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Integrate Technology Intelligently

Start small, be flexible and trust what teachers tell you

Do you remember what it was like to be a teacher reporting back to work? First, you received the principal's "dreaded letter" in late July, indicating fall was near and that great plans were in place for another exciting school year. After recovering from the shock, you resurrected the old lesson plan book and started thinking about the new year.

The next shock came later in August, at the first staff meeting where the principal listed lengthy goals and objectives for the year, including a major new technology initiative. Though the plan promised new equipment, new software and training, not surprisingly teachers received no extra time for planning or implementation. Worse yet, the tech guru at the central office changed the grant application and the hardware was not what you had requested. It was day one of the school year, but like so many preceding years, teachers were already frustrated. Does this sound familiar?

ISTE has released new Technology Standards for School Administrators to avoid these exact pitfalls. Here are the standards in the area of leadership and vision at the school level:

Education leaders inspire a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology and foster an environment and culture conducive to the realization of that vision:

So often, administrators craft a vision and make plans based on research and data analysis, but forget the realities of classroom teaching where teachers are tugged in multiple directions. How does a principal produce a culture conducive to technology integration, a culture of responsible risk-taking?

The Teaching Culture

Stanford University's Larry Cuban understands the teaching culture. Cuban says that reasons for failed technology implementation go beyond such simple explanations as insufficient buy-in or lack of training. Instead, administrators often don't value teachers' wisdom about classroom pedagogy. We label them as obstructionist when they claim the technology plan doesn't "make sense." We chastise them when they complain it fails to meld into classroom lessons.

How can a building administrator use the norms and values that frame the culture of teaching as an ally in implementing a new technology plan this year?

First, start small. Break down technology use into small steps a teacher can easily and sensibly implement. Rather than expect a teacher to implement a new curriculum that integrates technology, set simple expectations such as implementing one quality project in each classroom.

Also, start with a few key individuals who can be trusted but are not necessarily solely the technology wizards. Generating successful lessons that produce results for kids will go far in convincing others that technology integration is worthwhile.

Finally, be flexible. Years ago, Milbrey McLaughlin, another Stanford professor, showed us that flexibility leads to successful implementation of innovations. Let teachers problem solve. Let them create new ways to use technology. Let them set their own milestones. Trust them.

Don't be fooled. Time is still critical. Crushing teachers under the weight of paper grading, lesson planning and technology integration without being sensitive to hours in the day is ludicrous. Teacher buy-in to the vision is a must. Don't be shy about delaying implementation until late in the year if necessary. And you can't provide too many resources for training teachers.

Scott Pfeifer,, is a principal at the River Hill High School in Howard County (Md.) Public School System.