A school principal’s role in guiding e-learning is now essential in order to ensure continuity and sustainability, writes David Kinane.
In a recent interview social media website Mashable asked the question: “Should CEOs be fluent in social media?” (fizurl.com/fluent) While the article accepts that current regulation in the US makes it very difficult for CEOs to do this, it also suggests that the fact that they didn’t was also a generational issue.
I think that the same question should be asked about school principals here in New Zealand: should they be fluent in social media?
I think that they should! However, I suspect that a large number are not aware of the positive potential that social media tools might bring to them and their schools. Again, as Mashable indicated, this is possibly a generational thing but, in this case, school principals are not restricted by regulations to try to harness the power of social media to communicate with their wider communities.
Responsibility for e-learning
A principal’s non engagement with social media tools might be regarded as a bit of a side issue, but I believe this analogy does illustrate a wider issue with regard to e-learning and ICT systems as a whole within schools. Too often, the passion and success of an e-learning initiative is driven by one or two key individuals within a school – this can be the principal, but is more likely to be classroom teachers or specialists. In the past, a principal might have been happy to delegate the ‘passion’ and responsibility for e-learning to others. As e-learning/ICT moves from the preserve of the passionate few, however, and is steadily integrated into the curriculum as a whole and is now the central tool of the entire school, the principal’s role in guiding e-learning is now essential in order to ensure continuity and sustainability.
Now more than ever, with the increasing levels of investment by schools in their IT network infrastructure, computers, peripherals, software, and staff training, it’s imperative that the drive and momentum for e-learning is not lost when key members of staff leave school.
Staff move all of the time, so how does a school – and a principal – guard against this?
Manage, nurture and protect
As e-learning becomes central to every facet of a school’s life, it’s time for principals to regard the entire e-learning/ICT entity as a system – a system that needs to be managed, nurtured and protected from the top. In order for this to happen, principals should start to take measures that ensure that the system as a whole is robust enough to withstand the inevitability of staff turnover. In other words, the intellectual property of the entire e-learning system has to be kept in school as staff move on.
The key here is to plan to continually capture those skills in order that classroom momentum can be maintained and the school’s intellectual property, locked up in the skills of their teachers in the form of e-learning skills, resources and classroom management techniques, is kept in school. The departing shoes of a skilled teacher can be big ones to fill for their replacement, coupled with the expectations of the students and parent body for at least the status quo.
Recording best practice
So, how is this to be done? In the first instance, e-learning continuity can be planned for by a school developing a quality induction programme for new staff, specifically designed around the computer systems/programs, etc., already in place. In addition, a school should develop an e-learning CPD programme designed for new staff and an ad hoc one for existing staff, based around interactive training videos.
This would include recording best practice in classes, focusing around e-learning, for all staff to learn from, and creating a culture of learning walks around the school by staff. These electronic resources would be stored on the school’s intranet as a growing digital video library for all to access. And, of course, creating an exit strategy for all departing
staff to ensure as many skills as possible are retained.
Protecting your ICT investment
All the evidence shows that the overt modelling of and support for e-learning by a principal gives it importance and gravitas within a school. A principal who plans for e-learning sustainability demonstrates the high value they place on it, ensures its continuity and expansion within the school that they run, and actively protects their ICT investment.
Finally, what of the likes of Twitter and the whole social media issue?
Principals should be aware that increasingly their parent body is using and is expecting to communicate with these social media tools. Not only can they harness an incredible feedback loop from their community by adopting a positive approach to social media communication, but also social media tools can provide back to them valuable information about the wider community.
DAVID KINANE IS A SPECIALIST SCHOOL ICT CONSULTANT AND WRITES FOR INTERFACE MAGAZINE.
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