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Leadership in Technology is Really Leadership in Learning

By Justin Reich — July 16, 2012 4 min read

Last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a workshop for school and system leaders: 21st Century School Leadership, Leading Change in Changing Times. We had 18 participants from all over the country and around the world: 2 from Qatar, 2 from Saudi Arabia, 2 from Texas, 3 from New York, 1 from India, and then one each from Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. It was great to have this group of experienced educators from around the world coming together to share their ideas, and I was also lucky to have three great school leaders coming in as guests: Greg Kulowiec of Plymouth South, Patrick Larkin of Burlington High, and Chris Lehmann of Science Leadership Academy.

The core theme of the workshop is that technology needs to be in the service of learning. Technology leadership in schools isn’t about buying stuff and it isn’t really about getting people to use technology. Ideally, we need school leaders who help communities think very carefully about what learning goals they have for their students, their faculty, and themselves, and then look at how technology tools can support those learning initiatives. It’s not about “using more tech” or even about “using technology to boost engagement,” since what is engagement without direction? The fundamental issue is how do we think about the kind of learning experiences that will prepare people for work, for our democracy, and for a well-lived life, and to what extent can technology support those kinds of learning experiences.

For me, this means asking three core question: Why Change? How do we Change? and Did we Change? The first question is about building stakeholder support for new learning initiatives among students, faculty, administrators, parents, and community members. The second question involves identifying clear learning goals, and then thinking about the professional learning opportunities that will prepare teachers to create experiences leading students towards those learning goals. The third question is about assessment and research: after we’ve spent 6 or 7 figures on new technology initiatives, how do we know they are working? How do we know that we’re getting desired outcomes in children’s learning. In my experience, far too few schools are making any effort at all to measure the impact of their technology investments. The outline of the questions, presentations, and activities in our workshop can be found here.

Patrick Larkin came in and gave us a provocative talk about how he uses his own social media practice to role model the kind of lifelong learning he hopes that his students and faculty engage in. His talk was followed by some thoughtful conversation along the lines of: Does an effective school leader need to have a public social media presence engaged in teaching and learning? (Patrick has some follow up thinking on his blog here.)

Greg Kulowiec led participants in an engaging activity modeling learning practices in his classroom, where students develop and demonstrate understanding through media creation and reflective writing. He’s a big fan of using “unreasonable deadlines” to push his students to express themselves, and our own participants created performances of understanding about school leadership using this model. Greg’s activity helped us imagine what innovative learning spaces look like, and provoked conversation about how we generate those spaces.

Chris Lehmann joined us by Skype for a conversation about alignment: about how you align every facet of your school culture—curriculum, assessment, grading, attendance, discipline, faculty time, and everything else—around your school mission. If you say that you are an inquiry-driven school, then you need to be inquiry-driven even when it’s inconvenient. Science Leadership Academy is an incredible example of a school where when you tug on any piece of school culture, from the school blog to the final project rubrics to the school schedule, you find each piece hitched to the central mission. He also offered this advice to school leaders seeking to create this alignment in already existing schools: “Build from your strengths.” Identify the best things that your school does and build out from there.

My own takeaway from the workshop is the tremendous importance of breaking the “technology silos” in schools. We need fewer technology plans, and more learning plans that incorporate technology. We need fewer technology projects, and more projects in civics, biology, and language arts that use technology to develop interests, skills, and domain understanding. We need fewer technology coaches, and more learning coaches with a rich understanding of the full range of tools available to support student learning. We need fewer efforts to measure technology adoption and usage, and more efforts to measure whether technology adoption and usage is leading to better learning in schools.

Many thanks to the participants who shared their insights with me, and I’m looking forward to convening another group again next year!

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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