Mission.io Blog

A Leader's Guide to Effectively Implementing AI in Schools

As I sat in yet another faculty meeting, doing my best to appear engaged while secretly plotting how to juggle my ever-growing to-do list, a typical agenda played out in the background. There I was, a slightly less grey version of myself, armed with nothing but a planner and a dream, trying to stay afloat in the sea of teaching responsibilities. Kyle was at it again, reciting his 'two truths and a lie' for the umpteenth time. Spoiler alert: We all knew the lie was not about that one time you saw Michael Cera; we’d heard the Alberta story a million times already.

Then, the moment of truth arrived. The administration stood up, beads of sweat glistening on their foreheads like tiny, nervous beacons of impending doom. With a voice trembling more than a leaf in a hurricane, they announced the new initiatives for the year. A hush fell over the room, the kind of silence that screams, “Oh no, not again” as they went through the many new tools and responsibilities that would be added to our plates.

But just when the administrators thought they were in the clear, a battle horn echoed through the halls. Yes, a literal horn. From the table to the left, a group of teachers, faces smeared with pink and yellow finger paint, rose like warriors of old. Armed with protractors sharp enough to slice through the thickest of curriculum guides and rulers ready to measure the absurdity of it all, they stood united. Their armor? A fortress of pocket protectors, impenetrable and gleaming under the fluorescent lights.

The rebellion had begun. It was too much. One more initiative, and the camels' backs weren't just broken; they were obliterated.

A reimagining of Washington Crossing the Delaware painting, featuring teachers humorously armed with oversized school supplies.

This might sound like a scene straight out of a teacher’s fever dream, but let’s be honest, it's the silent uprising that plays out in the minds of educators everywhere when yet another well-intentioned but ill-timed initiative is thrust upon their overburdened shoulders.

So, as we consider how to navigate an AI initiative for our faculty, let’s remember the lessons of the Great Protractor Uprising of 2012. It’s not just about what we introduce in our schools, but how.

I remember a time, not too long ago, when my biggest technological worry was having access to a whiteboard marker that hadn’t dried out. Those were simpler times. Now, it seems like you can’t escape the robot overlords as they force their way into every single part of our lives. 

  • “Curriculum, now with AI!”
  • “LMS, now with AI!” 
  • “Urinals, now with AI!” (Okay, not this last one, but it is on my 2024 bingo card to have a urinal give me unsolicited feedback on my nutrition levels)

As a speaker who has addressed thousands of educational leaders globally, a consultant for numerous schools, and a former STEM teacher, I understand both the excitement and the trepidation that comes with new technology in education. And let's be honest, as teachers, we've all been on the receiving end of "innovative" tools that, more often than not, added more to our plate than they took away. That's precisely why I'm penning this piece – to cut through the noise and provide a clear, practical guide on introducing AI to your faculty.

Now let’s start by addressing the elephants in the room (yes, plural—there’s like three elephants which leads me to wonder how big this metaphorical room is, and who keeps letting all these elephants in here?)

This is NOT a post to help you establish AI-policy with your students. That post is coming later. Suffice it to say that if you are worried about students using AI to cheat, then it is even more critical for you to get in and get familiar with the technology. AI-detectors don’t work and blanket bans have been shown to disproportionately impact students in lower socioeconomic situations. Instead of worrying about potential misuse, focus on understanding how AI can aid in achieving your own goals. Seriously, can we not take a moment to be selfish? Treat yourself. The knowledge you gain from jumping in fully will naturally extend to understanding its use in student learning.

If you are going to introduce this to your faculty as a major initiative, do NOT introduce it as another thing they are expected to learn (unless you love uprisings and mutinies). You should bring it up as a resource you are going to start implementing to help reach a current goal, or create a goal to eliminate non-teaching time (more on this later). 

Do NOT, under any circumstances, expect yourself or anyone else to become an AI expert. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts out there, and unless they were part of the team at OpenAI that built the dang thing, they have at most one year of experience. Let’s all calm down a bit.

Elephants addressed? Okay, let’s get into it. 

AI Can’t Be Yet Another Thing to Learn/Master

I start here because this the one of the only ways to truly get the most buy-in from your team. Do not introduce AI as another thing they need to learn and make time for. Bring it up as a resource you want them to take advantage of to help get the suckiest parts of teaching off their plate. We want teachers to spend more time working with and connecting with students. That’s the human part of teaching. It’s what we hired them for. So focus on the time-saving goals, not the technology.

Start by identifying non-teaching tasks that consume disproportionate amounts of time and energy. Collaborate with your team to list all such activities and explore how AI can take these off your hands. 

