Why do forward thinking leaders need to use technology? Why is it no longer possible to separate good leadership and technology leadership? We contend all educational leaders have a responsibility to learn and use technology. The idea that education can exist without using technology is increasingly preposterous. This is true not only because students are engaged in its use, not only because we are preparing our students to be college and career ready, but because they are living in that environment now and with ease. Teachers have been hard at work learning and using use this medium at a faster rate than the administrators who supervise them. This is problematic and potentially dangerous.
It is important that educational leaders learn about the technology their teachers are incorporating in their classes. Leaders are responsible for not only holding the vision of the school/district but the movement toward it while protecting students and teachers from dangers unseen. This requires a very careful balance. So often we hear about leaders who have supported the idea of creating technological barriers, preventing access through the use of filters, or worse, banning the use of personal technology devices. This is the most cautious approach, protecting students, teachers, and the district. It is also difficult to lead from such a cautious place. If we cannot block out the danger, we need to learn how to lead in this environment.
There are several reasons this is important. Teachers are being encouraged and are stepping out and experimenting at a greater rate than their supervisors. What might a school leader say if a teacher decided to begin Tweeting with his or her students or giving students access to their Facebook page for gathering information about assignments or advocating for students to begin working in Pintrest or flipping their classroom by posting videos on YouTube? We suggest leaders might encourage and support that teacher and even write a glowing review of that teacher's work. The warning is against leaders giving the nod to their teachers without understanding the technology. It raises issues of trust, integrity and safety. There is much more to know about the value and capacity for using these vehicles for learning. Leaders need to be able to engage those conversations with the faculty, board and parents. Questions about the age of the students, do they have access to technology outside of the school? Is the environment being used protected or does it need to be? Does this enhance the learning process or is it pretty fluff? Do the parents know about this? Do they need information and training along with their children? Will this make a difference in learning and achievement? And most importantly, can the leader determine which tools, when they are used and how effective they are?
This is a leadership issue in technology clothing. Tom Peters is a well-known writer on business management practices. In this recorded interview, he noted leaders are rarely the best performers.
If you are leading well, you are still only as good as your best players (referring to leading a sports team) and sales people (referring to leading a company) and actors (referring to directing a movie). And he concluded, "You do not want a leader who is not enthusiastic, period." So the leadership message is simple. We don't necessarily need our leaders to be our best users of technology, but they should know enough to safely use some of it and enthusiastically encourage and lead their teachers to use much of it.
How might that look? Principals and superintendents can reach out to the faculty, and even students, to find the most informed users of technology and become a learner. That is good modeling and it will make it safer terrain for others who are less technologically savvy as well. Ask as many questions as possible. In some cases, they may have colleagues or family members who are using technology in their work. There are scores of young people teaching grandparents how to use various forms of technology. How is it used in education, business, personally? Who is using it? How privately can it be used? Does it need a level of privacy? Where can I learn more about it? How can I best support its appropriate use in our school/district?
There is another challenge that has to be reconciled. It requires a changed mental model. The work of teachers has been behind the classroom door for a long time. As those doors open for curricular reasons and because of technology, it is both exciting and threatening. Educators have developed a sense of proprietorship about their work. Anticipate that some may be comfortable using the medium to remind students of assignments, but they may have serious reservations about placing their lessons on YouTube in order to flip their classrooms. When a principal writes praise and encouragement in a memo to a teacher who is flipping their classroom, unless they have openly shared their own work on YouTube, created something and given it away, they can't possibly know the courage and generosity that takes. Want your faculty to begin flipping some lessons? Why not flip faculty meetings? Want teachers to have dynamic webpages that communicate with their students and their parents? Why not have one of your own? Need to approve a teacher's idea to use Twitter to keep students up to date? Why not use Twitter to communicate with your community to stay connected?
Leadership, good leadership, transcends physical boundaries. Technology cannot be dismissed from the leadership's responsibility to be in the know. It is acceptable for the teachers to be more skilled than their leader in the use of technology with students. But it is not acceptable for the leader to stay removed from its use. We need to learn beside our faculties and know and understanding the tools they are using. Room must be made for common understanding and improved use. Teachers, students and parents need to trust that those who make technology available and who advocate for its use know what they are talking about. The right mix of vision, knowledge, risk taking... and a dash of courage ...make schools dynamic learning environment for all of us.