What 3 types of people do you need for your strategic iPad Project Team?
There are three types of teachers in schools when it comes to technology use, and understanding the pros and cons of each will allow you to pick your strongest strategic team.
Abdul Chohan, project leader at the famous ESSA Academy, one of the most successful iPad schools in the world, uses the following analogy:
“Imagine your school is a desert island, and your iPad project represents the next island over. Looking out across the beach, you can see it’s a bit of a swim to get there. Some of your teachers will not even hesitate, jumping in to swim across. These are your earlier adopters. These teachers will be excited about the potential that new technology offers for learning and will adopt its use whole-scale. The next group will stand on the beach looking across to the new island. They’ll talk about the fact there could be sharks in the water, or the current could be stronger than it looks. This group are called the majority. They’ll patiently watch the adoption of iPad within school, waiting for proof before adopting it themselves. They will not actively innovate, rather relying on training and instruction as to what to do. The final group, you will not even find on the beach at all! These will be firmly in the dense jungle at basecamp, safe in familiarity and routine. This group is called the laggards, a very conservative group who often do not see any benefit from the iPad.”
This is one of my favourite analogies because it easily and quickly establishes all the players. In certain instances and environments, you may find that the laggard group becomes a destabilising force for your project. If there is an individual who has the influence and respect of other staff within school, they can quickly spread doubt faster than you can dispel it.
I found this out first hand on a project I ran. Our goal was to develop the use of iPad across GCSE maths to improve a number of target competencies highlighted and set by the leadership team. The department was nicely balanced with two experienced senior leadership level teachers, a number of mid-career, enthusiastic and passionate teachers, and two New Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in their early twenties.
Including The Laggards
If you had guessed that the laggards were the senior or mid-career staff, as you might expect, then you would have been wrong. It was actually the NQTs, both fresh out of University, and part of the ‘technology generation.’ They ended up being a huge anchor on the project, questioning everything we put forward and slowing the momentum. The project overall was a huge success, and it went on to make the NAACE Impact Awards shortlist for ‘Best Use of Technology in a Secondary School.’ However, I saw the lost opportunities for the school having been there first-hand, and we were not able to establish the blended learning environment we knew would take the department to the next level. This was due to dissent from the NQTs which spread doubt through the department when we were not with them.
To contrast this, their head of department, a self-confessed hesitant technology user, became one of the most passionate early adopters I have ever seen, once he understood the potential of iPads in his classroom. The moral of the story is the age-old adage, never judge a book by its cover. We eventually got to the bottom of why the NQTs fought against our work at every step. Their mentor at the school was a serious laggard and saw no role for technology in education. This, combined with her position of respect and influence as one of the old guard at the school was a bad mix. As I learnt more about the school’s inner workings and politics, I saw the damage she had unwittingly done across many departments by imprinting her views on young and impressionable NQTs. Other NQTs held similar views about the uselessness of technology in the classroom.
It is vital to understand the players in the game you are entering. All large organisations looking to drive change are at the whim of internal politics, and schools are no exception. To prepare you for these potential stumbling blocks, let us take a look at the pros and cons of each group.
The 3 Types of People: Pros and Cons
Have a mix of each group and work towards common goals.
It is key that the strategic team has a mix of all three groups so that it represents all stakeholder interests for your school. The general goals the members of the strategic team should work towards are:
- Share best practice, ideas and workflows that have been successful in their subject area
- Resolve problems within their subject area and share the experience enabling others to learn from it and avoid repeating mistakes
- Develop and pioneer new uses of the iPad in their subject area and report back the successes and failures of each
- Alleviate time pressures on yourself as the project leader by acting as the point of contact for their subject area
It is easy to pick a team full of early adopters for your strategic team, but let me add in a word of warning before you do so. These individuals will undoubtedly put themselves forward and be passionate about using the iPad to develop learning, but what most schools underestimate is that early adopters only typically make up 10% of their total staff.
Don't over-innovate with too many early adopters.
If you create a team full of early adopters, you run the risk of over-innovating, setting a pace that others cannot follow, and not motivating the laggards to get involved at all. The result, which I have seen numerous times in schools, is that small pockets of excellence develop while the rest of the teachers remain unengaged and use their iPads as laptop replacements and produce no positive impact.
Don't include too many department heads.
Some schools take a different approach, picking team members based on job rank. Often they end up with a team of department heads, which is another sure-fire way to minimise impact. Selecting more senior members of staff may seem beneficial because they possess a higher pedagogical and strategic understanding within their respected department, but the trade-off is that you have individuals who are already time-poor with their current responsibilities. Allocating them additional unpaid responsibility for the iPad project is not likely to produce the results you are looking for. When they have ten things to do before 9 a.m. on a Monday morning think about which of their responsibilities are going to go to the bottom of the pile.
The best way to choose your team
The secret recipe is to pick your team to include individuals from the early adopter, majority and laggard groups while choosing staff from across the authority scale. Some of the most innovative ideas I have seen have come from NQTs and support staff who relish the opportunity to be part of something as big as an iPad project.
Likewise, individuals from the laggard group are usually the last pick in most strategic teams, but doing so can deprive you of their valuable experience. In regards to technology, the word ‘laggard’ has a negative connotation, referring to someone who makes slow process, or falls behind, but your focus is not actually technology. It is learning. Technology is only the tool in your project, and involving laggards in the strategic team will go a long way to ensuring the project remains focused on how the iPad develops and improves learning.
It may seem like common sense, but classrooms everywhere fall foul of overusing gimmicky apps that have little educational value. I could write an entire book on this alone! The key takeaway is that all staff in your school regardless of age, rank, grouping or anything else have a wealth of value and worth to bring to your project. It is up to you to pick the right people for the job.
Finally, keep in mind that a place in the team is not a life peerage. The strategic team is no place for passengers, and you should make this clear to members who are not contributing. Certain careerist individuals see large technology projects as a means to step up into senior management positions, or to bolster the CV before moving to new pastures. It is rare, but I have seen it happen. The team’s purpose is to create a culture that will drive innovation and inspire the larger staff body. If the strategic team is not working collectively to this goal, then shake things up so that it is.
It is important to have these three types of people on your iPad Project’s team: early adopters, the majority, and the laggards. The early adopters will be enthusiastic innovators and the laggards will keep your team focused on the delivery of learning objectives.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to create the best strategic iPad Project team, read The Tablet Revolution: How to transform student learning with the iPad. Download the first few chapters on our resources page or find it on Amazon. This book is written for school and project leaders looking to use iPads to improve student learning. It follows a step by step approach to enable you to get the most out of the technology and covers many of the most challenging aspects of developing an iPad project.