Skip to Content

Leadership

Section 3: Creating a Culture and Conditions for Innovation and Change
Goal: Embed an understanding of technology-enabled education within the roles and responsibilities of education leaders at all levels and set state, regional, and local visions for technology in learning.

Taking full advantage of technology to transform learning requires strong leadership capable of creating a shared vision of which all members of the community feel a part. Leaders who believe they can delegate the articulation of a vision for how technology can support their learning goals to a chief information officer or chief technology officer fundamentally misunderstand how technology can impact learning. Technology alone does not transform learning; rather, technology helps enable transformative learning. The vision begins with a discussion of how and why a community wants to transform learning. Once these goals are clear, technology can be used to open new possibilities for accomplishing the vision that would otherwise be out of reach. Moving to learning enabled by technology can mean a shift in the specific skills and competencies required of leaders. Education leaders need personal experience with learning technologies, an understanding of how to deploy these resources effectively, and a community-wide vision for how technology can improve learning.1

Although leadership in technology implementation is needed across all levels of the education system, the need in PK–12 public schools is acute. The 2015 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey found that 55 percent of school systems have not fully met the FCC’s short-term goal of 100 megabits per second of Internet bandwidth per 1,000 students. Although we still have progress to make, this is a significant improvement from 19 percent reaching the goal in 2013.2 Recent changes to the federal E-rate program make funding available to increase connectivity to the remaining schools; however, these transitions will not happen without strong leadership at state, district, and school levels.

Setting National Priorities: President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative

In June 2013, President Obama announced the ConnectED initiative, designed to enrich K–12 education for every student in America. ConnectED has four goals:

  1. Within five years, connect 99 percent of America’s students through next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries
  2. Empower teachers with the best technology and training to help them keep pace with changing technological and professional demands
  3. Provide students with feature-rich educational devices that are price competitive with basic textbooks
  4. Empower students with digital learning content and experiences aligned with college- and career-ready standards being adopted and implemented by states across America

WhiteHouse.gov has more information on ConnectED. For guidance on how these goals are being operationalized, see the U.S. Department of Education’s Future Ready Schools: Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning and the White House’s ConnectED resources.

Future Ready Leaders

To help support leaders’ move toward creating the technical infrastructure and human capacity necessary to fully implement this vision for transformative learning enabled by technology, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with the Alliance for Excellent Education and more than 40 other partner organizations to launch Future Ready in November 2014. The department also challenged superintendents to indicate their commitment to transform teaching and learning in their districts by signing the Future Ready Pledge. To review the Future Ready Pledge and see which districts have signed, visit ttp://www.futurereadyschools.org/take-the-pledge.

Future Ready Focus Areas

Selected by synthesizing the best available research and practice knowledge, the four focus areas of Future Ready are collaborative leadership, personalized student learning, robust infrastructure, and personalized professional learning.3

Collaborative Leadership

  • Education leaders develop a shared vision for how technology can support learning and how to secure appropriate resources to sustain technology initiatives. Leaders seek input from a diverse team of stakeholders to adopt and communicate clear goals for teaching, leading, and learning that are facilitated by technology. They model tolerance for risk and experimentation and create a culture of trust and innovation.
  • Leaders communicate with all stakeholders by using appropriate media and technology tools and establish effective feedback loops. While implementing the vision through a collaboratively developed strategic plan, leaders use technology as a learning tool for both students and teachers. Leaders are creative and forward- thinking in securing sustainable streams of human and capital resources to support their efforts, including appropriate partnerships both within their institutions and beyond.

Facilitating Open Communication: Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) Develops Mobile App for Communicating With Parents

CVESD recognized that it needed to do better in reaching the families of its approximately 30,000 students across 45 schools, more than 50 percent of whom are enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program and 30 percent of whom are English language learners. CVESD’s traditional e-mail and newsletter communications were more accessible to their higher income families than to their lower income families, so CVESD reached out to district families to understand how they might be able to communicate more effectively.

