What Do Teachers Need From Administrators?

What do I need from administrators? It seems to be a huge question, and I am not sure why. Administration, in my experience in elementary schools in California’s Bay Area, seems to be a tool of policy makers, not defenders of good, wholesome educational practices–they are the purveyors of fads. Or maybe they are simply trying to stay employed.

I have had principals who never taught in an elementary classroom. I’ve had principals who have been out of a classroom for 20 years, yet still think they are current. My district has gone through 3 superintendents in 10 years, each with his/her own “bee in the bonnet” about something that has more to do with money than educating kids. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

thinkers_cartoonAdministration/principals in a school, IMHO, should be made up of current teachers. Actually, administrator should be a non-education based job–administrators should not be principals. At big hospitals there a managers who manage the business side, leaving medical personnel to do medicine. Sure there is a chief medical person, but that person is chiefly medical and only meets with the MBAs when money versus best practices is at issue, not to decide on medical procedures, ideally.

I want this for schools. Principals are too busy dealing with budgets–being the tools of the board and superintendent. School districts spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with money–cutting programs, overworking staff, eliminating positions–because America has chosen war over children, or something similar. Principals, who started as teachers, are not best used as OMB-type employees. They started out as educators, and should remain leaders of education in schools, not budget cutting consultants who come in fresh, ready to cut and slash.

I would like to see an administration separate the double role principals play into 2 distinct roles: the money role (administrator) and the educational leader role (principal). I propose to do it like this:

Let’s assume a district with 12 elementary schools–a 1-high school town. In this town there would be an MBA type administrator (or 2) who would deal with the money for all schools–budgets would be prepared and analyzed by this MBA’s staff and then presented to the educational leaders at each school. I call them educational leaders because they would be teachers. Let me explain, because here is where I go nuts:

The principal of an elementary school should be working with parents, teachers and children, not budgets and money management. In order to have an educator (teacher) as principal we would need to do something very different in terms of credentialing. Imagine if all teachers were not just credentialed as a teacher, but also as an administrator (principal)? The administrator classes one needs to take to get an administration credential are few, making them an easy addition to a regular credential program. By combining a regular credential with an administrator supplement, making a new, more robust single credential, there is suddenly a large number of those who could be principal.

In my scenario, teachers with the new credential would rotate from year to year as principal. Sure, it is similar to a teacher-led school, but my idea changes credentialing and traditional administration of schools. If I am a classroom teacher this year, I might be principal next year, then my buddy teacher the year after that with me returning to the classroom. This puts educators and colleagues in charge of the school–with no worries about finances because they are taken care of by the “money-man.”

I like the idea because my experience with administration has been an adversarial one with money pitted against what’s best for kids. What would this new principal/teacher be able to do? Freed from an Excel spreadsheet a principal would have time to help with the actual teaching of students and professional development of teachers. Staff meetings would take on an air of a team working toward more cohesion and attentiveness to the needs of students as opposed to the constant strum and drang of management-speak.

A principal should be a classroom expert, especially in elementary school.  They should be part of the school team, not part of the management adversariat.  

Teachers should run schools.  Schools are not businesses.

The Frustrated Teacher is a former elementary school teacher with 13 years of classroom experience in Title I schools.  Before that he ran summer camps and after school programs for affluent kids.  He has worked with young children for 30 years.  He left the classroom to pursue a private consulting practice where his penchant for calling it like it is won’t be such a downer.

It’s the first day of school (2010) – Have you made any real progress since last year?

It’s the first day of school here in Ames, Iowa. In past years, I’ve posted the following checklist, wondering if schools have made any improvement since the previous fall.

This year you have two ways to participate…

  1. Download this checklist in Excel. Enter the name of your school organization and fill in your ratings (editable areas are in yellow). Click on the Chart tab at the bottom, then print. Disseminate broadly!
  2. Participate in the 2-minute online survey. Fill in your ratings and click on the Submit button. See the aggregated results and compare them to 2008 (125 responses).

Feel free to use and distribute the Excel file and/or the survey link as desired. If you would like to conduct this online survey within your school organization, contact me about hosting a version just for you (at no cost). Hope you made some real progress since last year!


A Denominator of Many – Teacher Professional Partnerships [guest post]

[This is a guest post from Carl Anderson. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, drop me a note. Happy reading!]

By now it is an old story but still a pressing contemporary issue. Industries that have traditionally relied on a top-down hierarchy of power distribution are folding. We see it today most readily in the newspaper industry but it is painfully obvious that other industries, especially those who deal in information currency, are under siege as well. It is clear that the schools are a part of this list.

