If you have read this blog before, you have known that I am repetitive on the notion that innovation starts with the question, “what is best for kids?” We have to do our best to make this a focal point in our decision making, and although it seems redundant to say it so often, sometimes it is forgotten about in our work.
Many schools are pushing new technologies in their schools/districts, to really try to focus on helping students become successful in our world today. The idea of moving forward, is important, and I think more now than ever, schools are trying to put the tools in place to support staff and students. Yet I have noticed resistance in the “tools” that are being implemented, since the decisions are made are often from a “top-down” approach, as opposed to a focusing on a servant leadership perspective.
A colleague shared a story with me about two competing technologies that were discussed at a conference in sessions that followed each other. One of the observations that he made in attending both sessions was that in one room, it was mostly IT department staff, and in the other session, it was mostly educators. The disconnect between what educators want, and what is actually implemented, happens far too often in schools.
For example, having a suite of tools that central office suggests will be great for teachers, with little or no input from teachers and students is a top down approach that often irritates many educators, no matter how great the “suite” may be. Learning should always be the primary focus, and then you figure out what technology would support that, not the other way around. You will never make all people happy, but not trying to make as many people as comfortable and empowered in the process as possible with decisions that directly impact teaching and learning, is not a good approach.
Consensus is not always necessary the answer, but a collaborative approach should be the standard. It is especially hard to ask teachers that work with technology the most or serve in the professional learning of other educators to “champion” tools that they dislike or don’t believe in themselves, especially if they have had no input. If you can’t get your “champions” excited, good luck with the reluctant learner. (By the way, if you ask for input, get it, and go the same way you were going to go in the first place, don’t waste the time of others.)
The best IT departments that I have worked with focus on questions that directly impact teaching and learning, and find answers in conjunctions with those on the “front lines” working directly with students. The model exudes servant leadership as they start with an empathetic mindset that helps to figure out what will make an impact on learning. Our IT departments are experts and crucial leaders in creating better environments for our learners, yet is there a focus on implementing with a “top-down approach” or a “bottom up” mindset? The best leaders remove barriers and unleash talent, not try to control it. The “decision” is often not the issue, but more often, it is the approach in how the “decision” was made.
Leadership is a tough position, where you will always disappoint someone, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. But if leaders aren’t open to listening, we often lose the people who would have been our biggest advocates. As a leader, it is not about “your decision” or “my decision”, it is about making the “best decision”, and the more we know and the more we listen, the more likely we this will happen.
(Update: Here is an image from “4 Guiding Questions for Your IT Department” that may help with this conversation).