Right of refusal

I’ve blogged about this before:

but can anyone else think of an employment sector other than K-12 and postsecondary education where employees have the right to refuse to use technology?

For example, a grocery store checker doesn’t get to say ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’ll use a register.’ A stockbroker doesn’t get to say, ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’ll use a computer.’ An architect doesn’t get to say, ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’ll use AutoCAD.’ But in education, we plead and implore and incentivize but we never seem to require.

In many industries, knowledge of relevant technologies is a necessary prerequisite for either getting or keeping one’s job. Sometimes the organization provides training; sometimes the employee is expected to get it on her own. Either way, the expectation is that use of the relevant technologies is a core condition of employment.

Why aren’t our school organizations expecting more of their employees? Are we that desperate for workers?

39 Responses to “Right of refusal”

  1. All school records are now computerized in Catholic schools in NY. A few schools tested the technology last year, and now most Teachers are required to input attendance, test, quiz and classroom marks into a web-based program provided by the archdiocese. The program spits out the final grade at the end of each semester. Teachers hate it but they have to do it.

    Younger teachers had no problems, the older teachers are still struggling, many of them making paper backup copies of everything. There was little training and I ended up making the website the homepage on many pc’s since the teachers didn’t know how to type in a web address.

    Can I think of any other employment sector not requiring computers – wow, no!

  2. I think many districts feel that they can’t require the use of technology because they don’t have the resources (time, money, personnel, or all three) to train their employees.

  3. Scott,
    One thing to consider is there isn’t much oversight going on in our classrooms once a teacher gets tenure – whether technology related or not.

    We have developed a system with a lot of autonomy for the professional educators we hire.

    How they organize their classes, the methods they use, the way they grade are generally chosen by the individual teacher.

    Getting back to your question…we have created this culture of autonomy…we shouldn’t be surprised that teachers approach the use of technology the same way.


  4. As always, great post. As Pete points out, we have created a culture of autonomy so we shouldn’t be surprised.
    But, we also look to our educators to educate, which is their chief responsibility. That means teaching current information, using current resources. It is impossible to do this without technology; in any case, it is certainly easier to do using technology.
    And we are called upon to instill a love for life-long learning in our students. Seems a bit hypocritical if we resist modeling it ourselves.
    Our students learn best using multiple means of representation, engagement and expression (Universal Design for Learning principles. Let’s use the tools/techniques/strategies (seamlessly embedded technology) that promote an optimal learning environment for their success.
    Educators relying upon 19th and 20th century methods when no other profession (skilled or unskilled)allows that. Where is the public outcry?

  5. Scott,

    I took this with me to my Admin. meeting this morning to show my colleagues I was not the only one making this statement. The responses were:
    1. What is a blog again?
    2. You subscribe to this? How much does it cost the District?
    3. We need to stay focused on our initiatives for the 2020 vision.

    It is hard to drive the herd when there is no destination.

  6. In my last 5 years of educational employment I was the district technology mentor. Several ways to achieve more usage were discussed. It so happened that a contract was due to be negotiated and it was included in the new teachers’ contract that they had to receive a certain number of tech training hours from me or a certified tech person. It did nothing but cause more taking sides in the question. The teachers/administrators who were ready for a change went along with no problem. Those, and that was over 50% at the time, fought it tooth and nail. If they had to come to training, they complained constantly and were more disruptive in a training session then any student I’d ever had in the classroom. The administration was overwhelmed with complaints because they had to take their time to get my training, it was cutting into their time. The superintendent finally gave in and the lack of training was never touched when the hours were submitted to the office at the end of the year. In short, nothing was done. It’s my opinion that the only way to “force” usage is to include it in their observations and punish with unsatisfactory ratings, from there, suspensions, layoffs and termination of services. Is it that important in today’s educational picture? You bet it is, now more than ever.

  7. Phil, there’s a 2020 vision in your district that doesn’t include technology usage by teachers?

    Everyone: this comment thread is GREAT!

  8. The comparison between using technology in education and in other employment areas minimizes the differences in professions.