Traditionally, or for as long as anyone alive today can remember, most school systems have operated under a very clear top-down hierarchy. The Department of Education passes down edicts to states. State Departments of Education (headed by a commissioner) then pass funding & accreditation requirements and curriculum standards down to school districts. School districts are headed by superintendents operating with an authority given to them by school boards delegating responsibilities to principals and other building administrators. These administrators then delegate responsibilities to teachers and other school employees who then deliver the state mandated standards-driven curriculum to students. I realize this is a very simplistic picture of our school systems and there are great differences in the nuances between schools but for the most part this is the type of system most of us operate under.

This system was very efficient for many years and was necessary for a long time. However, when we hear criticisms of schools operating under an industrial model of education looking more like factories it is not just what goes on in the classroom that causes this comparison but also how they are structured. This structure looks like almost any corporate business hierarchy with the CEO and shareholders at the top and the workers and consumers at the bottom. Just as the corporate structure is designed to make as much profit for those at the top this system best ensures that the needs of those near the top of the pyramid are met. Today, in education, this hierarchy is most concerned with administering RTTT and NCLB measures like curriculum standards. Hence, the overly high concern with high stakes testing and “teach to the test” messages many of our teachers end up hearing. Who does this system serve? With whom lies agency in learning?

There is a new structure of learning emerging that is gaining momentum, one which appears to have no regard for edicts issued via a top-down hierarchy. Web 2.0 & social media technologies have given teachers and students agency in their own learning through the creation of what has been collectively referred to as “personal learning networks” (PLNs). Through PLNs learners choose their own learning agendas and self-select who they listen to and what curriculum (if any) they follow. Through the use of popular technologies like Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, and Facebook informal learning is quickly becoming a viable option. Teachers no longer have to look to their school system for support, they can find it through the networks they have created. This same kind of network structure and powerful informal learning is also what has made this latest phenomenon of unschooling actually seem like a viable option for some. The more our networks grow the more they challenge the authority of the traditional top-down hierarchy.

While unschooling is a little bit extreme and probably not right for most kids the fuel giving this movement momentum is something we need to address in education or our formal institutions of education will suffer the same fate as the newspaper industry. I am reminded of this slide from a TED Talk by Devdutt Pattanaik called, East vs west — the myths that mystify..

In this talk Dr. Pattanaik discusses how the fundamental belief structures between east and west cultures clash. He illustrates this with a simple story about Alexander the Great meeting a gymnosophist, “When they met, the gymnosophist asked what Alexander the Great was doing. To which he replied, ‘I am conquering the world. What are you doing?’ ‘I am experiencing nothingness,’ replied the gymnosophist.” Neither could see the point in the others endeavor because the denominator for Alexander’s life was One and the denominator for the gymnosophist’s life was Many. This fundamental element of belief informed everything about how both individuals interpreted these actions. The traditional hierarchy that has dominated our school systems has a denominator of one while PLNs, student-centered learning environments, and movements like unschooling operate with a denominator of many. If our industry is going to survive we need to find a way for both equations to find a common denominator. We have to look for ways to invert this hierarchy.

One potential method that our schools could use to help address this issue of one verses many is teacher professional partnerships (TPPs). TPPs are similar to law firms where the practitioners own their own practice. In TPP schools there is no administration but instead the teachers in the TPP work together to share the responsibilities normally delegated to building an district administrators.

This solves a few problems that teachers and schools face. First, it brings more decision making responsibility closer to those who are directly effected by those decisions. It places agency closer to those served by schooling and in so doing elevates the teaching profession. With agency comes responsibility and built-in accountability. If a teacher is held responsible for their own performance via a personal stake in ensuring that they offer a quality learning environment that students will want to participate in there will be no need for complex systems of teacher performance pay or other measures like those in RTTT. With a TPP a teacher’s performance is shown in their enrollment and whether a school thrives or fails depends entirely on how well they manage their own practice. What’s more, TPPs eliminate the need for teacher unions since the partnership is in itself a union of sorts.

Currently there are just ten TPP public schools in operation in the United States and so far they all appear to be doing well. This model of school organization holds a lot of potential addressing the problems and issues facing schools and education including the inevitable irrelevance of our traditional school hierarchy. Ted Kolderie from Education|Evolving will be Steve Hargadon’s guest on his Future of Education series this Thursday, July 8, 2010 to discuss Teacher Professional Partnerships. For more information on TPPs I urge you to attend this free online discussion in Elluminate or at least listen to the recording afterwords.

Carl Anderson is an art and technology teacher, technology integration specialist, and adjunct instructor for Hamline University’s School of Education. He writes the Techno Constructivist blog and is @anderscj on Twitter.

Book review – The future of management

My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel (and Bill Breen). My short recommendation? This book was easily the best leadership book I read in 2009 and should be required reading for all practicing and preservice school administrators.

