“If ever there was a perfect storm, this is it,” says Baltimore’s local teachers’ union president Abby Beytin.
Beytin was referring to the storm of criticism unleashed when Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) unveiled a recent change in its edtech personnel policy. What could have been a cooperative--even positive--move if teachers had been involved in the early stages she says, instead became a muddled communications mess.
It’s a cautionary tale for other districts as they realign their technology plans. “If the teachers are unhappy, the outcomes won't be as good as if they were invested or excited about it,” Beytin says.
Ryan Imbriale, BCPS’s Director of Digital Learning, explains that he and his team also learned an important lesson: “We know now that communication is key.”
The irony is that the changes Baltimore is making are very much in line with what many teachers say they want, namely more professional development resources and more support in implementing technology in classrooms. The message that got communicated, however, was that jobs were being cut.
On Friday January 10, The Baltimore Sun reported that approximately 100 technology teachers jobs would be eliminated in elementary schools next fall. The reason? The move away from computer labs and towards 1:1 computing--a change that many other U.S. districts have either gone through or are considering for 2014.
According to the Sun, these technology teachers were informed during a meeting on Wednesday, January 8 that their positions would be eliminated--but that they could “apply for another teaching job in the system this spring.” The final message--that “no teacher will be laid off in the transition”--was drowned out as teachers began worrying about their jobs.
As soon as teachers were released from that initial meeting, Beytin says, she began to receive “lots of calls, and lots of emails.”
Hours after the Sun article went live, BCPS updated its “Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow” (STAT) page to include a revised “Instructional Digital Conversion” statement, with a description of the newly-minted PDT and TSS positions and an explanation that “the former computer lab classrooms will be repurposed to best meet the needs of each school.”
On January 14, about a week after the initial meeting, Imbriale sent out a personal memo to explain the situation directly to the affected teachers. The memo mostly aimed to clarify BCPS’s intentions around the restructuring, noting again that, “Technology instruction for students was never intended to be taught in isolation.”
When reached by EdSurge, Beytin expressed that reactions of BCPS teachers and union members demonstrate that communication and expectations were clouded or missed along the way, a problem that could have occurred in any district.
Who’s doing what?
Right now, some 100 or so teachers in BCPS are Elementary Technology Integration Teachers (ETITs); their jobs are dedicated to running computer labs that students visit during the week. Those jobs--and the labs themselves--will indeed be going away by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
Instead of ETITs teaching students to use “tech” in computer labs, the schools will need professional development teachers to support the “fundamental shift” in the district towards “the expectation that all teachers will be facilitators of learning with technology.” Every ETIT position will become a PDT instead; there will be at least a half-time PDT in each elementary school and a full-time PDT in all secondary schools.
In addition, BCPS also hopes to get funding to support a full-time person who will provide technical support (referred to as a TSS or Technology Support Specialist) at all middle schools and high schools, and a part-time tech person in elementary schools. (Exactly how much time will be consider “part-time” will depend on the number of students enrolled and expectations around how many devices they’ll use.)
And some of the people most qualified to do these PDT and TSS jobs will be the very same ETIT teachers--who the district is encouraging to apply. All current ETITs who apply will be guaranteed some job within the district, says Imbriale.
“We are confident that many of those teachers in those elementary tech integrationist positions will do fine in these new positions,” says Imbriale. “We're reserving the right to flex to meet the needs of the school system.”
Talk early, talk often
Beytin expresses that the problem points up a larger issue: When should a district communicate to teachers in a tech-reallocation process?
Beytin believes that bringing in teachers from the get-go to help flesh out solutions to a district’s issues--like the movement to district-wide 1:1 devices--is crucial. “My folks understand that there are going to be a lot of changes coming, and one will be focused around technology. The concern we had was around the way it was handled,” Beytin explains.
Many of the teachers love their existing jobs, Beytin says. Yet had they been brought into the discussion of shifting roles from the very beginning, the resulting reaction would have been different--and likely positive.
“Those very [educators] were never brought in and asked ‘How should we handle this? Here's the timeframe, Here's what we have to do,’” Beytin explains.No matter how involved teachers are in the actual decision-making process, both Imbriale and Beytin agree that communication is a key aspect of any personnel restructuring in a district--especially when it comes to technology. As with all school adoption processes, the teacher is an integral part. And by walking the walk--treating teachers with the respect that an “integral” part of the system deserves--other districts will avoid similar “perfect storms” as they restructure their work around tablets or other devices.