In a previous Twitter Book Club post I discussed four strategies I believe work well for working with teacher professional development where the goal is to bring teachers from assimilation to accommodation of new learning, something I believe is extremely necessary with technology integration. I believe I have stumbled upon a fifth and powerfully effective strategy to add to this list. This strategy will also probably work for anyone working with others to deliver professional development in a coaching setting but it seems to be especially relevant for tech integration since many teachers are often reluctant to come ask for help for any number of reasons. To explain this strategy let me tell you about how I came to it.
Last April I bought a used car that doesn't have automatic headlights. It is the first car I have owned since I began driving in 1992 that didn't have this now basic feature. So far this has not been a huge problem. The length of the days in the summertime mean that I rarely need to use them on my to or from work. However, now that the days are starting to get shorter it is dark enough when I leave my house in the morning that I need them on and my drive is long enough that by the time I get to work I have long past the time when I need them. Consequently, since school started there have been four times when I forgot to shut off my lights after I parked my car and went into work. By noon my battery is drained and I need help jump-starting my car.
It seems like it is always a little bit embarrassing to ask someone to help you jump-start your car, especially when you know the reason is because of your own absent-mindedness. You have to put your tail between your legs and ask someone to help you fix your own mess. In my case the people I asked help from, at least for three of these four times, were people who I had not yet built a strong collegiate relationship with. Asking for help and then receiving it is a bonding experience between both parties. Since these bonding experiences I have noticed the people who helped me have been more likely to approach me at school with problems they have with technology or to ask for suggestions for how they might improve something they are doing in their class. They have also been more comfortable with me coming into their classrooms and assisting them with their classes or even just observing them teach.
I don't know why this never occurred to me before as a necessary strategy to use. In fact, I don't know that it would necessarily work if these were not authentic situations where I needed help. I used to use this strategy all the time when I taught at-risk learners at an alternative learning center. In that setting I saw a disproportionate number of students who for one reason or another had built a wall between them and those in authority, especially those who represented "schooly" authority like teachers and principals. I always found that to reach these kids I had to show them a little bit of my vulnerable side, I had to ask them for help with something. Usually, once removing my teacherly authoritative facade they removed theirs and often they became model students in my classroom. In fact, thinking back on every year I taught art in the face-to-face classroom this was the case.
Given the fact that among sectors of the economy education ranks last in its use of technology and so many teachers report being uncomfortable with it, maybe it makes sense to think of teachers as "at-risk" learners. Maybe, on this topic, it makes sense to apply some "at-risk" pedagogies to teacher professional development. But then, what I found worked well with "at-risk" students worked well with mainstream students as well.
So, what should we call this strategy?