Digitaleaders Keep Their Eyes on the Puck

by Marion Ginopolis, Guest Blogger

Recent attendance at a Stanley Cup celebration for the Carolina Hurricanes brought to mind a quote from hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, when asked the secret of his success: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” This quote has been used over and over again by many notables in speeches, presentations and journal articles.

While not necessarily a notable, I, too, have used the “skate to where the puck is going” metaphor in reference to providing leadership in schools. That is, until I read Jill Rosen’s article in a Consultant Debunking Unit article that appeared in Magazine.

Ms. Rosen points out that while this sage advice has been attributed to Wayne Gretzky, it actually was coined by his father, Walter. She proceeds to share the response she received from ‘Mr. Hockey’ himself, Gordie Howe, when she asked his opinion of the skate-to-where-the-puck-is-going advice. "It’s not really the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever heard," he says. "Besides, sometimes you don’t want to be where the puck is going. One time, I was anticipating a pass from [Ted] ‘Teeder’ Kennedy and was leaning over to get in the way of it, when Kennedy, following through, swung his stick in my eye. I had double vision for two months and had to sit out the rest of the season."

This certainly stopped me short! As a long time educator, I can recall many times when I received a hard-hitting hockey check while attempting what I refer to as I 3; Implementing Innovative Initiatives.

So, do I continue to promote Gretzky’s advice or follow Howe’s prudent opinion with regard to providing leadership in schools? I’ve opted to stick with Gretzky and take the hits as they come!

School leaders can no longer sit around and wait for the puck to come to them if they sincerely want students to be prepared for their future. They must anticipate where the puck is going and model behavior that is expected from staff and students by providing the digitaleadership necessary to get to the goal net.

A Pew/Internet and American Life Project Report titled The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap between Internet-savvy Students and their Schools discovered that “students perceive this disconnect to be the result of school administrators setting the tone for use at school.” While this report may be somewhat out-of-date, my guess is that students’ perceptions haven’t changed.

More recently, at the NetDay’s 2005 event, major themes that emerged indicate that “..students are setting trends with their use of technology both in school and out of school. They are innovative users of technology, adopting new technologies to support their learning and their lifestyles.” Further, they are “strong believers in the power of technology to enrich their learning experiences. They have ideas about their futures that include using technology tools for learning and preparing themselves for a competitive job market.

The fairly good news from this event is that "teachers’ professional use of technology is approaching a comfort level" but, unfortunately, "it is not keeping up with the advances in how kids are using technology. Frequent Internet use is the norm among today’s young people who are avid users of the Social Internet, blogging in their MySpace accounts while listening to their iPods and Instant Messaging three and four friends at the same time. They are using the Internet and digital publishing technologies to create and share content to post online.

What about administrators? While examples of innovative digitaleaders are evident in schools, (take a look at Principal Tim Tyson at Mabry Middle School in Georgia where students, teachers and principal are podcasting and blogging) they are not plentiful. How can we expect to make progress in schools where administrators ask their secretaries to open their email and print copies of the more important ones for them? These administrators belong in the penalty box!

Digitaleaders are willing to take the risk of skating to where the puck is going even if it means getting hit in the eye once in a while. Until this becomes widespread in all schools, we will see only pockets of excellence and not substantive change to serve the needs of our students.

(It’s been a fun week as guest blogger on Dangerously Irrelevant.  Thanks for the opportunity, Scott!)

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Disconnected Leaders

by Guest Blogger, Marion Ginopolis

How disconnected are school leaders’ perceptions from the reality of schools? A recent Reality Check 2006 Report from Education Insights at Public Agenda funded by the Wallace Foundation reports, “…to most public school superintendents – and principals to a lesser extent – local schools are already in pretty good shape. In fact, more than half of the nation’s superintendents consider local schools to be excellent."

This is, perhaps, the most frightening thing I’ve ever read. Assuming this national random sample (n=254) is reflective of all superintendents we are in big, big trouble if 94 percent of superintendents perceive schools to be good or excellent. (A possible explanation is that this is not a true random sample and the superintendents interviewed were all from " Perfectville, USA.")

