7 steps to success when working with administrators

I spent yesterday with technology integrationists from the various Educational Service Units in Nebraska. In my experience, technology integrationists usually are wonderful people who know a lot about digital societal shifts and effective technology usage in the classroom. What they don’t necessarily know, however, is how to foster system-level change themselves and/or help school leaders do so.

Here’s what I think technology integrationists can do to assist their principals and superintendents:

  1. Administrators are unknowledgeable, not evil. Recognize that most of them are dedicated educators who want to do the right thing but may not have the necessary knowledge base or skill sets.
  2. The world has changed. Help them see the big picture: the larger, deeper societal shifts and transformations that form the external context within which schools are operating.
  3. We need to keep up. Help them see that the larger context is a desirable and/or inevitable destination for school systems generally and for their school organization specifically.
  4. We’re not keeping up. Help them see that the school system’s not where it should be in regard to the big picture. Create cognitive disconnects for them between their school organization’s status quo and the desired destination.
  5. Facilitate success. Help them gain the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to move toward the desired destination.
  6. Rebut the naysayers. Help them counteract the inevitable yabbuts (“Yeah, but…”; “Yeah, but…”).
  7. Rinse and repeat. Do this over and over again until they, you, and the system win.

The folks I worked with yesterday stated that they generally weren’t paying enough attention to #2, 3, 4, or 6. Their typical approach was to tout the benefits and wonders of – and to try to train administrators how to use – various digital technologies without sufficiently addressing the other aspects listed above. They also noted that the time they did spend working with administrators was focused too much on tool training and that they needed to spend more time on broader technology leadership issues.

Of course this model is applicable to other educators too, not just administrators. What do you think?

15 Responses to “7 steps to success when working with administrators”

  1. Hi Scott,

    One key element I see with both technology and library people trying to make changes is failing to identify their administrator’s goals and problems. If you are viewed by your boss as a problem-solver (rather than a problem), you become an ally. My advice has always been to find out what keeps your boss awake at night – and help his/her sleep better.

    All the best and keep up the good fight,


  2. Doug, I agree completely. However, I also believe that most administrators are working to solve the wrong problems and are ignoring the larger problems to which they should be paying attention.

  3. Thanks for writing this. I knew I missed a great day yesterday (yes, I was supposed to be there but have been sick). This looks a like a great process that we can use to dig into better helping our schools and their leaders. Sorry I am going to miss today too. But I will be anxious to hear more from my colleagues! Thanks for hanging out in NE!

  4. Administrators aren’t [generally ;-)] evil, but they also aren’t likely to change their minds about something that makes them feel uncomfortable just because a tech coordinator or teacher nicely tries to show them a “better way”. I completely agree with Scott when he says, “Administrators are [often] working to solve the wrong problems.” It may be that they are bogged down with other work, but so are teachers and they are constantly having more initiatives, programs and “bright ideas” thrown their way by those same administrators.

    One teacher I know was spoken to in the office recently for having left instructions for a substitute to “let the kids play the educational games they know are OK on the computers” at the end of a Friday (the students having tested all week). One student went to an unapproved site and that’s what the teacher was being held accountable for (and, yes, you read correctly: the teacher wasn’t even there). The Tech Coordinator for the school system had been checking unapproved usage…

    On a grand theoretical basis, administrators are leaders.. But on a case-by-case basis, that is probably less true than we’d hope.

  5. These are also great tips for administrators to use to help teachers see that technology integration is beneficial to the entire school community! There are few of us administrators, if not ahead of the curve, that are close to it.

  6. First, as an administrator, realize that many of us are more tech-savvy and pro-tech than you think. Secondly, when approaching us, make sure that you do think like a bean counter (we have to as part of our jobs)– we want the most bang for our buck. Have some research and a plan to do it, not just “I want you to buy this for me.”

  7. I couldn’t agree more.

    Any ideas on how to focus on 2, 3, 4, and 6? How to create that “felt need to learn” on the part of the administrators? Specifically, the part where we must admit that “we aren’t keeping up?”

  8. Great list! I’d also like to add that when administrators realize that they’re loosing many students from the “old methods” they start to pay attention. We do keynotes/presentations on the needs of Net Gen learners (connected; collaborative) and how David Warlick describes we’re “chopping off their tentacles” (cell phone, Facebook) in school. We have districts around us allowing cells phones, unblocking FB and making FB groups for classrooms and energizing students, too.

  9. Scott and Doug,

    As I was reading and rereading the original post, I was mentally applying it in the context of (elementary) school librarians. We are in a position to be of much value to our building principals and your 7 points are so vital.

    What you replied, Doug, hits home. I have borrowed this philosophy of one of my building principals: don’t complain about something unless you have a viable solution to suggest. Since adopting this mantra, I have begun to be more productive/proactive in seeking change and improvements.