    As an example, a grocery clerk cannot refuse to use the scanning tools and associated electronics because it is THE only way to do their job (within reason). Refuse to use it and one cannot be a grocery clerk.

    Refuse to use technology for any particular lesson and it can still be spectacular – maybe even better than when technology is used (some experiences in life are more meaningful when real people talk face-to-face with real people).

    Now – if you compare those facets of a teachers job which require technology; such as attendance, grading and use of email to communicate internally and externally, there is no choice involved. All teachers must use those tools in our district.

    The process of teaching and in turn the act of learning are much more complex than to say that any one method of instruction is the only way.

    Why would one force teachers to use any one particular method or model if there is little evidence to suggest that there is one right way to teach?

  9. Public school classrooms have long been a comfortable environment for independent contractors. When and in some places today did/do we know what teachers are asking of students? Implementing a “textbook” was and still is controlled by the individual teacher when the door closes to the classroom. Technology is simply the next in a long line of instructional tools where teachers have autonomy either intentionally or as a byproduct of a lack of direction.

    For me the important question is focused on applying enough “creative tension” in the system that makes it difficult for teachers to continue practices that do not utilize teachnology and changed instructional practices that take advantage of the technology. The leverage is in the assessment results, feedback from students and parents, and feedback from colleagues that demand new learning opportunities. Making it safe for colleagues to challenge each other; not only safe but expected is what we need to create. Teachers will use the tools if they can “see” that it makes a difference for their students and they “believe” they can replicate the practices. We need to find ways to crack their doors enough to consider and then to explore other practices. Data and seeing and feeling the possibilities come from successful experiences of their peers and students.

    If we can’t identify for them why using technology is better for their kids and for them, why should they change. It won’t happen because of documents created around 21st Century Learning. The change process needs to start closer to home.

  10. What a terrific post! I have been fighting this battle for years. What gets me is that EVERY DAY teachers demand that their students stretch their learning, work harder and think more deeply than the day before, and function outside their comfort zone in order to learn. My question is: when did teachers decide to stop learning? By no means does this apply to all teachers, of course. There are many who stretch themselves in an effort to make their instruction rigorous and relevant for their students. It is hard work and it take considerable time and effort. But, we are the models. We need to be overt about how we learn and model that we are still learning. It is no wonder that students see a disconnect when they walk into many American classrooms.

    Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed it as well as the comments.

  11. Phil’s comment above touches upon what I wanted to say… doesn’t having an expectation that teachers will use technology assume that there’s someone there to expect it? While I absolutely believe change has to be at the teacher level…. if those at the administrative level don’t a) understand the change (i.e. the technology), b) value the change, and c) figure out how to both nurture and push the change… well, then, all you’ll ever get are those sporadic individuals who want to change.

    And I say that as a building administrator who only in the last year woke up to all this.

  12. I agree with others, great post, and great comments.

    @ more than one way to teach? – yes, of course, no one here is prescribing, I hope, just one method of using technology to teach or learn. But won’t work in the 21st century for today’s students be dependent upon technology? Using technology to teach yourself something is, I’m afraid, a 21st century skill.

    @ requiring tech use – we do require technology use, at least in 2 areas: we insist teachers maintain a weblog on our own server and we require teachers to maintain electronic records (grades, etc.). Neither of these, however, have a direct impact on instruction by themselves. They are part of a larger digital culture that we have established in our district. There is no doubt in my mind that there is rub-off on teaching, not to mention our professional development efforts poised at using technology in the classroom.

    I am still a believer, however, in the professionalism of an educator to make his/her own choices about the best ways to teach in the classroom. I think, however, that educators who ignore a growing body of research centered on the benefits of constructivist learning and in many regards the use of technology in the classroom, are tarnishing their professional reputations when access and incentives are on the table.

  13. Even if he went unnoticed, Joel is right-on that the analogies here are suspect. I’ll add that their endorsement from Scott’s commenters goes a long way to answer Scott’s own question.

    Dig deep into the analogy. Consider the vast difference between a stock broker who uses a ticker tape machine to track stocks and a rotary telephone to call transactions down to the floor versus a broker who manages multiple transactions at broadband speed via Bloombergs.