Through their conversations, CVESD discovered that 99 percent of families had consistent access to a smartphone and that most used social media often. Working closely with parents, CVESD created a Facebook page, Twitter accounts, and a mobile app. Parent suggestions, such as the ability to check cafeteria account balances so they could track the money they gave their children for lunch and the ability to import school events to personal calendars, were incorporated into the CVESD Mobile App, launched in November 2014. Families have the option of receiving this and other information through the mobile app in Spanish.

Personalized Student Learning

  • Technology enables personalized pathways for student learning through active and collaborative learning activities. Clearly defined sets of learning outcomes guide instruction. The outcomes, and the aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment, reflect the multidisciplinary nature of knowledge; prepare students for our participatory culture through attention to digital literacy and citizenship; and attend to general skills and dispositions, such as reflection, critical thinking, persistence, and perseverance.
  • Leaders ensure that policies and resources equip teachers with the right tools and ongoing support to personalize learning in their classrooms.
  • Teachers collaborate to make instructional decisions based on a diverse data set, including student and teacher observations and reflections, student work, formative and summative assessment results, and data from analytics embedded within learning activities and software aided by real-time availability of data and visualizations, such as information dashboards. Leadership policy and teacher methods support student voice and choice in the design of learning activities and the means of demonstrating learning. Students frequently complete a series of self-directed, collaborative, multidisciplinary projects and inquiries that are assessed through a profile or portfolio. Technology is integral to most learning designs, used daily within and beyond the classroom for collaboration, inquiry, and composition, as well as for connecting with others around the world. In the classroom, teachers serve as educational designers, coaches, and facilitators, guiding students through their personalized learning experiences.

Robust Infrastructure

  • A robust technology infrastructure is essential to Future Ready learning environments, and leaders need to take ownership of infrastructure development and maintenance. The 2015 CoSN Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey found that affordability remains the primary obstacle for robust connectivity; network speed and capacity pose significant challenges for schools; and, finally, too many school systems report a lack of competition for broadband services in many parts of the United States, particularly in rural areas.4 Leaders are responsible for meeting these challenges and ensuring ubiquitous access among administrators, teachers, and students to connectivity and devices and for supporting personnel to ensure equipment is well maintained. Future Ready leaders take direct responsibility to ensure infrastructure remains up-to-date (both in terms of security and relevant software, apps, and tools) and open to appropriate Web content and social media tools to enable collaborative learning. Leaders also recognize the importance of building capacity among those responsible for creating and maintaining the technology infrastructure. Future Ready leaders support all of these efforts through careful planning and financial stewardship focused on long-term sustainability.

Personalized Professional Learning

  • Leaders ensure the availability of ongoing, job-embedded, and relevant professional learning designed and led by teachers with support from other experts. Leaders develop clear outcomes for professional learning aligned with a vision for student learning.
  • In Future Ready schools, teachers and leaders engage in collaborative inquiry to build the capacity of both the participating staff and the school as a whole through face-to-face, online, and blended professional learning communities and networks. Leaders ensure that professional learning planning is participatory and ongoing. Leaders learn alongside teachers and staff members, ensuring that professional learning activities are supported by technology resources and tools, time for collaboration, and appropriate incentives.

To support the unique needs of superintendents and district leaders, the U.S. Department of Education identified and then filmed eight Future Ready districts that exemplified these four Future Ready focus areas. The resulting collection of 47 research-based, short videos break down specific actions taken by these district leaders to transform teaching and learning. Superintendents can take a short survey that results in a personalized, on-demand video playlist of Future Ready leadership in action. For more information about the Future Ready Leaders project and access to the survey and videos, visit the U.S. Department of Education Future Ready Leaders website at https://tech.ed.gov/leaders.

