Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Listen, Learn, Trust, Empower, Clear a Path

In 2007, I was very fortunate to join the students, teachers & community of Rochester, Indiana on a journey to transform our schools.  We had a mostly new school board, mostly new school leadership and a directive from the school board to "change the way this community thinks about education" It was an exciting time and its really hard to believe it's been 5 years ago. There are many aspects of that journey I could share but in honor of Leadership Day 2012 as called for by Scott McLeod, I will talk about what our Superintendent did as a technology leader.
  1. She listened 
  2. She learned
  3. She trusted
  4. She empowered
  5. She cleared a path
We are a small rural community in North Central Indiana, we have about 8,000 people in our town. It is the kind of town where people say things like "It's a great place to raise your kids" and it is...BUT in 2007 our graduation rate was in the low 70% range and free/reduced lunch was skyrocketing from in the 80's when it was 4% to it's current level of about 60% and growing. It was becoming less & less of a great place to raise your kids.We knew education could change that.  Currently our graduation rate is about 94% , there is more to that story than simply technology, perhaps a future blog post there....

So the journey begins:

We listened to everyone, students, teachers, businesses, higher ed folks, if you lived in our town, or crossed her path in any way,  you were invited in! 

We learned, we went to model school conferences, did book studies, visited schools who seemed to be getting it right. We talked...a lot! We also learned about ourselves, we examined our talents, our strengths, our challenges.

We were trusted.& empowered.  I was the Director of Technology, my team and I were given the freedom to budget, plan, create, propose, unblock, explore, fail-learn-succeed. Our mantra was "if a teacher wants it for students, find a way".  We wrote grants, held countless workshops based on whatever the staff wanted to learn, instead of "protectors of the network and equipment", we all became tech integration leaders. I team-taught with teachers, planned with them, listened to them,  was in and out of classrooms constantly. We added wireless, 1:1, green screens, iPads, printers, cameras, microphones,  and you guessed it we wrote grant after grant after grant, to pay for these things! We learned when you step out for student success,  people will step out to meet you and walk that journey right beside you! THAT was empowering.

Lastly, our superintendent wasn't personally a huge technology innovator, she takes notes with a pad of paper, I usually had to help her get connected w/ the projector, sometimes she lost her passwords, uses a paper calendar, she set up a Twitter account, but doesn't really use it. (Although, I hear she is making progress at her new school, I've seen her tweet a couple of times!) Now, I don't mean to make her sound like a luddite, she can rock her smartphone, has an ipad, laptop and desktop, manages her email, understands bandwidth, and the fact that online learning opens the doors wide for rural areas. 

When she saw that social media was the way many teachers & students connected, she helped clear the path. When we wanted to "legalize" cell phones, she crafted the policy, let us present the board and stood behind us. When we needed more bandwidth, she believed and trusted us. 

Too many times when I talk to other teachers or tech leaders, their school leaders are on their list of challenges, they become a hurdle to tech innovation. Whether you are as connected with technology as your teachers or students or not, you should at the very least clear the path for them! 


  1. Your post hits on some of the same points as mine (coming tomorrow). Underestimated part of leadership is just giving permission to people to do excellent work and just get out of the way!

    1. Read your post this morning, and yes we are fortunate to have worked with leaders like that! Another great thing about Dr. Howe was that I never felt like I was "going to get in trouble". When we made a mistake, she just wanted us to reflect and plan so the same one didn't happen again. This created a great environment for innovation!

  2. I think this is an important point. I think a lot of teachers are afraid to be innovative in their own classrooms because they are sure they are going to encounter obstacles. An important first step is for school leaders to show that they are open to suggestions and will support those innovations, even if they don't yet understand them.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! I've worked in other schools where fear was a part of the culture. In one of them a few other teachers and I were the "underground innovators" implementing inquiry based learning with our doors shut, eating lunch together in our rooms to share & collaborate. We didn't worry about being found out, our principal never came into our rooms! Leadership matters so much!