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ISTE NETS*A Part 3: Excellence in Professional Practice

After two sets of articles on the National Educational Technology Standards for both students and teachers, I’m now in 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 third in a series of five articles on ISTE’s NETS*A.

3. Excellence in Professional Practice

Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources. Educational Administrators:

 a. allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration.

b. facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology.

c. promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital-age tools.

d. stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning.

 excerpted from

car keysI’ve worked in education long enough to notice that the faculty of most schools mirrors a family dynamic.  Granted, just as with real families, school families are often dysfunctional, at least to some small degree.  If, in this metaphor, administrators are the parents in the family – providing guidance, making the tough decisions, and being in charge of deciding who gets to borrow the car keys – then it’s important to realize how isolated those parents can be.  In cases where just one administrator runs a school, that person is like a single parent over a family with many children.  And he or she probably wonders rather often, “How did I ever get myself into this?”

Before teachers clamor about being compared to children, please remember that I am a teacher myself, and I like to think of my teacher colleagues as brothers and sisters.  And let’s face it: sometimes we can be petty in our squabbles and cliquishness.  But what does this have to do with the standard of “Excellence in Professional Practice” for administrators?

Allow me to continue the family dynamic metaphor a bit further.  No parent in their right mind would toss the keys of a flashy, brand-new sports car to a teenager with a fresh driving permit and say, “Right then, have at it!”  Why, then, do school districts and building administrators force new technology tools on unsuspecting teachers with nary an ounce of training?  (This can also be true with new curriculum, new instructional methods, new policies, and more.  But my focus today is on those tech tools that suddenly appear along with an expectation of instant mastery.)

It’s true that teachers need tools.  But they don’t just need to know how to use these technologies; they also need guidance in their proper integration into the curriculum.  Too often, new tech tools just materialize, and student achievement is expected to magically improve as a result.  I have a friend who has THREE sets of classroom response devices collecting dust in a closet in his school.  Who authorized these purchases?  Isn’t someone accountable for the fact that these things never see the light of day because they were bought without consulting those in direct contact with the end users?  (For the record I love clickers and would happy to take a set or two off my friend’s hands….)

candleLet’s carry the family theme on for another moment.  How many movies or television shows have you seen in which clueless parents buy their kids stuff they THINK their kids want or need, only to find out that what their children REALLY want is for their parents to take some extra time to get to know them as people?  In the teaching world, this equates to educators being forced to walk lock-step to the beat of standardized tests, pacing guides, and benchmarks, with little or no regard to actual student progress or – here’s a funny thought – learning.  Want to know what our students need?  Ask them.  Ask their teachers.  Sadly, we operate in a culture that doesn’t listen to teachers to get a real read on the educational climate.

Now let’s get back to that standard.  Like parents in a family, administrators need to model excellence in professional practice by first living it themselves.  School leaders must instill an atmosphere of professional growth by allowing time and resources for each educator to find what he or she needs to grow and then make it happen.  Don’t spend the money until someone can explain what it will be used for and what results they plan to achieve.  Encourage a grant application process within the school or district for access to the funds that are there.  Just like with the children in a family, the outcomes will look different with each teacher.  The goal for all is growth that impacts the students.

This process can start by identifying special interests (with regard to technology tools) and small learning communities among the staff.  Here are some ideas for how that may look:

  • Encourage teachers to communicate with and learn from each other.
  • Require digital communication.
  • Push social networking where appropriate.
  • Establish cohorts, based on interest or ability level, or perhaps both.
  • As the leader of your school, join organizations such as ISTE and CUE (mostly California and Nevada, but there are other fantastic ISTE affiliate organizations all over the country and the world), and make it possible for your teachers and other school staff to join these organizations.
  • Attend conferences and conventions with specific goals for your colleagues and yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt is often credited with having stated, “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  As an administrator, you often feel overwhelmed and isolated.  You can’t fix all the world’s problems with each decision, though many will expect you to.  You can’t engulf your entire school in light with just one flickering candle.  But your one candle will draw a few who seek light.  Each one of those can light his or her own candle and go in search of those who still languish in ignorant darkness.  Rather than worrying about what we’re not accomplishing in education by complaining about what isn’t happening, start with one small candle: a flicker of hope for the professionals who come to work every day at your school.  Given a chance, many of them will shine brighter than that first candle with passionate light to pass on to the rest of the faculty.

Special thanks to Ryan Bretag for his insights in the writing of this article.

Car keys image from Flickr user AndYaDontStop (Abe Novy), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Candle image from Flickr user dunkv (Duncan Verrall), some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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