Whenever I go into a school and they ask me what is needed to create a successful educational technology program, I tell them you need three things: resources, engaged teachers, and supportive leadership. These three items are the fertile ground in which a school can plant the strategy, IT infrastructure, learning outcomes, instructional activities, and measures of impact needed to build success with technology for learning.
Resources are vital because EdTech is tool- and system-reliant. This doesn’t mean that schools need to focus on quantities of technology or ubiquitous access to be successful. In fact, I have seen impactful programs in schools with limited budgets using only the technology at hand with the students. What sets these programs apart is that they have clearly identified the resources available and they have learned how to leverage their learning potential.
Engaged teachers are equally important as the teachers are where the rubber hits the road in technology for learning. Their engagement in professional learning, planning, and instructional activities will determine the impact on students and realized value of computers in the classroom. Without engaged and supported teachers, no amount of resources or leadership planning will gain traction in the learning experiences of the students.
These two critical factors – resources and engaged teachers – are heavily influenced by supportive leadership. Supportive leadership will find, organize, and grow the technology resources available for a school. Supportive leadership will provide clarity of purpose and vision for success which often results in greater engagement from teachers who understand the direction they are being asked to go. Supportive leadership is what initiates EdTech programs, gets them off the ground, and keeps them running after the initial phases. Supportive leadership is explicit in its backing of the efforts of the teachers and students.
Of course, this begs the question: how does leadership show its support of EdTech in school? The most effective ways come through offering resources, time, language and recognition.
The staff and school community know that school leadership use resources to enhance specific aspects of the school’s program. By allotting resources towards the access to technology and professional learning for teachers, leadership will show its tacit and lived support for educational technology. Teachers will be able to use these resources, with the implied call to action, to build technology rich lessons that enhance learning for all students. However, resource-based support can be quite dangerous if done without strategy or sustainability. Supportive leadership must develop a clear and transparent strategy for the allocation and usage of resources for them to be used effectively for learning. Further, by following the common mistake of only allotting resources at the beginning of a program rather than on a perpetual timeline, support will be viewed as fleeting or non-committal when it comes time to renew or refresh.
Of course, a key form of resource-based support comes through budgeting. Professional learning, access to technology, sustainability, and proper assessment of the impact of educational technology on the school should be found easily within the school’s budget. Regular line items that reflect the ongoing learning and operational needs should be in the expense budget and the capital budget should contain regular technology purchases for expansion or refresh. And supportive leadership will always show financial commitment to technology by fully funding its depreciation.
The resource most valuable way to demonstrate support for EdTech initiatives is time. Leadership has the ability reserve, find, and even make time for teachers to focus on the teaching and learning aspects of educational technology. The most supportive leaders of EdTech will carve out formal and informal time for teachers to learn and collaborate. In formal sessions, teachers will develop new technology or pedagogic skills or author technology-enhanced curriculum. During informal sessions, teachers will collaborate to share and collaborate on best practices in their classrooms. By providing this time separate from required staff meetings and administrative tasks, leadership will demonstrate its academic and operational priority of teachers using technology effectively.
However, school leadership is not simply a planning or resource allocation activity. It is one of outward demonstration of vision and priorities within a school. Good leaders, beyond technology, will embed what is important to the school in every conversation and school communication. The same applies to supporting EdTech. Supportive leaders will talk about the value of technology for learning and the school’s plans for implementing it effectively when talking inwardly and outwardly. They will use proper terminology when talking about technology-based instruction and be able to identify the key leverage points for EdTech in the school. By using words to show support, the community will see the value of technology for learning embedded in the school ethos and they will begin to look for, and expect to find, it in the actions taken by teachers and students.
Finally, leadership can use their language to give specific and powerful support to their engaged teachers. Those who have worked in schools know that financial incentives have little effect on the engagement or impact of teachers. Instead, what motivates teachers to do the best is the belief they are doing work of value. Leadership can honor and support this value through formal recognition. Recognition in the context of EdTech can come in a number of ways; highlighting a successful project, celebrating a certification attained by a group of teachers, publicizing conference presentations by staff, or giving certain teachers additional roles and responsibilities within the EdTech program. And given these are technology-based recognitions, they can be done through school communications, Twitter feeds, or during staff meetings.
By showing implicit and explicit support of teachers and EdTech in the school, leaders are the tipping point for immediate and sustained success for technology in a school.
I work as an Educational Technology consultant at International EdTech committed to helping schools use technology successfully. I frequently present at conferences on Educational Leadership, Learning Technology, IT, and Data Systems. I am also a a published author focusing on Educational Technology, International Education, and Leadership.