Wrongly Switched: Administrators Aren't Train Conductors
Copyright 2001-2002 Miguel Guhlin
NEWS REPORT
On Tuesday, March 27, 2001, the headline read “At Least 8 Killed in Train Crash.” The news article went on to say, “A crowded commuter train has collided head on with an empty train, leaving at least eight people dead. The empty train is reported to have been wrongly switched into the path of the passenger train” (http://danger-ahead.railfan.net/reports/rep2001/pecrot20010327.html).
If schools were trains, would administrators be train conductors?
WHAT TRAINS HAVE TO DO WITH TECHNOLOGY IN SCHOOLS
When I asked Monika, "Why are you in the PAVE Administrators' Technology Leadership Institute, and don't say it's the free laptop?" her face became pensive. "We've asked teachers to do so much, to learn how to use technology, and I don't want to be left behind." Like my old assistant superintendent in Mt. Pleasant ISD, Bill Onley, said so long ago, "I feel like technology is a train. For awhile, I could keep up, but now it's going faster and faster."
Like that fast-moving train, technology can be something administrators see as something they cannot keep up with. For some, they may see it as too much to manage their schools and plan for and use technology effectively. Yet, National Education Technology Standards for School Administrators mean that administrators need to take a different perspective. School administrators aren’t train conductors or passengers--their role is wholly different from that of teachers. But, perhaps, administrators really don’t know what they need to know.
WHAT DO ADMINISTRATORS NEED TO KNOW?
The Pathways to Advance Virtual Education (PAVE) program--paid for by a $2.7 million Technology Integration in Education (TIE) grant funded this past May, 2001--seeks to prepare administrators for the challenge of planning for and using technology effectively in schools. This is not the key focus of the PAVE program.
The real goal of the PAVE program is to transform teaching, learning and leadership to facilitate technology integration in K-12. Changing teachers’ approaches to teaching and learning in 4 public school districts and 7 private schools, the PAVE program (read sidebar) affects 235 educators and over 150 administrators. 235 teachers are now participating in the Masters Online program that will earn them a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction with an Instructional Technology Specialization. 150 administrators are also going through the program--not to earn a Master’s degree, but learn how technology fits into their role as administrator. Each administrator must ask him/her-self, a question. That questions is, "What personal commitment can I make to help my teachers overcome barriers, and achieve the ideal in technology integration?"
This question is one administrators must keep in mind as they participate in the Administrators’ Technology Leadership Institute (ATLI). For many administrators, basic technology competency is a barrier that keeps them from moving forward. While most administrators in the program may lack basic technology competencies such as word processing, e-mail, spreadsheets, and web-page construction, part of them knows that they can still be effective technology managers. How do they move beyond these basic competencies and build a broader strategy for integrating technology into teaching, learning and leadership in their districts?
In Technology & Learning magazine, Tom Schmeltzer (June, 2001) writes that truly effective technology leaders must understand the following:
a) how technology can improve instructional practices
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The primary goal of PAVE -- funded through the Technology Integration in Education (TIE) grant from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) -- is to develop educator proficiency in technology (TA:TEKS and SBEC's Standards for Technology, LRTP) and its integration into curriculum and administration practices.
The PAVE Program provides 235 teachers the opportunity to earn a Master's Degree in Curriculum & Instruction with Instructional Technology Specialization; tuition, textbooks are paid for and a laptop is provided.
Teachers come from a variety of collaborating districts. Partner Districts include Northside, Edgewood, Medina Valley, Southwest ISD, and various private schools within Northside ISD's boundaries. It also does the following:
  • Provides up to 161 campus and district administrators with the opportunity to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to integrate technology into their various administrative duties. > >
  • To develop an improved conceptual model of how today's teaching, learning, and working environment should be organized. > >
  • To provide educator's proficiency in technology skills and the integration of technology into the curriculum along with creating a union among content, connectivity, and computers. ||
b) how they can develop strategies for helping teachers use technology in their classrooms
c) how they can use team-building and mentoring skills to create a system of ongoing support as it uses new technologies.
d) most importantly, how to envision successful implementation of technology in schools and set reasonable expectations.
Finding a way to achieve these objectives is a goal of the PAVE grant--failure to achieve these objectives can have severe consequences. Teachers may return to unenlightened environments where their knowledge and skills set them apart, but more importantly, at odds with the culture they must work in. The tension between what is and what can be may lead teachers to leave the district or quit teaching altogether. For administrators, it is important to provide a support system that integrates the new knowledge and skills. How adminstrators may learn to do this is the subject of this article.
