The past 2 years have seen exciting utilization of technology in Birdville ISD. The impact of tools of the lighthouseread/write web, online courses, and digital media have been particularly great. One significant unifying factor in the campuses where these tools are being most broadly used is the support of the campus principal. As Tom Landry said, Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. Principals have gone beyond simple endorsement and encouragement to taking on the roles of facilitator and role-model, and they have found innovative ways of applying technology to their own practice. I believe the adminstrators whose campuses have taken the lead in using technology succeed for three important reasons.

1. “If you build it, they will come.” Effective school administrators make sure that the resources needed are made available. In technology terms, much of this has occurred, certainly, at the district level. Computer purchases, network equipment, training, forward-thinking acceptable use policies, all are vital components. However, the role of the building principal is also essential. Principals must provide time for planning and collaboration for teachers, utilize campus budgets to purchase technology tools not provided by the district, and ensure opportunities for professional development which support effective technology use (Owston, 2008, p.27). Campus staff development time, for example, was set aside for teachers at Walker Creek Elementary to learn about web 2.0 tools. Other campuses have scheduled similar training, in addition to sessions on digital storytelling, podcasting, and other applications. Greg Farr, principal of Shannon Learning Center, used campus funds to purchase digital video cameras. Several principals have allowed campus funds to be used to pay for substitute teachers in order to allow teachers to attend off-campus training and conferences.

climbing2. “Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Risk-taking is a vital piece of the technologically innovative campus. Carolyn Ridenour and Darla Twale described the typical pace of change in education, stating, “Education is a culturally conservative profession that rewards conforming rather than bold behaviors.” (2005, p.158) This is especially true in the current environment, where standardized assessments focusing on limited skills seem to reward the utilization of a narrowly-focused curriculum, using traditional methods which encourage successful regurgitation of skills on the tests. It takes a bold and confident leader to encourage teachers to move beyond this tunnel vision and to see the bigger picture of the world where students will one day live and work. It takes faith in the teachers and a belief that good, relevant teaching that uses real-world tools can and will produce the desired results while still enabling students to achieve the desired test results.

3. “A good example is the best sermon.” Perhaps the most exciting development to me, personally, is the embracing of technology tools, including Web 2.0, by our principals in their own practice. Principals have taken the lead by starting blogs, for instance, to communicate with faculty, parents, and students. They have created podcasts and several are exploring the possibilities of streaming school events, meetings, etc. By applying the technologies in their own practice, they send a clear message to their teachers of their belief in the effectiveness of such practices.

The role that my department has taken in the process of creating technology-focused principals is to provide training and support. This summer, more than 20 principals attended training in digital media and Web 2.0. Their response was very positive. We have also shared ways to use such technologies in conjunction with instructional practices that are proven effective during administrative meetings throughout the school year. Efforts are made to share new tools and discuss means of applying the tools in less formal interactions, such as face-to-face meetings and email. Technology leadership is a group effort, involving district-level administrators, campus leaders, technology staff, and teacher leaders. However, perhaps none is as vital as the principal in setting the tone for the practices in the classroom. Cafolla states, “Leaders will act in ways that are consistent with their beliefs.” (1995, p.558) Get them on board, and good things will usually follow.

References:

Cafolla, R. & Knee, R. (1995). Factors Limiting Technology Integration in Education: The Leadership Gap. Technology and Teacher Education Annual, 1995, 556-560.

Owsten, R. (2007). Contextual factors that sustain innovative pedagogical practice using technology: an international study. Journal of Educational Change, 8(1), 61-77.

Ridenour, C.S. & Twale, D.J. (2005). Academic Generations Exploring Intellectual Risk Taking in an Educational Leadership Program. Education, 126(1), 158-164.