Committed Leadership is the Fuel that Keeps EdTech Alive
Educational technology (EdTech) is a movement towards contemporary learning needs. It takes the tradition view learning that consists of paper and pencil delivered by an expert in the front of a room and flips it on its head. EdTech brings learning, for both children and adults, into the modern world. It uses the tools and information at hand to build skills, competencies, and attitudes in learners rather delivering information to be regurgitated. It prepares people to live and work in our connected society in ways that 20th century schooling is unfit to accomplish…
…and it is difficult for schools to fully engage as it challenges their long-held beliefs, their perceived role in student development, and the learning experiences of teachers and administrators.
Yet, creating successful EdTech programs in schools is moving away from “nice to have” or “emerging need” to “requirement” and “expectation”.
To meet this requirement and create a successful and sustainable EdTech program in a school there are three key factors: resourcing, engaged teachers, and committed leadership.
Resourcing is relatively simple. Does the school have ample technology, personnel, time, and budget to run its EdTech program? These need to be appropriately allocated and managed, of course, but the real factor is their existence in the organization. EdTech programs without resourcing can be challenging.
Next, an engaged teaching faculty is important. Teachers are where the rubber hits the road as they deliver the program. Teachers need to be engaged in improving learning for students and for themselves as part of the overall initiative. Without engaged teachers, EdTech will run into many barriers or become forced and autocratic.
However, committed leadership is what brings EdTech to life into a school and, more importantly, keeps it alive.
Committed leadership ensures that the ethos and operations of the school support EdTech in its development and its continued growth. Committed leaders, such as school boards, heads of school, division principals, and middle leadership, will demonstrate their commitment through multiple avenues like communications, time allocations, planning, and budgeting.
When you enter a school with a leadership commitment to improving learning with technology, you’ll feel it. EdTech will show up in newsletters, on the school website, and in the mission and vision. Leadership will speak about EdTech with enthusiasm and clarity of purpose, easily articulating the school’s long term commitment to the program. They will ensure that EdTech has become part of the school’s DNA, not just an add-on.
Leadership will provide teachers with time and training to build their skills around using technology for learning and the pedagogic shifts found in modern education. They will insist on robust strategic planning and indicators of success. And committed leadership will develop budgets that allow for program growth in the short term and sustainability in the long term. For example, they will allocate money to buy devices this year then include an annual line item to replace those devices as they become obsolete.
This is where we see the most trouble with EdTech in schools. Leadership makes a strong commitment and push for the development of the program to start. They build a strategic plan, hire personnel, buy equipment, and offer professional development programs. However, once those are completed the commitment wanes. They put a check mark next to EdTech and consider it accomplished. The commitment to continual improvement erodes as the newness of the program fades away. It is a common problem in school who have had early success in their programs.
However, EdTech is a long game. Technology changes, the ways it can improve learning changes, and the supported resourcing and professional development never go away. Further, devices get old and bandwidth needs increase.
For leadership to fulfill their long-term commitment to EdTech in a school they must include EdTech in the assessments, budgeting, and strategic analysis. The way the school assesses learning for its students and teachers should include an EdTech element, such as skills ladder for students or EdTech goals for teachers. Budgeting should include fixed annual funds for depreciation, replacement, and new equipment. And, most importantly, when the school conducts strategic analysis of themselves, as in external audits or accreditation, they should delve deep into the accomplishment and plans for their EdTech programs.
I have worked with several schools around the world and rarely have I found they have all key factors in place – resourcing, engaged teachers, committed leadership – instead being stronger in one or two of them. Yet, many of these schools have still made immense strides in developing impactful EdTech programs by overcoming their shortcomings. That said, none of these successful schools has been lacking in committed leadership. If a school can’t commit to EdTech from the top it will never develop a meaningful or lasting program, regardless of how much time and money they invest. And, as a result, they will find themselves falling behind their competitors, the expectations of parents, and the needs of students living in the 21st century.