This survey could not possibly have included superintendents in those districts where 10 percent of sixteen to twenty-four year olds were out of school without a high school credential in 2004, (pg. 11, National Center for Educational Statistics-NCES Condition of Education 2006) or from those districts where the average student scale score in reading for seventeen year olds was the same in 2004 as it was in 1971. NCES Digest of Education Statistics

It could not have included superintendents in districts where only 31 percent of fourth and eighth graders performed at the Proficient (indicating solid academic achievement) level in reading in 2005. (pg. 7, NCES Condition of Education 2006)

And, the survey could not possibly have included superintendents in school districts where reading performance of students is represented in the chart below: NCES Condition of Education 2006 Learner Outcomes:

At the risk of overusing my newly coined term, Digitaleaders, I believe that they are school leaders who examine the data available to them, analyze it and candidly communicate the reality of their districts rather than “shooting from the hip” or painting an unrealistic picture when interviewed about the condition of their schools.

My Metamorphosis

by Guest Blogger, Marion Ginopolis

Loosely extrapolated from the definition in Wikipedia, metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal’s form or structure through cell growth and differentiation usually accompanied by a change of habitat or behavior.

My metamorphosis from a digital immigrant to a digital native with an accent (see Marc Prensky) did not involve any conspicuous change in my form or structure; my change was behavioral and resulted from the interaction with one person.

One person has the power to truly make a difference. Will Richardson, in a recent blog posting, references the Power of One video, created by a student of Marco Torres, which focuses on the difference made by one vote. There’s another equally powerful video with the same title, Power of One; this video, however, focuses on the difference made by one person. It is a video I used when I was instructing online teachers for the Michigan Virtual High School to demonstrate how one person can have a dramatic impact on others.

That one person for me was Deb Woodman, a fifth grade teacher at Quarton Elementary School in Birmingham, Michigan. This truly gifted educator patiently taught me to embrace technology with a passion nearly equal to hers. She transformed me from knowing little about technology to using it as a valuable tool in my work. If you want to see the impact this one teacher is having on students, check out Deb’s classroom website!

Administrators can start their metamorphosis to digitaleaders by finding just that one person. Look around, s/he is probably right in front of you!

Digitaleading – Part II

by Guest Blogger, Marion Ginopolis

In an interview some time ago with Scholastic Administrator, Ian Jukes stated, “What many educators still don’t appreciate is that technology is a tool, not a subject. It’s not about teaching someone Microsoft Word, it’s about helping them to become better writers. It’s not about teaching them how to use Excel – it’s about helping them to become better problem solvers. It’s not about them learning Power Point– it’s about them becoming better communicators. And learning about the software is nothing more than an incidental but essential by-product of the process.”

And that’s what Digitaleadership is all about. The tools have changed but the intent has not. It’s not about learning how to blog; it’s about becoming a more effective communicator, reaching a broader base of stakeholders in a more efficient manner and allowing those stakeholders the ability to comment rather than sending out newsletters in students’ backpacks that often don’t reach home. It’s not about learning how to subscribe to RSS feeds; it’s about accessing up-to-the minute information in an efficient way rather than letting journals and periodicals stack up unread in a corner of the office.

Digitaleaders use technology tools not only to effect efficiencies in their daily practice and communicate easily and widely with a variety of different communities, but to enhance all areas of their leadership, and, while doing so, they model the seamless use of technology tools for faculty and parents.

As an example: The McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) Balanced Leadership work of Robert Marzano, Brian McNulty and Tim Waters, a result of thirty years of research about the effect of leadership on student achievement, identifies twenty-one key leadership responsibilities. One of these is Intellectual Stimulation evidenced by the extent to which a principal ensures that faculty and staff are aware of the most current theories and practices and makes the discussion of these a regular aspect of the school’s culture.

Typically, the non-Digitaleader might locate some cutting-edge theory or best practice in a journal or hear about it at a conference or from a colleague. The information is photo-copied and distributed to faculty in their mail boxes. An announcement on the PA system or in a weekly memo notifies the staff that this will be a discussion item at the next faculty meeting along with the 45 other issues that are on the monthly agenda.

The Intellectually Stimulating Digitaleader, on the other hand, may have read about the cutting-edge theory or best practice from an RSS feed s/he has to the ASCD Blog (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) during a daily review of her/his Bloglines account. The information is shared immediately with faculty by 1) clicking the ‘Email This’ link that appears after each entry on Bloglines, 2) opening a faculty email address list that is kept handy on the computer desktop, 3) highlighting, copying and pasting the faculty addresses into the window that opens after clicking the ‘Email This’ link, 5) creating a brief message to faculty requesting they read the article and begin sharing their reactions and thoughts in a discussion on the virtual knowledge-building community that the Digitaleader has set-up on the district Blackboard server.