Implementation is Key

Although vision is critical to transforming teaching and learning, a strategic implementation plan is key to success. In some states, districts or schools will develop their own technology implementation plans; in others, state education leaders take the lead and districts follow. The Future Ready website includes free online assessment tools to be completed by district teams. The resulting reports are designed to help district teams create a comprehensive implementation plan that accounts for the four Future Ready focus areas and support strategies.

In addition to working with teams within educational organizations to create an implementation plan, leaders also should solicit input and feedback from a broad range of influencers: administrators, teacher-leaders experienced in using technology to support learning, professional organizations, boards of education, knowledgeable members of the community, business leaders, cultural institutions, colleagues in other districts, and parents.5

Leading by Example: Van Henri White, School Board President

Many school board members assume their responsibilities mostly focus on approving budgets and making hiring decisions. Van Henri White, Rochester, New York, School Board President and Council of Urban Boards Education Chair, sees transforming teaching and learning as the responsibility of all educational leaders, including and beyond a district’s superintendent. White believes part of leading a board means learning and leveraging the same technology tools he hopes his district’s teachers are using to support learning in classrooms. For example, during Rochester’s observance of Martin Luther King Day in 2015, White joined Rochester educators, students, and staff as they engaged in a videoconference session with districts across the country, including New York City; Miami-Dade; and Ferguson, Missouri, for a structured conversation about race and civil rights in America.

White also believes in the importance of establishing connectivity beyond a district’s facilities. He and other district leaders in Rochester have begun conversations with local city and county leaders to provide wireless Internet access for homes and families throughout the district. He sees such access to technology and connectivity as more than a district tool—as one to be leveraged for family learning as well. White hopes district-wide wireless access will mean parents will be able to help their students by looking up academic content they may not understand and will provide equitable access to district-provided tools such as its online communication portal.

For more information on Future Ready and to access a growing set of curated resources that align to the Future Ready framework from more than 40 partners, such as CoSN’s Certified Education Technology Leader certification for school district leaders, visit http://www.futurereadyschools.org/futureready.

Setting an Agenda for Change: Howard-Winneshiek (Howard-Winn) Community School District

John Carver, Superintendent of Howard-Winn Community School District, faced less than optimal conditions when he initiated a digital learning transformation project modeled on Future Ready Schools. The district was experiencing declining enrollment and was failing to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind in reading comprehension, and almost half of the district’s students qualified for free or reduced-priced lunch. Many districts face similar challenges; what set Howard-Winn apart was the district’s decision to view failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Despite a lack of funding and community reluctance to change, Carver successfully gained support by working closely with teachers, the school board, and the district’s School Improvement Advisory Committee to set an ambitious goal: By the year 2020, children in Howard-Winn will be the best prepared, most recruited kids on the planet.6

Creating a new brand, 2020 Howard-Winn, helped Carver communicate the district vision of technology embedded in all parts of instruction, social and online systems of support for district professionals, and active community buy-in and participation. Behind these three pillars are leadership attributes essential to change: the courage to identify challenges and create a sense of urgency; openness to invest time, build trust, and cultivate relationships with stakeholders; and constant availability, visibility, and ownership as the drivers and face of change.

Although the implementation is still in its early stages, the district has acquired 1,300 laptops and implemented a 1:1 program. Teachers are challenged to be digital explorers and are asked to seek professional development opportunities proactively by using technology and to teach their students to be good digital citizens.

Since implementing these measures, student attendance at Howard-Winn schools has improved 90 percent, and a tech-enabled partnership with Northeast Iowa Community College has saved students between $9,000 and $10,000 in tuition fees by allowing district students to access college coursework while still in high school. The district also has seen a 17 percent increase in students meeting and exceeding summative assessment benchmarks. With more than $250,000 in support from stakeholders, the district also has been able to implement sustainable and cost-saving measures such as solar-powered Wi-Fi routers and propane-powered buses.

As the district continues to implement its vision of digital learning, Carver says he and other leaders have been driven by the following question: Do we love our kids enough to stop doing the things that do not work anymore?