What I liked about the book

Hamel is one of the leading leadership and business scholars of our time; he has won numerous awards for his writing. As you read through this review, whenever you see the word company or business, substitute school organization. The essential premise of this book is stated early on:

What ultimately constrains the performance of [an] organization is not its operating model, nor its business model, but its management model (p. x). [Unfortunately,] the equipment of [current] management is now groaning under the strain of a load it was never meant to carry. Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, seditious competitors, fractured markets, omnipotent customers, rebellious shareholders – these 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times (p. x).

In other words, as Charles Leadbeater says, “old groaning corporations are the wrong shape” for the fast-paced, ever-changing, innovation-driven, global economy in which we now live.

Hamel notes a number of new environmental factors that now exist for organizations, including reduced barriers to entry across a wide range of industries; a shift in bargaining power to consumers rather than producers; a world of near-perfect information; and the rise of more nimble, global competitors “eager to exploit legacy costs of the old guard” (pp. 9–10). He then goes on to describe why management, rather than other factors, is the key to resolving many of these dilemmas. He also outlines three formidable challenges that now confront organizations:

  • Dramatically accelerating the pace of strategic renewal in organizations large and small;
  • Making innovation everyone’s job, every day; and
  • Creating a highly engaging work environment that inspires employees to give the very best of themselves. (p. 41)

These ring true for school systems as well as corporations.

Hamel states that “if we were to measure the relative contribution that each of these human capabilities makes to value creation, . . . the scale would look something like this“

  • Passion 35%
  • Creativity 25%
  • Initiative 20%
  • Intellect 15%
  • Diligence 5%
  • Obedience 0% (p. 59)

The Future of Management, Gary HamelGuess which ones school systems reward, both for their students and their employees?

I liked Hamel’s emphasis on organizational learning. For example, he notes that “there is no surer way to undermine a new business venture than to measure it by the profits generated, rather than by the learning accumulated” (p. 225). Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the public schooling context when it comes to standardized testing results.

One section of the book profiles different companies that are management outliers and identifies some key management lessons to be learned from them. For example, a key idea from Whole Foods Market is that “the biggest obstacle to management innovation may be what you already believe about management” (p. 79). One of the key lessons from W.L. Gore is that “management innovation often redistributes power (so don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic)” (p. 96). A key lesson from Google is that “experienced managers may not make the best management innovators” (p. 119).

The middle of the book had a statement that really resonated with me:

The people who have a stake in the old technology are never the ones to embrace the new technology. It’s always someone a bit on the periphery, who hasn’t got anything to gain by the status quo, who is interested in changing it” (pp. 127–128).

There are a small handful of us in educational leadership academe for whom this directly applies. We are trying to figure out how to publish or perish and become recognized as national experts in this new information landscape rather than the traditional one of peer-reviewed academic journals. We have little interest in burying our writing in places that educators in the field never read. We have little interest in writing that is disconnected from conversation and collaborative knowledge-building. We’re all in the first decade (or less) of our scholarly careers, however; we don’t have the legacy disability of having built our reputations in the world of ink on paper. Time will tell if we’re successful at challenging the old system or if we get beaten down and/or driven out by our collective peers.

Hamel notes that current management was built around some core principles: standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior (p. 151). All of these are under assault in our new technology-suffused, hyperconnected, globally-interconnected society. Some of the new management principles that now are ascendant include variety, flexibility, activism, meaning, and organization for serendipity (p. 179).

Near the end of the book, Hamel postulates some key questions (and gives some potential answers):

  • How do you build a democracy of ideas?,
  • How do you amplify human imagination?,
  • How do you dynamically reallocate resources?,
  • How do you aggregate collective wisdom?,
  • How do you minimize the drag of old mental models?, and
  • How do you give everyone the chance to opt in? (pp. 189–190)

Those are great issues around which to invent the future of management.

Key quotes

The most critical question for every 21st-century company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? (p. 42)


Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of these fortifications are collapsing. (p. 48)

Does this sound like public schools to you? It does to me.


No one has a blueprint for building an innovators’ paradise. It isn’t just your company – every big organization is inhospitable to innovation. If you want to build an innovation-friendly management system, you’re going to have to invent it. (p. 84)


Some of your colleagues are likely to protest that while “it might work there, it will never work here.” When you’re up against a belief that seems set in concrete, it may be helpful to ask, whose interests does this belief serve? . . . It’s hardly surprising that most managers believe you can’t manage without managers. (p. 138)


Vociferous, honest dissent is not a hallmark of hierarchical organizations. . . . Adaptability requires alternatives. Alternatives require dissenters. (pp. 167–168) Does anyone suppose that pathbreaking innovation will come out of intellectually homogenous companies? (p. 175)

Questions I have after reading the book

  • How many public school systems have a hope of ever pulling off even a fraction of this?
  • What will it take for school leaders to recognize the organizational dangers that accompany
  • How long will it be before policymakers and parents recognize the limitations of current management strategies and begin advocating for something different?
  • Are ANY educational leadership preparation programs talking about this stuff?


