Year after year, hundreds of millions of dollars are funneled into technology initiatives and resources in school districts throughout the country. From hardware and software, to infrastructure and one-to-one devices, money is flowing into programs and tools for schools like never before, but are these technology devices and tools making a worthwhile impact considering the cost? Who’s leading such implementation and reform? As these tools become more prevalent in schools, it’s school leaders that will make or break the success of such innovative programs and ultimately help determine if the monetary investments were worthwhile. Administrators that exhibit digital leadership will undoubtedly have a higher return on such investments in technology. Schools without such leaders face an uphill battle.
How can administrators exhibit such digital leadership?
1. Foster a culture of innovation and risk taking. Some administrators rule with a heavy hand, causing staff to be fearful of making mistakes, which in turn inhibits risk-taking and classroom innovation. Others promote such innovation and understand the need for a school culture to be based on trust. High expectations for student engagement are evident and teachers are challenged to move outside of their own comfort zone. Leaders in these schools create a safe environment for teachers to learn, grow and push the digital envelope.
2. Cultivate digital teacher leadership. Simply put, the best schools are run by administrators that allow teachers to take on leadership roles; not ones that micromanage their every move. It’s not feasible for a building administrator to be the expert on every digital tool, system, program, etc. Digital leaders cultivate teacher leadership, abdicate some control, and understand that allowing teachers to lead, mentor and inspire their colleagues will promote positive digital outcomes.
3. Utilize technology for improved communication. Technology enables leaders to communicate in a variety of facets. From social media outlets like school Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to YouTube channels and interactive school websites, various modes of communication allow leaders to utilize a multi-pronged strategy; vastly improving communication to those they serve. School and district mobile apps provide real-time information, grade reporting, attendance information, etc. No longer is the monthly newsletter stuffed in a backpack or the communication of student progress a handful of times per year sufficient. Teachers and parents expect pertinent information in real time. Digital leaders make this flow of information meaningful and relevant for all stakeholders.
4. Communicate your own learning. Digital leaders are transparent in their own professional growth. Transparency can create vulnerability, yet provides an avenue for leaders to share their personal experiences, development and journey. School leaders that blog their ideas, share reflective thoughts, pass on resources from their learning network, or simply verbalize their learning journey through story telling, encourage those around them to reflect and do the same. This communication and professional reflection promotes team growth and a mindset of continuous improvement. Do you communicate your own learning to staff or do you only spend time directing staff how they need to grow professionally?
5. Invigorate team meetings. Team meetings can be the best of times or the worst of times. Pulling together large groups of staff members can leave staff inspired and motivated, or befuddled and disheveled. Technology can help transform meetings into those that are interactive, efficient and meaningful. Back channels can provide an avenue of engagement and real-time interaction. Survey tools, such as Poll Everywhere, can capture staff feedback and thoughts in real time. Digital content can supplement initiatives. Global connections can share expertise by virtually joining meetings and training sessions from anywhere in the world. What are you doing to model for your staff what you want your 21st-century classrooms to look like? Are your faculty meetings 20th-century information dissemination sessions, or challenging, inspirational team-building sessions?
6. Power down to maintain sanity. Digital leaders should find times during the week and throughout the year to power down and disconnect. Being a digital leader doesn’t mean constant, round the clock connectivity. In fact it’s imperative that leaders make unconnected, quality time for family, friends and personal interests, to remain at peak performance while connected.
7. Utilize technology for improved efficiency. Schools leaders around the country are continuously tasked with finding ways to do more with less. Improved efficiency is key. Schools that are collecting thousands of forms, inputting data like it’s 1986, collecting results by hand, surveying staff on paper, etc., are wasting valuable time and energy. Simply stated, in 2013, we can’t be wasting time with tasks that can be automated, data that can be collected electronically and processes that can be performed digitally that can save hours of manual work. Work smarter by utilizing high quality digital resources, not harder. Improve efficiency to increase time for kids.
8. Model expectations for staff. Like any initiative, quality classroom lesson, or even parenting technique, modeling is key. The “do as I say, not as I do” mentality leads to a disjointed, disgruntled staff. As a child watches a parent, so too do staff members watch their building leader. Make expectations clear, model what you expect and practice what you preach.
9. Get connected. Connected educators are those with a PLN — personal learning network — that connect globally to share resources, collaborate on best practices, challenge thinking, all for the purpose of improving our craft for the kids and families we serve. Digital leaders understand the importance of plugging into networks and learning communities on Twitter, Google Plus, and other social forums, where professional growth can occur at any time.
Leaders that model their expectations, lead by example and with integrity, help foster environments of innovation and trust. The best digital leaders understand that it’s not about the technology. It’s about the learning and opportunities that occur through meaningful technology infusion.
Tom Murray serves as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. He was the 2012 recipient of the Blended Schools Network Leadership Award and was featured in Tech & Learning Magazine’s Leadership Profile in December of 2012. Murray’s QCSD cyber and blended learning programs have been highlighted by Forbes.com, T.H.E. Journal, Project Red, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, and on Digital Learning Day 2013, among others. Murray serves on the advisory board for T.H.E. Journal and has co-founded both #sbgchat and #edtechchat. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray or at ThomasCMurray.com.