A Matter of Principals
- By Geoffrey H. Fletcher
Administrators have much to gain
from learning how technology can
be used effectively in education,
but often are left out of professional
development programs. Two
initiatives are intent on remedying
THE CHICAGO WAY Gerald
Beimler (right) with two
in the Principal Technology
Leadership Institute, John Price (left)
and Shawn Jackson
SCOTT MCLEOD SAYS the great sin in the way
professional development is provided in this country is one of
omission. On his blog, McLeod, an associate professor in the
Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at
Iowa State University and the coordinator of the department's
Educational Administration Program, writes, "Most
of our school leaders have received no training whatsoever
when it comes to 21st-century schooling."
It is not totally their fault, he says. Few higher ed programs
for administrators even have a course dealing with
digital technology, and if they do, the course generally covers
basic software, not leadership. Neither school districts nor
professional organizations offer workshops in the area
either. As a result, no movement can be made toward 21stlearning
environments: When leaders are clueless about
technology and the impact it can have in classrooms, they
are powerless to change their school or district into one that
provides tech-enabled instruction for students.
"I want to know more about what kids should be doing with
technology. I am skeptical of all the technology
silver bullets out there and want to know how to make good
decisions about buying technology products."
Asked if there is any hope, McLeod, who also serves as
director of the University Council for Education Administration's
(UCEA) Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership
in Education (CASTLE) at Iowa State, the nation's only
facility dedicated to the technology needs of school administrators,
points to programs under way at Chicago Public
Schools and in the state of Maine that both provide ongoing
and structured opportunities for principals to learn and share
experiences and support each other. "They have different
approaches for different purposes," McLeod says, "but both
are trying to help principals understand the power of technology
so that their schools can move into the 21st century."
Chicago: Informed Decision-Making
As Shawn Jackson, principal of Chicago Public Schools' K-8
Spencer Elementary Technology Academy says, "There is a
lot of professional development for teachers, but they were
leaving us principals out."
Five years ago, Gerald Beimler, the district's director of
IMPACT (Instructional Management Program and Academic
Communication Tool) training in the Office of Information and
Technology Services eLearning, set out to remedy that as one
of the first undertakings of the then newly formed department.
He wanted to bring principals together to provide them an
overview of what technology can do for their schools.
More than 100 of Chicago's approximately 650 principals
took Beimler and his group up on the offer of a two-day workshop,
and at the end of the workshop, the principals said they
wanted some professional development for themselves. Thus,
the Principal Technology Leadership Institute was born.
"We want principals to develop a vision for technology integration
in their school building, use multiple measures of data
to drive decision-making, and improve their technology skills
and knowledge," Beimler says, outlining PTLI's goals. He
also hopes that through attending the institute, principals
will familiarize themselves with the national educational technology
standards set forth by the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE)-- all the while getting some
local academic credit for their participation. The principals
meet quarterly for face-to-face sessions and are assigned to
small study groups to complete their homework. Some study
groups meet in person, but a few are incorporating online tools
for their meetings.
Chicago Public Schools developed the content jointly
with ISTE and continues to use ISTE's tech-savvy "eMentors"
as cohort leaders who conduct the face-to-face meetings and
monitor the online responses. "Our e-learning people host
face-to-face homework sessions and study halls to assist
participants in creating and posting things like the vision
statements they create," Beimler says.
As assigned to do by the institute, the principal conducts a
walk-through of his building to assess the extent to which
technologies are being used and what they are being used for.
He talks with faculty members and media specialists about
what kinds of tools they might need and how often they might
use them. Using that information, he creates a technology
vision, shares it with his cohort, and receives feedback from
the ISTE eMentor and his peers in the program.
Jackson is one of the participating Chicago principals. He
describes himself as "generally tech savvy," but thought he
could use some additional support in working with technology,
so he enrolled in the institute. One tool he has learned to
use with great enthusiasm and effectiveness is Google Docs,
a document-sharing application. Once Jackson learned to use
its survey capability, he knew he had acquired the means to
more informed decision-making. "I realized the power I now
had for making better decisions based on real data and feedback
from faculty," he says.
After his walk-through, Jackson began to put together
his budget for the next year. He used Google Docs to poll
his faculty on which tools they felt they would use-- clickers,
document cameras, projectors, etc.-- and how often they would
use them, imported the results into a spreadsheet, and instantly
got back data he could use to make good purchasing decisions.
The online survey also revealed that some of the teachers who
already had these tools had not received any training on how to
use them-- a dangerous oversight. As a result, Jackson made
technology training for teachers a budgetary priority.
When he had an open house, Jackson again put his Google
Docs acumen to work. He used the tool to create an online
survey for parents, and asked all who attended to come
through the computer lab and fill it out, providing him with
another mechanism for parental feedback.
"We are not interested in students just using technology.
We want them fully engaged. There's a difference."
Jackson says that attending PTLI has done more for him
than just hone his vision for his school. His understanding of
Google Docs has allowed him to create online surveys that,
because they are done anonymously, gather more honest and
frank feedback. More importantly, he is modeling the use of
technology, showing his faculty there's value in it. "Those
faculty members who have not used technology see me using
it," he says. "They then feel more inclined to use it."
John Price, principal of Audubon Elementary School,
a Chicago preK-8 math, science, and technology magnet
school with an enrollment of about 450 students, also participates
in PTLI. Price says he joined PTLI because he wanted
to be more tech-savvy.
"There is the implicit question of how this technology would
work in my school and maybe with my kids, but I want to
know more about what kids should be doing with technology,"
he says. "I also want to be more tech-savvy about purchasing.