In the first section of the book, Hamel notes that

When it comes to innovation, a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. . . . Few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. (p. 54)

The challenge for all school leaders – and the university programs that prepare them – is how to initiate and sustain these kinds of changes. This is what I’m wrestling with as an educational leadership professor.

This is an excellent book. I have no hesitation giving it 5 highlighters (out of 5).


[See my other reviews and recommended reading]

Education needs geeks, but we need a special kind of geek who is one of us

[This is a guest post from Don Watkins, responding to an earlier guest post by Doug Green. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, drop me a note. Happy reading!]

Earlier this week I read web posting about replacing your technology coordinator/director with a building administrator. As a guy who has spent the last twenty-three years serving at a small K-12 I disagree. However, I do understand a growing frustration led by Scott McLeod and many less known names around our country and our world. Getting rid of your technology director and filling that position with a building administrator would only exacerbate the problem. I came to my position in 1987 at a time when most schools had technology coordinators who were re-purposed mathematics teachers many of whom taught a programming class or two, with languages like Pascal. I am not a mathematics teacher and had no experience and only a B.S. in Liberal Arts. What I lacked in experience I made up for with verve and enthusiasm that has remained my trademark. We had about fifty Apple II and IIe computers along with a smattering of Commodores. Since then our department has grown to group of several microcomputer technicians but only one of which is available each day to serve the needs of over five hundred computers, nearly a hundred printers, dozens of software applications, twenty-nine file servers which a year ago were virtualized and now we are even supporting a cloud infrastructure that insures our students, teachers and administrators have twenty-four x seven access to nearly all applications whether at school or at home and even from some java enabled mobile phones.

In a small school district with meager resources I took it upon myself to learn all that I could and along the way I earned a Masters in Educational Psychology with an emphasis on Learning and Technology. I became a hypercard programmer, taught students to keyboard and write using word-processing software. We used FredWriter which was free and an alumni (who is now a Facebook friend) donated 5.25 inch disks which had FredWriter on one side and a data disk on the other. While I attended the State University of New York at Buffalo enroute to the M.A. I met Dr. Douglas Clements and with the aid of my wife a third grade teacher at the time instructed elementary students in Apple Logo and a special geometry curriculum written by Dr. Clements and his colleague, Mike Battista. In the early 1990’s we had our first local area network using Lantastic and I had to learn a bit about star topologies and running cable. A few years later we put in category 5 ethernet when everyone around us was putting in IBM Token Ring. Research and hard work saved our district tens of thousands of dollars initially and if you factor in not getting taken in by the Token Ring crowd we saved the district from cost of rewiring. I was an early adopter of both Windows NT and Windows 95 and we became the first school district in our area to move in that direction at a time when everyone else was using OS/2 Lanserver and Novell. This too saved tens of thousands of dollars. We were early adopters of so called "white box" open architecture computers which were custom designed and made from quality components.

My efforts have always been to knock down walls and to build bridges to places of opportunity for our students, our faculty, our administration and our community. I see my role and those of my fellow technology directors and now technology integrators, curriculum directors, curriculum specialists as people who can and do encourage innovation. We owe this to our various constituencies. We do not serve them well when we accept the status quo. When someone tells me that this or that can’t be done I make it my business to prove them wrong.

Ten years ago we were forced by fiat to filter in order to comply with E-rate. I railed at the idea of having to filter and it was during a conversation with a vendor of a particular filtering product that the salesman, who was no doubt tiring of my soapbox lecture about the first amendment, suggested that I build my own filter with Linux. I accepted his challenge and bought my first copy of Suse Linux from Amazon and proceeded to hack my way to a filter eventually using open source products Squid and Squidguard to fit the bill. At the same time I encountered stiff resistance from IT traditionalists upstream who insisted that I was treading in dangerous ground. I called SLD and made sure that I was not breaking the law and kept moving forward. Eventually we began to use Red Hat and later Fedora Linux with Squid and Dansguardian another open source product that created a great filter. The upstream skeptics were silenced and others followed my lead.

The experience gained with filtering led me to an exploration of Linux in much greater detail and now a liberal arts guy with no computer science in his background began building Linux servers in closets and using hardware that no one else wanted. Eventually I was able to secure some special legislative funds from the late New York State Senator Patricia K. McGee who rewarded my entrepreneurial initiatives and granted us sufficient funds for a couple of us to get more advance professional training in Linux and other open source tools. My Linux training and my love of design led me to open source web systems using Apache, MySQL, PHP and eventually to PhpBB, WordPress, Drupal and now Moodle. Long before I laid eyes on Drupal & Moodle I could see how PhpBB could be used for student learning. From my earliest days I have loved learning and sharing what I learn with others.

