Note: This post is an excerpt I wrote for a leadership class taken during my graduate work in curriculum and instructional technology at Iowa State University. It is also is in response to Leadership Day 2009. XYZ is a fictitious school district with some, but not all attributes similar to my current school district. The opinions stated below are solely the opinions of the author and not of my employer.

How does instructional technology fit into the mission of XYZ school district? What opportunities do students currently have to use technology that enables them to fulfill this mission statement? What changes need to be made in order for the district to best serve the students and other stakeholders? The purpose of this paper is to layout a plan introducing new policies and practices to promote more effective technology integration in the XYZ school district. The following sections will identify the current state of instructional technology in XYZ; define effective use of technology by instructional staff; suggest a plan of action to be implemented over a finite amount of time; and designate the primary role of relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the sustainability of the changes

Aside from several early adopters, the diffusion of technology at XYZ has been a relatively slow process. In general, the majority of teachers are still at the awareness and how-to knowledge stage of the innovation-decision process (Rogers, 2003, p. 172) due to their ability to simply use Keynote, Power Point, and iMovie or require students to use them for producing projects. Teachers have effectively re-invented their previous projects using student-produced technology artifacts and according to Rogers (2003), this is a generally desirable and normal function (p. 185). Cuban (2001) also supports this idea that teachers typically “maintain rather than alter existing classroom practices” (p. 71) when using technology. What, then, is the solution? The seeds of the solution are contained within the explanation of the problem (Cuban, 2001, p. 136), so let us begin by establishing effective use of instructional technology by instructional staff.

A clear separation has to be made between using computers to prepare for instruction and actually using computers for instruction (Cuban, 2001, p. 126). Effective use of technology will “transform teaching and learning into an engaging and active process connected to real life” (Cuban, 2001, p. 14). This second goal of technology in schools suggested by Cuban is the premise upon which instructional technology should be built upon. It is also important to note that technology is not appropriate for all projects, because it depends on “what the teaching and learning goals are” (Cuban, 2001, p. 70). The use of computers and other technology should be so ubiquitous in the classroom that it is not seen as an add-on but rather as a means to reach a desired outcome. The key thought behind instructional technology use should be,

“am I using this technology tool as a means of automation/communication or as a means of transformation?”
Automation and communication examples include the use of PowerPoint slides to relay information or give immediate feedback to students’ response through multiple-choice skill-based websites. These ideas in isolation are not harmful, but should not be seen as a model to follow as Cuban (2001) suggests in his book. Transformation examples include the use of software and hardware to create an environment focused on the student. This deeper learning in the form of constructivist pedagogy (Fullan, 2007, p. 266) engages the students in their own learning by using data to alter the needs and interests of the individual (Fullan, 2007, p. 180). Finally, this technology transformation involves using contextual clues to help meet educational objectives. For each educational objective that is identified as appropriate to be taught using technology, the educator would have the time and resources available to him or her to teach and re-teach in a way that has deep meaning for the students. There is not a “one size fits all” recipe for doing this, so the need for an extended amount of time and a mentality of “continual learning” to develop such ideas is pertinent. Elmore clearly supports this idea when he states,
“Improvement is more a function of learning to do the right things in the settings where you work” (Fullan, 2007, p. 153).
In summary, instructional technology involves the transformation of teaching into a dynamic process through the use of technology fueled by the needs and interests of the individual student. It is contextual. In the following sections, I will describe the details needed to “flood” the diffusion network of XYZ district with this idea.
The heart of the diffusion process consists of interpersonal network exchanges and social modeling by those individuals who have already adopted an innovation to those individuals who are influential to follow their lead” (Rogers, 2003, p. 35).
As I described in the first section of this paper, the district staff is not at principles-knowledge when it comes to instructional technology. The changes I recommend aim to accelerate the bell or S-shaped curve innovations typically follow (Rogers, 2003, p. 272). While acknowledging that change takes time, the focus will be primarily on the use of interpersonal networks to create a critical mass of instructional technology adopters (Rogers, 2003, p. 300). In the following paragraphs I will describe a multi-year, systematic process of changing the culture of XYZ district to one that favors “change” and finally a “change” towards teachers’ increased and more effective instructional technology usage.

