Effective leadership within the education, government, and business communities is critical to the successful integration of technology in the nation’s schools, concluded panelists who spoke at Intel Corp.’s Third Annual Visionary Conference in Washington, D.C., May 11.
Among the attributes speakers used to define “effective leadership” were the recognition that ed tech is really about education, not technology; the ability to establish and communicate a clear and common vision for technology’s use in schools; and the ability to change and manage change.
Fulfilling its role as a corporate leader, the company said, Intel organized the conference to help its business partners better serve education.
“It’s really to bring education visionaries into a unique venue and talk about what a connected community [requires],” said Terry Smithson, Intel’s education marketing manager for North and South America.
From its Teach to the Future program, which has supplied hundreds of millions of dollars for teacher training to schools nationwide, to its Model Schools program, which helps selected schools become showcase sites for how technology can advance teaching and learning, “Intel has always had a leadership role in education,” Smithson said.
At the conference, top executives from companies and education groups alike–including the National School Boards Association, Scantron Corp., Pasco Scientific, SchoolNet, LearnStar, and others–gathered to hear invited “visionaries” discuss the technology challenges facing schools today.
The day’s conversation kept coming back to leadership.
“It always comes down to leadership,” said Kim Quinn, coordinator of education technology for the Maine Department of Education.
Before Maine could launch its groundbreaking one-to-one laptop initiative, her department had to earn support from the state’s leaders, Quinn explained. To gain buy-in from legislators, Quinn’s staff set up a wireless network in the legislature and gave each legislator a wireless device so lawmakers could see for themselves the impact laptops would have. Now, the state’s one-to-one laptop initiative is an exemplary technology project for the nation.
Rod Ziolkowski, science teacher and department chair at Whitney High School in California, one of Intel’s Model Schools, made a similar point, saying that only when industry and government leaders place value on technology for learning will it become truly ubiquitous in schools.
“In Iraq, the soldiers have the best technology because someone decided it was essential for survival,” Ziolkowski said. In education, leaders currently place more value on standards and test scores, and “it’s robbing the poorest of our students,” he said.
Panelists went on to say that effective leaders must establish and communicate a common vision for the use of technology in their schools.
Like successful corporations, schools should establish the same goals and same message for everyone, said Bridget Foster, director of the California Learning Resource Network. “We have to be consistent, or we aren’t going to get anywhere,” she said.
Diny Golder, executive director of JES & Co., expanded on this idea by saying that successful companies share three common characteristics that schools could replicate.
First, successful companies have a common vision they easily share with everyone. Second, professional development is tied to that vision and offered to everyone, including all support staff and stakeholders.
Third, successful companies have the ability to change and manage that change. For example, if a school district decides to hold virtual teacher-parent conferences, school officials would ask: What’s involved? How do we get that done? How do we manage the success of those two items?
Leaders’ focus also should change, panelists said.
“I think we have focused too much on technology in the past. We should focus on education,” Quinn said. “We need to think differently.”
She added, “Our whole problem is that we market ourselves as ed tech. We keep saying ‘ed tech, ed tech.’ It’s [about] education!”
Golder agreed, saying it’s time to move the conversation beyond the need for technology in schools and toward finding solutions. “It’s like coming together to talk about why electricity is important,” she said.
Getting teachers to make decisions based on data is also challenging for school leaders, panelists said.
“We can have all the data in the world, but unless you use [them] well, it doesn’t help,” said Scott Price, director of technology and grants development for California’s Fullerton Joint Union High School District.
Teachers can either get defensive about low scores compared with their colleagues or they can use the data well, he said.
Teachers are concerned about the “gotcha” effect, said John Porter, associate superintendent and chief information officer for the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools. His district is trying to educate teachers that information is a tool that can help them be more successful.
Finally, school leaders need to focus on sustainable funding for technology, panelists said.
“I think we need to be concerned about funding for the future,” said David A. Spencer, president and CEO of the Michigan Virtual University.
“School districts can’t do this alone,” Porter added. Public and private partnerships are essential.