12th thing and golf balls

//farm3.static.flickr.com/2161/2208221742_449507a15a.jpg?v=0Ever since I stumbled upon the 11 Things that make a difference by Bryn Jones and Chris Betcher a few months ago, I have often marveled at their uncanny assessment of critical criteria needed for successful ‘meshing’ of teaching with ICT. Within our ICT working group we often talk about and check our school’s progress against these 11 criteria. Yet we can’t help the feeling we need to add another one.

The staff at our school are currently completing (what looks like) a survey on the current level of their ICT skills, obstacles and aspirations. The ‘survey’ is in fact a fairly simple database activity in Moodle, designed to kill several birds with one stone – we get more than just a snapshot of where we are at and what we need. Through this simple, easily searchable database, people can quickly see who in the school has the skill(s and attitude) they (may) need, sometimes literally on the spot, just-in-time, where there is neither chance or time to attend some PD but simply problem-solve and learn from it. Staff can update their entries, comment, thank each other, inquire and so on in a way true to the 70:20:10 principle underpinning our ICT-related PD efforts this year. It is working really well but I might describe it in more detail in another post – back to the ‘12th thing’.

Even after a cursory analysis, something clearly stands out from the data from approximately 75% of staff so far – lack of time they have to ‘play with’ ICT, improve their skills and consider the improvements to their practice ICT can/could have. In the data, I can see (in)direct references to the other 11 Things but “(lack of) time to learn and work on/with ICT” comes through really strongly and makes a strong case to be the 12th Thing. Surprised? Not me.

As an ICT integrator/mentor, I have been trying to mitigate for this problem by various means – individualised, flexible workshops during last periods of the day when they are most likely to be convenient, just-in-time support, classroom demos, encouragement of 70:20:10 principle, awareness-raising expo and other strategies.

But all this flexibility, individualisation and convenience goes only so far – the person still has to get their ‘hands dirty’ with ICT and that takes time. Some people take longer, others may be faster, depending on a myriad of factors. Since we can’t simply invent more hours in a day to improve the use of ICT in our teaching and learning, we seriously need to ask the question: “At the expense of what?” With so many things clamouring for our attention, that is no easy task.

A number of surveys, done mostly by AEU and other educational unions, show teachers in Australian schools spending increasing (and risingly frustrating) amount of their time on administration and compliance tasks rather than the thing they are supposed to be good at and model every day in class – learning. It reminds me about the often quoted story of a professor and his jar of golf balls.

A professor stood before his philosophy class with some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes”. The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. “Now,” said the professor. “I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life. The golf balls represent the important things – your family, your health, your children, your friends, your passions, the kind of stuff that if all else was lost and only these remained, your life would still be full. “The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. “The sand is everything else, the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first, there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

You know, the same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small things, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the elements that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Set aside time for your medical check-ups. Help out at a charitable institution. Take your spouse out to dinner. Don’t worry. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the hinge on that cupboard door. Take care of the golf balls first; the rest is just sand.

I then cast my mind to the context of education. My ‘golf balls’ in education are firstly my own health and welfare and that of my students and colleagues, then comes students’ value of learning as the basis for making informed, ethical decisions, followed by my passions (ICT is clearly one of them), knowledge and skills. If all else is removed, my life as an educator would still be full(filling).

My pebbles are things like my job and conditions, my pay, compliance with the main and necessary rules and laws, relationships with parents and school administrators, career opportunities and similarly important things in my life as an educator.

The sand are those millions of little instructions, assessment tasks, test scores, syllabus changes, admin updates, upgrades, staff notices, endless instructions, flyers, stationery salesmen, performance management indicators, moderation meetings … you know it.

I am not suggesting for one second that ICT should be everyone’s ‘golf ball’ of passion. For me, it is a passion for which I have burnt many hours of my life (mostly sleep) I will never get back. But I would strongly argue that a ‘golf ball’ of every teacher worthy of his/her title and the trust invested in them should be students’ value of learning. And that is where clever use of technology (not technology alone) can make truly dramatic impacts.

Many teachers still see technology in education as ‘sand’. They dismiss it or resent time spent engaging with it. However, a growing number of teachers see it further up the size scale and can (or are beginning to) see the increasingly strong connection of technology with the ‘golf ball’ of students’ value of learning and ethical decision making, but they are frustrated because their days in education are filled with ‘sand’. They are missing the 12th critical thing to make a difference – time. As the metaphor goes, they would love to learn but there is a huge pile of sand in their way (my son would say ‘bring out diggers, buckets, shovels and play’ – gotta love the children logic).

So, dear reader, what are your educational golf balls, pebbles and sand and those of your colleagues? Do you think ‘time to learn’ is the 12th critical thing to ICT making a positive difference in education (or have any others to add)? What are you or your colleagues prepared to forgo to pursue this goal?

“That’s all great professor, thanks, but what about those two beers” asks a student. “Ah, it’s just to demonstrate that no matter how full your life is, there is always room for a couple of beers.”



  1. Bryn Jones

    Hi Tomaz

    Time certainly should be in there, maybe number 1. I wonder myself why I left it out in the first place.

    Maybe I thought is was self evident or maybe I didn’t want discussion to be bogged down in “I don’t have the time”

    The list was originally done for a conference presentation and it’s always nice to have 10 in the list. Now we have 11 so we may as well have 12!

    In research I’ve done recently involving recorded interviews with teachers over a 12 month period of ICT immersion, the word most often used is “time”.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Mark Callagher


    Great site. Will certainly follow your experiences of staff ICT training and awareness. I am just embarking on a similar path myself.

    Our school, Wellington College (NZ) is nearing the end of a Ministry funded ICT cluster of 3 years. Throughout that time feedback from teachers has always been that they love what they see but don’t have enough time to “play” or “tinker” with it. This definitely needs to be addressed.


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