Integration Diplomacy


Technology integration has well passed the “buzzword” stage in the schools I’ve been working with, with discussions of SAMR often making an appearance in collaborative planning meetings. In fact, those discussions are becoming less common as the philosophy and model becomes less controversial and more embedded into school culture. Does that mean these schools have reached a “fully integrated” utopia? Has a new philosophy won a victory over the old?

Not… yet.

As a technology coach, I am the vanguard of deliberate integration strategies in our school, and I’d like to think that modification and redefinition are typically the drivers behind the technology choices I make. Admittedly, that’s not always the case, because sometimes compromise is the tool that builds confidence in those that I work with, confidence to try new things in the future. I’ve learned to pick my battles, model when I can, and encourage small victories even if a small substitution exercise gets my foot in the door (gasp! Tech coach blasphemy!).

During a recent accreditation visit, collaborative planning involving tech and the philosophy underpinning teachers’ use of technology were well lauded for their presence and obvious implementation, yet from my perspective we were just getting started. I realize that true integration is an ideal that may never be fully achieved within a school culture that is growing and changing as the bodies within it also grow and change with each passing year, especially in an international school. It’s easy to imagine the scenario as an ideological battle waged between the old mindset and the new, but it’s more subtle than that. While new staff and students arrive, and those who have long been mainstays of the community move on, there is more to the scenario than progress and regression. I reflect on my experience not as a battle, with technology tools brought to bear upon the naysayers and tactical pedagogy turning the tide with a cavalry charge of scaffolding and differentiated learning. Instead it is more akin to diplomacy, of building relationships of respect and treaties of balanced understanding, equal parts trepidation and bravery.

SAMR and TPACK provide a foundation from which to start a discussion, and analyze our relationship with the technology we might employ and the learning we strive to achieve. They provide an anchor, grounded in reason and valuing sound pedagogy over the esoteric wonder that new and exciting gadgetry might elicit. Their value for me in practice has been to provide a retreat when enthusiasm has waned, a place to go and discuss the rationale and ambition of new technology in a way that is accessible to critics and traditionalists. SAMR and TPACK are my voice of reason when I get carried away with new technology, or when another distrusts it despite clear evidence of it’s potential. I treat them like mediators, both internally and when working with others.

When I reflect on technology integration in my work, I can see there is a long way to go. I can see teachers take risks they would never have considered two years ago, revel in their success and learn from their failures. I can see others intimidated by the limelight this brings, and resist to prolong comfort in the things they know and understand well. Technology integration has had little to do with savvy know-how or hacker skills, and everything to do with balance, understanding, and building a community of like-minded learners who support each other in growth and failure. I’ve often been advised to focus on the “middle of the pack”, letting front-runners run and providing hope to those in the back rather than focusing efforts directly on them. When resources and time are limited, it is about making the most of what you have. As a coach, I believe it’s about giving others ownership of the tools in their possession, and encouraging them to apply those tools even when you are not there to support them. That includes the philosophy, and the ability to reflect on where you are using the models that exist. Learn from our mistakes, celebrate our victories, strive for integration, even if you might never reach integration utopia.
For a balanced execution including the elements of SAMR and TPACK, I found the Technology Integration Matrix full of potential. Although I’ll hesitate to introduce a new model into my current environment just as others become comfortable with those they have, I encourage you to explore this model if you’re starting your integration journey.

5 Replies to “Integration Diplomacy”

  1. Hello,
    I think it is great that your school is so familiar with SAMR while trying to integrate technology. I had never really heard of it till I began COETAIL and have to make a point to think about it more when I use technology in the classroom. Throughout the past year, I have reflected more on the technology I use and ways to make it more meaningful. It has been a struggle to remind myself to try new things and make sure I use SAMR, but I am getting better. I hope to continue to grow and try new things despite being hesitant. Thank you for posting and reminding me that it is important to be open to learning and collaborate more with my colleagues when it comes to technology.

    1. Hi Amber, thanks for reading!
      I have my own issues with SAMR, it’s difficult to pin everything to one of it’s four stages and sometimes there is a grey area in between. Teachers often want to know, concrete, where they stand and it’s not always easy to give a clear answer. But I’m grateful it had begun a culture in my school before my arrival, it’s been very useful to have a model to stand by when we plan or reflect on a lesson.

  2. Hello Matt,
    Thank you for this reflective post. I like your idea of having “deliberate integration strategies”, and taking risks to try new things in new ways, and being open to possibilities, celebrating victories, and continuing to challenge ourselves to use technology in a way that would improve our practice and student learning. I like that your tech coaching approach is to give others the opportunity of ownership, providing the teachers with digital tools and giving the chance to “mess around”, experiment, reflect, and learn from the process. Acquiring tech skills and using digital tools effectively is a continuing process for both teachers and students. I see our role as educators is to encourage risk-taking and inquiry among our students and teachers, and to model responsible and ethical use of technology professionally and in personal contexts. And it is also our role to promote ways in which the effective use of tech can transform our learning experience.
    Just like Amber, this is the first time that I am using SAMR and TPack to evaluate the effectiveness of my tech integration. While I am proud of all the successes I have achieved with my language students, I know that acquiring and maintaining tech skills is a life-long journey. I am really excited of all the learning that has been taking place through COETAIL, and I look forward to learning more along with all our Coetail colleges.
    Thanks Matt

    1. Hi Layla, thanks for reading!

      Sometimes I feel like if we dispense with the fear of failure and build enthusiasm for trying new things, the integration happens on it’s own. I treat the coaching part of my job as equal parts counseling and training, the former counts for more breakthroughs than the latter. A veteran teacher came up to me two weeks ago, grinning, about the lesson she did where the students used Explain Everything virtual whiteboard to solve a math problem instead of her usual worksheet. Her class had never used the app without me being present, leading the lesson, before. The main thing that took that from an augmentation to redefinition was that they exported their solutions as a reflective video to Google Drive and embedded the videos on student blogs at the end of the lesson. It’s taken this teacher three years to reach that level of confidence with these tools, and a few months for her third graders to reach that level of tech competency, no small part due to her patience. Now she’s reaping the rewards. 🙂

  3. Hi Matt, this is really well said. Diplomacy and treaties is the name of the game. In my school it’s easy to see the connection between the success of an initiative and the relationships underlying it. Successful projects have begun with a year or more of laying groundwork, building support, etc. Those that have been pushed by small groups, even if they’re backed by the most influential administrators, ultimately stall without a broad base of support.

    It sounds like I’m describing politics, and I guess school policy is not so different. No leader is able to accomplish everything they want and no group gets everything they want. So the middle ground of compromise is where progress happens. Great post about not just technology integration, but the way schools work in general.

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