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One-to-One Leadership: Brick, or Life Preserver?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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One key component of a successful implementation of one-to-one laptop computers is leadership in many forms, one of the most important being a Leadership Team. Members of this team include the building principal, the technology coordinator, the librarian, and a teacher leader, and each brings their unique perspective to the group. The teacher leader's role is to monitor the pulse of the classrooms and to pass information to and from the Leadership Team, all the time acting as the "voice of the classroom" in team discussions and decision making.

Here in Maine, where we hold regional meetings for these Leadership Teams twice a year, we hold job-alike sessions, where folks get to hear from and be heard by their peers. Too often, we hear a teacher leader, a person who has personally grabbed hold of one-to-one computing and done amazing things, say something like this: "There are still a few teachers in my building who just won't use the laptops. I've tried everything to convince them to use them, but still no dice. I feel bad for the kids in those classes. What can I do to get those teachers going?"

The sad truth is, of course, that this situation is beyond the teacher leader's control. The position lacks the administrative authority to insist that any of their colleagues leverage the power of the laptops to support teaching and learning. That is a job for the principal -- the person with the responsibility for setting the educational tone and agenda for the building and the authority to observe and evaluate staff.

Principals have the right and the responsibility to say, as Michael Fullan suggests effective leaders today should, "In this building, we are going to squeeze every bit of value we can out of our investment in digital technology, so from here on out we are all -- including me -- going make use of technology as an accelerator to improve our effectiveness in supporting kids in their learning."

Until principals step up and do their part in supporting a schoolwide vision that includes the purposeful use of technology in support of rich learning opportunities, teacher leaders and their enthusiasm about one-to-one look like bricks, like just one more thing the recalcitrant are being asked to do by some Pollyanna-like colleague. But as soon as principals lead the creation of that shared vision and use their administrative authority to insist that all faculty use the available technology to support teaching and learning, those teacher leaders start to look like life preservers.

It's as simple as the principal saying something like this: "Now, I know there are some of you for whom this move to making use of technology to support all of our students is going to be tough -- but the good news is that our Leadership Team has worked out a way to make Sal (or Bill, or Jen, or José) available during planning times to support everyone as needed. And don't forget -- lots of you are making great use of technology already, so feel free to find that help you need where you are most comfortable.

"Just one thing: If you need help, be sure to get it. Our school is going to be a high-end technology user from here on out -- not because we love technology, but because it allows us to meet more needs of more kids. And if you need more professional development in this area, let me know. This technology thing isn't going to go away, and I need to know what we need to make it work for us. Any questions?"

Presto-change-o! Immediately, teacher leaders, with their willingness to share their technology-in-the-classroom knowledge, become the life saver instead of the bricks! That change happens because principals have acted like professionals and made an appropriate decision they will enforce and support from their position of leadership.

Specific to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, we have created a document we call "Suggestions for a Principal Who Is New to the MLTI" to support the development of effective principals in a one-to-one setting. Feel free to check it out, and let me know what you think. Lead on!

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Amy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You make such a good point in this post. I looked over the document for principals and feel that it is clearly spelled out. It is too bad that this type of lay out can't be provided to all principals, even those outside of Maine. I feel that this point is one that is just running rampant in our schools. There seems to be an inordinant number of administrators out there who are just not willing to take a stand and set up a standard or policy for how to best help the students of the school. So, perhaps you should push this initiative out further than Maine.

Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, Amy. When you say, "It is too bad that this type of lay out can't be provided to all principals, even those outside of Maine," you make me think about another level of the situation. In fact this kind of resource is available to everyone and anyone... And what about Edutopia? It contains such rich resources to support a school community that wants to improve, but does everyone use it? No... So what is up? Do people really not want to do the best by the kids in their schools?

I don't think that is true - I think educators do want to do the very best they can. Change is the difficult component. Time after time I refer folks to this article from Fast Company Magazine - "Change or Die"

Turns out folks' resistance to change is simply human nature. The question then becomes, "How can we encourage school communiites (from principals to classroom teachers to community members to school boards to students) to make effective use of resources like Edutopia, NCREL's enGauge, and even the collection of curricular resources at MarcoPolo

Take a look at what Edutopia says about community partnerships, and encourage some change!

dave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Good article...but what about looking at this from the district level? What if exchanged the words district administration for principals, and the word district for school? I'm not talking about a directive - more of modeling - using technology in 21st century ways sends a great message to principals who can send the same message to teachers. While reform and change can happen from the ground up, it often takes less time if it is "modeled" from the top down.

Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dave -

Well said. Recently we were in a conversation with the folks from Apple who we work closely with as vendors in the Maine 1:1 project about why and how to encourage podcasting by educators. My suggestion was that if we were serious about developing a real sense of "reality" around podcasts, rather than them being seen as the work of rebels, we might ask the commissioner to begin delivering the Informational Letters that go to all superintendents as podcasts. Now that would make this technology visible, and "real." I am a tad revolutionary in my thinking, I fear, and so I am still waiting...

Cheers - Jim

Dave Grant's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great to see your stuff here, Jim. I hope your enjoying the summer. Talk soon,


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