21st-CENTURY LEADER | by Bryan O’Black
In the world of laptops, interactive whiteboards, classroom performance systems and iPads—the role of the school administrator has changed. Many of us are becoming more tech-savvy, relying on various technologies to perform day-to-day responsibilities. As we move to a more digital rich learning environment, we as administrators become the role models for our teachers and students. Technology has changed the way that we think about our daily school routines and transformed how our teachers deliver curriculum. Our students continue to reach out for new and enhanced learning environments vs. old-school teaching and learning, so as we begin to transform the way in which we lead buildings, keep the following points in mind:
1. Conduct a Needs Assessment. To better understand staff technology needs, my school district developed and administered a district-wide Needs Assessment survey, enabling us to learn where we stood, to plan future professional development and to update our tech plan. We asked teachers to reflect upon their own technological abilities as it related to classroom integration (Promethean Boards, Microsoft PhotoStory, GoogleDocs) and productivity tools (Microsoft Office, Gradebook). We also asked them to consider what tools they valued and wanted to learn more about in the coming months. I recommend reviewing such results by building, grade level and content area in order to customize professional development and other initiatives.
2. Create and Keep Alive An Edtech Plan. An effective educational technology plan is essential for schools to move into the 21st century learning realm. As technology advocates, we must have the ability to act as administrator, collaborator, idea generator and negotiator, to take a holistic approach to learning and to work closely with colleagues to raise awareness and promote confidence in using digital literacy tools that will ultimately improve learning outcomes. Cultivate and initiate conversations within your building to develop a sense of teacher ownership as it relates to technology integration. Inspire teachers by having a building vision and systematic plan for the incorporation of technology enriched classrooms, conducting high quality staff development and modelling effective utilization. A focused approach and the necessary supports must be put into place to support the integration of various technologies across disciplines.
We supported each of our administrators in their quest to integrate the Blackboard Course Management System into their individual buildings K-12 to facilitate building wide communication. Disseminating timely, relevant information can be quite a task. We realized this and began to help streamline the distribution of information—schedules, flyers, building forms, memos and other information—all put in digital format. Our principals have most recently started using discussion boards (a blog-type feature) embedded within the Blackboard system as a means for discussing building initiatives, best practices and staff development needs. This approach to modeling the use of this 21st century tool has been key to our success.
3. Provide Quality Professional Development with Supports. We can’t assume staff will welcome the new technology or know how to effectively utilize it to transform the learning environment. Benefits aren’t always clear. Sometimes, teachers need to be ‘sold’ on them. Provide quality professional development and teachers will share what they learn. At Shaler, we have been afforded five technology inservice hours outside of the contractual work day. To facilitate and communicate our technology vision, we’ve utilized these hours through an online reservation process in which teachers select the date/topic which bests meets their needs. We encourage our teachers to differentiate instruction, provide hands-on learning experiences, and integrate technology to excite students and make learning meaningful. We attempt to follow practice what we preach on a district-wide level. Our five-stage model includes: analyze, plan, practice, reflect, and respond (APPRR). This involves analyzing a needs assessment, improving communication, scaffolding, and differentiating sessions. It also includes encouraging meaningful hands-on opportunities coordinated with the curriculum. We also seek teacher feedback to improve future sessions.
A 2009-2010 goal for Shaler Area’s Primary, Elementary and Middle School Teachers has been to develop the strategies necessary for effective use of the Promethean Board to deliver and involve students in the instructional process. This training has been differentiated into three sessions: Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. Based upon the users comfort level with the new technologies they select a track in which they prefer to begin in and build upon that throughout the school year. During these training sessions teachers are grouped by either grade level and/or content area. Following the guided practice we typically will break the staff up and assign them a specific chapter or subject that they in turn will utilize the developed skills from the session to create a product that can be saved in a shared area and used/modified by other staff members. This type of approach allows for collaboration and breaks down the barrier of time as it relates to creating these types of lessons for each chapter, unit or lesson.
4. Provide Opportunities for Collaboration and Learning. During the summer of 2009 we launched the first Principals Technology Academy to allow for the district to share the overall vision, strategic plan and blue print for technology with all of our instructional leaders, which in turn could build capacity with in their schools. Based around the book “Curriculum 21- Essential Education for a Changing Word” by Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, this academy allowed for administrators to focus on their own technology skills and how to utilize Levels of Technology Integration (LoTI) model to evaluate their schools progress towards creating 21st century learning experiences. The LoTi Framework has transformed into a conceptual model to measure classroom teachers implementation of the tenets of digital-age literacy as it relates to the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T). The LoTi Framework has allowed our Principals to focus on the delicate balance between instruction, assessment, and the effective use of digital tools and resources to promote higher order thinking, engaged student learning, and authentic assessment practices in the classroom—all vital characteristics of 21st Century teaching and learning. Administrators used tools such as Wallwisher, FlipCams, Blackboard, Promethean Activotes/ActivExpressions and many others. By building capacity in our administrators to utilize these tools as Instructional Leaders, we were in turn able to expose our teachers to many different approaches afforded to them through our Instructional Technology Program. The Academy was rejuvenating and allowed for principals to start conversations around the need for more student-engaged learning environments and technologically literate students.
5. Educate Your Community on Safe and Responsibile Tech Use. Finally, as instructional leaders, we must focus on the ethical use of technology in our schools. Increasingly, we are seeing society, including our students, using technologies in a way that is not conducive to an effective learning environment or ethical. As administrators, we must begin to develop approaches to instruct students on ethical practices and safe guards. Often in educational institutions, we overlook the many dangers that are not necessarily within the school building but rather the outside world.
In cultivating 21st century schools, we must continue to research, implement, evaluate the effectiveness and share in excitement of the process with our teachers, students and community members. The task of creating technology enriched learning schools has never been more important than it is today. Our students are seeking out schools that help them foster 21st century skills; we as administrators are the arm that can extend that opportunity to our digital natives.
Bryan O’Black is the Shaler Area School District Director of Technology and Assessment, and regularly conducts presentations on Web 2.0, differentiating instruction through the use of technology, adapting the special needs classroom through the use of innovative technologies and how to utilize technology as a change agent in a school district. He currently serves as President of the ISTE Special Interest Group for Technology Coordinators (ISTE SIGTC) and serves on the Executive Board, Conference Committee. He was the 2010 Outstanding Young Educator for the Pennsylvania Association of Supervision & Curriculum Development. In 2011 Bryan was named a 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader. He is also an Adjunct Faculty Member in the Graduate School of Education at Waynesburg University & Duquesne University. Write to: OBlackB@sasd.k12.pa.us