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Lead by Example: Leverage Technology in 3 Steps

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Guest blogger Joel Sackett has been helping organizations realize their digital visions for almost a decade. He has worked on numerous high-profile projects, including PBS Student Reporting Labs, Whitehouse.gov and 2012 Olympics coverage for AP. 

A lot of the conversation taking place about technology and education today focuses on digital classroom tools that are meant to help educators teach better or to help students learn better. But technology can and should have a huge impact on the administrative process as well.

Consider this: A recent Metlife Survey of the American Teacher found that almost 70% of principals reported their job responsibilities were different than those they had five years earlier, and 75% reported that they felt their jobs were too complex. While it's obvious that technology is a significant part of this change, we need to work to ensure it is helping handle the increasing complexity surrounding educational leadership, not adding to the work load.

While there are district leaders who have embraced technology, many find technology foreign, intimidating or overwhelming. There are leaders who remain reluctant to embrace technology and some only think of technology as the basic infrastructure for their day-to-day tasks. Are districts overlooking tools that are purpose-built to improve the administrative process? If so, they are ignoring the fact that these technologies can enable administrators and teachers alike to do everything from controlling costs to improving communications to giving student learning a boost.

Schools across the country are concerned with instilling 21st century skills in their students, and true leadership comes from leading by example. How will students learn to be digitally savvy if their districts are not technology inclined?

With that in mind, let's take a look at three steps districts can take to help overcome this leadership reluctance to embrace technology:

1. Make sure it works, and is easily available. While this first step may seem obvious, sometimes there is good reason for administrative skepticism surrounding technology. That is often related to the fact that this step was not checked off! For example, there has been a lot of hype for technology to "disrupt education" - which makes for a great sound byte. But sensationalism like "disruption" often skews the benefits while lacking actionable steps for how to be successful with the actual offering. As a result, many expect the return on a promise of a silver bullet solution, but then have one bad experience - which in turn makes them skeptical of would be great technological tools.

There are a few ways to ensure the technology you use has tangible value. For instance, have some in leadership who aren't as technically inclined test and give feedback on the product before you commit - a simple "try before you buy." On the more technical end, have an IT expert make sure the tool integrates seamlessly into existing systems - especially systems in place that are the most efficient or add the most value. Another good tactic is to focus on outcomes when evaluating technology. Don't be fooled by features that don't actually address the problem you are trying to solve - stay laser-focused on the "why" and then make sure your technology choice is addressing it simply and effectively.

2. Offer support. Of course, it's also important for districts to make a concerted effort to make the chosen technology accessible. That means acknowledging that change can be intimidating, and doing what you can to help administrators and teachers overcome their fears, and feel empowered instead of forced. One way to do so is to pair tech-savvy leaders and teachers with those just learning the ropes. On top of that, though, make sure you provide consistent professional development for staff-members that allows them enough time to become comfortable with the use of the technology. This doesn't mean a couple one-hour training sessions; instead, it should be an ongoing, supportive process. And, this need not be something that a district has to tackle on its own. Rather, the selection process for any technology tool should include an in-depth look at what support services are included with the purchase.

3. Focus on outcomes. I mentioned this in the evaluation process, but it's important long after you choose a certain technology. A key to success is to make sure leaders know why embracing technology is so important. To start, that means explaining or proving the efficiency and/or cost savings that come as a result of the technology. But even beyond that, make sure to tie the outcomes to the end goal of all education: student achievement.

As last year's Department of Professional Employees Fact Sheet put it,

In high performing schools, administrators play a crucial role in establishing high expectations for students and teachers, communicating a clear plan for student achievement and teacher cooperation, and making expectations for state and federal standards clear. They also work to create an environment where everyone has a stake in school improvement.

Technology can streamline the work process and enrich the learning process. The leadership must lead by example, establish high expectations for its use, and work along with and support each other and the teachers. It is through support, leading by example, and celebrating the positive outcomes, that technolgy's potential can truly be realized.

Connect with Joel @joelstweets

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