A Bridge to Success


A Bridge to Success In that no man's land between school technology and effective leadership, the University of Minnesota's School Technology Leadership Initiative is a welcoming bridge.

I often feel that we’re stuck in a sort of ‘no man’s land’ between the recognized need for tech-process, and our still-developing sense of best practice and how to leverage this really powerful tool to get kids learning in exciting ways,” said a recent participant of our School Technology Leadership Initiative (STLI; www.schooltechleadership.org) at the University of Minnesota.

He is not alone in that no man’s land.

In fact, few mechanisms exist today in K-12 education to prepare school leaders to understand and espouse innovative technologies, even as technological innovation is occurring so rapidly. Although nearly all public school teachers now have access to computers or the Internet somewhere in their schools, only one-third of them feel “well prepared” or “very well prepared” to integrate the use of computers and the Internet into their teaching, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (Stats in Brief: Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools, 2000, nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000090.pdf). What’s more, it’s been demonstrated that in recent years, few school administrators use technology meaningfully to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own work (Richard Riedl et al., Leadership for a Technology-Rich Educational Environment, 1998).

Simply put, schools experience difficulty connecting technology infrastructure with effective leadership in order for students, faculty, staff, and the community to reap benefits from technology. And despite the fact that administrative leadership may be “the single most important factor affecting schools’ successful integration of technology” (Elizabeth Byrom and Margaret Bingham, Factors Influencing the Effective Use of Technology for Teaching and Learning: Lessons Learned From the SEIR-TEC Intensive Site Schools, 2001), surprisingly little attention focuseson the technology-related needs of schooladministrators. Most educational leadershippreparation programs are slow torecognize the unique leadership issuesrelated to technology confronting theirgraduates, and the only current large-scaleinitiative in this area, the Bill and MelindaGates Foundation State Challenge Grantsfor Leadership Development, is temporaryand focuses on professional developmentof current practitioners rather thanon leadership pipeline issues.

STLI is the first academic program in the country designed to comprehensively address the need for effectivetechnology leaders in K-12 schools.

The STLI Takes Shape

With all this in mind, we began forging asolution in 2002 at the University ofMinnesota: The first academic program inthe country designed to comprehensivelyaddress the need for effective technologyleaders in K-12 schools—a bridge acrossthe no man’s land between technology andleadership that might be considered anational model for other technology leadershipinitiatives in the future. The STLIwas funded initially through a grant fromthe US Department of Education’s Fundfor the Improvement of PostsecondaryEducation (FIPSE), but it has also receivedbroad corporate and organizationalsupport. In 2002, we developed ourcurriculum and nurtured strategic partnershipswith Microsoft, IBM, theNational School Boards Association, theInternational Society for Technology inEducation (ISTE), and the Consortium forSchool Networking. In 2003, we began offering our graduate certificate program,working with higher education partnersand increasing our outreach activities.Importantly, our solution targets bothcurrent practitioners and future schoolleadership candidates.

Graduates of the STLI can lead andmanage technology use in schools. Theyplan for the technological future of schoolorganizations and provide options forgrowth and greater success in studentachievement, teacher proficiency, andemployee professional developmentthrough their technology decisionmaking.We prepare them to increaseoverall efficiency of their organizationsthrough effective implementation of technology;in addition, they have a greaterunderstanding and recognition of thesafety, security, legal, and ethical issuesinherent in the implementation of technologyin K-12 schools. Finally, graduatesof the STLI provide leadership and guidancefor their technology coordinators andother staff members.

Supporting the Bridge

Like spans and initiatives alike, the STLI issupported by solid pillars—four interconnectedactivities that synergistically bridgethe no man’s land between technology andschool leadership:

  • Curriculum Development: The STLIdeveloped and delivers a 15-credit graduatecertificate program that encompassesthe breadth and depth of theNational Educational TechnologyStandards for Administrators (NETS-A).
  • Higher Education Outreach: The STLIprovides assistance to other educationalleadership graduate programs that wishto enhance their own school technology-related preparation practices.
  • K-12 Outreach: The STLI electronicallydisseminates many of its curricularcomponents, program developmentsuggestions, resources on currentissues, and other school technologyleadership information to facilitateK-12 professional development andsupport practitioners.
  • Strategic Partnerships: The STLI workswith major corporations, educationalorganizations, educational leadershipassociations, and other partners incurriculum development and outreachinitiatives.

