from Educators' eZine
In 1976, when I graduated from high school, “state-of-the-art” technology consisted of slide rulers, overhead projectors, and filmstrips. There were computer games: someone had “pong” hooked up to a black and white television. When I went away to college my dad equipped me with the Texas Instruments calculator that I needed for a statistics course.
My first “real” encounter with a computer came three years later at the University of San Francisco, in a room at the Harney Science Center that had about fifty keyboards and monitors. When I commented to my friend that they were really small, he invited me down the hallway to peek at the real central processing unit, which appeared to be the size of a city block.
Fast forward to 1987, and I am now a high school teacher with twelve IBM PCs in my classroom. We applied for a grant to supply the equipment that very few knew how to use effectively in the education world. Our textbook company designed software that allowed the students to complete their work through “automated accounting.”
At the time, I did not have the theory to back it up, but I was witnessing the beginnings of an engaging environment. One eleventh-grader, Gary, was a fidgety mess at his desk – but once in front of the computer he was actively engaged in his learning. Not only did he complete his work but also he was proud and happy to show his classmates how to complete theirs. Gary became a facilitator, which greatly increased the success of his fellow students.
They were excited and engaged, and so was I. It was thrilling to learn how to operate the new digital equipment and teach the students at the same time. It always kept me motivated and willing to research new types of uses for the computers.
I guess you could legitimately make the statement that the students in today’s schools have grown up with somewhat different technological experiences, as for them computers are a fact of life. That is why it is essential for us to use those experiences of our students and take our classrooms to places they cannot go without the use of digital tools.
Raise the Bar for Yourself.
If you don’t, who will? A school administrator carrying a laptop he can’t use is like an NFL player carrying a playbook he can’t read. The biggest difference is that a school administrator affects more lives. He or she must be in line with the world around him or her but just like an NFL player that can’t read, he can fake it for years.
Do you remember Dexter Manly from the Washington Redskins football team? He carried around a Wall Street Journal yet he did not know how to read. I guess he kind of slipped through the cracks. Now that I am a school administrator (principal), I often reflect on new and different ways to connect every student to our school and the curriculum. Luckily, I work with great teachers.
Be passionate about it or don’t do it.
I’m talking about your job. I do not remember anyone telling me that they became an educator for the money. You owe it to yourself and the people around you to make a difference in your school and the people around you. In the 8th Habit, Stephen Covey calls your vocation your voice. He says that where your talents and passion driven by your conscience meet the needs of the world around you – therein lies your voice. Hopefully, education is your voice. And if it is, you need to constantly fine-tune the process.
School administrators must provide leadership for the integration of technology from an educational paradigm that goes beyond wiring and connectivity. If properly implemented, technology integration will prepare ALL of today’s teachers and students for life beyond the technological backdrop that already exists in the world around them. But who will lead the way?
This just out: Over 1,000 educators surveyed at NECC 2006 (National Educational Computing Conference) in San Diego indicated that visionary leadership is the most important element for transforming education for our current generation. So the pressure is on. Remember: low expectations for yourself result in similar expectations for the people around you.
Technology integration in the classroom takes strong leadership in every area, from the top, middle, and bottom. In order to do this, you must lead by example. Part of this leadership includes empowerment. Please do not confuse empowerment with designation. Empowerment means passion, commitment, common purpose, and preparation. This includes teachers as well as administrators.
A school administrator must be prepared to demonstrate the behavior he expects the people around him to emulate. Whether it’s at a meeting, professional development training, or a presentation, a school leader must tap into the resources that other organizations require. However, it seems that through my observation that only a handful of school administrators use the power of technology to lead their schools.
You do not have to use the latest gadgets all the time but you must be aware of trends that may benefit your school. Use a database. Use presentation software. Update and maintain your portion of the Website. Know about effective technology integration in the classroom. Form partnerships. Empower teachers.
Teachers want to be empowered to take creative risks if they know they will be supported. They also become excited about the possibility of raising the level of learning in the classroom. One of our teachers had this to say prior to a mentoring opportunity at the beginning of a school year:
“I feel like a kid the first day of school. I’m excited, nervous, and enthusiastic about the next ten months. I love to learn. I’m excited about the opportunity to use new technology in my classes; and the excitement, I hope, my students will have when I integrate technology into my lessons”.
Excitement is great but it will only last short term if you forget the real reason for integrating technology in the first place. When you raise the bar for yourself, keep in mind that you are bringing new and better chances for learning to teachers and students. Raising the bar for yourself will bring opportunities that will engage students and teachers in higher levels of teaching and learning.
Likewise, if you work in a school and you are not doing your own research then shame on you. When I took over as principal at the Belhaven Middle School in August 1999, I immediately noticed they had lots of stuff. However, I also noticed that like most schools only a handful of people were using the “stuff”. I asked myself, (I talk to myself a lot but get a lot of great answers), “What can I do to make myself better, that will make the school a center for great teaching using technology as one of many tools?”
