Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadership Day 2009 - A Stiff Condiment from the Fridge

I wanted to make a contribution to Leadership Day 2009 started by Dr. Scott McLeod. According to Dr. McLeod's blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, the reason for the day is "Many of our school leaders need help when it comes to digital technologies." Bloggers are supposed to share their insights, best practices, etc., to help pass them along to others. For more information, check out his blog post "Calling all bloggers! - Leadership Day 2009."
Dr. McLeod provided a couple of prompts that I'll found ripe for a good tangent/rant. The first one that struck a cord with me was the very first sentence:

What do effective K-12 technology leaders do?

Each district is different, but the districts that have a strong, positive, professional relationship between the curriculum and technology departments generally seem to function most efficiently. Technology leaders, for better or worse, sometimes have to be salespeople when it comes to working with the curriculum department. I still contend that the reason why most districts don't have integrated technology is that technology has been viewed as an extra and, many times, it's the technology leader that hasn't done a good enough job of showing the benefit (ease of use, engagement, etc.) of proper technology integration. There are always a variety of reasons as to why the technology leader hasn't. Too many that I won't get into, not all of which are their fault. Every teacher survey conducted in the last 30 years has concluded that teachers don't have enough time. So why are we continually presenting technology separately? I would love to have our curriculum writers do more of the teacher training in their building on how to use technology to enhance their curriculum area. As a wise person once said, sometimes it helps for someone else to say the exact same thing you said. The curriculum writers would be expected to learn from the technology leader how to use the tool most effectively, but then the curriculum writer trains the rest of the building with the technology leader in the room and available for support.
There is another, sometimes more influential, issue that effects the process: ego. It's also the one people are least likely to admit they need to fix. Technology isn't used in a lot of districts because administrators don't understand it, which means they don't have experience with it, which means they won't encourage or recommend that it gets used in the district. Too many are afraid to look ignorant in front of their staff, so they pass technology off as something "costly" and "extra." It's the exact same reason that teachers don't use it, only they don't want to look ignorant in front of their students. Technology leaders, on the other hand, sometimes feed into the scared feeling and make technology sound just a little more difficult than what it really is. I'm always amazed when I sit down with a teacher to show them how to use something and they say, "That's it? I thought it was much more difficult." More than once they thought it was difficult because another technology leader either said it was or implied that the teacher couldn't do it. The egos need to be put aside. Technology changes so much that leaders shouldn't be worried about job security. To keep their job, they need to continue exploring how technology will make the administrators and the teachers job easier. And demonstrating it as such. Staff members who don't check their egos at the door end up hurting only the students in the end. It's more than imperative that technology staff and curriculum staff work very closely everyday to ensure things work smoothly.

Do administrators have to be technology-savvy themselves in order to be effective technology leaders in their organizations?

Administrators don't need to be tech-savvy. They need to only understand the benefit of technology and hire quality staff to facilitate the integration for them. A great administrator is a great facilitator and delegator. They guide others to become strong leaders in their area. They have their strengths and they use those to help the facilitation, but many times administrators have to be a jack of multiple trades, making it difficult to be a master of the latest and greatest (again, more job security if you show proper integration techniques!). It's unrealistic for me, someone who does technology professional development, but reports to the Director of Curriculum, to be the curriculum expert. My expertise is how technology enhances the curriculum and make a teacher's life easier. I rely on many others to help me help them and our staff. So should administrators.

If I had only one thing to say to district administrators - "Try something new this year." You don't have to master it. And to your tech leader - "Make it easy and effective." Don't tip the boat over on your first trip, but make sure that the waves are noticeable (If that doesn't work, then follow Dean's advice).

Technology leaders can't show administrators every single piece of technology. It doesn't make sense. They need to be the filter and strategically suggest new tools. But administrators need to not lock their doors and/or ears when the technology leader walks in the room. If you can't work as a team, and check the egos at the door, the students suffer.


Kevin Hodgson said...

I like this quote:

"Administrators don't need to be tech-savvy. They need to only understand the benefit of technology and hire quality staff to facilitate the integration for them."


Dennis Phillips, Ph.D. said...

Administrators can't understand the benefits unless they understand the technology. So maybe a certain degree of "tech savvy" is required.

With regard to the statement that "technology has been viewed as an extra and, many times, it's the technology leader that hasn't done a good enough job of showing the benefit", when the cost is low the amount of benefit required to get buy in is also low. Take for example, a free online LMS. A teacher could use this technology with very little investment and huge benefit to the students.