Professional development for the leaders

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

When we talk about technology in K-12 schools, why must we focus on school leaders? Well, as the Wallace Foundation Learning from Leadership Project reminds us, principals and superintendents are the ones charged with setting direction and developing people. They’re the only individuals with the power to redesign the organization. Research has shown that school leadership, through both direct and indirect effects, is ‘second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school’ and that ‘leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most.’ In other words, ‘the greater the challenge the greater the impact of [leaders’] actions on learning. . . . Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.’

Why must we focus on school leaders? Because they’re the ones with the responsibility and power to

  • set the vision
  • control the budget
  • reassign personnel
  • empower others
  • alter school culture
  • establish priorities
  • facilitate buy-in
  • reallocate resources
  • ensure organizational alignment
  • and so on…

Because if we don’t, the potential impact of innovative, technology-using educators and students will continue to run smack into the brick wall of their administrators’ lack of knowledge and or training.

But if we’re going to help administrators become better technology leaders, we must design professional development for them appropriately. Here are a few suggestions…

  1. Change their mindset. Show them brief videos like Did You Know? Invite local business leaders to come talk about the changing workplace. Give them concrete examples of successful technology usage by teachers and students and help them understand why those examples are models of success. Collect testimonials by local educators and children about the power of technology as a learning tool. Create some cognitive dissonance and give them a reason to want to learn in the first place.
  2. Have a keen understanding of their work. Understand the pressures and time demands of their positions. The nature of administrators’ work can be conceptualized as practical problem-solving. Like other educators, their learning is situated, contextually embedded in their social and physical environment. A failure to understand administrators’ jobs will result in failure of the training.
  3. Ensure that training is authentic. Training for administrators must be job-embedded. No wikis just for the sake of wikis. Instead, show them how a wiki might facilitate their existing need to collaborate with others (to create some policy document, for example). Don’t teach them about blogs in the abstract. Show them how current principals are using blogs to facilitate communication with stakeholder communities and realistically address issues related to time, negative comments, and other concerns that they may have. If they can see how technology can help them better address the problems that they’re facing, they’re yours.
  4. Make it easy for them to learn. Don’t just talk about podcasts. Hand them a CD or an iPod loaded with fantastic leadership-focused podcasts and ask them to listen to it while they’re driving around. Don’t make them create the Excel charts from scratch. Hand them a template into which they can just drop some numbers.
  5. Make their lives easier. If what you’re showing them won’t make them more efficient or effective, if it doesn’t have a relative advantage to what they’re doing now, why are they going to bother?
  6. Tap into what they already know. Many school leaders feel hopelessly lost because they struggle to make connections between what they already know and these new technology tools and systems. Help them make the connections.
  7. Address their concerns about the rate of change. The technological world changes so fast that many administrators feel that both they and their school organizations have no hope of keeping up. Structure concrete learning opportunities that, over time, help show them that they can. Find their zone of proximal development and try to keep them there.
  8. Comply with what we know about effective professional development. Make it safe for them to learn. Make it collaborative and social. Make sure it’s intentional, purposive, and long-term rather than a one-time “sit and get” session. Follow-up. The NSDC standards for professional development and e-learning are excellent resources for trainers.
  9. Respect their time. ‘Nuf said.
  10. Most importantly, focus on leadership, not tools. While it’s good for principals to know how to strategically use a few digital technologies themselves, it’s much more important that they know how to empower others, how to effectively support technology usage by students and teachers, how to evaluate when technology is used effectively, when it’s appropriate to opt out of technology usage, etc. The NETS-A are a good starting place: take each standard or performance indicator and ask, “What is that leaders really need to know about this? What do they really need to be doing in this area?”
  11. That said, remind them of the importance and power of modeling. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it with teachers (or students and parents). Highly-visible modeling of technology usage and life-long learning facilitates the same by others. Also, remember that sometimes a leader’s best action of all might simply be to ask a few key questions.

School districts, state departments, the federal government, corporations, and foundations have spent a lot of time, money, and energy on the technology needs of students and teachers. We have seen very little concurrent activity on the behalf of administrators, despite the fact that if the leaders don’t get it, it isn’t going to happen. I hope the above list is helpful to those of you who are providing training opportunities for school leaders. If you’re not providing such opportunities, isn’t it time to start?

[Last week I invited bloggers to blog on July 4 about effective school technology leadership. You can track all Leadership Day posts, including this one, with the schooltechleadership Technorati tag…]

13 Responses to “Professional development for the leaders”

  1. I took the challenge and posted!

    But more importantly, I want to thank you for the excellent analysis and leadership.

    I’m planning to use this list as part of future workshops. I agree that the conversation with administrators is an extremely important one for advancing any kind of school reform, and also in terms of allowing access to web 2.0 possibilities.

