Leadership Day 2008 – We have neglected our leaders

[I’m late for my self-initiated Leadership Day 2008. I went to visit my mom for a few days and forgot to take my laptop…]

Most of our school leaders have received no training whatsoever when it comes to 21st century schooling. If you asked your average principal or superintendent what it means to to prepare students for a digital, global society, she would be hard-pressed to give you a halfway-coherent answer. If you asked an auditorium full of administrators if they’ve ever heard of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, you’d be lucky to get a few raised hands. Why is this so? Because…

  1. Only a few of the more than 500 school administrator programs have even a single course dealing with digital technologies. Many of the courses that do exist deal with basic office software (yes, still) rather than technology-related leadership issues. A course that even mentioned Web 2.0 tools or the societal impacts of social software would be rare. Courses that actually focus on the leadership necessary to transition schools into the 21st century are almost nonexistent.
  2. The professional development opportunities that school districts and state departments of education provide for their administrators deal primarily with data-driven accountability, literacy, discipline, finance, law, and other similar topics. All of those are important but, again, the transition to a digital, global society and the leadership necessary to get there is hardly ever present in these training sessions.
  3. Most national- and/or state-level principal and superintendent associations offer workshops, institutes, and/or conferences for their members. The number of association-delivered conference sessions and other learning opportunities for administrators that pertain to technology leadership is exceedingly low. One reason given is that ‘we’re service organizations and our members don’t ask for them.’
  4. Numerous technology-focused grants and initiatives for students and teachers are available from state and local governments, corporations, and foundations. In contrast, it’s awfully difficult to find anything substantive for school leaders. It’s a little perplexing since most corporations and foundations understand the importance of good leadership in their own organizations. Yet there has been a lack of commitment to investing in the leadership side of things when it comes to their own K-12 technology initiatives.
  5. There are few, if any, good books out there that help school leaders understand what effective school technology leadership looks like. There are a variety of helpful online resources but they’re widely dispersed, often difficult to find, and unknown to most administrators.

In sum, all of the primary learning and support mechanisms for school administrators are failing woefully when it comes to 21st century leadership preparation. To paraphrase Joel Barker, we’re focusing on today at the expense of tomorrow.

We should be putting a great deal of pressure on school districts, state departments of education, university preparation programs, and national- and state-level leadership associations to pay greater attention to 21st century schools and the leadership skills necessary to get there. We also should be asking for greater emphasis on leadership training from our corporate and foundational partners and our policymakers. The lack of attention by any one of these groups is dismaying. The aggregate lack of attention by all of them is downright irresponsible.

We must set aside dedicated training time, programs, and monies for our leaders. Administrators have their own unique needs and responsibilities; their training should be different than that of other educators. We can’t simply lump them in with teachers. Nor should we continue to offer generic professional development monies or programs without designating some of them specifically for administrators. Our pattern of block grants instead of administrator-only set-asides seems to always leave our leaders short.

Finally, we should recognize that most of this is not our leaders’ fault. Sure, they should be demanding more from the entities that serve them. But it’s our collective shame that every aspect of their learning system fails them.

16 Responses to “Leadership Day 2008 – We have neglected our leaders”

  1. Your post really hits me in the heart because the same criticism is true of college professors. The stoic ones complain that technology is ruining education; the complacent ones just don’t care that students are not prepared for the workforce. Thanks for the post 🙂

  2. So has anyone assembled a reading list, either for those who work with leaders or for those leaders themselves?

    Our district was hugely impacted by an apple conference just for school superintendents, dealing with the issues you mention above, but it’s not enough. Thanks for the prod- this bears thinking about.

  3. Hi Scott – I am living proof of the truth of your post. Up until about a year and a half ago, I was essentially ignorant of digital technologies – and I’m a principal at a “technical school”.

    I’m in a doctoral program that is deservedly well-respected, but except for the work of a handful of professors – including David Quinn, your first guest blogger (http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2006/09/the_pressure_of.html) – the non-emphasis on digital technologies is a true missed opportunity. When our distance-ed blended model meets face to face, I hear admissions of administrative technological illiteracy go unchallenged.

    If not for one persistent but polite member of my staff, and your Principal Blogging Project, I would still be largely unaware. I encourage those readers of yours who have good relationships with their principals (or other district leaders) to continue the polite but persistent encouragement you have often written about – and I agree that it is vital that a more systematic process be put in place to make awareness – and change – happen among educational leaders. Your calls for digital technology courses for emerging leaders, and professional development seminars for current leaders that put these technologies in terms we understand, and which help us to incorporate these into our own professional lives, are right on target.

  4. Agreed.
    So what is the next step. How do we make it happen?

  5. Truly. Last year, a group from my school offered suggestions for not only new technologies but new 21st century vision to share with principals at a state principal conference. The conference had no technology strands. We could not match to any strand offered for our session so we picked “Strategy” I believe.

    After our session, we had many principals tell us that they wish they had more sessions like ours just showing them what’s out there and how it is used.

    We of course shared this with the organizers for the conference. Funny, I haven’t gotten an invite to return. 😉

  6. Well, Tracy, here are a few places to start:


    How about starting to make it happen by providing some dedicated, role-specific learning opportunities for school leaders in your local area? Tie the training to some of the NETS-A performance indicators that you think are important. Let us all know how it goes so that we can critically reflect on how best to do this.

