image from Copyright Dark Horse Comics and New Line Cinema

A little more than a year ago I got a call on my walkie to come to the front office. Despite my ten years in teaching I still have a Pavlovian response to being called to the principal’s office. That should give you some insight on what kind of kid I was. As I approached the office I saw cameras, balloons, and my principal (my truly fearless leader) turning beet red. I knew what this meant immediately.

We had been chosen.

Some background- I work for Baltimore County Public Schools. I am an instructional coach, which means I run all Professional Development in the building. My position is central to the S.T.A.T. Initiative (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), which is the way we plan to enhance teaching and learning for our students. We have implemented a new grading policy. We have done specific training on implementing and using formative assessments for every teacher. We have built our own Learning Management System to help guide all stakeholders through this process. However there is one change that is grabbing many of the headlines. We are going 1:1.

So on that day in late May, filled with nerves, sure that I had done something wrong because why else would I be summoned to the holiest of holies, I learned that we had been chosen to be part of the pilot program for the high school section of the STAT Initiative. Two years before most high schools, we would be getting what had come to be known as ‘The Device’. We would be receiving special training throughout the summer and I would be the point person for that and all on going training throughout the year. I would also be responsible for making sure each student got their device and I would also be the one collecting them at the end of the year. Most importantly, I would become the go-to guy for using the device in classes effectively. If a teacher needed help, or ideas, or even just to talk through their feelings about all the change, they would come see me. Later on, when the other high schools catch up with us, we would be looked at to help with training. Also, we would be receiving visits from other schools, community members, the powers that be, and anybody else who would have a passing interest in the process.

No pressure.

So here I am, one year into the process. I have a whole note pad full of lessons I learned over the past year and I’m sure that I will fill up another one next year. However, in terms of Ed tech I have one big thought. Tech alone, does not make teachers better or worse. It reminds me of THE MASK, that delightful cinematic romp from 1994 that introduced us all to Cameron Diaz and starred the newly popular Jim Carrey. In it our hero, Stanley Ipkiss, puts on the mask and (eventually) finds the hero that lives within. By the end it could be argued that he is the biggest version of himself. Towards the end of the film, our villain, Dorian Tyrell gets the mask and upon wearing it becomes the monster that we all suspect he is. (It is important that you know I wrote that synopsis without the help of the interwebs).

image from Copyright Dark Horse Comics and New Line Cinema

I think about Stanley a lot as I walk through my building observing teachers. He and the Mask went through phases. He did not put it on and immediately become the hero. In fact, he went in the opposite direction for a little bit. The same exists with tech. The landscape is different and we all need to crawl before we run. No single teacher was able to seamlessly integrate the tech with what they already do.  In fact, there was a lot of worry over the tech being a hinderance to the real work of teaching. Much like Ipkiss’ moral center had to shift in order for him to learn, we as teachers have to reconsider our assumptions about our own capabilities.  Not to mention the capability of our students. Remember, Ipkiss did not become his best self with the mask on.  The mask helped him learn how to be his best self.

At the beginning of the year a teacher came to my office crazy overwhelmed with all of the change. “Can I just pick one thing and really know it backwards and forwards?” She asked. “Of course!” I replied not knowing if that would actually be enough. “This is a pilot. We are all going to do the best we can.” Try on the mask, figure things out, and understand that failure is a prerequisite for success.

image from Copyright Dark Horse Comics and New Line Cinema

Then there are the Dorian Tyrell teachers. There are the teachers who simply think that the tech will bring about ease, like Dorian uses the mask to try and overpower his problems. This is an easy assumption to make; I almost don’t blame them. It would seem that in most cases, tech exists to make complex tasks easier. Also, it doesn’t help that ease is usually the sales tactic made to us when we are considering the new classroom management behavior system or formative assessment software. Dorian Tyrell wanted to be the biggest gangster in the city. He assumed that the mask would help him accomplish this task quickly and with ease. In schools, this happens often. We ignore that with tech comes a new learning curve and that we all need to learn it. Students as well as teachers.  

Really, Stanley and Dorian are not very different. Both are unsatisfied with their current position.  Both would like to see immediate change. Both of them imagine a world where they are capable to doing more than they currently are. I am well acquainted with the feeling. I think most teachers are. We do not work in a field of immediate satisfaction. The difference between the two is that Stan is open to learning. As stated, he goes in completely to wrong direction at first. But he is willing to learn from those mistakes and move forward (eventually). Tech does not solve problems. Tech shows us new ways of looking at problems. Is it not a shortcut to what we really want but it is a different path. As teachers we need to be willing to consider that path despite the struggle inherent in taking it.

At the beginning of this process my principal brought the entire staff together and talked to us about the idea of Second Order Change. It is the notion that we will be looking at things differently and we won’t be turning back from it. Most importantly, it requires new learning and often begins informally. As one would expect, that landed better with some than with others.  Nobody likes struggle. Some of us tolerate more than others but nobody is a big fan.Stanley Ipkiss, at the beginning of his journey, recognizes the need for change but he seeks to change his surrounding rather than himself. I imagine he would look at the idea of second order change as a both invigorating and daunting. He would fret and complain, and then he would get to work and do his best. Dorian Tyrell would scoff at the idea and think himself above tectonic shifts but I like to believe that with time, he too would have come around and found the inner strength that Ipkiss had within himself.

Luckily, real life is more than two hours long. Here we are, halfway through the process and I feel good about the work our teachers have done. The building has teachers that span the Stanley to Dorian spectrum.  And I love being involved with every step of it.  Whether i’m planning lessons with teachers or reviewing formative assessment data or just listening to a teacher think out loud for a bit I love that the learning is the focus and not the tech.

Emmanuel “Manny” Andre is a STAT teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools.  A graduate of the University at Buffalo, he taught English for 8 years at Patapsco High School before moving to Owings Mills High to work on Professional Development.  Currently, he is working on his master’s degree in administration at Goucher College and plans to go into administration.

Emmanuel has implemented university-style professional development, written responsive PD sessions and has worked with various teachers on specific initiatives.  He served as the AVID coordinator at Owings Mills High School and believes strongly in its mission.  He believes that well-informed teachers lead to well-prepared students.

Emmanuel has a strong commitment to public education and professional development.  He enjoys talking edtech and is often looking for specific reasons to bring it up in conversation.  He is a compulsive Twitter chat participant, and he talks about starting a blog, but we will see about that.

About eandre