I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m on fast forward. I’m always planning ahead, thinking of the next steps, ready for action. What this usually means is that I often want things to happen yesterday, when the reality is that they will take several weeks, months or even years.

So, I have to admit, it was a little difficult for me to “take it slow” last year (on the advice of my admin team) when I really wanted to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. But time has proven them to be very smart people…

Last year I felt a bit like a door-to-door salesman (to use my colleague, Chad’s, analogy). Our school had never had a 21st Century Literacy Specialist before, and in fact, had never even had a Technology Facilitator.

Just one year before I came, we still had a traditional “computer lab” set up with scheduled classes which were, in essence, prep time for the teachers. So I can safely say the majority of the teachers really didn’t have any idea what my job was – or that they had a role in the embedding of technology into the curriculum.

I spent most of the year demonstrating what my role was by building relationships with individual teachers, helping them with their technology and literacy needs, and sharing exciting and engaging projects which I could co-plan and co-teach with them. Most times I had to do a little bit of convincing to get the teachers excited, but once we started, I could see them understanding the process more and more each day.

On the whole, I spent the year convincing, in every possible way, as many teachers as I could conceivably work with, that technology can be fun, it’s really not an add-on, and that I am here for support.

It wasn’t always as easy as I have a tendency to make it sound (I try to stay positive), but you can imagine my surprise when I came back this year to find:

  • teachers clamoring for my time (instead of running the other way when they see me in the hallway)
  • teachers asking me: “what’s my next step?”
  • teachers starting their own projects without my help
  • teachers helping their colleagues try something new
  • teachers anxious to build in technology-rich projects as they continually develop their curriculum

Surprise, surprise, it may have taken a year, but I’m not so much of a door-to-door salesman now. The teachers that I worked with last year are ready to continue and kick it up a notch, those that I didn’t have the chance work with last year have heard a bit about what I do through the grapevine and are asking for support, and as the new teachers get settled in, I’m already starting to advertise and promote new ideas.

I guess my little seedlings are starting to grow.

Even though I like to move at lightening speed, I wonder if “taking it slow” will help bring about more authentic change. Will these individual relationships I have formed help garner more buy-in from those teachers than having a school-wide focus or commitment to 21st century learning? Is the grassroots approach more beneficial in the long run, or would school-leadership directed change be quicker and just as meaningful? What do you think?

Update: Here are some more questions that came to mind as I was reading your thoughtful comments:

Is this type of change more authentic or more long lasting than systemic, institutional change? Will it lead to systemic, institutional change, or will it always be the domain of individuals? How do you build a grassroots movement, yet at the same time institutionalize it, so that if the different seedlings go and plant themselves somewhere else, it will continue to grow here?

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by nwardez
Seedlings by nzgabriel

18 thoughts on “Planting Seeds

  1. Jess McCulloch and I have experienced exactly the same as you. When we started no other teachers had the time, saw the need or the application of web2.0 tools eg blogging. So, we gradually introduced tools that they might need in their personal lives eg delicious, irfanview, MS Photostory. However, we started with the students.
    We also tried to set up some global projects for staff, but this did not work well, as they need some ownership of the project. We copied you and started ‘walk in walk out Wednesdays’ (WIWOW) and many staff came along with all sorts of questions related to technology.
    Then after 6 months, everything changed. Even those who said they would never use any of this, have come along and wanted to know more. The students have driven it and then as some staff came on board, their excitement and sharing was infectious. Many of them are volunteering for global projects and researching online connections.
    We have now set up a container blog for our school, so that all blogs can be linked from there. Even our teacher aides are setting up blogs, including our social welfare co-ordinator, parents club rep etc.
    So, I would agree wholeheartedly that it is ‘baby steps’ and ‘planting seeds’ and soon a woodlot can be seen and it just blossoms.
    By the way, I really liked your idea of a parents morning coffee once a month, which you shared with us in your session at Learn2.008. So, we are starting that on Wed and are thinking about year 9 students helping to teach interested parents how to blog.
    Jess and I are also working with our Victorian education department and commencing a similar concept to WIWOW but using elluminate and going statewide. So do we see a forest developing??!!!

