The principal’s role as TECHNOLOGY LEADER

11/27/2011  |  MARILYN GRADY
Technology and Learning

“To be a principal in the 21st century school demands leadership of technology. To be a leader of technology requires a willingness to learn, flexibility, and the capacity to accept change as a constant factor. Adaptability and acceptance of ambiguity are essential. Because technology changes continuously, there is no menu of technology must dos and must haves. Instead, leaders of technology must be lifelong learners and explorers of the new, the exciting, and the useful in technology.” – A principal

This statement by a principal captures the spirit of interviews conducted with principals, technology specialists, librarians, media specialists, curriculum directors, and superintendents for the book “Leading the Technology-Powered School” (Corwin Press, 2011). The book, based on the premise that principals are very busy and assume many roles in the principalship, prominently features the voices of school leaders and includes strategies principals can use to enhance their work as technology leaders. Principals are encouraged to engage in “15 Minute Explorations” through a series of easily accessible Web sites and blogs to build their capacity as technology leaders.

The following information highlights aspects of the principal’s role as technology leader, the teachers as key to technology implementation, the teacher-to-teacher model of professional development, and questions to consider. The voices of school leaders are included as well.

The principal’s role as technology leader includes:

  • Establishing the vision and goals for technology in the school
  • Carrying the technology banner in the school
  • Modeling the use of technology
  • Supporting technology use in the school
  • Engaging in professional development activities that focus on technology and integration of technology in student learning activities
  • Providing professional development opportunities for teachers and staff that emphasize the use of technology and that facilitate integration of technology in student learning
  • Securing resources to support technology use and integration in the school
  • Advocating for technology use that supports student learning
  • Being knowledgeable and supportive of national technology standards and promoting attainment of the standards in the school
  • Communicating the uses and importance of technology in enhancing student learning experiences to the school’s stakeholders

Principals who are comfortable with technology become models of technology use in schools. Principals demonstrate their ease with technology by using e-mail, Web sites, preparing reports illustrated with graphs and photos embedded in presentations, using the student information system to track the day-to-day operation of the school, and using handheld devices to complete teacher appraisals.

Principals who are technology leaders showcase technology use during meetings. They invite teacher demonstrations of technology integration in lessons or integrated grade-level projects at staff meetings. Displays of student and classroom use of technology are prominent in their schools.

Leaders of technology encourage implementation of technology in instructional strategies. Principals note teachers’ use of technology integration in the lessons they observe. They help teachers establish goals for implementation of technology in instructional strategies.

Teachers are the key to implementation of technology in the classroom. Principals note that time to innovate and resources to support innovation are essential. In some instances, principals have been able to use incentives to stimulate “early adopters” to integrate technology in their instructional practices.

Fear of technology may strike experienced and inexperienced teachers. The principal must defuse the fear and the resistance to technology use. One experienced teacher remarked, “We don’t know how to let go of that control and let students utilize technology that we don’t understand at all. We want student-centered learning, and we want student-centered classrooms, but giving over that control is very difficult and technology is sort of speeding up that transition.”

Often the best method of inspiring technology use is the influence of other teachers. A principal said, “Just like when you put your SmartBoard — your first interactive board — in the classroom and you have a teacher who just gets so excited about it, and other teachers are passing by and they say, ‘How come I don’t have one of those?’”

Technology use must be a clearly identified goal. Teachers must know that the use of technology in instruction is an expectation. For instance, one principal noted, “In our district, technology is one of our goals and our objectives. So it is an expectation and everyone accepts that.” Another principal said, “One of the objectives is that they must produce a learning project where kids collaborate and communicate and use technology for learning. And they (students) will present those.”

In another interview a principal said, “You can train them to death ... (but) They have to know that that’s going to be part of their evaluation.”

Principal visibility and support of teachers are essential. Monitoring the attainment of school goals is the principals’ responsibility. Principals must work to remove roadblocks to technology use to assure that teachers do not lose interest or become frustrated by technology expectations.

There has been a seismic change in information delivery and communication and teachers are expected to respond to this change. Consider the following remarks by principals.

“Where face-to-face used to be the mode, lots of kids are going to Facebook and social networking sites. Teachers can’t teach 21st century skills using technological sources and sites unless they have the skill and the practice themselves.”

Another principal said, “We’re expecting a lot of teachers who have been trained in very traditional methods of instructional delivery. They have never utilized this kind of technology. They’re not comfortable with it. They may not have access to it, and they don’t understand it.”

One approach to facilitating teachers’ acquisition of technology skills is the teacher-to-teacher model of professional development. Based on Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” (2003) approach to implementing change, the model focuses on teacher demonstration of instructional activities to other teachers. In the case of acquisition of technology skills, a teacher demonstrates use of technology in instruction to an audience of teachers. The teachers in the audience are provided the opportunity to implement and experiment with the technology. Opportunities to practice with the technology and time to do so are part of the professional development experience. These teachers are invited to demonstrate their instructional activities using technology at the next professional development session. The approach is a model of teacher-to-teacher demonstration, practice and implementation.

Teachers are at various stages of technology use and “readiness to learn” about technology. For some the implementation of technology will be swift and painless. For others the process will be slow and incremental. These differences require an approach to change and professional development that acknowledges these differences.

A principal noted, “Looking at professional development — we have amazing teachers out there — they’ve been bombarded by this new technology, the 21st century skills, and wait a minute — how do I incorporate these into my lessons plans? You do that through assessing the teachers and then bringing in the professional development that we need.”

 The approach to professional development should be:

  • Identify the teachers’ skills and knowledge of technology
  • Plan activities that match the skill and knowledge level of the teachers
  • Schedule and deliver the activities
  • Plan to repeat activities until teachers have mastered the skills
  • Allow teachers to practice the skills and demonstrate the use of the technology
  • Provide time for skill practice
  • Feature teachers as the facilitators of the sessions to emphasize the teacher-to-teacher-model of professional development
  • Provide time and resources to allow sessions to be successful and to demonstrate the value placed on the activities.

“We kind of expect that all educators know how to use technology, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. We don’t do a good job of training them. The administrators that I have talked to who are comfortable with technology, it seems like we’re all self-taught. Very few of us have gone to classes. Very few of us have had formal training. We just have had to learn it to keep up with our profession. And some of us have and some of us have not. The skill level is just all over the board, and we need to address that better than we’re addressing it.”

The following questions are a reminder of the digital divide in schools:

How do individuals in the school learn to operate the technology? Does someone teach the teachers and administrators to operate technology?

Who teaches students to operate technology? How do students learn to use smartphones and iPods? Who teaches them text messaging skills? Who teaches students how to use Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace?

Sources: Grady, M.L. (2011). Leading the Technology-Powered School (2011). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Rogers, E. M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition. New York: Free Press.

Marilyn L. Grady, Ph.D. is Professor of Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of “Leading the Technology-Powered School,” available from Corwin Press at She can be contacted at [email protected].
Comments & Ratings

  1/26/2012 3:41:18 PM
Peggy Croy 

Principal in Illinois 
Right on the mark! Concise, user friendly and great advice for all educational leaders. Good read.