    Thanks as always for the excellent resources.

  2. Scott:

    I posted on this topic… Thank you for bringing the issue forward… I hope more people do the same!

  3. Hi Scott, Great idea. I posted about inclusive leadership and leaders of the future. Guess the trackback didn’t work!

  4. Concise and clear. Thanks for this information in such a usable format!

  5. As I read through this I found myself thinking about how much the items on your list should parallel the way we treat support for classroom teachers. I’ve been out of the classroom for 8 years now doing work as an instructional technology specialist. Too often the only opportunities I have to address future needs with teachers ends up being the kinds of “drive by training” that I really hate – we drop the information on them, talk a little bit about the work of the classroom then move on to the next thing. Our school leaders professional development needs are rarely addressed – I guess we expect that they’ll just “get it” by seeing what teachers are doing in their classrooms but if they’re see the wrong sort of models that doesn’t help either. Thanks for a great article.

  6. Scott, I too posted something on my blog in response to your call. I see the need for fully engaged staff development in this area as my district has often had the drive-by approach to technology-related staff development forced on us by our relative size and perceptions of time. I hope to be part of the force leading this change for my students and hopefully the entire district.

  7. Scott – Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront. It’s important and often overlooked. In my experience, I am fully supported by the administration but they don’t really understand what I am doing or talking about. My presentations to the admin team have to be short and to the point because they have a lot of other topics to cover. There never seems to be enough time. However, I am beginning to “break-through” one administrator at a time. These points you mention about will help me in working with them in the future. thanks again.

  8. I really appreciate your posting about this. As with any meaningful set of changes in education (or anything else probably) buy in from key stakeholders is necessary and here essential.

    I especially appreciate the part of making the administrators job easier by setting up spreadsheets with formulae, etc.

    I have been very fortunate to have very supportive administrators, thus far, although there are others I need to reach.

  9. Scott: this is in response to your comment to my comment on the TL blog-it currently won’t accept comments…

    What really struck in your comment back to me was this:

    “We need to help them learn how to be tech leaders without a concurrent requirement of being tech-savvy.”

    I agree that to see the full potential of tools takes a great deal of time (welcome to Twitter BTW), and time that they typically don’t have to invest. We need an administrative primer on these emerging technologies….

    Could an administrator be a leader in assessment if they didn’t understand assessment cold? Do you have standing to be a leader if you are not a master of the particular discipline you claim to be a leader in?

    I think the answer to that is yes, you can lead by getting out of the way, and letting talented people do their job. But is that enough?

  10. Hi David, sorry the TechLearning blog isn’t taking comments. Ugh.

    It’s a challenge, I’ll grant you, and I wish it were otherwise, but there’s simply no way that principals, for example, can master everything for which they’re responsible: curriculum, instruction, data-driven accountability, student discipline, budgeting, strategic planning, collective bargaining, legal issues, special education, policy, community relations, and, yes, technology (and more!). But yet they have to try and lead in all of these areas because that’s their responsibility. From which of these are we going to take away to free up time for technology? The bottom line is that if we come in with the perspective that mastery/fluency is a prerequisite to effective leadership, most administrators are going to opt out before they even start because they know that we don’t have a strong understanding of their jobs.

    Maybe we need to approach it like we do teacher supervision / evaluation and curricular leadership. You may have been a math teacher before you became a principal. Now you have to evaluate the teaching efficacy of teachers of English, Social Studies, band, art, industrial arts, etc. So we train principals to be generalists, not fluent masters, and we allow them to focus on a few areas of desired expertise. One principal may be an expert in legal issues, another in budgeting / finance, another is gifted in community relations, and yet another is skilled in technology. We want all of them to be able to do all of these to a certain level, but expecting mastery / fluency in every single one is unrealistic.

    Hope this makes sense. I appreciate your willingness to continue to challenge my thinking.

  11. Oh, and I don’t know if it’s enough, but it’s reality until we figure out a way to free up some big blocks of time in principals’ lives.

  12. I think if a school leader understands the precepts of web 2.0 and the educational power of it, then whether or not they used many of the tools, they could support, encourage, and inspire the faculty by understanding the possibilities.

    As with other programs that they administrate, understanding best practices and philosophy makes a tremendous difference.

    The ability of a principal or administrator to create or remove obstacles is a huge part of allowing that success. Being willing to innovate or support innovation on a campus is key. Being willing to try a few things and fail or succeed and model use of some technology is helpful.

    I think the mindset a principal or administrator has is the most important element in all of this.

  13. Scott, kind of a good place to start…
    but this reminds me of the old Steve Martin joe about “How to be a millionaire and never pay taxes” Step 1: First, get a million dollars.

    Step 1: Change their mindset…

    First get a million dollars…


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