Friday, November 8, 2013

The Instructional Technology Wife Swap

Educators seem to draw inspiration from the funniest areas.  Sometimes lessons evolve from an incredible experience at a teaching conference, and other times teachers just sprinkle clips from “The Simpsons” through a Language Arts presentation to make things a little more engaging.

Well, get ready, folks - this epiphany comes to you courtesy of ‘Wife Swap.’

In case you’re not familiar with the show, ‘Wife Swap’ takes two diametrically different moms and puts them in a worst-case scenario: that is, they have to live the life of their antithesis.  A strongly conservative wife gets dropped into a household of liberal nuts (their words, not mine!), or  the hippie/new-age mom has to deal with a family that believes hunting, tractors, and Jesus are the only way to live.  It’s a show that prides itself on creating conflict for the sake of entertainment.  And, of course, at the end of every episode the wives get to return home to their ‘normal’ environment, and share with their family the bits of wisdom they’ve learned from the whole experience.

This particular pairing saw an etiquette instructor swap places with a do whatever you want, free-range parenting mom.  They both had to live by the rules of their new families for a few days before switching it up and making the new families live by their rules.  So, the free-range mom struggled with formal dinners and table manners class, while the other mom had to deal with unruly kids at the grocery store who told her to “kiss (their) butts.”  Entertaining stuff, just not necessarily life-changing.

But then, when they got to set their own rules, the real education took place. The ‘kids will be kids’ wife learned that some people value respect, but was able to inject a little bit of fun into the family’s proper way of living.  The etiquette instructor showed how manners, along with discipline, could change the entire climate of a household.  Afterwards, her “swapped” husband even said something along the lines of, “I never knew my kids could act this good... but it’s what I’ve always wanted.”

People tasked with changing technology culture in schools -  instructional technologist, technology facilitators, or, my preferred term, technology coaches - are essentially living out the wife swap idea in an educational context.  They hail from lands far away, and bring with them foreign ideas of how life in the classroom should work.  It doesn’t matter that they might also be teachers, or have educational licenses, or anything else.  They are always the outsider.

And teachers, by proxy, act as the family members who are struggling to adapt. Their normal mom is gone, replaced by this new mom with whacked-out ideas about how the world works.  This person might be staying with the family, living in their home, and eating their food, but this person’s belief system simply fails to mesh with the established norm.  Essentially, if technology coaches become the unwarranted swapped wives, classroom teachers become the family members who don’t realize a little fresh perspective might do ‘em good.

Still with me?  Good… because here’s where things get a bit tricky.

See, ‘Wife Swap’ requires new wives to live the life of their predecessor for a short while.  They might put up a fight, complain, cry, and eventually threaten to leave the show, but they still have to adhere to the family norms already in place.  This does two things: first, it gives the new wife insight to the family make-up.  You ever heard the old expression, “to really understand somebody, you have to walk a mile in their shoes”?  This is the reality tv version.  An immersive cultural experience is the foundation of study abroad programs across the world because it works, and ‘Wife Swap’ is no different.

Secondly, this lets the families, or in our case, the teachers, see the new wives in a different light.  It breaks down some of those defensive barriers.  When the families see that the new wife is willing to go well outside her comfort zone, many times to the point of breaking down,  they understand that this new wife is still a wife, and mother, and everything else, but she’s different only because her past experiences are different.  Does that difference make her wrong?  No.  Is her difference of belief system a bad thing? Definitely not. Can the family now learn a little something from her?  Possibly.

It’s our jobs as educators - be it technology coaches, or classroom teachers, or directors of technology, or school administrators - to always focus on learning, and to always focus on the kids.  We let a lot of the “white noise” in educational innovation cloud those two ideas.

And so occasionally, we need to swap wives.  We have to understand together that, just because we both have preconceived ideas of what should be happening in a classroom, doesn’t mean that we’re both right.  It also doesn’t mean that we’re both wrong.  And while technology coaches are responsible for training teachers in new and exciting educational resources, those same coaches should learn as much - or more - from the teachers they’re trying to help.

This philosophy is key if we ever hope to hear our teachers say, “I never knew my classroom could be this good… but it’s what I’ve always wanted.”

photo credit: Profound Whatever via photopin cc


Susan said...

Have you done a "wife swap"? You really should. Then blog about it.

Karen said...

As Susan said, you might need to try it and then reflect on the experience first hand. And I say this, not to be dismissive or negative, but out of facing the reality that I don't have a classroom. It is very easy for me to show the wonders of what is possible to teachers, but it is quite another to actual be in the trenches and do it day in and day out.

I too, am an educational technology facilitator. I realize that is it very easy for me to encourage teachers to try new ways to engage students but know that I don't face the daily pressures of test scores, benchmarks, limited access to devices for students, and lack of knowledge of how to really relinquish the learning to the students. It is a new model and a slow process for most. I am thinking that the best way I could model such a classroom is to actually go back to the classroom and do it myself.