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It Starts With Leadership: Using Education Technology to Maximize Learning

I recently visited a school on the East Coast that boasted a one-to-one laptop program, only to witness traditional, teacher-centered instruction complete with worksheets as the primary methods of delivery. A laptop was being used in place of an overhead projector in one classroom and as a literal doorstop in another.

Fortunately, a school in the Midwest offered a very different experience. Students in an English class were discussing Hamlet in a contemporary context and capturing their ideas in a Google Doc for all classmates to access. Meanwhile, students studying immigration Skyped a border official in Texas to discover how policies are enforced.

Leadership matters

The technology was the same, but the learning was different — and that difference is a direct function of school leadership.

It was clear that only one of these schools’ principals actively engaged teachers in the adoption process and led them through a change initiative; technology was not just happening to them. More importantly, only one of these principals began with an ambitious vision for empowered learning and recognized how technology could accelerate that learning. This is the hallmark of digital leadership — the kind of leadership NASSP honors through its Digital Principal of the Year program.

Commitment to education

Digital principals’ experiences both inform and reflect the tenets of NASSP’s Building Ranks framework for school leadership (www.nassp.org/buildingranks). Building Ranks leadership begins not with an available tool or technology, but with a dual commitment to building culture and leading learning. Within those domains, principals lead innovation with empowered learning in mind. Building Ranks calls for student-centeredness and global-mindedness — all packaged in a vision that all students and adults in the school can share.

It’s about the learning

It is easy to see how technology can support such a vision, which reflects the edtech community’s decades-long admonition: “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the learning.” Yet far too often, our edtech conversations focus on just the district-level acquisition and the classroom-level implementation.

If we want fewer expensive doorstops, we need to focus on the principal’s role in edtech success. And more broadly, we need to support the principal’s ongoing development as they lead their students’ learning.

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