    Do all the tech enthusiasts chiming in really think the difference between their classes and those still leaning on 20th century methodology (ie. those that don’t employ wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, VoiceThread, Operator11, UStream, TeacherTube, etc.)
    is THAT vast? Except in some weird world where technology is an assumed virtue per se and always preferable to not-technology, I don’t think so.

    So many tech coordinators have gathered at this watering hole, wondering aloud, “why don’t they think this tech stuff is so great?”, unaware that they’ve answered their question while simultaneously misunderstanding their job description. The problem is: they haven’t made technology’s effectiveness as obvious to the teacher as AutoCAD is to the architect. They’ve picked the wrong side of this chicken/egg relationship.

    Selling tech to the teacher is the tech coordinator’s job just like selling learning to the student is the teacher’s. Anyone who thinks he’s in a seller’s market here deludes himself. Anyone who thinks that punitive measures for the buyer will solve his market crisis (cf. John Gross’ comment above) is even more deluded.

  14. I’ll reiterate again that this has been a great thread. I encourage folks to click over to Dan Meyer’s blog and read the reactions to his post. My follow-up post today on Conditions of Employment has the links to his and Graham’s posts.

    A. I agree with Dan that selling is key. That’s one reason I’m such a big fan of Seth Godin. I sell every day.

    B. I agree with Graham’s comment (over at Dan’s post): if kids are going to be using technology as adults, schools have an important role to play in exposing them to the tools, particularly those disadvantaged students who may not otherwise get the exposure at home. I think my earlier post on the aggregation of individual choices hits this pretty squarely. See also my post last year on Social Justice:


    C. Finally, speaking of Godin, this is from his post today:

    Rule 0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.
    Soon, the new thing will be better than the old thing will be. But if you wait until then, it’s going to be too late. Feel free to wax nostalgic about the old thing, but don’t fool yourself into believing it’s going to be here forever. It won’t.

    Rule 1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success.


  15. Ths is a very intereting post, and something I have contemplated before. Sure, it’s hard work to learn of new ways of doing things, but ultimately it is the children’s wholistic education we should be concerning ourselves most with, rather than how the teachers feel (i.e. anxious) about learning these new technologies.

  16. I was thinking about tech implementation at my last school and my new one. We had more of the kind of technology that teachers really need (teacher laptops and digital projectors) at my last school so that there was almost one for every teacher. At my current school there are fewer projectors and effectively no laptops. I have trainings, and my co-workers would like to implement using Discovery streaming and slide shows, but don’t have the tools.

    They use email, and have computers in their classrooms for centers, but no whole class instruction is done with computers because it’s not possible. How can they be required to use what isn’t provided? Why would they bother with trainings they can’t implement? I’m amazed I had five out of 17 co-workers at a Discovery Streaming/PowerPoint training I recently did.
    At least the clerk required to use a scanner/POS system doesn’t have to worry about whether one will be provided.

  17. Love the analogy!

    I’m not a fan of the ‘teaching is different’ argument in the comments because the fact is that technology is here to stay… not going away any time soon! Here is the simple facts: TO STAND STILL IS TO FALL BEHIND!

    Where I have issues with the comparison that you make is that good companies train and support their employees significantly before/while letting them use the technology, and there isn’t enough of that in education.

    I managed a Starbucks years ago… significant training as an assistant manager, Coffee school for the new baristas and a culture of helping and support in the stores.

    I get to a school and I’m put into a classroom in September, I’m evaluated 3 times in May and have not been given unsolicited feedback since… hmmmm.

    The technology training is worse! Here is a computer for every teacher – you must check e-mail at least once a day… attendance will now be done on computer, here is how you do it… if you want to book a room, it will now be done on computer… this is how you do it.

    No wonder teachers don’t want to change!

    I don’t know the figures, but I wonder what the ratio of equipment costs to training is in teaching compared to other work forces?

  18. I have had to teach myself all the technology-related stuff myself. There was a super simplistic training on our grading software, the only technology we are required to use. It is pretty silly, if you ask me. Kelly recently commented on my blog that we are preparing our kids for a past, not for a future, and as we shy away from technology, we are only burying our heads in the proverbial sand.

