I’ve been thinking of late about change and how hard it is to develop new skills, new ways of doing that which we’ve done so comfortably in a set way for many years. There’s no doubt about it. It’s hard ….. very hard to get on board with all this new technology, to learn and develop new skills, to adopt new ways of doing what we educators have been doing since time immemorial.
I’ve both read and written heaps about how the shift of education into the 21st Century has and is happening, how school administrations need to create a welcoming environment to enable this change to occur in our schools and how teachers need to embrace this new path if they want to remain relevant in the eyes of their students.
But ….. the one thing I’ve not read too much about is the best path forward for older members of our teaching profession – those skilled, talented and experienced teachers who today find themselves on the slippery slope of trying to maintain their relevancy alongside the digital natives who are steamrolling their way into traditional leadership roles previously held by the more experienced and senior members of our profession. The competent and confident digital skills presented by their younger colleagues are overwhelming and daunting. The pace of change in schools and in the entire field of education, powered by ever developing technology and the web, can feel like an obstacle that’s almost insurmountable by our experienced, senior teachers.
Is this evolution forcing our experienced, capable and expert teachers out of the profession? Is retirement, even if it’s a bit earlier than intended, the best option for this group of educators? To coin a phrase, are we risking throwing the baby out with the bath water, ignoring the many talents they have, the skills they offer and the wealth of knowledge and experience that they can share with their younger colleagues? Perhaps school administrators need to sift through the skill base offered by all staff to see how knowledge and know-how can be shared. It is without a doubt that this process would unveil a profound recognition of the enormous skills and strengths that each of us have to share with each other.
Recognizing the reality that change for this group of educators is hard should be the first step taken to develop a path forward.
The learning environment in which we are schooled moulds our approach to learning. The teaching and learning methods experienced by older members of our teaching profession was very different to those of today. Then it was common:
- to learn by rote
- to perfect skills by endless repetition
- to be required to memorize facts
- to complete exercises that required regurgitation of facts
- to sit regular tests and exams which bore the distinction of pass or fail
And it was not uncommon for failure to achieve well to be met with ridicule by peers and/or punishment by teachers and parents. It is without doubt that these childhood experiences impact heavily on older members of our teaching profession. Being sensitive to these facts must be the basis for developing programs that will encourage change and exploration.
Why bother? Because this group of educators is as valuable to our profession as are the young digital natives who are increasingly filling the ranks of teachers in our schools.
Conversations had with a range of older members of our profession have led me to realize a commonality of feeling amongst this group. They feel:
- threatened by younger colleagues who, by action, demonstrate advanced skills causing older teachers to develop the ‘they know it, we don’t and never will’ syndrome
- intimidated by new technology resulting in feelings that the technology controls them
- a sense of failure if they can’t ‘learn’ fast enough or keep up with imagined or real deadlines
- embarrassed making what in hindsight they consider to be simple and basic mistakes using new technology
- humiliated asking questions which may display ignorance
Courses and programs which encourage growth and exploration of the many new and wonderful learning tools must incorporate characteristics which allow this group of teachers:
- to feel safe and comfortable to express concerns and ask questions
- to not feel intimidated to express lack of knowledge or understanding
- to traverse small stepping stones which foster success and positive achievement
- to be given feedback and praise so as to encourage continued exploration and learning
- opportunities to connect with other like-minded people thus creating their own personal learning network
- to gain confidence to take risks, explore the new and develop themselves as independent lifelong learners
To design technology programs which accomodate the specific needs set of this group of educators is essential for the benefit of us all in the field of education.