A DIFFERENT AUDIENCE
As Schmeltzer (2001) writes, it’s important to recognize that administrators are a different audience than teachers. Professional development for administrators should be: 1) Project-oriented; 2) Held at a location other than their campus for more than 3 hours at a time; 3) Flexible scheduling; 4) Supported by online experiences that affirm their new learning. Professional development for administrators must also incorporate a strong, basic technology competency component.
BASIC TECHNOLOGY COMPETENCIES
The PAVE program seeks to provide several components to address basic technology competencies and develop strategies administrators can use to effectively manage technology. To develop basic technology competencies, administrators must complete 8 tests in basic applications, or 6 tests and 2 portfolios (Dreamweaver and Fireworks). Administrators may take the courses that accompany the test or simply test out if they are comfortable with the tests. The goal is less to earn a particular score than have administrators see exactly where they need help, and then get that help. So often, their technology skills are unknown and a source of consternation.
By wrestling with the tests, administrators come to see exactly how much they know and how much they need to learn. This is a liberating feeling for some. Whether they pass the test or not, the benefit is the same for all--you assess where you are so that you can move forward from that point. Administrators who score poorly can meet with their campus or district instructional technologist to receive help on what they missed, or attend a class. The focus is on taking stock, then crafting a personal plan of action to move forward (an activity that is done on Day 1 of the Administrators' Technology Leadership Institute).
PROJECT-ORIENTED, FLEXIBLE, ONLINE AND FACE TO FACE EXPERIENCES
As they simultaneously develop technology proficiencies, administrators participate in the Administrators' Technology Leadership Institute (ATLI), a 30 hour seminar that combines face to face meetings and virtual sessions.
On Day 1 of the ATLI, administrators come together at a different location than their work site to discuss what the ideal is in regards to technology integration. To accomplish this, they review carefully selected journal articles that cover a wide variety of topics. They work in small groups to synthesize the articles, graphically represent the message of these articles (you can see these representations online at http://www.pavenet.org/atli/), then present that to the whole group.
As they discuss these different articles, they start to assume some of the view points expressed as their own. Like students in a class, they begin to transform information into knowledge, making it their own. As the day progresses, they become aware of the options they can choose that will help them craft a personal commitment to achieving the ideal in their situation. They also complete the Texas STaR Chart (you can see results online at http://www.pavenet.org/atli) so as to get a better understanding of what their perception of technology implementation is for their campus and/or district. This is important because it provides a first look at their own perceptions of technology in their workplace.
Days 2 & 3 are composed of the Learning Series sessions. These Learning Series sessions include both face to face and virtual sessions that provide administrators maximum flexibility in learning more about how technology can be effectively integrated into their role as administrators (a listing of sessions can be found online at http://www.pavenet.org/atli/learningseries). Administrators reflect on what they have learned in virtual sessions through responses shared via an electronic bulletin board system (e.g. WebBoard).
Making data-driven decisions is critical. In a previous article, I made reference to Dr. Chris Moersch's Levels of Technology Implementation (LOTI) framework and survey. The LOTI survey is an instrument used to assess teachers’ level of technology implementation and can be administered to a campus and/or district. This survey is administered prior to Day 4 of the ATLI.
On Day 4, administrators meet with Dr. Chris Moersch to learn where their schools and district rank on the LOTI framework, then discuss the data and how it impacts what they do. Like Day 1, sessions are offered at multiple times to accommodate busy schedules (e.g. PTA meetings, Family Night, etc.).
On Day 5, administrators meet with Bernajean Porter (http://www.pavenet.org/tcea) on Grappling with Accountability at the TCEA Area 20 regional conference to be held at Holmes High School, Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas on January 26, 2001. Bernajean Porter's work focuses on dealing with the challenges of change and re-culturing efforts.
OUTCOME
At the end of the Institute, administrators are expected to have achieved basic technology competency. More importantly, they should know how to make decisions that will foster efficient and effective technology integration. The PAVE ATLI combines hands-on technology staff development, identification of best practices focused on achieving school reform through continuous leadership development and personal commitment.
While the goal for some administrators, like Monika, may be to not be left behind, the effect is more profound--by changing how they plan for and use technology in schools, they will have changed how they administer and manage our children's education. Someone has to be left behind when the train leaves. Rather than be frightened of being left behind or face technology rolling down on them, administrators will, like railroad yardmasters, have the power to switch the tracks--whether they use computerized switching technology or not.
About the Author:
Miguel Guhlin is the PAVE Staff Development Coordinator for a multi-district and private school TIE grant implementation, based in Northside ISD, San Antonio, Texas. The PAVE web site is http://www.pavenet.org and you can read the online version of this article, as well as Miguel's other articles, access free workshop materials online at http://www.mguhlin.net