Special Report
Classroom Technology

Superintendents, Principals Move to Conquer Tech Weaknesses

By Robin L. Flanigan — January 27, 2014 3 min read
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Many school leaders insist on the need to promote a school culture that embraces blended learning and innovation through technology, but they struggle to put in place what they preach.

“We’re constantly getting calls from superintendents and principals who just have no idea where to start,” said Allison Powell, vice president for state and district services at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, in Vienna, Va. “And there’s pretty much no support available for them.”

Now, a number of organizations are trying to close that gap and give superintendents and principals the training they need to promote the wise use of blended strategies.

A new partnership between Vinci Education, a developer of tech-based learning tools, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, based in Alexandria, Va., for instance, will develop professional-development modules for principals on blended learning. The association will also unveil blended learning standards for school leaders at its annual conference later this year.

Also this year, the National Association of Secondary School Principals will co-host a conference to help administrators make forward-thinking decisions about technology use.

INACOL has devised national standards for teachers that describe high-quality online courses, and is scheduled to release competencies in blended teaching this summer.

The next logical step, said Ms. Powell, is to craft national standards for school leaders.

“This is a huge priority we need to have right now,” said the iNACOL official.

District Initiatives

While education organizations are working to turn tech-shy administrators into digitally savvy school leaders, some districts have begun acting on their own.

After a “canned, blended learning pd program” for principals in 2012 yielded poor results, the 3,700-student Plymouth Community School Corporation, in Indiana, has since moved to a more personalized approach, said Assistant Superintendent Dan Funston.

Since 2010, the district has given principal-candidates technology competency tests to evaluate their skills, and asks them to communicate their vision for how technology should be used in their schools. The Plymouth system also assigns coaches to work individually with principals to improve their technology skills, and models uses of digital tools in the central office.

Modeling Sound Practices

Jennie Snyder, superintendent of the 1,480-student Piner-Olivet Union district in Santa Rosa, Calif., started a blog in 2012 to, as she puts it, “walk the walk” and share reflections on the ways that technology has improved her skills.

Instead of attending workshops, she has sought out experts independently through social media and the Edcamp movement, which brings together educators for discussion-driven sessions about teaching and learning. Since Edcamp’s start in Philadelphia in 2010, more than 300 events have been held worldwide, interest fueled partly by social media, according to Kristen Swanson, co-founder of the informal professional-development program.

The movement’s appeal for Ms. Snyder, a two-time Edcamp presenter on the professional benefits of Twitter, is that everyone has something to contribute. That’s why she expects all her district’s administrators, even those uncomfortable with technology, to experiment with it and share what they learn in the process.

“We have to be learning and we have to be modeling what we’re learning,” she said. “Being an active learner really defies any generational boundaries.”

Some tech-savvy administrators say they’d feel disingenuous if they didn’t produce their own multimedia presentations or use social media in their districts.

“I don’t know how to do these things because someone sat me down and showed me,” said Lyn Hilt, a former principal and current technology instructional coach in the 3,200-student Eastern Lancaster County school district, in New Holland, Pa. “I took risks and challenged myself, because that’s what we want our kids to see us do.”

Ms. Hilt blogs, and uses Twitter and other social media sites to build up her personal learning network.

Added Ms. Swanson: “We’re starting to see a separation between those who see themselves as true learners and those who are still waiting to be taught.

“The ones who sit back and wait are going to get behind,” she said. “But if they’re proactive and start to figure out things for themselves and follow their passions, that’s the only hope of doing our kids any justice.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2014 edition of Education Week as Administrators Search for Tools, Lead by Example

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