In part 3 of this 4-part interview, Class Tech Tips founder Monica Burns tells school leaders how they can support their teachers with classroom edtech.

Watch the video on supporting edtech implementation, or read the transcript below.

Offer edtech choices instead of edtech answers

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk, I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform that streamlines feedback to teachers. Today, we’re talking with Monica Burns. She’s the author of “EdTech Essentials” published in 2021 by ASCD and also runs the very popular website classtechtips.com and has also been a speaker at, well, the list of conferences is very long, but it includes South by Southwest EDU, ISTE, FETC. Monica, thanks so much for joining us today.

– Thank you for having me.

– I want to head next into the realm of leaders of schools, because I feel like everybody knows you as the person with class tech tips, but of course, the classroom is sitting in the context of the school and I think you also have a lot to offer when it comes to helping leaders support teachers. So maybe let’s start big picture, you know, talk to the school leaders out there, talk to the coaches out there. Maybe they’re feeling great. Maybe they’re treading water on this, this edtech thing. Like what do you say to somebody to help them get their bearings and help them support teachers who, you know, have a need to adopt technology into their teaching?

– Yeah, so as you mentioned, a lot of my work is teacher facing, sharing things from my classroom experience in the classrooms I get to spend a lot of time in, but right alongside of that work is with digital learning coaches, with folks who are working for instructional support throughout a K-12 building and school leaders uphold the building and district level who want to make sure their teachers are set up for success, that they have the right resources and that they have the support throughout the school year that they need to make sure the use of technology is happening in a strategic and robust way. So when talking with school leaders, we’ll often have conversations on what their primary goals are and what their priorities are. There’s so many different things that you can do with technology, but if you’re looking for a big, uh, initiative where you’re pushing things out all at once in one and all in one place, as we know that, no matter what that is, whether it’s edtech or some other type of initiative, it can be really overwhelming for educators. And as we think about being purposeful with those choices, I’ll often ask them to think about what is currently going on, so an area of strength are in high capacity throughout the building, where we could layer on a use of digital tools to really take that up to the next level. So building off of the assets within a group already and choosing smaller moments where we might place some emphasis and support. So if there’s a school where they’re looking to increase their use of formative assessment routines and being really purposeful about gathering information and pivoting instruction, based on that, we might look at strategies for using technology specifically around formative assessment. Another area that I’ll often recommend thinking through is something that might lead down the line to, uh, train the trainer model. So you might have a few self-selected folks who a school leader has given times, so not on top of all the other things, but has either removed something or given them space in their schedule to dive into a little bit deeper. So they might be someone who’s doing a very traditional type of pilot, right? I’m going to try this out, see if it feels good and then bring it out to, say a whole grade level team or department, or it might be someone who is going to work through something or a few different things and help make a decision out of school leadership level or a district leadership level. So there’s a few different angles that a school leader can consider when looking through what they’d like to accomplish with technology, with using different digital tools and that idea of aligning to assets and high capacity areas, findings are in members of the school community who’ve expressed interest and are self selected and give them some time and space to explore and then share.

– You know, I like that how you started all of that was reminding us that, you know, having technology in the classroom and thinking of it with, you know, the word initiative, right? It’s just like any other initiative in the building and you wouldn’t have 27 academic initiatives running at the same time because, you know, how would you balance all those things? And so thinking of it in that same kind of pick a few, pick one or two, even maybe, um, you know, I’m curious, there may be some questions out there. If, if your leaders like, um, your role on creating opportunities for choice versus your role for curating and, you know, have you, have you seen one way work better than the other, you know, in terms of how they kind of set the stage for what teachers will ultimately implement in their classrooms?

– I think it’s really important to have open lines of communication and transparency throughout the entire process of recommending or sharing different tools. That could be all the way from saying we’ve chosen this because of, you know, all the privacy concerns or all of those boxes are checked here. Things that someone might not think of, if they’re not making those kind of decisions day to day, and being really transparent about those choices, or we chose to invest in this tool and professional development around implementing this strategy next to this tool because it’s going to address these particular needs that are school-wide. So I like the idea of having strong core vetted tools that are being used alongside specific strategies that everyone in a school community has experience with and is using, if you were working in a school where during the emergency shift to remote learning last year, you know, there were families that were hearing from, from their teachers and getting pinged on three or four different communication apps, right? You know, that’s not good for anyone. And it doesn’t mean that someone might not like a particular tool more than others, but if you’re- there’s a lot of benefits to streamlining some of that adoption of core tools that are being used in a district in school; I would just say it’s important to listen to your community members, listen to folks who have used different things, include them in the decision-making process, but then be very transparent and clear about the why behind choosing a tool. So even if someone would have chose something different for them and their class, they know that this is a little bit of a bigger picture decision. On the other side of that, you know, having those vetted resources doesn’t mean there’s a lack of autonomy, right, from a teacher perspective. So there should still be an understanding that, you know, these are our core resources, this is what I’m here to support you with, but there may be moments where you’re bringing in something extra. And if that’s the case, it’s really important to think through what a state or state level policies are regarding, regarding privacy or regarding different things about whether a tool is allowed to be used within a particular space because we know that even with the best intentions, there may be something that comes into play that is just not right. They’re not the right fit for what we’re looking to accomplish from things that go beyond a curriculum perspective. So definitely a few different things to consider, but those core tools that are being supported throughout a school or district are a really great place to start and the more transparent you can be, the better.

– If you are an instructional leader, certainly if you’re an instructional coach, I think you would just say yes to this question. But let’s say you’re an instructional leader, a school building leader, um, someone who has a role that is much more expansive than, well, I’m getting into a dangerous zone there cause I do personally believe that school leaders need to be instructional leaders as well. But my real question here is if you’re a school leader who maybe feels a little bit technologically hesitant, is that okay? Do you need to be a technology expert in order to create the environment and the conditions for your teachers to be faithfully implementing in their classrooms?

– I think it’s important if you don’t know what buttons to press in every tool, to at least know what questions to ask the folks who are using different resources or when you are making decisions. So bringing people together, maybe it is a committee of folks from different spaces who can kind of tell you what this looks like in action, or remind you what you should ask before you are making a big purchasing decision of a tool that’s actually not the right fit, um, is going to be important. And you know, one thing I would say, I’m sure you’ve seen this this year as well, is that a lot of the vocabulary of all members of a school has been elevated when it comes to talking about technology. So asking stronger questions, thinking about digital citizenship in a different way, wondering if something is COPPA or GDPR compliant, right? So there’s been a lot of education around how to vet tools for different areas and if you are someone who’s in a decision-making position and you don’t feel like you have all the information to make a decision, it’s a good opportunity to empower other folks in your school community to come on board, have conversations, join that call with the person you might be purchasing technology from, even if you are ultimately making the final decision.

– Well, Monica, we need to take a break. If you’re interested in hearing more from her, head to classtechtips.com. And if you’re interested in what we talk about next, because this video has been shared to you by one of your colleagues, head to PLtogether.org for the rest of this conversation, as well as many more, Monica, thanks so much for being part of PLtogether.

– Thank you so much for having me.

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