Saturday, November 22, 2008

Call For Action: Technology Leadership Academy

There is no disputing the role of leadership on student achievement. Strong leadership always improves it while poor leadership (or no leadership) lowers it. Those in charge of the Iowa Core are starting with district leadership teams first, recognizing that the leadership teams will effect change the most. Thus, the first Iowa Core meetings are solely focused on leadership development.

This is where we are missing the boat, though. To implement the digital curriculum, a district will have to have strong leadership. Leadership is needed to:
  • Craft a vision
  • Streamline and make viable a curriculum
  • Put in place hardware, software and infrastructure
  • Train teachers
  • Provide support
  • Assure accountability
  • Communicate and partner with the greater community
And in a large portion of our districts, leadership is not strong in the field of technology integration. It becomes a hot potato... the onus of responsibility falls in between the IT staff and the administrators. Project CASTLE is focusing on building administrative leadership with the digital curriculum. We need to do the same with technology coordinators.

The first thing to make clear is that, by and large, technology coordinators are doing a good job. From first-hand experience, I can vouch for the never-stop responsibilities of maintaining a district's technology. A colleague of mine said "You can throw many changes at teachers on a continual basis, but if you truly want to bring the system to its knees, take down the email server." Or as another one mentioned, "When hard drives crash, I truly get to see people at their worst."

There also are teachers doing a great job in the classroom, many taking it upon themselves to research the technology and experiment with ways to better use it to enhance learning. Some take it upon themselves to write grants for their classroom to add technology.

Neither of these are leadership. And, this is where most districts get stuck. This is isolated pockets of excellence, but without a central vision and leader to ensure the whole group is moving forward, these pockets won't go anywhere.

There are often two different technology coordinators that you will see in districts. When technology first emerged, there was one teacher who worked a little bit more with technology than others. As the district grew, the technology demands required time spent outside of the classroom to manage it, and the district often grabbed the one who dabbled the most with it. In many of our smaller and more rural districts, the technology coordinator is in this mode, a former teacher who has morphed into the manager of hardware and software. In addition, some larger districts have had the resources to fund a different type of position, an integration specialist. Once again, the premier technology-integrating teachers gravitated into those positions.

But larger districts reached a threshold when networking and database management became significant. It required specialization. And much like other companies, districts have been hiring network specialists to manage this sophistication.

Neither of these two groups, despite their talents, have been trained in leadership. And when there are some rare cases where technology management is naturally talented in leadership (Pella or Jefferson-Scranton, for example), those districts become leaders in the state.

Another way to look at it: when I went through my administrative graduate program through Viterbo, I was the only technology coordinator in the state doing so. My instructors were, for good reason, quite surprised to see someone like me, as were districts looking to hire an administrator.

A dynamic that is present in education is the one of control vs. influence. Take away for a second the negative connotations of the word "control". As people move out of the classroom into the realm of administration, they notice the control they had of managing every item that took place in their classroom was now sacrificed. Principals don't have a corresponding level of control in every corner of their building. They do, on the other hand, have influence. It becomes even more pronounced as one moves to superintendent. Good administrators understand this dynamic. They understand they have to sacrifice the control they once enjoyed to greater influence the learning community.

Both network specialists and integration specialists have great influence. Unfortunately, most see their job as one of great control. They don't have the skills to build consensus and human capacity the way an influential leader does.

The Iowa Core recommends that technology staff are part of the leadership teams planning the district's deployment of the core. I can say, both as someone who is working with Core leadership and technology staff, this isn't happening. With the Iowa Core, we have the capacity to bring about an avenue for digital curriculum adoption. But, imagine the roadblock when the leadership team determines it would like to go there without the technology coordinator at the table.

If a district is going to get to the digital curriculum, it would be truly beneficial to require administrative certification of its technology coordinator. This means we need a leadership academy to get them there. Even if it doesn't mean administrative certification, a CASTLE-type program for technology coordinators, possibly building off of the programs at UNI and Iowa State, but more geared for the district-level rather than the PhD.

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