    John, I love your comment about teachers complaining about having to learn new things. How annoying! The big complaint at my school is that teachers hate getting compared to students. I guess the truth hurts sometimes.

  19. I take a slightly different stance. The short answer is that it’s complex.

    Grocery clerks, stock brokers, and even architects don’t need to guide the messiness of learning with technology. They’re adoption and use is very regimented. Even as a senior network engineer, my actual laptop application work was limited. In education, the breadth of tools and their openness is vast. And if 21st century skills are to be leveraged, collaboration and communication are equally as messy. It’s an apple to orange comparison.

    If it was so easy, it would be a non-issue.

    I blog about this topic.

    Here’s a blog post I just wrote about this topic:


  20. Again, another great discussion. Since I’m neither a salesperson nor an architect, I won’t speak about those professions. Instead, I’ll stick to teaching. I try not to insult the students by “selling” them something they don’t want. Instead, learning needs to be something that they see will have a use for them now and in the future. It has to be related to what they know and make them stretch – having them make connections in ways they haven’t done before. Is there one way to do this? Nope and to say that using technology will make it happen is like saying being able to use AutoCad makes you an architect. However, if we allow students to use their tool of choice to demonstrate their understanding and learning, then we had better be prepared to have them present in a manner that will involve technology.
    As educators, we have a professional obligation to present to students using a variety of strategies and techniques. Differentiation is something that should be happening in all classrooms and those that continue to use the “one model fits all” idea are finding it more and more difficult to meet the needs of the various students in their classrooms and ignoring this isn’t making it go away.
    As for the tools debate and who should be selling what to whom, education is different than any other profession save maybe government employees. We produce no profit. We use large amounts of public money with no profit. So while many other sectors of society may be moving along driven by profit, education will continue to lag for this very reason so we do what we can with what we have realizing that some will tell, some will sell and, hopefully most, will inspire. The tools that are used will depend on many things but all educators should realize that these new tools will be what many of our students use when they push, learn, create and respond. If learning is what we’re after, teachers need to have some understanding of what they offer. Unfortunately, if all we want is them to do well on a test, even a poor teacher can sell them anything for a little while.

  21. Hmm…We never had to mandate that teachers use pencils, film projectors, overhead projectors, or photocopy machines. What makes instructional technology use so different? I think the answer is in “instruction”. Using such technologies does by no means guarantee a better outcome for students. In fact, I have seen worse student outcomes because teachers were using technology to support learning ineffectively – and most often due to poor preparation/training and focusing on the technology rather than the learning. If teachers do not buy in to what they are being sold, then they are not going to buy. As the old adage goes, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”, there is more than one way to teach _____. If we want more teachers to use more technology, then we had better properly educate them, equip them, train them, support/mentor them, and then and only then, require them. But, we must never stop valuing academic freedom. If paper mache and sock puppets get the job done well, then by no means should anyone put that down and push for PowerPoint instead. The focus MUST remain on learning. And yes, teachers must continue learning as well. Schools DO need to expect more out of teachers in this regard. Great post here!

  22. I agree that there are many ways of teaching. But, as I’ve said before in many other comments on many other blogs, if we don’t teach kids technology, we are cheating them of the education they really need to succeed in ANYTHING (check-out kid, architect, stock broker).

    There aren’t enough hours in the school day, as long as it may seem sometimes, to cover all the required boring facts and add a class on technology, too. So, we MUST integrate and teach with technology. It is the only way kids will learn the content and the technology as a tool, not an add-on fun thingy.

    Teachers who say “no thanks” to technology are no longer doing the job, even if they did it very well for the past twenty odd years. I agree with Seth Godin’s rule. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Not in a changing world. It was easier to fake it when things weren’t changing so fast…

  23. Great post! I have often made the same analogy in conversations about the lack of technology use by teachers.

    It is amazing to me that teachers feel free to refuse to do what their employer asks of them. We are being PAID to do a job. The boss gets to tell us how she would like us to do it! Yes, as professionals, we should be given latitude to exercise professional discretion in how we deliver instruction; however, many teachers still don’t even check their e-mail daily. In my opinion, if a school delivers information via e-mail and a teacher does not read the e-mail thereby missing a deadline or failing to meet a responsibility, he/she should be disciplined. Administration should not have to put an additional copy in a teacher’s box or post them on bulletin boards. The information has been sent directly to the classroom via e-mail.