Providing Statewide Leadership: North Carolina Digital Learning Plan

To accelerate progress toward the goal of providing equitable access to high-quality learning for all K–12 students in the state, North Carolina asked the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University to develop the North Carolina Digital Learning Plan. Beginning in June 2014, the Friday Institute engaged in a multi-faceted planning process, building on prior research and work on digital learning initiatives, with schools and districts across North Carolina.

The planning process included site visits to 18 districts and various charter schools and included 164 focus groups and interviews with superintendents, principals, teachers, technology directors, curriculum and instruction directors, chief financial officers, professional development directors, instructional technology facilitators, technicians, parents, and students.

In addition, Friday Institute researchers met with the deans of education of both the University of North Carolina system and independent colleges and universities across North Carolina, local school board members, legislators, business leaders, nonprofit education organizations, and other stakeholders. The researchers gathered data and analyzed the technology infrastructure of all of North Carolina’s K–12 public schools, using the information to help prepare the state’s E-rate application.

Friday Institute staff also conducted reviews of existing research on digital learning programs and gathered information about initiatives and strategies from other states and large districts. In May 2015, at the request of the North Carolina State Board of Education, all 115 districts and 120 charter schools completed the North Carolina Digital Learning Progress Rubric. The resultant rubric data provide an overview of progress throughout the state in five categories: leadership, professional learning, content and instruction, technology and infrastructure, and data and assessment. The North Carolina Digital Learning Plan can be found here.

Budgeting and Funding for Technology

Districts often are challenged financially when it comes to implementing technology initiatives and programs. Once a vision for the use of technology is in place, district superintendents and school leaders first should examine existing budgets to identify areas in which spending can be reduced or eliminated to pay for learning technologies. They also should consider all possibilities for creative funding of these programs. The following approaches are recommended for consideration as districts review their budgets and funding.

Eliminate or Reduce Existing Costs

As technology enables new learning opportunities and experiences, it also can render existing processes and tools obsolete, freeing up funds to pay for technology. Three obvious examples are copy machines (and related supplies and services contracts), dedicated computer labs, and replacing commercially licensed textbooks with openly licensed educational resources. In September 2015, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan challenged schools to begin this process by replacing just one book as a first step in appreciating the cost savings and developing an understanding of what would be necessary to implement such a change school- or district-wide.

Openly Licensed Educational Resources

Openly licensed educational resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under a license that permits their use, modification, and sharing with others. Open resources may be full online courses or digital textbooks or more granular resources such as images, videos, and assessment items.

Turning Toward Open: Illinois School District Embraces Openly Licensed Digital Resources

Many schools are freeing up funds for digital resources by transitioning away from textbooks. The state of Illinois offered Williamsfield Community Unit School District 210 three options when tasked with selecting instructional materials aligned with new mathematics standards: valid and reliable outside sources of material that aligned with standards, a mathematics model scope and sequence developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, or a textbook series.

With a limited budget of $10,000, the district decided to forgo traditional textbook adoption and instead began the process of creating and using openly licensed content. The district relied on a mathematics scope and sequence framework openly provided by the Dana Center and used a variety of open source content through OER Commons. With the money previously allotted for textbooks, the district purchased low-cost, cloud-based laptop computers. In addition, leadership allocated federal Rural Education Achievement Program and Title II funding to procure devices and upgrade connectivity infrastructure.

Recognizing a need to build professional capacity around these new resources, district leadership dedicated professional development time, including pullout days with class coverage, to help teachers better understand how to curate, collaborate, and house digital content. In addition, the teachers are using collaborative cloud-based storage to house their repository of content. The approach has spread beyond mathematics instruction into other subjects as well, setting a tone and track for the district’s growing STEM initiative.

The district routinely evaluates the user experience of the openly licensed resources. Follow-up efforts will encourage the district’s most innovative teachers to remix or contribute original openly licensed learning resources, leveraging the Illinois Shared Learning Environment OER tool set to do so.