I am skeptical of all the technology silver bullets out there
and want to know how to make good decisions about buying
Maine: Decoding Geek Speak
Mike McCarthy, principal of King Middle School in Portland,
ME, recalls one statement distinctly from a meeting with former
Gov. Angus King, the initiator of the Maine Learning Technology
Initiative (MLTI) 1-to-1 computing program, launched
in 2001 with an attendant professional development component:
"This program is about learning, not about technology," the
governor said. "While we learn about technology applications in
our professional development program, we are all thinking about
what this application can mean for kids."
MLTI had an early emphasis on providing training for both
principals and teachers, but the principal component was "not
sustained," according to Jeff Mao, learning technology policy
director at the Maine Department of Education. "We are revitalizing
it now to revisit our middle school principals, who
have had the 1-to-1 laptop program for a few years now, and
because MLTI is moving into our high schools."
The program brings Maine's principals together twice a
year for either a half day or a full day, in clusters based on the
counties they work in. During the sessions, staff from Apple,
the supplier for the 1-to-1 program, demonstrate new applications
that have been or will be installed on the computers,
MLTI staff help with administrative and logistical issues, and
members of both staffs discuss different ways these applications
can be used with students.
Mao has made a point of informing principals about the
SAM-R model for tech integration. SAM-R stands for the four
steps that teachers go through in integrating technology into
their classrooms: substitution, augmentation, modification,
and redefinition. Mao says it's important for principals to
understand the SAM-R model so they and their teachers can
have a common vocabulary when discussing what goes on in
the classroom. Importantly, the model does not label teachers;
it labels practices, allowing principals to avoid making valueladen
statements. Mao also wants his principals to be wise
enough about technology so they can be smart about their
purchases, "so they don't have to defer to the tech guy all the
time. They can translate geek speak."
An important aspect of the Maine model is the support it
provides for principals. Principals bring with them to the
semiannual sessions their technology integrator or a lead
teacher who is knowledgeable about using technology with
students, along with their media center director. The sessions
always provide time for job-alike groups, where principals
meet with their peers; library media specialists and technology
integrators do the same.
"The day-to-day operation of the school is overwhelming,"
says Jeff Rodman, principal at Maine's Middle School of the
Kennebunks. "I can't do all the professional development I
want for teachers. I need to turn to a tech integrator to work
directly with the teachers when they need it."
McCarthy says that the sessions have not made him an
expert, but they have made him aware of what can be done
with the technology. "I have smart people I can turn to, like
my technology integrator to coach my teachers on using the
applications," he says. Unfortunately, all schools in Maine do
not have a technology integrator-- yet.
FOR MORE ON HOW
principals use technology, see
Frank H. Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth does,
however, and his name is Mike Arsenault. His principal is Bruce
Brann, who values the sessions in the MLTI training program for
keeping him up to speed on the applications that are put on the
computers the state has issued to the schools. "I go back to
school and talk with Mike about specific ways different teachers
can use these applications in the classrooms," Brann says. "We
are not interested in students just using technology," Arsenault
says. "We want them fully engaged. There's a difference."
Arsenault explains the difference by citing a school science
project involving the study of flowers. Rather than demonstrate
their learning through a test-- labeling the parts of flowers and
answering short-answer questions about pollination-- Harrison
students design their own flowers. They can create a 3-D model
of a flower, or use different technologies to design one. "We
don't tell kids to use one tool or another-- PowerPoint or iWork
or iMovie; part of the assignment is to pick an appropriate tool."
Some students have used iWork to create a kind of flipbook
depicting their flowers reproducing. Others use iMovie or other
animation tools that can be found on the web. Arsenault says one student designed a flower that looked
like her iPod, and then created a video
showing how these iPod flowers-- and
real flowers-- pollinate. "That is engagement," he says. "She has
transferred her learning about flowers to create new knowledge."
These kinds of experiences for students come about
because Brann understands what applications are available
and how they can be used, and he can rely on Arsenault and
others to support teachers in using them. "There are experts
throughout the building," Brann says. "We have created a
collaborative culture where everyone helps each other out."
So is the effort working? Is providing technology training
to principals having positive effects? Both Mao and Chicago's
Beimler think so. One of Mao's indicators is attendance, and he
likes what he sees: The teachers from schools whose principals
are participating in MLTI's professional development are coming
to more sessions themselves, which Mao believes is a direct
result of the interest their principals are showing in learning
about technology integration.
What's telling for Beimler is the interest in the program
shown by other district administrators. With its former CEO,
Arne Duncan, having left to become the US Secretary of
Education, Chicago is in the midst of some administrative
restructuring. A question has arisen: Does information technology
services own professional development?
With broader departments such
as administrative support and curriculum
showing interest in claiming control over it, this indicates to
Beimler that the whole organization sees the program's value.
Both the Maine and Chicago programs aim more to create a
support structure for leaders than teach them technology skills.
"My job," says McCarthy from Maine, "is to make sure there are
enough staff and resources and that they are used correctly."
Rodman at the Middle School of the Kennebunks follows
up on that, explaining that professional development helps
leaders become aware of the possibilities: "I am not an expert,
but I get people to realize that they need to change and use
technology in conjunction with other research about education,
such as brain development. I am looking for transformation of
schooling, and I think we are getting it."
For more information on professional development, visit
www.thejournal.com. In the Browse by Topic menu,
click on Professional Development.
Geoffrey H. Fletcher is editorial director of T.H.E. Journal.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.