In the past few years, educational institutions are finally getting to see data demonstrating how much impact technology, and specifically one-to-one programs (where every student has a device that she or he brings home at night), are having in schools. The most comprehensive of these has been Project RED which studied and surveyed 1,000 schools across the United States. One of the most telling discoveries that they made is that one-to-one programs have almost no discernible impact for a school, unless at least 4 of 9 key implementation factors are in place. And, when at least 4 of those 9 factors are in place, the school significantly outperforms all other schools.
Of those 9 key implementation factors, however, none is more important that visible, active championing of the one-to-one program by the school’s administration, particularly the principal. Having witnessed that reality personally at three different schools, I agree with their findings 100%. I worked for over 20 years at a high school, and spent a significant amount of my time over my second decade there advocating for a one-to-one program. When the school finally did implement one, I watched as it completely ignored all of the Project RED findings. Most frustrating was that the school’s leadership not only failed to champion the use of technology (placing that responsibility solely on the shoulders of an understaffed technology department), but also the principal chose instead to actively champion the position that no teacher would ever be forced to use technology. Needless to say, the school will soon be entering its 3rd year of their one-to-one program, and while some teachers have done miraculous things with technology, other still never use it in their classrooms. As a result, some students constantly use their devices to improve their educations, while others simply use their device to improve their high scores and to tweet their latest purchase.
In contrast to that experience, I have seen the impact technology can have when the principal does actively champion its use. I started the past school year at a Catholic grade school as their technology integration specialist, and my principal brought my there specifically with the mindset that we would work towards a one-to-one program in the middle school. Unfortunately, Catholic grade schools function at the whim of their Pastors, and the Pastor at that school was determined to see our principal fail, so we were blocked at every turn as we attempted to move toward a one-to-one program. But, even with that opposition, I was able to significantly increase the use of technology in all of the classrooms, both within the middle school and in K-5 classrooms. Because the faculty knew that the principal was moving the school toward a one-to-one program, each teacher had an impetus to do more with technology. Certainly, some were extremely resistant to adding technology, but I never had to force anyone to do it. Instead, we let each teacher move at her or his own pace, and when a teacher did want to try something, I went out of my way to assist that person and to make the process as smooth as possible. As a result of that, teachers clearly gained confidence in their own abilities as the school year progressed. Sadly, the negative actions of the Pastor and his staff drove the principal out of the school, and I began to seek actively employment elsewhere because I knew that whoever the new principal would be that individual would not be nearly as supportive of integrating technology.
Fortunately for me, I found a new job as the technology coordinator at a different Catholic grade school, and I was able to start there before the end of this past school year. At this school too, I was brought in with the idea that I would move them towards a middle school one-to-one program. The difference at this school, though, is that I was seen as the final piece of the puzzle, rather than having to build the case from the ground up. My new school had been actively discussing a one-to-one program for 2 years before I arrived on the scene. But, once again, the primary reason for those discussions was the active, vocal championing of technology by the principal. As a result of her advocacy and enthusiasm, the entire staff has been open to finding new ways to integrate technology into all of the classrooms. And, even though I did not start at the school until the last week of March, the school is making tremendous technology additions to its K-5 classrooms and will be one-to-one in its middle school when school begins this fall. Certainly, my presence played a role in making the decision to move forward, but the primary reason we are able to do this is the outspoken support and enthusiasm of my principal.
Project RED’s study and continuing work, as well as other research begin done in technology integration, provide excellent guidance and insight for the use and integration of technology into classrooms, but I firmly believe that any technology venture, and especially a one-to-one program, is doomed unless the school’s principal is an outspoken supporter of the idea. Without her or his backing, teachers simply do not feel the same level of responsibility and commitment to the changes. Certainly, some teachers will fully embrace the opportunity to build more technology into their daily classroom interactions. But, there are far more teachers who will be on the fence and will need a nudge to pursue new classroom activities. And, there will always be a small group who will resist technology integration even if the principal is an advocate. The only thing that will get those individuals to explore ways to use the added technology is implicit and explicit expectations from the school’s top administrator. Otherwise, those teachers will no motivation to chance what has always worked for them in the classroom. In the end, innovation and creativity with the technology will come from teachers, but the initial push to add technology and to move to a one-to-one program has to have clear and obvious support from the school’s principal.