DAILY INSIGHT: Encourage the 21st-century principal

By Trevor Hope, CIO Advisor

I lead by example, and I model what I teach. I did this in the classroom and now I do my best at this when teaching teachers. If a district is really committed to integrating technology and serving its students well for the future, all administrators have to be on board. Building administrators are key, because they interact with staff and students on a daily basis; a 21st-century or tech-savvy principal will drive a school forward in ways we once thought unimaginable. The opposite holds true as well—an administrator at the top who does not understand technology or does not see the importance can do just as much damage, if not more, than those who are promoting and modeling it.

We in the tech industry have all met the tech skeptics. They roll their eyes when we tell them we work with technology or they hear the word technology in our titles. They will tell you that they have been able to manage without technology and computers just fine and they don’t need them now.

I am not one to force my beliefs on anyone else. If you want to use more technology in the classroom or in your district, I am happy to be of service. At the same time, I am a big believer that change starts at the top. The people at the top of an organization have to be role models on best practices; they have to be the ones pushing change to benefit our students. School administrators need to take charge on technology because our students deserve it. Teachers will take notice if they do and follow suit!

I have two great examples of principals following this path in my district. One is using a nice website/app called Remind101 to connect with the busy parents of the students in her school. She is able to “text” the parents updates on field trips, parent nights, assemblies, when she posts a newsletter to the website, and all sorts of information. We live in a society that thrives on instant communication and instant information. Parents don’t want and should not have to go looking for information; it should be sent out directly.

One of the most emotional days of being a parent is dropping your young child off at kindergarten for the first day. Many questions run through your head but mostly you want to be sure your child is safe, happy, and well cared for. One of my principals used to take a picture of each child as they walked in, put it in a slide show and show it at a reception for the parents the morning of the first day of kindergarten. This year we took it a step further by setting up a webcam in each kindergarten classroom and internally streaming the classroom to a projector at the reception. We had three live streams with three projectors going at once, and the parents loved it.

This is the kind of thinking we need to embrace and encourage. Not one parent has complained about receiving texts about updates from school, and not one parent complained about being able to see their child during their first hour of the first day of kindergarten. We are not stopping there; we are moving forward every day, even as I write this, but all districts, all administrators, teachers and staff need to be on board, not just the tech staff.

Trevor Hope is coordinator of instructional technology at Hawthorn School District 73 in Illinois. Follow him on Twitter as @trevhope.