Why It’s Important to Make Technology a Top-Down Strategy

 

Technology has always had a hand in education. But when COVID-19 hit, many school districts made a swift move to remote learning, and the importance of technology in the education sector became even more apparent.

Educational leaders worldwide have struggled to address the overlapping changes while dealing with health, economic, logistic, and educational crises that surfaced almost immediately. And since advancements in technology have been on the rise for years—information technology, human interconnectivity, AI, network effects, and automation—we find ourselves in a new reality where change is not only here to stay but has become a lot more rapid, continual, and ever-present. 

This “new normal” for technological changes can be labeled 3 ways: perpetual, pervasive, and exponential. Combined, these labels define the emerging future of education. Effective leadership is the cornerstone of navigating this new reality. No digital initiative can succeed unless leadership and those using it are behind the technology. And that begins with making technology a top-down strategy. 

Read on to learn why it’s essential for school district leadership to be engaged in technological advancements, the traits of an effective school leader; the crucial measures leaders must embrace for continued success, how providing proper support can translate into better outcomes with staff and students, and how to plan for a digital future.

 

Why is Technology Most Successful When Backed by Leadership?

Technology is only as good as its users, so school leaders need to get behind technology to fully transform and impact learning. Transforming the student learning experience by taking full advantage of technological advancements requires strong leadership skills. When leaders collaborate to create a shared vision of how these advancements can meet the needs of all learners, only then can technology support their learning goals.  

School leaders who allow chief information and technology officers to dictate the vision of how technology can support their educational goals have a broad misunderstanding of how digital tools can impact learning. Technology can’t improve learning by itself, but it enables transformative learning when approached correctly. 

Devising a plan based upon how and why a district wants to improve learning is the first step to taking actionable measures. With these goals in mind, school leaders can use technology in unlimited ways to attain their vision. 

The shift to technological learning means adjusting your leadership knowledge and skills. To be effective, educational leaders require not only personal experience with digital education tools, but a district-wide vision of how technological advancements can improve the learning experience, as well as a good understanding of how to use these resources efficiently.  

 

What Makes an Effective School Leader?

To be a truly effective school leader, you must first understand what makes prominent leadership. School leaders influence the attitude, culture, reputation, and success of their schools. They’re also at the forefront of making their learning environments grow. When done right, strong school leadership skills can lead to an encouraging, nurtured, and advanced learning environment. 

So, aside from embracing technological advancements, what makes an effective school leader? 

  • Leading by example
  • Passionate about their work and has contagious energy
  • Understanding the importance of building community
  • Empowering teachers to build leadership skills
  • Establishing high, but reasonable expectations
  • Driving continuous improvements through student data and resources
  • Establishing a vision and setting a plan to achieve it
  • Creating collaborative and flexible learning environments
  • Encouraging risk-taking
  • Setting direction
  • Providing support and training for teachers and admin staff
  • Commitment and perseverance
  • Outstanding listening and communication skills
  • Lifelong learning
  • Establishing teacher retention practices

 

Embracing Technological Advancements

Technology is most successful when leadership embraces and openly discusses it. But one problem with perpetual, pervasive, and exponential changes in technology is that we weren’t built for this type of 3-D change:

  • Perpetual meaning change is ongoing, happening all the time
  • Pervasive meaning change unfolds in many areas of life all at once
  • Exponential meaning change accelerates at a very rapid rate

The human mind is programmed for linear and local thinking when faced with challenges. Exponential and systemic change is not supposed to come fast or easy. Educational leaders need to adapt and form a new type of leadership. One based on navigating unprecedented change—not only with technology but within the world around us. 

Educational leaders must accept that in order to nurture students into becoming more engaged and globally competitive, school districts need to integrate 21st-century capabilities and expertise throughout the learning experience.

Developing critical thinking, collaboration, complex problem solving, and adding digital communication throughout the curriculum are all key features of the integration process. Today’s students should always feel a sense of control over their learning with the belief that they can succeed. When it comes to using technology, educational leaders throughout grades K to 12 should follow the same idea. All involved should share a piece of the responsibility to ensure student and teacher success in terms of digital tools and advancements. 