  2. Kim
    I think a lot of of are seeing that. In fact, it is one of the reasons I decided to finish my school year here before moving to the Mid-West…..because I want to see how this year will develop.

    Teachers are wanting to know — and if I am not available — they are finding it out on their own (which I prefer anyway – smiles). When I asked the admin last week what our tech budget was, he honestly looked chagrined when he realized we had none and put the matter immediately into an email to board members. (While I was there!)

    The school wasn’t able to pay for a video service the teachers wanted — so they each took a portion of their classroom budgets and then asked our Parent/Teacher group to match………which they did. They are asking how much to get a projector mounted…….how can a whiteboard extend my ideas……and 2 of them willingly signed up to do projects.

    But it has taken 18 months. Long months. Frustrating months. And — smiles – I am only the Help Desk. LOL, wonder what I could do if my job was really to be a 21st Century Literacy Specialist.

    Great post.

  3. I agree with you. There is much more to be gained from baby steps and taking it slow. it becomes more personal, you relate on a different level, and you meet little concerns head on. We may not affect many people at once that way, but the change is lasting and sustainable.

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  4. This post was just what I needed to read right now. Things are moving s l o w l y here in Beijing. Reasons:
    1) we have a long “tradition” of being a particular kind of school with a particular culture. We are fist and foremost a school known to its community for its excellent IB results and academic rigor. Technology integration is seen by some as a possible threat to this. There’s also a certain amount of “if it ain’t broke…”
    2) we are big, way above the “critical mass” of about 150 people which makes it difficult for shift to occur.
    3) there’s been a lack of vision.

    I’ve been working from the grassroots level too and I am seeing the same things as the rest. Seeds I planted took about one year to germinate and those who were on board early are now teaching others. It’s important to step back and assess the situation to know that real progress has been made. Thanks for getting me to do this.

    Things are changing so rapidly however that I do think visionary institutional leadership is important to move things forward at the necessary pace. This is certainly true in large institutions.

    On another point, how can we best make these ginormous institutions work like small ones? PLC’s?

  5. @murcha

    So glad to hear that this strategy is working for you too. I have some more questions for you below all my responses :)


    Thanks! Glad it was useful for you.


    Some great successes from the grassroots level! But, I guess at some point, it does take the person at the helm to make those important commitments to moving forward – especially in terms of budget…


    I’m curious, how do you know the change is long lasting and sustainable? Maybe I need to read more about change in general, but this is what’s really at the heart of my post – how to implement long lasting change and I’m wondering if this is the best way, or if it needs to be in conjunction with more formal and institutionalized or systemic changes.


    Ah, the slow moving ship. I think I may know of what you speak. We have the same situation here at ISB – the biggest organizations are always the slowest to move, right? I wish I know how to get the bigger institutions to function like smaller ones. If I knew that answer I’d be a happy camper – maybe it is PLCs or maybe it’s breaking down into smaller and smaller divisions and moving those groups ahead to serve as a model for the others (kind of like what our elementary school division is doing). I’m not sure though. Would welcome your thoughts!


    So, here’s my question:

    Is this type of change more authentic or more long lasting than systemic, institutional change? Will it lead to systemic, institutional change, or will it always be the domain of individuals? How do you build a grassroots movement, yet at the same time institutionalize it, so that if the different seedlings go and plant themselves somewhere else, it will continue to grow here?

  6. Maybe authentic, persistent change actually requires twin drivers – both the grassroots movement, AND systemic, institutional support for change. Either one, like push starting a car, will get things moving, but each on their own can never provide the sustained motive power required. The engine stays dead.

    Managerial top-down edicts alone seem to be able to generate changes – particularly in compliant institutions – but the trade-off can be resistance and resentment, particularly if benefits are not clearly demonstrated.

