Shared leadership makes an IMPACT in North Carolina

During the 2002-2003 school year, North Carolina school systems applied for grants to transform the instructional practices at one of their schools under a state program called IMPACT–a comprehensive model for infusing technology into teaching and learning. North Carolina State University (NCSU) and its Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, as well as the Southeastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE) Center at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, have been evaluating these IMPACT grant projects in 10 Title I schools and 10 comparison schools over the past three years. We’ve learned that successfully implementing instructional technology in schools requires more than just hardware and software; it seems effective leadership is the real key to success.

Through the competitive portion of North Carolina’s Enhancing Education Through Technology federal grant, each IMPACT school was awarded $450,000 a year for three years. The goal was to infuse instructional technology completely into the life of students and teachers in these schools. The grant funded the hardware, software, connectivity, personnel, and professional development needed to transform instruction, based on recommendations found in the North Carolina Educational Technology Plan and IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs. Though each grant recipient was free to design its own technology-rich environment, all of the grants provided for the hiring of a technology facilitator who partnered with the state-funded school library media coordinator in each participating school. Together, these professionals provided the supportive, resource-rich collaborative teaching and learning environment envisioned for each school.

The IMPACT model itself is predicated upon shared leadership. Principal leadership is always critical, but under this model the principal is joined by the technology facilitator and school library media coordinator. Both are responsible for providing professional development and helping teachers by modeling best practices in teaching, particularly with technology. Because these two individuals are most likely to understand the whole-school and individual teacher changes necessary to integrate technology tools into instruction, it is only natural that the school community would look to them for leadership. Thus, it seemed only natural to study the leadership characteristics of the entire leadership team: principal, technology facilitator, and school library media coordinator.

Researchers at NCSU measured “transformational” leadership practices (Kouzes & Posner, 2003), which in this case included:

“Challenging the Process: Willing to take risks and question the status quo;

“Inspiring a Shared Vision: Setting a clear and stimulating vision for others to buy into;

“Enabling Others to Act: Encouraging and engaging in cooperative decision making;

“Modeling the Way: Matching actual practice to stated values; and

“Encouraging the Heart: Giving positive feedback and recognizing others’ accomplishments.

Over the three years of the IMPACT grants, NCSU studied the leadership styles of the principal, media coordinator, and technology facilitator in each school by using the Leadership Profile Inventory’s 360-degree protocol. As part of the protocol, the three individuals rated themselves, and up to 10 randomly-chosen colleagues, superiors, and subordinates rated them on the same dimensions. The final data are based upon only the principals, technology facilitators, and media coordinators who were employed in the same IMPACT schools for all three years of the research. While the numbers are inevitably small–the leadership teams in 10 schools account for a possible cohort group of 30–the conclusions should serve to inform other schools as they contemplate moving toward a 21st-century collaborative technology immersion model.

What we’ve learned

The more transformational the principal, the more likely the school was to move successfully to the IMPACT model. Principals who shared their school’s decision-making processes created opportunities for the technology facilitator and media coordinator–and all teachers–to share their knowledge, experiences, and insights. Together, they tended to create a more collaborative teaching and learning environment for themselves as well as their students.

Over the life of the grant, the IMPACT principals who were present for all three years were rated more highly in Year 3 than in Year 1 on four of the five leadership dimensions. This demonstrates that, while they helped transform their schools into technology-rich, resource-rich innovative environments, they, too, grew in their roles as leaders. Obviously, for this type of school transformation to succeed, “challenging the process” and “inspiring a shared vision” were extremely important. These 10 schools were testing a model for the entire state. They needed a leader who could see the big picture and who was articulate and enthusiastic enough to convey that vision not just to the teachers, but to the entire school and education community.

Teachers and students in the midst of this huge change also needed an advocate–someone who not only understood “the system,” but represented it as well. These principals needed to be able to protect the teachers, allowing them to take the professional and personal risks that technology immersion inevitably demands. The fact that these principals were able to meet this challenge–in their own eyes and in the eyes of their sampling teachers–and also grew in their ability to do so over the three years of the grant was important to the success of these schools and the implementation of the IMPACT model.

The leadership styles of both the technology facilitator and the media coordinator were also measured over the three years of the grant. The teachers saw the team as complementary in interesting ways. It should not surprise anyone to see that media coordinators, for example, were rated highest in “enabling others to act,” because they are primary conduits of resources.

From the teachers’ perspective, while principals are important, they also bring the specter of evaluation. Media coordinators and technology facilitators, on the other hand, could be viewed as potential teammates and colleagues who could help the teachers succeed. In the shared leadership of the IMPACT model, these combinations of strengths bode well for successful implementation of the model–successful collaborative technology immersion. Implications of effective leadership

It should not be surprising that in the dynamic, enriching, and challenging environment these schools became, these leaders transformed their schools into interesting places to work and learn. Teachers became learners themselves–honing their technology skills and pedagogy, becoming energized, and creating active learning environments for their students. Teacher skills, technology utilization, and student-centered teaching methods became more prevalent. In the end, both master teachers and beginning teachers found these schools to be more desirable places to have a career. Based on teacher retention data from both the IMPACT schools and their comparison counterparts, teachers in these IMPACT schools were significantly less likely to leave than teachers in similar schools. What can we learn from this research into leadership styles? Are there predictions that we can make?

“When a huge culture shift such as technology immersion is required of schools, change may be swifter and more effective when more than one individual shares its responsibilities.

“Previous research about the need for strong support of teachers as they implement technology appears to have been validated.

“Coaching may be synonymous with leadership.

“Teachers who feel like they are part of a team, and who share in the decisions made within their school, tend to be more satisfied with its leadership.

“Leadership beyond the principal should be nurtured. Each person has individual, no less important roles in a school’s success. Reference

Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2003). The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (The Leadership Practices Inventory Series). New York, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons. Frances Bryant Bradburn is the director of instructional technology for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and author of the book Output Measures for School Library Programs (Neal-Schuman). Jason W. Osborne is an associate professor of educational psychology in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at North Carolina State University.

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