As he did last year, Dr. Scott McLeod has called upon bloggers and blog-readers to participate in Leadership Day 2008 by writing, on July 4, about effective school technology leadership.
One issue facing so many school leaders right now is the problem of budget, brought on by the struggling economy. In that context, spending on technology seems to some like an easy place to cut, because of course computers and technological tools are just a luxury, right? I wrote a longer post on this subject, but my primary point was this:
Money is tight, so here are a few ideas: Let’s stop buying pencils. Get rid of paper. Eliminate textbooks.
What?! Schools without pencils, or paper, or textbooks?! Can’t do that – they’re important tools.
But here’s the thing: computers – especially computers with internet access – are the most important tool of the 21st century. Of course, placing a computer in front of every student doesn’t automatically lead to increased student achievement – but neither do pencils, paper, or textbooks. It depends on what we have students do with those tools. And you tell me – what’s a more powerful tool, a pencil, a piece of paper, a textbook… or a computer, which can do all that those tools can do, and more? You really want to save money and increase achievement in schools? Here’s an idea: stop buying textbooks, and start buying computers.
Part of the problem, I believe, is this:
The power of computers in the classroom is only beginning to be explored in most districts – most are just beginning to dip their toes into the water. Even at my school, with its strong technology focus, I think that most of our classrooms range from being ankle deep to waist-high in meaningful embedding of computers to transform teaching and learning, when we ought to be swimming in it.
That’s part of what makes it so easy to call for their reduction – because people don’t yet see their immense value in the classroom. But that’s what happens whenever a tool is introduced – it takes a while for the innovators to master the tool’s use and incorporate it meaningfully, and it takes even longer for those who come behind the innovators to accept, embrace, and learn its value.
Re-reading what I wrote brings to mind my response to one of Scott's thinking prompts on his Leadership Day post, when he asks,
"Do administrators have to be technology-savvy themselves in order to be effective technology leaders in their organizations?"
I think the answer is a resounding "yes". Administrators don't have to be uber-technoids (is that a word?) who know every piece of software, every interactive technology, every beta-trial that's out there. But, can you imagine being an effective school leader if you didn't know how to use a pencil? Didn't know how to look something up in a book? Couldn't read? Couldn't speak effectively? Didn't understand how people learn, or how to teach a concept to someone else? These are tools, and skills, you have to have not just to lead, but to function.
Technology is a tool, and using it effectively is a skill that can enhance our lives, our work, and our schools. If an administrator hasn't become at least somewhat savvy about it, then I can just about guarantee that s/he is neither leading nor functioning as effectively as possible. If an administrator doesn't understand some of the core technologies, then s/he cannot possibly convince others of the need for the embedding of technology, cannot help to point others toward the resources or assistance they need as they work with these tools, and cannot assess accurately whether technology tools are being used meaningfully and appropriately in their own schools.
And most important of all, such an administrator probably will not care to try all that much, because s/he won't understand or embrace what it means to use technology to transform teaching and learning.
I'm not an expert in biology, geometry, nursing, aviation, or the Ukraine. But I understand enough about what good teaching looks like (and, most of all, what good learning looks like), what strategies enhance instruction, and what a good assessment does, that when I walk into our science, math, medical, transportation, or social studies classes I can tell if powerful learning is being pursued in that room.
I think and learn from blogging, I get ideas when I tweet, I collaborate and increase my knowledge when I use googledocs and wikis, I'm creating when I dabble with digital storytelling, and I'm still trying to beat the scrabulous robot on Facebook. On the spectrum of technological savviness as an administrator, I'm further along than some, far behind many, and not at all planning on stopping at where I am.
But where I am is far enough along that I can tell whether what I'm seeing in a classroom is the power of technology in action, or just fluff; where I am is far enough along that I can occasionally provide a tip or suggestion to a teacher, and can benefit myself when they provide tech tips to me (someone tell me why I have such a mental block in how to enlarge pictures or images in my posts!); where I am is far enough along that I can stand in front of my staff in good conscience and talk about our obligation to use these tools; where I am is far enough along that I care to do so.
Happy Interdependence Day - let's go swimming!