For the fourth year running, Dr. Scott McLeod out of Iowa State University’s CASTLE program has invited educational bloggers to share their thoughts on topics surrounding educational leadership as it pertains to technology. In my 2009 entry, I listed four key attributes of someone I considered to be a superlative model of educational leadership in the realm of technology (made even more impressive by the fact that his job description had nothing to do with technology). For this year’s entry, I’d like to speak a bit about my experiences witnessing and participating in teachers demonstrating leadership initiative.
While undoubtedly many of today’s posts will focus on why and how administrators and supervisors should embrace technology (and don’t get me wrong; I believe they should), I think we first need to differentiate between “administrator” and “leader”. I hope this doesn’t contribute too much to the “us v. them” mentality to which Gerald alludes in this comment (a valid point, and a problematic issue in any field, to be sure), but I believe it’s important to note that not all administrators (supervisors, headmasters, etc.) are leaders. Surely, the specific attributes that best describe a leader will vary from person to person, but at the very least, I see that word as describing behavior, not a job title.
Conversely, not all leaders are administrators. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, there was a very strong grass-roots movement among some of the teachers at my old school to evaluate technology and incorporate it into classroom activities. A few years prior, in the late 1990s, the then-superintendent sort of put us on the map with regard to technology, but the curricular implementation seemed rather confined to this one project (although it was still pretty cool). Still, perhaps even more importantly, the series of tubes infrastructure was in place, and steadily improving, from ISDN lines to Wi-Fi blanketing the 72-acre campus. A few years after that project came to an end, this guy some of you might have heard of took advantage of all those empty Internets tubes and became one of the first to incorporate this easily-accessible technology that would come to be widely known as “Web 2.0” into his classes. A few years after that, I started investigating the utility of wikis with my English students. Right around that time, several of my colleagues began using Skype with their World Language students and podcasting in their Social Studies classes.
The beauty of this is that it was not a formal, sanctioned movement, or a directive from on high; rather, some of us just started exploring options and becoming self-taught “experts” in our own rights in certain areas – Will was our blogging guru, I was the wiki guy, Jon and Ray were the people to talk to about Skype, and so on. When we finally did come together, some of our supervisors and administrators had the foresight and humility to say, “You guys have really gotten this figured out, or are at least on your way, and we absolutely see the value in it – can you help bring this stuff to your colleagues?” From there, that small core of five or six teachers started running after-school and summer workshops for our colleagues. Eventually, the core group grew, as did our interests, tools of focus, and – perhaps most importantly – the number of teachers we were able to reach and help identify technological companions for their specific needs. It was a beautiful, very organic development, thanks mainly to a) teachers who were not afraid to assume leadership roles in relation to their colleagues, and b) administrators who demonstrated true leadership by acknowledging the strengths of their faculty in areas that were largely foreign to them (the administrators) and trusting them to lead.
It should be noted that this approach of “bottom-up” leadership (as opposed to “top-down”) was implemented in many other areas with regard to technology as well. A core group of teachers volunteered to be the first to be assigned tablet PCs at our school. Once feedback was collected from this pilot group and the decision was made to roll them out schoolwide, the original cohort ran most of the subsequent training sessions (after all, they were far better suited to speak to the tablet’s impact and utility in the classroom than any administrator). It’s also interesting to note that in this rollout, faculty & staff were not required to take one if they did not want one (I’ll just leave this there for you to opine upon in the comments…). The same approach was taken some years later when the school decided to pilot a 1:1 student netbook program. Teachers, who occupy one of the lower places in the traditional linear hierarchy of school authority, demonstrated multiple times their ability to be leaders in their school community. This was not only supported, but celebrated and encouraged, by school administrators.
One lesson I’ve learned in the three years or so I’ve been active in online education communities is that there’s a tremendous amount of ego destruction that has to take place in order to really learn and improve one’s professional practice (at least, there was in my case). Just as the teacher can never presume to be the smartest person in the classroom, the administrator cannot presume to be the best-informed on every single topic. Mary Beth addressed this quite well in her post “6 Reasons I Surround Myself with People Smarter Than I Am”, and comments by Chris and Deven on that post pretty solidly address the implications for those of us in administrative positions.
I imagine there is a tremendous amount of pressure on school administrators to always have “the right answer” and know exactly what to do in all situations. That goes with the territory, I suppose, but please remember that you also have an entire faculty of intelligent, dedicated professionals who work with you (you did hire intelligent & dedicated professionals, right?), and whose strengths and knowledge you can draw upon and foster, especially in the realm of educational technology. Chances are there is a group of teachers in your school who have been tinkering and experimenting just as my colleagues and I did years ago. Putting your ego aside and drawing upon these resources right under your nose can only benefit the students you serve, and provides a golden opportunity for you to be a leader in deed as well as by title.