Today is the sixth anniversary of Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant as well as Leadership Day. Scott challenges readers to blog about anything related to effective school technology leadership in whatever format they choose. My post is an open letter to school leaders across the country.
Dear School Administrator,
I’m writing this letter to encourage you to rethink the ways that technology is used in your school as well as in your own professional life. Although this letter may be critical at times, its intent is to help provide potential alternative views to the current status of technology in our schools. This letter addresses two major concerns related to technology and school leadership. The first concern is focused on the ways that technology is used, or not used, in our schools. The second is related to how you (school leaders) are using technology for your own personal learning. As we move into the 2012–2012 school year, the time to change is now!
For too long, our school systems have approached technology with a culture of fear. This culture of fear has been magnified by the media’s extremely negative coverage of technology. I realize that as a school leader one of your most important jobs is the safety of your students. However, in your quest to keep students safe and protect them, you have drastically overreacted. You have blocked websites, at times extensively, and restricted students from bringing their own technology into your schools. You have prohibited students, as well as teachers, from embracing social media. I am strongly encouraging you to rethink these policies! You do need to keep students safe, but you should do that in a reasonable way. Each year you make countless decisions about the safety of students. You weigh the concerns versus the benefits of activities. I encourage you to do the same with technology. One example is the student trips you take each year. Some of those are simply day trips to businesses or museums, but others are overnight trips to Washington D.C. or a long distance band trip. When you send students outside of your school, you realize that they may not be as safe as if they remained in the school building.
However, you weigh those safety concerns against the amazing learning opportunities and life experiences your students will have on the trip.
Your decision to send students on those trips is based on the fact that their risks are still minimal because you have put appropriate precautions in place. Please begin to use that same reasoning when considering how technology is used in our schools.
As school leaders, you have wisely warned students about the harm that can come from posting inappropriate materials on the web. Unfortunately, that warning has often transformed into a message to not post anything online. Many schools have taken the approach that if student content can be found on the web, that is a horrible thing. I strongly encourage you to change that approach. We need to begin to encourage our students to create a positive digital footprint! The amazing work that they create should be shared with the world. Although we have many great teachers, students want an audience outside of their classroom teacher. As an employer, my first screening of any candidate was a google search. If I can’t find someone on google, I’m bewildered!
I wonder what in the world have they been doing with their life, and why can’t I find any positive things about them online.
Finally, school administrators, I really want you to consider the ways in which you use technology. I know that you are extremely busy. As the former principal of a school with over 900 students and no assistant principal, I can empathize with you! There were days that I was so busy I didn’t know which way to turn! With that in mind, I’m pleading with you to use technology for two reasons. First, technology can make your life easier. Technology can allow you to communicate, collaborate, collect and analyze data along with a host of other things much more efficiently and effectively. The final reason I encourage you to use technology is that it allows you to develop professional networks with others and gather information effectively. I often get push back from you when I ask you to use twitter or an RSS feed to help increase your knowledge of what is happening in education. The common response is “I don’t have time”. I often nod my head politely and listen, but want to scream in disgust. As a school leader today, is it really an option to ignore what is happening because of lack of time? How would you react if other professionals took the same approach? Is it acceptable for a pharmacist to fail to stay current with new research because he/she doesn’t have time?
I close with one last plea. Technology by itself is not enough. Please invest in training your teachers and developing policies that focus on student learning! Never before in history have we been so informed about what works in education. The technology has also given us tools that make the impossible imaginable. You are serving at a very exciting time in education. For the sake of our students and our future, please do not ignore how technology is impacting nearly every sector outside of education. Please use technology as that lever to truly change learning.
Yours in education,