This paper responds to a hypothetical scenario of a very old, well-renowned private school working to integrate technology. What is the role of an administrator in this scenario? The scenario is a compilation of my experiences at different schools and my imagination.
Successful technology integration in secondary schools requires considerable planning, training, and institutional change (Gülbahar 2005). Leadership is especially vital to such significant undertakings. As we might expect, administrative support has a significant impact on technology integration (Table 2., Murphy and Gunter 2006). However, poor leadership can be as detrimental as good leadership is impactful. In this study, we will identify the nature of the administrative support most likely to yield positive results by examining the ideal role of a principal in a school’s efforts to integrate technology.
Institutional barriers like a lack of time or resources can thwart even the best ideas. Leaders must remove these barriers before moving forward (Senge 94). The most common barriers to technology integration in schools include teachers’ time, beliefs about technology and pedagogy, access to technology, professional development, and school culture (Kopcha 2008). Peggy Ertmer (2005) argues that, of these the first four, teachers’ beliefs are currently the most significant impediment to successful technology integration. Both the No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform emphasize technology use as priorities (U.S. DOE, 2003, 2010) along with promises to afford teachers opportunities to implement these tools (Ertmer 2005; DOE, 1996, 2001, 2003). With adequate support from these sources, these barriers will require planning and resources to overcome. Teachers’ beliefs and a school culture, however, are far more complex. Hence, we will focus on the principal’s role in cultivating a school culture and changing teacher’s beliefs in a way that supports technology integration.
Before he or she has any influence on teachers’ beliefs, a principal must model the behavior that he or she wishes to promote (Lumpkin 2008). Accordingly, principals’ own expertise in technology can play a key role in its successful curricular integration by teachers. Modeling appropriate use of technology is especially effective (Dawson and Rakes 2003; Chang 2012). Dawson and Rakes found that a principal’s age and training in technology were significant indicators of successful integration. Principals between the ages of 41 and 55 were most likely to integrate technology effectively, perhaps because principals in that age group have the requisite balance of energy and experience. The same study also concludes that principals with at least 51 hours of training produced significantly different results from those with less, substantiating a consistent claim across the research that technology professional development be sustained to be effective. Furthermore, Flanagan and Jacobsen (2003) argue that successful technology integration requires principals to be “technology leaders.” If not, they cannot appreciate the pedagogy associated with successful integration. These administrators, it is argued, focus more on purchasing equipment and restricting access to it. Innovative practice remains otherwise unsupported and haphazard.
A principal modeling technology integration and providing training for teachers is inadequate to achieve successful integration, however. Zhou and Frank (2003) make clear that teacher’s effective and sustained use of technology is significantly correlated to teacher’s beliefs, which in turn are most significantly impacted by fellow teachers. While we often assume that more professional development can change beliefs, H. H. Tillema (1994) demonstrated that teachers’ learning in training or professional development contexts is significantly correlated to the alignment of teachers’ beliefs with the focus of the training. Therefore, it will only be effective if teachers already agree with it. Interactions between and among teachers, not more training, shift teachers’ beliefs.
These findings help to explain the success of decentralized technology integration models. In particular, distributed leadership can be quite effective. Marks and Louis (1997) argue that decentralized leadership through teacher empowerment can have significant results on student achievement. Similarly, other technology integration models, such as Mississippi’s C-R-E-A-T-E project, employ teacher collaboration and peer mentorship to integrate technology (Whitefield and Latimer 2002) with minimal administrative oversight. In these models, administrators attend professional development and express support for their teachers. However, their role is essentially a passive one.
How do we reconcile the impact of the principal as technology leader with the need for collaboration among teachers and the alignment of their beliefs with technology integration generally? Transformative principals, Moolenaar, Daly, and Sleegers (2010) show, are trusted by their teachers and occupy a central position in the “social network” of the faculty. Through their position in the social fabric of the school and embrace of the vision shared by the faculty, these principals are able to cultivate a culture of risk-taking, collaboration, and innovation (Moolenaar et al. 2010). In so doing, they can cultivate the mindset requisite for reimagining curriculum to take advantage of technology. These findings align with Peter Senge’s argument about the development of a shared vision, which, he writes, “takes time to emerge. They grow as a by-product of interactions of individual visions” (Senge 201). The establishment of a shared vision, including one that supports technology integration, ought to be an organic, slow, collaborative process.
