What makes administrators effective technology leaders?

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

One of the questions that I ask right at the beginning of our students’ School Technology Leadership certificate program is whether administrators can be effective technology leaders in their school organizations without being at least somewhat technology-savvy themselves. Here are some example student responses:

  • Yes. They just need to get the right people on board and empower them appropriately.
  • No. How, for example, can a principal truly understand the power and potential of blogging without ever having blogged himself?
  • Yes. There’s no way school administrators have the time to learn new technologies in addition to everything else for which they’re responsible. Principals need to focus on instructional and academic leadership. Of necessity, the answer has to be yes for most school leaders.
  • No. “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t play very well with teaching staffs. If a principal is going to ask her teachers to use digital technologies, she better be using and learning technology too.
  • Yes. It’s all about appropriate delegation and oversight. For example, a principal doesn’t have to be an accounting expert to effectively oversee her school business manager.
  • No. There is at least some evidence to show that teachers are more likely to integrate technology into their instruction when administrators are modeling technology usage.

And so on…

What do you think? Can a school administrator be an effective leader in the area of technology but not be very tech-savvy himself / herself?

How you answer this question is critically important in terms of how you think about administrators’ professional development, job expectations, time allocation, etc. I look forward to hearing from you!

10 Responses to “What makes administrators effective technology leaders?”

  1. I think that there needs to be, at a very minimum, a basic knowledge of technology and its capabilities. I wouldn’t expect a principal to have a lot of technical expertise, but they should have an understanding of the major tools that are being used in the world of technology.

    I think it’s definitely more difficult for someone who has been in education for 30 yrs to try to suddenly adapt and learn about the many tools that are available today.

    My own experience has proven that unless I make a concerted effort to learn about new applications, I would not know much about Web 2.0. I think the pace with which the framework is changing is mind-boggling and unless leaders are given a reason to take the time to learn, they’re simply too bogged down with other matters.

    I do think, though, that unless we adapt with the world around us, we will find ourselves teaching to empty buildings, abandoned for more innovative places of learning.

  2. I just finished my first admin class. I mean just finished. Drove home sat on the couch, cracked open the ol’ NetVibes, and was faced with your post.

    I am already working as an administrator, in an unlicensed position.

    As an administrator I am painfully tech-savvy. I spent most of the night in my class helping other groups get the technology they needed for their presentations to work correctly. Far beyond the wiles of PowerPoint, I know many of the tools that are out there. I personally use many of the tools that are there. Most importantly I know how how to use them with students. To me this seems like such a small part of what is to be an administrator though.

    I think you can be a great school leader without being a geek.

    The questions that I have are:

    1) Can a non tech-savvy administrator leverage the skills that more tech-savvy individuals in their organization have?

    2) Can teachers in the same situation in their classroom leverage the tech-skills of their students?

    The answer better be yes.

    Isn’t that what management, either classroom or school wide is all about? In baseball managers get paid for home runs that someone else hits (I used that in my presentation tonight). You don’t have have the skills, you just need to know who does and how to let those individuals prosper and share.

  3. Effective can be a broad term. History is loaded with great leaders who were effective at leading even in areas where they were not experts. But I think the difference here is that they were not leading teachers. Teachers no longer have jobs that have a simple task. The job is much more complex because of all of the documentation, differentiation, and accountability to so many areas with no increase in prep time. So how does that affect my answer? Let’s see.

    If a leader is going to tell me that I have to add another component to my job without even the slightest working knowledge of the component or its benefit, then how can he be knowledgeable in its effect on my students? How can he “know” what is good and what is not? If I ask why it is important, then there has to be a better answer than “because we were told to do it, so we are.”

    I agree with the statement above about blogging. Clearly blogging is writing. What is not so clear is how transparent and interactive it can be for the writer. This creates an internal drive not seen in the desk of a classroom. Does this mean my administrator must know everything about every technology tool? No way. But he does need the working knowledge to understand its applicability to each situation. While my last superintendent’s vision was that he could do without the technology, my current one realized how our kids have fallen behind in technology and are leaving unprepared for what faces them in college and beyond. But my current superintendent is not much more technology-savvy than the last. His vision is just clearer and he is willing to try new things to understand their importance. That mindset has led him to brainstorm course offerings for students that even larger districts do not offer.

    So tell your students that if I were to change school districts, I am shopping for one that has leaders who understand technology’s importance in our students’ and teachers’ futures. The amount of information created today is astounding. It could never even be skimmed without technology. Information literacy requires technology. I use technology with my students. I am a great teacher with highly marketable skills and traits. I can afford to shop around. They just need to be ready to hire more teachers with that mentality. If not, their students as a whole will suffer. If they are looking for candidates who love the textbook and lecture time, then they are wasting tax dollars and our students’ futures. Better to embrace technology and understand it than shun it and cheat the students out of a higher level of education.

    To directly respond to a few of the statements above (I have a business degree as well, mind you):

    “It’s all about appropriate delegation and oversight. For example, a principal doesn’t have to be an accounting expert to effectively oversee her school business manager.”
    Please go into the business world instead. They do widgets there where this mentality works best. In education, we are dealing with students. They deserve better. They deserve a hands-on leader who understands EVERY facet of the job. It is the only way to make it all work together seamlessly for their benefit. Besides, how can you oversee what you do not understand? Blind faith? I hope not. The kids and the staff deserve better. I am not talking micro-manage. I am talking about real leadership.

