[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

When we talk about technology in K-12 schools, why must we focus on school leaders? Well, as the Wallace Foundation Learning from Leadership Project reminds us, principals and superintendents are the ones charged with setting direction and developing people. They're the only individuals with the power to redesign the organization. Research has shown that school leadership, through both direct and indirect effects, is 'second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school' and that 'leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most.' In other words, 'the greater the challenge the greater the impact of [leaders'] actions on learning. . . . Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.'

Why must we focus on school leaders? Because they're the ones with the responsibility and power to

  • set the vision
  • control the budget
  • reassign personnel
  • empower others
  • alter school culture
  • establish priorities
  • facilitate buy-in
  • reallocate resources
  • ensure organizational alignment
  • and so on...

Because if we don't, the potential impact of innovative, technology-using educators and students will continue to run smack into the brick wall of their administrators' lack of knowledge and or training.

But if we're going to help administrators become better technology leaders, we must design professional development for them appropriately. Here are a few suggestions...

  1. Change their mindset. Show them brief videos like Did You Know? Invite local business leaders to come talk about the changing workplace. Give them concrete examples of successful technology usage by teachers and students and help them understand why those examples are models of success. Collect testimonials by local educators and children about the power of technology as a learning tool. Create some cognitive dissonance and give them a reason to want to learn in the first place.
  2. Have a keen understanding of their work. Understand the pressures and time demands of their positions. The nature of administrators' work can be conceptualized as practical problem-solving. Like other educators, their learning is situated, contextually embedded in their social and physical environment. A failure to understand administrators' jobs will result in failure of the training.
  3. Ensure that training is authentic. Training for administrators must be job-embedded. No wikis just for the sake of wikis. Instead, show them how a wiki might facilitate their existing need to collaborate with others (to create some policy document, for example). Don't teach them about blogs in the abstract. Show them how current principals are using blogs to facilitate communication with stakeholder communities and realistically address issues related to time, negative comments, and other concerns that they may have. If they can see how technology can help them better address the problems that they're facing, they're yours.
  4. Make it easy for them to learn. Don't just talk about podcasts. Hand them a CD or an iPod loaded with fantastic leadership-focused podcasts and ask them to listen to it while they're driving around. Don't make them create the Excel charts from scratch. Hand them a template into which they can just drop some numbers.
  5. Make their lives easier. If what you're showing them won't make them more efficient or effective, if it doesn't have a relative advantage to what they're doing now, why are they going to bother?
  6. Tap into what they already know. Many school leaders feel hopelessly lost because they struggle to make connections between what they already know and these new technology tools and systems. Help them make the connections.
  7. Address their concerns about the rate of change. The technological world changes so fast that many administrators feel that both they and their school organizations have no hope of keeping up. Structure concrete learning opportunities that, over time, help show them that they can. Find their zone of proximal development and try to keep them there.
  8. Comply with what we know about effective professional development. Make it safe for them to learn. Make it collaborative and social. Make sure it's intentional, purposive, and long-term rather than a one-time "sit and get" session. Follow-up. The NSDC standards for professional development and e-learning are excellent resources for trainers.
  9. Respect their time. 'Nuf said.
  10. Most importantly, focus on leadership, not tools. While it's good for principals to know how to strategically use a few digital technologies themselves, it's much more important that they know how to empower others, how to effectively support technology usage by students and teachers, how to evaluate when technology is used effectively, when it's appropriate to opt out of technology usage, etc. The NETS-A are a good starting place: take each standard or performance indicator and ask, "What is that leaders really need to know about this? What do they really need to be doing in this area?"
  11. That said, remind them of the importance and power of modeling. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't cut it with teachers (or students and parents). Highly-visible modeling of technology usage and life-long learning facilitates the same by others. Also, remember that sometimes a leader's best action of all might simply be to ask a few key questions.

School districts, state departments, the federal government, corporations, and foundations have spent a lot of time, money, and energy on the technology needs of students and teachers. We have seen very little concurrent activity on the behalf of administrators, despite the fact that if the leaders don't get it, it isn't going to happen. I hope the above list is helpful to those of you who are providing training opportunities for school leaders. If you're not providing such opportunities, isn't it time to start?

[Last week I invited bloggers to blog on July 4 about effective school technology leadership. You can track all Leadership Day posts, including this one, with the schooltechleadership Technorati tag...]