The leaders of a school or school district play a big role in setting the culture and work environment for teachers. And when it comes to trying new things, the attitude of principals and superintendents can sometimes make or break a teacher’s willingness and ability to weave new ideas and methods into the teaching practice. In most schools, strong, effective leaders can make all the difference.
LEADING FROM THE TOP
In addition to setting the tone for nimble and progressive teaching that’s geared towards what students need most, school leaders can also find ways to integrate technology in smart ways that work on the same goals. And they can help to remove roadblocks when necessary.
“A key leadership role is to try to build a shared vision for blended learning,” said Eric Williams, Superintendent York County School Division in Virginia. One way he does that is by celebrating effective practices publicly. Principals are encouraged to share what’s working at their schools with their district colleagues. Williams also likes to highlight good teaching at school board meetings, all with the goal of building a shared idea of what everyone is working towards.
Williams also tries to model blended learning for his staff, to help them get acclimated to an idea that didn’t exist throughout most of their careers. “We have professional development activities that could be categorized as blended learning,” Williams said. In addition to face-to-face time, every week teachers can participate in an optional professional development session through Collaborize Classroom. Similarly, when Williams needed to give principals an update on the budget, he didn’t call a meeting that would require each principal to spend half a day getting to and from the central office — he held a video conference.
But the most important thing Williams does as a forward-thinking superintendent is to support principal and teacher innovation. Rather than saying no when an idea conflicts with district policy, he works to change the policy. He’s found that working that way removes most of the barriers people cite as obstacles to fully integrating technology into classrooms.
Williams has worked to set policies that allow for new approaches. Websites like YouTube, Facebook and other social media are no longer blocked in the district and the middle and high schools have been had a Bring Your Own Device policy for years.
“It’s a student-driven prospective,” Williams said. “We put students behind the wheel with our guidance, recognizing they will make mistakes, but we’ll be there to get them back on track.” Letting students direct their own learning is at the heart of many policies Williams endorses. He knows that some kids will use their devices for non-academic purposes, or will check Facebook, but the benefits of allowing those tools in the classroom outweigh the few bad actors.