A few years ago one of our previous superintendents asked me to examine how we could excite student on the edge. Many of these students were very bright by virtue of their IQ scores but remained listless in traditional classrooms. Around that time too my daughter introduced me to text messaging and so another epiphany occurred and I began to see a connection for learning and teaching using cellular phones. At a time when many of my peers in both the teaching and administrative ranks disdained cell phones, I was looking for ways to connect them to student learning. This journey has led me to an integration of cell phones, web applications using WordPress, Drupal and Moodle and student learning.

A year ago our high school principal gave me an opportunity to return to the classroom that I had been gone from for five years due to administrative overload. He asked me to consider teaching a class that would teach students what not to do with Facebook and cell phones. I asked to think about it for a few days. A bit less than a year ago I began to write a curriculum that was influenced in part by a trip to NECC 2009 in Washington, DC and some of ISTE’s materials including Mike Ribble and Gerald Bailey’s book on "Digital Citizenship in Schools." I spent last summer reading their book and many others, following tweets from my personal learning network on Twitter and Facebook and writing a curriculum that is a work in progress. I finally learned a bit more about using Moodle including how to build your own Moodle server in our virtual server cloud. Now, in addition to my technology director duties I teach two classes each day of truly amazing young people who have animated my life in a way I never dreamed possible. They have encouraged me along with my personal learning network to continue to grow both personally and professionally. They are eager to learn and love our class times. Their is a waiting list for my classes. We emphasize digital citizenship and students are encouraged to blog each day and to use their cell phones for educational purposes. I’m indebted to many including my personal learning network of Katie McFarland (@katiemc827); Rick Weinberg (@rickweinberg); Mark Carls (@mcarls), Liz Kolb (@lkolb); Steve O’Connor (@steveoc) and many more whom I follow on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

What all of this has taught me is never to accept status quo and always to keep pushing ahead for the sake of those we serve, the students and staff of our respective school districts. Putting a building principal into a position like this one with little or no preparation could be a disaster. A technology director ought to be a bit of a rebel, a diplomat, and a life long learner. Today’s technology directors have to work together with curriculum directors and technology integrators to make sure that today’s students are really being prepared for the twenty-first century. Today’s technology directors must be agents of change, they have to envelope pushers but at the same time they have to work with other professionals who can shape curriculum. No one can do everything and certainly not everything well without help. We are bridge builders who should be familiar enough with the building blocks that underpin our networks. We have to be open to change too. Just today a technology integrator friend was expressing some frustration from an IT guy who told him that DropBox couldn’t work on their network. What the IT guy isn’t saying is that he fears that someone can put a rogue file into the network by way of DropBox. While that’s possible it is no excuse for not opening DropBox so teachers and even students can use it. I know that the IT guy is blowing smoke and already I told my friend and fellow technology integrator that we’re going to try it on our network and that we will be able offer empirical evidence that will allay the other person’s fear.

The nuances of technology direction and management are many and unless the particular building administrator has some keen interest in technology there would be nothing in their professional background either as a classroom teacher or a building administrator that would prepare them. I can say this because I have now completed half of the coursework at a local university that will lead me to administrative certification. Until now, and I can only speak for my own State of New York, no one has picked up the ball. Since the inception of computer technology into schools which began in the late 1970’s now there has been no real standard for technology director or coordinator. Some like me are designated as teachers although like me we have functioned as de facto administrators. Many of us are ten or sometimes eleven month employees when in fact we ought to be twelve month employees and many like me find themselves functioning in a "no man’s land," where we are mistrusted by both teachers and administrators. Generally, we are highly principled, ethical and driven individuals who are charged with managing chaos. One of my best friends and a fellow technology director has a quote from Dante’s Inferno taped over his door, "abandon all hope ye who enter here."

Today’s technology coordinators/directors should be grandfathered into administrative positions. Higher Education and State Departments of Education need to prescribe a program of study and certification for technology directors and it ought to include much of what I’ve studied in my administrative course work, but in addition to that it ought to include a special track that emphasizes technology skills and that ought to include network planning and implementation, technology visioning and planning and it ought to include curriculum integration too. Education needs geeks but we need a special kind of geek who is one of us.

Don Watkins, Technology Director
Franklinville Central School
Franklinville, NY

Should we get rid of technology directors?

[This is a guest post from Doug Green. If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, drop me a note. Happy reading!]

Update: see also Don Watkins’ response to this post.

With the coming of computers to schools, district leaders felt the need to hire district level administrators to oversee instructional and administrative computer systems. After about 30 years, some districts are finding that they can do without their own technology gurus. Has the school district technology director gone from life on the cutting edge of technology in education to obsolescence? The purpose of this article is to explore reasons why this may be the case.

Things Have Changed

At one point is was possible for at least a few educators to have a good grasp of what computer technology could do and understand what it took to maintain stand alone systems. With the advent of school and district-wide networks, however, there was a need to add network specialists to maintain the district infrastructure. As the number of workstations in classrooms and offices expanded, there was also a need for staff that were trained and dedicated to maintain them. This meant that the technology director was leading a growing staff of non educators at the same time computers and other technologies were expanding into every niche of the instructional program.

