3 tips for training teachers in innovation

Students engaged in group work, being led by a teacher.

Changing school models and tech-savvy students demand more training, administrator participation

The popular image of the teacher was once the “sage on a stage,” a strict disciplinarian who spent most of class lecturing a group of obedient students. Think Anne of Green Gables going head-to-head with the uptight Mr. Philips, or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms reciting a lesson learned by heart.

That image was likely always an overstatement — even in the books, Mr. Philips was replaced by the far more freewheeling Ms. Stacy, who encouraged play and games — but today, it appears it has been decisively replaced. Rather than the keeper of all relevant content knowledge, teachers are expected to contextualize information, cater to different learning styles, and teach students to think rather than recite.

For teachers, that shift means they must address challenges that are constantly changing — and that their training often neglected to prepare them for. Administrators interested in trying something new must then supplement with additional training and education.

But much of the training offered by districts is out of date and out of sync with their needs. Boring and time-consuming professional development methods and topics, often made irrelevant by innovative school models, is a frequent subject of complaint from teachers.

Dr. Jeanette Jones, a longtime teacher trainer and dean of education at American InterContinental University, says that administrators can play a key role in making sure teachers are ready to take on new instructional strategies and adapt to new school models. Here are three tips for administrators looking to support teachers for innovative instruction:

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1. Teach teachers the way you want them to teach students

If teachers are supposed to know what a 21st century classroom should look like, they probably need to experience it first themselves. But the way they are often trained looks more like something out of the 1950s.

“Administrators have to realize that calling them in for a training session and putting them to sleep won’t work,” said Jones.

As classrooms move toward more interactive and tech-driven learning, so should teacher training. It can be as simple as encouraging teachers to doodle their ideas and visually present them to their peers, like a class project. But also consider utilizing tactics like small group learning or online assessments for your teachers if you want them to work in classrooms.

2. Vet the products

Every day, it seems like a new tech product pops up that promises to transform teaching. Many, but not all, are free and easily available, and many districts are giving teachers and principals latitude to try things out. But letting it become a free-for-all can quickly become a distraction. That’s where the role of the administrator is key.

“Teachers don’t need to test every little thing coming down the block,” said Jones. “Our teachers today don’t have any extra time to do all that.”

She suggested getting a group of teachers together and testing out products. Afterwards, make sure they’re using them and that they feel comfortable doing so.

3. Watch the teachers (but don’t lose sight of the goal)

Jones recommends spending time in classrooms getting to know how teachers already use technology. That will make finding the right resources for that teacher easier.

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For example, she remembers watching a student ask a teacher a difficult question in class. The teacher was stumped and returned to her computer. As the student continued to work on the problem, the teacher put a desperate call out on Twitter, asking for ways to help the student.

“Before the student had even finished breathing, she had seven different ways to solve that problem,” said Jones. Her supervisor even jumped in with a suggestion. If her supervisor hadn’t been aware of how the teacher problem-solved, they couldn’t have jumped in to help.

But Jones cautioned against relinquishing too much control. “You still need to be the leader of the institution,” she said. “You have to lead them down a path that meets your goals and your objectives. There’s no point in doing anything if you can’t tie it back to your goals.”