More thoughts on effective school technology leadership

Effective school technology implementation does not occur if there is not effective leadership in place to make it happen. It takes a lot of vision, passion, resources, and coordination, vision, to bring technology (or any new resource or practice) into an organization to make a positive impact on learning and teaching. The school leader is the key player in these areas. Leithwood and Riehl (2003) highlight the importance of school leadership by noting that it is second only to instruction from teachers when it comes to impacting student learning.

I’ll echo Todd Hurst’s thoughts that effective school technology leadership does not differ greatly from good school leadership. Leaders set a vision, share the vision, outline expectations, make goals, and then monitor performance toward that vision (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003). The work of Anderson and Baxter (2005) and Flanagan and Jacobsen (2003) also speak to the importance of the leader having a vision about the use of school technology.

The school leader must have a good understanding of best instructional practices and pay attention to their effect on student learning. The use of technology can be considered a best instructional practice, but tech use can’t be “business as usual with computers” (Bosco, 2003; p. 15). Flanagan and Jacobson (2003) share that, “Merely installing computers and networks in schools is insufficient for educational reform” (p. 125). We need to move past the focus on acquisition of resources, and put work into using those resources to have an impact on learning (Bosco, 2003). This type of instructional shift is where leadership really matters.

The provision of staff development has been identified as an important school leadership factor by Leithwood and Riehl (2003), and is also noted as key for the implementation of effective school technology programs. Bosco (2003) shares that professional development is essential for schools to move beyond the mere presence of computers, to effectively using them as a teaching and learning tool. Flanagan and Jacobsen (2003) show how student technology use progresses from productivity, to foundational knowledge, to the desired level of using technology for communication, problem solving, and decision making. Staff members will need to make these progressions themselves before they will be able to help students do the same. Professional development is the means to make this happen. Not only should school leaders make staff development available, they can also help these changes occur by modeling appropriate use of technology themselves (Anderson & Dexter, 2005).

Resource acquisition and alignment were identified as indicators of effective school leaders by Leithwood and Riehl (2003), and these skills are also important for school technology leaders. Bosco (2003) states that “creative leadership can find ways around the limitations of funding” (p. 18). I don’t sense an impending Golden Age for education where we have abundant money and time, so school leaders need to find ways to advocate and acquire needed resources for their students and staff.

The ability to develop community and collaborative efforts are key skills for school leaders (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003), and is also identified as a needed competency for effective technology leadership (Flanagan & Jacobsen, 2003). Building community and involving a variety of stakeholders can help secure resources, but these are also essential steps for understanding the variety of needs within a school community. Having this understanding will enable school leaders to address the digital divide found among students of different backgrounds.

Anderson and Dexter (2003) suggest that more research is needed to see how technology leadership fits with general school leadership. Their work found that there were lower levels of technology leadership in the elementary schools, and I’m curious to know why that is. Bosco (2003) shares “The strongest objection to ICT in schools is ideological not empirical” (p. 17). This statement leads me to think about the importance of political and persuasive skills for school leaders. Bosco (2003) also suggests that future research should investigate how technology can lead to more instructional time in addition to how it might effect student engagement. I also wonder about links between principal evaluation data and technology use in schools. In this era of increased educator and school accountability, educator evaluation processes across the country are starting to utilize more quantitative data, rooted in student achievement, to evaluate teachers and principals. It would be interesting to look at this numeric data in comparison to technology implementation.

Anderson, R.E. & Dexter, S. (2005, February). School technology leadership: An empirical investigation of prevalence and effect. Educational Administration Quarterly, 41, (1), 49-82.

Bosco, J. (2003, February). Toward a balanced appraisal of educational technology in U.S. schools and a recognition of seven leadership challenges. Paper presented at the Annual K-12 School Networking Conference of the Consortium for School Networking, Arlington, VA.

Flanagan, L. & Jacobsen, M. (2003). Technology leadership for the twenty-first century principal. Journal of Educational Administration, 41(2), 124-142.

Leithwood, K.A. & Riehl, C. (2003, January). What We Know about Successful School Leadership. Retrieved from

Gilligan Syndrome

Gilligan Syndrome = When you find yourself stuck because you don’t have good resources to turn to for advice and help.

Gilligan Syndrome is a term I coined along with my principal friends Jessica Johnson, Jay Posick, and Matt Renwick. We were preparing a presentation for our state administrator’s conference, and were trying to find a clever way to stress the importance for school administrators to make connections with people beyond their own schools and districts. Our presentation was on using Web 2.0 tools as professional development, and I think the setting for Gilligan’s Island fits pretty well with what often happens in schools. We get stranded and don’t know how to reach out to others for help. Using internet resources to make connections with other educators around the world is a way to get yourself unstuck.

