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Dr. Scott McLeod- Don’t Forget The Administrators

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January 20, 2012 07:02 pm

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Scott McLeod, J.D., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky. He also is the Founding Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), the nation’s only academic center dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators, and was a co-creator of the wildly popular video series, Did You Know? (Shift Happens).

We all know that good leadership is essential to organizational success. Yet, when it comes to technology initiatives in P-12 schools, we seem to have forgotten that investments in leaders are investments in system-wide reform.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the areas of professional development and support. There are countless programs out there that focus on the technology needs of students and/or teachers. They provide funding, training, and other resources that move students’ and teachers’ technology skills forward. Are there similar programs for principals and superintendents? Not really. If you look around the country for initiatives aimed at increasing school administrators’ technology knowledge and leadership skills, you’ll see that our investment in them has been quite dismal. Oh, sure, you’ll find a few isolated programs – primarily in the form of a few days of learning from a school district or state association – but nothing comprehensive or long-term, nothing that will really move the needle. As a result, we continue to see isolated incidents of classroom technology excellence instead of larger-scale, systemic educational technology reform.

As I noted in a recent article, the need for powerful leadership in the area of school technology has never been greater:

We know, simply from projecting current trends forward, that in the future our learning will be even more digital, more mobile, and more multimedia than it is now. It will be more networked and more interconnected and often will occur online, lessening dependence on local humans. It frequently will be more informal and definitely will be more self-directed, individualized, and personalized. It will be more computer-based and more software-mediated and thus less reliant on live humans. It will be more open and more accessible and may occur in simulation or video game-like environments. And so on. We’re not going to retrench or go backward on any of these paths. We thus need school leaders who can begin envisioning the implications of these environmental characteristics for learning, teaching, and schooling. We need administrators who can design and operationalize our learning environments to reflect these new affordances. We need leaders who are brave enough to create the new paradigm instead of simply tweaking the status quo and who have the knowledge and ability to create schools that are relevant to the needs of students, families, and society.

Despite these ever-increasing challenges, we continue to allocate few, if any, resources to school leaders’ learning and support needs. This is true at both the inservice level for practicing administrators and at the preservice level for aspiring administrators.

If a principal or superintendent isn’t receiving professional development, funding, or other leadership supports from the university that prepared her, her state and national leadership associations, her regional education service agency, her state department of education, the federal government, or a corporate or foundation initiative, where is she supposed to get the information and training that she needs to improve her technology leadership skills? From a book or a few web sites? When we underinvest in the people that control all of the resources that instigate and facilitate change – money, time, training, personnel allocation, structural (re)alignment, vision, etc. – we shouldn’t be surprised when desired changes in our schools fail to materialize. We also shouldn’t be surprised when school administrators make technology-related decisions because of fear, lack of knowledge, or community or political pressure rather than educational appropriateness.

When an administrator’s mental light bulb turns on regarding technology, it’s not just an individual or classroom that’s affected, it’s his entire building or district. As such, it’s time for more attention to our principals and superintendents. For public relations purposes, they may not be as sympathetic a group as students or teachers, but they are absolutely critical investments if we are to create the technology-suffused, globally-interconnected learning environments that we need as a society.

Thank you for participating in Digital Learning Day. Please remember that school leaders have learning and support needs too, and don’t hesitate to contact us at CASTLE if we can be of help.

Read other blog posts from the Digital Learning Day Educator Working Group. Learn more about Digital Learning Day at http://www.digitallearningday.org.

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