Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this is the third international school I’ve worked in – and the third school that I’ve helped shift from the “computer class” mindset to an “integrated” technology program. In all honesty, it’s quite amazing to me that every school I’ve worked in has very similar problems, very similar history in terms of technology education, and very similar ideas of where they want to go. And the majority of the staff has the same fears, concerns and questions about how this “new” technology environment will function.

What’s really interesting to me is that:

  • If all of these schools are facing similar issues, why isn’t there a common process or framework to work through them? Why aren’t we more actively sharing (and I don’t mean the individuals contributing here on the blogosphere, where sharing is the name of the game), I mean the schools themselves. We’re all linked by accrediting bodies, councils, etc., why isn’t there any help or insight offered through those networks? Is it competition?
  • If all these schools are working through these issues – some sooner than others (MIS started in 2001 – and I’m sure they weren’t the first), why isn’t there a common understanding of what needs to be done to move forward? Why does it always feel like reinventing the wheel every time we move to a new school?
  • If the group of international school teachers is a closely connected network, and let’s face it, it really is, why aren’t more teachers arriving at schools with some background in this model of teaching and learning and anxiously paving the way for those teachers that may not have transitioned as recently? Why are we always selling this idea like we’re the first ones to ever think of it? Shouldn’t most of our new teachers (and possibly administrators) have experience in this model already?

As you could expect, each of the schools I’ve worked at has approached this transition a little differently – from administrators mandating change, to allowing the enthusiasm of a smaller group to push the thinking of the whole, to strategically placing influential and enthusiastic teachers in positions of leadership. No matter what the model, I do think there are some commonalities that must be addressed when making the shift to a 21st century learning environment.

Vision & Philosophy

Given the fact that we all need to work together to make change happen, it only seems logical that we need a uniting vision and shared understanding of the goal we’re trying to reach (see: example vision). Expecting teachers to change their practice, without providing a thought-out vision and philosophy for why they should change will only result in frustration. In order to work towards a common goal you need to ensure that all staff have a shared understanding of the school’s vision. Staff buy-in from all levels is essential to the success of institutionalizing this type of change. There are lots of places to get started thinking about this kind of vision, from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, to NCREL, to TechLearning, to the Alabama Best Practice Center, to Apple, to AT&T, to Information Fluency, to the 21st Century Learning Initiative, to the AASL, to all of the wonderful edubloggers that are sharing their vision and their school practice.


Although it would be absolutely wonderful if change could spontaneously happen because teachers have a shared vision for their future, the reality is that, at some point, school leadership needs to clarify and confirm that this is the direction the school is heading. There needs to be an official acknowledgment of the vision and philosophy and clear expectations that change will happen. I’ve heard plenty of teachers say, “if the Head of School doesn’t tell me to do it, it means I don’t have to do it.” Right or wrong, that’s the reality of our schools. We have school leadership for a reason: they help us steer the ship, and they define our course. We look to them for the priorities – and they need to take the responsibility to share them with us.

Paradigm Shift and Transparency

Along with a clear vision and philosophy for why this shift is so important and what your desired outcomes are, you also need to develop a clear framework which details exactly what the roles are for each individual involved (see: example framework). From teachers, to teams, to coordinators, to facilitators, to administration – each person on staff will be responsible for some aspect of this transition and they need to know how they fit into the bigger picture. From roles and responsibilities to the process of putting this vision into practice, this framework needs to be completely transparent to all stakeholders (including parents). We all share a common need to understand where we fit in the big picture – laying it all out for everyone involved just ensures that everyone has the same picture.

Curriculum & Professional Development

Embedding this new model for teaching and learning into the curriculum development process is a natural way to institutionalize change – if it becomes part of our curriculum, it becomes part of our teaching and learning practice. As new aspects of curricular units which authentically embed technology are collaboratively planned, these changes need to be clearly documented in a shared curriculum mapping tool (whether it’s Rubicon-Atlas or a wiki – the tool doesn’t matter, as long as the changes are clear and visible).

Along with shifting curriculum practices, teachers will need professional development support through technical training, pedagogical training, mentorship, outside voices, on-site experts, and one-on-one support. This could include the establishment of a professional learning network for teachers like Julie Lindsay has done at Qatar Academy, or it could be the creation of streamlined and consistent professional development like we have running at ISB, or developing a formal teacher-mentor program.

