Leadership - Escape the technological stone age

Regardless of your expertise, these strategies will help you to lead staff into a bright IT future

Implementing technology as a school leader can be an intimidating experience. Fortunately a small but growing body of research at the intersection of educational leadership and technology yields a developing, empirical picture of what good educational technology leadership looks like. And you don't need to be an IT expert to follow the advice.

To frame the emerging research, it is useful to refer to a book chapter written in 1993 by Chris Dede, then professor of information technology and education at George Mason University in the US. He wrote about what technology leadership should look like and from this you can take three key attributes, with current research backing up these prescient early predictions.

1. Envisioning opportunities:

"One of the most important attributes that distinguishes leaders from managers is vision: the ability to communicate desirable, achievable futures quite different from where the present is drifting."

Since Dede wrote these words, vision has repeatedly been found to be integral to the successful implementation of technology by school leaders. US academics Barbara Levin and Lynne Schrum, who studied the leadership of eight technology-rich schools, found that vision was a central component of the success at those facilities. "The leadership . talked about the necessity of having a vision, and the importance of having a clearly articulated mission statement regarding their purposes for using technology," they noted.

In a study of schools where laptops were provided for every child, School Technology Leadership: artifacts in systems of practice, Sara Dexter, associate professor at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, is more specific, stating that leaders have to illustrate the connection between the "what, how and why" of the vision and how that connects to the real world of the classroom.

2. Displacing cherished misconceptions:

"An important attribute of leaders is their ability to displace deeply held, cherished misconceptions with alternative visions that more accurately depict reality."

The above is referring in large part to the attitude of "my way has always worked fine" that can be found in schools. Much of the research into technology implementation singles this attitude out as one of the major barriers to success. "Once teachers' mindsets have changed to include the idea that teaching is not effective without the appropriate use of (information and communications technology) resources to achieve student learning outcomes, we will have reached a significant milestone," state US academics Peg Ertmer and Anne Ottenbreit-Leftwich in the study Teacher Technology Change: how knowledge, beliefs, and culture intersect. Leaders, then, have to persuade teachers to buy in to technology use in classrooms. Only then can they implement their vision.

3. Discouraging followers:

"A destructive myth about leadership is that a visionary person gives directions to followers who execute this plan. Real leaders discourage followers, instead encouraging use of their visions as a foundation for other, better insights."

The key point is that building a team of talented individuals and trusting them to implement technology is crucial to making it work. Harnessing their knowledge means the leader does not have to have all the answers, while a broader push for implementation makes the case for technology more compelling.

With these tactics, even leaders stuck in the technological stone age should be able to implement a cohesive and intelligent technology strategy. You don't need to be an expert in IT, just in how you lead and utilise the knowledge of others.

Jonathan D Becker is associate professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, US. His research looks at the intersection of educational leadership, technology and policy


Dede, C (1993) "Leadership without followers", pp 19-28 in G Kearsley and W Lynch, eds, Educational Technology: leadership perspectives (Educational Technology Publications).

Levin, BB and Schrum, L (2012) Leading Technology-Rich Schools: award- winning models for success (Teachers College Press).

Subramaniam, K (2007) "Teachers' mindsets and the integration of computer technology", British Journal of Educational Technology, 638: 1056-1071.

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