Dancing with Change: Should You Lead or Follow?

Copyright 1997 Miguel Guhlin

Depending on who was doing the talking several years ago, Mark Gabehart, then Technology Coordinator for a small inner city school district with a large at-risk student population, offered a fantastic vision for integrating technology into the curriculum, was a marble tower academic out to ruin the district's educational system, or a just another fad that would pass with time. Technophiles characterized the efforts from the new technology coordinator as "If those changes really take place, we'll be able to do a lot with our students." Hardline administrators, meanwhile, warned that the mad rush to embrace one-computer classroom methodology, tool-based pedagogy would shift the focus away from increasing TAAS scores. They counseled to continue using Integrated Teaching Systems (rather than Integrated Learning Systems, since it is questionable as to how much learning really goes on). And, jaded classroom teachers felt that technology would be just something else on their plate, that detracted from the real dialogue that needs to take place for students develop problem-solving and decision-making strategies.

And so began the journey for so many classroom teachers, administrators, and community members to technology integration in this small San Antonio district. As one of those classroom teachers that began the journey years ago, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the things this instructional technologist has done at the district level. To understand the initiatives he's begun in the 3 districts he has worked in, you have to understand the questions that drive him.

It's not often that we can share success stories. . .stories that may be triumphs for individual educators and students but failures for the district political and administrative systems torn apart by opposing viewpoints, and sharp criticism. But, then, "Technology is a catalyst that supports the work of individuals and group," as the visionary whose initiatives have found their way into various school districts in Texas, in one form or another.

Mark Gabehart (gabehart@tenet.edu), now the Director of Technology for Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas, shrugs off the sharp criticism from potential foes, quoting Machiavelli "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain of its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." His fearless approach has included asking the right questions of those around him, questions such as:
  • How do we structure specific professional development activities that promote restructuring of teaching and learning?
  • How do teachers integrate technology into the curriculum?
  • What does a 21st Century Classroom look like?

Some of the points he makes include providing teachers funding to take mini-sabbaticals to develop technology-based projects, providing teachers with laptop computers and district-wide technology training. For administrators, professional development should focus on how technology should work and look like in classrooms. To administrators, he says, "You can either be a leader or a coach. Leaders learn it, coaches find people in their building and empower them."

The theoretical base that caused some teachers to characterize Mark Gabehart as a Marble Tower Academic several years ago has now gained popular acclaim. Few question that behaviorism is dead and that constructivist approaches to teaching and learning prove more effective. In the constructivist view of learning, learners construct their own understandings. New learning depends on current understanding. The role of background knowledge and experiences, social interaction, and authentic learning are integral to the constructivist approach. "When technology is used," Mark shares with a combined group of administrators and educators at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) state conference, "knowledge is constructed, meaning is shared, and experience is rendered comprehensible."

The role of technology in the constructivist classroom is as follows:
    • Software is treated as a tool for reaching other curriculum goals.
    • Create documents through word processing, database, spreadsheets, concept mapping, and multimedia tools.
    • Use CD Rom programs to assist in research efforts, conduct simulations, and provide model reading experiences.
    • Use the Internet to access and share information (research topic, communicate ideas).

The 21st Century classroom will have a different look and feel. More information technologies will be present, student projects and products will proliferate, frequent discussion and debate about substantive issues. In the 21st Century classroom, learners ask questions such as:
    • How do you know that?
    • What evidence do you have for that?
    • Who says?
    • How can we find out?

They will also use verbs at Bloom's taxonomy application level and beyond. Yet, there are many barriers to implementing a professional development program that focuses on restructured teaching and learning. Some of these barriers include:
    • Funding
    • Providing adequate technology access
    • Providing equal technology access
    • Involving a "majority" of teachers
    • Providing technical support for technology use and maintenance (could be up to 75% of technology budget)
    • Changing mindsets and moving paradigms.

According to the gospel of Mark, as his disciples remark with a friendly smile, it takes a long time to move through the levels of professional development (i.e. Entry, Progressing, Proficient). How we do this is critical. Mark is quick to point out that the use of tools is inevitable, that the constructivist view addresses information age requirements, and that technology efforts have been successfully integrated into the curriculum on a small, isolated scale. He also reminds us that "The speed, breadth, and depth of technology implementation will be based on funding and mindset changes."