Staffing & Equipment

All of this thinking and learning will, sadly, be lost without the personnel and technical resources to make your vision a reality. Although schools usually (but not always) see the need to increase software and hardware purchases, oftentimes, because the expectation is shifting to embedding technology within the core curriculum, staffing can be overlooked. Why would we hire someone with no teaching load – someone who just “helps” people all day? Unfortunately, without the human support (which can range from being a teaching model in the classroom, to curricular or pedagogical support, to technical support, to a “safety blanket”) the technological troubles can end up feeling insurmountable for teachers new to this model of teaching and learning – exactly what you don’t want.

Infrastructure and Communication

Once staffing and equipment are sufficient, clear infrastructure and communication strategies need to be put in place. Who to contact for technology support, or how to book the school’s hardware or peripheral equipment, or where to find the latest information about available resources all needs to be documented, explained and demonstrated to all stakeholders, and then utilized effectively over the course of the school year. Having resources and knowing how to access them or how to get support are all very different things. Oftentimes technical troubles become emergencies simply because the lines of communication or infrastructure are unclear.


To help teachers and administrators cope with the rapid pace of technological change, developing easy to use resources (like “how to” sheets for both students and teachers, or common rubrics and assessment tools) can make the use of new tools far less intimidating. Keeping these kind of resources in a central location where they can be accessed any time and adapted based on individual teacher’s needs is essential – as is promoting and sharing the usefulness and success of these types of documents. Creating a school-wide technology toolbox takes the pressure off the teachers and allows the experts in each area to shine.

Reflection and Adaptation

No matter how well you plan, it’s only to be expected that we will all face very different individual situations, and anyone trying to implement something new needs to be aware that challenges will need to be faced. It’s an important skill to be able to quickly identify problems or concerns and face them head on. Whether it’s parental questions or difficulties among teachers, it’s important to expect the unexpected and to have adaptive, self-reflective, and changing strategies for dealing with the causes of roadblocks or problems.

Another important aspect of reflection is sharing our successes. Finding consistent ways to publicize success – not only within the school, but also to the wider school community, helps teachers gain confidence, explore new areas of teaching and learning, and promote positive attitudes towards this change. We can often get bogged down with solving problems, but sometimes the solution is sharing success.

Working through these challenges at three different schools in three different countries and cultures, I’ve realized that you really do need all of these pieces in place in order to ensure that change happens and, perhaps more importantly, that new paradigms stay in place after the initial push to change has passed. We all know that passionate voices can inspire and propel change, but what happens when those voices move on? As one of those passionate voices myself, I want to ensure that any changes I help create become a part of the daily life of the school.

I’m sure there are other pieces to this complex puzzle that I forgot. What am I missing?

Tags: 21stcentury, internationalschool, flatclassroom, classroom, 21st century literacy, globalcitizens, collaboration, learning, creating, vision, philosophy, understanding, framework, embed, technology, curriculum, planning, development, professional development, training

22 thoughts on “Making the Shift Happen

  1. Kim,

    What incredible work. You have laid down a path that is deeply tied to pedagogy, which is as it should be. Your work is just such an incredible example of a team that works, and of a systematic approach to school change.

    And you have done many of us a great service by sharing your work!

    I have a question about the reflection aspect of your model. I wonder if that piece gets neglected if we don’t also “institutionalize” it somehow?
    I know the informal daily adjustments and assessments that we all do are part of it, but I’m just wondering if institutionalizing helps it to be “carried on” as well?

    Great work you all are doing at ISB!

  2. This entry is exactly what I needed to begin my transition into Tech Integration Specialist next year. I’m forwarding it on to my administrators. Thanks for giving me the scaffolding to begin wrapping my own mind around a new job!

  3. Holy smokes! What a post. Your words perfectly encapsulate so much of what we are all thinking here in the edublogosphere and more importantly in our classroom. This post should be mandatory reading for all international school administrators who are serious about making the shift happen to a 21t century literate school. Well done. They don’t call you SuperKimbo for nothing.

  4. Thank you again Kim for putting thoughts down to open a discussion.
    Being in my first year as tech integration specialist I can see many positives and challenges within myself and my school. Creating change in any institution is a complex task and I often feel as if I’m building a plane while flying it. As much as schools are the same, they are all very different in regards to special circumstances and place in development.

