Benchmark Your Technology Know-How
A look behind the making of the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA) project
The fact that you care about and are involved in the effective implementation of technology in schools is obvious: You wouldn't be reading this magazine if that were not the case.
But the school landscape has changed dramatically since technology began trickling into classrooms in the form of Tandy TRS-80 and Apple II computers almost 25 years ago. In recent years, computing in schools has made the transition from an ad hoc classroom-level experiment to a vital districtwide infrastructure. Today, computers and networks are an integral part of daily instructional and administrative school-district operations — and, as a result, technology leadership from district- and building-level administrators has become absolutely essential.
Obviously, teachers are still the make-or-break factor when it comes to technology, since they are the people who come into direct contact with kids in classrooms. What teachers know about technology and can do with it are the final determining factors in how well technology in schools is used.
Nonetheless, it is clear that administrators play a critical role in the implementation and use of technology. The days are gone when the administrator could view his or her role as limited to getting the funds to purchase the hardware and then turning things over to the "technology people."
That is why the time is right for the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA). This project was initiated as a direct result of the widely-perceived need to focus on school administrators as critical to the successful implementation of information technology in schools. As a collaborative project, the TSSA initiative has forged a national consensus on what school administrators should know about and be able to do to ensure districtwide technology leadership.
The TSSA project is being led by a collaboration of 13 education groups, including the major national administrator organizations. There are also 21 other participating organizations involved in this effort — these are state and regional entities that have provided reactions and suggestions for modification of drafts; and they will play an important role in the implementation of the standards. The U.S. Department of Education and several corporate sponsors provided support for the project.
CREATING THE STANDARDS
Three years ago, several of us who had been involved in this project began a series of conversations that planted the seeds of the standards. Those with whom I spoke expressed interest in doing something that went beyond simply exhorting administrators to play a more active role in educational technology. We believed that a good way to define the competencies and tasks of administrators was in the form of standards and performance indicators.
The TSSA Collaborative was formed with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) as the organizational host and fiscal agent for the project. ISTE's experience in developing technology standards for teachers and students enabled us to move forward efficiently.
Our approach to developing the standards relied heavily on grass-roots involvement. We wanted the standards to reflect the best current thinking about what school administrators can do to ensure that optimum benefits are derived from technology.
Over a period of about a year, we conducted several forums in various cities in the U.S. These forums brought together administrators, teachers, school board members, higher education faculty in administration and leadership departments, state education department officials, and others to generate the content of the standards. We formed a writing team which met several times to develop the successive drafts of the document. Each draft was placed on the TSSA Web site, where we received many helpful comments and suggestions.
For each standard, we've identified indicators and specific tasks that are germane to the roles of superintendents, district program directors, and principals. You can access the entire standards document on the TSSA Web site at http://cnets.iste.org/tssa.
The TSSA Collaborative strongly encourages those making use of the standards to take into consideration the standards, indicators, and role-specific tasks as a unit. The tasks should be seen as adjuncts and extensions of the standards and indicators, rather than as all-encompassing expressions of the standards for the roles specified.
THE BELIEFS BEHIND THE STANDARDS
There were several guiding beliefs which were uppermost in the minds of the TSSA Collaborative as the project unfolded:
The real goal of TSSA was not to produce a document. Our concern in writing the standards was to form a basis for improvement in performance and services; producing a document which lists the standards is only an intermediary step in the process. Our real goal is the generation of significant improvements in the capabilities of administrators in the United States. We have less faith in the power of a document itself to produce positive change than we have in the power of the organizations that are partnering with TSSA to generate the needed improvements.
The constituency for the standards should own them. This principle reflects hard reality. It is difficult to find any good examples where the use of standards as a bludgeon in education has produced meaningful results. In order for individuals to feel ownership of standards, they need to be involved in the creation of them; that's what we have done. We also understood that practicing administrators and other key stakeholder groups were the true experts in defining what administrators should know and be able to do.
The standards are nothing without the resources to accomplish them. It does little good to motivate anyone to achieve a higher level of functioning if there are no resources available to help them to do so. The provision of the resources and the means to achieve the standards are the necessary concomitants of requesting or requiring that the standards be met. The TSSA Collaborative and participating organizations all have missions, venues, and resources that can serve the pre- and in-service professional development needs of administrators.
This is a work in progress. Given the rapid pace of change of information technology, what is today exemplary behavior may be routine tomorrow. When such standards become ossified their value has ended. Since this project operates as a collaborative effort with many organizations that will be involved in implementing the standards, we will have feedback loops that can enable us to continue the evolution of the standards.
The standards can be adapted to local conditions. We are strongly recommending that districts, states, and other organizations that make use of the standards should feel free to tailor them to fit local situations.
The TSSA standards should be integrated into comprehensive administrator standards whenever possible. We have often been asked why we developed the technology standards as a separate set, rather than incorporate them into broader and more comprehensive school-administrator standards. The answer is that there are many different administrator standards in use today, and selecting one to the exclusion of others would not be productive. Nevertheless, we agree that it makes sense in any use of the TSSA standards to incorporate them into existing administrator standards where these are in use.
We are committed to seeing this work as participatory and inclusive, and welcome any suggestions that can help guide the development of version 2.0 of the standards. We are also interested in receiving information about the use of the standards at a district or state level and in pre- and in-service professional development programs. I welcome the readers of Scholastic Administr@tor to tell me about your standards implementation activities by sending e-mail to Bosco@wmich.edu.
WHAT THE STANDARDS SAY
In summary, the TSSA standards focus on the following six areas:
1. Leadership and Vision. School administrators should provide leadership by developing and promoting both a long-range vision and a comprehensive plan to integrate technology in schools and districts.
2. Learning and Teaching. Education leaders should ensure the successful infusion of technology into all aspects of teaching and learning by attending to issues such as curricular design, instructional strategies, learning environments, and appropriate technology purchases.
3. Productivity and Professional Practice. School leaders should make use of technology in their own work to improve school management, collaboration, communication, and their own professional development.
4. Support, Management, and Operations. Administrators should be actively involved in planning for all aspects of technology implementation — including technology compatibility, budgetary elements, staffing, technical support, and technology upgrade issues.
5. Assessment and Evaluation. Administrators should take leadership in the use of the assessment and data-gathering capabilities of technology to improve student learning, professional development, and administrative and operational systems.
6. Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues. School leaders need to comprehend and develop policies about the social, legal, and ethical aspects of technology usage, to communicate those policies to staff and students, and to enforce those policies when necessary.
James Bosco is the director of external educational technology relations for the College of Education and a professor of educational studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He is the chair of the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA) Collaborative and a board member and past chair of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).