Inside the STLIAcademic Program

The NETS-A,one of three sets of standards(see also: NETS for Teachers and NETS forStudents) created by ISTE and associatedstakeholder associations, serve as nationalstandards guiding effective preparation ofschool administrators in the area of informationtechnology (cnets.iste.org/tssa).Using the NETS-A as a guide, we developed15 one-credit courses groupedwithin three themes:

  • School Leadership and Emerging Technologies
  • Technology for Learning and Communication
  • Policy and Ethical Issues for School Technology Leaders.

All courses incorporate guided, structured,problem-based learning experiences,including hands-on, practitioner-relevant projects and assignments, and feature practical,concrete examples of current andemerging school uses of technology.

Participants visit K-12 classroomsto observe teachers’uses of learning technologiesin a particular framework, andshare their reflections aboutpossible leadership changes tobetter support teachers’ integrationefforts.

Program format. The STLI graduatecertificate program format encouragesnationwide participation. Each annualcohort engages in intensive, face-to-facecoursework for one week during thesummer at the University of Minnesota.Then, the STLI cohort takes eight credits ofonline coursework across fall and spring semesters. Finally, the cohort completes a four-day capstone experience on campusthe following summer.

Situated learning. Student learning inthe STLI is framed within participants’school-based issues and challenges.Because STLI strives to create schoolleaders who fulfill technology-relatedresponsibilities in their own schools,districts, and organizations, we feel thatsituating learning in students’ own contextis a necessity. In every course, participantshave assignments that link theory and bestpractice to their own setting. For example,in Facilitating Technology Integration inClassrooms I, participants learn multipleframeworks for considering “technologyintegration.” Each student develops arubric or plan for observing and evaluatingtechnology-supported instruction andlearning. During the online follow-upFacilitating Technology Integration inClassrooms II course, participants visitK-12 classrooms to observe and considerteachers’ uses of learning technologies in aparticular framework,and ultimately sharetheir analysis of practice and their reflectionsabout possible leadership changes tobetter support teachers’ integration efforts.

In the online School Technology Safety and Security course, students examine their organization’s policies, procedures,and practices related to risk assessment,network and information security, databackup,and data confidentiality. They alsoidentify ways technology enhances thephysical safety and security of the buildingsand/or people in the school system,and address computer ergonomics anddisposal issues.

The online School Technology Funding course requires students tocomplete a series of learning modules.Some modules include: (a) creating a planfor securing funding for a particular need,(b) analyzing grants proposals and identifyingstrategies for their own organization,or (c) creating a resource list of foundations,federal grants, and state opportunities monitor for their institution.

Simply put, schools experiencedifficulty connecting technologyinfrastructure with effective leadershipin order for students, faculty,staff, and community to reap benefitsfrom technology.

Finally, the School Technology LeadershipMultimedia Project is an independentstudy course in which participants pursuea school technology leadership issuerelated to a particular need in the organization.For example, a participant mightwork with staff to completely overhaul hisorganization’s use of technology forinternal and external communication,considering and utilizing a range ofcommunication technologies.

Collaborative partnerships andembedded technology use. The STLIprogram models effective uses of technologyin all courses, and fortunately,the generous STLI corporate partners(www.schooltechleadership.org/page.cfm?id=40) endow the cohort participantswith access to some of the very best softwaretools for school leadership available. Forexample, students use technological toolsfor collaboration and videoconferencing,surveys, assessment andappraisals, mind-mapping, presentations,and data warehouse systems. Our studentsappreciate the exposure to and use of thesetechnologies because students are betterable to envision possible uses in their schoolsystems—and thus bridge the no man’sland. We have also assisted our partners bywriting case studies, helping develop a datadrivendecision-making diagnostic, developingonline technology leadership courses,creating digital lesson plans, and creating aNETS-A performance assessment.

The STLI and cohort participants.Again, because the STLI curriculum isdesigned to be the bridge between technologyacquisition in schools and the leadershipneeded to establish successful technologydiffusion, it is vital to best ensuresuccess among the participants. To bestachieve that success, the application process accepts applicants who satisfy twomain criteria: (1) support from their institution,and (2) potential to make animpact on their institution through leadership.Our first cohort began in July 2003and completed in July 2004, while thesecond cohort began certificate courseworkin July 2004.

Results. Our interactions with otherschool leaders and our external partnersconfirm that we are addressing criticalneeds in K-12 school organizations. Forinstance, our external partners arelooking to us for guidance in regard totechnology leadership such as providingkeynote speeches at national conferences.In addition, we are participating in severaljoint school-university professionaldevelopment projects such as creatingresources for Microsoft’s InnovativeTeachers Web site.

