Random Thoughts

Working with the Willing

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So a new school year is upon us, as today was the first day for students at ISB. I spent the first hour helping new middle school students find their way around the school….what fun. ISB set a new record for the amount of new students this year. A HUGE turn around year with 100s of families leaving and 100s more filling their place. It always makes me wonder what’s going on in the bigger picture that you have this kind of turn around in a year…..interesting….and I have no answer.

As the new year begins though I’m thinking about my job and once again supporting teachers. This is a touchy subject and the reason why I’m putting it out there is to see where everyone else is on this idea.

My job is to support teachers in using technology in their classroom. I don’t have any classes of my own I support full time. But I’m supporting an initiative that we all believe in but isn’t required. It’s not required that my teachers use technology. It’s not required that they rethink how they teach in the era of open access to content. They’re not required to rethink education as they know it. Their job is to teach….and they do a good job at it. We had 100% pass rate of IB diploma students last year….again. Our students continue to get into top colleges and universities around the world and parent feedback continues to come back that we’re doing a hell of a job educating their children. 

So, why do we need to change?

Why do we need to rethink education?

Why do we have to even worry about technology?


Why do they have to use me?


The answer is they don’t. Some choose to at different times, some are really thinking about the future and where this is all leading and other classrooms I never see the inside of.

I’m here because teachers, at some level, are forced to use technology. E-mail, Moodle, PowerSchool are the three programs that everyone has to use. So yes….I’m need to support the use of these with teachers, but not in learning, not with students, basically so teachers can do their job. 

And I have no problem doing that…..they’re just paying me a lot of money to be an application support person.

So it comes down to working with the willing. Working with those teachers who are thinking about doing things different, thinking about their students, their lives, what they’ve grown up with, and how that might affect them in and out of the classroom. It’s working with teachers who are willing to take risks, to try something new, to be uncomfortable. 

A colleague of mine often refers to us a “used car sales people” and that’s what I feel like we are sometimes. We’re selling a product, and idea, a method that doesn’t need to be used….is not mandated. Sure it’s supported IF teachers decide they want to try it. But at the end of the day they don’t need to.

So we end up with some kids getting 21st Century Skills. Those kids who happen to have teachers who are thinking about searching, finding content, communicating, and using global connections. Other kids, who just so happen to never get the right teacher leave our system not getting those skills. Is that OK? Or is that just the way it is. 

So I work with the willing. Those that ask me for help, those that I team teach with, that we explore new options with. I work with the willing because that’s who wants to work with me…..on a voluntary basis…and that’s really where my job stands. 

I’m here to help

If you want help

If not…that’s OK…I’m here if you need me

Is it OK to only work with the willing? Or is this a school thing?

Photo Credit: Superkimbo

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Christina B. Reply

    Thank you for a very interesting and timely post! It’s almost as if you’ve read my mind. I enter this school year in a new role that will most likely put me in situations to work with and to be a resource for teachers. As a teacher myself I know that i have worked with a fair amount of people who seem to think that the only people in the building who need to learn something are those under the age of 18. (There’s irony for you.) It’s important that teachers see themselves as learners, to be willing to put themselves in the often uncomfortable roles of not knowing and learning something new, to “think outside of the box,” to live the IB Learner Profile.

    Change happens one person at a time and even though the 21st century is more than 10% behind us, there will continue to be those who hang on to the paper-and-pencils-desks-in-rows-sage-on-the-stage mentality. How many teachers have you influenced so far who have gone on to influence and teach others? [We aren’t always among the teachers and administrators that you see on a daily basis at ISB! 😉 ]It’s the old “each one teach one” philosophy that will move education forward into the 21st century.

    Continue to work with the “stars” and the “wannabes” and hope that those who are currently neither will, at some point, have their interest piqued to learn something new.

  2. Your job doesn’t sound like the most ideal situation. Often, it’s not easy to influence a culture that exists at the school. As you know, getting the administration on board is essential. I know that you will grow a PLN of local educators who want to do more, and you will be there to support them. I hope your year goes well. I know you will make it so.

  3. Jeff, another great post. Thanks.

    My thought is that if you spend time and energy attempting to work with the “unwilling,” you are short-changing those who are willing. As someone who works in a slightly-similar position, I know it’s important to spend time “spreading the gospel” of ed tech so that the unwilling become “believers.” But at the same time I think that the most valuable way to convert the unwilling is to help the willing do amazing things in their classrooms.

