'Let’s Be Pirates,' or How to Support Reluctant Tech Users

'Let’s Be Pirates,' or How to Support Reluctant Tech Users

Advice from pioneering teachers on how they encourage their peers to use tech

By Katrina Stevens     Sep 12, 2013

'Let’s Be Pirates,' or How to Support Reluctant Tech Users

Whoosh! Strategies and resources to support reluctant tech teachers were streaming at a rapid pace during Monday night’s #EdTechChat--approximately one tweet every two seconds to be exact. As one participant, Mike Smith (@_Mike_Sweet) wrote, “I’ve seen geysers that were slower flowing than #edtechchat tonight!” Participants came from across the education spectrum and from around the US and abroad: classroom teachers, principals, district administrators, technology coaches and edtech creators.

Here’s some of their collective wisdom for helping their peers become more comfortable with infusing technology:

Cultivate a Safe, Risk-Free Environment

Many participants emphasized the critical role culture played at schools. In particular teachers need safe places to try new technology with their students. As a member of the @TaughtIt team shared: “A student of any age requires a safe and comfortable place to try, fail, & learn without fear of scrutiny.” Sharon LePage Plante, co-moderator of #EdTechChat, admits to her colleagues that even though “I am a tech person…tech is scary to me too.” Reassuring teachers that even “techies” don’t know all of the answers can create a more open environment.

The need to foster a culture where it’s okay for both teachers and students to fail is a recurring them in #EdTechChat conversations. Jonathan Werner (@MaineSchoolTech) tries to create this culture at his school: “One of the things I try to model most (often on purpose) is making mistakes and not knowing the answer to show it isn’t scary.” Technology inevitably will not work exactly as planned; the first time trying a new piece of technology it may not work perfectly, and that’s okay.

Another way to making professional development work for reluctant teachers is to make it just-in-time and able to be viewed individually. Tara Linney (@TechTeacherT) likes to create “how-to videos that are less than 5 minutes” and then “invites staff to follow up with her as needed.” Teachers can watch these videos whenever and wherever it’s convenient. For reluctant teachers, this also means they can watch them as many times as they need. Shari Sloane (@ShariSloane) of #LadyGeeks is a big fan of this kind of approach. She wants to “flip PD” so that teachers can “learn when they want!”

William Jenkins (@EdTech_Stories) also advocates creating a "'lets-be-pirates’ counter-culture for tech enthusiasts” so that “others will want to join the club.” Look like you’re having so much fun that others want to join your edtech shenanigans!

Identify the Obstacles

It’s important to identify the factors that make a teacher reluctant to try tech in their classrooms. Is it because of fear? Time pressures? Lack of knowledge of where to begin? General resistance to change? Identifying the obstacles shapes the approach.

Teachers need to understand the “why” of using specific technology, not just the "how," and the new tools must be tied to real classroom use. A broad proclamation to begin using more technology in the classroom is nowhere near as effective as a teacher seeing how a particular program or device can help her own students learn more effectively.

One participant, @vandalgrad, pointed out that it’s also “important to separate ‘reluctant users’ from teachers who aren't strong teachers. Tech won't solve the latter.” Unfortunately, in the same way technology can amplify an amazing teacher, it can also amplify a less effective teacher.

Keep It Focused on Students

One key strategy for nudging reluctant teachers to implement technology is to frame the conversation around how tech can help their students. Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5) suggests that we “remind them that it is not about the tool, but about the new learning the tool provides to their students.” When teachers recognize that using technology supports their students achieving, they’re more willing to jump on board. A blanket statement like “you should start using technology in your classroom” provides teachers with no context and no true motivation. Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) confirmed, “I rarely want to learn anything I don’t think is meaningful or useful.”

Ryan Horne (@ryanhorne00076) also recognizes that “kids need to see teachers trying new things, making mistakes, and rolling with it.” Recognizing this truth can also help sway teachers toward taking the risk of trying something new.

Sharon LePage Plante, co-moderator of #EdTechChat, advocates “putting tech in student hands because letting teachers see how it can impact learning can be very encouraging” and motivating. Alissa Smith (@CappiesCorner) goes further and suggests that teachers should let their students teach them: “Don’t think of your ego; think of how big it will make theirs!” Susan Bearden, another co-moderator of #EdTechChat, echoes this idea of involving students in teaching the teachers. She loved that Dr. Roland Rios (@drrios) “has his students create screencasts to show teachers how to use tech tools.” Empower students to share their knowledge with teachers—everyone wins!


Start small. When teachers are reluctant or uncomfortable using technology, they, like students, need support at their current level. Tom Murray, the third co-moderator Monday night, argues that we should “teach adults like you would kids. Differentiate, level, support, let them run, follow up, support, let them teach.”

Teachers need to know they don’t have to do it all at once. Jill Thompson (@Edu_Thompson) says of teachers that “they think they have to know everything, which they don’t.”

Often hesitant teachers need one-on-one assistance to help develop their confidence. Plante recommends that teacher leaders “pick one thing to meet a teacher’s needs, introduce it at their level, and take the time needed not to overwhelm them.” Plante maintains that the “best resource for reluctant teachers is time…give your time, your patience and your ear.” According to Murray, “administrators can also schedule time for ‘reluctant users’ to observe colleagues doing it well.”


Teachers had a lot to say about the importance of modeling. If teachers are expected to use technology meaningfully, then they want their administrators and other teacher leaders to model this behavior. Justin Staub (@DrStaubSTEM) proposed that at the “next traditional PD, someone should start a hashtag for the event, project the stream and watch the PD experience multiply." Murray takes this strategy even further by inviting teachers to participate in a weekly Twitter Challenge at Quakertown. Jonathan Werner (@MaineSchoolTech) also shared a strategy he adopted from David Warlick who “starts every talk with "Something I Didn't Know Yesterday" to model lifelong learning.” Now Werner does this with all of his presentations.

And if all else fails, according to Werner, there’s always “shameless bribery!”

Want to catch the full #edtechchat stream? Check out the archives for a full transcript.

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