Educators are leaving the profession at alarming rates, but experts say upgrading their technology can contribute to job satisfaction.
EdTech is exploring the classroom as a workplace and the impact of legacy technology on teaching. Click here for more on legacy systems; explore essential edtech for today’s K–12 educators here; and read one educator’s perspective here, featuring an infographic for taking the conversation to your district’s IT team.
Could upgrading the technology teachers use every day in their classrooms help make their work easier — and stem the tide of educators leaving school districts? According to some educational technology experts, it certainly can’t hurt.
At Bay District Schools in Panama City, Fla., Rhonda Sumpter is on a mission to improve technology in support of teachers.
“The technology in our classrooms was almost 11 years old,” says Sumpter, the district’s supervisor for instructional technology and media services. “Our first priority this school year was upgrading teacher tools to make it easier for them to do their jobs, which is to instruct. When teachers have technology that is outdated, it makes it very difficult to continue what they’re doing in their classrooms.”
With 55 percent of educators ready to leave the profession earlier than planned, according to a recent survey from the National Education Association, school leaders are struggling to recruit and retain them. The most common reasons stated for leaving were burnout, limited staffing, and, of course, the pandemic.
Data points to another reason: School central office administrators said in a recent survey from technology consultancy UKG that “compared to before the pandemic, teachers now have higher expectations regarding technology at work.”
“With school districts competing with one another for talent, teachers will look at a district’s technology infrastructure and support provided around this technology as a factor in making their decisions,” says Robert Duke, COO at the Consortium for School Networking.
Tech Increases K–12 Educators’ Flexibility in Their Roles
Experts say a number of key technologies have proved crucial in supporting teachers’ efforts in the classroom. These include robust laptops, learning management systems, Wi-Fi access points and interactive whiteboards.
Due to limited funding, some districts can’t keep pace with evolving teacher technology. Sumpter’s district got funding for its upgrades through a sales tax levy that allowed it to invest in ViewSonic ViewBoard interactive displays, wireless keyboards and mice, document cameras, rolling podiums, and webcams.
Sumpter says teachers can use these devices to connect their students with authors, scientists, and other classrooms in faraway locations. Teachers say they’ve appreciated the flexibility the boards offer, as they are better able to engage students.
“We have the Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse so that the teachers are not tethered in any way, form, or fashion anymore,” Sumpter says. “And we have rolling, adjustable-height podiums from Ergotron, because learning takes place in all corners of our classrooms.”
The impact of these upgrades on teaching? Crystal Wielenga, a third-grade teacher at Bay District’s Lucille Moore Elementary School, says, “I really like the teacher workstation. I can be typing or doing whatever I need to do from all around the classroom. I can see the kids on the periphery of the classroom, and I can engage them more, to make sure that each student has the best chance at learning.”
Meanwhile, at Keller Independent School District in Keller, Texas, school leaders recently made some device upgrades. “Our first step was to get one-to-one with our students,” says Educational Technology Facilitator Misty Shea.
The district followed up with new devices for teachers. “Because the pre–K through grade four students are using tablets, naturally we felt our teachers needed to have the same operating system, so we got them the same brand of laptops,” Shea says. “For our grade five through grade 12 teachers, we went with Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 models.”
Updated Technology Is a Deciding Factor in the Workplace
Experts say that by keeping teacher tech current, districts can get ahead of some recruiting and retention challenges.
“In light of what’s happened over the past two years, it is critical to keep the technology current,” Sumpter says. “Since we are doing a phased rollout, I get daily phone calls from teachers asking, ‘When is it my turn?’ It’s definitely part of my retention efforts to make sure the teachers have the most up-to-date tools that meet their instructional needs.”
Shea takes a similar view. “Pedagogy comes first, but technology can enhance that pedagogy,” she says. “It’s very frustrating when the device isn’t keeping up with the things that you need to do. You want to provide the best education to the children, and you’re not able to if your device isn’t current enough.”
Bart Epstein, president, and CEO of the EdTech Evidence Exchange, warns that a failure to keep teacher tech current can have a direct impact on staffing.
“When schools haven’t invested time, energy, and resources into getting technology right, that’s often an indicator of institutional incompetence in other areas,” he says.
On the flip side, he says, “If you get technology very right, that can lead to increased workplace satisfaction for teachers.”
Other factors still matter pay, culture, working conditions. “But technology has become so integrated now into schools that it being done properly can be the deciding factor when teachers are deciding where to work,” he says.
Training Teachers on New Technology Is Imperative
Districts looking to leverage technology in support of teacher recruiting and retention need to be strategic about their investments.
“It all starts with a technology plan that’s linked to the strategic plan for the school district. The technology plan defines how technology will support the strategic plan goals over the next three to five years,” says Duke with CoSN. “Without this, you are just managing infrastructure. You are not making strategic investments and the district falls behind in the technology lifecycle.”
That plan also needs to address implementation, so that teachers don’t get overwhelmed by an unmanageable flood of new technology tools. Duke says it’s important to clearly articulate in advance to users the value a new system will bring and create an implementation plan that defines the training each user will need to be successful.
“In my department, we have four technology coaches, and we make training a top priority,” Sumpter says.
“We can’t present everything at one time,” she says. “It’s all about picking the quick wins, finding the places the teachers can feel comfortable and successful with maximum impact on student learning. Then we can come back later for a deeper dive into other things.”
Shea also cautions against overwhelming educators with too many new gadgets at once. “For our district, we did a summer rollout,” she said. “The teachers made appointments and they came in for one-on-one training to help them get familiar with their devices, and we provided follow-up training as needed.”
Finally, Epstein says, teachers should help drive the IT planning process.
“One of the most important success factors is teacher agency,” he says. “Whether teachers are involved in these decisions has a big impact on the success or failure of many tools.”