Addressing EdTech at the Principal Level
We talk a lot about the edtech challenges at the classroom and district levels. But what about our principals? At the recent SchoolCIO Leadership Summit, we asked district administrators how important this building leader is in the success of a technology initiative. The answer was universal: without the support of a principal, the initiative will not be as successful. The majority polled also agreed that principals need more support to realize initiatives, most importantly through staff PD, but also by offering principals more autonomy and involvement in the conversation as initiatives are being planned.
These answers inspired T&L to launch this new column specifically for principals, in print and online. It is our hope that we can begin a conversation to find out what edtech looks like from the principal’s office, and how we can bring peers together to build a supportive community to help navigate sometimes tricky implementations.
We start the conversation with a question: What are the most common edtech challenges that are ignored at the principal level? Here are two perspectives:
Eric Sheninger. Principal, New Milford High School, Bergen County, NJ:
“The biggest challenge is that the majority of principals don’t have the professional development needed to prepare them to lead with tech. They need to know how to effectively integrate tech to support teaching and learning. There is no program that focuses on the principalship— that building-level perspective needed to give them the tools and strategies to initiate sustainable change and transformation.
“Another challenge is the fact that many schools and districts have not embraced social media as a viable tool to communicate, to enhance learning, and to grow professionally. Schools need to embrace social media to help the principal and the school move forward.
“Of course, the biggest challenge is finances. So, if a principal has to make decisions, he’s going to look for where he can get the biggest bang for their buck. Technology is an after-thought. It’s seen as too costly up front, and requires upkeep and sustainability. They think their money is better spent elsewhere, such as for Common Core initiatives. They need the leadership training that shows them the longer-term benefits technology can offer.
“Principals have to promote a culture where they empower their staff to use technology. I’ve given my staff autonomy and encourage them to take risks. If I observe a lesson and the technology isn’t working, I don’t hold that against the teacher. Failure is not a bad word.”
Phyllis Cavallone, Principal, St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, Chicago, IL (2012 T&L Leader of the Year Winner):
Whether it is a corporate or educational setting, the vision of the school should be the driver, not the technology itself. Administrators, teachers and parents need to be involved in that vision, along with the technology support team of the district or school. Limited resources, time constraints, and the ever-changing tech field, coupled with competitive educational markets, can make even the most seasoned principal shorten the necessary steps in implementing a technology plan. Therefore, I believe it is important to continually revisit the following questions:
• What do we really need? What are those costs and what is needed for on-going maintenance?
• How would our current tech infrastructure need upgrading to support these adoptions?
• What are the key priorities?
• What is a reasonable timeline to realize key priorities and objectives?
• What are our resources? Can they complement one another? What is the best, cost-effective solution?
• What are viable options that are costeffective that may also help us reach our goals?
• What kind of professional development will be needed to support these areas of growth?
• What safeguards need to be in place to protect our children, our teachers and any sensitive data?
Finally, right before we launch any new aspect of technology, I literally challenge our technology coordinator and staff to think like a savvy 10-yearold. Could that child re-configure what we have built and/or get him/herself into trouble?