To some districts it makes no sense to have an administrator who was most likely a former teacher responsible for computer networks. Such networks now resemble other utilities such as electricity, natural gas, and telephone service. They can be purchased from a private vendor or from a local school district service bureau such as the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) system in New York State. As for administrative computer services, the software and support are purchased from somewhere. Rather than going through the technology director, the people responsible for the services like the director of attendance for student information, the principals for scheduling and mark reporting, and the business office for functions like payroll can just deal directly with the agency selling and supporting the service.

On the instructional side, the mere existence of a technology director can allow other leaders to think that they are not responsible for the integration of instructional technology. They see it as something separate rather than a part of the big instructional picture. When principals and teachers see instructional technology as someone else’s job, they are less likely to adopt in an effective manner anything that the “technology person” pushes into the classrooms.

The Great Enabler?

As the job of the technology director has been taken over by organizations like BOCES and other district administrators I have seen people in these position look for ways to be useful which can often enable bad habits among their fellow administrators. In one district I found the person helping the assistant superintendent for instruction count the number of days school had been in session to make sure that the end of year plan would comply with state regulations. His massive spreadsheet made the task seem complicated when all one needed to do what take a calendar and count up to 180.

Studies summarized by Rogers (2003) show that top down decisions are less likely to enjoy successful adoption in education than in other organizations. This is due to the fact that teachers with masters degrees think they know what they are doing and enjoy a sense of freedom that gives them a good deal of control over how they deliver the curriculum. In order to get teachers to implement a new technology effectively, it helps if they feel some ownership for the decision to adopt. The technology director may also be seen as a person who can do things with technology that are beyond most teachers. Teachers are more likely to follow a peer who they feel has technical expertise similar to their own.

In effective schools, decisions about instructional technology initiatives are more likely to come from district or building shared decision-making teams. This gives the decisions a bottom up aspect that increases the likelihood that they will work.

The Data Piece

Another function that can land in the technology director’s portfolio is that of chief information officer (CIO). This is a title that the New York State Education Department has asked districts to use so that they have an entry point for dealing with instructional data including scores on state tests. A look around the central New York region shows that this title can land just about anywhere. While some districts give it to an assistant superintendent, others bestow it on the technology director, and still others give it to a programmer, a teacher, or even a secretary.

In essence, this job has two main functions. One is to lead the district and the individual schools as they analyze test results and other instructional data in order to make informed instructional decisions. As Burdet, City, and Murname (2005) show, this is a job that should clearly run through the superintendent’s office and the offices of the principals and should involve committees of teachers. Giving it to some technology person may produce fancy charts and graphs, but it is not likely to make the kind of instructional impact that in intended.

The other part of the job is caring for the data itself and making sure it is correctly reported to the state in a timely manner. I did this for my former district during the year after I retired so I know what it involves and I have seen how many other districts deal with it. Whoever does it will need rudimentary data processing skills and a modest understanding of relational databases. It certainly should not fall to a high paid administrator. It could even be given to a capable clerk or sent to a regional support service.

All Administrators Should be Tech Savvy

As part of the work I do teaching leadership for teachers seeking administrative certification, I read the job postings each week in the New York Times. I look for common themes and trends so I can let my students know what districts are looking for in the way of knowledge, experience, and expertise in their new hires. Many ads contain a bulleted list of items that include communication skills, collaborative leadership styles, and a vision of how all students can succeed. For the last several years, however, they also usually include something like the following found in a recent posting:

Has expertise in the use of instructional technology and the utilization of achievement data to advance student learning

When microcomputers first entered the classroom in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, many of the members of the administrative class had attended college in a era where they could submit hand written work or pay someone else to do the typing. Even today I still know of administrators who don’t do email simply because they can’t use a keyboard. One even told me that he only wanted “one button to push.” You can imagine how happy he was when I set him up with a computer that had a one-button mouse.

Now the classes I teach feature some students who are almost digital natives as they don’t remember a time when their schools didn’t have computers. As more future leaders show up with computer skills, districts are in a position to expect that their new leaders can manage instructional technology without having to ask a district technology person what to do.

And a Child Shall Lead Them

In 1976 when my district got its first computer, I was the science department chair. I had no time to figure out how it worked so I let some of my students who had an interest “play” with it. I soon became the “adult” expert even though I knew less than the students and within two years became the district computer director. Two years later I was hired by a larger district as their first Director of Computer Services with a big raise and an office next to the superintendent.

As part of my doctoral research I noticed that teachers who learned from their students were often the ones who did the most with instructional technology. With the coming of the Internet, the students had easy access to the world of information which made finding facts like shooting sitting ducks (McKenzie, 1998). As one superintendent told me, “we don’t own the information any more” (Green, 2001).