Here’s what my shortlist would look like:

  • Lesson planning, emails
  • Slideshows, quizzes, reading/writing prompts, rubrics
  • IEP accommodations, student feedback
  • Welcome-to-class letters, newsletter copy, volunteer and donation requests, supply lists, grant and field trip proposals, assembly programs, and permission sheets

Treat it as a Teaching Assistant, Not Software

When introducing AI to educators, I emphasize a mindset shift: think of AI not as a mere tech tool but as the most knowledgeable teaching assistant you've ever had. Picture an assistant with a vast, albeit occasionally quirky, knowledge base, yet lacking any initiative or practical teaching experience and requiring precise directions. You wouldn’t give them full control of your class, but you would want to know when and how to tap into their wealth of knowledge. This perspective helps teachers understand how to meticulously map out tasks for AI, ensuring they get the most effective output.

My personal experience with AI, particularly with tools like ChatGPT, has been enlightening. I've learned that if you try to have AI handle an entire project from start to finish, it often backfires. You end up spending more time editing and correcting the work than if you'd tackled it yourself. The real magic happens when you use AI as a collaborative partner. Let it assist you with crafting language, generating examples, or brainstorming ideas. This approach is not about having AI do your job, but about complementing your skills with its capabilities.

The trick is to be specific and hands-on in your guidance. Don't just ask AI to "create a lesson plan on photosynthesis." Instead, detail the key concepts you want to cover, provide examples of similar lesson plans you admire, specify the grade level, and even outline the structure you prefer. By actively steering the AI, you either save substantial time, or at the very least, end up with a significantly enhanced end product. This approach, treating AI as an intelligent yet super-needy and direction-dependent assistant, can revolutionize the way we integrate technology into education.

Make Sure You’re All Using the Same Tools

The key to successfully integrating AI in education is not just in the selection of tools but ensuring everyone is using the same set. This commonality is vital – it simplifies mutual support among teachers, fosters an environment of shared learning, and catalyzes the development of a cohesive AI culture within your school. When everyone navigates the same platform, sharing best practices and helpful tips becomes second nature, laying the groundwork for a thriving, AI-empowered educational setting.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but in my journey through various AI applications, I've consistently found that paid tools often outshine their free counterparts. The added features, support, and reliability typically justify the investment.

Remember, the specific AI tool you choose isn't as crucial as ensuring everyone is on the same page. Consistency is what will drive collective growth and familiarity with AI in your faculty.

For those looking to explore and evaluate the best AI tools available, I regularly update a list of resources that have proven effective in educational settings. These are tools I believe genuinely add value to the teaching process. You can find this curated list on my AI training resource page here.

Have a Clear Goal That Is Not “Master AI”

Introducing AI to your faculty should never be a matter of simply declaring, "Learn AI," and expecting smooth sailing. That approach is a fast track to resistance and frustration among staff (see: mutiny, uprising). Instead, it's about introducing AI with a purpose or aligning it with existing goals and objectives in your school.

For instance, if your school is focusing on increasing hands-on learning activities, demonstrate how AI can be a game-changer. Show your team how using AI for lesson planning or generating creative project ideas can free up their time, making it easier to engage students in more interactive, hands-on learning experiences.

Another effective strategy (and my personal favorite because this is a battle we should all be fighting for our teachers) is setting a tangible goal, like saving each teacher 5 hours a week. This can be achieved by employing AI for routine tasks such as responding to emails or preparing lesson materials. Setting such clear, measurable objectives not only provides a tangible benchmark for success but also frames the introduction of AI in a positive, goal-oriented light. This approach minimizes resistance and helps avoid the pitfalls of a poorly framed AI initiative (see: mutiny, uprising).

Hands-on Demonstration: Show, Don't Just Tell

The key to getting your faculty on board with AI isn't just telling them about its benefits; it's showing them in action. This step requires someone in your team to take the lead in understanding and demonstrating AI's capabilities. Chances are, you already have an AI enthusiast among your staff, someone who's dabbled in it enough to guide others. If not, it might be time for you or a designated team member to dive in and become that go-to AI spearhead.

Actually walking your faculty through the process of using AI — from setting up a prompt to refining the output — is crucial. It demystifies the technology and showcases its practicality. This hands-on demonstration is especially important for those who are slower to adopt new tech or skeptical of its benefits. When they witness firsthand how AI can simplify a task or enhance their work, the lightbulb turns on. It's about transforming AI from a vague, intimidating concept into a tangible, useful tool in their everyday teaching toolkit.

