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Three ways to help administrators embrace technology

True leadership comes from leading by example; here’s how to address administrators’ concerns

administrators-embrace-technologyMuch of the conversation taking place about technology in education today focuses on digital tools that are meant to help educators teach and students learn. But technology can, and should, have a huge impact on the administrative process as well.

Consider this: A recent Metlife Survey of the American Teacher found that nearly 70 percent of principals reported their job responsibilities were different than those they had five years earlier, and 75 percent said they felt their jobs were too complex. While it’s obvious that technology is a significant part of this change, we need to ensure it’s helping administrators handle the increasing complexity facing them, not adding to their work load.

Unfortunately, many administrators are reluctant to embrace technology. While a growing number of school and district leaders are forward-looking, many still find technology foreign, intimidating, or overwhelming. In fact, many only think of technology as the basic infrastructure for their day-to-day tasks.

As a result, many districts are overlooking tools that are purpose-built to improve the administrative process. That’s worrisome, as not exploring the usage of such tools is hurting the district doubly, by making processes unnecessarily inefficient and expensive. This reticence ignores the fact that these technologies can enable administrators and teachers alike to do everything from controlling costs to improving communications to giving student learning a boost.

The fear often surrounding technology cannot be overlooked, even for administrators. School stakeholders often talk about instilling 21st century skills in their students, but true leadership comes from leading by example. Here are three steps that districts can take to make sure their administrators are embracing technology.

1. Make sure it works and is easily available.

While this first step might seem obvious, sometimes there’s a good reason for administrators to be skeptical of new technology. For example, there has been a lot of hype for technology to “disrupt education”—which makes for a great sound bite. But sensationalism like “disruption” often skews the benefits of a new technology, while failing to focus on actionable steps for how to be successful with it. As a result, expectations become inflated—and when results are disappointing, administrators are naturally skeptical of future claims.

There are a few ways to ensure the technology you use has tangible value. For instance…

• Have some administrators who aren’t as technically inclined test a new product and give their feedback on it before you commit to the technology—a simple “try before you buy.”

• Have an IT expert make sure the tool integrates seamlessly into existing systems.

• Focus on outcomes when evaluating new technology. Don’t be fooled by features that don’t address the problem you’re trying to solve—stay laser-focused on the “why,” and then make sure your technology choice is addressing this question simply and effectively.

(Next page: Two more strategies to help administrators embrace technology)

2. Offer support.

School systems must make a concerted effort to ensure that technology is accessible. This means acknowledging that change can be intimidating and doing what you can to help administrators overcome their fears and feel empowered instead of forced. Here are some suggestions…

• Pair tech-savvy administrators with those just learning the ropes.

• Make sure you provide consistent professional development for staff members that gives them enough time to become comfortable with using the technology. This doesn’t mean a few one-hour training sessions; instead, it should be an ongoing, supportive process.

• This professional development and support doesn’t have to be something that a district tackles on its own. Rather, the selection process for any technology tool should include an in-depth look at what support services are included with the purchase.

3. Focus on outcomes.

I mentioned this in the context of the evaluation process, but it’s important long after you choose a certain technology. A key to success is making sure administrators know what you’re trying to accomplish with the technology. To start, this means explaining or proving the efficiency and/or cost savings you expect to see from using the new tool. But beyond that, make sure you tie the outcomes to the ultimate goal as well: improving student achievement.

As last year’s Department of Professional Employees Fact Sheet noted, “In high performing schools, administrators play a crucial role in establishing high expectations for students and teachers, communicating a clear plan for student achievement and teacher cooperation, and making expectations for state and federal standards clear. They also work to create an environment where everyone has a stake in school improvement.”

Establishing this connection—and explaining how technology can help administrators take teacher cooperation, student achievement, and overall school improvement to the next level—is critical to getting them to buy in and lead by example.

Joel Sackett has been helping organizations realize their digital visions for almost a decade. He has worked on numerous high-profile projects, including PBS Student Reporting Labs and Sackett joined Hanover Research to help expand its product offerings in the education market. He tweets at @joelstweets.

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