Leading by example is a key tenet of teaching. If you want your students to behave, dress or generally conduct themselves in a particular way, you need to live by the adage beloved of writers: show don’t tell. Or perhaps, show and tell.
To be more specific, if you find yourself training the next generation of primary school teachers, and you think that encouraging them to make use of an interactive whiteboard is a good idea, then do so yourself.
With this in mind, a few years ago I was asked to teach the Computing curriculum to trainee teachers at a university. They were doing a post-graduate training course (the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education, or PGCE). It was therefore somewhat disconcerting to discover that the interactive whiteboard in the main teaching room was not working.
I may have understated the problem. It wasn’t as though a plug had come out or a marker pen was missing. If a whiteboard were a town, then this one had tumbleweed blowing through it, hadn’t seen a lick of paint in decades, and, to borrow from a song title, there was nothing going on but the rent. In short, it had not been used for ages, if indeed it had ever been used at all.
What’s better: a piece of kit that is present but not working, or a piece of kit which isn’t there at all? I think the former is demoralising, while the latter is something to aspire to. But I digress.
Calling up technical support resolved part of the issue, but at the expense of some of the time I wanted to demonstrate stuff. I resolved in future to ask in advance what equipment and other facilities would be available -- in the sense of being available to use. Ideally, you should check it out for yourself beforehand. This isn’t always possible of course. In my case, the journey took two hours each way. Even if I’d resolved to simply arrive very early on my first day, it would have been pointless because there would have been nobody around to let me in to the room.
I suppose that in the total scheme of things it was not the worst thing that has happened or could have happened. Discovering that the internet connection in a school was not working moments before I was due to give 100 teachers internet training was arguably worst (especially in terms of blood pressure). But it was definitely an experience that might have been avoided.
And much as I am prepared to take full responsibility for my part -- I could have given up a day and arranged to check things out before I was due to start work -- other people were culpable too. In particular, surely one of the roles of management is to keep an eye on whether or not facilities are being used. If they’re not, then that could and should inform future spending plans. In addition, why wasn’t the technical support team more proactive? Could it have been that they didn’t have the time or resources to go around checking all the equipment because they were too busy fire-fighting, dealing with urgent requests such as the one I made? If so, that in itself is a management issue.
By the way, you can learn how to do a few quite nifty things on an inactive whiteboard without getting lost in the arcana of hundreds of different features that nobody uses. I produced a free booklet called Making the most of your interactive whiteboard, and is available to subscribers of my newsletter, Digital Education. So what are you waiting for?