Some of the ways that this mindset changes can be accomplished include forming a district instructional technology committee made of campus technology liasons or represenatives (classroom teachers) that participate in technology-curriculum infusion professional development. Two of these efforts are unique in my experience. They are: Technology Seminars for Administrators and Graduate Courses for district staff. I'd like to share a little of what I know about these from my conversations with Mark, his presentations at the TechForum:2000-3 at the Education Service Center, Region 20, and printed materials for these events.

Technology Seminars for Administrators
The Technology Seminar for Administrators is open to central and campus administrators interested in learning more about: 1) National, state, district, and campus directions for technology usage; 2) Facilitating and supporting our district and campus efforts at implementing technology at the classroom level. The textbook for the seminar, entitled "Administrators at Risk: Tools and Technologies for Securing Your Future (McKenzie, J.A. (1993) National Education Service: Bloomington, IN) and provided to participants, is used to center discussions involving research and literature-based practices involving appropriate use of technology.

The seminar is optional for administrators, the duration of the class being five 2 1/2 hour sessions after school. A copy of the session agendas appears below:

Session I: Restructuring and Technology
    • Designing Staff Development for New Technologies
    • Designing Environments Suited to New Technologies
    • Restructuring and New Technologies: Conflict or Compatibility?

Computer Demonstration: Kid Pix 2

Session II: Research and Technology
    • Measuring Results: What Happens to Student Writing with the Word Processor?
    • Is Research Giving Us the Answers (And the Questions) We Need?
    • The Great Debate: Are CAI and ILS Worth the Investment?
    • Judging the Success of New Technologies

Computer Demonstration: Inspiration

Session III: Emerging Technologies
    • HyperNavigating: Basic Skill or the New Show and Tell?
    • Telecommunications, Schools and the Global Village
    • The Saga of Amy and Susan- A Future Perfect ILS
    • Technology Definitions

Computer Demonstration: HyperStudio

Session IV: Wide Area Network and Local Area Network
    • Responsible Use Policies and Guidelines
    • WAN/LAN Plan

Computer Demonstration: The World Wide Web

Session V: Technology and Change
    • Technology Applications
    • Tales of Heroism, Wizardry, and Courage in the Lives of Paradigm Shifters
    • Open-Minded School Decision-Making

Computer Demonstration: Group Systems

The agenda for last session (V) looks like this:
  1. Break into small groups of two or three. Reflect over the content presented and software covered at each of our four previous sessions. Map out the key points and issues using Inspiration. Be prepared to share with entire groups your learning experiences and what you would like to know more about.
  2. Review of Technology Applications (TEKS)

  • Basic Understandings
  • General Comments
  • District's Curriculum and Integration Model
  • Technology and Change (skim over actual TEKS)

    • History of Technology
    • "Technology is never developed for public schools--it is adopted and adapted by public schools" (Big Business).
    • Technology is met with great excitement and then followed by disillusionment and outright rejection.
    • Cuban states technology is adopted by teachers to the degree it fits their existing practice.
    • The key with multimedia and Internet hype is that it is being coupled with restructuring efforts such as learning styles, metacognition, Socratic dialogue, cooperative learning, problem solving, multiple intelligences, brain-based education, constructivism.
    • Instructional leaders dealing with technology involves a major change effort among the stakeholders (teachers, parents, paraeducators, students, and administrators), recognizing the need to develop a shared vision and then go out and secure resources, as well as invest heavily in teacher training (i.e. basics, software programs, curriculum integration) and support.

  1. District Initiatives

  • Video Vignettes
  • Kids Computer Camp
  • Electronic Field Trips
  • District Technology Conference
  • Summer Computer Camps
  • Teacher Tool Revisions

Graduate Course
Having had the opportunity to participate in one of Mark's first graduate courses, I remember being inundated with a great variety of research articles on how students learn, teaching methodologies, exposure to a variety of tool-based software, and shared best practices on how to integrate technology into the curriculum. Having put much of this research into practice in my own classroom over the past few years, I can only deliver the verdict, "It works!" It was among these articles I read for Mark's class that I found the two quotes that have dominated my instructional technology focus in teaching and learning (Ask not what computers can do with students, but rather what students can do with computers and Hardware without software is just junk, but software without teaching is just noise).

