Special Report
Classroom Technology

Teachers: Here Are Tips for Using Your New ‘Geeky’ Skills to Improve Classroom Management

By Alyson Klein — May 18, 2021 6 min read
A group of people manage a complicated problem

There’s no question that pandemic learning has forced teachers to quickly transform their classroom management strategies. Now that school may finally be on its way back to something closer to normal, how can educators use the lessons of the past year to reshape classroom management?

To discuss this important question, Education Week reached out to Michelle Pearson and Laura Israelsen, who write a blog together called “Two Geeky Teachers.” Pearson is an 8th grade social studies and geography teacher at Century Middle School in the Adams 12 school district, in Thornton, Colo. And Israelsen is a district literacy partner at two other middle schools in the same district. They responded by email, and their answers were edited for length and clarity.

One lesson that seems to have emerged from COVID-19 is that teaching strategies that worked with tech 10 or even just five years ago just aren’t as effective now and aren’t likely to be as effective when kids return to school buildings. What’s your take on that conclusion?

Pearson: I think about COVID as a motivator for instructional strategy reflection. COVID caused all of us to move forward in ways that some educators were dreaming about (moving into a 1-to-1 teaching situation) versus dreading (such as implementing hybrid streaming class instruction). Many things have changed, but I disagree that strategies [we used before the pandemic] are not as effective. It is easy to say, “this isn’t working anymore.” But a good teacher actually reflects on the strategy to see if that is actually true, and re-envisions how strategies are implemented in the changing educational landscape to benefit our students.

Israelsen: When I think back to 2011, I think about how we were just starting to explore the idea of implementing a bring-your-own-device policy at my school. This was cutting edge, and none of the other schools in my district were doing this. Access was limited, and sometimes it was just too difficult to even try to implement. Fast forward to COVID restrictions where we had to get a device into the hands of every student. Think about that. Now each student has a device to access during and after school. This is exciting and provides all kinds of opportunities to research, learn, and access the world!

Classroom management has meant something completely different in the COVID era. As self-proclaimed “geeky teachers,” how can technology help educators wrap their arms around classroom management in the modern schoolhouse?

Pearson: Effective use of technology means stepping beyond the “surface of the technology tool” and digging deeper to use it for true learning. Teachers have learned to use technology to engage students in different ways and use their tech tool to collect real time data on learning. Teachers can, and are, harnessing technology to engage students in real time back-channel feedback systems, reflection in the moment rather than later, and peer-to-peer feedback throughout a classroom session.

Israelsen: Harnessing the power of 1-to-1 technology and web 2.0 tools is changing the face of the classroom. Students are not able to quietly sit in the corner while someone else answers the questions. Technology quickly allows teachers to really see every student and to reach those who are not fully engaging early. Technology tools allow for a response from every student and offer formative assessment data in real time. This is a game changer for teachers. Teachers and students love group work and collaboration. Harnessing the power of technology tools that allow for this continued interaction even with social distancing is key. Technology tools like breakout rooms, collaborative Google documents and its suite of tools, even video editing companies are now offering a collaboration option. Educators and ed-tech companies are rising to the occasion and inventing new options for tools and engaging group work. We have finally arrived and are working toward the promise of 21st Century Learning!

Which classroom management tech strategies that you picked up during the pandemic are you planning to continue using when school goes back to “normal?”

Pearson: Harness “bell to bell” learning with interactive critical thinking activities from start to finish in the classroom and use technology to support you in collecting and using formative data. Choose a meaningful class activity to start the day, which plugs in the student into the day’s learning rather having them leave their device at the door. (Pear Deck, Jamboard, Padlet)

Nothing can replace the gift of interaction with community partners, local resources, and learning outside of the traditional setting. Continue to use virtual meetings to bring their voice to the classroom for co-teaching, resource introduction, and as an expert in their field. (Guest Speakers with Google Meet and Zoom)

Allow students to apply what they are learning to real-world situations and make their learning outcomes meaningful to them. (Adobe Spark Infographics, Instagram). Use technology tools to allow students to make real-world connections so learning means something to them. (Google Maps, YouTube)

Allow for choice. If we have learned anything in this pandemic we know that giving a choice in outcomes and learning modalities is essential. When given a choice of activities, students can learn how they feel most comfortable, and this results in less disruption, meaningful learning, and students will remember what they learned.

Can you give us a few tips for principals and teacher leaders who are trying to make sure educators are able to make the best use of technology for classroom management?

Pearson and Israelsen (joint response):

  • Administrators and ed-tech teacher leaders should work to make technology as easy to access as possible. Make sure that students and parents understand and even sign a Chromebook (or whatever technology is being used) contract and check out those devices to students with an understanding that they should use this for learning and are [responsible] for its care.
  • Set expectations for technology use building-wide so that teachers can quickly get to the job of instruction with all the systems in place.
  • Provide a district- or building-funded set of technology. Making sure that there is a single sign-on protocol is a game changer.
  • Harness the power of the ed-tech teacher leaders in their buildings and districts. Ask these amazing educators to provide professional development on specific tools, applications, instructional practices, and classroom management.
  • Administrators should provide time for teachers to see each other in action and should have a system for showcasing best practices with technology across their school, throughout the district, and in some cases with other districts, too.
  • Providing a technology coach in the building should be a priority. Be sure that coach has a collaborative group of district coaches to work with and training as well.
  • Find a mentor or sister school in another district and push each other. What can you learn from each other? How can you grow?
  • Connect ed-tech teacher leaders to digital coaches and district leadership on a regular basis so decisionmaking is a collective and thoughtful process and challenges are tackled as a team rather than individually.
  • Connect instructional technology leaders, teachers, and IT professionals so that the impact of IT decisions and instructional decisions can be discussed before implementation.

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