Friday, August 17, 2012

Sack Mabel and Doris?

This post has been a long time coming - I didn't want to rush it (like I normally do), but needed to give it some thought as it is an issue that I want to address. I know that I risk getting publicly shot down for my views, but they are mine and I would hope that they are respected. I am coming from a primary viewpoint here, so would appreciate the reader remembering that we are not employed to teach one or two subjects, but are (mostly) responsible for delivering all.

Rethinking ICT

I had an interesting time at the rethinking ICT conference earlier this year and met some hard working people who I have a lot of respect for. With the exception of a few that I had met before, they were nearly all twitter acquaintances, many of whom are doing inspirational work in education (and special mention must be given to Chris Leach who put this event together). At the end of the conference an expert panel answered questions from the audience. During this time I was stunned to hear the opinion that teachers should be sacked if they did not engage with new technologies*

My initial reaction was that it would be very uncharitable of educational establishments to sack teachers for finding an aspect of their learning difficult. Would we exclude a child who struggles or refuses to learn, or would we try our hardest to find a way of engaging them? Teachers get paid to do a job, I understand that, but technology does not come naturally to everyone and teachers have to keep abreast of  a multitude of new/recycled educational ideas each year. There is a lot to juggle. I thought about some of the people I have supported over the past few years, people who I have heard (and seen on twitter) being referred to as the school's 'Doris' or 'Mabel' (a derogatory term given to those who shy away from new technologies) and the opinions at rethinking ICT hit a nerve. A big nerve. So big that I felt compelled to challenge it by stating my disagreement of the expert panel's view. I was told that we wouldn't accept it if a teacher continuously failed to learn how to teach fractions*. My response to this was that fractions don't continuously break.

If I were told that I had to embed the Polish language in each curriculum area, I know that I would find it time consuming to learn and stressful because I would not always know if I were teaching it well. Imagine how I would feel the next year being told that the language had changed, to Bengali. One of my colleagues has no trouble with technology, but if he were told to include art in as many lessons as possible, he would probably not appreciate it! Likewise, I can read music and have always aspired to play the piano, but have not been able to devote the time to it. I played (one-handed) in assembly once and it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I know that these examples are not the same as embedding technology, but I am trying to make comparisons of the 'fear factor'. This is a fear of the new, the unknown and the things that could lead to public ridicule. Children as well as adults can be intentionally and unintentionally cruel with their frank opinions. Some teachers lack the confidence to put themselves in that position.

I myself never wanted to be an ICT coordinator; I find many aspects of technology quite dull. I have developed a passion for it because I am a curious person; I see the creative potential and the awe and wonder technology often brings and I want  slice of the action. Maybe it is slightly easier for me than some over 40s though, because I did computer technology at school (yes, it did exist in the 80s!) and I am not afraid of breaking things. I also had two children at a very young age and they had all manner of gaming platforms, remote control toys and then computers when they were older. My youngest son collected eggs at the weekend so that he could buy himself a laptop. I am not an advocate of the term 'digital native', but our children now have many more opportunities to engage with technologies than I did when I was young and the fear factor of 'breaking it' only arises when they are told by an adult things such as 'don't touch, you might break it'. Is this why they seem to learn more quickly? They are not afraid to try something new.

Yesterday I sat and watched Ruby, who is only just two, use an ipad. She had no fear and no anxieties and was happily expressing herself through mark-making. She was delightful! Conversely, trying to teach my 68 year old dad how to email and access the internet was incredibly stressful. He would not experiment, because he did not understand and his frustration quickly led to acute grumpiness. His fear was preventing his learning; he needed a lot of practise and repetition. So why do we expect our teachers to pick things up quickly and use resources straight away? I would challenge anyone who believes that teachers should be able to do just that, to attempt the same by learning a new musical instrument.

So what can be done about it? I would suggest that the negative opinion of sacking them be replaced with a more positive offer of support. Two methods immediately spring to mind: digital leaders and RiskIT.

Digital leaders.

Digital leaders are the best free resource at school to keep abreast of ICT. For example, when I introduced scratch and kodu at school, I knew that our hard working year 6/5 teachers would want their children to use it. I am ever aware of the hours that they put in and do not wish to add to their workload. Digital leaders are the perfect compromise. The teacher gets to join in the lesson, learn with the children and develop their confidence. Why not make a pledge to employ digital leaders and join our supportive network.


If you want your teachers to use new technologies, adopt a whole school approach such as  RiskIT. This strategy encourages and empowers teachers to explore ICT in a safe environment without making them feel pressured or ridiculed. I will definitely be promoting this next year in our cluster schools. I will not explain it any further here, but please read Jan's post by following the RiskIT link.

Other methods of support that are commonly used in school could also prove useful: 1:1 support, small group work, peer tutoring, modelling, lesson observations.

And finally - we need to stop negatively labelling our teachers! Self-fulfilling prophecy? Does our low expectation = low output? It's a hard enough job without people in the same profession being negative and knocking you down. Instead of questioning their 'inadequacies', maybe we should be asking ourselves if we have been teaching 'Doris' and 'Mabel' properly and giving them appropriate support. I don't just mean chucking a manual at them (could you learn to play the saxaphone that way?) I mean proper, personalised support. I feel that it is my duty as ICT coordinator to find out what our teachers know, what they need to learn and how best they can be supported to do so. Spending a little time reassuring them and ensuring that appropriate support systems are in place is essential. At our school it works well, because it is a supportive team. If someone struggles, we pull together to help them.

* that was the gist of it, I cannot remember exactly what was said. 


  1. There are some things I don't enjoy teaching. This coming year i'll be teaching all y5 ICT and the other y5 teacher will do all the PE - down to what we feel are both our weaknesses. But being uncomfortable at teaching PE means I'll seek support and training and hopefully the Mabels out there can do this too. If they refuse support for to overcome their fears then ....

