Years ago, I would conduct informal assessments of school building principals attempting to extract their perceptions about technology’s role in the classroom. When asked about what constituted “high level” technology use, I frequently heard comments such as“ As long as students are busy on the computers, I know that learning is occurring,” “ I want students to access the internet, synthesize information, and present it in a multimedia presentation,” or “ My staff uses computers as tutorials for the upcoming high stakes test.” Oftentimes, I found out that the perceptions of the building principal mirrored the manner in which technology was used campus-wide.
Do building principals overtly tell their staff how to use learning technologies in the various content areas? Not really. Their collective influence is more indirect in the form of feedback from classroom walkthroughs and formal teacher evaluations, comments made during faculty meetings, emails communicated to staff, and actual funding for technology assets on campus. Recently, I read an email from a building principal to her staff suggesting the need for tunnel vision as they prepared their students for the upcoming high-stakes test.
What message was the principal communicating to her staff because the need for tunnel vision relating to test preparation does not necessarily conjure up visions of open-ended problem-solving, student-lead investigations, or 21st Century learning? What it does manifest is didactic teaching practices, sequential learning activities, and whole group instruction. In this paradigm, technology use is often relegated to tutorial status or, worse yet, used as a reward center once students have completed their test-preparation exercises. My comments here are not to imply that test readiness strategies do not have their place with high-stakes testing. My comments are directed at the tremendous influence that building level leadership exerts over the instructional curriculum and initiatives such as the LoTi Digital-Age Schools.
LoTi Digital-Age Schools follow a four-step implementation model that includes Assessing, Planning, Implementing, and Sustaining. The role of the building principal is pivotal at each of these critical stages.
During the Assessment Stage, effective building leaders are able to articulate clearly their school’s academic priorities which, in some cases, are not necessarily tied to test scores. These priorities might include a focus on differentiated instruction, informal assessment strategies, Rigor and Relevance, or an emphasis on complex thinking skills. Effective building level leadership is able to determine which instructional priorities will have the greatest impact on student success in the classroom.
Effective building leaders are able to formulate a plan of action that is targeted on student achievement and classroom pedagogy and based on specific, measurable, doable, realistic and timely goals. Effective building level leadership is able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their organization and champion a plan of action that embraces the needs of all stakeholders. In the LoTi Implementation process, this plan of action provides a clear and realistic expectation for results and accountability.
In the implementation process, effective building leaders are able to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” Their presence at LoTi-related professional development sessions signals to staff the importance of higher order thinking, engaged learning, authentic student assessments, and effective technology use in the classroom. They attend and support these types of interventions because they recognize that a truly differentiated classroom possesses multiple LoTi levels as well as diversity in the types of instructional strategies used in the classroom. Effective building-level leaders are able to create a dynamic esprit de corp among staff members where risk-taking is encouraged and nurtured,
At successful LoTi Project School sites, effective building level leaders are able to sustain the change process by carefully monitoring classroom instruction via walkthroughs, openly rewarding instructional practices that align with a learner-centered approach as well as promote Marzano’s research-based practices, and support the overall instructional mission of the campus.
At LoTi Digital-Age Schools, successful campuses are operated by instructional leaders; not instructional managers. The key to effective instructional leadership is the ability to identify a targeted goal and create a viable plan to achieve and sustain that goal given the enormous outside pressures to alter or abandon its targeted outcome. Show me a strong instructional leader and I will show you a successful LoTi Digital-Age School.
May the LoTi be with you Always!
May the LoTi be with you Always!