Speed Boats and Tug Boats

by Jean Tower


Last week at the METAA Technology Directors’ Professional Development Day, I heard something that was “just in time” for me. I’m sure you are all well-versed in “just in time learning” where the concept is that the learner’s need is what drives the delivery of information or knowledge. Well, I did not even know I needed the analogy I heard, but I have since used it several times and have adopted it as a useful analogy.

One of the speakers from Apple Computer said, in an off-hand comment, something to the effect that we all knew teachers who were speed boats, tugs boats, row boats, or anchors, and that the tug boats were the ones who were not as fast and flashy as the speed boats, but who brought others along. I have looked for a reference to this online and have not found the source, so if you know the source, please share it in a comment.

Here’s why it is so timely. I am working on a professional development plan (a proposal, really) and a keystone of what I would like to implement is to use more “train the trainer” initiatives. We would provide more extensive training to some teachers who would, in turn, provide ongoing training and professional development for their peers.

As I talk my colleagues through the proposal and brainstorm about who might want to volunteer to become a resident expert, I use the analogy, and since I did not find a source online, I have expanded it myself.

The speed boats are the teachers who will grab many new things in technology and will run with them right away. They are the ones on the cutting edge, ready to take risks, run pilots, and talk about their exploits in the teachers’ room. Most teachers, though, are not willing to follow the speed boats. They imagine that the speed boats have the technology special sauce recipe – they know things and can do things mere mortals cannot. The speed boats are the ones I lean on to tell me how new and cutting edge technologies might be useful in teaching and learning.

The tug boats are not as fast as the speed boats. They are not jumping to use every new technology that comes along. They adopt more slowly, but then their progress is more slow and sure. Tug boats have credibility with colleagues – others can see themselves in the tug boat’s shoes – if they can do it, I think I can. The tug boats will bring others along. The tug boats are perfect resident experts and are great to select for the “train the trainer” programs we want to institute. It is even better if they are seen as very expert classroom teachers in general.

Row boats are lagging behind the speed boats and tug boats. They don’t resist technology per se; they are just a little more hesitant and are waiting for reports of success from the faster boats. They are ready to adopt technologies that are tried and true and want compelling evidence that shows their students will benefit before they are ready to use a new technology. They are not going to be the movers and shakers, but for systemic change, it is important to bring them along, and the tug boats can help with that.

Anchors. We all have some anchors. They have no intention of moving and will tell you so. Showing them the successes of tug boats does little to sway them and, in my experience, they usually remain anchors. Luckily, I have met very few of them in my years in public schools.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

blaw0013 December 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Ever find a reference for this analogy? I heard it years ago, and have been using it ever since. Would like to find where I found it.

Jean Tower December 9, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I have not been able to find the source.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: