Learning and Leading in the 21st Century – 10 Tips by an Administrator, For Administrators

This article originally appeared on the EDCompass Blog.  Click here for the original URL.

By Tom D’Amico

What are ten important things a superintendent should do to get more involved in the technology used by students in his or her district?

1. Professional learning networks

The greatest impact on student achievement is the classroom teacher.  In order to assist classroom teachers in providing the best pedagogy to their students to increase  student engagement and resulting achievement, the superintendent must stay connected and aware of research-based practices.  Actively participating in social networks such as Twitter (as I do using @TDOttawa), EdWeb (edweb.net), ScoopIT (I curate the page iGeneration – 21st Century Education), Linked In (Superintendents group), ISTE (ISTE.org), Epic Ed (EpicEd.org), EdLeader21 (EdLeader21.org) and others, allow the superintendent to bring best practices to his or her district.

2. Create conditions for success

There are several areas of governance that are beyond the influence of a classroom teacher or a school principal.  The superintendent has the ability to work with the district trustees to create and approve policies and practices such as BYOD (bring your own device), wireless infrastructure, and mobile device investment and implementation.  The superintendent has a critical role to play in creating conditions for success so that students and teachers can thrive in a digital learning environment.  Click here for an example of a District social media policy created by a superintendent with the goal of encouraging student and staff use of social media.

3. Learning leadership

Conferences, webinars and books are all valuable resources to consult during the transition to a digital learning and teaching environment.

The superintendent has a moral imperative to continue to learn, stay current and help build capacity throughout the district.  Examples of resources available to help superintendents continually challenge their own learning are:

4. Learning walks

The superintendent has an opportunity to visit multiple schools and multiple classrooms throughout the district.  It is important to take a learning stance when visiting schools and classrooms to look critically at what is taking place at the student desk as evidence of learning and to ask questions about the role of technology in the learning process.  Students should be asked questions like, “how does your smartphone help you learn during this class?”, or “using the Smart Board, can you show me your thinking when solving that math question?” Learn how the technology is used by the students.

5. Innovation and creativity

It is important that the superintendent look for opportunities to encourage creativity throughout the system and to connect champion teachers with the goal of building system capacity.  An example in our board is the creation of a $100,000 innovation fund.  Teachers can apply to access funding for a special project with a demonstrated link to their school improvement plan.  This fund has helped with the exploration of new web 2.0 tools, new devices and has provided multiple entry points for teachers and students to get involved in the use of technology to increase engagement and resulting student achievement.

6. Model the use of technology

The superintendent does not need to be the expert in the use of a SMART Board, or in the use of every web 2.0 tool. However, the superintendent should have some level of competency to be able to deliver presentations without requiring someone else to connect their mobile device, to advance presentations, etc.  The use of a smartphone by a superintendent to record student learning (using the camera or video features) is a simple but effective way to open up  discussions about assessment and evaluation.

7. Vision – planning for tomorrow

The superintendent needs to be visionary.  Setting direction for the school district is a key role for the superintendent.  In terms of technology, the superintendent can arrange to visit with vendors, read whitepapers and connect managers or administrators with educational partners.  In our district, superintendents and/or the director of education have met with key staff from SMART Technologies, Discovery Education, Apple, Google, IBM and several publishers within the last year in order to stay current and to have an understanding of what the future holds in the educational technology sector.

8. Monitor social networks

Student voice can provide important feedback to superintendents and other district leaders.  This input can be obtained through student focus groups, student forums and also by monitoring social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.  In our district we have hired an online community engagement and multimedia specialist to assist with these tasks.  The information is shared with superintendents and the feedback and input is used for both school and board improvement.

9. Digital resources and professional learning

The superintendent can help students and teachers by ensuring that budget is allocated for the licensing of quality digital resources.  In addition to the licensing of resources, the superintendent must provide both resources and time to allow teachers to become comfortable with new and emerging technologies.  It is important that the focus stays on learning and student achievement, and does not get side tracked by the latest gadget or device.  For example, a document camera should not be the focus of an in-service, but rather, the focus should be on an inquiry question such as “how can a document camera be used as part of the assessment loop?”, or “how can a document camera be used to increase peer feedback as part of the descriptive writing process?”  The role of the superintendent is to keep the focus on learning, while providing opportunities and resources to make this happen.

10. Celebrate success

As the district builds learning networks it is important to highlight and celebrate the many successes along the journey towards digital transition.  Board or district websites and/or director of education annual reports are both areas that can use multimedia to share successes in a non-print manner.  This also helps to model for teachers and students how video and audio can be used effectively in a learning environment.  Here are links to our district website and to our director of education annual report multimedia section.

About Tom D’Amico

Tom D’Amico is the Superintendent of Human Resources and Leadership Development with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  He has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for 23 years. He has presented across Canada on the topics of educational technology and leadership in the 21st century. He has received several awards including being named as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals and is the recipient of The Canadian Blogger of the year in the category of Best K-12 Administrator Tweeter (@TDOttawa).  In 2012, he was named as one of the “50 Global Edu Leaders to Follow on Twitter.”

Tom D’Amico is a strong believer in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social networking and technology in a connected, global society.


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