Tag: schools

Traits of an Innovative Adminstrator

I’m preparing a presentation for a group of administrators next week. I’m used to primarily collaborating with teachers, but I think this is a critical opportunity for me to influence a crucial group. These guys and gals set the tone and determine the instructional direction for entire districts and campuses. I’ve been reflecting upon the qualities that have made so many of the administrators I have worked with fantastic assets to me in my own job as a technology specialist and, previously, as a classroom teacher yearning to innovate. I’ve shared a few below in hopes of receiving feedback (and basically crowdsourcing my presentation) based upon others’ experiences. If you have any suggestions, they would be really appreciated! (Note–suggestions don’t have to begin with an “e”, but bonus points will be awarded!). The ideal, innovative administrator will…

  • Embody–take the time to study, experiment, and use technology in your day-to-day work. Share your experiences with your teachers, students, and parents.
  • Enable–Create the climate by setting responsible but progressive policies (e.g. filtering policies) and providing needed resources.
  • Encourage–Look for and share the successful innovations happening in your school.
  • Expect–Hold teachers accountable for using technology in the context of the curriculum, in high-level ways that promote meaningful knowledge and skills.

The REAL Reality of Public Education

(I had posted this to my Facebook account, and I thought I’d share it here, too. Education is at a crossroads in Texas, and it has me reflecting on why we do what we do. I hope it strikes a chord with my fellow teachers.)

I am so grateful to work in education. I get to work daily with amazingly talented, caring, and well-educated adults childrenand kids and see them do incredible things, despite general disrespect from the media, religious groups, and some of the political leaders who fund them. The bad schools, the minority, get all of the press. The good ones march forward and are responsible for keeping our country on top. They innovate and strive for constant improvement in obscurity, beyond the local community and families, who are often their sole source of encouragement. I see the hours spent outside of class planning, grading, reading, trying to improve the craft. I see the heartache when criticized and the resolve to do better, to satisfy those who will never be satisfied. Educators I work around are the salt of the earth. They don’t want to brainwash children. They aren’t pitching some hidden political agenda. They care about their students’ feelings and emotional well-being as much as they care about their academic performance. They love it when their students laugh and smile, or when they get that rare “thank you” or hug from a student or parent. They don’t ask whether or not a student lives in the right zone or is in the country legally or illegally. They find the greatest satisfaction when the student who is struggling finally has that “a-ha” moment. They try to learn new technologies and stay abreast of the latest trends in education and in society. They work for salaries beneath the averages for their levels of education and shrinking benefits, yet rarely ask for more. They go to second jobs on weekends, holidays, and during summer breaks to make ends meet in tough times. They retire, only to become substitute teachers, partly because retirement benefits are insufficient, and partly because they just love being around the kids and other teachers.

When I decided a career in education was my calling, I had planned on becoming an attorney. I knew what I was giving up, but I also knew God had called me to do something else. Most teachers feel exactly the same. They were called to teach. Those who enter the profession for other reasons usually don’t last long. I modeled my own teaching after some amazing people, and I am thankful for each: Mrs. Pruitt, who always made me laugh and connected with me on a real, personal level; Mrs. Hardison, for the same reasons; Mrs. Eldridge, my 4th grade teacher, whose love for science was infectious; Mr. Eklund, whose class was challenging and engaging; and Mrs. Talbert, who saw beyond the mouthy, rebellious teenager and saw the potential behind the bravado. There have been countless administrators and fellow teachers since who have served as friends and role-models. Most of all, I’m thankful for the kids. Just like parenting, teaching does have its moments with kids who challenge you. Just like parenting, though, you learn from the mistakes and tough times and grow more skilled . And, just like parenting, most moments with your kids are incredible. There is laughter, there are tears. There are celebrations of accomplishments and shared moments of mourning. You grow to love each kid, and, surprisingly, some of the ones who are the most challenging end up closest to you. You see them grow up, run into them in restaurants, the mall, or church, and feel the pride of a parent at the adults they have become. I’ve even had the opportunity to see several grow up to become teachers, a particularly gratifying discovery (Maybe I didn’t ruin it for them entirely!).

If anyone bothers to read this, please believe me when I say that this is reality, not the stories that make the news or are the subject of politically-motivated documentaries filled with distorted images and outright lies. The vast majority of the teachers your children will have throughout their schooling are just as I’ve described, and we should all do our part to support them and do what we can to work with our kids’ teachers to help our kids reach their full potential. This means being active participants at home and at school. Our kids are more important than our careers, and it may mean being inconvenienced, at times. It’s worth it, though. You and I want our kids to become amazing, successful adults, and so do your kids’ teachers. It’s a natural partnership, and I thank God for the opportunity to be a part of it.

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Meaningful Leadership

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.

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