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ISTE NETS*A Part 2: Digital Age Learning Culture

After two sets of articles on the National Educational Technology Standards for both students and teachers, we embark on my most ambitious series yet: the standards for administrators.  I have been a student most of my life, and I have been a teacher for almost twenty years.  I am not, have never been, and probably will never be an administrator.  I have, however, worked with many different administrators over the decades, and I think they cover a wide spectrum in terms of their effectiveness and leadership.  It is only in recent years, though, that I have really paid close attention to school administrators as users of technology and as leaders in its implementation by staff and students.

This is the second in a series of five articles on ISTE’s NETS*A.

2. Digital Age Learning Culture

Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students. Educational Administrators:

  1. a. ensure instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement of digital-age learning.
  2. b. model and promote the frequent and effective use of technology for learning.
  3. c. provide learner-centered environments equipped with technology and learning resources to meet the individual, diverse needs of all learners.
  4. d. ensure effective practice in the study of technology and its infusion across the curriculum.
  5. e. promote and participate in local, national, and global learning communities that stimulate innovation, creativity, and digital-age collaboration.

excerpted from http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-administrators/nets-for-administrators-sandards.aspx

Shoe squishing a school administrator?As I read over the sections of this standard, I immediately worry for some administrators.  Being in educational administration can be very isolating.  Whereas we teachers have more “of our own kind” around us at work and as friends and acquaintances in the community, a school may have only a small number of administrators.  Perhaps only one.  Within the district, there may be a slightly larger number.  But those district employees may have a very different worldview or philosophy from one another.  As we reflect over our own past experiences, most people have had plenty of interaction with diverse teachers.  However, it is far less common for a student or a parent – or even a person who has grown up to become a teacher – to have had much experience with school administrators.  Even those folks who can think back and describe the décor of their childhood principal’s office may have only had much face-to-face time with that one administrator.

It’s lonely at the top.  So if you’re a school leader who is not comfortable using technology yourself, how likely is it that you will be its champion among your school’s staff and students?  How can such an administrator strive to meet the goals of this standard?  Even for those admins who love and embrace technology, it can be very difficult to promote change and growth without other voices supporting their plans.  To address both these concerns, I have an idea.  (For which I can take no credit whatsoever.)

How better to learn about trends and developments in educational technology than to build a personal learning network of people in similar positions, all over the country – or even the world?  Both Facebook and Twitter are easy-to-use social networking tools that administrators can utilize to reach out to others who may feel isolated where they work too.  And then, at least, they’ll have each other.  There are a number of school administrators I know online.  I follow several of them on Twitter because I like to hear about technology integration and implementation from the other side of the big desk.  Administrators are the ones who have to tackle funding issues and serve as the gateway between teachers and parents, but also between teachers and vendors, trainers, and professional development organizers.

Ryan Bretag, an administrator in Northbrook, Illinois, in conducting research for his doctoral dissertation, is seeing a theme of isolation emerging among administrators as one reason for embracing social media.  He anticipates a new phenomenon of professional identity construction resulting from the blended world of face-to-face and online interaction among administrators of varying backgrounds.

Hand on computer mouseAs I prepared this article, I was referred to Connected Principals, a group of passionate administrators who seek to share best practices in education with the common ultimate goal of doing what’s best for students.  The Connected Principals contributors are bloggers themselves, but they are educators first.  Another administrator I met through Connected Principals is Lyn Hilt.  She shared:

“Simply stated, my connections through Twitter have provided me with more meaningful professional development in the last year than I ‘ve ever had access to before. The power of collaboration is truly awesome.  At my fingertips, I have 50+ administrators who would be willing to share a resource with me, discuss an issue I have via Skype, or proofread my latest blog post. The feedback I receive through comments on my blog and my interactions in online discussions have sparked new initiatives in my school and learning for myself, my teachers, and my students.”

Lyn sees Connected Principals as an “amazing resource where dedicated administrators share their experiences with one another.”  She feels privileged to be a part of such a team – one that enables administrators to “reach out to one another in a collaborative effort to help strengthen [their] skill set and knowledge base.”

Finally, the rest of what Lyn shared with me is said best in her own words:

“The most powerful aspect of ISTE ‘s identifying NETS for teachers and administrators is that they are placing a focus on the LEARNING of the adults in our educational system. We can ‘t expect our students to master a series of technology competencies without also expecting teachers and administrators to do the same, and model this learning for students.  No one is expecting administrators to master every tech tool that ‘s out there, but we must pay attention to the fact that ‘the shift’ in education is a reality, and if we ‘re going to continue to do what ‘s best for kids, we need to involve them in real-world, authentic, meaningful, passion-driven learning experiences. This includes the opportunities to collaborate with others across the globe!  If we ‘re going to make this happen for our children, we have to pool our energies and thoughts and collectively help one another.”

If you’re a school administrator, or perhaps you know and love such a person, look into such online communities where educational leaders can network and find support.


Image of shoe squashing decision maker from Flickr user Scott McLeod, some rights reserved, Creative Commons. Image of hand on mouse from Flickr user House of Sims, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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