Rhetorical Questions: Of the two, which leader has the greater chance of being characterized as an Intellectual Stimulator? In which leader’s school is there a greater probability that cutting-edge best practices will make it to the classroom?

It is not about the technology; it’s about sharing knowledge and information, communicating efficiently, building learning communities and creating a culture of professionalism in schools. These are the key responsibilities of all educational leaders. The Digitaleader meets these responsibilities using relevant technology tools.


Guest Blogger, Marion Ginopolis, is the former Superintendent of the Oxford Michigan Public Schools and Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded leadership/technology program, LEADing the Future. She is currently the Director of the MI-LIFE ( Michigan Leadership Improvement Framework Endorsement) Program funded by a grant from Microsoft Partners in Learning to the Michigan Department of Education. Additional commentaries from the MI-LIFE team can be accessed on their newly created MI-LIFE Blog.

Administrators continue to be labeled Digital Immigrants. Well, it’s not as easy to learn a foreign language when you’re over fifty as it is when you’re five! But, this barrier can be overcome. In Part II of Digital Natives-Digital Immigrants, Marc Prensky suggests that Digital Immigrants can choose to “…accept the fact that they have become Immigrants into a new Digital world, and to look to their own creativity, their Digital Native students…..and other sources to help them communicate their still-valuable knowledge and wisdom in that world’s new language.”

The operative phrase here is “still-valuable knowledge and wisdom.” Helping administrators translate their valuable knowledge and wisdom into what I’ve coined as “Digitaleading” must be a priority in our administrator professional learning programs. That’s my passion right now and the focus of colleagues with whom I’m working.

First, there’s very little out “there” for administrators on how to efficiently and effectively use technology tools and applications for their work. The articles I read and the Blogs to which I subscribe discuss the use of technology for teaching and learning. Articles about administration seem to focus on hardware for data storage or software for bus schedules and classroom observation checklists.

The paucity of literature on the topic does not mean that no work has been done in the area of "Digitaleading." In Michigan we have proven that when administrators are shown how technology tools and applications apply to their day-to-day work, they are enthusiastic, energized, excited and, more importantly, they are eager to find additional ways to expand their use of technology for leadership.

For the past four years, I was the director of LEADing the Future, a professional learning program that our team developed and in which over 4000 Michigan administrators in public, non-public and charter schools participated. The program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on the use of technology for leadership. An evaluation conducted by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) found that there was a significant and positive impact from the training on administrators’ use of, and support for, technology after attending sessions. (Daniell, D., McNabb, M.L., Bielefeldt, T., & Schneidmiller, J. (2005) LEADing the Future: Summative Evaluation Report. Eugene, OR: ISTE available on the LEADing the Future website.)

One of the most dramatic results was found among administrators who described themselves as having made little or limited use of technology before participation in LTF. They explained how using their handhelds for scheduling and managing contacts “demystified technology” or “opened their eyes to what technology could do” resulting in increases in their use of technology for other leadership duties. One high school principal explained in an interview that his entire district has a strong technology initiative spurred on by leadership from the superintendent who also participated in LTF.

As a follow-up to the LTF program, our team recently developed and is delivering a one-day professional learning opportunity for Michigan Administrators we’re calling “Emerging Technologies,” soon to be renamed "Digitaleading." The session includes teaching school leaders how to use Web 2.0 applications in their work. Session evaluation results from 118 recent participants follow:

The question, “What is the most important thing you learned today and why is it important to you?” generated the following responses:

  • How naive I am to the volume of useful technology resources available. My job (and my teachers’ jobs) could be much easier.
  • I learned that there are a nearly unlimited amount of tools that will aid teachers, students, and administrators on the Internet. I also learned that it is easier than I realized to access these tools.
  • Not only did I learn more detail about some of the topics covered today, application to education was made clearer!
  • I learned that there is so much to learn that I need to get with it!
  • I learned about even more ways in which I can use technology to enhance learning and my responsibilities as an administrator.
  • I learned that I need to learn more and become better informed so that I can lead more effectively.

As Director of the new MI-LIFE program being developed in Michigan as a result of a partnership with Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Michigan Department of Education, my and my team’s commitment is to ensure that we validate the knowledge and wisdom of school leaders and build on their enthusiasm so they can become more effective digitaleaders.