    Lastly, as teachers we should be asking what is best for our kiddos, NOT what we want to do or what is easiest for us to do. Our students are growing up in the digital age and will have to be literate in all things digital if they have hope of being successful as adults. Let’s prepare them for THEIR future, not for OURS!

  24. Outstanding topic and one that I have butted up against numerous times. The current state of the art in my kids’ district is that use of system email doesn’t seem to be required. Some teachers use district mailboxes–but just as often they are using yahoo, hotmail or some other. Those on district email use a transparent protocol (firstname.lastname)but many have added on a cryptic collection of numbers (apparently to limit access). There are no published lists of teacher email addresses, no links. Some teachers just outright “don’t do” email. Puts a real crimp in home-school communication.

    I don’t know how grades are submitted internally, but what is available to parents varies widely. As far as I can tell, the district officially uses Blackboard–but any portion that is available to parents is just an empty shell. Some teachers, if asked, will provide a web-address and password for access to cumulative grade/assignment information (software and sites vary by teacher). Some schools apparently have determined that posting homework assignments for parent access is a good thing and it can be accessed through the school website. Others either assume that their parents aren’t interested–or they aren’t talking to one another to the extent that they can agree to do something consistent.

    Some school websites are fully operational, some with student input. Some are mere shells and have calendars posted that are 3+ years old.

    Now, the profession gets huffy when anyone suggests that they could learn from any principles of business–or that they might benefit from applying customer relations insight into improving relationships with parents and the community. But I gotta ask–who or what is being served by all this autonomy? And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the ability to use technological improvements to TEACH. Can a lesson be taught effectively without the use of technology? Absolutely. Can a student be prepared to continue to learn and grow in a technologically oriented world without the incorporation of technology? Not a chance.

  25. As a student teacher, I am also struck by the resistance and refusal by STUDENT teachers to incorporate technology into their skill sets.

    Students balk at having to use PowerPoint, or use a collaborative website for posting information, discussions or content. It is somewhat disheartening to be the lone tech voice, but at the same time, it favors me in the long run.

    Good for me, but not for the students.


  26. Technology is a threat to job security which is a key motivator in any unionized environment. So one question to ask is, will technology make teachers better or will it make teachers obsolete. It’s part of the question about the future model of education.

  27. Although like many analogies, this one rings true on the surface and not so much in practice, the point is taken. As a HS principal, one of the first things I did about 5 years ago was to reduce faculty meetings in favor of e-mail. In this situation, near mutiny of the old guard was on me in days. Once, however, it became our 24-hour means of communication, they either adapted or missed out. The learning curve did improve. Recently we have begun posting grades for parents to access. Again, same old guard, same protests, same reasoning. When parents ask why it is not available at a certain point, I don’t run interference – I give them the teacher’s e-mail (now very widely accepted) or get them on the phone. This is necessity of use, but it can be translated into necessity of learning for students as well. Many of us (definitely me too) are at least one generation removed from reality, and we have to work at what our students do naturally. The effort, however, is worth it as they run in a much faster lane than those of us not born with a cell phone in hand. Having kids ages 7, 13, and 16 proves that you can text, talk on the phone, and play x-box 360 simultaneously with enough effectiveness to obliterate the concenrating father in Halo. We may want to prepare our students for the world in which they live, not in which we livED.

