A well-kept secret in the main office is that principals can (and should) teach, too. In a well-led school, all members of the school community will see the principal in teaching action. This should include teaching with technology, because setting an example as a principal is important when it comes to preparing students to be tech-savvy citizens. Afshari and colleagues claim that "the leadership role of the principal is the single most important factor affecting the successful integration of technology."1
School leaders should take every opportunity they can to show publicly that they value technology. Principals should incorporate technology into such everyday tasks as completing observations or giving presentations. Classroom modeling—delivering demonstration lessons in which students effectively learn through using technology—is an even more direct approach.
Here are eight ways school leaders can meaningfully show that they value technology in schools.
1. Use e-mails and social media creatively.
By exploiting the multimedia capabilities some e-mail programs offer, principals can increase the effect of staffwide e-mails and demonstrate how teachers might use this common tool creatively to increase students' motivation. Try embedding images or videos that represent the message's content within some e-mails you send your staff. If you're sending a message to praise one staff member on a job well done, insert a graphic saying "Thanks!" in fancy type or link to a video showing a sea of applauding hands. Other options include embedding PowerPoint-type presentations directly into an e-mail through the free website Slide Share or embedding a poll in an e-mail to gather teachers' views or votes on a key issue.
By using these options to distribute information to your staff, you'll both demonstrate a commitment to technology and—by eliminating another faculty meeting—make better use of teachers' time. In addition, social media play an important role in school communication. By sharing positive messages, updates on things like testing, and meaningful links for parents and students on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, you'll be a model for the entire school community. Auburndale Senior High School uses Facebook to publicize upcoming deadlines for taking the ACT and SAT, to give up-to-date information on scholarships, and to spread the word about parent nights or football games.
2. Deliver dynamic presentations.
Presentations are ubiquitous in schools. Teachers use them to give lectures or assign student projects; principals show them at faculty meetings and parent nights. PowerPoint-type presentations can become more dynamic and offer opportunities for audience engagement with a few tricks involving easy-to-learn technology.
Embed video and pictures within your slides or screens to give a presentation more impact. Or use slate software (available from Smart Technologies), which enables you to circle, highlight, or point to important information right on the screen as you deliver your presentation.2
Record important media presentations and make them available as podcasts or as streaming media so teachers and community members can watch and listen later. Featuring these technologies at faculty meetings and parent nights will show teachers how effective digital and multimedia techniques can be in gaining audience attention.
3. Use mobile technology in walk-throughs.
Teachers now expect principals to go in and out of their classrooms observing their teaching and students' learning. However, many principals still use paper and pen to deliver feedback. Consider using an iPad or other form of tablet computer to electronically complete your observation forms and immediately send feedback to teachers. Instead of waiting for a form to come to their school mailbox, teachers can quickly log on to their e-mail and see comments about the observed lesson. You and the teacher can start an e-mail conversation about successes you saw in the classroom and improvements you'd like to see.
This type of modeling may seem unrelated to actual instruction, but just using an iPad to make walk-throughs more effective and efficient demonstrates a leader's belief that technology can have a positive impact and may reduce fear among technology-phobic faculty.
4. Skype in speakers.
With video conferencing now freely available through Skype, principals can invite informed, compelling speakers to share what they know at faculty meetings without the expense of travel accommodations. Consider inviting curriculum researchers to discuss how a new instructional practice can increase student achievement or having book authors speak on teaching practice (why not select books about increasing technology in the classroom?). Teachers may realize how applications like Skype could open the world to students.
Inviting the superintendent of schools to attend virtually will demonstrate to your school and district your commitment to technology.
5. Participate in a technology team.
Specialized educators who have technical knowledge that principals lack—network managers, media specialists, and technology coaches—serve at many schools. A savvy school leader will participate in a team with such experts—and add teacher leaders who use technology often. Use this team to find and evaluate digital resources before presenting new ideas to the faculty at large; this will both show your commitment and create buy-in.
This team should be willing and able to provide professional development to the faculty, either as a formal process or more fluidly, with team members making themselves available for one-on-one training and support in classrooms.
6. Emphasize technology in the budget.
Teachers and community members alike view the school budget process as a public statement of priorities. Send the right message.
Although budgets are often set by districts, many principals receive flexible accounts they can draw on for classroom necessities. Consider setting aside a specific dollar amount for increasing the technology available on campus. Be sure to allocate resources and time for tech-related professional development.
7. Set up observation opportunities.
Principals should promote modeling of technology use throughout the school community. Ask teachers who use technology creatively to open their classrooms occasionally so colleagues can drop in and watch a peer employ technology skillfully. To ensure this happens, deliberately recognize individuals who use technology well in the classroom during walk-throughs and schedule these teachers to have an open classroom for a day.
As a practical measure, set up a rotating schedule of open classrooms and provide incentives for teachers to open their room to observers. This will encourage strong teacher leaders to step into more prominent roles and showcase sound technology use in the classroom. In addition, encourage other leaders across campus—assistant principals, deans, and resource specialists—to use technology in public spaces as appropriate.
8. Troubleshoot publicly.
One of the hardest challenges principals face is feeling comfortable making a mistake in public. However, from time to time, technology won't work the way we want it to. When this occurs in public, troubleshoot problems in front of teachers. By taking a moment or two to try to correct a glitch, you'll demonstrate your faith that technology helps teaching enough to be worth some hassles. Teachers will see that you're OK with a few seconds of downtime when a device or application balks. Make sure to smoothly transition to a backup plan if necessary so you don't waste staff members' time. This also shows staff that you expect them to create contingency plans.
To be effective, school leaders must lead technology infusion. It's the principal's responsibility to—as technology advocate Scott McLeod3
says—"prepare future-ready citizens who are technologically savvy, globally competent, and prepared to engage in a 21st-century knowledge-based economy."
Afshari, M., Bakar, K. A., Luan, W. S., Samah, B. A., & Fooi, F. S. (2009). Technology and school leadership. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 18(2), 235–248. doi: 10.1080/14759390902992527
This software is not free, but many districts have the software already on their school computers.
McLeod, S., & Richardson, J. W. (2011). The dearth of technology leadership coverage. Journal of School Leadership, 21(2), 216–240.
Matthew Ulyesses Blankenship is dean of students at Auburndale Senior High School in Auburndale, Florida.
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