Director, Education Technology, National School Boards Association
Leadership is critical.
It is the job of school leaders to create a culture that nurtures and celebrates innovation and strives to continually improve. That culture becomes part of an organization’s DNA and far exceeds the enthusiasm of one champion or a few early adopters. It starts by involving a broad base of stakeholders—including students—in determining the kind of learning experiences they want for the children in their community. District leaders and school board members must reach out to parents, voters, the faith-based and after-school communities, businesses, and other local government agencies to look at the challenges they face and the opportunities they have to work together in new ways.
Once the district establishes its priorities, exploring technology solutions that support those goals is appropriate. Too many grants, initiatives and vendors have bypassed school leaders and board members to go straight to teachers and then wondered why the results weren’t what they anticipated. Often those efforts were not closely aligned with the district’s overall education priorities and as a result, failed to find sustainable funding once the project concluded. The efforts of early adopters rarely gain the momentum to have a systemic impact and remain as isolated islands unless they have that essential leadership support.
Equal isn’t equal.
Just because two schools have Internet access and computers does not mean they offer similar learning experiences. While some districts embrace technology to create personalized, relevant, student-centered classrooms, others remain content to simply automate past practices and relegate computer use to an activity that happens down the hall in a lab, or use the interactive board (if there is one) for little more than a chalk board. Today’s digital divide is less about access to hardware and connectivity (though those two items provide the foundation); it is more a question of attitude and vision that defines HOW the tools are being used to enrich learning. Ensuring all children have the ability to understand and evaluate the trustworthiness of information, communicate their thoughts and ideas in various media, and see connections between their lives and others around the globe are some of the 21st century skills that technology enables. Acquiring these skills can go a long way in leveling the playing field for a child, yet far too few leaders have proclaimed a sense of urgency to create technology-rich learning environments as a moral imperative for our time.
It is more important than ever for school board members to understand how the decisions they make in the boardroom can impact technology in the classroom. Policies must support practice and should be reviewed on a regular basis, especially in light of the rapid pace of technological change. Social media and BYOD efforts are but two of the trends potentially impacting outdated technology policies. It is important for districts to be proactive in thinking about their policies, rather than waiting for a crisis and possibly making a poor decision in reaction to one negative incident. On a more positive note, perhaps it is time for many of the “Acceptable Use” policies to transition to “Responsible Use”, to reinforce the kinds of behaviors they want students and staff to exhibit rather than focusing on negative behaviors and banned activities. Ultimately, many of those policies decisions involve district’s Information Technology staff. It is important that school leaders encourage their IT departments to make the institution’s primary business—educating students—their top priority. This is not meant to diminish IT expectations to ensure data security, comply with federal laws, and maintain robust networks and reliable hardware, but it is offered as a caution to ensure the needs of students and teachers remain at the forefront of any decisions.
Buying stuff is not enough.
No doubt, a district with a slow, unreliable network and limited hardware is unlikely to attribute much student growth to their technology investment. On the other hand, districts that race to fully equip all classrooms with interactive boards or implement 1:1 learning initiatives without thoughtful consideration to their professional development needs are just as likely to see few gains. The CEO Forum’s work in the late 1990’s identified 30% of a district’s technology budget as a desirable goal to devote to professional development. While few have reached this level, it has become increasingly clear that simply layering technology on top of typical classroom practice rarely delivers the hoped for results in student learning. Wise school boards inquire about the professional development strategy that is planned when being asked to approve major technology investments. Without a comprehensive plan in place, there is little hope that the district’s technology investment will deliver on its potential.
Tell your story.
Community members bring a variety of life experiences to any discussion about school, often remembering their own experiences. In addition, the word “technology” conjures up a host of different visions as well, with many simply believing that students need to know how to “use a computer” with no thought to issues like media literacy or other 21st century skills that can be supported through a host of technology resources, from iPods and video cameras to Skype and scientific probes. School districts must learn to effectively share their stories with the public to help them understand the depth and breadth of how technology is positively changing the way today’s students learn. The Orange City Schools (OH) was recognized in 2012 with NSBA’ s Technology Leadership Network Trailblazer award for using technology to keep the public informed and provide them with a glimpse inside the district through “A Slice of Orange”, a new feature on their web site. Other districts host regular events such as patron lunches, clergy coffees, bankers’ breakfasts, and routinely have staff in attendance at community meetings to ensure their technology story is being told the way they want it portrayed rather than just hoping for positive press coverage. Their investment in proactive approaches has paid off in the passage of successful bonds and more balanced treatment by the press if there is an issue worthy of a story.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Dr. Ann Lee Flynn is the Director of Education Technology and State Association Services for the National School Boards Association. For 25 years, NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network has highlighted promising practices and emerging trends at its TLN Site Visits and annual conference by designing programming targeted to the needs of district leadership teams and school board members.
NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network, serving the state school board associations and local district leadership teams.