Make It an Ongoing Process

Introducing AI in your school is not a one-off event; it's an evolving journey of continuous learning and adaptation. Start with an introductory session that outlines the chosen AI tools, the overarching goal, and demonstrates the initial steps of this new venture. This could involve showcasing a single application scenario that exemplifies the nuances of crafting effective prompts and refining outputs.

Encourage the formation of a group of AI specialists within your staff. These are the early adopters and enthusiasts who naturally gravitate towards AI. If they're not immediately apparent, open the floor for volunteers. These individuals will play a pivotal role in driving the AI initiative forward.

In your regular faculty meetings, allocate a segment for these AI specialists to share their experiences. They could, for instance, walk the team through a specific task they accomplished using AI, highlighting how it saved them hours of work. This practice not only serves as a practical demonstration but also ignites interest and confidence among the rest of the faculty.

As these sessions become a staple of your meetings, you'll notice a growing momentum. More teachers will begin to experiment with AI, contributing their own time-saving tips and tricks. This creates a snowball effect, where the use of AI becomes a natural part of your school’s culture, continually evolving and improving with each shared experience. This ongoing effort ensures that AI integration is not just a fleeting trend but a sustainable and integral part of your educational approach.

Focus on Being “Literate”— Not “Expert”

It bears repeating: the aim is not to become an AI expert but to become AI-literate. This distinction is crucial. AI is not the end goal; it's a means to a far more valuable end - reducing non-teaching tasks and enhancing the quality of time educators spend with their students. By focusing on AI literacy, we lower the barrier to entry, making the technology accessible and less intimidating for everyone involved.

In our journey towards AI literacy, we emphasize that no one is expected to be an overnight expert. The objective is to familiarize oneself with the basics of AI, to understand how it can be a powerful tool in achieving our primary goal. As educators become more comfortable with using AI to save time and streamline tasks, this knowledge will naturally evolve. It will not only benefit their current teaching methods but will also lay the groundwork for future policies on AI usage for students.

This approach to AI literacy is about taking manageable steps. It's about recognizing AI as a dynamic assistant in the educational process, one that evolves and adapts along with our growing understanding and needs. By starting with this clear, approachable strategy, we're setting the stage for a future where AI is seamlessly integrated into both teaching and learning.

Prioritize Winning Back Time With Students 

Establishing a culture of AI in your school is more than just about integrating a new tool; it's about reinforcing your school's core mission – to educate and engage with students effectively. It's crucial to remember that teachers were hired for their skills in education, not in AI. Therefore, the use of AI should always align with this primary goal: to enhance their ability to work with students more efficiently and effectively.

This cultural shift towards AI should be viewed as a collaborative, team-driven effort. It's not about turning teachers into tech experts overnight but about collectively exploring how AI can be a facilitator in their roles. The focus should always remain on leveraging AI as a means to free up valuable time, enabling teachers to focus more on what they do best – educating and inspiring students.

By fostering an environment that views AI as a supportive tool rather than an additional burden, we can create a sustainable, productive AI culture in our schools. This culture will be rooted in the shared understanding that AI is there to augment the educational experience, allowing teachers to dedicate more time and energy to direct student interaction and engagement.

Remember, integrating AI into your school's ecosystem is a journey that evolves with your team's growing familiarity and comfort with the technology. It's about making small, sustainable changes that collectively lead to a significant positive impact on how teachers teach and students learn. With a thoughtful approach and a team-driven effort, AI can become a powerful ally in education, enhancing the teaching experience while staying true to the core mission of education – to connect, inspire, and educate our students effectively (and avoid rebellions/uprisings).


TL;DR - Key Takeaways

  1. AI as a Time-Saving Tool: Introduce AI as a resource to eliminate non-teaching tasks, enabling teachers to focus on engaging with students.
  2. AI as a Teaching Assistant: Change your perspective on AI - think of it as a knowledgeable assistant that needs detailed guidance to be effective.
  3. Consistent AI Tools Across the Board: Ensure everyone uses the same AI tools to foster a collaborative and supportive environment among faculty.
  4. Clear, Goal-Oriented AI Strategy: Align AI integration with specific, existing educational goals to avoid resistance and enhance effectiveness.
  5. Practical AI Demonstrations: Regularly showcase AI’s capabilities through hands-on demonstrations to demystify the technology and encourage adoption.
  6. Ongoing AI Integration Process: Treat AI adoption as a continuous journey, with regular updates and shared experiences among staff.
  7. AI Literacy Over Expertise: Focus on developing basic AI literacy, sufficient for efficient use, rather than striving for expertise.
  8. Prioritize Student Interaction: Always align the use of AI with the primary goal of improving teacher-student interactions and educational outcomes.