I recently worked with a doctoral student who was reviewing her work from the early 1990s. This prompted me to make a list of the technological innovations that have arrived since 1991 that I felt were likely to have some impact on instruction.

New Technologies with Possible Impact on Education Since 1991

  • 1991 QuickTime Introduced
  • 1991 First Smartboard becomes commercially available
  • 1994 Netscape 1.0 browser available for Internet surfing
  • 1995 The first Internet Wiki
  • 1996 Cell phones become common in United States
  • 1996 First Mobile cell phone with built-in PDA
  • 1996 Hotmail – Free web-based email for anyone
  • 1996 Java and Javascript programming languages add applications to the Web
  • 1998 The First web log also known as a blog
  • 1999 QuickTime 4.0 supports streaming video
  • 1999 Macromedia Flash 4.0 handles inputs and MP3 audio files
  • 1999 iMovie is free with iMac purchase
  • 2000 Google – The world’s search engine
  • 2000 Instant Messaging starts to take off
  • 2000 PayPal makes it easy and safe to pay for Internet purchases
  • 2001 Douglas Green uses speech recognition to transcribe dissertation interviews
  • 2001 iPods and iTunes become available
  • 2001 Text messaging starts to take off
  • 2002 USB flash drive memory cards become available
  • 2002 The term is Blogoshpere adopted to represent the world of blogs on the Internet
  • 2004 Facebook & Myspace make social networking more available
  • 2004 Podcasting allows new form for media distribution
  • 2004 Duke University gives an iPod to each freshman
  • 2004 GarageBand allows for easier music editing
  • 2005 Eye tracking systems become available for disabled
  • 2005 RSS (real simple syndication) adds a new type of spam
  • 2005 Guitar Hero joins the gaming culture
  • 2005 YouTube allows anyone to publish and access videos
  • 2006 PornoTube adds to the worries of parents and teachers
  • 2006 Student Response Systems (clickers) become affordable for educational use
  • 2006 Flickr available to customers in United States for storing and organizing media
  • 2006 Skype becomes available for free calls and video conferencing
  • 2006 Sherburne/Earlville, NY Schools place a SmartBoard in every classroom
  • 2006 Wii adds a physical aspect to gaming
  • 2006 Twitter adds yet another type of spam for Internet and cell phone users
  • 2007 Wikipedia becomes the largest encyclopedia ever with more than 2 million articles
  • 2007 iPhones are introduced bringing countless capabilities to cell phone users
  • 2009 A USB flash drive costs about $20 for one gigabyte 

A look at this list should lead one to think that many students are more comfortable with some of this technology than their teachers. I have had many of my administrative students tell me that they would be lost were it not for the computer help they get from their own teenage children.

When a technology innovation comes to the classroom by way of the technology director it is likely to focus on the technology. When it arrives as the result of initiatives owned by the teachers, it is more likely to focus on the content. An example from the art department that I have seen in many schools makes this point. If computers in the art rooms have a technology focus the likely result will be courses that teach how to use software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. If the computers are introduced by the art teachers they are more likely to use these tools to focus on artistic concepts and to promote artistic craft.

This month, for example, the magazine Edutopia (Bernard, 2009) has a cover story about an article where students offer lesson plan ideas that feature items from my list. My point here is that any school district looking for ideas about instructional technology is unlikely to get all they need from a single source technology director.

Goodbye Wizard of Oz.

Once a district decides to eliminate the technology director position the next questions is what happens to the person in that position. If the person is seen as bright, hard working, and knowledgeable they can be moved to other positions of leadership. Depending on their talents they might make successful principals or assistant superintendents, which are much better positions from which to promote the use of instructional technology. They might also return to the classroom where they can become a model for innovation technology use. They may be able to retire as I have seen in several local districts or they might be able to secure employment with one of the district’s technology vendors or the local school-support agency.

In 1993 when I held this position I was able to un-invent myself by convincing the superintendent that the administrative and network supervision aspects of my job could be sent to our local BOCES and that the responsibility for the instructional piece should be placed in the hands of the building principals who could look to a district level staff developer for support when they needed to help their staff learn how to use new technology. At the time, the district saved $35,000 as a result of this move.

I should also point out that a reason for making my job disappear was so that I could become a principal in a building were the decision making team had a strong interest in moving ahead with instructional technology initiatives. My goal in writing this article, therefore, is not to put my fellow directors out of work by making them look like modern versions of the Wizard of Oz. My goal is to help schools make more effective use of their technology dollars as they empower all administrators, teachers, and even students in finding ways to allow instructional technology to facilitate and motive all learners. A job that has become impossible for one person can become possible once it is viewed as everyone’s job.