    I’m beginning to think that time is needed for everyone involved to sit down with a “dialog leader” to have a positive discussion about what is being implemented and what each person’s fears and concerns are. One thing I’ve noticed is that teachers are willing to try anything as long as they feel they can voice concerns and be supported. It’s also a matter of finding that tipping point or hook for each person…

    I am surprised to find that the younger teachers in their twenties (both in US public school and overseas) are no different than the more experienced teachers in terms of comfort and experience with using technology as a teaching and learning tool.

  5. A really powerful post – thanks it is an excellent model for so many people – this really must be shared around the world.

    As we currently build a number of 21st century learning environments in the Cayman Islands, to a visionary design by Prakash Nair, the world is watching us – literally – the ICT compenent we are currently developing, and your post is very instructive to our ongoing debate!

    Well done and thanks.

  6. Hi Kim,

    This is an incredibly helpful and insightful post. I really wish that I was blogging when I began my role of 1:1 technology integrator back in 2000 at All Saint’s College in Perth, Australia there was so much that was shared and lost via email communication. I really appreciate the blogging community for sharing such helpful content and being prepared to comment on it.

    I would really like to pass some comment on the Staffing and Equipment comments. Nearly 3 years ago I took a position at a school here in Hong Kong who told me that they wanted to move forward with integrating ICT into the curriculum. It proved not to be the case and I spent a very frustrating year redesigning the kitchen area for them and assisting the needlework and graphics teachers to rewrite curriculum in a very traditional way (apparently the Head of IT is reponsible for these areas!) Suffice to say, we parted company after a year and they appointed a good traditional Technology Specialist who also taught wordprocessing and spreadsheets. I went onto trying to work with schools in Hong Kong and the region to try to assist them to use ICT for learning and to get them to form a network. I did this because I had never experienced a less connected region for the use of Learning Technologies after working on 3 continents.

    In spite of over 2 years trying to work with schools, they are still not buying the idea that they should have a pay anyone who is not on staff for Learning Technologies work. You would be amazed how often I am told that this is not central to the role of teaching in this area, especially in examination-focused Asia! I have now had to resort to working with harware and software vendors to try to pay the bills, thus my marketing-style website. Even the goverment of Hong Kong pays me less than I could earn tutoring to run workshops for their English-speaking teachers. I would take it to be a reflection of how bad my work is if not for the great reviews I get from the formal and informal evaluations from all who attend workshops with me. It is just that schools here just do not get or want assistance in integrating technologies for learning unless they can get it free or very cheaply. It is viewed as a want, not a need.

    Sorry about the rant! I am busily trying to arrange the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong conference at the moment. I am hoping that this might be an opportunity for some dialog with more decision-makers at schools but I fear that, like the Shanghai conference last September, the Hong Kong school Senior Management Teams will stay well away and we will again be preaching to the converted.

    Sounds like you have worked in some schools with good vision. I guess that if they have taken you on as a “21st Century Literacy Specialist” then they already get the message. My question to you and your readers is “How do you reach schools who do not already get the message and get them to listen and work with people like me?” I am no longer in a financial position where I can keep turning down job offers outside of education that pay well. Sadly I am looking at turning my back on 25+ years of working with schools to integrate technology into learning because it just doesn’t pay the rent here in Hong Kong.

    Thanks for your fabulous blog.

    Paul McMahon

  7. KIm,
    Incredible post! Crystal-clear vision and detailed and thoughtful articulation of the steps to achieve it. And great questions to kick it off.

    Why isn’t there a common understanding of what needs to be done?
    Why isn’t there any…insight offered through (accrediting) networks?
    Why are we always selling (the) idea like we’re the first ones to ever think of it?

    The answer to the questions you pose in your opening are embedded in the body of your post. This kind of vision and the infrastructure to make it happen needs to come from an organization’s senior administration. They CAN’T just define the vision and then leave it to someone else to make it happen. They need to be LIVING it with each of the people charged to implement a piece. They need to understand what works, help to define what to try to move beyond what doesn’t, and follow through to evaluate successes and “learning experiences”.

    Until the visionary leaders become more like the people (like you) that they’ve put in place to carry through their “big picture” ideas, we’ll always be stuck implementing last year’s vision to next year’s audience. It doesn’t matter whether the individuals change or not. A vision is a dynamic, growing and changing belief structure. When we try to implement someone’s snapshot of what they believe(d) at a particular moment in time, we’re doomed to be continualy “selling new ideas” instead of growing naturally with (and into) them.

