Tell us if this sounds familiar.
You’ve spent hours of research, sweated over building a new system, and signed a check for a new technology platform. You’re justifiably feeling proud at the work your team has accomplished and excited to see it come to fruition. Yet despite the clear pain points this new system solves, there are more than a few grumbles and draaaaaaaaaagging of heels upon launch week. This is no fun for anyone.
The good news is that 9 times out of 10 it’s no fault of the parties involved, but an issue with the way the program was rolled out. Well scroll on, dear reader, to gain some helpful tips on how to make your next technology rollout a success and (dare we say) enjoyable for your colleagues!
With the help of current teachers, we’ll cover:
How to get staff to see the value of the new technology
How to smoothly transition the old system to the new one
How to minimize interruptions to student learning and teacher schedules
How to make a rollout plan for the first weeks and months of user adoption
But first we should back up a bit and ask: “Do You Even Need It?!”
As a company that earns its paycheck building and designing school technology, it may seem against our best interest to start by questioning the need. But the worst way to sabotage user technology adoption is to roll out technology that no one uses.
Our teacher friend Mr. Rhodes offers a helpful checklist to determine need:
“In my experience, new learning opportunities are viewed positively among teachers as long as they serve to improve the quality or proficiency of their instruction. In order to make new technology implementation run smoothly, there are three factors to consider:
- The technology itself must improve my instruction and have a clear benefit to me and my students.
- Districts must have the technology resources and personnel available to implement it effectively. Including dedicated time for instruction and practice.
- It must require a short initial learning curve and be easy to implement (adaptable) among a variety of classrooms and teachers.”
-- Ricky Rhodes - Lakeshore Public Schools
So, now that you know you need it, why is Teacher Buy-In so important?
Achieving a consensus within a group of smart, diverse individuals is a daunting task. But, when you’re able to create a culture of curiosity and commitment, you deliver A+, honor roll results that significantly improve the well-being of your colleagues and the community you serve!
While you can’t possibly get buy-in from every individual in your school from the start (change ain’t easy), getting teachers to see the benefits of the edtech solution plays a part in helping students learn better. The reason is simple. Teachers are the ones most directly instructing students on the technology. If they don’t understand how it works or why it’s important, chances are, students won’t either.
So… where to start?
How to Get Started with Teacher Buy-In
“In my experience as an educator, the hardest thing about adopting new technology/software is the lack of input from stakeholders prior to the adoption and the timing of the adoption. While I am sure there are many reasons why this occurs, having your software change on the third week of school can be quite jarring, to teachers, staff, students, and families.”
-- Kate - Peninsula School District, Gig Harbor, WA
One of the biggest blunders that can doom new technology adoption is excluding teachers’ input. Since your goal is to make things easier and more efficient for teachers, it’s important they have an opportunity early on to help identify the specific pain points this technology will solve. Furthermore, by giving teachers a seat at the table you’ll create an environment of collaboration over commandments, partnerships over servants.
Strategies to accomplish this include:
- For major rollouts you should give yourself six months of advance preparation. This should give you the time you need to gather teacher feedback and do your comparative research.
- Collect feedback objectively and at scale. The best way to do this is by sending out a survey to multiple audiences: teachers, administrators, parents, and even students if applicable. You can use a free tool like Google Forms which allows you to segment responses and identify trends.
- Once you’ve narrowed down your options, schedule a demo or create your own account to familiarize yourself with how it works. Teachers will look to you for support so ensuring you’re well-versed in your solution is important in building trust.
- Run a focus group with key teachers. Select a group of 5-10 influential and diverse teachers that are willing to test out the software over a period of 2-3 months and give feedback. When you launch the technology, this group will be the biggest advocates in your corner.
- Showcase the new technology at a facility meeting. Dazzle them by showing how features can solve the very pain points many of them mentioned in the initial survey. This way you build excitement and show that you have listened to their feedback. Protip: Include some of the teachers in your focus group to present certain features as a way to project a unified front.
Additionally, getting a sense of perceptions around various forms of technology will help guide the process. The only real way to know the day-to-day in the classroom is to talk to the teachers. With their guidance, you can be more intentional and detailed about what the problems are and how to solve them.
“When implementing new technology, time, training, and communication seem to be the most important factors in smooth startup.”
-- Annie Friday - Blue Bridge Schools
Do Your Research
Carefully researching the options will also help ensure you’ve got exactly the right solution. Some key factors to consider are: Relevance, Navigation, Customization, Interaction, Accessibility, and - of course - Cost.
You will want to run a holistic analysis of the technology, its features, and how it will support your school before selecting and implementing.The choices can feel overwhelming at times, so outlining exactly what you need in those 6 categories and then objectively comparing your options is key.
