From the Principal's Office: Leading Change Through Edtech

2/24/2013 12:00:00 AM
Effective educational leaders focus their energy on promoting two things: maximizing capacity for all members of their faculty and staff and aligning the goals of individuals within the organization with that of the school or district. Every school in America wants to create productive citizens that will be successful in the 21st century, but many are afraid to take the plunge into the world of edtech. Leaders must facilitate and empower teachers to explore a frontier as foreign to them as a distant planet. This cannot be an excuse for inaction, however, because schools simply cannot prepare students for future success when our practices are not even current, let alone forward-thinking.

It is time for our schools to make a commitment to engaging students in activities that will benefit them in a global marketplace. In order for students to be provided that support, teachers must be able to ease the process. The role of the leader is to provide the service and guidance that teachers need in order achieve that end. The roadmap is daunting, but the end is worth the means:

FACE THE FEAR
Two primary fears exist for most educators regarding using edtech to promote 21st century learning. The first is simply fear of the unknown or fear of failure. The second is the fear of doing something to get fired. These fears are normal for everybody, but must be overcome by the leader first if they have any hope of leading this type of change in their district or building.

Tips Moving Forward
•Get involved – Computers are not designed to break. Leaders must first understand the new wave of technology is user-friendly. The benefit for a school leader becoming involved is that modeling is essential when it comes to taking educational risks – which in many schools technology is considered. Explore social media starting TODAY – Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest are all great places to start. Some may work better for you than others and there are literally hundreds of different opportunities that being active on the sites mentioned above will provide you within the first few weeks of use.
•Teachers deserve support, guidance, and protection – Two or three articles a month are written about teachers losing jobs because of the misuse of social media. This is an enormous hill to climb when promoting the activity within a building. An effective means of combating this is to establish best practice social media guidelines for all staff. These guidelines should be user-friendly, promote interaction with students, and also provide a firm line for what is appropriate and inappropriate. Providing boundaries promotes a sense of security.

ESTABLISH THE WHY
School leaders far too often focus on the ‘what’ instead of the ‘why’. Doing so with edtech will result in failure. There must be a sense of urgency created. It may seem clear to you (maybe you are part of the 1%ers) but the world schools are preparing kids for is much different than it was 40 years ago, 20 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Globalization will impact this generation of students more than any other in history. Teachers must know that not embracing the technology that will define the world their students will live in doing them a dramatic disservice.

Tips Moving Forward
•The data is dramatic – There is no shortage of numbers indicating how globalization is impacting American students. Use it!! How would your staff react to knowing that there are more Honors kids in India and China than there are kids in the U.S. Use the facts to your advantage.
•Create a local tie – Students that used to attend your school (and were ‘good’ kids) have tremendous influence when they speak of how well or how ill-prepared they were for the next stages in their life. Kids in college blog. Kids in college tweet. Kids in college have realized that technology has made what once was a distant afterthought a very real part of their future. That will get teachers’ attention.

ACKNOWLEDGE EFFORT (INCLUDING MISTAKES)
There is a learning curve with technology. There may be more failure than success when teachers first get their hands wet. Establishing a school hashtag (#) on Twitter or Facebook page for 5th grade homework assignments is a HUGE deal. Acknowledge it as such. Modeling tech-aware behaviors will also allow for monitoring of use and progression among teachers so that you can better serve their professional development.

Tip Moving Forward
•Public reinforcement of a kid-centered, 21st century learner-driven initiative is never a bad thing. At public assemblies, on websites, and even in ‘old-school’ newsletters the acknowledgment of teachers taking risks will serve to promote the activity.

CREATE A CULTURE
Culture as I define it is what a school does when nobody is looking. Using technology and social media to support learning will be cultural when it no longer would cease to exist in the majority of the classrooms without administrative push or influence. This may take years – literally. Remember, people probably had this conversation (not via blogs, however) regarding email and digital gradebooks. This is not going away – thankfully. Create a culture where your school, your teachers, and your students are on the leading edge instead of trying to play catch-up in five years.

Tips Moving Forward
• Empower others. Leaders have a lot on their plates (as do teachers). View the championing of edtech as a capacity-building activity for a future leader. The voice of a colleague often sounds much more clear and inviting than that of an administrator. More than likely, somebody in your building is already vastly more proficient with edtech and SM than you are – take advantage of their talents.
•Start Young and Let Students Lead. The earlier kids are exposed to the benefits of learning via edtech and SM, the more impetus for all to embrace the change. Student and parent buy-in can occasionally be easier to attain than teachers and they have tremendous influence on the culture of a building.

ENJOY THE BENEFITS
The potential benefits for a school are limitless when it comes to embracing edtech with the same vigor of the rest of the professional world. Communicating via a platform that the intended audience already uses makes so much more sense than forcing students and parents to adapt to an already antiquated system. Once edtech is embraced a school will enjoy a wide-range of benefits including improved public relations, increased student engagement, access to volumes upon volumes of free professional development for staff, and an opportunity to be on the leading edge of the next major change in how kids are educated in America.

PJ Caposey is the principal of Oregon High School in Oregon, IL and the author of Building a Culture of Support.  Read more at www.pjcaposey.com and twitter.com/PrincipalPC.

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