The principal’s role in this process demands a balance of formal leadership and informal relationship-building. Coburn (2001) demonstrates that a principal can establish the formal structures in which teachers will exchange ideas and allow their individual visions to interact. Perhaps more importantly, “Reform leaders also played a powerful role in shaping the direction of sensemaking by creating pathways that brought particular messages from the [school] environment into teacher conversations, by privileging certain messages over others, and by framing interpretations in powerful ways” (Coburn 2001). Like any skilled teacher, a principal can encourage discussion while steering it. In so doing, he or she can direct the evolution of a shared vision that incorporates and builds upon the beliefs of teachers.
Research therefore indicates that technological and pedagogical skill are necessary for a principal to understand the inherent issues in creating a vision shared by faculty that supports technology integration. Equally important are the behaviors he or she models, his or her place in the social network of the faculty, and the trust the faculty puts in him or her. Having established these relationships, a principal can at once empower teachers and also lead them.
John Marshall High is a 300-year-old independent school with $40,000 tuition. A young principal was hired with an expectation of “bringing the school into the 21st century,” according to the president of the Board of Trustees. Other schools in the area had already moved to a one laptop-per-student environment (1:1). Previously, administrators never saw fit to advocate for such extensive technology integration, because it was not apparent that the school’s academic offerings would improve as a result. However, it had become clear to the admissions office and, consequently, the Board of Trustees that applicants viewed Marshall’s lack of technology as a deficiency, not an asset. Accordingly, they hired a young, enthusiastic principal with experience at more progressive schools to lead this change. Having studied educational leadership extensively, the principal knew that his ideal role in technology integration required a delicate balance among friend, mentor and leader. However, the difficulty of fulfilling this role was compounded at Marshall by the school’s particularly conservative culture, an older faculty, and its reputation for rigor.
Entering his first year, the principal knew he had one asset. Research indicates that a principal ought to have significant technological expertise to facilitate technology integration efforts (Dawson and Rakes 2003; Zhou and Frank 2003). Having taught in several 1:1 schools, the principal had significant experience with educational technology.
He also had the support of a technology integrationist, who was hired two years earlier, although she had only made slight advances and only with a few teachers. Many teachers, especially older ones, viewed the integrationist as a threat, questioning the need for integration in their otherwise rigorous and, for the most part, beloved classes. Teachers’ beliefs significantly correlate with the efficacy of technology integration campaigns, and the integrationist had failed to change them so far (Ertmer 2005).
In fact, each successful instance of technology integration was a result of a new teacher implementing something he or she had tried at their previous job. Many of these instances were class projects in which students could choose digital alternatives to traditional creations like a fictional essay or hand-written poster. Others leveraged the school’s learning management system to digitize assessments and host online discussions. Several teachers used their interactive whiteboards on a daily basis. The four laptop carts and computer lab were generally used for in-class writing. Clubs that met every other week after school used other hardware like cameras, scanners, and robotics equipment. Rarely had curriculum adapted to exploit the technology fully, something the principal understood to be essential.
Also complicating matters was the haphazard approach to hardware purchasing in the past, which reflected the school’s lack of a coherent vision for technology integration generally. Devices were bought ad hoc as teachers requested them. In the school’s laptop carts, there were four different laptop models, all of them PCs. Most were over three years old. Often, students brought in their own MacBooks, because they insisted, “Macs are so much better!” and that “these laptops never work!” Teachers generally turned a blind eye, because, in fact, students did work much more quickly on their own laptops. When he first met with students, several students asked if they could “do what my friends’ schools all do and get everyone a MacBook?” The principal owned a MacBook as well, but he knew that they were more expensive than PCs and that the school’s IT department was not prepared to support a 1:1 program, especially if it was on a whole new platform. Regardless of the devices they eventually would choose, the principal recognized that he would have to ensure that his faculty would be supported properly for them to trust him or the technology.
