Education Opinion

Guest Post: Wisdom from David Bowie: Technology and Change

By Justin Reich — January 21, 2015 4 min read
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Today’s guest post is from Gregg Russell who has spent 13 years as a professional educator working as a teacher and administrator. In 2012 Gregg was named the Idaho Education Association Region 8 Outstanding Principal of the Year.

The other night, David Bowie’s epic tune Changes, came blasting over the radio. As I was singing along to the lyrics, the phrase “I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream,” really struck a chord with me. It made me think about how often we attempt to change our schools but in actual reality, we rarely do. Our instruction and classrooms don’t look much different then they did decades ago. Our ripples rarely leave the stream indeed. This especially rings true when it comes to technology implementation.

Four Phases of Change

One of the main features that can be overlooked in technology implementation is the change process. Let’s face it; the change process can be messy and complex. However, I found that having a framework of the change process could greatly increase the success of any change initiative -- including technology. Several years ago, I was introduced to McREL’s four phases of change. McREL lists four distinct phases of the change process: Create Demand, Implementation, Manage Personal Transitions, Monitor & Evaluate.

Create Demand

Creating demand for change is a critical step. It’s like creating the wind that propels a sailboat. Without it, you are stuck dead in the water. An effective way to create demand for technology change is through vicarious experiences. Vicarious experiences are when individual teachers get a chance to see other teachers in similar circumstances having success with technology implementation. As an administrator, this may be done by setting up a trip for teachers to visit another school or district that is having success implementing technology into their instruction. This experience can often give teachers a much-needed boost because they can visually see how other educators are being successful.


Once demand is created, a plan of implementation should be developed. While this plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, it should be clearly laid out with specific tasks and checkpoints along the way to ensure the school is headed in the right direction with its implementation. One key leadership responsibility to consider during this phase is to optimize. An administrator can optimize by consistently portraying a positive attitude about the change. Optimizing creates a risk-free environment where teachers are allowed to try new endeavors without the fear of reprimand. This environment is critical to professional growth and stimulates teachers to take risks they otherwise might be afraid to try. Successful optimizing helps teachers see perceived failures as “small wins” as they work through their technology implementation.

Managing Personal Transitions

Managing personal transitions is kind of like being a one-man band. All the instruments need to be played correctly to produce a harmonious sound, yet each one needs to be played at a specific key, note, and tone in order to be cohesive. As an administrator, managing teachers’ transitions during technology implementation can take on many roles. Depending on the individual teacher, this could take on many facets from providing clear goals or directions to providing extra support for those individuals who many feel inadequate. Managing personal transitions is truly an art and may look slightly different for each individual teacher. The key is to understand that not all teachers need the same kind of support during the change process. A one-size fits all approach may leave some staff feeling frustrated or isolated.

Monitoring and Evaluating

Monitoring and evaluating your technology implementation is the final phase of McREL’s four phases of change. This phase is similar to checking the oil in your car. Your main goal during this phase is to make sure things are running smoothly. This could look several different ways: taking staff surveys, holding individual meetings with teachers, or calling a leadership meeting with teacher leaders. The point is to get a pulse on what is happening in the school. This should be done often to help prepare your next steps. As administrators, we rarely take the time to strategically plan out the change process and how it will affect our staff. We may purchase thousands of dollars in devices, provide professional development, and yet somehow our initiatives fall short. Change in a school can be a difficult and messy endeavor especially when it comes to technology implementation, but using a change model can help you “Ch-Ch-Change” with confidence.

Looking to learn more about how you can lead change in your school or district? Come join EdTechTeacher and MassCUE on March 5th and 6th for the third annual Leading Future Learning conference.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.