    It’s a struggle for sure. And after reading this, it’s apparent that the struggle is not unique to my own school/district. It’s a global struggle. It’s good to know that we’re in it together. Thanks again.

  4. No, its not okay to work only with the willing.

    Last year, my son was in Ms Chesebro’s 3rd grade class and she was just amazing in incorporating technology in the classroom. He was niftier at using Prezi than his 8th-grader brother was. He was using tools like wordle, spicy notes, voice threads, blogs, google docs and I think it’s something quite empowering for the kids, when they see what they can do by harnessing the power of technology. It was also fun for me to see him learning so much, beyond the ‘old school’ lessons. We hardly ever discuss school math, english etc at home, but there was always much for the two of us to talk about, discover and learn when he’s working on his blog and other techie tools.

    This year, he’s with another teacher and I can only keep my fingers’ crossed that she’s one of the Willings! If she’s not, I reckon the entire class will be the poorer for it.

    It should not be like this. Technology should be incorporated into the curriculum so that whether a child benefits from being in a 21st century classroom doesn’t depend on the luck of the draw. ,

  5. I am new to this position. In addition to my 3 English classes I am also what we are calling an “IT Coach.” We are in the process of finalizing our job descriptions. But we have tremendous openness and support from our admin. We have worked together to fine tune our vision and highlight expectations and are now implementing a roll out program with some basics: WP blogs and G Docs.

    I hear what you are saying that we do work with the willing and pick early battles based on ones we assume we can win and have influence, but in the long run, it is the students who lose out if the culture of the school is not clear, if exceptions are not clear for all staff.

    Either a school wants to make major changes or they don’t. And if they do, then they demand more from existing staff by empowering them to learn, and they recruit new staff that can help them get where they want to go.

    Working with the willing, may create some amazing hot spots within a school, but will never revolutionize what an institution can do for every teacher and student on a campus. That takes vision, team work and an administration willing to roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done. Perhaps they can listen to the consultants and staff they have hired for that job.

  6. We call the willing “rabbits” in my system. When I get frustrated looking for “rabbits” to feed, I try to remind myself that I was that “rabbit” five years ago. I teach 5 to 6 classes of students a day and am quietly trying to recruit and support the willing in my building. I am starting to see more interest and look at solid baby steps verses long strides. I actually pump my students up and tell them they can “force” their teachers in to using technology by sharing what they’ve learned.
    Having been in the classroom for 12 years, I understand the hesitation of teachers to “learn” and “use” something new as their plates are so full. It is the age old problem of providing professional development and actually having teachers attend “voluntarily”. We have to keep pushing forward with that “Field of Dreams” philosophy…. “Build it and they will come.”

  7. I hear what @Lilian and @Jabiz are saying, and to me it boils down to this: if your school values you, your position, and everything that it brings to the education of students, why do they allow ‘willingness’ to be optional?

    I’ve followed what you are doing at ISB and it is pretty powerful stuff. Why isn’t that ethos of inquiry and self-directed learning an integral part of your school’s vision and mission? If it is, then why aren’t the unwilling staff being reminded by administration of all the ways you can help them put that vision and mission statement into action?

    Kim Cofino wrote a post a while ago about difficult conversations and “Coaching Heavy”: getting past just the willing and challenging everybody to think about what they do and how they can improve. It has been my goal to try and do just that.

  8. Linc Jackson Reply

    Hey Jeff,

    Great to see you posting early in the year. We are all so busy that it doesn’t seem like there is time to reflect on a computer screen when we are racing around to see that everyone’s digital projector is working. We have made huge hardware strides in the last year, but I am paying the price now. Problems with dongles and screen resolutions, problems with frustrated teachers who want learning to us Pages to be fast. And yes I requested lots of training time to get teachers up to speed with Google suite and other apps that I am trying to sell them on. Progress is slow and we are very small so achieving critical mass seems unpredictable.

    I have two lines of thought in looking over your post. One is that every teacher should get attention evenly and I hope that I can stay evenly keeled when I see the difference between the different users. Some are trying to make a folder or share a document and others are blazing ahead of me with wiki widgets and Twittered pen pals in classes across the globe.

