Technology leadership: approaching your craft systematically


Unlike teachers, educational leaders don’t necessarily attend professional development opportunities related to effective technology leadership.  DASA training?  For sure.  Implementation of Common Core?  Yup.  Navigating the new APPR process?  You betcha.

But going paperless regarding staff communications and training?  Flipping staff meetings?  Harnessing the power of a social network to encourage engagement and collaboration?  Doubtful.

While teachers often do get the benefit of participating in tech-specific training opportunities like the ones I suggested, these professional development sessions are certainly not required for administrators to begin to use technology purposefully.  All that is needed for administrators to become effective technology leaders is for them to be purposeful in their marriage of instructional delivery method and content.   Choosing the right tool for the task, by definition, is being a technology leader.  Let me explain…

Etymologically, the word technology only recently has anything to do with computers.  Techno, it turns out is a word-forming element from Greek  meaning “art, skill, craft, method, system” that has Proto-Indo-European roots that also mean “to shape, to make.”  It’s related to the words for texture in Latin and the word for carpenter in Sanskrit.   –Logy is another word-forming element from Greek that means “a speaking, discourse, treatise, doctrine, theory, science.”

 Technology, then, from the Greek tekhnologia, means “systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique.”

 By 1615 the meaning of technology had shifted so that it meant, “the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts.”  The OED attributes its recoinage in 1859 to linguist and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton: technology had scooted even closer to our modern usage, meaning “science of the mechanical and industrial arts.”  Between 1964 and 1972, high technology emerged and became the more familiar high-tech, meaning “any technology requiring the most sophisticated scientific equipment and advanced engineering techniques.”  This new term returns to the origins of the Greek by pointing out that not all technology is “high”.  Furthermore, I suggest that the term is still in use today because its definition is broad enough in meaning so that it’s always relevant: what was “high-tech” when I was an 8th grader in 1994 was getting your modem to connect to AOL at 256K.  What’s “high tech” today isn’t carbon nano-tubes: they were old news in 2009.  It isn’t  invisibility cloaks: Imperial University studied them in 2010.  It isn’t even 3D-printed body parts (ears announced by Cornell in February of this year) or finding the God particle (scientists were disappointed by March 2013).

I point this etymology out to drive home the point that your goal as a building or district leader is simply to be a technology leader.  Not a high-tech leader.  Your staff doesn’t expect you to teach them how to print 3D ears, nor do they expect you to suggest the auditorium be turned into a facility to rival the Large Hadron Collider, nor do they expect (or desire!) your showing up to classroom observations dressed in an invisibility cloak.  Your staff does expect you to approach your craft  – leadership – systematically. And that means choosing the right tools to accomplish the right objectives at the right time for the right people.

This is technology leadership.

Let me demonstrate effective technology leadership at a faculty meeting that many, many districts are planning to hold in the next few weeks: the seemingly ubiquitous meeting in which new and revised policies and procedures are addressed.  Remember, all one needs to do to be an effective technology leader is systematically and methodically approach the task, and choose the best tool to accomplish the objectives.  Presenting from your new iPad, inducing motion sickness with your cleverly swirling Prezi, conducting an exit poll using Poll Everywhere or a class set of clickers, or back channeling on Todays Meet are all purposeless gimmicks if not tied to objectives: call yourself on the use of activities in the place of objectives just as you would call your overly-enthusiastic and under-experienced teachers on it.

If objectives for the meeting are the following:

  • Increase collegial conversations and relationships across departments and grade levels
  • Increase understanding of the new APPR process and new teacher evaluation tool
  • Build capacity at navigating the new teacher evaluation tool

A technology leader would be smart to remember some basic tenets of good teaching including:

  • One who does, learns.
  • Allowing many acceptable methods for demonstrating mastery includes more learners.
  • Integrating choice can increase engagement in reluctant learners.
  • Tasks using lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as reading to remember and reading to understand, do not need the assistance of experts for normal adult learners.
  • Tasks using higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy — such as synthesizing information, evaluating information, or creating something new — are more challenging for all learners.  Here is where the assistance of experts and opportunities to collaborate with peers becomes critical.

Staff meetings, as I’ve written before, are an opportunity for educational leaders to set high standards by modeling this effective marriage of delivery method to content to achieve a clearly stated objective.  It’s an opportunity to model the 21st century skills of risk-taking, resilience, effective use of resources, and collegial collaboration that are expected of our students.  Skip those first two steps and you are demonstrating that you are not systematic, and therefore, by definition, not a technology leader. 

Given this systematic approach, I can’t tell you what the most purposeful use of your collaborative time with your staff will look like, or which tool or tools best allow your specific and individual learners to meet your learning objectives.  Maybe you will share your Powerpoint with them ahead of time and start the conversation by asking what questions your staff members have about it, introducing them to a flipped instructional method.  If you’re really strategic, maybe you use meta-commentary to tell them exactly this.  Maybe you collaboratively edit a shared Google document to increase communication and collaboration and call that same document both the agenda and the minutes.  Maybe you don’t talk at all, and you ask staff members themselves to present on various topics.  Maybe you Skype with another district who is also working on the same digestion of State policies.  Maybe you turn everyone loose in the computer lab, library, or building as a whole and simply share the objectives, telling them you will be collecting data on the various methods they choose to use to direct their own work.  Maybe you hold a virtual conference using Google Hangouts or Facetime.  Maybe you offer a blended delivery method: attend either via Google Hangout or in-person.  Maybe you put all of your documents in the cloud and ask your staff to read and annotate them during your shared staff time, rather than using that time to read it to them. 

What matters in becoming a technology leader — a critical component to educational leadership as a whole — is simply approaching your craft systematically.  Doing that is as simple as choosing the right tool to accomplish the clearly defined objective in the most efficient and least restrictive manner, just as you ask both your teachers and your students to do.



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