Advice to School Principals about Technology

A principal’s job has never been easy – far too many people to please – but there are some considerations that may lead to a less painful existence. In this article, I explore some of the ways in which principals can respond to the technological demands placed upon their school

Consolidation is an achievable goal.

Stand up to the vendors. You don’t need the latest software when you only use 10% of the current software’s potential. Your ICT department would thank you for the opportunity to consolidate. There will always be teachers who have attended conferences for the latest and greatest software, but their enthusiasm must be curbed for the greater good.

For example, there is much movement in a number of leading laptop schools to embrace tablet technology. It is true that the price of tablets has dropped and that these new toys have a seductive quality about them, but gravitating to them because other schools are is not an indefensible pedagogical position. The overhead involved in moving to tablet PCs is massive. New images need to be prepared, new installation methods for operating systems need to be explored, software incompatibilities need to be ironed out and then a significant amount of PD needs to be arranged. We proposed that large scale change like this should be avoided until it becomes a necessity.

Look at what is already place at your school and put forward the means and mechanisms to maximize the potential of already existent software and systems.

Do you want your school to be seen to be ahead of the rest, or to actually be good at what it does?

A school that gives its staff the time and resources required to consolidate skills is in a much better position to a school that gathers technology in the fashion of a magpie collecting shiny new objects.

Do you need a new OS?

Of course Microsoft is going to tell you that you must have Vista, but they’re in the business of selling. If you firmly believe that your educational institution requires a new OS, perhaps a cheaper, open source solution should be considered (Linux?)

A school must carefully weigh up the costs of the migration to a new OS and not just the initial outlay for the software. What is your school trying to do? Is there anything you are trying to achieve that is inhibited by your operating system? It is unlikely that is the case.

Now consider the costs as we see them:

1. Staff will have to learn a new way of doing what they have been doing in the past.

2. Technical staff will have to be deployed to explain and train teaching and administration staff in the use of the new OS.

3. Technical staff will have to test current software to make sure that it is compliant/compatible with the new OS.

4. If your school deploys software via snappshots, it is likely that some of these will need to be redone to suit the new OS. This could take up a lot of time better spent on more pressing technical matters.

5. Some of your machines may not be powerful enough to run the new OS which could again lead to considerable financial outlay.

6. Some of your printers and other peripherals may fail if the new OS does not have compatible drivers to run the peripherals.

7. The first two years of a new OS are notoriously hazardous (as patches and updates are constantly released to deal with security and reliability issues).

8. Moving to a new OS could be seen as another forced change. Although it will be celebrated by a few teachers (who are probably well-equipped to deal with such change), to the majority it will be seen as nothing more than an inconvenience.

Give your staff time.

This is a tricky one, but if you want your staff to be creative with technology, give them time to play. Without time to research, explore and play in technical environments, staff will always feel as if they are running before an increasingly threatening train. Staff need the opportunity to explore. This can be guided in the form of PD, it can be collaborative, it can be aimless, but staff must have time to wander through technology, much like a family on Saturday afternoon in IKEA. Different things will excite different staff and they need to have the freedom to interact with the technology. They also need the time to develop initially time-consuming ideas. With practice and a willingness to try combinations and permutations, staff will come up with incredibly engaging units that students will find hard to forget, but if teachers are always scrambling for time, the last thing they’ll do is be Promethean (daringly creative) with the technologies they find. It’s a difficult investment to manage, but one that can yield amazing results.