One of the ideas that has emerged from the Vision 2021 initiative is the concept of principals as “chief learning officers” of their schools, championing the learning of skills essential for participating in a global society. Annette Smith, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Services at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, believes that principals need to be advocates in promoting the teaching of information, communication, and technology literacy. “The ‘digital natives’ we are educating have quite a handle on using technology and often teach us how the technology works,” she says.
According to Smith, using technology appropriately and being able to critically decipher and analyze information are skills that transcend the ability to operate the technology and therefore can be taught regardless of skill level. It is still not a simple process, however. Smith stresses that teaching literacy requires principals to ask several tough questions and challenge some commonly accepted practices. For example, should educators block every imaginable site with a firewall, or should schools take the lead in educating students and the community on how to make those decisions on their own? Should schools block popular social networking and user-generated content sites, such as MySpace and YouTube, or should principals look for ways to utilize them to enhance the child’s educational experience? Smith says that while children’s safety is an important concern, only allowing students to visit a short list of teacher-approved sites may inhibit their critical-thinking skills.
Smith also cites a need for quality media programs and staff. They are the “highly qualified” professionals best suited to teaching information, communication, and technology literacy. She also recognizes the need for finding methods to quickly and easily collect, disseminate, and distribute research and best practices for teaching literacy and promoting it within schools and the district. Principals can learn from their students on this and use social networking sites to collaborate on this task or knowledge exchanges like NAESP’s new E-Knowledge Portal for Principals.