We conduct research interviews throughout the school year with K-12 educators and administrators as a continued effort to understand what is most important to school district leaders, including the initiatives that receive top priority in their districts and the main challenges their districts are facing. Over the course of these conversations, we identified 5 challenges that school districts of all sizes are experiencing.
1. Teacher Readiness & Training
Ensuring that all teachers have the necessary training on resources that are available to them, and more specifically – finding the time to train their teachers, is a huge challenge for school districts. Teachers need to have the proper knowledge in place so they can most effectively use resources and methodologies to impact learning.
The director of technology at a large district in Florida tells us, “We are trying to provide the resources teachers need for the change, as far as how they are instructing students. We’re trying to make sure teachers have access to online training materials that will assist them with that.”
A 5th grade math teacher at a small district in North Carolina shares her view of training from a teacher perspective: “We’re very lucky that we keep a lot of the same teachers. For anyone who’s new, I can’t imagine walking into this district and trying to keep up with all of the trainings we’ve had over the last 5-7 years. We have certain things in place we use. We’re so used to having used it for the past umpteen years. If someone new comes in, it’s overwhelming.”
Finding the time to train teachers is also a challenge for a technology integrator at a school in Connecticut. Once her district finds a solution, they need to get substitute teachers to fill in so they can take their teachers out of class to train them.
Budget is frequently mentioned as an issue for school districts when we talk about the challenges and barriers they face. Although this is not new and will most likely continue to be a challenge over the years, it is worth mentioning in the context of this conversation.
For a technology integrator in Connecticut, budget is always an issue “because you have to pick and choose which pieces you want.” There is only so much money allocated for digital resources and programs, and districts want to get the best parts of those solutions for their teachers and students – sometimes this means only purchasing certain parts of a solution rather than the entire package.
Simply raising the funds needed for resources is a challenge for a Catholic school in Kentucky. This school also has difficulty deciding how to allocate the funds once they receive them.
3. Digital Divide
There exists a digital divide in many districts, where some students have greater access to technology away from school than others (such as wifi, laptops, tablets and smartphones they can use at home or on the go).
This unequal access to technology presents a unique issue. A library media specialist is finding that they can’t require certain technology in a BYOD program or when students are at home because not every student or parent has the ability to purchase what the district wants to require. She says, “We have some schools in low-income neighborhoods and those parents don’t have internet access.”
When students and parents in a district don’t all have the same level of access to technology outside the classroom, teachers need to look for ways to modify assignments and balance the use of technology in and out of the classroom to level the playing field and ensure that all students are able to learn effectively.
4. Solutions Don’t Work Together
Teachers want all of their online resources and programs to work together seamlessly, without any glitches. They want to be able to easily move from one application to another without having to log in and out multiple times.
A technology integrator shares with us, “At my school, the teachers are very receptive to technology. They welcome it and they are eager when I approach them with a new tool or device to make it a little easier. Sometimes it’s frustrating if bits and pieces work in isolation – you need to go to this browser for this, et cetera. I get the most response from teachers if a solution is all-inclusive.”
It’s encouraging to hear that teachers are receptive to new tools and devices, and it makes sense that teachers see more value in these new things if they all work together and are easy to use.
5. Teachers Have Multiple Responsibilities
Teachers feel overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities they have, both in and out of the classroom, related to their teaching careers.
A district instructional technology specialist at a large district in North Carolina tells us that teachers “have so much other stuff to do – grading and attendance program, Power Teacher, Common Core State Standards and so many tests, that sometimes it feels like they don’t have any time to actually teach the students.”
The first step to helping teachers manage their responsibilities to enable them to effectively impact students is to acknowledge everything they do and thank them.
What are your district’s challenges?
Feel free to add a comment below about the challenges in your district. Is your district experiencing the same things mentioned in this article? What other challenges are you facing in your district? Was there anything in this article that surprised you (and why?)?
Along with these challenges districts are experiencing, the educators and admins we spoke with also shared some key initiatives that are happening in their districts. Learn about their key district initiatives in this post: 5 Key District Initiatives.