Riding llamas in Peru
Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He also is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and was a co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens). He has received numerous national awards for his technology leadership work, including recognitions from the cable industry, Phi Delta Kappa, and the National School Boards Association. In Spring 2011 he was a Visiting Canterbury Fellow at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Dr. McLeod blogs regularly about technology leadership issues at Dangerously Irrelevant and Mind Dump, and occasionally at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at scottmcleod.net.
Imagine that you're an English-speaking American citizen who gets swept up by a whirlwind and plunked down in the middle of the Andes Mountains in Peru. You have no idea where you are, you just know that things are different than they were a little while ago. You realize that you can't stay there - it's getting uncomfortable (it's cold!) - but you don't really know where you need to go. You just know that you have to get moving. You figure that any direction is better than sitting still - hey, at least you're making progress!
Fortunately you have landed right next to a guide. She knows the terrain fairly well and has a much better sense than you of possible destinations. Unfortunately, she speaks Quechua. Although a few of her words sort of make sense to you, her language is basically unfamiliar and, of course, she has a pretty different world view than you do. She points in a certain direction and begins walking. You follow, not quite sure that this is the way you want to go.
As you come over a crest, you encounter a large group of fellow Americans and a bunch of llamas. The members of the group are milling about, unsure of what to do. Since you speak English and your guide doesn't, they turn to you for leadership. There are enough llamas for everyone, so you persuade them to follow you and your guide and to ride the llamas instead of walking. You figure that the llamas are better suited for the terrain and that you might get to your destination more efficiently and effectively. A few people in the group have ridden horses before, and of course your guide is quite familiar with llamas. You all set forth on your llamas, following your Peruvian guide toward some unknown place.
Why am I talking about Americans and llamas in Peru? Because I think this is what the digital world probably feels like to a lot of school administrators. For example, although your average principal might be quite savvy on her home soil, she's usually out of her realm (literally) when it comes to digital technologies. She might have a technology coordinator or media specialist as a guide but she doesn't really understand the language or concepts of the digital landscape. And yet, somehow, she's expected to lead a bunch of teachers toward some future destination that's unknown (and perhaps inconceivable) using tools with which she and others are basically unfamiliar.
Go back and read the first three paragraphs again. If you think my analogy holds up, then of course the challenge becomes... how do we train more administrators to speak Quechua and ride llamas?
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