"I often feel that we're stuck in a sort of 'no man's land' between the recognized need for technology to be a part of the educational process, and our still-developing sense of best practice and how to leverage this really powerful tool to get kids learning in exciting ways," said a recent participant of our School Technology Leadership Initiative (STLI; www.schooltechleadership.org) at the University of Minnesota.
He is not alone in that no man's land.
In fact, few mechanisms exist today in K-12 education to prepare school leaders to understand and espouse innovative technologies, even as technological innovation is occurring so rapidly. Although nearly all public school teachers now have access to computers or the Internet somewhere in their schools, only one-third of them feel "well prepared" or "very well prepared" to integrate the use of computers and the Internet into their teaching, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (Stats in Brief: Teacher Use of Computers and the Internet in Public Schools, 2000, nces.ed.gov/pubs2000/2000090.pdf). What's more, it's been demonstrated that in recent years, few school administrators use technology meaningfully to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own work (Richard Riedl et al., Leadership for a Technology-Rich Educational Environment, 1998).
Simply put, schools experience difficulty connecting technology infrastructure with effective leadership in order for students, faculty, staff, and the community to reap benefits from technology. And despite the fact that administrative leadership may be "the single most important factor affecting schools' successful integration of technology" (Elizabeth Byrom and Margaret Bingham, Factors Influencing the Effective Use of Technology for Teaching and Learning: Lessons Learned From the SEIR-TEC Intensive Site Schools, 2001), surprisingly little attention focuses on the technology-related needs of school administrators. Most educational leadership preparation programs are slow to recognize the unique leadership issues related to technology confronting their graduates, and the only current large-scale initiative in this area, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development, is temporary and focuses on professional development of current practitioners rather than on leadership pipeline issues.
The STLI Takes Shape
With all this in mind, we began forging a solution in 2002 at the University of Minnesota: The first academic program in the country designed to comprehensively address the need for effective technology leaders in K-12 schools--a bridge across the no man's land between technology and leadership that might be considered a national model for other technology leadership initiatives in the future. The STLI was funded initially through a grant from the US Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), but it has also received broad corporate and organizational support. In 2002, we developed our curriculum and nurtured strategic partnerships with Microsoft, IBM, the National School Boards Association, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Consortium for School Networking. In 2003, we began offering our graduate certificate program, working with higher education partners and increasing our outreach activities. Importantly, our solution targets both current practitioners and future school leadership candidates.
Graduates of the STLI can lead and manage technology use in schools. They plan for the technological future of school organizations and provide options for growth and greater success in student achievement, teacher proficiency, and employee professional development through their technology decision-making. We prepare them to increase overall efficiency of their organizations through effective implementation of technology; in addition, they have a greater understanding and recognition of the safety, security, legal, and ethical issues inherent in the implementation of technology in K-12 schools. …