From Consumers to Creators: Technology and Teacher Leadership

Transformation happens at the edges of communities and organizations. It is where teacher voice is realized. However, when it comes to technology and innovation, it seems to be one of the places where teacher voice is most needed. When innovations are brought into the center of an organization by leaders who have vision or who can see clearly the value of those who are willing to take risks and experiment, such as teacherpreneurs, then changes can recreate the taken for granted. It is also how those in the middle, those who are more averse to risk, begin to transform practice because it has been accepted by leaders who might impose some sort of penalty for adopting untested innovations. Innovations that are created on the edges but then centralized lead to substantive changes, otherwise they will continue to be tinkering.

I found this to be true in my own Head Start organization. I was using Microsoft excel to create document templates to manage my classroom. I used excel to analyze my students reading assessments and to group students to differentiate instruction. I was doing this in  a cloud based format so that I could access my information at home and work. One of my supervisors realized the potential of cloud based documents and asked me to redesign our lesson plan format. After collaborating to do this I was asked to teach everyone how to use it. Now, 10 years later my template is still used by my program.

As William Gibson said “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” One place where this is especially true is at the edge of where pedagogy and technology overlap.  As a recent EdSurge opinion article suggests tech innovations are lacking the expertise and voice of teachers in their development. However, technology is the most fertile ground where startup education companies and entrepreneurs seem to be investing. This could lead to yet another round of misguided educational practices supported by industry instead of pedagogy. The piece also suggests that accomplished teachers are marginalized in the process because when the edtech industry looks for consultants to guide development they turn to less experienced teachers.

Recent history has persistently shown that good intentions do not necessarily lead to useful innovation. A recent edutopia article describes 3 Myths of Edtech. Highlighting innovations such as QR Codes, Interactive Whiteboards, and One-to-One Laptops as failed innovations for student learning. In many cases technology can actually lead to unintended negative consequences such as complicated privacy concerns (See class Dojo), bullying, and obesity.

This is why teachers can and should be moving from the consuming of educational technology to the creating with educational technology. This could be realized at multiple levels from teachers dreaming up new apps, to teachers using technology to tell their stories, to teachers using technology to help students understand the world, and teachers collaborating to create a stronger educational system.

Technology is powerful but it has no moral compass. This is why, no matter how much or how little technology there is (from chalk to interactive whiteboards) there will need to be a teacher there to see that it is used for learning and that students are headed in a meaningful direction.

Image: J.M. Holland #MadewithPaper

  • DeidraGammill

    “Technology is powerful but

    “Technology is powerful but it has no moral compass.” Wow. I love how you phrased that. I agree, and have said too many times, that technology is a tool not a teacher; we can’t can’t just turn our students lose with an app or webquest and expect deep learning (or any learning sometimes) to take place. I also appreciate your point – that teachers should be developing technology, not just consuming it. But even though I agree, the concept scares me (I still get confused sometimes with Google docs!!). I suspect teacher developed technology is not heavily promoted because it would take millions in revenue away from the companies that package it for us currently. Too many things in our profession are driven by profit, not be what students (or teachers) actually need.

  • JohnHolland

    Thank you

    Thanks Diedre,

    We also have a gap because teachers do not have the space, time, and appropriate compensation to develop new learning technologies but, sometimes they do anyway. This seems like a space where the teacherpreneur model could find traction. I would love to develop some apps or look holistically at a school model and design ways to infuse technology. Tech has always been a grass roots space. Maybe reformers are missing opportunities in leveraging teacher expertise where teachers could participate and create instead of consume and resist. 


  • Allie

    This post resonates with me –

    This post resonates with me – the idea of industry moving education in a specific direction rather than pedagogy, which should be our compass.  Many teachers look for a whole answer from a certain technology – be it an app or a device – when we should be looking at school/community culture and using apps and devices as ingredients.  Some will work for our needs and image of the child; some will not.  I was just working on a post about edtech, and you have definitely helped me reflect more on who drives this important piece of the puzzle.

    Allie / Bakers and Astronauts

  • JustinMinkel

    Two-part definition of teacher leadership


    Really love this piece. My definition of teacher leadership has two parts:

    1. Teachers are creators, not consumers–of policy, curricula, PD, research and so on…I’ll now add ‘ed tech innovations’ to that list.

    2. Teachers have an impact beyond the students in their own class(es.)

    I love the line that “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

    One of my concerns about the NCLB era of education is that in the name of equity, high-poverty kids tend to have about 95% of their school time taken up with the basic skills that have the highest penalties/rewards in accountability systems, which take them longer to master than more affluent kids. That scant 5% isn’t enough time to learn so much of what truly matters–ingenuity, inquiry higher-order thinking, collaboration, and so on.

    Ed tech can be a huge boon for any kids, but sometimes it ends up having high-poverty kids in particular essentially doing worksheets on a computer screen instead of pencil-and-paper.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking, well-reasoned piece. It was timely for me because a major focus for me when I loop with my class to 2nd will be to do a better job of tech integration than I did this year. Any advice for me–particular tools/resources you like, or principles to keep in mind?