Paying it Forward: Admins as Brokers of Innovation

Here’s how it starts…

This module’s blog post revolves around the role of administration in professional learning programs and how that relates to digital education. The prompt is based in ISTE coaching standard 4, indicator B, which calls for digital ed leaders to “Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in learning and assessment” (ISTE).  My question in particular revolves around how the administrators should deal with a variety of stakeholders and interests who may want different things when it comes to technology in the school. Compound this with the rapid changes in technology and you have a scenario where admins face a host of constituents with a panoply of digital solutions. It can be overwhelming to say the least.

I found a post on Edutopia by Laura McKenna which addresses how administrators (in this case, a superintendents) can pool their resources and use technology to learn from other districts and superintendents and teachers to further the implementation of digital education in their own districts. In fact, this approach is what is expected of teachers in their professional development and students as they become responsible digital citizens. If the expectation is that teachers and students would collaborate digitally, why should the expectation be any different for administrators? McKenna’s article outlines how a Chicago suburban school district, Leyden 212, learned to adopt this approach and how they are now a model for other schools. The approach in her article is chronological, but I want to start at the end…with the philosophy.

WHY it’s a good idea for admin to share

Being a superintendent can be stressful and being a part of a network of administrators and digital ed experts can help. In McKenna’s piece she quotes the current Highline school district superintendent, Susan Enfield, who points out that, “Given the fast-paced changes in technology, being part of a network is now part of survival” (McKenna).  Just keeping up with everything that’s going on with technology in education can be daunting. It’s no wonder school administrators are looking for help. Enfield goes on to say that she views her role as a superintendent as a “’broker of innovation and opportunities’ who connects people and ideas.” This is certainly a modern approach and one that fits with how we see the role of the teacher in the 21st century as well.

But in addition to helping the superintendent do her job better, this approach of sharing amongst admin and districts must be rooted in the correct philosophy about how technology is implemented in schools. It has to be based on what the school’s vision for technology . It must account for the physical and educational needs of the school its constituency. School administrators sharing their experiences and collaborating can foster this approach. As McKenna states, “partnerships among school leaders are also helping them think more strategically about how to use technology as a tool to address specific needs and goals in their districts.” She goes on to say, “Rather than rushing to purchase the next tool or device, as many did in the past, leaders are now having more collaborative discussions about their visions for their districts first.” There is a strong impulse to chase after the newest tech, but MacKenna is quick to point out that that should not be what drives admins’ tech decisions. The US Department of Education agrees. Their office of Educational Technology warns against pursuing technology without vision.  “Technology alone” they state, “does not transform learning; rather, technology helps enable transformative learning. The vision begins with a discussion of how and why a community wants to transform learning. Once these goals are clear, technology can be used to open new possibilities for accomplishing the vision that would otherwise be out of reach.” The benefits of collective understanding will help school leaders  “Develop clear communities of practice for education leaders at all levels that act as a hub for setting vision, understanding research, and sharing practices” (Office of Educational Technology).  These “hubs for vision setting” certainly include the kind of networks McKenna describes in her article. So let’s see how that works.

How to be “Brokers of Innovation”

See What’s Out There

In 2012, Leyden district 212 sent a team of administrators to Mooresville, NC to see how they implemented their one-to-one approach with technology. As Moorseville was one of the first districts in the country to implement this, they were a good model to examine. It’s interesting to note (and McKenna does) that this was achieved through an on-site visit and not through a panel or session at a conference. McKenna argues that the immediacy of this type of observation is better than what can be experienced off-site. The Leyden admin team asked questions and took note of what they observed. They also began to think how they could implement a similar program.

Implement and Adapt

Taking what works and adapting to your own experience is next. Leyden schools began implementing technology across the curriculum, but soon realized they needed to do more to make the one-to-one model work in their district. To help the students have access to the hardware at home, they started selling used Chromebooks to families for $30. They also realized, however, their students often did not have access to the internet at home. To rectify this hurtle, the district applied for a grant for their students to connect to free hotspots at home. These were some of the adaptations unique to their specific setting at Leyden, but ones they manged to implement to achieve their goals.

