Thursday, December 15, 2011

5 Indications Your Leadership Is Obsolete for 21st Century Schools

In October, I posted “Top 10 Signs Your School Is Caught in a Time Warp: List for School Leaders.” Of course the whole idea behind that post was to call attention to those leadership proclivities that are actually hindering movement toward a 21st century learning environment.

Now, let me be just a bit more direct in this post. Here’s the list of indications that your school leadership is obsolete and in need of a big upgrade.

1. You actually find yourself defending school policies that ban the use of cell phones in your building. Cell phone bans need to go the way of the slate and chalkboards. Instead of prowling the halls to catch students with cell phones out, how about getting students to use them constructively? Besides, if a cell phone disrupts class, it is the user that actually disrupts the class, not the phone. Cell phone bans are a waste of administrative energy and time.

2. You defend adamantly the use of Internet filters on your school networks. I know all about the CIPA compliance issues and all, but perhaps your leadership is just a bit outdated and your knowledge of computers inadequate if you actually think filters work. Let’s face it, most districts put filters on their networks, not because they work, but because they allow them to keep their funding. If you really want to know whether your Internet filters are working, just ask a student. The smile on their face says a great deal. Heck, some of them might even show you one way they use to get to Facebook even though it’s supposed to be blocked.

3. You brag about the number of computers, smartboards, or iPads you have in your building. I have to point the finger to myself a bit on this one. It’s darn hard to resist boasting about your computer-to-student ratio when a fellow administrator brags about his, but the truth is, it really doesn’t matter if you have 3 computers to every student if no one is using them effectively for learning. Administrators have historically boasted about needing an iPad for every student or a laptop for every student. I’ve even heard school principals boast about having Smartboards in every classroom. Truth is, it’s not the numbers that matter; it’s what students and teachers are doing with those devices that matters.

4. You see Facebook and other social media as one of the biggest menaces of modern society.  Granted, I will admit I’ve dealt with enough “Facebook-connected issues” that I sometimes think “Zuckerberg” should be a bad word. But, social media is our reality; it’s our students’ reality. We can’t keep blocking it out with the hopes that it will go away. It will, in some form, outlast us all. Instead, let’s figure out some way to use social media educationally. We all might learn something.

5.  You think learning occurs only within the confines of your building’s classrooms under the direction of your teachers. Our students are learning about things they care about in spite of us. Classrooms are not the only places where student curiosity is satisfied (if they ever were). Our students are engaged in massive learning on their own while sitting with digital devices wherever they happen to be. It’s time to measure learning by something other than seat time and length of class periods. Perhaps we could even figure out a way to channel all that energy to learn to accomplish our educational goals.

School leaders suffering from “obsolete leadership” really do prevent schools from becoming 21st century learning places. Perhaps someday we’ll quit trying to defend the rules and question why the rules exist in the first place. That said, I am positive there are others indicators that could be added to this list.


  1. We don't block youtube in my classrooms. Nor do we block facebook or twitter, or other social networks. We do block porn sites. I think I am ok with that.

  2. Of course blocking porn sites is hard to argue against. Too often though, districts use a sledge-hammer approach and in the process of trying to keep one thing out they keep out other things worthwhile too. Then there's whole debate about what should be considered "porn." You and I are probably close on our definition, but there's always those who want to add things they object to, to the "porn list." I think I am less trusting of those who are "deciding" what to include on that "porn list." It is a dilemma. Thanks for posting a comment!

  3. Great post. I would add 6) You force your teachers to spend lots of time trying to make sense of the crappy data generated by NCLB required tests. 7) You don't realize that grades are extrinsic motivators and that as such they serve to demotivate students. You also don't let teachers change report card grades from prior marking periods. 8) You expect teachers to spend more and more time on ELA and math to the detriment of other activities. 9) You have an in-building suspension room where students who disrupt can learn bad behavior from each other. 10) You don't allow students to gain credit from online, self-paced courses. I'm sure there are more but this is a start.

  4. Great additions! These are all great indications to add to the list. All of them are continued left-overs from the 20th century way of education. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Sorry for the follow up comment, but I really liked point number one, and forgot to say so in my first comment. Perhaps school is a good place to have a discussion about phone etiquette. We talk about other kinds of socially acceptable ways to behave around others - say please and thank you, be accepting of the differences in others, etc. Maybe we as teachers could help kids think of phones as a way to learn more, not just stay in touch with friends and family.

  6. Some of the best tools for education are free and web-based. I think it's a crime to block many good (free) resources.

  7. Great article!
    My suggestions from my own observations.

    You allow your technical support team to make the decisions rather than the teaching staff, because "they know computers" and "teachers don't."

    You allow your committees to bog the school down trying to force technology to fit into your current curriculum/timetable/leadership structure.

    You promote tablets/netbooks to your parents simply as a "replacement text book". Because "we can use the Internet to find information."

    You allow teachers to continue to regularly photocopy class notes even though each kid has a device.

    You think an online course is a voluntary contribution by the teacher and it doesn't deserve the same resourcing as a conventional classroom class.

  8. I think you are exactly right. Schools could go a long way in teaching students about phone etiquette. They could also do a lot more than they are currently doing about teaching students other etiquette like being polite online and in email. Thanks again for commenting.

  9. There are always issues when the filter or blocking keeps more good out than letting the bad in. Also, when using a content filter is done only so a school system can keep its funding, there is a problem. It's a bad law when compliance is not really because doing so really protects kids from content. That's what we have with CIPA.

  10. Cameron, thank you for your additional suggestions. They are right in line with mine. Vision in ed tech is lacking among a lot of educational leaders. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Everyone makes all of the support comments on the internet but where the "tire touches the road"--in school or a faculty meeting for instance---nobody just says NO and changes the school because they are afraid of being fired!!!

  12. Yes, and that culture extends all the way up. Education has built in checks that prevent someone from sometimes saying what they really believe.Leadership is perhaps being able to sometimes hear the things you don't want to hear too. Thanks for commenting.

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  14. Thank you for posting this. #3 really struck home with me as I often talk and write about the need for quality professional development so teachers can properly leverage whatever technology is in their hands, but I hadn't thought about the bragging about device numbers versus bragging about instructional practices connection before.

    All of these practices hearken back at least ten years, and while I see many schools moving away from them, there are still many more out there that need work. Education is a continuous improvement process, but the process always seems so slow! And sometimes, it seems to take a giant leap backwards. A school which just in the past couple of weeks asked its parents to "get their kids off Facebook" led to me writing the blog post below. It goes quite well with #4 in your list and I hope it might help someone dealing with similar issues in their schools.

    Thank you again for this thought provoking post. Now, we just need to get this info to the folks who may never read it because they aren't connected!!

    1. I think ultimately, it's easy to forget that it is not about the devices, but what we do instructionally with the devices. I have been in schools since the early days when education began its excursions into using technology. Leadership often makes the mistake of thinking devices, not instruction. Thanks for commenting.