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How Do Leaders Support EdTech Initiatives?
By Matt Harris 18-Jan-19
Whenever I go into a school and am asked what is needed to create a successful educational technology program, I tell folks 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 reliant on tools and systems. This doesn’t mean that schools need to focus on securing quantities of technology or ensuring ubiquitous access to be successful. In fact, I have seen impactful programs in schools with limited budgets using only the technology at hand. What sets these programs apart is that they have clearly identified the resources available and have learned how to leverage their learning potential. Engaged teachers are equally important, as they are where the rubber hits the road when it comes to leveraging technology for learning. The impact on students and realized value of having computers in the classroom has everything to do with teachers’ engagement in professional learning, planning, and instructional activities. 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. It will provide clarity of purpose and vision for success, which often results in greater engagement from teachers as they come to understand the direction in which they are being asked to move. Supportive leadership is what initiates EdTech programs, gets them off the ground, and keeps them running after the initial phases. Supportive leadership is also explicit in backing efforts by teachers and students. How does leadership show its support for EdTech in school? The most effective ways are by offering resources, time, language, and recognition. Resources The staff and school community know that school leadership uses its resources to enhance specific aspects of the school’s program. By allotting a portion of those resources towards access to technology and professional learning opportunities for teachers, leadership will show its support for EdTech. 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. Resource-based support can be quite tenuous, however, if expressed without strategy or a thought to sustainability. In order for resources to be used effectively for learning, strategies for their allocation and usage should be explicit and transparent. 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. 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 a school should have a prominent place in the school’s budget. Regular line items that reflect ongoing learning and operational needs should be in the expense budget and the capital budget should contain regular technology purchases for expansion or refresh. Supportive leadership will show financial commitment to technology by fully funding its depreciation. Time The resource most valuable in demonstrating support for EdTech initiatives is time. Leadership has the ability reserve, find, and even make time that teachers can use 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, they 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 priorities. Language Leaders are not simply planning a resource-allocation activity, however, but demonstrating a school’s vision and priorities. Effective leaders will embed what is important to the school in every conversation. The same applies to EdTech. Supportive leaders will talk about the value of technology for learning and the school’s plans for implementing it effectively in both internal and external communications. 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. In this way, leaders will help the community to see the value of technology for learning embedded in the school ethos. Financial incentives have little effect on the engagement or impact of teachers. Instead, what motivates teachers to do their best is the belief they are doing work of value. Leadership can honor and support this by 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. By showing implicit and explicit support for teachers and educational technology in the school, leaders make a tremendous difference when it comes to the immediate and sustained success of EdTech programs. [email protected]
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