Lead the Way
If you’re looking to implement a new solution, you should be the first to know what it does and how it works. Modeling the tool and being able to explain the significance to your staff will greatly lessen frustration and stress. If teachers are expected to use the technology, you should be able to explain what it’s used for, during what instances, and to what capacity. Having a good sense of the changes that are to come will help smooth out the transition.
[Extra Credit Resource: Edutopia’s guide on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of Leading the Way]
Building the Rollout Plan
“The best way to implement new technology is to make sure that staff have time to set up and practice implementing the new tech. Offering professional development to help instruct teachers and staff on how to use the new technology is an amazing way to make sure that is implemented. With professional development; make sure that the staff have time to work with the new tech and supply a "teacher" to help teach the staff.”
-- Ricky Rhodes - Lakeshore Public Schools”
Success requires a detailed rollout plan. With a clear timeline that takes into account the use of the new tool and predicts the issues that might come with it, you can expect an easier transition to the new system.
This will certainly involve patience and appropriate training. While you may try your best to anticipate the integration and issues with the new tool, remember that teachers are the only ones with truly intimate knowledge of what happens in the classroom. Make sure you provide support and guidance for their specific situation, and do it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of their key objective–educating students!
A carefully thought-out rollout plan might include:
A schedule of relevant rollout dates and deadlines.
An FAQ document.
A resource list of contacts to ask any questions. At Foxbright, we’ve seen many internal IT/communications/administrator resources get overwhelmed by a flood of new requests which is why we ensure ANY new user has UNLIMITED training support during and after the rollout period.
Considering technology successes and difficulties in the past, and gauging the best way to move forward.
Educating teachers on what the objectives are, and why the change is important.
Training teachers on how and when to use certain features.
Training teachers on how and who to ask for support when needed.
[Extra Credit Resource: Brightly software offers a helpful document covering training and feedback.]
Offer Teachers Time to Learn and Practice
“The best way to implement new technology is to make sure that staff have time to set up and practice implementing the new tech. Offering professional development to help instruct teachers and staff on how to use the new technology is an amazing way to make sure that is implemented.”
-- Samuel Forr - Leander ISD
Rolling it out 3 days before the school year starts is not a great idea. Set aside a professional development day so that all users can have the mental space to dedicate to development. And hey, why not make it fun?!
- Divide into teams with nerdy nicknames. May we humbly recommend: “Geek Goddesses” or “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”
- Set up some friendly competition goals for learning
- Dole out badges for accomplishments like “creating a profile,” “sending your first message,” etc.
- DEFINITELY end with pizza and/or ice cream :)
Let Teachers Personalize Their Settings
“Throughout the course of our careers, we develop an understanding of what works best for us and our students depending on our teaching styles and resources at our disposal. That's why many veteran teachers sometimes get labeled as "old school" because their tried and true methods, in their eyes, are both effective and time efficient. There are many 'great' teachers who aim to be on the cutting edge of technology to improve their instruction, but doing so requires personal sacrifice through dedication of extra time beyond their contract hours. Alternatively, there are also many 'great' teachers who have developed highly effective teaching methods who are uninterested in dedicating their personal time to learning new technology resources. In my opinion, both types of teachers should be equally viewed as successful.”
-- Ricky Rhodes (again. He gave really good advice :) ) - Lakeshore Public Schools
Mr. Rhodes does a great job at laying out the two types of technology adapters. But while both groups are good, they have the opposite set of needs for technology adoption. How can you meet in the middle?
What we recommend is a tiered control system. Administrators, website managers, and your IT team should have control of the brand. But teachers need to be able to control their own section of the website/messaging; customizing it to a system that works best for how they work.
For example, personalization features the Foxbright CMS focuses on include:
Nothing is perfect from the start. In fact, a learning curve is unavoidable when you implement such a big change. As your teachers get acquainted with the new tool, there’s bound to be ways to make it work better and faster. Instead of letting frustration build up, give teachers a space to voice their concerns, questions, comments, and suggestions. They may send their ideas by way of a common-space whiteboard, a comments box, or an email address. These ideas can lead to more efficient ways to integrate technology into learning.
To Sum It Up
When you implement something new into a big, busy system like a school, things can feel a little daunting. But if you lead the way through research, planning, and empowering the users you’ll find that appreciation that you deserve for making your school a better place!
Start with listening to your teachers.
Compare your options based on a set criteria.
Make a detailed rollout plan.
Give teachers the time and space to learn.
Be open to feedback.
So What’s Next?
If you’re considering launching new technology at your school or do some much needed custodial work on your current setup, we’d be honored to help. With over 20 years serving over 200 school districts we’ve been fortunate enough to pick up a wealth of education industry strategies that have brought success to our clients.
We believe a lasting partnership is always more important than a quick profit so we’d be happy to share whatever resources and counsel is most helpful to your specific situation - even if you’re not a client! For real!