Students as Leaders in Tech: A Superintendent’s Perspective

During my first year as an elementary principal in 2002, a significant investment in technology enabled us to purchase new computers for all of our teachers. After much convincing, and with the promise that local middle-school students would help them learn how to use the machines, every teacher agreed to try a laptop. I recruited middle schoolers who approached laptops with comfort and ease. All of them were eager to earn community service hours and serve as coaches for their former teachers. Once a week, they assisted with the conversion to a new operating system and helped the teachers learn unfamiliar programs. After a month of support, not one teacher wanted to trade in their new laptop for a desktop, and the students’ confidence in their leadership skills soared.

Today, more and more educators are turning to students as tech leaders. The passion, can-do attitude, and digital native perspective that students bring can have an immediate impact on a school. Students can also help transform a culture to one of greater collaboration, either student-to-adult or student-to-student. Following are a few examples of how different districts in California have used students as tech leaders on their campuses.

In the Silicon Valley’s Lakeside Joint School District, fifth graders serve as “tech buddies” for second-, third-, and fourth-grade classmates. Once fifth graders have mastered a program or app such as iMovie, Google Forms, or Voki, they pair up with younger students during collaborative project time. Every other week, the tech buddies apply their newfound expertise and coach their younger classmates, teaming up on projects. The tech buddies recently led second and third graders in an exploration of iMovie. They conducted interviews, reinforcing communication and editing skills.

At Martin Murphy Middle School in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, students volunteer as leaders in the Mouse Squad and have become an integral part of the instructional technology plan. Through the Mouse Squad, an elective class and club, students assist their peers and staff with troubleshooting technology issues and repairing Chromebooks. When they encounter new challenges, they advance their personal learning through exploring online modules. The students also train families on the use of Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education during parent education nights. Principal Heather Nursement says, “We are committed to offering multiple opportunities to engage our students with leadership skills so that they will be successful in college and their careers, especially in relation to technology.”

At Oak Ridge High School in the El Dorado Union High School District, principal Aaron Palm finds numerous ways to empower students as leaders. He recently included students in the school’s work on the national Future Ready Schools initiative, having them gather input from their classmates on the readiness surveys. As a result of this process, students will serve on the school’s technology committee next year, which involves leadership beyond the traditional roles of class officers and club leaders. “Students are naturals with technology and, given the chance, can easily raise expectations and strengthen tech programs,” Palm says.

Students are eager, interested technology leaders, and educators should consider employing their skills for technology integration and support. Not only will students take on a strong sense of ownership, but their support can also lead to the long-term success of technology rollouts and implementation plans.

Dr. Lisa Gonzales is interim superintendent in the Lakeside Joint School District, president-elect of the Association of California School Administrators, and a White House-honored Future Ready superintendent.