Helen Crompton
Know the ISTE Standards for Administrators: Create a learning culture

ISTE Standards for Administrators 2: Administrators create, promote and sustain a dynamic, digital age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant and engaging education for all students.

We live in an exciting time. Technologies that not long ago were pure science fiction — like holographic keyboards and 3D printers the size of a pen — are now potential tools for learning and teaching. What's more, the prices of these innovative gadgets are falling so fast that they are becoming affordable even for shrinking school budgets.

Of course, integrating technology in ways that truly improve student learning involves much more than just making a purchasing decision. With new tools comes the need for new skills. You cannot give a device or software program to teachers without training and expect them to know how to use it to support student learning effectively. In the words of one teacher, that would be like handing a violin to someone who has never held one before and asking him to play a concerto. As you might expect, this slapdash approach typically leaves the principal, teachers and students very disappointed.

The answer? Create, promote and sustain a dynamic, digital age learning culture where teachers have access not only to new technologies, but also the professional development and support to use them well. According to ISTE Standard for Administrators 2, this includes:

  • Professional development about how to use the technology.
  • Professional development about how to incorporate that technology effectively into teaching and learning.
  • Time for the professional development.
  • Ongoing support for all of the above.

That said, there are many ways to approach tech initiatives. In the table below, you can see three possible approaches a district administrator could take. These choices would be similar for school administrators, albeit at a more localized level.

Standard 2: Digital age learning culture

Administrators create, promote and sustain a dynamic, digital age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant and engaging education for all students.

Approach 1: This administrator has chosen to do nothing at this time, as she believes that, because teachers and students are immersed in the digital age, they should be able to gain the necessary skills without help. Approach 2: This administrator has made the choice to provide a one-day training session to all teachers across the district. This training will be focused on the effective use of technology in K-12 education. Approach 3: This administrator has chosen to set up a technology PD center where educators can get ongoing access to training, expert coaches and technologies. This center, where educators can borrow new technologies to try, also provides online training through a PD technology community. Teachers are required to take a minimum number of PD hours per year at this facility, but those who take more can gain recognition or certification. Time is provided for the minimum hours required.
a. Ensure instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement of digital age learning. Absent: This administrator has provided no instruction. Partially addressed: There is some improvement but no plan for continuous improvement. Addressed: The PD center provides face-to-face and online training that meets the needs of teachers at all levels and technological abilities. A minimum number of PD hours are required to ensure continuous improvement.
b. Model and promote the frequent and effective use of technology for learning. Absent: No technology use is modeled or promoted. Partially addressed: The effective use of technology for learning is supported on one day but is not frequent. Addressed: At this facility, coaches are available who will model good practice.
c. Provide learner-centered environments equipped with technology and learning resources to meet the individual, diverse needs of all learners. Absent: There are no learner-centered environments, and learners are left to fend for themselves. Absent: This approach does not include a learner-centered environment, and one day of training will not meet the needs of many learners. Addressed: The PD facility is a dedicated learner-centered environment with new technologies that teachers can check out as well as a variety of learning resources designed to meet the needs of learners at all levels.
d. Ensure effective practice in the study of technology and its infusion across the curriculum. Absent: There are no requirements for ongoing study. Partially addressed: This PD will provide some understanding of how technology can be infused across the curriculum, but a one-day training event will not ensure that it continues. Addressed: A minimum requirement of training hours is required to support teachers in continued effective technology integration.
e. Promote and participate in local, national and global learning communities that stimulate innovation, creativity and digital age collaboration. Absent: Although teachers can find their own learning communities, the district offers no plan or allowance for participation. Absent: Although teachers can find their own learning communities, the district offers no plan or allowance for participation beyond the one-day event. Addressed: The center promotes an online community where teachers can connect with expert training as well as peer support. This is linked to larger communities of learners, such as the ISTE Professional Learning Network.

By choosing to do nothing, the administrator in Approach 1 has not met any of the indicators for this particular standard. She has a sink-or-swim mentality, justified by the belief that, simply by virtue of their immersion in a digital society, teachers should be able to gain the skills they need to provide a rigorous, relevant and engaging education for all students. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many teachers, who may work alone in their rooms and lack the time, know-how or interest to learn how to use new tech tools in ways that improve student learning. These teachers already have to deal with changing curricula as well as student and parent dynamics and demographics. Now they have to find effective training on their own to boot. Faced with this situation, many educators get frustrated because they don't feel supported. Rather than continue the struggle to get proper professional development, they end up using new devices or programs incorrectly or abandoning them outright.

The administrator in Approach 2 has a made a familiar choice. He has decided that a blanket one-day training on technology will suffice. It's better than nothing, right? Standard 2 says that leaders should provide professional development for how to use the new technology, and a one-day training might be enough to accomplish this. However, it also says that administrators should provide professional development for how to incorporate that technology effectively into learning and teaching. This is really the crux of successful technology integration, and it takes guidance in practice. Unfortunately, drive-by trainings are also often provided by outside consultants who have little to no investment in the professional growth needs of teachers or the district. Effective tech integration is too important to relegate to a one-shot effort, and research backs up the superiority of ongoing professional development. This administrator's approach provides little or no follow-up, and, as we have already learned, teachers who don't feel supported in a new initiative get frustrated and overwhelmed and can even withdraw from efforts to implement the new technology.

The administrator in Approach 3 knows that a one-day approach to training is not going to be the most effective means, so she opts for a different approach. She has decided to set up a technology professional development center where educators will have ongoing access to training, expert coaches and technologies they can check out in order to try out their new skills. The center provides face-to-face training as well as online webinars and additional support through a professional development technology community. Teachers can work with experts or with their peers to enhance their skills, and options are available to meet the needs of educators at all levels and technological abilities. In addition, the administrator has set a required number of professional development hours for each teacher per year, and those who take additional training can receive recognition.

As you can see, there are distinct differences between each of the three approaches. Which do you think would be the most effective?

Ready to start planning a tech integration initiative in your district? Don't go it alone. Join the Lead & Transform movement for tips, resources and guidance from experts in the field.

Diana V. Cantu assisted with this article. She is a doctoral candidate in the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. She is also a former elementary school teacher and professional development provider who currently works with the MonarchTeach Program at Old Dominion University.

Helen Crompton is an assistant professor of instructional technology at Old Dominion University. She is a researcher and educator in the field of instructional technology. She earned her Ph.D. in educational technology and mathematics education from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.