    Grassroots change (once a critical mass of users is achieved) may be stronger because early adopters tend to have the necessary fire in the belly (and just love to actually demonstrate tangible benefits to the uninitiated!) The downside is that if management is unconvinced, any grassroots changes may end up starved of support before they have a chance to germinate and flourish.

    But get the power of the administration and the passion of the practitioners working together – and VROOM! – you have managed to get the engine running. Head for the highway.

    And of course, as Anne Mirtschin says above, all this will only happen if all stakeholders own the changes – the most critical part of the process. It’s clear from your post that that’s exactly what you did – you won the hearts and minds of the staff with the promise and reality of lasting, beneficial and authentic learning experiences – and they ended up as proud owners of the change process. I salute you.

    Our challenge is to do the same in our own institutions …

  7. Wow, I found this such an interesting post! I too am impatient to see change happen, particularly when you know how fabulous things can be. That’s one of the great things about working with technology – a little change makes a big impact.

    A like-minded colleague and I have sprinkled a bit of web 2.0 fairy dust around, and when it germinates, it’s so fantastic! Changes I have seen recently include teachers starting up their own blog, getting a gmail account, setting up a delicious account and making their own avatars – hardly rocket science, but just seeing them get enthused about it is so exciting! If they’re enjoying what they’re doing, they are more likely to continue.

    I have one colleague in particular who has taken the bull by the horns and run with it. She is now (as a teacher of Mandarin) having the kids make vokis in Chinese and publishing them to her blog. She is sure to encourage (read: drag!) the rest of the language dept with her too. Working with those people who are willing to take risks and try a few things makes such a difference, as they share it with others and it starts to take off.

    Rather than an either-or decision, I am of the belief that a combined approach can only be helpful! I am trying to ‘share the love’ at a grassroots level, whilst at the same time try a ’23 things’-type approach to web 2.0 across the board. Again, it’s voluntary, but we’re hoping to bribe with ipods/alcohol/food/vouchers – whatever – to sweeten the deal.

    Thanks for the insightful post – I love a good analogy!

  8. The agriculture analogies do make sense. We are farmers planting seeds returning to water and help them grow. We also are busy bees carrying pollen from one learning situation to enhance learning in another. For many schools, there is no alternative for bringing about change unless the leadership joins into our grassroots efforts.

  9. I like your question about systemic change. So much of what I do is not necessarily teaching about technology itself, but connecting the right people with the right tools. For me it comes down to not only conversations, but that faculty come to me to discuss what they are doing and what technology may fit in. I am now presented with the challenge at my work to “scale up” this endeavor. Part of me doesn’t want to structure what I do, but another part of me needs to compartmentalize.

  10. Kim,

    This post is one of the reasons I blog. I have hit my head on so many walls trying to bring 2.0 to my district. What you shared has helped put words to my feelings. I have been a door to door salesman for a couple of years now (you have helped me on a couple of projects, for which I will always be grateful). I want to move faster, but I only have a grassroots campaign. It feels like it is me against the world. I have sought out individual teachers who are willing and have worked with them. To my knowledge, none of them have struck out on their own to manage their own projects.

    Just today, I mentioned to one of the “seedlings” her class blog and would she like to do it again. Her response was a resounding affirmative and she immediately gave me a list of students to get online. That was very encouraging. Perhaps there will be more I can get on board this year.

    I am working on a post that describes the encouraging news I have received in regards to the 2.0 front. Our school has a laptop cart coming our way soon that we will start using in the classroom rather than sending classes down to the one lab we have available. Several other steps have been taken that I will share in a post.

  11. Kim
    I think we will answers to your questions in about 10 years. Hindsight is always so much more clear than when you are in the midst of it all.

    I have not seen sustainability in education — I see it as a revolving door for most people who come in, stay for a while, and then move on to something else (usually better paying, less stress).

