The headmaster of a well-respected Christian school once said, “We don’t want to be on the front edge of technology. We want others to try it and work out the kinks before we get on board.”
Christian schools have long struggled to navigate technological innovation. Christian education often embodies the spirit behind the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately, leaders with this philosophy stymie innovative teaching and leave transformational learning opportunities unexplored.
Christian education is at a leadership crossroad as many entering the administrative ranks are considered “digital natives” and have technology imprinted in their daily lives. Their savvy should be encouraged. It is essential for the future of Christian education that the next generation of school leaders embrace technology personally instead of merely compartmentalizing it to a separate position or office on campus.
Before this year, technology expertise would have been considered a nice add-on feature for school leaders. Since most of the world has moved to some version of online learning in the past six months, this bonus skill has become a sought-after feature of faculty and administrators. Education has never relied so heavily on being able to integrate technology into learning and teaching. School leaders must use this year as a catalyst for change in innovative teaching and technology.
Model The Way
One of the most important things leaders can do to ignite change is to model the change themselves. Administrators should be instructional leaders in their buildings. For example, when a new reading program begins, an effective leader learns the ins and outs of the program to help teachers incorporate it into classrooms. This level of coaching is rarely the case when it comes to the utilization of technology in the classroom. Implementation training is left to the technology specialist or the person on campus who is in charge of making the technology work. Unfortunately, this delegation unintendedly says to faculty that the technology training and incorporation is not as vital as the curriculum mapping, SMART goals, or whatever educational initiative is in use at the time.
What makes technology unique is that it intimidates some school leaders who believe themselves to be incompetent, are afraid to vulnerably learn, and prefer to leave this instruction in the hands of the technology expert. But this year proved that if leaders are going to lead, they need to understand their school’s technology and its capabilities. Schools have rolled into this year trying to figure out the best way to educate students in a time when technology provides many of the best answers. Many schools are using online learning platforms for the first time. They are implementing live stream cameras and virtual meetings into the daily processes of school.
Leaders must ensure that teachers are equipped and are implementing these tools effectively. Those who lead must also express appreciation for the extra energy and time it is taking teachers to prepare and teach, compensating them for these extra efforts when possible. Modeling technology integration and becoming a knowledgeable resource are effective steps to serve faculty and propel them forward with the ever-changing technology tools.
Making Competency Contagious
Teachers genuinely appreciate those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and join them in the hard work. As the building leader, learn the basic steps to take when the ever-present tech issue arises. Don’t immediately call the help desk but instead use the tools that are at our fingertips. It is amazing how often those who “work in technology” just google the issue and follow easily accessible steps. Learn how to explain shortcuts and fixes to teachers so that they can do it themselves the next time around. Most importantly, make sure that the school community understands the significance of the technology in use and its importance through modeling its use and expecting faculty to use the technology when it makes sense. As frustrating as technology can be at times, I often find myself reciting 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” The combination of technology, teaching, and learning (not to mention a pandemic) can cause ulcers. Still, when used to provide innovative and inspiring education, technology can better prepare students who will advance the Kingdom. It is in the hands of Christian School leaders to transform the use of technology and to do so by becoming technology leaders in their buildings.
This is the second installment in the Rising Leaders’ Guide to Change and Innovation. Subscribe to the CACE newsletter to be receive an email when upcoming pieces are published.
Dr. Ryan Berens earned his B.A. from Rhodes College, his M.Ed. from Kennesaw State University, and his Ed.D. from the University of Georgia in Educational Leadership. Dr. Berens spent the first 13 years in public education. After five years of teaching history, he moved into the world of technology, first as a technology integration specialist, then as the Coordinator of Instruction for Georgia Virtual School, and finally as a Technology Program Manager for the Georgia Department of Education. Dr. Berens is currently the High School Principal at Cypress Christian School in Houston, Texas. He lives with his wife Carmen and their two children.