    Also, start leaning hard on the various entities I list in the post to get moving. Enlist others to help you with your advocacy!

  7. Scott, this timely comment ties directly to a post I made last night on my blog – what is the conversation starter?

    Thank you for posting these. I started my first full day yesterday with working on the new website and talking about Google Documents. I thought it was such a small feat but it really did get the conversation going with only one person (and that is the spark I needed).

    Timely post here. I wonder if you could post the same comment on my blog for those readers? Link is provided on my name.

    Thank you!

  8. Joel, sorry, you lost me… What did you want me to post on your blog? My previous comment with the various URLs?

  9. Scott:
    I’ve been thinking of starting to build awareness for administrators within the newsletter I use for our network. One of the things I’d like to include would be some reading material on technology leadership. Can you suggest some good titles?

    Thank you!

  10. Great post as always Scott. It struck me as I was reading it, and as I was contemplating my own post a few days ago, that there are not enough individuals to do training for 21st Century leaders. You say that “We must set aside dedicated training time, programs, and monies for our leaders,” but are there enough individuals that can actually lead/teach that training for school leaders? Is there a critical mass of experts on 21st Century School Leadership that could even move that agenda forward, even if there was money? Jeanette’s comments on your blog and mine I think are right on. There may only be 2-3 individuals in the whole state of Florida that could even teach a 21st Century School Leadership class with Web 2.0 integrated into the curriculum. In Indiana there may be school administrators that we could hire as adjuncts, but in terms of faculty, after having done a study on the whole state’s leadership preparation programs, I can tell you there are 0 people in leadership programs that could teach such a class.

    Anyway, just wanted to see your thoughts on who we could use to teach these classes/pd that you recommend? Clearly there are capable individuals around the country such as yourself and David Quinn as Jeanette mentions in Florida and we both know a few others. But are there enough? And if not, how do we get more professors/leaders in Ed. Leadership to become experts on this?

  11. It might be helpful if the federal and state government realized the importance of 21st century learning by including them in standards and mandated assessments, though I know this would not be greeted openly. With the limited focus on NCLB and with those targets hard to reach by many systems, I don’t believe that we can lay the primary blame for this at the foot of district and building administrators.

    I am concerned that many of us view technology as 21st century learning. The skills and knowledge that young people need for options following their K-12 experience include the ability to be creative, to problem solve, to communicate effectively, to produce quality, to be stewards of the environment, to . . . Technology becomes a tool to support acquisition of this knowledge and skills, not the focus of the learning.

    Until we can get administrators and teachers to see that there is a large gap between what we assess for and what young people need to know and be able to do the liklihood of change is small. In the absence of any felt creative tension because of this gap we will continue with what we believe is important. The journey must be one where we capture the emotions of leaders because change will not come simply by providing data and information.

    In a world where I am judged by our district’s test scores, why would I want to add on additional responsibilities? We need to find ways to answer this question by creating a picture of what meeting standard on reading and math assessments will do to prepare students for the future and that is very little. To prepare students for a future that none of us can predict with much certainty, requires much more on our part. We need this gap to capture the heart that all of us bring to this work. We need stories from kids and adults that we know to create the tension necessary for us to consider opening up our thinking for the need to add even more to our already full plate.

  12. Hello Scott,

    I have such mixed feelings about your post! As a building principal, I feel a great deal of pressure to be responsive to what our students will need to truly be prepared for their future. I have worked to learn how to both be a leader AND be a learner – and I always feel as though I am coming up short. Yet, there is simply so much going on in our schools right now – and seemingly too little time and energy – or not enough focused time and energy on the things that matter most – being sure all of our students are receiving high quality, relevant, and engaging instruction! I am currently working on my dissertation – looking at the preparation programs for superintendents . . . are they providing what is needed to prepare the future district leaders? Well . . . seems that there is not a great deal of consensus on what exactly IS needed . . . and if one does not know where one needs to end up . . .

  13. I believe the ones who can take advantage of technology can run education and I think it is right.

  14. It sounds like we need a paradigm shift for how we consider the educational system and PD within it.

    The ‘from the top down’ type of PD, which traditionally is how PD works in education – your school district or board provides PD opportunities (that you can take or not), clearly isn’t working.

    I think more than ever we are needing PD that comes directly from the needs of the recipients, in this case school leaders. Like you pointed out Scott, in your comment to me, there are places to start and ways to go about doing it. The most important thing is to trigger the need for this PD in the leaders.

    This type of paradigm shift would help to move toward shared, authentic, community learning within the education system. I think.

  15. writing a dissertation that recognizes we’re preparing school leaders much like we’re preparing mba’s. we know school leaders need to be able to do a lot more than manage and administer (i.e. sustainable community development, instructional leadership, curriculum watchdog, promote social justice), but we’re still having aspiring principals read the same books they’re reading in b-school (see hess/kelly what gets taught in principal prep programs).

  16. Regarding preparation of school leaders: I do not disagree that there should be far more that leaders must be able to do and have read Hess/Kelly. But there are no simple solutions to complex system issues. Depending on the district/school – leadership demands & responsibilities are diverse, as are the competencies and skills required to be effective. And measuring effectiveness is another issue altogether!

Leave a Reply