    We do see longevity in our network — if you can call longevity over 10 years. But in actuality, we have only been influenced the the “grand” network within the last 2 years. The ability to interact with each other day, to influence to be influenced. So perhaps we have not seen longevity yet — I imagine as people really get to be known, their true sustainability will surface, or they will move on to a new environment where they can shine brightly for a while there.

    I feel bad knowing I plan to leave my school at the end of this year — because they, like yours, are seedlings and I wonder who will come and water, care, and nurture them. But then I have to remember, it is what is IN THE SEED that causes it to grow — it is what is done to the seed that can shape its growth.

    It is not good that I am the ONLY impact the teachers have — but still wonder what will happen when I move on.

    Smiles, I ramble, but you understand I am sure.

  12. I’m still the door-to-door salesman that has the door slammed in her face. So wish I was at your school with the dream team!

  13. I totally agree with Borborigimus… I am sooo supposed to be working on something else right now, but had to comment! The indivduals are the institution, in a sense. And the majority of individuals have not idea what’s really going on online. To keep the pulse requires constant time and energy, and, being in touch with the latest and greatest tools is not necessarily going to help teachers teach differently. However, exposing teachers and staff, encouraging them, assisting them in adopting different tools and techniques is crucial. Allowing people to start small and start where they are at is also important. I know that I have all sorts of crazy, interesting, ‘big’ plans I would love to implement or accompany the implementation of in a classroom. However, I know that not everyone has the passion and stamina for this that I do. Working in a broader context (provincially) has given me a broader perspective on the impacts of different types of leadership, the necessity for shared vision and dialogue, and the impact when this is not present. Without the grassroots, there will be no impetus to support change. Without a larger vision and a willingness to listen at the top, the changes below may be difficult and smaller than they could be. The two need to work hand in hand.

    I am working in the area of poverty, but have a real soft spot for technology. Without the participation of the school, the administration and governing bodies, as well as the community at large, change will not be sustained. This is what I see every day — schools that are highly motivated, with boards that do not support the vision (intentionally or not!), and vice versa. Perhaps by keeping the ‘doing’ manageable, but the ‘visioning’ big people will see that they are acquiring skills to get to a larger goal.

  14. @Borborigmus,

    I totally agree – I think it’s the combination of both the institutional support, and the grassroots movement, that can really make change happen. I wonder if the managerial change alone makes change happen faster, but less deeply because people may not be as interested, they’re just “doing what they’re told” and if the grassroots change alone is much slower, but more authentic because people are doing what they believe in? Put them together and you definitely have a winning combo!


    I really appreciate your mention of incentives (as you say, “bribes”) to get people on board. That’s definitely one advantage of having administrative support! People do appreciate clear demonstrations that their time is valuable, and often it is some of the littlest things that can show that appreciation. Jeff and Tara (two of my colleagues) have been talking about getting a “hospitality” budget line in place so we can ensure that we have some tasty treats when people choose to spend their prep time working with us.


    Agreed – and it’s very interesting to me just how similar most schools are…


    I like the idea of “scaling up” – once you find a method that works on an individual level, how can you capitalize on that success and begin to shift groups. That’s what I’m looking for – a more strategic approach, even if it is at the grassroots level.

    @Mr. James,

    It is definitely a slow process and that in itself can be so frustrating, but I can see that you are having success already – any positive feedback is worth it’s weight in gold, in my opinion. Looking forward to reading your stories of success in your post!


    Great point about what is in the seed that causes it to grow! It’s so important to remember that we can’t change the individual, we can only provide them with experiences to help build their understanding and hopefully that will lead to a change within. I wonder if it is the best test of our hard work if those changes continue after we’re gone…


    Come on over! I know we have a few positions open for next school year!


    Yes! I love your statement about keeping the “doing” manageable with a big vision – this is what people need, to see where they need to be going, but supported in a practical way to help them get there. This is why the combination of the grassroots and the administrative support is so important. Who can provide a clear, consistent vision to a whole school, if not the administration? Without that big vision, the grassroots can shoot off all over the place!

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