    However I think utilising DLs is a brilliant idea for enthusing children and staff. I was going to try to implement DLs later in the year after we'd introduced Ipads to the teachers but it makes so much sense to do it hand-in-hand.

  2. Thank you for your comments Paula. I agree, it is a totally different matter if teachers are refusing support. I guess my biggest concern is that some teachers are offered impractical training (chalk and talk style) so never gain the confidence to practice new skills, so never gain the confidence to put them into their teaching. It is this issue that I am trying to address - the way that 'Doris and Mabel' are supported.
    Please let me know how you get on with digital leaders and ipads! If I can help in any way, please ask!

  3. I like to think I'm up to date with technology.... I have an iPhone and an iPad, I Tweet and am on FB and have recently started blogging! My school embraces technology... We have several class sets of iPads, take registers via iPod touch and pupils have access to wifi and are encouraged to use phones in lessons if appropriate. I have 2 kids. 6 and 11 and both are very competent with ict and technology. I like to embrace new techniques and enjoy the challenge of learning new things...... But now my son Is getting older I am realising that I don't know as much as I thought and he is overtaking me! The use of hot keys, programmes to video screen shots, making his own You Tube videos and so much more.
    The problem with technology is that it is moving too fast.... Don't get me wrong, I love it but I simply don't have enough time to spend learning how to use it properly. I felt compelled to buy myself an IPad as I knew that they could be an excellent way to inspire and motivate pupils in the lesson- but using them once a week or fortnight was not often enough for me to really get my head around it and realise its full potential. If I am open to new technologies and willing to learn and at 37, am struggling to keep abreast of new innovations, I know that for those who do not have the means or the willingness to learn it must be quite terrifying. Schools need more time to let staff "play" with new technologies on a regular basis rather than a few hours training and then finding yourself in front of a class, expected to teach those that probably know more than you! DL's are a great idea, and if used in the right way could be a huge help to others. The key issue for me is time.... if I spent as much time as I wanted / needed to learning how to use and implement all of these new technologies into my teaching, there would be no time left for planning and marking!
    I never understood why Primary teachers were moved from one year group to another instead of being given the chance to perfect themselves with one year group or one main subject/group of subjects, but then that is why I chose to teach at Secondary level! What I do try and remember though is that we are all different and have different strengths...... If someone finds it hard to get their head around ICT, I try and help them as much as I can and consider myself lucky that I have young children that are patient and willing to teach me!!! If you know that a pupil in your class knows more than you, don't be afraid to say " that's brilliant.... You're teaching me something new- would you like to show the rest of the class?" we can learn as much as, if not more, from the younger generations and we shouldn't be afraid to see learning as a two way street between the teacher and the pupil!

  4. Thank you very much Jackie for your pertinent comments. Once again my thoughts and views are captured very well by someone else - and it is great to get some comments from a secondary teacher.
    I too am keen to keep abreast of new technologies - going as far as attending a raspberry pi conference (way over my head!)and purchasing one to play with (much more at ease playing in my own home). I still find myself in many situations where the technology is beyond me. I tried a programming session at #gtauk and turned into a teenager again - I excused my self to go to the loo and never returned! Knowing how I have felt in these situations gives me empathy for those who are also trying something new for the first time.

    I should add at this point that adopting ipads in our school has done wonders for less confident teachers to engage with ICT. They have also given some teachers the courage to return to the laptops and have another go with something they have struggled with.

  5. Julia Skinner ( @theheadsoffice)August 19, 2012 at 4:59 AM

    Great post Shelli that highlights how difficult it is for primary colleagues who specialise in one subject but are expected to cover them all at a reasonable standard. As an adult it is good to reflect those things we find difficult as that helps understand where some of the children are coming from. I don;t suppose we would advocate getting rid of children who are not confident in a particular area.
    I love the idea of teachers teaching to their strengths and then supporting each other to gain more confidence. It is about confidence rather than content most of the time I think. I have got into the habit of tweeting out my questions about IT rather than trusting my understanding of the search I've found. People every time but they are not always around.
    Good thought provoking piece!

  6. Hi Sheli, Brilliant entry and I'm shocked the same time. I completely agree with you, you are right. What needs to be done - is what you say - and other readers: help and support. So is 'sacking' now the 'message' to all teachers in all subjects - according to them? What will education and schools look like - according to 'them'? Sack left right and centre will not solve the problem. I'm truly speechless. Is this how 'leaders' reason? You've touched a good point. Those who suggested it, need to re-think what they said, never mind re-think ICT. The same happened with me and my colleague. We taught our classes the subjects we felt most confident to teach or subjects that were our favourite subjects to teach - to the benefit of all. Isn't 'team work' also one of the requirements of any job?

  7. Krista - @teacherofy5August 19, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Hi Sheli, Like all other edu-stuff, I shared your entry with my husband-who is also a teacher. I'm honest if I say, his reaction was pretty much the same as mine. He also agrees with you. He uses ICT quite extensively in his everyday teaching-CAD/CAM and says something which I think is true: Not all teachers always have the time to familiar themselves with technology/software etc.You get someone showing you quick-quick something and it's not like BLAH! now you're an expert. It does take time [with the workload]to familiar yourself with what is available, and as you and I know, there is already so much available, that any non-tech teacher will feel too scared to teach ICT. Just mention a few of the applications you and I know, and they will def feel incompetent.

    This is another reason why I like the DL's, which is a brilliant idea and will definitely start implementing it as soon as I can. The 'leaders' who made those suggestions of 'sacking', did not think through what they said. Read this quote today: 'If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it'.-Margaret Fuller - this is what true leaders do. - Not sacking...


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