In each case, teachers and administrators had to understand these innovations and then learn best practices to integrate them into the classroom. Each one has had a dramatic impact on education.
We are on a similar journey with AI. However, while we are still in the discovery phase of using AI and learning best practices, we know that AI is quickly becoming pivotal to education.
My colleague Meredith Dutra and I wrote a grant to research the uses of AI in education and in turn support our district. In doing so, we learned two very important lessons: First, AI is developing at such a fast rate that it was difficult for us to apply what we learned before our information became obsolete. Second, AI definitely will be integrated into the fabric of the workforce for our students.
As educators, we know that our job is to ensure students are ready to participate in a workforce that will undoubtedly include AI tools. Integrating technology into daily practice within the classroom is no longer a choice but a prerequisite for preparing students for a tech-infused future.
We must leverage AI for more profound learning experiences that support and improve educational outcomes. Some platforms already exemplify responsible AI use, offering students various avenues of learning without shortcuts.
For example, apps like Brainly and their AI-powered tools promote personalized learning that lets students control their learning experiences and provide explanations based on their individual needs while supplementing the curriculum, content and lessons taught in the classroom.
Many teachers and administrators understand that integrating AI into a district or classroom offers an opportunity to transform education. But the ability to harness AI's potential also presents multiple challenges.
Below are my recommendations for successfully implementing AI in the classroom.
1. Consider culture first, always.
Culture drives everything. Fostering a culture of innovation that encourages experimentation is a prerequisite for creating fertile ground where AI can thrive. District leaders like to use the word “innovation” but they often styme innovation out of fear. A culture of innovation allows for exploration and mistakes.
We must be bold, willing to take risks and acknowledge that there will be hiccups and failure points when experimenting with new technology. Having structures in place to understand where the entry points are to introduce AI will help smooth its integration into the classroom.
For example, an entry point for elementary students could simply be learning to use AI to find prompts for a creative writing piece, whereas a middle school student could use AI to study and research datasets to later aid in visualization.
One caveat: If you have a culture where initiatives continually fail, you need to audit your culture to ensure you don’t repeat the same mistakes. For example, are you listening to all your stakeholders – teachers, parents and students? Are there entry points that consistently prove challenging?
2. Promote AI as an anti-burnout tool.
Messaging is essential to generating enthusiasm for implementing AI. District leadership must present AI as a tool to reduce prep time and the proverbial grunt work teachers endure as part of their daily routine. We must highlight that AI is a resource that frees up teachers to have more time to engage in more meaningful interactions with each student. And that's what we all want. Think of the resource room teacher who needs to quickly come up with review materials for the children on their caseload. Using AI tools such as Magic School AI, Almanack, Diffit and Curipod, teachers can swiftly create those materials, giving them more time to interact with students and eliminating the stress of creating 3-5 subjects worth of material per student.
3. Model AI use.
To ensure widespread adoption, district administrators, and particularly building-level leaders, must model the use of AI. This top-down approach involves district leaders actively using AI tools to reduce their prep time, boost their productivity and enhance the quality of their interactions with teachers.
Administrators can use AI tools to keep better track of how school monies are spent to avoid wasteful expenditures, speed up clerical tasks — such as tracking absenteeism or tardiness — and fulfill requests to find a specific bit of information in a 200-page study. Instead of spending hours Googling for resources for the faculty meeting, the building principal can use Perplexity for precise searches or Gamma.ai to generate stunning slides filled with foundational content when preparing a presentation.
The superintendent is pivotal in initiating the adoption process, guiding school administrators and creating a seamless integration aligned with curriculum goals. This modeling strategy helps build confidence and acceptance among teachers.
It helps to designate someone willing to model how to use AI and start the conversation. Ideally, the superintendent or an assistant superintendent modeling it for their cabinet will help spread the word about how they use it.
3. Gather a cohort of AI pioneers.
More companies are beginning to roll out paid subscription models for use in the classroom. Educators need to know what makes sense for their needs. Gather the pioneers (the teachers already exploring AI's potential) and start bi-weekly or monthly conversations so all benefit from their experiences.
The cohort can discuss how AI has made their lives easier and explore how to make AI adoption more efficient and desirable. It’s more comfortable for teachers to take the leap into the unknown after seeing colleagues successfully use it.
As school districts consider how to implement AI, they should fund comprehensive, scaffolded time for professional development to allow teachers to learn the technology in order to use it to its full potential and navigate the hiccups that will likely develop.
Offer teachers incentives, such as in-service credits, graduate credits or paid registration for courses and conferences as a way to encourage them to explore and implement these technologies.
Districts can also investigate the various AI education platforms to see if they provide in-house professional development. Investing in ongoing professional development ensures teachers can leverage AI to its full potential and stay updated on the latest advancements.
One of the biggest challenges districts face when implementing new instructional technology is understanding that learning the technology is not a one-and-done scenario. Continuous professional development is essential. Whether through updates to existing tools or the introduction of new AI solutions, educators need ongoing support to adapt their pedagogical approaches.
The successful integration of AI in the classroom requires a holistic approach that addresses cultural, administrative and pedagogical considerations. By truly fostering a culture of innovation, modeling AI use at the administrative level, encouraging collaboration among educators, and providing incentives for learning and embracing continuous evaluation, school districts can address the complexities of AI integration and prepare students for the future of work.
Jennifer Cronk is a professional developer and a former director of information and technology for an large city school district and facilitates workshops on integrating instructional technology and assistive technologies into learning. Jennifer began her career over 26 years ago and has pursued the fusion of pedagogy and technology ever since.