The Greatest Challenge Facing School Leaders in a Digital World
By Scott McLeod Oct 29, 2017
the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education – CASTLE
If a school’s reputation and pride are built on decades or centuries of “this is how we’ve always done things here,” resistance from staff, parents, and alumni to significant changes may be fierce. In such institutions, heads of school may have to steer carefully between deeply ingrained habits and the need to modernize the information tools with which students and faculty work
Too often, when navigating faculty or parental resistance, school leaders and technology staff make reassurances that things will not have to change much in the classroom or that slow baby steps are OK. Unfortunately, this results in a different problem, which is that schools have now invested significant money, time, and energy into digital technologies but are using them sparingly and seeing little impact. In such schools, replicative uses of technology are quite common, but transformative uses that leverage the unique affordances of technology are quite rare.
many schools fail to proceed further because they don’t have a collective vision of what more transformative uses of technology might look like, nor do they have a shared understanding of and commitment to what it will take to get to such a place. As a result, faculty instruction and the learning experiences of students change little or not at all.
These schools have taken the time to involve all stakeholders—including students—in substantive conversations about what digital tools will allow them to do differently compared with previous analog practices. Their visions promote the potential of computing devices to facilitate all of those elements we now think of as essential 21st-century capacities: confidence, curiosity, enthusiasm, passion, critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-direction. Technology doesn’t simply support traditional teaching—it transforms it for deeper thinking and gives students more agency over their own learning.
Another prevalent issue preventing technology change in schools is fear—fear of change, of the unknown, of letting go of what we know best, of being learners again. But it’s also a fear of letting kids have wide access to the Internet with the possibility of cyberbullying, access to inappropriate material, and exposure to online predators or even excessive advertising. Fears, of course, need to be surfaced and addressed.
The fear drives some schools to ban cellphones, disallow students and faculty from using Facebook, and lock down Internet filters so tightly that useful websites are inaccessible. They prohibit the use of Twitter and YouTube, and they block blogs. Some educators see these types of responses as principled stands against the shortcomings and hassles of digital technologies. Others see them as rejections of the dehumanization of the education process by soulless machines. Often, however, it’s just schools clinging to the past and elevating what is comfortable or familiar over the potential of technology to help them better deliver on their school missions.
Heads of school don’t have to be skilled users themselves to be effective technology leaders, but they do have to exercise appropriate oversight and convey the message—repeatedly—that frequent, meaningful technology use in school is both important and expected. Nostalgia aside, there is no foreseeable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superseded by electronic text and multimedia. When nearly all information is digital or online, multi-modal and multimedia, accessed by mobile devices that fit in our pockets, the question should not be whether schools prepare students for a digital learning landscape, but rather how.
Many educators aren’t necessarily afraid of technology, but they are so accustomed to heavily teacher-directed classrooms that they are leery about giving up control—and can’t see the value in doing so.
Although most of us recognize that mobile computers connected to the Internet may be the most powerful learning devices yet invented—and that youth are learning in powerful ways at home with these technologies—allowing students to have greater autonomy and ownership of the learning process can still seem daunting and questionable.
The “beyond” is particularly important. When we give students some voice in and choice about what and how they learn, we honor basic human needs for autonomy, we enhance students’ interest and engagement, and we truly actualize our missions of preparing lifelong learners.
The goal of instructional transformation is to empower students, not to disempower teachers. While instructor unfamiliarity with digital technologies, inquiry- or problem-based teaching techniques, or deeper learning strategies may result in some initial discomfort, these challenges can be overcome with robust support.
A few workshops here and there rarely result in large-scale changes in implementation.
teacher-driven “unconferences” or “edcamps,” at which educators propose and facilitate discussion topics, can be powerful mechanisms for fostering professional dialogue and learning. Similarly, some schools offer voluntary “Tech Tuesdays” or “appy hours” to foster digital learning among interested faculty.
In addition to existing IT support, technology integration staff, or librarians/media specialists, some schools have student technology teams that are on call for assistance when needed.
A few middle schools and high schools go even further and assign teachers their own individual student technology mentors. These student-teacher pairings last all school year and comprise the first line of support for educators’ technology questions.
As teachers, heads of school, counselors, coaches, and librarians, we all now have the ability to participate in ongoing, virtual, global communities of practice.
Whether formal or informal, the focus of technology-related professional learning should be on student learning, not on the tools or devices. Independent school educators should always ask, “Technology for the purpose of what?” when considering the inclusion of digital technologies into learning activities. Technology never should be implemented just for technology’s sake.
more on digital literacy for EDAD in this IMS blog