Fear Factor: Playing Nice with Others?

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June 7, 2016 by Dr. Robbie Barber

Subtitle: Teacher Collaboration Or Teaching (How-To) Collaborate?

So my teachers need to work together to create a lesson plan.  One comes with an outline.  Another makes changes to the first outline.  Another runs out for lunch for the group while they’re working on it.  Another reads his phone messages while the others argue about the lesson.  All four turn in the same lesson plan for their content and grade-level.  Sound familiar?

blog2-1Our students’ collaborative projects work in much the same way.  Not everyone contributes.  The kids know from an early age who is the slacker and who is worth working with and who they get along with and who they avoid.  Nothing can make a student madder than being randomly assigned to work with a student they don’t think is up to their own standards.

Now add in technology.  Did it magically get easier?  Nope.  We still have to work with others.  In fact, the Stanhope and Corn (2014) said that to integrate technology in the classroom, teachers need to collaborate and spend time playing with the technology together.blog2-2

One of the oldest barriers to using educational technology (#edtech) is the lack of technology resources (Ertmer, 1999).  With the price of technology dropping and 1:1 programs growing, when you remove that barrier, what other barriers are revealed?  (It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid and discovering more wounds underneath.)

As our school moves to the 1:1 devices, teachers are already complaining about the lack of help, the lack of training, and the problems with the wireless.  They create a cacophony of noise, completely unable to hear the answers.  These barriers are just as real as the old physical restriction of devices.  How do we handle them?

The blithe answer is to provide professional development.  Professional development has a positive impact on teacher beliefs (Ina & Lowther, 2010).  And, it is often cited that professional development should allow time for collaboration.  Here’s my problem…not all of my teachers trust each other.  Some of it is borne of experience in certain situations, some of it is simply not knowing each other well, and some of it gets back to fears, conscious or otherwise.

It is in to this existing arena, that the new technology coach arrives.   Suddenly, s/he is in the midst of a long-term battle without any forewarning.  Now, it’s the coach’s job to ignore the past issues and create a cohesive working unit to the betterment of the students.  Easier said than done.
blog2-3The reality is that to create collaboration, the teachers need to develop stronger relationships.  They need to rely on each other.  If this doesn’t happen, then the collaboration time set aside will not work as intended.  The teachers will not be thoughtful and interactive with each other if they feared being judged by others in the group (Fransen, Kirschner & Erkens, 2011).  Part of the solution is lay out the clear expectations in advance (Fransen, et al, 2011).  What does each person contribute?  Do we take turns cycling through classrooms?

Schwartz’s article “Tapping Teachers’ Intrinsic Motivation to Develop School Improvements” looks at the school system in part of Melbourne, Australia with the poorest population.  One of the innovation in this system was using a triad of teachers.  Two teachers can observe one in the classroom, then all three discuss it.  This way the teachers do not form a mentor/mentee relationship but instead create a collaborative group.

I think that we need to be mindful that professional development does not always work as planned.  And that not all problems about incorporating technology into the classroom have to do with either the technology or the attitude towards technology.  Sometimes, it’s the inability to work together.

Why do I care?  I care because sometimes I’m the teacher trying to incorporate technology in my own class/library silo but still needing to work with others and receive support.  I care because sometimes I’m the technology coach trying blog2-4to convince a group that doesn’t get along to share a common goal.  My solution is to be mindful that not all problems are technology-based and sharing food is a wonderful way to bring people together.  (You’d be amazed how people will bond over sweets!)

My concept is to bring teachers together with a plan and a treat!

Additional Resources:

Teaching as a Team Sport (video).  This video talks about groups working collaboratively together. “Teaching should never be done alone.”

Research Shows Teacher Collaboration Helps Raise Student Achievement (article & video).  This talks about the concept of social capital saying that it matters where a teacher goes to get her information.  If the teacher goes to another teacher, what does that say about her?

Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complementary Strengths (article).  This article looks at how one school manages teacher collaboration.  Part of their process is to provide protocols and agendas so that they minimize conflicting personalities.


Ertmer, P. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 47–61. http://doi.org/10.1007/BF02299597

Fransen, J., Kirschner, P. A., & Erkens, G. (2011). Mediating team effectiveness in the context of collaborative learning: The importance of team and task awareness. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(3), 1103–1113. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.017

Inan, F. A., & Lowther, D. L. (2010). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: A path model. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(2), 137–154. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-009-9132-y

Corn, J. O., Oliver, K. M., Hess, C. E., Halstead, E. O., Argueta, R., Patel, R. K., … Huff, J. D. (2010). A computer for every student and teacher: Lessons learned about planning and implementing a successful 1:1 learning initiative in schools. Educational Technology, 50(6-), 11–17. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ901243&site=ehost-live\nhttp://asianvu.com/bookstoread/etp/

Schwartz, K. (2016, February 29). Tapping Teachers’ Intrinsic Motivation to Develop School Improvements. Retrieved June 07, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/02/29/tapping-teachers-intrinsic-motivation-to-develop-school-improvements/


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