The one thing that will change a teacher’s hardened heart


Teaching | Thursday, November 12, 2015

The one thing that will change a teacher’s hardened heart


Sometimes, as educators, we try to help others see how great things can be if we do them differently. I’ve found that one thing works better than anything else. (Creative Commons photo via Jisc)

At the two schools where I’ve taught in my career, I’ve been branded as the techie teacher. That’s been a good thing and a difficult thing.

It’s been great because students get excited to try some of the experiences they get through technology. It has also opened some great conversations with colleagues about how they can improve instruction.

In my own school and at the many schools I travel to when I present at conferences and workshops, being a techie teacher can be a stigma that’s hard to overcome.

Some teachers’ hearts seem to be hardened to the idea of using technology in their classes. Some are just hardened to trying anything new in their classes.

I have found that there’s one way to reach those teachers with the hardened hearts … one way that seems to work better than anything else.

What I thought for many years that would work doesn’t work as well as this one way. Here are some approaches that I’ve seen (and used myself) that don’t cut it quite as well as this one way

  • Showing the research behind tech integration and certain techniques
  • Demonstrating the awesome features of certain game-changing tools
  • Talking about how an expert has used it somewhere else in the country or world
  • Discussing students’ opinions on using technology and certain sites and apps

All of these have their place (and it’s usually further convincing those that are already bought in to the power of tech in the classroom!).

But they’re not as good as this …

Success stories from your own classroom.

Many times, I’ve found that teachers who are disinterested in change and new ideas don’t care much about the experts. They’ll think it doesn’t apply to their own situation.

They don’t care much about the research. They’ll say there are flaws in the research or that it doesn’t connect to the real world.

They don’t care much about the tech that students want to see. They’ll say that students don’t know what’s best for them anyway and their experience in education overrides.

But if you’re having success — or one of your colleagues in your building or district is having success — that can be powerful to convince even the most cynical. Results prove that something’s working, and seeing those results right at home shows that they’re real and someone isn’t just trying to tell a good story that’s slightly untrue.

On this blog and in my book, I try to do two things — give you practical ways you can teach with less reliance on the textbook AND talk about ways we can ditch the old “textbook” views of education that might not work.

If you’re interested in ditching what doesn’t work — and helping others to ditch it, too — don’t be afraid to share your story. Sometimes we see it as bragging too much or being too self-promoting. Somewhere along the way, educators have decided that they’re best served keeping their good news to themselves.

Spreading our success stories could be our best chance at changing education, though. It’s like what Margaret Mead said (a quote I’ve been coming back to a lot recently): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If we want to change education — and, in turn, change the world — we have to tell our stories, show our success, talk about our positive results.

[reminder]What do you think is our best chance to help cynical, unmotivated teachers change their ways? [/reminder]

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  • Jordana says:

    I think it is very important that the administrator demonstrates the style and success themselves. One should shy away from using another teacher to demonstrate to other teachers. It may backfire and lead to animosity and jealousy. In order to get the job done right and the focus to remain on the students progress, the administrator should “administer” the lesson.

  • Dawna Lisa Butterfield says:

    I’ve found that if I can uncover and praise at least one practice that an unmotivated or “hardened” teacher does and then show enthusiasm for extending it in an exciting “new” way that involves technology and THEN make him/her the expert in even just that one small thing – the world can change!

    • Matt Miller says:

      Ahh, Dawna, you nailed it! Help them become experts. Sounds like Dan Pink in “Drive”, where he talks about the three factors that drive our motivation — mastery, autonomy and purpose. Mastery = becoming really good at something. Autonomy = Having freedom to guide ourselves. Purpose = The pursuit of something higher than ourselves. Mastery always motivated me, too!

  • Ken Keene says:

    Recitation of an old adage with a hint of set theory added might act as a heart softener:

    “When they drew a circle to keep me out, then I drew a circle to bring them in.”

    If a “frown” creates an intersection ∩ that may result in an empty set ∅ of old practices, then just “smile” back to create a union ∪ that may result in a full set of new ideas.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Oh my goodness … Ken, I love it! I may have to turn this one into a sketch and share it so that more people can see it. I love your insights … so glad to have you as a part of this community!

  • Suzanne S. says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this blog post. And I would even go a step further with some experience I’ve had as a building level administrator. As a principal, I often had to work with challenging teachers who were stuck in place and just did not want to move. Frequently, sharing success stories with them worked, but what worked even better was when they could see those successes with their own eyes. I could tell Miss Smith all day long that her student John could be well behaved, motivated, and engaged in Mr. Jones’s class all day long, but she might still say that John was not a good student for her. But…get her into Mr. Jones’s class on a day when the students were up and working, being challenged with new problems, getting the opportunity to collaborate, or integrating technology into their work? Seeing John as a motivated, engaged student in the right environment? That speaks volumes. Now, it’s not just a STORY about a success. It’s hard-hitting, real evidence. And the evidence doesn’t lie!

    • Matt Miller says:

      I know exactly what you mean! I always wonder when teachers discount a student as the kind who can’t be motivated. I’ve done my best to keep kids engaged, motivated and learning in class, but I’ve had some that just didn’t connect but really did with another teacher. And what does that make me want to do? Go watch that teacher and figure out what he/she is doing!

  • Mark Kuniya says:

    Great post, Matt. As a 1:1 instructional coach, I’ve been dealing with the exact same resistance that you wrote about. Sharing with colleagues can be so powerful. Depending on who is sharing, it might cause other teacher to think, “If he’s doing it, so can I!” I’m working on getting to the core of teacher motivation. I believe even the most resistant and hard-nosed teacher wants to do what’s right for his or her students. By tapping in to a teacher’s sense of autonomy, he or she may be more motivated when the strategy or tool shows a real impact on student learning.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Mark, this is interesting … we have another comment on this post about mastery and you’re talking about autonomy … it’s all connecting back to Dan Pink’s book “Drive” on motivation. If we don’t force PD and give teachers some choice over what they want to learn, that can be powerful!

  • Ryan says:

    I agree, it can be very difficult to change their minds or even show them a new tool that they could use. I do hate it when I do hear a teacher go: “The students don’t know what the best tech is for them.” Or my favorite: “It’ll be ‘too hard’ for them.” Sometimes showing results both in their classroom or in your own can still not motivate them. Even with PD, sad to say there is a clusp of teachers, young ones too who learned through the traditional textbook way and that’s how they still feel they have to. Unlike many now, who will pull out their phones, laptops and start using other tools for their lessons and projects. It can be a very tough wall to scale or one to move for teachers who just don’t want to change.

    • Matt Miller says:

      You’re right, Ryan … and, to their credit, there are very good teachers who use the traditional textbook way and do great things in their classroom. But like what you alluded to, I hate when teachers limit themselves and have themselves painted into a corner in their instructional methods, so to speak. You’re exactly right … it can be very tough.

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