Leyden schools went even further and implemented some 21st Century learning opportunities to correspond with the new technology. They created a class called Tech Support Internship (TSI). This program had students running a help desk for students and teachers. The result was not only a program that solved 90% of the tech problems at the school, but also gave students certification which they could use going forward in their future careers. This was another unique adaptation on their part and one that built upon what they had already seen in Moorseville.

Another key area of implementation and adaptation, and this is where the article most coincides with the prompt, is that the district also trained teachers at every grade level to use tech tools like Google Apps and VoiceThread.  This requires time and a commitment to sound professional development. It should also include input from teachers and other experts. McKenna points out the validity of using staff in this process. The expertise in ed tech has been shifting! “’There’s been a shift that has occurred because of a recognition of where the expertise lies,’ confirmed Mort Sherman, the associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). ‘It’s not with the universities or the government researching education technology, but with the superintendents and staff in school districts doing the actual work.’” (McKenna). Devolving this power is part of a growing movement to cast a wider net to help shape the school’s vision for technology.  The Office of Educational Technology also endorses a broad range of contributors to the school’s tech vision. “Set a vision for the use of technology to enable learning such that leaders bring all stakeholder groups to the table, including students, educators, families, technology professionals, community groups, cultural institutions, and other interested parties.” (Office of Educational Technology). One of those voices has to be that of the teachers.  There is a positive correlation between teacher agency and voice and student learning (Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. 2016). It would be foolhardy to craft a new technology plan without teacher input. They should be part of the vision and part of the professional development related to carrying that vision out.

Pay it Forward

The final step in this process is to pay it forward; to be the example for another school to look and and see what they can implement and adapt for themselves. Thus, the cycle repeats itself. The Leyden school district is giving back in droves. McKenna mentions that the school district has given tours to over 3,000 educators and that the superintendent “regularly asks questions and swaps ideas with other administrators via social media, email, and text messages. On the first Wednesday of every month, he and other superintendents around the country connect using the Twitter hashtag #suptchat (or on Saturdays using #Satchat) to discuss topics ranging from feedback on new apps to new education books and articles they recommend reading, Polyak said.” This kind of active participation in the digital realm allows the district to be part of a much broader network of educational entities than was ever possible before. It allows the district to learn and share – a symbiotic relationship of educational practices.

McKenna points out that this grass-roots collaborative approach is not unique to education either. “The shift in how administrators make decisions mirrors a broader social change also apparent in media and politics, where technology has toppled top-down structures in favor of informal networks of experts and practitioners. It also suggests more transformative changes for how leaders will make decisions in education and other fields in the future.” As I stated earlier, this collective, collaborative role for administrators is similar to what we expect of teachers and students. Technology has facilitated a change for all of us. It’s now time that we work together implement the best possible outcomes for everyone.


Don’t be Overwhelmed

I began with a quote from McKenna’s article by the Highline schools superintendent about how professional networks with a tech focus are necessary for survival. I’ll end with another quote from the article by another superintendent that also hints at the daunting task of administrating in our current tech-laden age.  Dallas Dance, the superintendent from Baltimore County Public Schools  says, “Education technology can be overwhelming if you allow it to overwhelm you. School districts have to center themselves first and have a vision in the classroom, if not, everything becomes the shiny new gadget. That should never be how you look at technology.”

The constant but inevitable evolution of educational technology can indeed be overwhelming. There’s always something new and revolutionary just around the corner. School administrators have been tasked with the difficult job of sifting through all of this technology and determining what gets implemented in our schools and how it’s implemented. They must have a vision, but is a job they cannot do alone. Fortunately, the same technology which presents the biggest challenges can also be used to manage it.  By using this technology to create networks of individuals who can collaborate and share their experiences, administrators can better serve as “brokers of innovation.”



Bishop, D., Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R., & Crane, C. (2016). “Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State –
Project Evaluation Report.”  Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA Retrieved from:

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

McKenna, Laura (November 30, 2016). “Networked: How Today’s Education Leaders Make Decisions. Edutopia. Retrieved from:

Office of Educational Technology. “Leadership.” US Department of Education. Retrieved from: