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Postscript: There's No Time Like the Future
By Gail Connelly
Principal, January/February 2012
A colleague recently told me about the first email she received nearly 20 years ago. She quickly dismissed it as too impersonal, complicated, and odd. “This will never take off,” she told me she muttered to herself as she hit the delete key and instead phoned the person who sent the email. I sometimes wish her prediction had come true, especially as I struggle to manage 200-plus emails daily.
In those intervening 20 years, information technology (hardware, software, networking, apps) has changed so dramatically and so rapidly that not even the most visionary technology guru could have predicted the functionality and look of the devices we now use or the degree to which we are dependent upon them. Can you imagine leaving your house without your cell phone? Neither can I! Technology that was once unimaginable is now commonplace.
Intel co-founder Gordon Moore forecast this new world in 1965, when he accurately predicted that technological advances would make it possible to double the number of transistors on a microchip every two years, a concept commonly known as “Moore’s Law” that explains rapid change. While I can’t begin to understand the science behind Moore’s Law, I can appreciate its undeniable significance: Computers and computing have become so powerful so rapidly that most of us can’t fathom “the next big thing” or how it will continue to change every aspect of our lives.
Teaching and learning are no exceptions. This issue of Principal features articles that explore what principals can do to ensure teachers and students not only keep up in such a world, but thrive in it. How can you accomplish this rather daunting task?
Consider this sensible advice from NAESP member Kappy Steck, principal of Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, (named one of the “Schools that Work” by the education foundation, Edutopia):
“It’s not about the technology. You have to start with looking at your school and the needs of your students. You know that technology is going be a tool, a component of what your students and teachers are going to need. The attitude can’t be ‘we don’t have it, or we can’t get it’. It has to be the attitude of we can do it, but how?”
Kappy’s advice is in perfect alignment with the way most principals already operate: Support teachers and students, focus on teaching and learning, create and sustain a visionary culture, work with the resources you have, and stay positive.
Beyond her advice, you can find guidance in NAESP’s Leading Learning Communities: What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do, which proposes six standards that define key attributes of effective principals. Two of those standards address equally important technology-related themes: Principals must help teachers integrate technology into the curriculum, and they must master technology—and the data it yields—to be high-performing instructional leaders. (Find this incredibly valuable resource at www.naesp.org/nprc.)
Specifically, the standards suggest that effective principals use technology and manage data to inform decisions and measure student and school performance. Principals who do so:
- Develop a technology-rich culture that connects learning to our global society;
- Make data a driver for school improvement;
- Help adults and students use knowledge to make decisions; and
- Benchmark high-achieving schools with comparable demographics, among other things.
As high-tech gizmos and online networks become ever more present in daily life, students and teachers expect school environments embedded with data-rich, online teaching tools. To help principals maximize such environments, NAESP is participating in a national initiative funded by the Gates Foundation to disseminate a free online learning platform called ASSISTments. It provides educators with immediate, actionable data to strengthen student achievement and so potentially has great value in strengthening principals’ instructional leadership. (Find details at www.naesp.org.)
NAESP knows that you and your colleagues are on the front lines of the education technology frontier. None of us knows what the next two years will bring, to say nothing of the next 20 years. How to operate in such an unknown—and perhaps unknowable—environment? I’m confident that principals will do what they have always done so well: Expect the unexpected, lead with wisdom and courage even when the path is difficult, and stay focused on doing what’s best for children. Suffice it to say that understanding and effectively using technology in leading their schools is all in a day’s work for principals!
Gail Connelly is executive director of NAESP.
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