If the leaders don’t get it, it doesn’t happen

As I’ve said many times:

If a teacher gets it, a classroom changes. If a principal gets it, the whole building begins to change. If a superintendent gets it, the whole district begins to change. [And, if state or federal policymakers get it, the statewide or nationwide climate begins to change.]

Seems obvious, right? So why are so many government / corporation / foundation educational technology reform initiatives (money, time, training, energy, vision) focused on teachers, who at best are usually informal leaders, rather than formal leaders such as principals and superintendents? Do they want systemic change or just something they can tout for public relations purposes?

I’m all for investing in students and teachers when it comes to educational technology. But if we don’t also set aside some dedicated resources for formal leaders, the kind of changes we need are never going to happen.

15 Responses to “If the leaders don’t get it, it doesn’t happen”

  1. AMEN, Scott! I’ve got some time with our district superintendents soon and all of our principals this summer and the focus is just what you mention above. What do you view as the most effective dedicated resources?

  2. Okay, I’m starting to believe that we, as teachers, need the support of building and district administrators to see lasting systemic change. Pockets of classroom excellence are great, but alone, at least from my own observation and experience, have limited potential. The question I have is…what’s a teacher to do in the interim? Wait for the administrators to “get it”? As informal leaders stuck in a system with leaders who are still working towards “getting it,” what’s our role? We can’t exactly force them to go to a technology boot camp, subscribe to Dangerously Irrelevant or hop on Twitter. Where are the books and blogs for us?

  3. As a supportive principal, I still need teachers like you Matt to drag me to their classrooms saying – look at this, see how technology is supporting teaching and learning. This gives me real examples to take to my superintendent and School Board.

  4. I was thinking in terms of money, professional learning opportunities, etc. Most of the energy and rhetoric is focused on teachers and students. The administrators who are responsible for making it happen get left out.

    Most state departments, state ed leadership associations, university administrator preparation programs, school districts, corporations, foundations, etc. are doing a lackluster job on this front. Most of them understand the importance of leadership in their own organizations. I continue to be baffled at why it’s so hard to get them to allocate resources toward leaders when it comes to tech…

  5. I continue to be baffled at why it’s so hard to get them to allocate resources toward leaders when it comes to tech…

    Give me an example of what you mean.

    “Money” is too general. I don’t know what you’re getting at.

    “Professional learning opportunities.” Do you mean like the Will Richardson event at ISU? Our administrators are out of the building frequently learning with other administrators, etc.

    “Tech” like IWBs? The only IWB in our building is in a conference room. “Tech” like laptops? The admins in our building all have nicer computers than we do.

  6. The leader makes it happen. They bear the risk as well. If the initiative fails it is usually their head on the platter. But to lead a school without taking risks and maintaining the status quo is mind numbingly boring. A wise person once said …. “the difficulty in change lies in convincing those who are content and comfortable with the status quo to work for a future good they can’t yet comprehend” Sound fun? Sounds like a challenge and that is what good leaders want. To not have a challenge to throw yourself into is in my opinion to refuse to live fully. Risk is it!

  7. I totally agree! I have been at my current district for a little over 2 years and have spoken to principals, vice principals, department directors and I would say about 2-3% of them have attended any educational technology type training, sessions, workshops, events, etc. And although I send them emails and speak to them about educational technology training opportunities many of them state that they are too busy to attend or they send a counselor or specialist from their campus in their place. Im sure not all districts are like this but I am sure there are a few out there.

    Good post Scott!

  8. I must be completely missing this one if Paul is agreeing with Scott.

    Scott is saying resources aren’t being allocated for formal leaders and Paul is saying that formal leaders aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them!

    I’ll ask again, Scott: can we get some examples of what you mean when you say dedicated resources aren’t set aside for formal leaders? What is it that I — classroom teacher — have access to that formal leaders don’t?

