This is not optional anymore…

Spending the last four days at a national leadership conference (CASA 11) in Niagara Falls on 21st Century Learning and Innovation (which had no Twitter hashtag until a few of us got together to start one), and then spending the week prior at ISTE, the conversation about technology in schools is a major theme.  Although technology is dominant in the conversations, I keep hearing the following phrase:

“You can be an effective teacher without technology.”

The above statement is increasingly frustrating as it seems to give people an out from using technology in the classroom.  There are so many skills that our students need in today’s world as the ability to collaborate, create, communicate, and apply all of these in their environment.

My question is, in our world today, can you be an effective learner without using technology?  We constantly talk about preparing kids for their future but I am concerned that some of them are not even prepared for their world right now.  Gerald Aungst pushes this thinking when he talks about other professions moving forward with technology, but educators seeming to have the option to opt out of implementing this:

Do we have the right to say, “I don’t do that”? Perhaps if it were only an individual decision. But educators have accepted responsibility for the growth of the students in their care, and choosing to avoid technology for themselves leaves their students with no choice.

I will be honest…I am getting increasingly frustrated getting “handouts” at  a leadership conference discussing innovation and “21st Century Learning”.  Not everyone is in the digital world and I believe in differentiated learning, but it seems like I didn’t get the option of how I learn best.  Do our kids? In only one presentation that I attended were there actual digital copies of information, and only one session with a place for people to collaborate during the session online.  As leaders, we need to get this sooner rather than later.

A year ago, I wrote a post entitled “An Open Letter to School Administrators“, where I ended with this:

This is not about technology. This is about connecting and sharing with others and yes, technology can be a fantastic medium for this. It is still ultimately about the relationships you create. Remember that there is a difference between an educational administrator and an educational leader. How do you want to be remembered?

Has much changed in this last year? There are so many more administrators and educational leaders that are connected now and pushing the thinking and practice in schools, reflecting the importance of taking risks in their learning, and are getting better for the sake of their schools.  But through many of my conversations and observations, there are many that are not.  The excuses of “there is no time” doesn’t fly anymore; this needs to become a priority.  It is not the only priority, but it is one deserving of the time and effort to implement and move forward.

All educators need to get on the path and move forward in the area of understanding and implementing meaningful use of technology to serve learning.  Sustainable growth takes time to develop and when we see growth, we know we are moving forward.  This is fantastic. (Rome wasn’t built in a day…)

Our educational administrators however really need to get going on this.  Leaders right?  If teachers in your school or division see that you are not moving forward with some conviction in this area, why would they believe that there is any sense of urgency?  Why would teachers think this is important if our administrators aren’t modelling effective use? The teachers that are moving forward need you to understand this area and support them.  They don’t need you to be at the same level, but they at least need to know you trust them and will put the systems in place for them and more importantly, their students, to be successful.  Take some risks and model both in success and failure that you are a learner; this is what we expect from our students.

There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.

This is not optional anymore.


  1. Ryan said:

    Frankly, I’m not sure what you hoped to accomplish with this piece. Gerald posted on this theme as recently as last week. That debate happened already, and I don’t see something new here.

    Instead, I think you should recognize that you have a team of administrators and teachers that don’t need convincing. To be honest, I think we’ve already moved beyond innovators and early adopters. We need strategies for converting the rest.

    “The Tempered Radical” talks about teacher leaders. This is a possible direction for you to follow.

    Regardless of the direction, we need to shift this conversation away from necessity and responsibility, and start thinking about logistics. Instead of talking about what we need to do and what’s “acceptable,” we need to talk about what we’re doing.

    Unless we’re just preaching to the choir.