As we stand at the national forefront ofeffective technology preparation of K-12school leaders, we invite you to join us inour attempts to bridge the no man’s landbetween technology’s transformationalpotential and its current reality in K-12schools. For more about the STLI, visitwww.schooltechleadership.org.

Amy Garrett Dikkers is a doctoral candidateat the University of Minnesota and aresearch coordinator for STLI. Joan E.Hughes and Scott McLeod are assistantprofessors at the University of Minnesotaand co-directors of STLI.


How did the first cohort do, and what were participant reactions?

The 2003-2004 cohort enrolled 10 women and eight men representing a diversity of educational positions and institutions in terms of geographic location, urbanism, and institution size. All participants held Bachelor’s degrees, nearly all held Master’s degrees, and a few held Ph.D. or Ed.D. degrees. Nearly all participants had taught in a K-12 setting during their careers, and the modal age range was 36-45.

A survey taken by all participants prior to coursework indicated that these school leaders felt strongly that technology integration is common and will impact all staff practices. Furthermore, they felt they emphasized integration of classroom technology as part of their school agendas. Their personal visions for technology in education focused more on improving student learning, achievement, and teacher instruction than on better developing themselves as technology leaders. Overall, at the start the STLI program, their operating focus on technology leadership highlighted issues relating to technology integration in classrooms. (This focus on integrating technology into classrooms is not surprising since technology leadership is an emerging role for school leaders, and one with which most have not yet grappled.) One participant waxed philosophical:

“I have learned that we will never catch up … the technologies will just keep coming. This is why it is important for us to teach the teachers, faculty, and students to be critical-thinkers and problem-solvers. The technologies will change, but how we react to and use them is what is important. If we have the skills to adequately deal with the changing technologies, we will be able to succeed with the specific technological devices or applications.”

Though the 2003-2004 STLI participants began the program as school leaders, during the year they gain skills and knowledge that provide them with a foundation to become school technology leaders. Moreover, participants reported personal change, professional learning, and short-and long-term impact on their institutions as a result of the STLI program.

Personal change. Students saw varied personal changes across the year. One student declared he was developing a more systems-style thinking—his idea that interactions among parts of the organization are more important than the acts of an individual. Another student ech'ed this appreciation for the collective power of an organization when he explained that he believed his organization (rather than only the individual teacher) played a strong role in realizing technology integration.

Professional learning. Participation also led to professional learning and changes in STLI participants’ work patterns and outcomes. A participant appreciated the exposure to readings, and the opportunity to explore issues with peers and the instructors. Another participant felt she was being viewed and recognized as a district technology leader (and considered for higher-level technology positions) due to her participation in the STLI program and the knowledge she gained through the program. This confidence was repeated by another STLI participant who stated she felt more equipped to be a technology leader.

Impact on institution. Ultimately, STLI students were able to impact their institutions. They indicated that STLI impacted their work with school planning, communication with parents and staff, and personal and professional uses of technology. Individual students expressed satisfaction that their projects generated interest and excitement in their institutions, and, in many cases, led to plans and policies that were apt to propel them deeper in the organizations. In addition, most course projects involved and impacted participants’ institutions. For example, in Data-driven Decision-making, STLI participants were required to teach data-driven decision-making Excel skills to another faculty or staff member. Several STLI participants taught their school secretaries a variety of Excel skills to prepare reports for the school board, and to prepare and present school budgets. Another participant taught members of the special-education staff Excel skills and developed a database of all special-education students. The school now uses the database to track evaluations and information about the students’ primary disabilities, case managers, and teachers.

STLI participants also report awareness and consideration of the future for their organizations. One student became aware that his district technology department is “disconnected from the true mission of school: student learning,” which led to collaborative work to plan a summer technology integration institute. Another participant explained, “If I can make one change in our district in the upcoming year, it is going to be to better educate our staff and our students about fair use and copyright.”

The STLI: Technology that transforms; leadership that inspires. Our 2003-2004 students consistently report that STLI coursework is timely, relevant, and rigorous, and that it is positively impacting their schools. STLI members expressed great satisfaction with the cohort experience, noting the value of networking and the realization they are not alone in trying to bridge the no man’s land between effective technology use in schools and effective leadership.

Said one cohort member: “I have learned so much from this group. Some of it is new knowledge, some are things that I already knew but just needed to hear other people say, too. The really excellent thing about this group is that we have common problems, common successes, and we speak the same language.”

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.