Partner With Other Organizations

Partnership options for securing resources include local businesses and other organizations, alumni, internal and nearby teacher experts to provide professional development, and curriculum development arrangements with other districts. Some school districts have formed partnerships with local and county governments, sharing technology infrastructure and technical staff to keep costs down by jointly funding chief technology officer roles and taking advantage of the economies of scale when building and purchasing broadband access together. These economies of scale also can be realized through consortium purchasing such as the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, which represents several districts and higher education institutions at once and helps decide issues of resource allocation.

Make Full Use of Federal Funds

The E-rate program provides substantial price discounts for infrastructure costs for schools and public libraries and is one source of technology funding. In addition, for funding beyond connectivity, a U.S. Department of Education Dear Colleague letter, published in November 2014, provides guidance and examples for leveraging existing federal funds for technology-related expenditures.

Using Federal Funds: U.S. Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter on Acceptable Uses of Federal Funding for Technology

The purpose of the Dear Colleague letter prepared by the U.S. Department of Education in November 2014 was to help state, district, and eligible partnership grantees better understand how they may be able to use their federal grant funds to support innovative technology-based strategies to personalize learning. The letter includes examples of how funds from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Titles I, II, and III) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may support the use of technology to improve instruction and student outcomes. Examples were limited to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and IDEA because of the scale of these programs, but funds from many other formula and competitive grant programs that are administered by the U.S. Department of Education also may be used for this purpose.

The examples do not depart from previous U.S. Department of Education guidance but rather clarify opportunities to use federal grant funds to support digital learning, including improving and personalizing professional learning and other supports for educators, increasing access to high-quality digital content and resources for students, facilitating educator collaboration and communication, and providing devices for students to access digital learning resources. Funding these four areas is important because technology itself is not a panacea.

Creative Funding Solutions: Edgecombe County Public Schools Goes Digital and Combines Funding Sources to Pay for It

Edgecombe County Public Schools in North Carolina has one of the highest dropout rates in the state and three of the lowest performing elementary schools, and during the past few years nearly 700 students (of 6,200 students served) have left the district in favor of other options. To change these staggering statistics, Edgecombe County Public School leaders made a district-wide commitment to an evidence-based global education approach that is supported by technology and funded through an innovative model that combines federal funding with the use of free online educational resources.

The revised district-wide technology plan, which includes statewide access to free digital teaching and learning resources, now also reflects the North Carolina State Board of Education’s goal of Future Ready Schools for the 21st century. The plan focuses on four priorities: (1) updating infrastructure; (2) providing universal access for students and staff to devices; (3) online professional development opportunities for all staff; and (4) a shared services model to reduce redundancies and consolidate systems, applications, and infrastructure.

To fund the plan, the district applied for and received E-rate funding and also sought out alternatives to print-based textbook purchases. Not only is this latter decision cost- effective but it provides students and staff with high-quality, up-to-date resources for learning. Instead of print-based textbooks—which quickly go out of date—the district now uses North Carolina’s WiseOwl to access free online resources as well as the University of North Carolina’s Learn NC repository of learning resources and professional development resources.

Rethink Existing Staff Responsibilities

As part of their technology implementation plans, many districts, schools, and higher education institutions are rethinking the roles and responsibilities of existing staff members to support technology in learning. For example, some are expanding the role of librarians to become evaluators and curators of learning technology resources, an activity that taps into their existing skill sets. Other districts and schools have adopted shared leadership and staffing models, enabling them to expand what they can offer students by sharing expensive resources. Another option for districts and schools is to partner with other organizations to staff specific technology in learning programs. Whatever approach is adopted, organizations are well served to make sure they are fully staffing to meet needs rather than simply adding additional work to existing positions.