    Maybe the answer is for visionary thinkers like you to be looking at administration yourselves. When you’ve got the vision AND the tools to sell it, develop it and grow with it, you’ve got the ticket to real success in bringing about a real and meaningful “paradigm shift” in facilitating learning.

  8. Hi, Kim.

    Serendipity….your post, my reading it while sitting at the Laptop Institute’s 1:1 conference in Mumbai…..we’re here with a few others from ISKL and thinking about how to ….grow (better word than change, I think….as it allows takes away the argument of ‘why should we change’). I will forward your post to my principals.

    Have a great weekend.

    THanks for your thoughts!!!! as the kiddies say, You ROCK!

  9. Terrific insights here, Kim. Your points add to the growing discussion we have going at the Shifting Our Schools: SOS podcast as we work to answer our guiding question: “How to shift?”. We look forward to hearing from you in this week’s show.

    The discussion on the podcast has brought up some other points that can be added to your work here. The process of shifting with its focus on the curriculum development process, guiding professional development around the formation of learning communities and the need for leadership must be validated by the appropriation of time during the school day to do the work to change how we do business in our schools.

    Shifting cannot be set aside as an after school meeting activity.

    As you point out the leadership must come from the administrative team to build the vision and the framework to make the shift. The SOS team would add that a trained instructional/educational technologist and library media specialist must be hired in each of the school’s divisions to drive the efforts in the curriculum and PD processes. We must have our point people to follow through and make the vision a reality in our classrooms.

    As for the curriculum review process, it should also have the administrators onboard to the point of attending the meetings especially the end of unit reflection gatherings where everyone is held accountable when reviewing the common assessments. Your point of celebrating and publicizing successes comes into play very nicely during these meetings.

    I would add that a big part of the paradigm shift is again making the time for ongoing discussions as school leaders “seek to understand” where individual staff members are when it comes to learning 2.0 instructional and assessment strategies. I have experienced that the process of understanding how to construct essential understandings/questions and learning what concept-based curriculum looks like takes time and understanding as we work with our adult learners. We don’t learn in the same way as our students.

    As much as we think about how to shift, we also need to think about what the barriers are to moving our schools to become 21st century learning communities. Your 3 bullet points really hit home on this point and as other commenters are saying, need to be presented to our school administrators to start the discussion as we look to change the cultures of our schools and begin the process of shifting our schools.

  10. Very insightful. Thank you. I WOULD pass your post on to our school’s “computer teacher”, but she is still so depressed from attending a technology conference then returning home to our campus and reality, I don’t think she could take it.
    We recently completed an evaluation of our campus & classroom usage of technology, and I found myself completing it as I have every other of the same evaluation, no matter where I’ve been: in spite of every school’s committment to integrating technology in every classroom on every campus in whatever district I’ve been in, the evaluation is still the same: “EARLY” (the ‘lowest’ ranking) to “DEVELOPING” (the second lowest ranking). I teach at a school in Texas, obviously in the U.S.- but the plan you laid out would be applicable to any school in the world.
    I don’t know about international schools– but I think our state (& country) has crippled itself with initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, leaving little time for the creativity that technology inspires because we are so bogged down in trying to meet Annual Yearly Progress.
    Thanks again for an informative post.

    Beth Fehlbaum, teacher & author
    Courage in Patience- a story of hope for those who have endured abuse

  11. Kim,

    It has taken me several reads to get through your wonderful post. It is consistent with the thoughts and ideas that we have begun to put together for our own planning purposes. Thank you for reflecting and sharing.

  12. @ Kim
    Great post. I found it tremendously insightful. The school I lead is in the initial planning phases for a technology overhaul. Truly great stuff! Thanks for posting.

  13. So many educators feel this way. It’s perplexing and frustrating for all that we do not have better answers/ responses to the questions/ issues that you raise. I intend to post my thoughts on this in the near future.

    Thanks for kick-starting the conversation, again!

  14. Carolyn,

    Thanks! I totally agree that reflection needs to be “institutionalized” too. It’s because we haven’t taken enough time to reflect that we have ended up with such strong ties to the “computer class” model. We’re likely to fall into the same trap if we don’t go back and analyze how things are going periodically. And it’s definitely the easiest thing to drop when things get busy. Any ideas about how to institutionalize it?


    So glad I could help!


    I love the idea of having a discussion with a “dialog leader”! I totally agree that hearing everyones concerns and issues is a key part of moving forward. If people don’t feel that they’re part of a decision they just end up resenting it in the end.

