Leadership Day 2012: Don’t Adopt Technology on a Whim!

My message for this year’s leadership day is going to be simple: Stop making decisions to adopt technology on a whim! You are damaging your school every time you decide to adopt a new technology initiative, because your faculty, staff, and students cannot be expected to change every time you attend a conference and come back with the latest flyer from the vendor hall. Gather a team that represents all stakeholders in the school and work together to create a vision that has student needs at heart.*  Once you have that vision, bring every resource the school has into making it happen, including technology.

I may seem a little harsh, but I have become frustrated with both administrators and teachers, who lack the common vision for where they need to be and how they are going to get there. When this happens, numerous initiatives are started and the disconnect is so great that it is difficult from an organizational standpoint to support everything everyone is doing. The cliché, a mile wide and an inch deep, is very reflective of where many schools find themselves. Everyone has their vision for what needs to happen, but since many of these visions compete against each other, no one can do them well, not to mention enact meaningful change.

If you find yourself in any leadership position, I urge you to stop and take a step back. Gather key stakeholders that represent your school community and take a deep breath and consider where you want to go. What’s important? What skills do your students need to leave with as they enter college or the workforce? What is the light at the end of the tunnel that each student needs to reach when they leave? Define what that is, and then begin talking about how you can get there. How will you use every resource the school can leverage, including technology resources and funding, to make that vision happen? Most important, how are you going to  build capacity within those around you? Figure out what it is that you need do and do it extremely well. This isn’t going to be easy, but it has to be done.

I want to conclude by saying that once you have made your plans and it comes time for implementation, be sure to encourage a culture where change is embraced. Any meaningful change you implement is likely going to be different from what has been done in the past. Teachers are going to need support and lots of it. If a major technology initiative is being implemented to support the vision, be sure to support a culture where teachers and administrators are willing to work with each other and willing to fail together. Perfection isn’t achieved on the first run, so be willing to re-invent your plans, your techniques, and most important, yourself. The road is going to be bumpy and mistakes are going to be made. Lead by example and take risks that could end in failure,  learning from your mistakes. Be willing to move on to find the right solution.  And above all, be true to your vision and stick it out. Don’t let the static of vendor halls and technological novelties interfere with your vision. Don’t adopt a technological innovation on a whim.

 

*Yes I know schools have these teams, but I often question their effectiveness. How much is what these teams accomplish for show and how much is for real change? Is the culture present within these teams to allow for failure without blame? Is this team really helping your school move forward? If not, maybe it’s time for a change? Certainly not all schools are like this, but I’m sure too many are.

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#LeadershipDay11 – Don’t allow technology to be added on to current instructional practices

Today is Leadership Day 2011, an event created by Scott McLeod about effective school technology leadership.  I heard of Leadership Day last year, but for some reason I didn’t get around to blogging or even reading many of the posts from that day.  This year is going to be different.  Not only will I read other posts, I’m going to pen my own.  For my post, I wanted to focus on an area of school technology leadership that often is poorly implemented and a problem that happens all too often.  I’m talking about when new technologies are integrated into the classroom, but the instruction remains, for the most part, the same.

To me, technology integration is the delicate balance of pedagogy, content, and technology knowledge, otherwise know as TPACK.  In order to have meaningful change as a result of technology, the teacher must have knowledge of all three of these items and how they are going to interact with each other.  Only then will the learning that takes place truly be different, and hopefully lead to greater learning achievements.

However, too often, these three components aren’t thought about when technology is integrated into the curriculum.  Instead, technology is purchased, whether it be a projector, an interactive whiteboard, or even a laptop, and merely added to the current instructional practices.  While there may be some changes to the instruction, like showing lecture notes via PowerPoint rather than writing on the board, the overall learning that takes place in the classroom remains the same.  Daniel Pink (2006) refers to this as automation.  The technology is added to a current practice to make the practice better, faster, and/or cheaper.  The problem with automation is that the outcome doesn’t necessarily change all that much.  Yes, we can get more done, it may be a little bit better, and maybe even a little cheaper, but when it comes down to it, we are still doing the same relative task.

Taking that an putting it in an educational context, if we continue to add technology onto current educational practices, we aren’t transforming the instruction all that much.  We may make it a bit more fancy, a bit easier to interact with, or even quicker to complete, but in the end the teachers are teaching the same and the students are learning the same.  If we are going to transform education to meet the needs of the 21st century, then we cannot keep adding the latest tools onto our current practices.  We need to have a deeper and more fundamental discussion that involves concepts like TPACK, and really focus on the type of learning we want to see happening in our classrooms.  Only then will we be able to align the learning with the tools that will make a difference.

So administrators and other school leaders, I urge you to think about the type of learning you want to see in your schools and think about how that aligns with the needs of the 21st century.  Then, and only then, find the technology that will assist in making that type of learning a reality.  But here comes the tricky part.  Once the technology is “integrated” in the classroom, make sure the teaching and learning is different than what it was before the technology was implemented.  If it wasn’t then YOU need to do something.  It is YOUR responsibility to support teachers as they do their part and struggle to figure out what to do with this new piece of technology.  If we are really talking about transforming education, then it’s going to be an uncomfortable process for everyone.  Teacher assumptions and beliefs ARE going to be challenged if schools are adopting instructional practices and technology that truly transform education.

So make sure all the time, money, and other investments are worth it.  Don’t let technology be added on, because it not only wastes resources, it also hurts our students and their futures.  Challenge your teachers to try different things, but also be willing to let them fail when things don’t work out.  Each of us have to be willing to fail, because if we think we can transform education without failing, then we further to grow than we believe.  Good Luck!

References:

Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future (pp. 40-47). New York, NY: Riverhead Books.