It’s a tough gig being a school leader in today’s modern learning environment. And that means there’s never been a time in education with a greater need for wise and strategic leadership, writes Carolyn Stuart.
Make no mistake we’re living in a time of great change. It’s always exciting, scary, and potentially exhausting. Yet at times of great change, the need for confident, competent well-informed leaders grows.
Digital technology represents a significant change but it’s not the only challenge we’ve seen in our schools in recent years. We now live in a time when school leaders are being held increasingly and publically accountable for student achievement. And this presents somewhat of a dilemma. Our leaders today find themselves in the unenviable position of having to choose between continuing to stick to the practices from the past – which they have always relied on to deliver the outcomes they’re held accountable for – or to embrace the opportunities technology brings to transform schools … and hope like crazy that this new approach to education works!
So, how is it that school leaders can learn about and become confident in the use of technology in their schools, by teachers, students and themselves? Some do it through talking to trusted colleagues, attending roadshows and conferences, reading, experimenting, and running pilots in their schools. However, this approach, which is often experimental, can be a costly process both in terms of financial resources and the goodwill of teachers. On the other hand, to not try new approaches risks being left behind.
Employ compass thinking
Things are changing so fast that the old road-map model of a two or three year step-by-step strategic plans no longer works. The ink is hardly dry on these documents before they’re out of date. Instead, now more than ever, we need to employ ‘compass thinking’. By this I mean knowing where true north is in terms of teaching and learning. For example, if student agency is something that has been identified as important to foster and develop then this is one compass point that leaders should be using when making strategic decisions about technological deployment. If the application or device we’re considering does not lead to greater student agency then maybe we need to turn to something else.
In New Zealand there’s no national approach to supporting leaders in this important area, and we’re not unusual in this. Globally, the trend is that transformational change occurs at the edges of the system. We see this here, too, and it’s not difficult to name the schools that nationally are showing the way. Each year these host hundreds of leaders, sharing their story and helping build the connections between current and future practice.
Personalised and adaptive
Technology affords us the opportunity to move away from the one-size-fits-all system of the past to one where every student can have a personalised learning experience, learning at their own pace, and within their own personal context. Digital technology increases the agency students can have around learning.
Online resources such as Khan Academy, a teacher making available a video of the instructional part of their lesson, or even the vast resources of the internet enable students to rewind their learning as many times as they need for mastery. Technology allows teachers to ‘flip’ the way they deliver and support students to assimilate content. Online adaptive learning environments ensure students are constantly at the cutting edge of their learning.
Invitation to innovate
Technology invites us to become more innovative. It also provides us with the vehicle to share these innovations widely. It’s madness for us all to be independently trying to create the future.
Sharing stories and ideas that are working in schools across our nation is a fantastic way to connect and grow our practice. There’s never been a time of greater need to support leaders to ensure that what happens in every school in our nation reflects the age in which we live.
Carolyn Stuart is Education Sector Lead for The Network for Learning (N4L). Previously, she was Principal at Tawa Intermediate and Southbridge School.