Here's how Mark describes the Technology Graduate Courses:

I am pleased to announce that Technology Services will be hosting "Technology Tuesday," a number of curriculum integration and technology graduate courses through the University of [name removed] during the Spring Semester. These courses will take place Tuesday evenings from 5:00 - 8:00pm beginning January 28, 1997, and ending May 13.

The courses will take place at a campus and be taught by experienced technology teachers under my supervision and coordination. The courses are suitable for any K-12 teacher and administrator who is interested in learning about instructional technology trends and curriculum integration issues. Efforts will be made to individualize the course to better meet the needs of our staff.

I am also pleased to announce the tuition for the graduate course is only $135 per teacher and the course materials fee is $65 for a total of $200. Please encourage and support your teachers in helping them take this course. It is an important link to our overall district technology staff development efforts and will give your campus more knowledge and skills on how to use technology with your teachers and students. Seats are limited and will probably fill up fast.

The text of the registration form (including a list of the graduate courses available) is shown below:

Name of Teacher:

Name of Campus:

Grade Level(s) Taught:

Subject Area(s) Taught:

Teacher Tool Model:

Please circle the graduate course you wish to take:
    1. Kindergarten and Technology
    2. Elementary Mathematics and Technology
    3. Internet Applications Across the Curriculum
    4. Elementary School Technology Tools Across the Curriculum
    5. Secondary School Technology Tools Across the Curriculum

Course descriptions are shown below:

Kindergarten and Technology (K)
Students will study the issues involving early childhood education and technology. Students will receive training on the following software programs: Kid Pix 2, Beginning Reading, Bit Bots Math Voyage, Thinking Things, Read, Write, and Type, and Kid Works Deluxe. Emphasis will be placed on creating units and lesson plans that integrate these software programs into a student-centered curriculum.

Elementary Mathematics and Technology (Grades 3-5)
Students will study the issues involving the integration of technology into the grades 3-5 math curriculum. Students will receive training on the following software: Interactive Mathematics, Math Ace, Kid Pix 2, and AmiPro. Emphasis will be placed on creating units and lesson plans that integrate these software programs into our grades 3-5 math curriculum.

Internet Applications Across the Curriculum (Grades 3-12)
Students will study the issues involving the integration of TENET, Internet, and World Wide Web to a variety of subject areas and grade levels. Students will receive training on the following software: Netscape, HyperStudio, Inspiration, and Kid Pix 2. Emphasis will be placed on creating a World Wide Web page that highlights content and resources students and teachers could use to enrich their curriculum.

Elementary School Technology Tools Across the Curriculum (Grades 1-5)
Students will study the issues involving how technology can support our restructuring efforts. Students will receive training on the following software programs: Kid Pix 2, HyperStudio, Kid Works Deluxe, Inspiration, Information Workshop, AmiPro, and Graphers. Emphasis will be placed on creating units and lesson plans that integrate one or more of these programs into your curriculum.

Secondary School Technology Tools Across the Curriculum (Grades 6-12)
Students will study the issues involving how technology can support our restructuring efforts. Students will receive training on the following software programs: Lotus 1-2-3, AmiPro, Approach, Freelance Graphics, Inspiration, and HyperStudio. Emphasis will be placed on creating units and lesson plans that integrate one or more of these programs into your curriculum.

As I look back over the articles that Mark is fond of passing out--Using Technology to Support Educator Reform, Technology and Education Reform, Rhetoric and Reality--it's easy to see that changing the traditional tempo and beat of monolithic school systems isn't what Mark's about. Although change is a by-product of technology integration, of answering the question of how we restructure teaching and learning, the goal is changing our perception of how students learn and teachers teach. It's hard, not because we don't like dancing, but maybe. . .it's that we choose not to lead. I'm encouraged that there are those still willing to lead, no matter the consequences, perhaps, for our children, because of the consequences.