As school districts look toward success in the future, school leaders should keep four important strategies in mind:

1. Remote Learning isn’t Going Anywhere

While remote learning didn’t come without its challenges, it has proven to be very beneficial psychologically and in the overall educational experience:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Student has more control over learning
  • Learn-on-the-go convenience
  • Stronger collaboration
  • Greater ownership of work
  • Reduced social anxiety
  • Enhanced self-discipline
  • Encourages students to learn at their own pace
  • More opportunities for children with learning disabilities
  • Decreased bullying
  • Increased parent involvement 

With the great resignation in place, the hybrid workforce is here to stay. That being said, we should continually embrace remote learning in the education sector for all the above reasons and to better prepare students for the modern workplace. 

2. Improve Access to Digital Tools

Access is the key to success in remote learning. Now that many students are in a hybrid or remote learning environment, a traditional computer lab will not cut it. Moving to the cloud improves access for all students, scalability, longevity, and security. 

Cloud-enabled platforms like Edsembli’s all-in-one school management software provides students access to integrated apps right from their phone, tablet, and laptop, making on-the-go learning easily accessible. Portability cuts down on the wasted time and distraction teachers may face when dealing with individual computer spaces for their students, such as traditional lab learning. 

Improved access to digital tools makes collaboration easy in a fully remote environment, in-person learning, or a hybrid or blended setting. With just one click, students and teachers can be instantly connected. However, when schools implement a “bring your own device” policy, collaboration is not always this convenient. As technology software capabilities vary from device to device, slower connections and incompatibilities can slow things down, making your top-down strategy very inefficient.

3. Make Security Measures a Priority  

Did you know that K-12 schools are more prone to ransomware attacks than any other industry? A report from IBM states that ransomware is involved in nearly 1 of every 4 cyberattacks in the U.S. alone. These threats are overtaking the skill sets and human resources of even the most highly sophisticated educational IT departments in grades K-12. These attacks rapidly increased at the beginning of the 2020 school year, and show no signs of slowing down. 

Depending on the severity of the cyberattack, downtime and loss of learning can last for weeks, or even months. Full recovery can take over a year. School leaders can prioritize security measures by having loss prevention and data loss prevention plans in place to ensure trustworthy, uncompromised data backup access and substitute essential services for the important data that teachers and students access daily. A data and loss prevention plan should look something like this: 

  • Take proactive measures by creating cybersecurity plans
  • Develop procedures and roles in the event of an attack 
  • Have cyber recovery measures in place for during and following an attack. 

4. Upgrade to an Enterprise Network

COVID-19 pushed school districts to remote learning, but as students slowly return to the classroom, can your network handle the load? As students bring digital devices back into schools, many networks are not ready. 

Upgrading to an enterprise network will ensure your students have equal access both at school and at home, without having to worry about failed connections, data interruptions, or system overloads. As all school leaders should agree, every student deserves a front-row seat when it comes to their education. It’s your responsibility to put them there.   

 

Planning for the Future

Kenneth Wallace, the superintendent of Maine Township High School District 207, Park Ridge, Illinois, shared his ideology about how far leadership and coaching can go toward teacher retention, 

“We’re constantly ideating on how to continue to open up paths. How do we find leadership opportunities for every teacher? We have five instructional coaches in each building. As those spots come open, there’s a lot of competition for each of those spots — which is a good thing.

We want people to see that as having a lot of cachet, that it’s a true teacher leadership position. Those people, because of the way we’ve evolved our system, are not just leaders of teachers, but leaders in the building. Their input for the administration team in the building is significant.”

 

As leaders work toward building knowledge and creating a technical infrastructure to meet their vision for transformative learning, there are 4 significant areas they focus on: strong collaboration, individualized student learning strategies, strong infrastructure, and individualized professional learning. 

