Last Updated on 9 November 2023
Nobody likes change, but the fact is that change is at our doorstep. Changes in technology are quickly beginning to force the hands of schools and districts across the world. This poses some good news for students, as digital transformation efforts are under way to provide authentic learning experiences that provide relevance, value, and tangible skills in an unpredictable world. Even though changes are occurring, we need to be mindful of what is driving the work while looking past soft claims to ensure technology is actually improving learning and achievement. It is important not to get sucked into the transformational aspects of the technology itself, but instead focus on the transformation of teaching, learning, and leadership.
With every inch of progress we must constantly be reflective of where we are at and how to improve. We can ill afford to keep investing in the “stuff” through the played out scenario of putting the cart before the horse. Placing a device in the hands of all students and hoping for learning miracles to happen will always result in a let-down. I know this might rub technology aficionados the wrong way, but the fact remains that edtech has been over-promised and under delivered. Any leader who has gone through a successful digital transformation realizes this. The key is to be critical of the process in order to make sure investments pay off in terms of enhanced learner outcomes.
Many lessons can be learned from successful digital transformations, including the one that occurred at my former school. Whether going Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), 1:1, blended, or personalized learning take note of some key elements that are essential to success:
If the plumbing is not in place success will be hard to come by. By infrastructure I am not talking about devices per say, but WiFi access and space design. There is noting more frustrating for teachers and students alike when attempts are made to integrate technology with purpose only to have the WiFi not work or operate properly. Hand in hand with WiFi access is the capability to charge devices. Make the initial investment to get this right the first time.
Pedagogy trumps technology. Do you have a framework in place to ensure successful integration? It is critical to have a common vision, language and expectations for how technology will play a ubiquitous role in supporting and/or enhancing learning. A growing number of schools and districts rely on the SAMR model. My question for you to consider is what does SAMR actually tell you or your stakeholders about the level of student learning taking place? We found the answer to be not very much.
SAMR does provide good guidance on what to avoid when it comes to technology integration (substitution) and provides an excellent bridge to the Rigor Relevance Framework. Consider the Rigor Relevance Framework, which is learner centric, to assist in effectively aligning technology to instruction, curriculum, and space redesign. Check out this example in relation to Gsuite.
Investing in people will always be one of the foundation elements of a successful digital transformation. Relevant, job-embedded learning opportunities that move away from traditional drive-by approaches will help to sustain meaningful change. Equal investments need to be made to support both teachers and administrators. After all, success is dependent on both groups having the knowledge, support, and skills to implement, evaluate, and continuously improve the digital transformation process. There is no substitute for quality face-to-face professional learning opportunities that blend an assessment of where you stand with digital practices, courses, job-embedded coaching, and active discussion.
This element is critical in any type of change process. It is not only about being open to change, but also being an intimate player in the process. Thus, digital leadership goes without saying. It is about working smarter, not harder, in order to do what we already do better. Digital leaders help to establish a collective vision, provide support, model expectations, ensure accountability, and constantly reflect in transparent ways in order to improve. Technology is a ubiquitous component that supports the work they have always done but in a more effective and efficient manner.
Let’s begin with an example. Students know how to use tech (assumption), but they don’t necessarily know how to use it to support their learning (reality). Students will be off task when they are afforded the opportunity to use technology (assumption), yet virtually all of us adults would go off task at times well before the digital age (reality). So many assumptions are made when it comes to technology that reality plays second fiddle.
Progress, and ultimately success, is contingent upon removing a myriad of barriers to change that arise as a result of our mindset. Assumptions and excuses will hold you back. Thanks to the Internet and Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) we can learn firsthand from the reality inherent in digital transformation success across the globe.
Success breeds success. There is no greater motivator than the positive results of any change effort. Evidence of success goes a long way towards embracing change resulting in transformation. However, along the same lines of our infatuation with assumptions, a lack of evidence and connection to research tends to be accepted when talking about digital transformations. When integrating technology there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes. This can come in the form of data, improved observations/evaluations, artifacts, and portfolios. Too much money and time is at stake to just rely on broad claims and a lack of real evidence of success.
Having developed a budget for a high school over the course of many years I can tell you that there was a great deal of wasted money year in and year out. Money can be freed up in any budget if we critically analyze how the expenditure will positively impact learning. Once money is reallocated the next step is to ascertain the role that any technology purchase will play. The question we need to be asking when going through the budget process is how will this technology actually improve learning and achievement at scale? If there is a challenge in answering this question then obviously you are not making a wise investment. Do your research and plan accordingly.
Relationships are the glue that holds the change process together resulting in transformation. These need to be built both internally and externally. From a student perspective it is important to emphasize and follow through in ways to foster greater student agency in the learning culture. You need to begin to say yes more than no as implemented ideas that come from students are the ultimate relationship builder.
From an adult stakeholder perspective it is critical to develop a positive brand presence that will result from a multi-faceted approach to communications and an evolution into the storyteller-in-chief. Meet your stakeholders where they are at, engage them in two-way communications, and maintain a level of consistency. Over time powerful relationships will be established with all.
All in all we need to prepare students for their future, not ours. We can ill afford to prepare them for a world that doesn’t exist. We need to create schools of the future, today. Even with progress in many schools and districts it is important to always be open to critical reflection and evaluation on not just where we are at, but more importantly where we want to be.
Source: A Principal's Reflections
I am a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).