    July 13, 2011
    • Jared said:

      I’m not sure I agree with Ryan’s response (not just the somewhat rude tone, but the suggestions as well). While there is a bit of ‘preaching to the choir,’ I would argue that the suggestion of “we need to talk about what we’re doing” isn’t helpful at all. That’s already happening as well. If you read any administrative professional journal of any kind, they are full of “what we’re doing” articles. Does that help? Not really. I just think “the choir” needs to sing louder, and outside its current venue. Those who resist change don’t seem to really care what others are doing. I think those leaders that are still ‘hanging back’ are doing so out of ignorance, fear, apathy or some combination thereof. Those are three really hard burdens for others to change, because they aren’t just knowledge-based, but more character based. So, until some pretty intense pressure is put on these people, they will just continue hiding in the background. I’ve seen these kinds of administrators shift into high gear when their school boards have confronted them, or when policy has forced them. So, perhaps the preaching just needs to be redirected to school boards, the boss of the bosses, in the form of questions like “why are you, as a board, allowing your students to continue to be neglected due to lack of forward-moving leadership?” That should help spur some action. I’ve seen it work numerous times. Sounds like bullying, but if it’s research-based, and for the better of our children…?

      July 13, 2011
      • As in my response to Ryan, people need to believe in the why before they move on the how. If my teachers wonder “why are we doing this”, it does not matter how the best laid out plans are. Thanks for your comment Jared.

        July 14, 2011
      • Ryan said:

        “I just think “the choir” needs to sing louder, and outside its current venue.”

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Jared, but I’m not so wild about your next point:

        “Why are you, as a board, allowing your students to continue to be neglected due to lack of forward-moving leadership?”

        You’re right, this does sound like bullying. We can debate whether the ends justify the means, but I think there’s a high potential for this style of argument to backfire by producing “knee jerk reactions” that overlook research in the hopes to conforming to the new style. I think this can in turn lead to policies that will divide a school community.

        What I like about your point is that it recognizes that public education consists of many stakeholders, including parents and the larger community as opposed to teachers, students, and administration. I would argue that the role of the principal and the superintendent is to build consensus among those stakeholders.

        But that can be a logistical nightmare — one that I would maintain is in need of trailblazing.

        PS – I apologize for my “somewhat rude tone.” It’s difficult to disagree on the Internet and not have people assume that you’re speaking rudely. Please give me the benefit of the doubt. We’re all on the same team.

        July 14, 2011
    • Ryan,

      I am more focused on educational administrators on the post and it is based from my own observations. If you go to my own blog or read things that I am doing, you will have seen that I talk a lot about things that are happening in my school as a way of sharing examples in different areas including technology. You may talk about the importance of logistics, but people do not move unless they see the importance of things. People have to understand why before they move on the how. Hearing it from one voice one time is not enough. If it is important enough, it will be repeated by a selection of voices. I have seen many of my other international colleagues post along the same lines just in the last week.

      I am glad you have referenced Bill’s blog because he is someone that I really enjoy reading as well.

      July 14, 2011
      • Ryan said:

        “You may talk about the importance of logistics, but people do not move unless they see the importance of things.”

        If you want to take this approach, then I maintain that talking in absolutes like “acceptable” or “this is not optional” is going to entrench your detractors.

        But I think we’ve already set up the principles and ideals of this pedagogy and we’re at the point where “actions speak louder than words.”

        For example, in my previous school, it took three years to get everyone using online learning communities. When we started, it was optional (and perhaps worth noting that it was introduced by a teacher). Teachers were encouraged to take small steps. Innovators did. Then, when the early adopters saw what was happening, they hopped on board, as did the administration at that point. By the end of the third year, the student body expected online learning communities to be used in the class, and every teacher was invested in using this new strategy.

        I would honesty be surprised to find out that the use of online learning communities is still at the “innovator” stage in America. Do you have stats to clarify this?

        PS – I will check out your blog to see how you’re leading.

        July 14, 2011
      • Ryan said:

        I had the chance to ask a doctorate that specializes in web 2.0 tools and its adoption. She didn’t give me statistics, but she did say that America as a nation is still in the very early stages of adopting this. So I take back my objections. Preach on, George!

        July 20, 2011
  2. Fawn said:

    Love this post. As a teacher, I’m always excited to read about administrators who are tech leaders on their campuses.

    Ryan, your comment/question, “I would honesty be surprised to find out that the use of online learning communities is still at the “innovator” stage in America. Do you have stats to clarify this?” got me thinking that I need to go find these stats. Sounds like you are fortunate enough to work on a campus that is highly tech evolved. However, the lack of tech in the inner city public schools that I’ve observed and heard about from other teachers is widespread and quite discouraging.