    Sometimes, however, to goes beyond the “power” of the building principal when others “higher up” have the real power to make final decisions. Then I wonder if I must follow the “chain of command”.


  10. CatTail,

    I’m not here to defend administrators, but…

    It may not necessarily be that they are trying to solve the “wrong” problem, but that way too much of their energy is focused elsewhere.
    For increasing scores of schools, the problems and demands of being a School In Need of Assistance takes up virtually ALL of an administrator’s time and energy. When the entire focus is upon math and reading test scores, I’m seeing that other important areas like technology and information literacy skills are slipping into the background.

  11. I agree with Bob in the sense that the focus is (and has) shifted to staying off “the bad school” lists and keeping data, data, data!! But if a school is not making the grade with reading scores what sense does it make to cut libray programs? Classroom teachers teach the skill of reading. Strong libraries support that skill by getting students excited about books and introducing a variety of information literacy skills. Working together, teachers and librarians develop learners who acutally read and score better! Long gone is “Marion the Libraian”. Todays library has so much more to offer and is an essential part of creating successful learners who make the grade!

  12. “When the entire focus is upon math and reading test scores, I’m seeing that other important areas like technology and information literacy skills are slipping into the background.”

    Ah, that is the issue right there and I believe what he was referring to. You see if you can successfully get technology integrated these “problems” will be helped. So too often time is spent on trying to put out the fires and not preventing them. If I were an Administrator, the only way I would work for a school district is to tell them, “Hey, it is going to take a couple years to get the boat turned around, but I can promise you that after I get the boat turned around, scores will improve steadily and consistently, but don’t expect scores to improve this year or the next.”

    The focus should be on technology integration to help solve these day to day problems. As a person who worked in Silicon Valley I can tell you that technology allows you to do two main things. 1) Spend less time on putting out fires because it actually prevents them. 2) Allows more efficient use of your time to explore other items of interest. Case in point. If teachers can use technology successfully to facilitate in the classroom, they can spend more time helping students explore individually. The children benefit and the teacher benefits!

    It is a shame technology used so little in the classroom, just think if a student knows how to conduct internet searches effectively what they can explore, as almost everything we know is on the web. My two and a half year old knows that his Dad (when he doesn’t know the answer) goes straight to the internet to find it.

    My purpose in this life is to “Facilitate success. Help them gain the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to move toward the desired destination.”

  13. Matt Grose (STLI/CASTLE 2004:~) Reply November 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

    A couple thoughts from an administrator :~)

    First, it is important to keep in mind the politics of budgeting, communication, board relations, and public perception – basically the environment that administrators live in. I am not saying that politics should drive decisions, but I am advocating that it is always good to keep the politics in mind – I guarantee that it is in the mind of administrators. A good administrator will do what is right regardless of the politics, but may need to frame conversations, information, and communication in a way that will capitalize on the environment they are in and enable future risks. Helping your administrator think/talk through some of this ahead of time can pay big dividends. This is probably an expansion of #6 in Dr. McLeod’s list.

    Second, I think that thinking big and starting small can get your foot in the door. Starting with one teacher, one classroom, one grade level, one department, etc, may change the investment enough to convince someone to take a risk. Once you can demonstrate success, you can leverage that success to expand.

    Third, encourage the administration to involve the school board in investigations and education about current trends. We recently hosted an Executive Briefing from a tech company and after seeing what our children could/should be doing in schools, the board made it clear that they felt we needed to move in a particular direction. All of a sudden budgets and decisions became much easier.

    Fourth, and I am sure that this goes without saying, but don’t suggest buying stuff without budgeting for staff development. Education has made this mistake over and over again, and we have all seen state of the art technology either sitting idle or being used for low-level, technology-on-the-side applications. If technology is going to be a disruptive innovation (ala Clayton Christensen’s “Disrupting Class”), we need people with high level skills using it.

    Last, budgeting for anything can be looked at in many ways. The first and most traditional is strictly as expenses and revenues. If a mindset change can happen so the spending side of budgeting is thought of in terms of trade-offs, i.e. we are trading this amount of money for this service, or this outcome, etc, it changes conversations from “costs” to “investments” and that can be significant.

    Keep up the great work!

  14. @ Scott
    Great post and great comments. As we are moving towards are 1:1 for next year and our push for more project driven instruction one great outcome has been a dialogue in an informal way between our teaching staff and some of our parents who are local business leaders. In many ways the groups have learned from each other. Some of the teachers are beginning to value the importance of developing what we would call “skills” over just coverage of content knowledge. A number of our business leaders are understanding there is much more to reforming schools than the back to basics, standards crap, that resonates with the “When I was in school…. bunch”. Their future is not our past.


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