These teachers stand out — and raise eyebrows. They integrate the latest technologies into their classrooms. They have popular Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs. They score lucrative speaking gigs at conferences on educational leadership. These are the high-profile classroom teachers that companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon court with freebies — everything from gift cards to iPads and free access to premium classroom software — and they are igniting debate about corporate-infused pedagogy. Should you encourage your teachers to seize such opportunities or forbid them from fraternizing with Silicon Valley elites?
The phenomena that empower teachers to become high-profile tech leaders brings losses and gains. Whether it’s right for your school depends on a host of factors: your mission, your budget, your community of families and your learning philosophy. Are students in school to learn how to thrive as adults in a particular place and time, or are they there to acquire aptitude with timeless skills and engage in the Socratic pursuit of knowledge for its own sake? At a time when many schools are wondering whether to jettison textbooks for eBooks or replace spelling and grammar with programming and robotics, the two philosophies clash.
Enter the tech-influencer teacher. He or she aims to prepare students for a 21st century work environment. She believes in personalizing learning for students — and in using technology to aid that process. She rearranges her classroom, demolishing the traditional industrial-age learning environment that stuck students in straight rows with teachers lecturing at the front of the room. Such contexts are more than antiquated, she says (students no longer prep for a life on the assembly line). She believes old-fashioned classrooms are inimical to development of much-needed skills in collaboration and independently-guided learning.
One such influencer, third-grade teacher Kayla Dezler, wrote a piece for EdSurge about why she chose to arrange her classroom like a Starbucks.
“Think about when you go to Starbucks to complete work. Why do you choose to work there?” Dezler wrote. “If we truly want to prepare our students for the real world, we need to put them in responsive, dynamic environments that reflect life outside of a traditional classroom. And what’s that life outside like? Full of choices, where adults are responsible for their own learning.”
At some schools, teachers like Dezler might be cherished. At others, they would cause a frenzy of worry among parents, questioning potential bias and trendy teaching styles.
Here are the pros and cons of allowing teachers to become tech influencers at your school.
Free tech — Schools and districts strapped for cash benefit from the laptops, tablets and software companies give such teachers. The average classroom instructor spends $600 each year out-of-pocket on supplies for students — far too much, given the low salaries most teachers earn. Many schools and districts can’t afford to experiment with 1:1 programs — especially in rural areas, where students aren’t as likely to have access to 21st century tools at home. Some rural areas even lack broadband. Having teachers who have clout with companies like Google helps even the playing field.
An income-boost for teachers — If anyone deserves to earn a few thousand extra dollars on the side, it’s a third-grade teacher. If their tech savvy wins them lucrative speaking appointments, why complain?
A higher profile for the school — Having a teacher with celebrity in the education world promotes the school’s brand. This could bring great rewards for a private school looking to highlight its differentiators.
Engaged students — While the jury is still out on whether ed tech promotes long-term learning, the anecdotal evidence suggests students are happier and more attentive in wired classrooms.
Empowered teachers — It’s rare for anyone in the corporate world to heed the wisdom of grade school teacher. But shouldn’t they? Don’t teachers know a thing or two about human nature that would leave Wall Street denizens in the dust on an emotional intelligence test? Well, Silicon Valley is listening — actively searching for excellent educators who can test, evaluate and, yes, promote their brands. These companies want to perfect their products based on feedback from actual teachers. Should they use non-teachers instead?
Corporate bias — Freebies from businesses have an impact on our choices — otherwise they wouldn’t offer them. Consider this: a study of 280,000 doctors found that a single free dinner from a pharmaceutical company increases the number of prescriptions the doctors write from that company. What impact would free laptops for a gaggle of 8-year-olds have?
Ethical concerns — “Any time you are paying a public employee to promote a product in the public classroom without transparency, then that’s problematic,” James E. Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, told the New York Times.
Fretful parents — Many families struggle to regulate tech use at home. Fights between mothers and daughters about excessive Facebook-time are notorious. Parents worry about bullying, predatory online surveillance — and the social impairments some say result from interacting with devices more than people. At some schools, parents would mutiny if a teacher rose to tech-influencer prominence.
Poaching — High profile teachers draw attention from other schools. As a leader, you may be faced with a tough choice: Raise the star’s salary — and incur the wrath of other lower-paid teachers — or let her go.
Administrators need to weigh the pros and cons. If you have a contemporary educational philosophy, an open-minded family community and a shortage of cash, encouraging your teachers to cultivate their online profiles might pay off. On the other hand, if your school is famed for traditional offerings, watch out. The tantalizing perks Silicon Valley offers education’s early adopters could bring chaos.