No More R.A.T.s!

Admit it. You're guilty of R.A.T.S. So am I. 

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images
Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images

R.A.T.s are "Random Acts of Technology" and they're everywhere, especially in education. Here's how it goes: you hear about a tech tool from a friend, see a colleague present it or read about it online, and you can't wait to use it! After 50 bajillion hours of learning it, trying it, promoting it, explaining it and implementing it, you discover that it's not all that user-friendly, students/staff/families aren't really engaging with it and/or that there is some other easier/splashier/better tool. This is a R.A.T.

We're prone to R.A.T.s because in the ever-evolving universe of technology we are always searching for the tools that will make our jobs easier, more impactful and connect us with the students, staff and families we serve. Our intentions are well meant but our process is misguided. Until we had ground-breaking documents like the ASCA National Model and campaigns like College Board's "Own the Turf", we had "Random Acts of Guidance" too. Remember those? You went to a conference, visited the vendors and before you knew it you had a 10 pound classroom curriculum kit you had to figure out how to get home in your bag. It had eye-catching packaging, came with a great video, a detailed manual and 25 workbooks! You had no idea how you would use it or if it would actually be useful; you'd figure that out later or maybe not. We've applied the same mentality to technology as we once did to those curriculum kits.

Random acts of anything are the sure path to futility. If you need it, I'm giving you permission to slow down and stop the crazy scramble to try to learn or use every tool that's being touted out there in the techno-sphere. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of adopting technology and integrating it into your program, consider this simple paradigm shift in how you approach the task:

  1. Problem FIRST
  2. Tool SECOND

More often than not, we take the opposite approach, if any approach at all. We adopt a tool without really knowing what we expect it to do, what it is actually capable of or if it is the best option. I can think of numerous times when I learned about a tool over the weekend, invested hours in understanding it, and then tried implementing it on Monday. The sparkle quickly wore off if I encountered glitches or when the students didn't love it like I thought they would (or like I did). The payoff in productivity or engagement simply wasn't worth my investment of time and energy.

After nearly 5 years of exploring the use of technology in school counseling through presentations, trainings, research and mostly, valuable conversations with colleagues like you, I've come to realize that where it's most useful to first spend time is in determining what problem you want to solve with technology. Here are some common problems that you might be thinking about as you plan for next year and ones that I often hear from school counselors:

  • How can I communicate more effectively with students/staff/families? 
  • How can I provide more engaging presentations and activities?
  • How can I collect data and assess the impact of my program?

There's no shortage of tools out there to consider for each of these problems. In fact, most of us have technology-fatigue because there are too many tools. But, if you invested in just one or two problems you want to solve with technology each year, and then researching possible tools, you just might save your time, your sanity, and avoid the R.A.Ts. These days, when it comes to technology, less is more, and intentionality is EVERYTHING. 

I've been trying to curate technology tools for school counselors on SCOPE over the years but as you might imagine, this experience has been a bit like the classic candy factory assembly line episode of I Love Lucy. The tools just keep on coming! Two websites I've been exploring recently are EdShelf and Common Sense Education (formerly Graphite). Both are sites that have curated technology tools for education in an organized, filter-able format and are ones to watch as they grow. You may or may not find exactly what you need but they are good places to start and probably more helpful than simply Googling and scrolling. 

Since I'm coming back to it after two years, the problem area I'm focused on this year is student advising. To make scheduling appointments easier for all, I'm using a tool called Calendly, one I vetted by reading up on many similar tools. I'm also using Remind, a commonly used tool by school counselors and other educators, as well as Google Docs and Google Sheets for updating "need to know" advising information, tracking my advisees and our meetings. What problem do you hope to solve this year with technology? How will you be more intentional with integrating tech into your program? And most importantly, how will you get out of the R.A.T. race?!