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Information Technology and Schools: The Principal?s Role

Information Technology and Schools: The Principal’s Role
...by the year 2010 we can expect that the computer will be one of the dominant educational delivery systems in many parts of the world. (Bork 1991: 34)

To date there have been limited studies on the role of the principal and the implementation of Information Technology in schools. What is the role of the principal in the implementation of Information Technology in schools?


Sarason (1997) suggests that schools may not need principals, just managers. He further contends that there are principals who are not managers but they are characterised by ”an assertive, supporting, ‘street smart’, charismatic principal who rarely was in her or his office but all over the school and the community.” The walls between the school and community were open and the school community supported the principal against the system.

According to Townsend (1999) this has been coupled with increasing advances in technology that will lead us to the development of the information age and virtual schools. He further suggests that principals will need to reclaim their roles as educational leaders. Experience has shown that there are many principals who do not just ‘manage’ their schools but are educational leaders in their own right. Many believe that educational leaders must also be change agents and head learners, not just managers. What characterises these leaders?

Early theories of leadership tended to reduce it to several variables which facilitated empirical study but ignored, to a large extent, the cultural and political contexts in which they were embedded. This isn’t a matter of making others follow your vision but more of developing a shared vision.

Creating the mutually shared vision cannot be done without sharing some of the power that was traditionally closely held by those in the hierarchy…(…) … and creating an environment that facilitates the development of trust and open communication that is essential to collaborative group effort.

Researchers also suggests that the boundaries between school organisations and those outside the organisations are becoming increasingly permeable and that these have implications for school leadership and principals in particular. The increasing calls for accountability, both educational and financially also impinge on that leadership role.

Two of the prominent leaders in the field of educational leadership are Tom Sergiovanni (United States) and Peter Hill (Australia). To some extent they reflect the views of many others. Let us examine a summary of their ideas on leadership in the table below:

Sergiovanni (1996) Hill (1999)
Theory – Community and ideas-based leadership Theory – Instructional Leadership
Facets & practices Facets & practices
Emphasis is on building a shared fellowship … not on who to follow, but on what to follow. Members respond to substance and is idea based. Need to reconnect teaching and administration and reclaim the role of instructional leader.
Shared vision but in an invitational mode, not a command or sell one. Shared belief in the importance of collaboration and community.
Reciprocal process of leaders and followers influencing each other to action. Establishment of professional learning teams.
Clear enunciation of roles and responsibilities. Connected to obligations. Appointment and on going training of team co-ordinators to act as mentors, coaches and lead learners.
Directed to connecting teachers, parents, and students to each other and their responsibilities as defined by shared purposes. Need to be expert in learning theory, school change and professional development, curriculum theory, assessment and data analysis.
Shared visions. Changes in organisation and mode of operation to attain goals. Shared beliefs and values. Seek growth not constant change.
Key tasks of a leader:
  • Modelling
  • Maintaining harmony
  • Institutionalising values
  • Motivating, managing
  • Explaining, enabling
  • Supervising.
Key tasks of a leader:
  • Initiation, implementation
  • Institutionalisation
  • Management of the quality of teaching and learning
  • Professional development of self and others
  • Improve student outcomes
Educational Leadership

While there are obvious differences between the emphases of both educationalists there are also similarities. Gone is the autocratic leader working in isolation commanding and enforcing change. Collaborative leadership, hand in hand with continuing professional development is the norm. Sharing an articulated vision is part of this educational leadership. It is interesting to note that Sergiovanni suggests that ‘modelling’ is a key task of educational leaders and Hill emphasises the necessity for professional development of all and that the principal be knowledgeable in many key areas.

We now look at how this leadership might be reflected in innovation and change management.

Innovation and change management

Most principals and educators know how difficult change management is. The introduction of even well known but innovative practices are problematic at the best of times. Many principals brought up on a chalk and talk diet find coping with devolution a big enough problem. Along comes IT, children seem to handle it with ease, young staff daily illustrate their skills. The principal, even if not technophobic, hasn’t often time to grasp the complexities, let alone see to its successful implementation.

Some writers suggest we are fighting a losing battle. He contends, and many would agree that neither top down regulation nor locally based reforms will transform schools. The main problem is juxtaposing a continuous change theme with a continuous, conservative system that defies change. Educators must create learning societies as part of a larger social agenda. Fullan has listed eight essentials for a change paradigm:

1. You can’t mandate or force change

2. Change is a journey, not a blueprint

3. Problems are our friends

4. Vision and strategic planning come later

5. Individualism and collectivism have equal power

6. Neither centralisation nor decentralisation work by themselves

7. Connections with the wider environment is critical for success

8. Every person is a change agent

Many may disagree with some of Fullan’s thoughts, for example, “vision and strategic planning come later” but taken as a whole it does offer guidance for principals. Wilkinson informs us that the following are vital for school leaders in change management: meshing, empowering, communicating, interacting, responding, developing, envisioning, focussing, ensuring and having the patience and courage to let it happen. Mottier’s systems statement is also highly relevant. She suggests that:

Any educational system is in a situation of permanent change. In order to keep up with developments in the world of which it is a part, education must adapt to these changes. Many of the developments result from technology, and the contexts are different because of that technology.

IT In Schools

Unless we get it right for the future we will see, increasingly, people who are banished to the ‘new techno-coated Dark Ages’.

There is little argument that enormous amounts of money have been expended on computers and computer technology in schools. A more contentious issue is the educational effectiveness of its integration into the normal classroom as a teaching/learning tool. The role of the principal is crucial to its successful introduction and use. This view is supported by research that concluded that one of the key factors on whether teachers integrated technology into their classrooms was the level of support they received from school administrators.

A recent study in Texas (USA) by Macneil and Delafield examined principal leadership for successful school technology implementation. This study was one of the first focussed research studies carried out in this area. One hundred and twelve principals and assistant principals were surveyed. Sixty-four returned the surveys. This is a significant number and gives reasonable credence to their claims that the majority viewed technology as very important in their schools and that it was important for teachers to utilise and learn technology as a curriculum tool. Some of the more important findings of the study were:

· The main barriers to implementing technology in the classroom were lack of financial resources, poor infrastructure and lack of time for professional development and planning.

· There needed to be a closer alignment between the amount of time given for professional development and its perceived importance.

· At each level, funding, training and leadership issues must be addressed simultaneously if technology in the curriculum is to grow and have a significant impact on the reform of education.

· Principals and school leaders must accept the challenge to create supportive conditions, which will foster innovative use of computers.

The final point mentioned is the most relevant for this discussion. There have been other attempts to guide principals in the implementation and use of IT, but the major focus of many has been on the use of IT in schools, not the role of the principal. As many principals will know, these have only scratched the surface. The degree of technophobia of many principals is still holding back successful implementation of Information Technology in their schools. Principals need better support if the introduction of Information Technology is to be successful. Its’ use as a learning tool by teachers and students cannot be taken for granted. The innovation has taken off and it is too late to stop it. We can do a lot of work to ensure future ‘take offs’ by principals are smoother and the flight is not too bumpy.

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