Besides the few young faculty members who had asked for different gadgets, most faculty members rarely used any technology in class at all. The mean age of the faculty was 50, a significant challenge for the principal. He rightly assumed that their resistance to the integrationist was born of resistance to technology generally. Having experienced it himself to a lesser extent, the principal knew what it was like to be outpaced by one’s own students as well as colleagues. He feared that his older colleagues would view him the same way. Moreover, the commonly held view that enrollment and finances motivated technology integration and not academics hardened many teachers’ resistance. Furthermore, the principal knew that many teachers were largely unprepared to use technology even if they wanted to. When many colleagues did not respond to his introductory e-mail at the end of the previous school year, he was surprised to learn that most of the faculty members over 50 did not use e-mail. These same teachers were also the favorites among students, as their teaching style and ability had secured their position at an otherwise cutthroat work environment. They saw no compelling reason to change their practice.
Many parents who were especially influential in this institution were wary of technology as well. Word had spread over the summer that the Board was interested in changing the Marshall’s reputation for technophobia. In his first open parent meeting, six of the first ten questions were about technology. Parents were worried that course offerings and requirements might change with the influx of technology, and the best colleges expected certain kinds of transcripts. Similarly, many parents were worried about a rumor they had heard of the Math Department Chair wanting to implement project-based learning in 9th and 10th grades. Promisingly, however, one set of highly influential parents also asked why the school had not yet allowed students to bring their own devices.
The principal knew that he could not answer these questions in a way that dictated some new policy that his faculty had not yet endorsed. The vision he established had to be shared (Senge 201). Yet, everything he knew about teachers’ views on technology came second-hand. Whatever his answers to these specific questions, it was clear that he needed to fulfill the expectations of the Board of Trustees and of his teachers while maintaining the best interest of the students. Teachers would not support any of his efforts if they did not trust him. Even then, they would need to be sold on technology as something that would enhance their instruction. Finally, he knew that technology integration required curricular adjustments, professional development, time, and patience. In short, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
The principal deflected these questions with the sort of diplomacy necessary to be an administrator at an institution like John Marshall. However, he knew that he needed a substantive answer soon. A disciple of Peter Senge, this principal identified the need for a solution that accounted for the whole of the institution – that is, he needed to engage in systems thinking. Although his primary constituents were the teachers, he was also accountable to students, parents, and other administrators. Curriculum and students’ academic performance formed a network that linked these groups together. Culture emerged from this web when it was infused with the beliefs, skills, and goals of the people involved. Together, these components formed a single institution that had so far failed to deeply integrate technology. Each piece had to change in a way that produced a different culture and, therefore, a different result. He needed to examine the system and identify its strengths, weakness, fixtures, and elements ripe for change.
In other words, to change this culture and ensure widespread support for change, the principal needed to identify what the barriers to technology integration were. Because he was new to the school, he did not need to “recondition [his] perceptions so as to be more able to see the leverage in those structures”” but could immediately “see the leverage in those structures” in order to “suggest areas of high-and-low-leverage change” (Senge 94).
Despite the school’s efforts in hiring a technology integrationist and purchasing hardware to ensure unlimited access to high quality technology, innovative practices remained few and far between. The former principal reported a brief period in which this hardware had been purchased and the integrationist hired where it seemed the adoption of technology would happen organically. However, it plateaued. What was the “balancing (or stabilizing) process” the prevented further uptake? (Senge 95).
He decided to go straight to the source and ask the teachers who had not adopted technology why they avoided it. Besides his interest in their answers, he knew that consulting the teachers in this way would lay the groundwork for later building of a shared vision. A shared vision, or an institution-wide embrace of a long-term view, is
…a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further… then it is no longer an abstraction. It is palpable. People begin to see it as if it exists. Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision. (191)
This powerful force would unite the faculty in pursuit of the goal, which he was hired to realize. Hence, if technology integration was to become an institution-wide practice, he needed commitment from all the teachers, not just the early adopters. Moreover, a vision “is not truly a ‘shared vision’ until it connects with the personal visions of people throughout the organization” (Senge 200). Taking seriously the teachers’ particular views on technology and pedagogy was a first step toward identifying their personal visions and enlisting them in the development of a shared one.
