Tips on Creating Effective School Technology Leadership

Thanks to Twitter and Scott McLeod, I learned that today is Leadership Day 2009 (#leadershipday09) in the blogosphere. The idea is for bloggers to share ideas related to effective school technology leadership. These posts are then linked back to Scott’s original post in his excellent blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, for everyone, including school leaders, to read and comment on. Sounds like a great way to share ideas, start a complex conversation and learn from others!

To start, how is leadership defined in an educational context? I like Mintzberg’s definition:

“Leadership is…about energizing other people to make good decisions and do other things. In other words, it is about helping release the positive energy that exists naturally within people. Effective leadership inspires more than empowers; it connects more than it controls; it demonstrates more than it decides. It does all this by engaging – itself above all and consequently others.”

Leadership goes beyond school and district administration. In every school, there are usually teacher leaders too. According to Harris and Muijs (2003),

“(t)eacher leadership is not a formal role, responsibility or a set of tasks; it is a form of agency where teachers are empowered to lead development work that impacts directly upon the quality of teaching and learning. Teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom, they identify with and contribute to a community of teachers and influence others towards improved educational practice.”

Based on those ideas, I think the first step in creating effective school technology leadership would be the creation of a team of administrators and teacher leaders. The purpose of this team would be to work collaboratively to enact constructive change towards increasing effective use of technology within the school. I think it’s important to note that the team members all need to be willing to participate with school staff in formal and informal professional learning activities. A metanalysis conducted in 2007 by Professor Viviane M. J. Robinson suggests that the most effective leadership dimension is “promoting and participating in teacher learning and development.” Leading by example and being active participants in the process is key.

Once you have a team in place, the next step would be to ask some questions:

  • How is technology being used to enhance learning in school?
  • What needs to be done to more effectively integrate the use of technology in the school?
  • Where are teachers ‘at’ with the use of technology in their practice?
  • Where are students ‘at’ with the use of technology in their learning?
  • What do people know?
  • What do they want to learn?
  • What do they need to know?

After getting some answers (and probably even more questions!), staff could work on goal setting. I think it would be important for a few school wide goals to be decided, but I also think that personal goal setting on how to more effectively use technology in one’s own classroom would be useful too. From there, the original team could take on the responsibility of planning some professional development activities, and then the learning, and hopefully, positive change, could really start.

Technology is intimidating to many, as is change. To increase success, I think it’s vitally important that the team adopt a respectful, supportive, patient, and encouraging approach throughout the entire process, from asking the initial questions of staff members, to all pro-d activities. In my experience, the approach is often the deciding factor in whether or not one is able to really engage and motivate the learners and create a community of learners.

Now that I’ve written this out, I think I might just try it. What do you think?

5 Comments

  1. Mary Beth says:

    Erin,

    I think you’ve touched on the essentials of technology planning. Include all the stakeholders, do a needs assessment and set some realistic goals.

    What makes this process difficult is getting the momentum started and making sure that whatever team is assembled follows through on the goals by setting benchmarks and creating authentic ways to assess whether goals are being achieved.

    Good luck starting an initiative in your school. I tried to do a needs assessment in my school to figure out what teachers needed to support them in using technology in their classrooms. What I ran into was a lack of buy-in from the administration, and without that, it is hard to get anything really rolling.

    Keep us posted on your experience with this challenge!

    Mary Beth

  2. Jan Smith says:

    Errin, you’ve introduced me to writers with whom I was not familiar–the Mitzberg quote really resonates. People grounded in this type of philosophy can’t help but make a difference.

    I would add two other questions to your list.

    1. You asked where are teachers with using tech in their practice. I would ask where are teachers at with using tech in their lives. If they have a passion, I bet there’s a community for them on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe they love photography–time for Flickr. Maybe their grandkids are far away. Set them up with Skype.

    2. I would also ask, “What do you want (or want your students) to be able to DO?” Think about the question in its broadest sense: I want to be able to collaborate effectively on a group project (so maybe learning about EtherPad, wikis, and Skype). I want my students to be creative and innovative in designing (so maybe some Google Sketch-Up or Scratch). I want my kids to connect with and influence others as global citizens (so maybe podcasting or blogging).

    What I get from you through our various interactions is your optimism. You are a learner and you live your curiosity every day. I know you inspire others to take risks to change. You make a difference.

  3. Great post, Errin! Jan’s point #1 is a good one. I know that it was my own personal use of digital technology that lead me to using it with my students and to further my professional learning. I guess this is meeting your learners (in this case teachers) where they are at.

  4. egregory says:

    @Mary Beth – Thanks for commenting! I’m fortunate to have very supportive, tech-literate admin, both in my school and at the district level.

    @Jan – The leadership quotes come from a tri-district leadership cohort I’m in via BCELC. It’s been an eye-opening experience and I’m learning a lot. Thanks for adding those questions – excellent additions! In response to your last comment, you got all that from our snippets of online communication? :)

    @Claire – Yes, I think maybe I’ll try Survey Monkey in September to try to figure out where everyone’s at. It’s a great point – you need to make something your own first before you can use it productively at work.

  5. Ken says:

    Of Professor Robinson’s questions I suspect that asking teachers what they want to learn is the most powerful. Too often rank and file educators feel like pawns in a system where resistance is futile. Beginning a process that demonstrates faith in the judgement of teachers and is designed to empower them creates an environment where the interests of all learns can be respected.

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