Building Nonprofit Partnerships: Code in the Schools Helps Schools Build Computer Science Capacity

To increase capacity, schools can partner with organizations to source instructors and provide professional development to build teacher skills and confidence. Many schools in the greater Baltimore area have partnered with Code in the Schools to provide support for their teachers and librarians who wanted to introduce project-based computer science in the classroom by using low-cost equipment, such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Makey Makey, and learning to use free browser-based resources to start teaching code in the classroom by using Scratch, Code.org, and MIT App Inventor.

Some teachers also worked with Code in the Schools to teach video game and app development in their classrooms. For example, Liberty Elementary School Principal Joseph Manko partnered with Code in the Schools to develop a PK–5 computational skills curriculum, conduct professional development for teachers, and provide direct instruction both during the school day in the library’s maker space and in the after-school program.

Ensure Long-Term Sustainability

Technology investments are not onetime expenses. Although onetime grants and other supplemental funding sources can serve as catalysts for establishing technology in learning efforts, they are not sustainable as schools and districts build toward a long-term vision and plan. When devices reach the end of life and infrastructure equipment becomes obsolete, districts and schools should have a reliable means to replace or upgrade them. Leaders should consider technology an ongoing, line-item expense from the very beginning of planning technology implementation.

Recommendations

Establish clear strategic planning connections among all state, district, university, and school levels and how they relate to and are supported by technology to improve learning. Although some of these efforts are supported by summits organized at the federal level by Future Ready Schools, state and local authorities are uniquely suited to understand the needs and resources available within their local education ecosystems. Broad, coordinated strategic planning requires a commitment from all parties involved to collaborate consistently across organizational boundaries. These conversations and connections need proactive champions who will invest in working at this level and who can take advantage of existing state and regional conferences to further this work.

Set a vision for the use of technology to enable learning such that leaders bring all stakeholder groups to the table, including students, educators, families, technology professionals, community groups, cultural institutions, and other interested parties. Although not all parties will be responsible for the execution of a vision for the use of technology to enable learning, by making certain all involved stakeholder groups are part of the vision-setting process, leaders will ensure better community support and the establishment of a plan for learning technology that reflects local needs and goals.

Develop funding models and plans for sustainable technology purchases and leverage openly licensed content while paying special attention to eliminating those resources and tasks that can be made obsolete by technology. Rather than viewing technology as an add-on component to support learning, leaders should take stock of current systems and processes across learning systems and identify those that can be augmented or replaced by existing technologies. During the planning process, they also should identify systems and processes for which no replacement currently exists within the district, school, or college and set goals for developing more efficient solutions.

Develop clear communities of practice for education leaders at all levels that act as a hub for setting vision, understanding research, and sharing practices. Building on the model of the education innovation clusters, state, district, university, and community organization leaders should establish cohesive communities of practice—in person and online—to create virtuous cycles for sharing the most recent research and effective practices in the use of educational technology.


  1. Lemke, C., Coughlin, E., Garcia, L., Reifsneider, D., & Baas, J. (2009). Leadership for Web 2.0 in education: Promise and reality. Culver City, CA: Metiri Group.
  2. Consortium for School Networking. CoSN’s 2015 annual E-rate and infrastructure survey. (2015). Retrieved from http://cosn.org/sites/default/files/pdf/CoSN_3rd_Annual_Survey_Oct15_FINALV2.pdf.
  3. The full list of resources and literature reviewed in developing the Future Ready leaders rubric is included in Appendix A.
  4. Consortium for School Networking. CoSN’s 2015 annual E-rate and infrastructure survey. (2015). Retrieved from http://cosn.org/sites/default/files/pdf/CoSN_3rd_Annual_Survey_Oct15_FINALV2.pdf.
  5. Sheninger, E. (2014). Digital leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
  6. John Carver. (2015). 2020 Howard-Winn Admin Update. Retrieved from http://2020hwinnadminupdates.blogspot.com/2015/10/jcc-october-16-2015.html?_sm_au_=iVVZSvStrsDP4TqR.

Feedback / Share Your Thoughts

Contact Us

Have a question? Interested in learning more? Send us a note!