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Guest Thinkers

Leadership Day 2008 – We have neglected our leaders

[I’m late for my self-initiated Leadership Day 2008. I went to visit my mom for a few days and forgot to take my laptop…]

Most of our school leaders have received no training whatsoever when it comes to 21st century schooling. If you asked your average principal or superintendent what it means to to prepare students for a digital, global society, she would be hard-pressed to give you a halfway-coherent answer. If you asked an auditorium full of administrators if they’ve ever heard of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, you’d be lucky to get a few raised hands. Why is this so? Because…

  1. Only a few of the more than 500 school administrator programs have even a single course dealing with digital technologies. Many of the courses that do exist deal with basic office software (yes, still) rather than technology-related leadership issues. A course that even mentioned Web 2.0 tools or the societal impacts of social software would be rare. Courses that actually focus on the leadership necessary to transition schools into the 21st century are almost nonexistent.
  2. The professional development opportunities that school districts and state departments of education provide for their administrators deal primarily with data-driven accountability, literacy, discipline, finance, law, and other similar topics. All of those are important but, again, the transition to a digital, global society and the leadership necessary to get there is hardly ever present in these training sessions.
  3. Most national- and/or state-level principal and superintendent associations offer workshops, institutes, and/or conferences for their members. The number of association-delivered conference sessions and other learning opportunities for administrators that pertain to technology leadership is exceedingly low. One reason given is that ‘we’re service organizations and our members don’t ask for them.’
  4. Numerous technology-focused grants and initiatives for students and teachers are available from state and local governments, corporations, and foundations. In contrast, it’s awfully difficult to find anything substantive for school leaders. It’s a little perplexing since most corporations and foundations understand the importance of good leadership in their own organizations. Yet there has been a lack of commitment to investing in the leadership side of things when it comes to their own K-12 technology initiatives.
  5. There are few, if any, good books out there that help school leaders understand what effective school technology leadership looks like. There are a variety of helpful online resources but they’re widely dispersed, often difficult to find, and unknown to most administrators.
  6. In sum, all of the primary learning and support mechanisms for school administrators are failing woefully when it comes to 21st century leadership preparation. To paraphrase Joel Barker, we’re focusing on today at the expense of tomorrow.

    We should be putting a great deal of pressure on school districts, state departments of education, university preparation programs, and national- and state-level leadership associations to pay greater attention to 21st century schools and the leadership skills necessary to get there. We also should be asking for greater emphasis on leadership training from our corporate and foundational partners and our policymakers. The lack of attention by any one of these groups is dismaying. The aggregate lack of attention by all of them is downright irresponsible.

    We must set aside dedicated training time, programs, and monies for our leaders. Administrators have their own unique needs and responsibilities; their training should be different than that of other educators. We can’t simply lump them in with teachers. Nor should we continue to offer generic professional development monies or programs without designating some of them specifically for administrators. Our pattern of block grants instead of administrator-only set-asides seems to always leave our leaders short.

    Finally, we should recognize that most of this is not our leaders’ fault. Sure, they should be demanding more from the entities that serve them. But it’s our collective shame that every aspect of their learning system fails them.


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