1. Strong Collaboration 

Effective educational leaders create shared visions of how EdTech can support learning and how to connect with the right resources for maintaining these initiatives. While listening to and adopting input from their stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, and board members), leaders incorporate these technological goals into learning, teaching and leading. They remain open-minded when it comes to experimentation and risk while creating a culture of innovation and trust.

Educational leaders use suitable media and digital tools to communicate with stakeholders while creating effective feedback opportunities. When using a strategic plan to execute their collaborative vision, technology becomes an invaluable teaching tool for students and teachers alike. Powerful leaders use innovative and creative measures when obtaining sustainable capital and human resources—including partnering with the right people inside or outside their institutions. 

2. Customized Student Learning

Through collaborative and active learning activities, technology can provide customized student learning experiences. When school leaders implement actionable strategies to attain their vision, they’re essentially building the foundation for learning. The curriculum, teaching methods, and assessments should align with the needs of the individual student. This will arm students with the digital skills necessary for their future, plus enhance their reflection, persistence, perseverance, and critical thinking skills.  

Effective leaders ensure that teachers have appropriate tools and continued support for customized student learning in their classrooms. Using the right software, teachers can collaborate and make informed decisions on personalized learning based on the data collected by the EdTech software. 

Dashboards reveal results from learning activities in real-time, so adjustments can be made for individual students. Observations recorded by teachers and students, summative and formative assessments, and embedded analytics are all equally important when creating strategic plans for individualized learning. Teachers backed by leaders will often use a series of collaborative projects and questionnaires to help develop individualized plans.

School leaders who provide proper support and the right technology turn teachers into coaches, curriculum designers, moderators, and leaders themselves as they guide students through their customized learning experience.

3. Strong Digital Infrastructure

School and district leaders need to be accountable for developing and maintaining a strong digital infrastructure if they want to see success in their learning environments. According to the 2015 CoSN Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey, affordability is the chief obstacle in obtaining strong connectivity. Network speeds and capacity levels are an ongoing challenge for many schools, and many report an absence of competitive pricing for broadband services across the U.S, especially in rural areas. 

Your leaders need to address these challenges and keep maintenance on equipment up-to-date to ensure continuous connectivity is available for all students, teachers, and administrative staff. Routine maintenance on equipment should include updating security features, apps, software, and tools and deciding on the appropriate use of social media tools and web content for encouraging collaborative learning. 

Prominent school leaders know the importance of the ubiquitous knowledge needed to enhance the development and maintenance of the technological infrastructure. By focusing on long-term sustainability, they support these efforts through advanced planning and financial stewardship.

4. Customized Professional Learning

Like students, teachers learn at different paces. To make technological learning easier and more accessible, school leaders should collaborate with their teachers to create customized professional learning plans with clear outcomes. This works well for all aspects of training and development, not just for EdTech. 

District leaders can collaborate with teachers and other school leaders using blended professional learning networks—either online or face-to-face—to allow for continuous learning and growth opportunities. Leaders should lead by example by participating in the learning activities themselves. This also ensures that the appropriate digital tools and resources are being used. 

To show support for school leaders, the U.S Department of Education highlighted eight districts that spoke about these focus areas. Their videos feature the plans and actions school and district leaders took to transform their learning and teaching experiences to create future-ready students.

 

Are You Making Technology a Top-Down Strategy?

Every school district has their own unique structure, pain points, and available funding. There isn’t one digital solution compatible for all. But something that is universal is that it’s the responsibility of school leaders to help students grow, achieve their goals, and prepare them for the digital future. In order for this to happen, your leaders need to collaborate on what the best technological solution is for their district, with the vision of attaining engaged and empowered students and teachers. Only then will your district excel in today’s technological world. 

Do you need help devising a top-down strategy in your division? We at Edsembli are here for you. Offering a dedicated educational platform built for education, by education—we know the importance of modern education—and the type of leadership needed to execute it well. 

We’ve empowered over 100 school districts and 1.7M+ students. Take your leadership skills to the next level—experience how easy learning can be with Edsembli. 

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