Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on computers and training during the past few years, technology is still the instructional stepchild in many of our schools. It’s valued as an enrichment tool, but is used only as time allows and after the “real” instruction is finished.
Though the classroom teacher obviously plays an essential role in a successful technology integration, the principal’s support and leadership are crucial for technology to be integrated into a school’s instructional program and culture.
How can a principal become a technology leader? Many principals have difficulty finding enough time to become the instructional leader of their school, much less a technology promoter. Some principals may also doubt their technology knowledge and skills, and others may question whether classroom technology can really improve test scores.
The following are some key strategies that can help to overcome these barriers.
ESTABLISH THE TEAM
The principal should first identify teachers who have already embraced technology and are excited by its potential.
Pam Quebodeaux, principal of Dolby Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., established a technology leadership team and “asked two or three of the most technology-savvy teachers to serve on the committee [with] representation from all grade levels and departments.”
ASSESS FACULTY’S NEEDS
The next step is to assess the faculty’s technology strengths and needs, which will drive the school’s staff development efforts. Several online educational technology skill surveys can provide such information. The leadership team can then target the areas of need and provide appropriate staff development and follow-up.
MODEL TECHNOLOGY USE AND PRACTICES
The traditional role of the principal has been to manage the school’s day-to-day operations. But in today’s world, principals are also expected to be architects of change by modeling and encouraging effective practices.
As Curt Anderson, the instructional technology specialist for the Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., points out, “Principals still need all the other qualities that have always been associated with leadership, but if they don’t stay current with technology, principals may lose the respect of those around them.”
Some principals may be unsure about their own technology knowledge and skills. Although technology training for teachers is an integral part of most school districts’ staff development efforts, similar programs for principals are rare.
One program that has been very successful is the Louisiana Department of Education’s LEADTech model. This is an intensive, technology-rich staff development program for Louisiana administrators.
Principals should model effective technology use on a daily basis. That demonstrates to the faculty that they value the efficacy of technology in performing everyday tasks and makes it evident that the principals are personally embracing the initiative.
Principals can model technology by using presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint for faculty meeting presentations. Quebodeaux of Dolby Elementary takes an active role in modeling technology by personally providing training.
“When I first became principal,” she recalls, “I taught snippets of technology through ‘Techie Moments’ at faculty meetings.”
Alison Andrews, principal of W. O. Hall Magnet Elementary School in Alexandria, La., says that “the principal should spend time in the class assisting, even if it is just passing out computers or helping students log on.”
Karl Carpenter, the principal of Carter C. Raymond Middle School in Lecompte, La., takes that approach one step further. He uses a Tablet PC to perform walk-through classroom observations and then e-mails the completed observations to the teachers.
RECOGNIZE EFFECTIVE I.T. USE
Some principals doubt the effectiveness of classroom technology in improving learning and test scores, so they need to be assured that IT can effectively support curriculum standards. “Even if the electronic lesson mirrors a lesson already taught through conventional means, more learning styles are stimulated using visuals or hands-on opportunities,” Carpenter says.
Staff development programs such as LEADTech can help principals recognize effective technology integration, giving them the confidence they need to go into the classroom and evaluate technology usage.
If the principal sees a multimedia presentation, can he or she assume that technology is being used effectively? The first rule is to make sure that lessons focus on student outcomes and not on the technology by asking, “Would the lesson still be good without the technology?” While technology can make a good lesson better, a poor lesson with technology components is still a poor lesson.
Len Scrogan, director of instructional technology for Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, Colo., points out that principals may not always view technology as an effective instructional tool. “There is often a disconnect between the priority learning goals in a school and how technology is being used,” he says. “If and when the gap between technology use and the academic priorities of the school is bridged, more principals will get on board.”
The principal has a major role in ensuring that the culture of the school is one of change and innovation that values both technology and teaching excellence. To encourage excellence, the principal may ask a teacher to present a good lesson or, even better, a video snip of a good technology-supported lesson at a faculty meeting. (For other suggestions to encourage excellence, see “Want Tech-Savvy Teachers? Try These Tips ” on page 20.)
Principals should make an effort to encourage teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, and they should do it in a nonthreatening manner. Andrews of W. O. Hall Magnet Elementary School says the principal “needs the faculty to know that they have a window of opportunity to explore, make mistakes and ask for assistance without reprimands or evaluations from an administrator.”
Furthermore, the principal should help stressed teachers understand that technology is not one more thing to do on top of what they are already doing. Rather, it is a more engaging and effective way of teaching certain content and reaching more students.
PROVIDE SUPPORT AND TRAINING
Andrews stresses the importance of support and follow-up training: “The most damaging mistake when asking faculty to implement a new technology program is to provide training and then throw it out there with a directive to ‘do this,’” she says.
“In most cases, those who can, will try it to some extent. Those who can’t will drown, and eventually the whole program begins to fade.”
To avoid this, she adds, “the ongoing support must be long-lasting, useful and readily available to the teacher — not three days after the lesson is over.”
Regardless of its form, support should be ongoing. Principals must help the faculty realize that they have the full support of the administration and that technology use in school is not just another passing fad.
The path to a successful technology implementation is neither easy nor short. However, by adhering to these guidelines, principals can help to ensure a successful initiative. It’s well worth the effort to create a collegial atmosphere in which the highest quality of teaching and technology is both exercised and valued.
Bill Morrison is the director of technology for Rapides Parish School District in Alexandria, La. He’s also the project coordinator for the Regional Teaching, Learning and Technology Center.
Host a “techie late-nighter,” where teachers come back to school at 6:30 p.m. for pizza and snacks, and to learn new tech skills from each other. (Suggested by Pam Quebodeaux, principal of Dolby Elementary School in Lake Charles, La.)
Provide opportunities for peer observation, so teachers can sit in on excellent technology-supported lessons.
Have members of the district’s technology leadership team deliver staff development presentations and activities, either in classrooms or the computer lab.
Reward innovative teachers — or those testing the technology waters — with the most advanced equipment.
Encourage teachers to learn and use technology by purchasing electronic grade-book software, lesson-planning programs or productivity software.
Support teachers by recognizing their students’ achievements with a Technology Award of the Month that honors both the student and the teacher who taught and encouraged that student.
Provide access to technology. Without the right equipment, teachers won’t be able to integrate technology into their classroom activities. A mobile presentation cart containing a notebook PC, personal digital assistant, projector and related software provides a good start.