Innovation Takes Good Leadership

LeadershipWhen I was working on my undergrad degree in English Education, one of the texts I was required to read (and which I highly recommend) was Leila Christenbury’s Making the Journey: Being and Becoming a Teacher of English Language Arts. We were asked to write reflection journals as we read, and Christenbury made that very easy because she included journal prompts. I still remember one of the prompts. It asked the reader to think about the relative importance of administration, teachers, and students in a school. At that time, I felt that teachers and students were the keys to a successful school. Outstanding, engaging, dynamic teachers and students eager to learn. I did not see that administration had much importance. I recall that my instructor wrote the comment “Let’s see how you feel about this after you begin teaching.” It stuck in my mind because I knew that the comment meant I was talking about something I didn’t know. She didn’t belittle my opinion. She didn’t tell me how ignorant I was. Her comment was meant to make me remember. I didn’t have to teach for long before I understood what she meant. I do not believe a school can function for long without a good administration. The administration leads from the top. There is no change, no innovation, no organization, no rudder without a good administration.

I have been thinking about the role of administration in innovation, and recently Scott McLeod posted a short blog post that inspired this one. I think some schools invest in technology without offering the professional development teachers need to use it. In addition, some administrators do not change their expectations regarding the use of technologies. If teachers are not expected to adopt new technologies, change and innovation won’t take place. I’m not talking about using tech for the sake of using tech. But I am talking about using tech in ways that make learning easier and more engaging.

One example I’ve been thinking about is Apple’s announcement about iBooks textbooks. I don’t have an iPad, but a colleague demonstrated one of the iBooks textbooks. It’s gorgeous. The color pops off the screen. Embedded content like videos makes the text more interactive. You can take notes and highlight in them. And they cost a fraction of what hardcover textbooks cost at $14.99 or less. Global Equities Research estimates that the production cost for creating an iBooks text is about 80% less than a hardcover text. Let’s say a hardcover book costs $100. Schools often purchase the hardcover books and use them for several years. In Georgia, the textbook adoption cycle is usually seven years. Over seven years, that textbook costs the school between $14 and $15 if the school is on a seven-year adoption cycle. However, the iPad also has a large variety of apps, and iBooks also sells novels. Purchasing iPads is a serious investment for a school to consider, and it should be undertaken after thought and study. Teachers should be supported as they learn to use and to integrate the use of the iPad in the classroom. iPads could potentially transform a school, but in the hands of teachers who don’t know how to use them and aren’t expected to use them, they are nothing more than paperweights.

What I can easily see happening is a school deciding to adopt iPads and then not supporting their use through professional development. If teachers are required to use any tool, and the iPad is just one example, without professional development they will likely take one of two paths: 1) try to learn it on their own the best they can, or 2) give up and not use it. In addition, if there is no expectation regarding the use, the tools become useless as there is little incentive beyond a personal intrinsic motivation to use the tools. Some teachers have a strong motivation to continue learning and improving and using new tools, but others do not. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter that the leadership in a school did not expect teachers to grow or didn’t support growth through professional development because the teachers would grow anyway, but what I have learned over time is that teachers need both the support for their growth and the expectation that they will grow as teachers, and that support and expectation needs to come from administrators who have an interest in innovation. Otherwise, it’s just not going to happen.
Creative Commons License photo credit: pedrosimoes7

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2 thoughts on “Innovation Takes Good Leadership

  1. Oh how I agree with your statement about administration! If only it were easy to fix!

    I agree with the technology statements as well. I have an iPad, given to me by the technology department last year, and I feel that I am not using it enough because I just don't know how. I know basics, I use it for myself, etc, but I could really use some PD on specific ways to integrate it into high school English and Spanish classes. A classroom set would be amazing…better keep writing those grants :)

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