  9. Hi Russ,

    It’s not about the equipment; it’s about the learning. If you look at the financial and professional development resources that typically are allocated toward educators, virtually all of them are oriented toward teachers. Similarly, most ed tech grants / initiatives are aimed at teachers or students. It’s very difficult to find programs that aim to ramp up administrators’ knowledge and skills to be more effective technology leaders.

    Paul also is correct when he says that administrators don’t take advantage of what is out there. For example, administrator attendance at ITEC or ISTE is very low, perhaps because the majority of the sessions are oriented toward other audiences. California, Arkansas, and Nebraska have had pretty good success with administrator-only tech conferences.

  10. I was hinting at this in my last couple blog posts: Predictions for K12 in 2010 and < href="http://www.ovenell-carter.com/2010/01/12/we-dont-need-no-innovation/">We Don’t Need No Innovation. The year 2010 will be the Year of the Admin

  11. Hey, Scott,

    That makes sense. It seems to me that formal leaders are the ones putting together these learning opportunities, so why don’t they gear them toward other formal leaders? I guess I’m wondering if you have any answers for your questions.

    It seems like it should be as easy as 1) offer more opportunities and 2) take advantage of the opportunities.

    Why doesn’t this happen?

  12. @Russ: Hey, if I knew why it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be asking the question! I don’t know why. Internally, maybe lack of recognition of need or a desire for others to get help more than oneself. That said, administrators sure go to a lot of sessions on how to tweak the current system (rather than invent a new one). Externally, maybe PR reasons (i.e., teachers and students are more sympathetic objects of funding than principals and superintendents)?

  13. Thanks, always enjoy sharing your thoughts. In this instance I am commenting following the UK heavy invested at the rock face. Shared your quote / thoughts on my blog, (http://bit.ly/5QQR61) so thanks for that and hope thats ok. In return a link to the project for your own insights…. http://www.vital.ac.uk/ .

  14. Scott,
    “… in terms of money, professional learning opportunities, etc. Most of the energy and rhetoric is focused on teachers.” This is a very interesting observation to me. In the California district that I teach in, I have found the opposite to be true.

    Administrators are required to attend conferences and training that many of our teachers are desperate to be able to attend. Since many of the admins don’t want to be there, they arrive late, leave early and text in the hallways. I’m sure someone is hoping they will “get it” 🙂

    I only know this, because I have made these observations while attending some of the same conferences at my own expense. There are usually not funds available to send “just teachers” unless they are the rare few in Professional Development.

    Recently several teachers have even had a request to attend a technology conference at our own expense denied because we would need to miss one school day. The minimal expense for a sub was seen as too much, although admins were given a free ride. This is especially ironic because we are undergoing construction this summer that will transform our classrooms into 21st Century Classrooms with all the bells and whistles.

    Is it any wonder that recent findings show mixed results in the use of interactive white boards in teaching effectiveness. It makes me wonder what training was available to those teachers. You can lead an admin to water but if they aren’t ready to “get it”, leadership might have to come from the classroom level and rise up until the tide finally carries them to where they need to go. It would be better for all if it weren’t just those teachers who could afford to fund their own training who were able to help this happen.

  15. Recently, I was involved in a discussion about the following questions: Are some teachers talking about using technology because it is the expectation, but not actually using it because they either are unsure of its value or insecure about implementing it in the classroom? What do leaders do about this situation?

    I see where ‘”just” a teacher’ is coming from when professional development opportunities are denied for teachers to learn about how to better integrate technology due to budget or concerns about inconsistencies in the classroom. Perhaps administrators who can do something should question the real reason for the request denial. If a plan of action was in place for a teacher to participate in training, plan for implementation and/or gather resources, implement, reflect, and share, the long term benefits would be exponential. However, personally, it has been my experience that training, in general, is not thought out to this extent. Often times it occurs, but there is no time for proper implementation or follow through which is probably why it ‘seems’ like a waste of money, and if a school is only looking at the immediate benefits of training, many schools/districts see a loss which yields denial of request for training and extreme frustration for the teacher.

    So, I completely agree with Scott, that we need to better educate administrators with regards to how to assist teachers in effectively integrating technology into schools.

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