Technology plays an important role in many critical global issues - climate change, gender equity, health and disease, poverty. But one thing is certain, the most direct path to developing solutions to these global challenges is through quality education. And the path to quality education lies with a child’s access to highly effective teachers amplified by technology.
In education, we have all heard the expression “technology is a tool, not the solution.”
Here’s why our future depends on our ability to own that truth...
Technology accelerates what happens in the classroom. And in the absence of great teachers, technology can amplify poor results and behavior. Since that is likely not the goal of most districts’ tech plan, we need to prioritize sound lesson design, strong student engagement strategies, and positive classroom culture adapted for the digital age. (See www.schlechtycenter.org, www.visiblelearning.org, and www.digitallearningcollab.com for some great free resources.)
With these roots in place, technology can amplify results for our kids by allowing choice and individualization in path, place, time, or pace. There are wonderful examples of technology making education more accessible for children, particularly for schools in rural or underserved communities (Keeping Pace Report DLC Snapshot, 2019). The common theme among these success stories is that technology is most powerful when incorporated into a broader professional learning plan for teachers.
The looming education crisis...
By 2030, UNESCO projects that the teacher shortage will explode to a gap of 69 million teachers. Breaking that down into bite-size milestones, to provide every child with K-12 education, we need to fill a gap of over 30 million teachers in 2020… next year. This leaves us with a jaw-dropping 250 million kids who will not receive proper education. The future effects of this inability to educate our youth should stop us all in our tracks.
And yet, it is a solvable crisis.
It will be nearly impossible to truly fill the impending teacher shortage. In the absence of teachers, some are turning to technology to fill those gaps and replace teachers.
But what we should really be doing is arming great teachers with technology so they can reach more children and help them stay in school.
Technology can allow one teacher to reach 30, 40, 50 different learning needs, rather than “teaching to the middle,” losing kids who are behind, or boring kids who are ready to move on. A great teacher armed with engaging technology can change the world.
Great teachers + technology is the equity answer.
In 1996, Sanders & Rivers published a study comparing teachers among four levels of effectiveness. The difference in student achievement was 50 percentile points after just three years. Fast forward two decades, and the gap continues to widen for kids attending schools with great teachers amplified by technology, and schools without.
School leaders who focus on deepening teacher effectiveness will close the equity gap. To do this, professional learning plans should include the following four key components:
- Mindset and actionable skills. Classroom culture is just as important as content knowledge.
- Delivery method that models the pedagogy. PD on blended learning should be delivered in a blended format.
- Tech plans that include blended learning strategies. Many teachers report receiving training on devices or apps, but not strategies to use the devices in engaging lesson design.
- Job-embedded coaching. A study from Jim Knight compared the skill transfer rate for a workshop (15%) vs. workshop + coaching (85%). If you really want skills to “stick,” provide teachers with support to practice and refine great lessons.
I have seen it in action. In 2009, I had the honor of opening a public school and was principal for seven years. At PSD Global Academy, we had the freedom to innovate, using technology in new ways. We personalized learning, and many of our kids went from being on the verge of dropping out to having the highest growth scores in the state. The school won awards and was used as a case study for other schools across the country. My focus: support teachers using the components listed above.
You may be thinking, “Yes, but that is in the U.S. How are we going to solve a global crisis?”
In 2016, I became the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit TeachUNITED. Our mission: solve inequality through education. Many organizations around the world deploy technology. Guess where we start? With teachers. We support them with coaches and a hybrid PD curriculum that includes both growth mindset and blended learning pedagogy. Then we arm them with technology and mobile tablet labs to amplify their outcomes. We continue to refine our model, as evidenced by our 60 partner schools in the US, Central America, and East Africa.
Impact on Student Learning
I visited the home of one of our students in Tanzania last year, just outside the Serengeti. While there, I had the opportunity to observe her teacher who had just completed our coaching program. In a region where traditional teaching is primarily lecture and memorization, this teacher was using blended learning and a station rotation model. The kids in this packed classroom were researching science and health care in a school that is completely off-grid - no electricity, internet, or running water. The teacher was using a mobile tablet lab with an offline server, downloaded digital resources, and solar power. In this region with vast teacher shortages, our girls doubled their secondary school graduation rates after two years in the program. (TeachUNITED Impact Report, 2018)
My team has a saying, “Where a child was born should not determine how far she can go.”
Education equals opportunity, and we now have the ability to bridge the digital divide. Effective teachers help break cycles of inequality and change lives. Let’s use our resources to support great teachers with thoughtful technology… in that order.