Nobody talking about BYOD is a good thing

I attended my state’s principals conference this week and heard a presentation from staff and students of New Berlin West High School. It was interesting to hear about the planning and the implementation process that led to their BYOD program working so well. Their presentation team consisted of administrators, staff members, and students. They had a great story to tell, and they told it well, especially the students. [Side comment– In most schools, students make up approximately 90% of all the people in the building, so why aren’t they included more in presentations about successes?]

One comment that really stood out to me from the presentation was when the principal said, “Eighteen months after we started our BYOD program, no one even talks about it anymore.” His point was that their infrastructure was in place and working well, the students were being responsible with their devices, and the staff was accepting of the power of students using their devices for learning. The focus was on student learning, not the gadgets. Too often, technology plans measure their success by counting ratios and numbers of devices rather than evaluating the impact the plan has on student learning. We need to change that. Like a pencil or a notebook, tech is just another tool that can help students and staff. The impact on learning, not merely the presence, is where our focus and work should be.

Student reminder board at Onalaska Middle School showing that tech tools are an aid to learning, not the end goal itself.

What do we know about effective school tech leadership?

Effective school technology implementation and use does not occur if there is not effective leadership in place to make it happen. It takes a lot of resources, coordination, vision, and passion to bring technology into an organization to make a positive impact on learning and teaching. The school leader is the key player in these areas.

Successful school technology leadership looks like general effective school leadership, with several factors found in transformational leadership practices also being important in technology leadership (Yee, 2000). A key factor was a leader’s focus on student learning when planning for technology use in schools (McKenzie, 2001; Yee, 2000). Harper (2006) added to this by showing that involving students in technology planning and implementation can increase their engagement, which has a positive effect on their learning and achievement.

Professional development and responsive technical support were both identified by McKenzie (2001) and Yee (2000) as essential elements in the use of technology in schools. Harper (2006) suggested that students can play important roles in both of these areas as many students have very good tech skills and can give teachers ideas on how to use technology for instruction and learning. Students can also be a great option for providing technical support to school staff members (Harper, 2006). Using students in these roles also helps satisfy the need for school leaders to be creative and thoughtful resource seekers and suppliers, a factor mentioned by both McKenzie (2001) and Yee (2000).

Yee (2000) explained the importance of effective professional development for staff, and McKenzie (2001) describes some key PD features for making it beneficial for adult learners. In my experience, professional development for school staff ignores the important aspects of reaching adult learners. Many PD sessions involve too much “sit and get,” but adults need to be able to learn while actually implementing the newly learned skills (McKenzie, 2001). Our school staff should have the opportunity to learn “by doing and exploring…by trying” (McKenzie, 2001, p. 6). Utilizing in-house tech coaches who can quickly answer questions and provide support is also an effective approach to making sure the PD has an impact on student learning (McKenzie, 2001).

Once you have all of your plans underway, it is important to make sure staff members are actually following through on these well-thought out plans (McKenzie, 2001; Yee, 2000). Leaders need to monitor use of technology by their staff members, and then appropriately react if they see actions (or inactions) that don’t align with the vision. Use of technology should be a part of teacher growth plans and goals, and effective technology use (by students and teachers) should be evident when leaders observe what is happening in their schools (McKenzie, 2001).

Harper, D. (2006). Vision to action: Adding student leadership to your technology plan [white paper]. Olympia, WA: Generation Yes.

McKenzie, J, (2001). How teachers learn technology best. Retrieved from

Yee, D. (2000). Images of school principals’ information and communications technology leadership. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education,9(3), 287-302. Doi: 10.1080/14759390000200097

Read for the Record Day at Northern Hills

Never pass up an opportunity to share and celebrate the good things that are happening at your school. This clip is about my school’s participation in Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Day. This year’s book was Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad by David Soman and Jacky Davis. We had kids from the middle school come read with our younger students and also had a variety of fun reading activities going on throughout the day. While schools do have a lot of achievement pressure placed on them, we need to make sure we also schedule in activities that bring out the fun side of learning. Many thanks to my staff for making this day go so well for our students.

WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

YouTube + Screen casting = PD for Google Sites

Just made this video and many others in an effort to help my staff learn to use Google Sites to share classroom activities and information with the parents of their students. You can find the rest of the videos on this page of my staff newsletter site. This isn’t world class Google training, but it does demonstrate another way to deliver PD to your staff that keeps in mind the wide variety of needs and schedules they may have. Hopefully this will lead to more communication with our families, but I also hope that this shows teachers how this approach to PD might be something they could do for their students for a learning activity.