Educator Heather Gauck shares why she has become a fierce advocate for integrating technology into classrooms.
I was an early adopter of technology in the classroom because I saw technology as a way to support students with a variety of learning needs. My personal mission to meet the needs of all students started early in my life. I grew up with two adopted brothers who faced developmental delays due to fetal alcohol syndrome. I witnessed the supports they needed at home and at school and knew that whatever path I went down, I wanted to ensure all kids had opportunities to grow and thrive.
I’ve been a special education teacher for almost three decades now, and I believe strongly that any teacher can relate to my experiences. I care about meeting the needs of individual students and providing multiple pathways to learning.
As teachers, we are constantly faced with questions such as: When a student is struggling to read, how do we ensure they can continue to learn while building literacy skills? When a student doesn’t speak, how can we support them to demonstrate what they know? When a student arrives in the classroom with language skills other than English, how can we celebrate those skills as an asset while helping them access content that’s in English?
I saw technology as an answer and devoted myself to learning about different tools and how to incorporate those tools into the classroom. In 2020, I encountered a report called The Opportunity Myth that found in a single school year, “the average student spends 581 of 720 available hours on assignments that are not high quality.” I realized that the way I had been thinking about technology was incomplete.
Technology can aid the delivery of content, but nothing can take the place of supporting teachers with a high-quality standards-aligned curriculum they need for students. Our focus must always remain on bringing the students up to the content and allowing them to leverage the strengths they bring to the classroom. Technology only matters if it is in service of this end.
For many years now, I’ve been a fierce advocate of leveraging technology to create equity for students, and some educators disagreed with my approach. Honestly, I understood their hesitation. Given the lack of time and training, it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the learning needed to incorporate technology into the classroom. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and everything changed.
During the pandemic, my school conducted virtual and hybrid learning for students. We had no choice but to integrate technology into our classrooms if we wanted students to learn at all. Over time, we all began to see the value of technology and how it can improve access to coherent, grade-level content for students.
We’re back to in-person learning now, and I’m thrilled to see my students every day. Now that most teachers have at least a basic understanding, we can embrace the resources that continue to help us provide a wide range of learning opportunities for students. We don’t have to be technology experts, but committing to a few key practices can make a difference.
Technology features should be a serious consideration in your next instructional materials selection process, but it should never be more important than the quality of the content. Leading with standards alignment and local priorities such as technology features in your decision making is integral to selecting a program that will meet the needs of your community. EdReports reviews include robust evidence about a program’s alignment and usability along with data about a variety of technology features, but it’s vital that adoption committees thoroughly vet materials before making a selection.
I’m excited for a future where with the combination of great materials, great teachers, and support from technology, all students can access learning that has the power to transform their lives.
Heather Gauck is a special education teacher and has taught for Grand Rapids Public Schools for more than two decades. She is the organizer and leader for a statewide team of eight educators that created Innovation Classroom. Most recently she was picked as a TeachPlus Fellow to work with education policy. Heather is an EdReports reviewer and Klawe Fellow.