Beyond Engagement: 5 things principals can do to lead technology integration in classrooms

School leaders have a challenging and important, but often overlooked, job in education. These talented individuals are charged with recruiting and hiring staff, designing professional development, communicating with parents and families, fundraising, conducting performance evaluations, setting the master schedule and maintaining the physical plant (to name a few of their responsibilities). On top of these duties, there is also pressure for  school leaders to stay on top of the latest educational research to provide 21st-century learning experiences for every student. Technology is one piece of a very complicated educational puzzle, and when it is used well, it can support meaningful learning experiences for all students. This post explores five ways in which principals can successfully integrate technology into every classroom in their schools.

Develop a vision and share with all your stakeholders

What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the school year or the end of their time in your school? What are the skills and habits of mind you want students to demonstrate, and how can technology support these behaviors? The Common Core’s shifts require educators to rethink the tasks in which students engage, but they also open the door to students’ use of contemporary technology and media  in tasks high on Bloom’s taxonomy!

This requires leaders to be thoughtful and intentional about how technology can support student learning. The best way to do develop a comprehensive vision for student learning through technology may be to engage teachers, parents, students, and community members to discuss and plan what learners should be able to do. These individuals can also serve as your mouthpieces once the vision is created.

Develop a plan to test and evaluate products and technologies in the classroom

Many companies developing new technologies use the “build-measure-learn” cycle to create and revise products. Within schools, new initiatives should follow a similar pattern. Many schools already use inquiry cycles (examples here and here) to measure student performance, and adjust teaching practice as needed.

As you roll out and implement new technology and programs, you should engage teachers in a similar process. The first step is research, and product review sites like EdSurge, LearnTrials, Edreports.org, and many other provide a rigorous and/or crowdsourced approach to product evaluations. Teachers can be involved in this phase, and also should be involved in testing potential software and hardware solutions against each other in real situations. This can occur head-to-head in a classroom, or spread across classrooms. After a trial period, you might convene teachers and students to see how implementation is progressing (and compare it with your own data collected through #3 and #4 below). After developing an action plan, you can then make mid-course corrections and convene again later to re-assess progress. As you implement a new initiative, teachers should be your partners in the process, and they should feel some amount of ownership for the decision, so that there is buy-in and political support across the staff.

Get into classrooms everyday

As instructional leaders, a major goal is developing alignment and coherence across classrooms. Principals can use classroom visits and observations to measure the level of coherence in what teachers do every day. However, if classroom visits are not part of principals’ regular activities, they can startle teachers and make them fear taking chances. So make it clear to teachers that visits are are not punitive, but are for you to collect information about where they need additional support.  Kim Marshall is a huge proponent of “mini-observations” of 5-15 minutes, which allow you to get slices of your teachers instruction over the entire year, thus giving you a more robust view of their teaching.

By creating a culture that breaks down silos between classrooms, teachers can then become more comfortable in having other visitors – including their peer teachers. This gives teachers an opportunity to learn from each other, and develop new strategies for technology integration in their own classrooms.

Use a framework to assess how teachers integrate technology, then give them support

You won’t need to reinvent the wheel as you and your staff visit each other’s classrooms. Many organizations provide  tools to measure how teachers are using technology. The Technology Integration Matrix is a tool developed by the University of South Florida, and it describes the levels of technology integration in both the curriculum and the learning environment. Additionally, the ISTE offers a paid Classroom Observation Tool which can be used to better understand trends in devices, curriculum, and activities across each classrooms and the school. Once you identify a discrepancy between your goals and vision and what’s occurring in classrooms, it’s important to provide feedback to teachers, and even identify professional learning opportunities for teachers to develop skills as a team.

Look for use of technology authentically as a learning tool

Karen Cator, former Director of the Office of Educational Technology in the US Department of Education describes her visit to a school in North Carolina with classrooms in which she “couldn’t tell where the front of the classroom was” and “technology facilitated communication, engagement, interaction, and understanding.” These examples show the importance of not simply using technology for its own sake, but rather, making  sure technology is facilitating a deep learning experience. This also suggests that technology integration is more than giving students individual assignments on devices after a lecture. Classrooms with integrated technology should feel quite different than their traditional counterparts. Teachers may require additional training and support  to become more comfortable with these setups, so it principals should investigate professional development options for the staff that incorporate these strategies.

We hope these ideas help you lead technological change in your schools, and if we missed any ideas and strategies you’ve found successful, please send them our way to info@sokikom.com.