't have done in school or have them sing. They can check in with you live for tips and to practice. They can perform live still, or they can record for those students for whom live performance is actually a barrier to success because they feel very anxious about it.
So kind of that redefinition away from doing to learning, that kind of activity versus purpose is, I think, a really good place to start when teachers are feeling overwhelmed by remote learning instead of kind of scrambling to figure out how you're going to do what you had planned to do. Instead, kind of really paring that back down. What did you want the children to learn? And what is a way that you could do that in this new context that makes sense?
Jaclyn: Yeah. I think that approach can really help school leaders too, and it may even be more challenging because I feel like if you're a school leader, if you're an administrator, you're hearing it from so many different angles and levels above you, this state, or the superintendent, and it's so hard to keep that in focus. What is it? You want teachers to be able to do? Engage kids and teaching and learning. And when we get mixed up in all of the things that we feel like we should be doing, that we would have done if we were in the building, the one thing that comes to mind is this constant, "Well, how are we going to assess the kids? How are we going to assess the kids?" And sure, it's important that we know that they're learning, but maybe the assessments we were using in the classroom before weren't the best anyway. So here's our chance.
Katierose: And I think for so long, and especially, I'll say especially in education, but I don't know if it's really especially in education, but the system was built to provide for the industrial revolution and it hasn't changed much since then. Some of the buildings, we're still in grade level classrooms. Now, you'll see more collaborative spaces, but we're only just starting to see flexible spaces in classrooms. We're only just starting to see some individualized learning programs, you know? Even though we were out of that error for so long, it seems like education, it takes a long time for it to also evolve. This put all of us, the whole educational field in a tailspin because we had to change.
So for some people, it was over a night, over a weekend and they couldn't even go back into their classroom and get anything they had. So it was really that, that is something that I think our field has never really experienced to the same capacity. And I have to say, overall, I'm incredibly proud of what our educators have been able to do with the lack of resource some of them had, the lack of training and just the sheer will to try and provide as much as they could for the students in their own home, in their own time. I've been incredibly impressed, but I also think we've had to do something that historically, that hasn't happened in our field in that same way before.
Sarah: It's also one of the reasons why we have to resist this push from some corners to replicate traditional teaching online. This is the opportunity to break that mold. There's never going to be a better opportunity to move out of an education system that is no longer fit for purpose because like you said, moving out of the school context reveals these cracks. I almost have this vision in my mind that our school systems are almost like a jelly mold, and the way that we educate is like slightly unset jelly. You take the mold away and it falls apart. Right? What better opportunity to rebuild it to be fit for it now instead of to be fit for 200 years ago? ... are we going to get.
Jaclyn: You both explain this so well. It's been really great to talk to you about today. I hope we can talk again soon. I really want to talk more about leadership in times like this, and maybe we can get together again and talk about leadership and remote learning and where we're headed from here.
Sarah: That would be wonderful.
Katierose: We look forward to it. Thank you very much.
Sarah: Thank you.
Jaclyn: Yeah. Thank you.
Sarah Gilmore is an EdTech Integration Specialist at Berlin International School in Berlin, Germany. She has taught internationally for many years as an Elementary classroom teacher, before specializing in the use of technology to enhance learning across the curriculum. In addition to her teaching and coaching work, Sarah presents at conferences and workshops internationally.
She is a co-founder of Intechgrate.eu with Katierose Deos, where she consults with schools and their teachers on integrating technology into wider teaching and learning. You can connect with her on Twitter at @S_J_Gilmore.
Katierose Deos started her teaching career teaching in K–8 classrooms in the United States. She is currently the Primary Years Curriculum Coordinator at Berlin International School in Berlin, Germany, where she works to implement, develop, and enhance curriculum at both the primary and whole school level. Katierose presents at conferences and workshops internationally.
She is a co-founder of Intechgrate.eu with Sarah Gilmore, where she consults with schools and their teachers on integrating technology into wider teaching and learning. You can connect with her on Twitter at @DeosKatierose.