Year one in this action plan will be called the “Year of Culture.” The focus will be on building culture throughout the district and answering the following ongoing conversation questions:
  1. How do we feel students best learn?
  2. How will we ensure that students are getting the best possible learning experience each and every day?
A new position will be created in the district, “Director of Pedagogy and Culture,” DOPC for short. From the day this person is hired, his/her daily assignment will be to design activities to help the entire staff of approximately 85 educators answer the two questions above. The DOPC should be an identifiable champion, someone “who throws his or her weight behind an innovation, thus overcoming indifference or resistance that the new idea may provoke in an organization” (Rogers, 2003, p. 414). The DOPC will have excellent people skills and be generally homophilous with the rest of the staff. This position, and his/her additional staff as determined on a need-basis, will be funded by virtually eliminating technology budgets. In fact, the DOPC and other district leadership will advocate for primarily planning and communication use of technology in this “Year of Culture” so that educators can focus instead on this change of culture rather than technology integration. The DOPC will focus on the “specific displacement of existing norms, structures and processes” (Rogers, 2003, p. 55) so that old behaviors and beliefs are replaced. All other “add-ons” will be eliminated such as reading in the content area, 6+1 traits of writing, special education team teaching, and literacy initiatives unless mandated by state or federal law. In essence, the district will enact a one year moratorium on doing anything “extra” in order to focus on the “Year of Culture.”

On a district-wide level, the DOPC will formalize the use of case studies and small group discussions to answer the two key questions. The DOPC and his/her staff will continually encourage small group discussions to begin and end by also answering the question, “why are we doing this?” This will create an environment in which the staff begins to agree on
“what is worth achieving…and set in motion the internal processes by which people progressively learn how to do what they need to do in order to achieve what is worthwhile” (Fullan, 2007, p. 230).
Educators themselves will be asked in these small group discussions to answer the two key questions time and time again until shared meaning is established. Constant revisions of the responses to these questions will be made available to all staff until a consensus of no more than five bullets is agreed upon over the course of this first year. Release time will be given to staff identified as opinion leaders by the DOPC in order to keep minds fresh and morale at its peak. In the midst of the small group discussions, case studies of local teachers and their most effective lessons will be shared. Because “teaching decisions often are made on pragmatic trial-and-error grounds with little success for reflection or thinking through the rationale” (Fullan, 2007, p. 24), teachers will be encouraged and allowed to take half day “leaves of renewal” to reflect and plan for upcoming lessons based on their small group discussions. The premise that “meaning fuels motivation” (Fullan, 2007, p. 39) will be constantly on the mind of the DOPC and his/her staff. In summary, the “Year of Culture” will focus on the hiring of a new position whose focus is facilitating activities designed to help the district created a shared meaning answering two questions, “How do we feel students best learn?” and “How will we ensure that students are getting the best possible learning experience each and every day?” These prompts are designed to create a change in the beliefs and understanding of the district staff so that new teaching approaches and an alteration of beliefs are the foundation of this educational change (Fullan, 2007, p. 30).

The events described in the previous section are a pre-requisite for “year two” events. If necessary, the “Year of Culture” may be extended for an additional time period until its objectives have been met. Only after the “Year of Culture” should the “Year of Technology,” year two, begin. The focus of this year is on technology. The first goal of this year will be to re-evaluate year one. What worked? What did not work? John Kotter proclaims that
“The central issue is never strategy or structure…[It] is always about changing the behavior of people” (Fullan, 2007, p. 42).
In other words, unless a change in culture has taken place, the suggestions in this section will be virtually null and void. Without truly understanding the importance of changing the way we educate students, the district will continue to focus on the innovation, technology, rather than on how technology can affect or improve the way we teach students (Fullan, 2007, p. 111).
The small group discussions in this year will now focus on two new questions that are directly related to the first two.
  1. How does technology fit in with our view of educating students?
  2. How will we ensure that technology will not replace “old ideas” and instead create “new opportunities” for students to learn?
The DOPC’s new responsibilities will include identifying opinion leaders to give additional responsibilities and encouragement. The strategic selection of opinion leaders should include individuals who are not too innovative themselves (Rogers, 2003, p. 318), and have a high degree of interconnectedness with a small group of individuals within the district (Rogers, 2003, p. 327). The goal of the opinion leaders will be to spread the word about instructional technology as a means of teaching students in a more effective way. Through the use of several opinion leaders, the system will be able to avoid this change in culture as being an authority innovation-decision and rather a collective-innovation decision in which the group joins together to begin the process together (Rogers, 2003, p. 403).