    I’m currently on a campus that has had a 1:1 program for seven years, and I can tell you that even we have quite a few teachers who still have yet to take the leap into online learning communities. Why? Because of the unspoken “opt out” clause that GCouros addresses.

    While I agree that teachers should be allowed to ease into the tech waters rather than get shoved in, there comes a point when it’s up to the admin to light a little fire under those still lingering on the edge of the pool that will require them to jump in and swim!

    July 14, 2011
    • Ryan said:

      “While I agree that teachers should be allowed to ease into the tech waters rather than get shoved in, there comes a point when it’s up to the admin to light a little fire under those still lingering on the edge of the pool that will require them to jump in and swim!”

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I worry when this conversation becomes draconian. I actually found a post on “Connected Principals” that might be worthy of consideration.

      It’s here:


      July 14, 2011
  3. Sue Downing said:

    I spent 30+ years in the business world before becoming a teacher – so far a substitute, but still hoping for my own class. Last year, a teacher’s comment about the value of an Instructional Practice Inventory got me thinking a lot about the option to opt out of change in schools. The teacher simply said, “I don’t know why we are doing this because I’m not going to change the way I teach.” Companies have been implementing new technology all along to stay one step ahead of their competition. Lack of competition might be one reason many schools lagged behind the private sector when it came to implementing and integrating technology. When my employer installed an IBM mainframe computer in the early 1980s, I didn’t have an option to say that I preferred to continue to create the profit and loss statement with a ledger tablet and pencil. When the switch was made to networked PCs, the old computer did not run in tandem to accommodate those who didn’t want to learn the new system. There are numerous reasons to embrace and integrate technology in schools, including the fact that few jobs exist now that do not require the use of technology and the ability to adapt to future technological advances. I think many people who have never worked outside of education don’t realize that this is not the first generation of students who need to be able to constantly learn and change in order to survive and thrive in their careers.

    July 15, 2011
  4. Janice Driscoll said:

    I am reading the post and the comments with great interest. I am a principal in a 3-6 intermediate school. While my small, rural district prides itself on being pretty up-to-date with technology, we are far from being “innovators” or to the points you all speak of. We are not 1:1, we are not all involved in online learning communities, and we are not all on the same page when it comes to integrating technology. And when I say “we” I mean teachers, students, administrators, board members, etc. There is a huge gap between “having” the technology and “using” the technology and that is where we find ourselves struggling every day. Until we bridge that gap for everyone, I hope all of you continue to have these conversations. And if it feels like you are preaching to the choir, please know that the choir continues to need to have someone to lead them. While I know that personally and professionally I am more involved in using technology than many people in my district, I still have a long way to go. I am still learning. While I’m learning, I need to involve and lead my staff, and I totally agree that opting out should not be allowed. However, it is, and for many legitimate reasons that I don’t have control over. I agree with the statement that people will move when they see the importance of things. It is people like you, and I hope like me, that will push, prod, lead, drag, excite, and celebrate as we all move forward in this arena.

    July 15, 2011
  5. I think what freezes administrators is the impression that incorporating technology is a big global project with an expense to match that description. It does not have to be if you have the right online consultant. It is possible to have an avenue to online learning without an initial outlay of expense. It is possible to have billing that reflects the cost of professional fees and not for a tech infra structure. Again it is important to talk to the right people. My company Innovations in Online Education offers solutions to your applications: home instruction, summer remedial programs, and in school or after hours courses that supplement an existing course framework. I’d like to be of help. contact me. Fred

    July 15, 2011
  6. Tina said:

    I agree, in this day and age, the use of technology is not an option but a requirement. I am speaking as someone who is just stepping into the role of elementary principal. I am fortunate to be working in a school district that prides itself in being a leader in the innovative use of technology. My goal in this role is to model the use of technology as an effective and necessary tool for the education of our students. It is an administrators duty to make sure that all teachers are immersing their students in exactly what they need to be marketable in the future.

    July 21, 2011

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