    “Yes. There’s no way school administrators have the time to learn new technologies in addition to everything else for which they’re responsible. Principals need to focus on instructional and academic leadership. Of necessity, the answer has to be yes for most school leaders.”
    Technology is all about instruction. You honestly cannot view it any other way. Understand that now, because the kids already do. They are just at home using technology and teaching themselves about quite a few things because we do not allow them that privilege at school. Do you want to lead a district or campus where your kids have to “power down” mentally when they get to school because you do not think technology is instructional? Please read Daniel Pink’s book to get a better idea of this concept.

    Please read passion and emotion into this comment. It is not to condemn, really. I just hate to see someone moving into a leadership position that wants to move the campus or district backwards. That does not work in any industry, but it really is hazardous in education where the long term effects can be felt for generations. They do not have to love technology, but they do have to fully realize its importance in education. That’s all there is to it.

  4. I think that you have to have an understanding and an appreciation for the technology. Appreciation does not mean “hey that’s pretty neat”. If you don’t personally use it that’s okay (after all, some people just aren’t born a blogger) but you should be able to be functional with it and understand how to use it, its purpose and potential uses (i.e. flickr and other web 2.0 apps). As a teacher, I remember an administrator a few years back who exhorted us to use technology, but barely used email and communicated with hand-written notes. That is what you don’t want.

  5. Nope.
    I am leaving a library position where I have been very successful in grant writing and technology integration 5 straight years because I am applauded for my accomplishments in these two areas, but it is not important to the principal or the digital immigrant teachers. They are content to have me and a FEW other teachers model and use technology, but leave them to the good ol’ fashioned teaching. So while it was fun, it is time to seek greener pastures and new challenges.

  6. I think a distinction needs to be made here between an administrator who is not techno-savvy and one who is techno-phobic. An administrator who is techno-phobic will never be an effective technology leader. But one who is willing to see the potential of emerging technologies (maybe just not techno-savvy yet) holds the potential for great technology leadership. I believe that administrators may still need some time to catch up (at least in private education where funding issues slow progress). But the administrators who will be most effective are willing to learn. They are attending conferences and workshops and experiencing Web 2.0 first-hand, even if they do not blog and use these tools outside the conference walls. An effective leader will see the potential of these technologies for our students and promote them to their faculty based on their experiences.

    I believe that a successful administrator is one who engages his/her faculty by leading them to new challenges, not by giving new tasks. One who has not experienced can not lead.

  7. I am putting together a brief seminar for the administrators in my district with the title “Web 2.0 for Administrators,” and I remembered this post.

    Look at it from the teachers’ point of view, if you will: how often are we inspired by our administrators? How often are we moved to try something new because of their actions? I firmly believe that the philosophy of a school emanates directly from the personality and actions of the administrators who run it. If their vision falls short of inspiring and, dare I say, leading, then, technologically savvy or not, the staff will not adhere to their message.

    To more directly answer the question, it is also the role of the administrator to be current, and unless they have their head in the sand, what is current in pedagogy and leadership is the effect of technology on the current and future state of education.

    That said, there is nothing more insincere than trying to motivate people to pursue a goal on any level when you yourself have not bought into the idea you are selling. Regardless of your skills as an orator or salesmen, it quickly becomes clear, especially with technology, that you have no faith in what you are saying.

  8. Can a someone be a teacher in today’s day and age without technology? That’s the question I struggle with. I believe that the answer is a simple, “No.” At no other time in history is technology so critical to effective communications and collaborative meaning-making. We’re not talking about just within 4 walls of the classrooms, but collaboration that is global.

    Think globally, act globally. The truth is the same for administrators. We live in a time of mass collaboration and education needs to reflect that reality. Every day that it does not, our schools fail our children.

    Leadership has so often been about the hero’s journey. Going out into the unknown, an adventure fraught with danger, loss of self, and heart-ache. I’m looking for a leader who isn’t afraid to make the journey, to walk with me, to make the connections and collaborations that need to be made. Today, that journey is in virtual space.

    And our children walk alone.

    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net

  9. Our schools (and our entire educational system) are going to have to make significant changes if our students are going to be effectively prepared to compete in an increasingly complex and “flat” world. Those changes will not happen without the influence of leaders who understand the transformative power of technology. Administrators must keep current by engaging in meaningful professional development, working closely with teachers in the classroom, and engaging in self-study about emerging technologies and their potential impact in schools. Any leader who tries to oppose the oncoming wave of technology, or fails to embrace it, will be doing his/her students and faculty a tremendous disservice. Our educational system is years behind in terms of technology and we cannot afford to fall further behind. Those intersted in becoming school leaders must recognize that understanding technology is essential for their future success.

  10. Speaking from the perspective of a teacher in the classroom, I would expect my administrator to have -at the very least- as much techno savvy as is expected from his or her team of faculty and staff. That administrator would/should, as a leader, be able to guide, model, and take input to achieve technology-driven goals. I do agree that inspriation is key to bringing the team together. Good leaders inspire us to take on even the most intimidating tasks.

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