By doing my own research and tapping into the people ‘in the trenches’: teachers, students, parents, we came up with a plan. This not only meant a review of the literature but onsite research as well. I found that sometimes our school followed the review of the literature and sometimes it did not. We needed to know where we were before we determined where we were going.
While the school was staying well ahead of the curve with the acquisition of digital equipment, they were putting the cart before the horse. We needed to evaluate what digital opportunities we had, who was using it, why they were using it, and how they were using it.
We found that teachers really did not know what technology integration was. Some teachers and administrators thought that using a computer for Email was technology integration. Other teachers knew that proper implementation of technology engaged the students and gave their classroom more of a constructivist environment.
We also found out that our teachers did not have a proper professional development plan in place. By engaging in conversation with other administrators in the area, I found that most schools in the year 2000 did not have a professional development plan for technology integration.
Never ask someone else to do something you would not do.
This is where designation gets confused with empowerment. I’ve been in administrator’s meetings where administrators were talking about making our schools leaders in technology integration without being able to use or understand the jargon associated with the process. Likewise, these same administrators were requiring teachers to create and update their own web pages without having one themselves. These administrators’ pages in June bore the same message as in September, “Welcome Back to School”.
You cannot ask a teacher to commit to maintaining a website if you can’t commit and maintain your own. You do not have to become a Webmaster, but just update your Web page periodically. Once you have a template, it takes five minutes. You may still need assistance or have an occasional question (as I do) but it will speak volumes to the people around you.
I have found that one important characteristic of leadership is to lead by example. Demonstrate the behavior that you want emulated. It will make quantum leaps in your relationships with the people with whom you work. By doing your own research and walking the walk, you will set an example that will make significant gains in lining up your technology goals and objectives with your school goals and objectives. Teachers will look to you as not only a leader but a valuable resource. You will be able to offer advice and stay connected. Great technology does not replace great teaching but great teachers can become great technology integrators.
A perfect example is finding a fit for teachers who are reluctant technology integrators. Two teachers that have been in our school for 25 plus years were excited about the possibilities that technology integration could bring to the classroom. However, their success did not come easily.
One teacher had this to say:
“As I was fighting my fears of technology on a daily basis I knew that “something’s gotta give.” I knew that I was a smart person, a quick learner and a hard worker. The stress of resisting technology was starting to use more of my energy than learning some knew skills. One day I woke up and said to myself, “You can do it!” Don’t worry if you don’t know as much as the “young guns.” At that point I had a major paradigm shift. As my feelings and thoughts changed so did my abilities.”
This teacher became an example to all of us. She not only began to integrate technology seamlessly but she enrolled in a Masters of Art in Instructional Technology program (she’ll be done in a couple months) and she became a technology mentor in our professional development process. A great teacher became a great technology-integrating teacher.
Never Become Complacent.
This is part of raising the bar for yourself. From day one until the last day, you must always fine-tune the quality of the educational process. And digital technology changes frequently. What is the next trend in the classroom that will increase teaching and learning opportunities? This becomes part of your daily research.
Read, observe, talk to other administrators, and teachers. When I go to an educational conference I find myself drawn to technology. Likewise, becoming a presenter at these conferences allows you to obtain perks such as free registration. It also allows you to network with other people in education. Some people are just like you and some are beyond your expertise.
You can connect with a lot of different vendors, too. Most vendors will work out some kind of deal that allows you to test and/or observe their products. They can put you in contact with schools in your area that will allow you to visit and see the products in action. Because we present at local, state, and national conferences, we often ask our vendor of interactive white boards to send one to our breakout sessions. Over the years they have donated boards to our school because we promote their product. This has helped us reach our goal to have these digital tools in every classroom.
Last year I had a great idea as I was observing a fifth grade class using one of our wireless laptop carts. I was pondering one-to-one computing and how we could make it happen. The biggest barrier is the cost. Another noticeable obstacle was the disparity in the physical size of fifth graders. Carrying around a laptop all day would be cumbersome for these students.
Over the last holiday season, one of the top selling gifts was MP3 players. I bought one, with a thirty-gigabyte hard drive, for my wife. That would be plenty of storage space for students to use. I thought it would be great if the students could carry around an item that small, plug it into their desk, slide out a keyboard and flip up a monitor.
I Emailed Dell, Microsoft, and Apple. Unfortunately, the only response I received was from an Apple salesperson who wanted to sell us iPods and laptops. That would kind of defeat the vision. But I thought: Don’t get discouraged. Keep your eye out. Something will turn up. We have to keep thinking outside the box.
Covey, S. (2004). The 8th habit. New York: Free Press.
Staff Writers (2006). NECC 2006 Focuses on Possibilities. Eschool News. Retrieved July 20, 2006.