The teachers who had not used technology reported six reasons for not having integrated technology: their inability to use technology; unreliable hardware; distracting quality of technology; inadequate time to get through established curriculum; a belief that technology did not add to and even took away from what was best about their instruction; and, finally, a belief that technology integration efforts were motivated by economic, not academic, motives.
These last two points were related; the belief that technology did not add to instruction was reinforced by the initial impetus for its introduction of the classroom – admissions and related financial concerns. These beliefs had manifested from the outset among the most experienced and, therefore, most influential teachers. As Senge writes, “Resistance to change is neither capricious nor mysterious. It almost always arises from threats to traditional norms and ways of doing things” (Senge 88). Although he was unsurprised that these teachers felt this way, he was relieved to have identified the balancing force that stalled out the first wave of integration. Now, he needed to change their view. He needed some leverage.
Fortunately, the tradition of excellence at this school allowed them to hire the most qualified and talented teachers from around the country and, in fact, around the world. Every faculty member exhibited what Senge calls personal mastery, which he explains, “is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision,” allowing people “to consistently realize the results that matter most deeply to them.” In so doing, they are committed to “lifelong learning” (7). These older teachers worked as hard as the younger ones, attending numerous conferences, workshops, and training sessions to improve their teaching. If they were not adopting technology, it was not because they were lazy, “checked out,” or simply stubborn. Rather, they did not incorporate it into their personal vision because they did not believe technology to enhance what was most important to them – namely, good instruction.
Instead, integrating technology distracted them from realizing the results that mattered most deeply to them. To value technology, they had to believe it to be a means to their desired end. So far, their lack of technological proficiency combined with few examples of effective technology integration served to solidify these teachers’ perceptions of technology as a distraction or annoyance rather than an asset. In other words, they were right to not try to integrate it; their instruction was better without it. The principal recognized that these teachers had “an accurate, insightful view of current reality” (Senge 143). To change their views and show them that integrating technology aligned with their personal visions, he needed to change their current reality.
The obvious candidate for effecting this change was the technology integrationist. The principal learned that the integrationist introduced teachers to examples of project-based learning (PBL) units, showing them multiple videos from Edutopia. He also had been working tirelessly to make the technology easy to use for the teachers, but their adoption had mostly remained minimal at best. Aware that “many people, even highly successful people, harbor deep beliefs contrary to their personal mastery” (Senge 144), the principal asked what the teachers’ responses to PBL were. The integrationist said that teachers thought they could not teach that way, that their lectures were superior because they could control what the students learned, and that the PBL model did not teach students the skills they would need in college. The principal thus realized that the faculty found technology unhelpful when trying to fit into their “mental model” (Senge 163) of pedagogy and learning. To change their view on the helpfulness of technology, he needed to persuade them that student-centric learning was superior to teacher-centric learning.
To this end, he developed three professional development sessions for teachers during his first in-services. The first session was dedicated to establishing the teachers’ beliefs about their purpose in educating children. Teachers generally agreed that moral and intellectual edification of students was their paramount objective. In the second session, teachers examined their own practice to identify the ways in which they were or were not meeting that standard. Often, teachers recognized that they did not focus on every student and spent more time on content than on intellect or character development. In this way, he helped teachers “[face] up to distinctions between espoused theories (what we say) and theories-in-use (the implied theory in what we do)” (Senge 175). Finally, he allowed the technology integrationist to present another example of PBL by showing a video from a classroom at High Tech High in San Diego. Teachers wrote down their reactions and shared them with the group. The principal led them in a discussion of how their reactions related to their previous two sessions. While the teachers were reluctant to speak, many approached him afterward appreciative that he made them reflect on their practice in a new way.
