From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

 Vol 11|No 10|Summer|2002

Leading by Example:
The High Touch High Tech Principal

© 2002, Jamie McKenzie
all rights reserved. (About the author)

This article first appeared in the May, 2002 issue
of the Classroom Connect Newsletter.

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.
Daniel Boorstin

Smart use of new technologies is more likely to thrive in schools whose principals play a central, encouraging role. When principals act as instructional leaders, when they model discerning use and they lead staff through wise choices to sound daily practice, the program is much more likely to thrive.

It is not so important that principals master the latest toys and gadgets - rather that they show an appreciation for the challenges facing teachers and that they become knowledgeable about the best ways to use these tools to improve reading, reasoning, writing and communication.

The effective principal encourages staff to develop a standards-based, information-rich vision that can be translated into a multi year action plan. The goal is to provide the support, the infrastructure, the staff development, the program development and all of the other resources required to translate vision into daily practice.

The principal works closely with the library media specialist and technology staff of various kinds to make sure that the network design matches program intentions. The principal also works side by side with the teaching staff, helping everyone to extend instructional repertoires to include effective uses of the new tools.

With the right program focus and leadership, the percentage of time devoted to standards-based challenges will climb week by week. Technology is used strategically. Scores begin to improve. The building hums.

1. Maintaining a Focus on Curriculum and Student Learning

Because new technologies can arrive like a bandwagon, there is always some danger that the new tools will have little impact upon student learning. People may expect miracles to follow installation.

But equipment works few miracles by itself. Students may waste hours, for example, wandering through digital resources without posing a rigorous research question or knowing sound search strategies. The principal works with staff to challenge students on questions matching the emphasis of state standards upon inference, interpretation, analysis and synthesis. The principal supports lesson and unit development employing scaffolding to deliver efficiency and effectiveness. New technologies are fully but wisely integrated into the regular classroom curricula.

2. Orchestrating Staff Development

Abundant equipment will do little to change what happens in the classroom unless teachers are offered extensive opportunities to learn how to employ the new technologies in ways that will support student learning and enhance performance. A robust professional development program is a crucial aspect of any successful technology adoption. The principal works with a staff committee to invent such a program carefully grounded upon the research of Bruce Joyce and others on effective staff development strategies. Note the planning resources at

3. Making Sure Central Office Listens

Especially in large districts, plans for technology systems are sometimes formulated without taking into account the individual needs of each building. The principal goes to bat for those special needs, making sure that the infrastructure and services match the goals established by the staff.

Perhaps the school is eager for wireless laptop carts but central office thinks them a bother. The principal fights cookie cutter approaches and represents the program interests of the school.

4. Reassuring and Engaging Parents and Community

There has been so much panic press coverage of the Internet, that school leaders must reassure parents and others that school use will be curriculum related and safe. The principal works with staff to make sure that student use of information resources is guided toward good resources. Random browsing and surfing is discouraged except in those cases where parents have provided written permission. The principal also works to bring the community into the school so that parents and others feel like welcome partners working for information literacy.

5. Keeping an Eye on the Horizon

Along with the library media specialist and other school leaders, the principal keeps asking what opportunities may appear next year and the year after that. Knowing that this is a fast breaking field with rapidly shifting hardware, software and learning strategies, the principal keeps planning ahead, anticipating new possibilities. A committee is charged with the search for great solutions and great new strategies. The school reaches out to the future and welcomes its arrival with open arms and open minds. See
At the same time, the principal acts forcefully to protect the classical elements of a good school (like the print collection and library) from silly trends and toolishness.

6. Generating Funds for R&D

Knowing that public schools can rarely generate sufficient funds to maintain a current array of new technologies and support services, the principal seeks grants and extra funds wherever possible to help fund useful equipment as well as the staff and program development required to achieve the school goals.

7. Assessing Student Outcomes

When all is said and done, what have the students learned? How do we know? Using state tests, surveys and other instruments like those at the principal makes sure that student performance is assessed on a regular basis as a way of modifying and steering the program. Without collecting such data, it is difficult to know where to head, what to change and what to protect. It is also difficult to persuade constituencies of the need for continued support and funding.


New technologies promise much, but these potentials do not arrive in the same box as the tools themselves. The principal must mobilize the staff to make the best of the opportunity, providing the resources and the leadership to convert potentials into daily practices.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie.
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