    I really do think it’s true that technology isn’t about skills or age or experience, it’s about a mindset to be willing and open-minded.


    Exciting! I’m so glad this is useful for you. Lucky you to be in the Caymans!


    You really are in a tough position. I wonder if part of the issue is a cultural one. Perhaps they are not really willing to take this kind of critique or strong advice from a foreigner. I know we dealt with those kinds of issues in my last school with our Chinese-Malaysian owner, and our all foreign leadership team.

    Either way, I think the key is to prove to the decision makers how 21st century literacy is critical to learning. If the school wants to promote learning, they need to accept and adapt to the changing type of learning happening in the 21st century. Maybe start with what you already know they value and show how technology fits….


    You make a really good point about the need for decision makers to be living these experiences, instead of just hearing about them. I just wonder how to do that when there are so many other things that leadership teams need to deal with. Everyone is vying for their attention and everyone insists that their agenda is critical to the success of the school. How do we move to the front of the line?


    Ooo I’m so jealous that you got to go to Mumbai! I’d love to hear what your admin has to say about this post too….


    Thanks for all that feedback. You raise lots of good points. My favorite: “Shifting cannot be set aside as an after school meeting activity.”


    I hear you. We, in international schools, are so lucky not to have to deal with NCLB and all of the legal and political barriers that put the brakes on progressive change. I’m sorry to hear about your tough situation… Maybe a move abroad is the answer? ;)

    Vinnie, Charlie, Vance,

    Thanks! Glad it’s helpful!


    It is strange… We are all talking about the same things, why isn’t that reflected in our standardizing/certifying bodies? Change takes too long at the institutional level, I guess.

  15. Hey Kim,

    A great summed up my thoughts on the issue. I think the whole idea of integrating technology is such a change in mind-shift that it hasn’t caught up with the rest of the world of education. Schools continue doing what they are doing because it’s what worked in the past. The problem is the technology tools have changed dramatically from the single user idea to the social networking framework. Education seems to always be the last field to catch up with the digital world, ironically. Hopefully, we’ll get there together!

  16. Kim-

    I have just recently found your website, have been enjoying it and learning a great deal from it. I am currently an Assistant Principal and a former Technology Coach in my district. So many of the issues of which you speak in posts like the one on moving teachers to the 21st century are the same issue I was dealing with as a Tech Coach 8 years ago and still deal with as an assistant principal today.

    I feel compelled to comment on this post because it hits home for me. We are all faced with the same issues; yet despite the similarities of situations, educators and administrators so often work in isolation. And, it isn’t just when it comes to the integration of technology! It happens with lesson ideas and plans amongst team members in our building! It is baffling, yet I can remember times when I was reluctant to share with my fellow teachers. I think so much of it comes from insecurities we have – a desire to be unique and innovative – to be recognized by peers, administrators, student and parents. Heck, in our distirct of 2200 teachers, two Teachers of the Year are still selected – like you can select only two out of 2200 who are head and shoulders above the rest. Let’s not digress to a conversation about that.

    When it comes to the integration of technology, I have found it is really difficult for leadership – both at the district level and at the school level – to even know where to lead stakeholders. Our distict has insisted that teachers have a technology integration goal on their appraisal, but the majority of administrators don’t know what an appropriate integration project looks like. So, it becomes the blind leading the blind. They don’t know what they don’t know. (Our district fudning is so tight that we no longer had technology coaches. Our educational technology department for the district (40 campuses) consists of two people. So, it is very difficult for our campus leadership to begin to know where to steer the ship and define the course.

    However, I have recently found the wealth of information in this community and have become recommitted to doing what I can to move my campus forward! Thanks!


    PS. We are not an international school, but I would love for us to be part of this global community!

  17. @MarkMarshall,

    So true that we seem to be the last to change especially when it comes to technology. I wonder if we’ll end up making it at all… or if something better will come along and schools will fail…


    You have so clearly described what we are all struggling through. I can definitely appreciate the blind leading the blind situation… I do think the connections we are making online can make a difference. It’s heartening to hear that you are an administrator – your school is very lucky!

  18. Tasked with the job of taking our teachers into the 21st century with technology I can not find a better article than what you have provided. I have put a link to this site on my blog site, hope you don’t mind, as I’d like the executive to see what you have written.
    Stuart´s last blog post ..home

    1. @Stuart

      Thank you so much for your kind words about this post! Please, feel free to share the link wherever you feel it will be useful.

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