Like many schools, mine is heading down the path of offering our students more opportunities to use digital technology. I trained relatively recently and, in what now seems ironically like a blessing, spent the first four years of my teaching career in four different schools. This meant I’ve had to spend lots of time teaching myself how to use a range of platforms, systems and programmes. From wiki first then to moodle followed by ultranet and now Microsoft 365. And those are just the LMSs I’ve encountered. I also spent a year teaching and learning with an iPad class. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention although it’s not a path I’d recommend.
Secondary teachers are often accused of lagging behind their primary teaching colleagues when it comes to adapting 21st century learning tools. But what I’ve observed over the past six years is that many are often totally overwhelmed by HOW to incorporate digital technologies in their daily teaching practices which is not the same as being somehow philosophically opposed to the idea. They don’t always have access to hardware in their classrooms in which to seamlessly integrate those devices into their lessons, there is next to no tech support and scant opportunities for PD. It’s a lot to ask of people who already work long hours, many of whom have families young and old of their own to support outside of school.
It’s no wonder many are left feeling overwhelmed (or worse underwhelmed) by decrees to use digital technology, more, now. The pressure caused by such demands should be addressed – surely as part of the current emphasis on teacher wellbeing because if we are stressed and overwhelmed than it stands to reason that our students, with less resilience and coping strategies, are even more so.
Solutions could include teacher release days to ensure staff have opportunities to investigate and explore what works for them, dedicated tech support staff in schools to take the onus of teachers with IT interests and ensuring those offering workshops (often suppliers of software) are up to date with issues faced by individual schools when it comes to adapting technology – wifi access, hardware access, financial constraints, infrastructure needs such as access to powerpoints etc. in short, funding and expertise.
Not everyone teaches in MLEs where devices are freely available to students 100% of the time. Not all of our students have access to the internet at home and no, they don’t all have smart phones (surely that’s a piecemeal solution anyway?). Instead of pointing fingers at classroom teachers and putting so many under so much pressure, bigger issues around access to hardware, software, support and PD must be the focus.
Every day I see teachers achieving remarkable feats through dedication, intelligence, effort, talent and sometimes, sheer bloody mindedness. There are young innovators and wise old(er) heads and every one of them has something of value to offer pedagogically speaking. But even the most passionate educator is no magician. If we are truly serious about giving students opportunities to become connected, collaborative, creative lifelong learners, than we have to ensure their teachers are afforded the same opportunities. If we don’t, the current inefficiencies, stresses and tensions will continue to fester resulting in burnout and more missed opportunities.