Next, it was incumbent upon the principal to leverage this opportunity to inspire the teachers to entertain a new pedagogical model – namely, student-centric teaching and learning. He did not want to be advocate, though (Senge 182). Aware that the technology integrationist had the potential to be a leader and that delegating this task would help him maintain a more positive and equal place in the social network of faculty (Moolenaar et al. 2010), he asked the integrationist how he thought it was best to proceed. Impressed both by the principal’s ability to motivate the teachers to introspect as well as the teachers’ commitment to better education (he had previously doubted it when teachers were reluctant to adopt any technology), the integrationist said that he could help the teachers explore progressive pedagogical models. If he could prove that student-centric learning achieved greater moral and intellectual development in students, then he could align technology integration with their shared vision. For them to be truly committed to technology integration, they had to choose it in this way (Senge 206)
Together, the principal and integrationist developed a professional development program for their teachers in which they would work together to analyze a variety of pedagogical models while identifying what was or was not working in their instruction and assessments. The integrationist worked with the principal to ensure that he could facilitate the conversation in a way that yielded more dialogue than discussion, as the goal of the first year was primarily to encourage open-mindedness (Senge 230). To empower the teachers, the principal did not attend these meetings. He only appeared at the first one and said, “I want you to determine what a John Marshall education looks like.” Then, he left. He hoped that the teachers would be empowered to engage in team learning to “connect with the core of the business” (Senge 302).
In so doing, he also meant to embrace Fullan’s axioms, “Reculturing is the name of the game” and “redefine resistance” (Fullan 34). If teachers were empowered to think about what they love and make decisions about how to do it better, then they would create a culture that suited their vision. Until that point, the culture of the centuries old institution seemed immutable. The principal freed them from these restrictions so they could finally feel ownership of the school to which they had dedicated their lives. At the same time, he refocused their energies on defining good pedagogy rather than resisting technology. The narrative shifted to defining academic goals and learning whether technology could support or enhance them. Teachers still resisted technology occasionally, but they did so for well-reasoned arguments about the value of doing a lesson without it rather than from an emotional, fear-based reaction. By empowering a passionate, intelligent, and dedicated faculty, the principal lit the fuse that exploded a culture marked by enthusiasm and open-mindedness.
The cumulative effect of these efforts was not a coherent vision for technology; instead, it was a coherent vision for pedagogy, which was made possible by but not for the sake of technology. The committee, led by the integrationist, agreed that they needed to adopt student-centric pedagogical models. Rather than commit to any particular technologies, they recognized that a shift in pedagogy would allow them to always leverage new tools as they emerge, to meet students’ needs, and allow them to accomplish their academic goals in ways best suited to their ever-changing students. The few teachers who had been using technology before the new principal arrived were also empowered to push the boundaries in their classrooms. One teacher created a MakerSpace and became a full-time technology instructor. A science teacher developed a full STEM curriculum with her math colleague. The culture accommodated these teachers as well as the English teacher whose sole integration of technology was an on-line discussion board that had been available on the LMS for ten years. “All that mattered,” the principal always said, “is that you always focus on what matters.”
With the teachers now comfortable with technology, the principal sought to relieve the teachers of their hardware troubles. One teacher said, “The kids all have MacBooks. Can we just let them use their laptops?” Encouraged, he asked IT if they could support such a program. They said that their wireless network and security could handle it, but they were not prepared to repair the computers. Teachers also commented that they often would prefer to not have the laptops in the classroom sometimes. Students and parents were therefore asked to sign a form that required them to register their computers with the network for monitoring purposes, to acknowledge that their computer could be taken by the school should students not respect teachers’ .requests to put them away, and to be responsible for all repair. Students and teachers alike wholly embraced the new rules.
The MakerSpace, STEM room, robotics club, and new devices permitted in the building made the school look like a school of the future, despite its 300 years of existence. Admissions officers were pleased, and so was the Board. Further, student performance remained mostly the same, but students were much more excited about their schoolwork; parents, therefore, were also pleased. The principal also made these changes with a single policy and a committee in which teachers were encouraged to think seriously and honestly about what they do. In other words, the school changed dramatically with minimal leadership from above. He encouraged his teachers to engage their deepest passions, and he hoped, through the right sort of encouragement, they would discover the value of technology on their own. Their visions aligned, and change happened without any edicts from on high. Instead, the principal ignited a dimming flame in many teachers, forming a conflagration of new, exciting pedagogy.
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 She does not mention school culture in this article. See Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich
 (2010) for a discussion of culture.
 In truth, the Chair had suggested the idea to several colleagues but never discussed it with the administration.