Integrating Technology and Problem-Solving in School: Our Obligation as Leaders
This July, I embark on a new role and new position, shifting from six years as a middle school building leader to a central office position dedicated to educational technology in the elementary setting. The opportunity is an incredible one, as I anticipate building vision, building consensus, leveraging technology and infusing critical thinking and problem solving across disciplines and classrooms - using high and low tech.
Massachusetts is poised to be a national and international leader in technology integration, thanks to our economy based in technology and higher education. We have access to leaders and resources, and we should be preparing our future workers and thought leaders to tap into this rich resource.
As public educators and building leaders, we must take on this responsibility. Building level leaders must prepare our current students to be future leaders and workers - not just in Massachusetts, but nationally and internationally as well. We have an obligation to look to the future and lead the charge to ensure students are prepared with 21st century skills, resiliency, flexibility and technical skills. Leaders must lead by example, model what we want to see in teacher, classroom and student technology integration, and be the lifelong learners we expect others to be.
Think about this: students entering grades K-8 this fall were born between 2011-2003. What does this mean for their future? These students will graduate high school between 2021 and 2029: what does our world look like then? Will our world look like the Jetsons? Or Back to the Future? Or something else we cannot yet even envision? That’s what I’m banking on - the last option - because with the flattening of the technological and economical worlds in the information age, change happens incredibly rapidly. Just think about how different the world was when we entered the workforce and when new teachers are entering the workforce. In the last 15 years since I graduated from Hamilton College, the skill sets required are not just technical, but broader. Having just the technical skill is no longer enough - so school leaders must broader their definition of technology integration, and take the lead on promoting this future tech integration 2.0. We are, after all, preparing students to engage in jobs and a workforce that does not yet exist.
According to this report by Fast Company, there is an enormous gap in the expectation between what hiring managers are expecting and what new employees are able to produce in various skill sets. The biggest gap: critical thinking and problem solving.
Building leaders must model a focus on critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, communication and other 21st century skills. These skills must be embedded into our Massachusetts standards, and woven into the daily instruction that is delivered to students. Their future success depends on it: we are preparing our current students for their future jobs that may not yet exist...but will!
As instructional leaders, building leaders set the tone and set the priorities. Authentically and purposefully embedding technical skills (e.g. keyboarding) as well as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity into daily classroom instruction allows it to become second nature for students to start engaging in these much-needed skill sets, and at all grade levels. The younger we can ensure that students are thinking independently and critically, the better.
Administrators must model innovative thinking, creativity, risk-taking and ownership of personal learning - model this and expect this of our educators and teachers and students. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
- Model the strategies in which you would like to see staff engage. Take risks, be open about your uncertainty, and share it. It is not a sign of weakness, but strength, to be unsure and share that fact with others. Be creative in these ventures, and communicate it to staff.
- Use new tools. Try a podcast for your monthly newsletter, create a Smore newsletter, create a YouTube video or channel. Ask your digital learning specialist for suggestions and help!
- Be connected. Join a Voxer community. Participate in Twitter chats (here is the calendar of Twitter chats). Share your connection with staff. If you find an interesting tweet, email it to staff members. Demonstrate that you are investing time and energy in being connected and always learning - and share this with staff. Connected Educators is a fantastic resource, with a very comprehensive website that connects educators with one another: http://www.connectededucators.
- Be the thought leader in your building. Being connected will allow you to be at the forefront of national and international trends. Join Voxer book studies and twitter chats. Bring this work to what you do with your staff and engage staff in professional dialogue around professional topics.
- Invest in teacher leaders. This can range from budget neutral (internships) to low-impact (stipends for leadership or work done outside of the school day) to bigger budget items, such as additional FTE for teachers, digital learning specialists or leadership staff dedicated to this mission (such as in my new position).
- Commit pre-existing time to commit to technology and problem-solving integration. Use pre-existing staff meeting time, team meeting time or be creative in your use of time (e.g. get subs for a several teachers to create embedded work time) to provide opportunities for staff to explore and learn.
- Love your digital learning specialists and library media specialists! These folks are skilled, precious teachers. They understand education, classroom instruction and student learning. Meet with them, show them the love, show them that they matter, and partner with them to help promote technology integration as well as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity across all content and grade levels. Charge your DLS and LMS with ensuring that there are extension opportunities, real-world application and problem solving opportunities in every classroom, regardless of the content and grade level. And make sure that you support your DLS and LMS in their own professional learning as well.
Technology integration is no longer “Can students keyboard?” It’s about real world application, developing critical thinkers and lifelong learners. As public educators and leaders, we have an obligation to our students and families - and the future of Massachusetts - to help our students be prepared to be workers in the mid 2020s (!). Take the charge as the leader of your building, and showcase all that we are all that we want our students to become in the future!
Director of Educational Technology for Tri Town School Union, serving the elementary schools of Middleton, Topsfield and Boxford, Massachusetts