The underlying theme of the “Year of Technology” is obviously on technology, but more specifically the use of technology to transform teaching and learning. Individual testimonials will be encouraged to model how technology can become as routine and necessary as a read-aloud, daily oral language or mental math were once seen in an elementary classroom. The purpose of these individual testimonials is to influence teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, keep the idea of culture change in mind, and begin the process of influencing individuals one by one to match technology tools with best practices in pedagogy for their classrooms. Educators should be encouraged to ask opinion leaders through small group discussions “how, under what conditions, and to what degree” should technology be used in the classroom (Cuban, 2001, p. 192). Finally, conversations will continually connect back to the “Year of Culture” by emphasizing,
“It is not about technology; it is about learning” (Cuban, 2001, p. 184).
Because access is not the sole problem (Cuban, 2001, p. 175) and more on-demand technical support is often needed in public education (Cuban, 2001, p. 180), new money the district receives will be split between technical support staff and new technology. New technology purchases will be based on teacher-initiated projects tied specifically to strategies designed to fuel the needs and interests of individual students. Hardware and software will no longer be purchased for the sake of spending the yearly budget on new machines and the usual maintenance, but rather as a solution to implement effective teaching and learning.

Following the “Year of Technology,” the process will not come to a screeching halt. The role of the opinion leaders and DOPC will be to energize others to make good decisions in the future (Fullan, 2007, p. 300). Previous years should be evaluated continuously. The focus will continue to be on changing the beliefs of individuals one by one. Fullan (2007) boldly states,
“When enough people start doing the right thing in the setting in which they work, they end up changing their very context” (p. 302).
Every effort should be made to continue small group discussions and to make the workplace professionally rewarding so that the district will continue to “attract and retain good people” (Fullan, 2007, p. 129). In today’s competitive market for teachers, XYZ has had the advantage of being a desirable district to teach in that is geographically located in Iowa's technology corridor allowing the recruitment of quality staff. This stigma may eventually run out someday so an increased emphasis on recruiting quality staff is needed. In addition, the student as a stakeholder in education should be carefully examined. When students know what is expected of them, receive quick feedback and guidance on improving, their learning will improve (Fullan, 2007, p. 176). This should not be overlooked throughout the process. Last, parents are important stakeholders, too. XYZ educators have traditionally held positive attitudes towards parent involvement in the district and this mentality should continue in order to secure external funding for future technology purchases and increased engagement with their students’ academics.

In conclusion, the XYZ District needs to spend a significant amount of time going through a process of changing the culture of its educators. Educators’ existing beliefs about the way(s) in which students best learn need to be replaced by an abbreviated list of no more than five brief ideas. This process will no doubt take an extended amount of time. I have suggested creating a new position in order to help facilitate this process. Through a year (or more) of small group conversations, it is my hope that the staff will begin to see a “need” for change. These groups may be seen as forms of what Fullan called professional learning communities because the primary goal of the conversations was to extend the district’s commitment to continuous improvement (Fullan, 2007, p. 151). Through these groups and the ensuing culture change, instructional technology as defined early in this paper will be introduced as a means for accomplishing this change. Technology purchases transitioned from budget and maintenance-minded to being based on individual teachers’ instructional needs. I hope to find my place in this recommended change process.
“The role of leadership…concerns ‘those behaviors that enabled others to take up their role in relation to the institution’s main and defined task’” (Fullan, 2007, p. 165).
It is my hope that this plan will enable me to begin the XYZ district’s search for a defined task through a change in culture and in turn enable others to take up their role as well. We all have a stake in the whole (Fullan, 2007, p. 303).

Works Cited

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th Ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed.).