  28. Great topic. I teach high school publications, digital photo and design in a fairly up to date lab. Yet, to play the devil’s advocate, I can honestly say that I have learned more profound lessons from person to person contact than any tech based encounters. I am very pro tech but I always work to keep centered in my heart the real truths of life and learning. It is not the lesson plan, or the latest apps, or Web 2.0 that will make teens successful- it is heart to heart, mind to mind teaching. Hard to quantify or qualify but there is more to learn on the mountain top or in the dark sweat lodge than any given ‘set of skills’ that will probably be obsolete sooner rather than later…

    Just some snow day thoughts,


  29. Trisha Kniskern, Coordinator of Instructional Technology, Loveland Schools, OH Reply February 2, 2008 at 6:20 am

    I agree that this is a great post, but I think in large part, the issue lies with the age-old argument of whether teaching is an art or a science. We don’t tell artists what tools to use to build their “masterpieces,” and they can create beautiful work with an array of tools (chisel and rock, oil pastels, clay, markers… all the way up to sophisticated computer software). They are familiar with how the different tools work and what will get their message or purpose across in the best or most meaningful way. I see a similarity in teaching. When I taught, I knew (after trial and error) the best way to teach certain things, and would have balked if someone had told me that I must use technology for a specific unit/lesson/concept.

    My job as a technology coordinator is to continually show teachers (technology-related) tools that can help them to optimize teaching and learning, making them comfortable with them, so that as they try to get across a certain concept with their students, the teachers are able to choose the right tool/resource for the job. Isn’t that a skill we want for our students, too -to know what tools and resources are available, how to access them, and how to choose the best tool for their purpose?

    At the same time, I also believe it is important to demand accountability, for some teachers are so resistant to technology that they refuse to use any of it. In my district, we are working on some basic technology “expectations” for teachers. Honestly, this is a struggle, because several administrators and teachers see these as “just another (separate) thing” on their plate, and it’s not included in the teacher evaluation instrument.

    Until there is some type of accountability, we’ll just need to continue working on the teachers at the grassroots level…

  30. At least Trisha almost gets it.

    The job of the school is to teach kids. Makes it ‘teachers’ and not admins, coordinators, etc, performing the frontline work.

    To the extent that you guys support teachers, bravo. But that’s not what I am reading (for the most part) here.

    Give us what we ask for. Ask us. Offer us more, and respect our answers. Trust me, we don’t need more people telling us what to do.

    And if the kids need more “tech”, do you know anyone who knows that stuff, and could actually teach a few classes a week?

  31. I am coming to this a little late, and I see the post has garnered numerous comments already, but I just had to add my 2 cents.

    Our district now has its grades online for all to see, and I am amazed at the poor assignments teachers are using in their classes. Students have told me for years that I do things so much differently than their other teachers, and now I have proof. The majority of teachers on our inner city campus are still using fill-in-the-blank worksheets and scantron quizzes. When I ask my students about research and projects, they tell me no one else requires that of them. I’m just a mean teacher for having such high expectations.

  32. David Aldwinckle Reply April 4, 2009 at 6:17 am

    I suppose it’s better to have teachers who have an interest in what they do,rather than in the monthly paycheck.So many of them end up with an overdeveloped sense of importance which is naturally offputting however….Whatever reforms you might introduce,school is still school.A few people might see it as a refuge;most see it as a challenge to their tolerance…

  33. Dan Meyer, you’re great. Amen! If the seller (admin) brings the buyer (teacher and/or students) a tool that works great and is easy to use, the buyer will use it often. If the seller won’t let the buyer see it or use it or understand how it can be helpful, then no sale. You are so right.

  34. in PLN sight: envisioning the future of professional development

    How do networks change the way we view professional development, and how do you see that working for teachers in the future? –Patrick Higgins, VoiceThread: Your PLE, or what have you While there’s no shortage of edubloggers out there ready

  35. Its my classroom and Ill cry if I want to

    Dangerously Irrelevant: Right of refusal
    Scott McLeod voices this observation:
    can anyone else think of an employment sector other than K-12 and postsecondary education where employees have the right to refuse to use technology?
    For examp…

  36. What we need to get better at is modeling how technology can transform learning. Why would a teacher take the time to use technology if s/he was going to get the same result? Teaching teachers how to effectively use any presentation tool to effectively communicate their content (using more images, don’t read your information word for word, etc.), will, in turn, change their expectations for their students. They will then expect their students to be able to effectively present – regardless of the tool, the choice of tool isn’t important – what they have internalized. Reading facts from a PPT is not internalizing content. Showing teachers how those tools can be used to enhance learning and increase critical thinking and increase engagement will get us further in tech integration.


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