    The other line of thought is more around how to get the whole staff and the critical mass to look at teaching in new ways. I mentioned the flipped class and in their minds they may be flipping me off ( sorry couldn’t resist). Anyway we are constantly helping all the people on the boat individually, but we have to keep running to the helm to see if we can’t affect the direction of the boat. I feel I fall short in both places but I try to keep celebrating the journey and to laugh as often as possible along the way.

  9. It is more than OK to work with the willing.

    We’re in the midst of a changing culture right now, and education is at the center of it. There is a cultural gap, so to speak, of teachers who are willing and ready to try new technologies and those who are reluctant or resistant to do so.

    What will those reluctant teachers do when they see that the new technologies are streamlining processes in teaching and learning? What will they do when students are more excited to go to other classes where Mrs. So-and-so uses really cool multimedia/interactive tools? What will they do as their methods fall further and further behind as more new teachers take risks and try new resources? They will eventually have to choose between jumping in or being left behind.

    All of that being said, I think reluctant teachers sometimes give in and become willing learners when they can see the value of a resource and its applicability to their subjects/classes. Try that approach with your reluctant learners. Best of luck.

  10. That’s much the same experience as I’ve had. It’s great working with the willing but I don’t sweat those that aren’t. Until leadership not only makes the decision to change but provides clear expectations and support it will continue to be optional. It’s not simply about a mandate either. If we truly want the kind of change that you and I advocate for, it needs to be embraced and believed in by teachers. We tend to focus on the how way too quickly.

    I would love to see a school or district allow teachers to take a year exploring why. The how comes much easier if the why is understand and embraced.

  11. I’m one of those English teachers who is willing. I incorporate technology into virtually every aspect of my teaching. Every text, worksheet, PowerPoint presentation, and webquest is available to my students digitally. My students hand in all of their work through turnitin.com. I incorporate all kinds of multimedia into the classroom using a projector, speakers, an ELMO, and a DVD player.

    But I’m a little less willing than I used to be. You see, over the summer, I read Nicholas Carr’s “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” This book documents numerous peer-reviewed cognitive studies on how multimedia, especially internet-delivered content, drastically reduces our comprehension and memory of texts we read. And, what’s more, our consistent use of the internet also apparently diminishes our ability to engage in so-called “deep reading,” which happens to be the very kind of reading I encourage so often in my literature classes.

    Carr is no luddite. He’s not interested in demonizing technology. But I agree with him that our unthinking commitment to pushing forward with incorporating multimedia into our curriculum is not always an unmitigated good.

    Yes, we should be willing, but we should be thoughtfully willing.

    • Hi Rob,

      I agree….and I’ve also read Carr’s book along with others that are pointing to the same thing. As we evolve, as information and access to it evolves there are things we will “give up” in the name of speed. Deep readings seems to be one of those things. In Carr’s book he points to this that as technology has changed how we consume information we loose some of the “old skills” storytelling, short stories, and now long stories and deep reading. But we gain access to information and speed of information. Not saying it’s a good trade off, just think that’s where were going. Is deep reading important? Yes, but so is oral story telling from before books….but we have given that up for the most part. It will be interesting to see where all this leads and if the lost of deep meaningful reading does affect the next generation.

  12. I agree with Dean. Until it becomes a sort of directive or expectations change, some people are happy enough to keep plugging along the same as they have been, and he’s also right about showing the “unwilling” that the changes can be good. I was working with several teachers on a change from Outlook to Google this week, and it was clear that they just hadn’t seen the benefit before. My role in school is now the same as yours, and not only is it new for me, but it’s new for my school, which has never had my position before.

  13. I will admit I haven’t read all of the comments so if what I mention is repeated, I’m sorry. A couple of thoughts….

    1. You will NEVER get everyone on board, even if it’s required.
    2. If you did, you wouldn’t have a enough time to get to everyone.
    3. The kids are doing okay without you. (I’d argue they’d be better than ok w/you)
    4. People don’t want to change, change is hard.

    I suspect you’re pretty busy. Keep doing what you’re doing – the school is extremely lucky to have you. Those teachers you work with know that, perhaps they will spread their experiences to others and that could lead to you working with more teachers.

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