  • Bernard, S. (2009). Kids Talk Tech. Edutopia. June/July 2009, 22-27.
  • Boudett, K. P., City, E. A., & Murname, R. J. Eds. (2004). Data Wise: A Step by Step Guild to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA.
  • Green, D. W. (2001). The Impact of Internet Access of Elementary Classroom Teaching: A Constructivist Perspective. (Doctoral Dissertation, Binghamton University, Dissertation Abstracts International, 63 no. 01A(2001): p 151.
  • McKenzie, J. (1998). Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free-Range Students, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(1), 26-31.
  • Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations, 5th ed. Free Press: New York, NY.

Douglas W. Green, Ed.D., was an administrator for 30 years and has 300+ publications in technology, education, and leadership. He retired to care for his wife who had Lou Gehrig’s disease and started blogging after her recent death. His blog at DrDougGreen.com features book summaries and news items that makes it easy for busy educators to keep up to date.

Does teacher tenure have a future?

As a school law instructor and tenured associate professor of educational leadership, I perhaps have a different view of tenure than most P-12 teachers. As we look to what the future of tenure may be, I believe that it’s important to recognize a few key issues that will shape the discussion and form of tenure in the years to come.

Before we begin, it may be helpful to have a quick overview of the history of tenure. Tenure was created to protect teachers against the personal and/or political whims of school administrators (and, sometimes, parents). Initiated by New Jersey in 1910, educator tenure laws gradually spread across the country. Today most states extend some kind of tenure protection to teachers. Protections typically vest for P-12 educators after two or three years in the profession, unlike their postsecondary counterparts, whose own vesting usually only accrues after six to ten years of probationary status. More recently, a few states have actually eliminated teacher tenure or discussed doing so.

So, with that background quickly covered, let’s get into the big issues. Note that the points outlined below don’t address whether or not teacher tenure is ideologically or educationally desirable. Instead, they highlight popular belief systems about the practice.


Teacher layoffs: Should seniority rule?

As budget cuts loom again in many states, employee termination, seniority, and ‘bumping rights’ are in the news. The essential issue is whether organizational leaders should be able to retain the employees they think are the most highly-skilled or whether seniority (or some other factor) should be employed instead. ‘Highly skilled’ in this instance means ‘employee quality’ or ‘best fit for employer needs,’ both of which are typically defined by the organization, not the employee or union.

Here is an indicative quote from Iowa in favor of seniority-based employment provisions:

“We're not going to have this debate on whether or not somebody who has worked for a year gets to stay over somebody who has devoted 30 years of their life because they work harder," [Danny Homan, president of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] said. "That is baloney."

And here’s another, this time in favor of merit-based layoffs:

"You always want to focus on keeping your best-performing people," said David Keeling, a spokesman for the New Teacher Project. "The only thing worse than a layoff situation is one where you are forced to cut some of your best-performing people regardless of their contributions or their fit with their jobs."

Providence, Rhode Island parents have petitioned the local teachers union to give up seniority-based layoff protections. The New York Daily News has stated that

there is basically no relationship between seniority and teaching ability. A wide and scarcely disputed body of research finds that teachers' additional experience stops paying off after about year three.

Education Sector reported that rethinking teacher contracts could free billions for school reform. And a very interesting study out of Indianapolis showed that a majority of sampled teachers thought that factors other than seniority (but not student achievement, apparently) should be considered for teacher layoffs.

The National Education Association recently made news for stating that it would encourage local unions to “waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers.” In the past it had said that staffing and seniority issues should be left to local unions and districts. The American Federation of Teachers chimed in with its support.

I wonder if the majority of educators favor or disfavor seniority-based layoff protections. I wonder how the majority of citizens feel as well. If I had to guess, I’d venture that most citizens are against teacher seniority serving as the primary determinant of job protection. I’m not sure about public school educators. What do you think?

Locus of control

Here’s a great quote from Jim Collins’ new book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In:

Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.

Do most educators believe this or are they instead inclined to point fingers at the world around them? 

[By the way, if you’re a school leader and you haven’t read Collins’ other books, Good to Great or Built to Last, you need to make an immediate trip to the bookstore!]

Help! My IT director’s locked me down!

Here’s a message that I recently received from a middle school science teacher:

I am a technology-loving science educator. I need your help and here is the short version of my story. I have tried to be a front-end user of educational technology. However, I have lost the ability to effectively utilize technology due to the IT director’s philosophy of restricting all computers for all staff. Last week the IT people took my MacBook and removed administrative privileges – something I have always had. This has coincided with the loss of our curriculum director, who always empowered educators that wanted to be progressive. I was hoping to spend a few minutes talking on the phone in more detail, at your convenience. Please reach out and help a fellow educator! I look forward to your response.

I gave him some empathetic support when we chatted on the phone. I also asked some tough questions about his IT director’s need to restrict his privileges. It didn’t sound like he had abused his administrative privileges. Thoughts for this educator, anyone?