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District Leaders and Technology
Leadership Insights

District Level Leaders: Overcoming the Generational Tech Divide

By Terry Wilhelm November 17, 2015
District Leaders and Technology

Schools and school districts have always needed to bridge the generation gap between older and younger educators. A typical school staff is comprised of newly-graduated teachers in their early twenties and experienced teachers ranging from their thirties to mid-sixties and sometimes older. The group of school principals in a typical district reflects a similar range, from very young administrators fresh from the classroom to highly-seasoned veterans.

The technology generation gap exists for district leaders as well as teachers

While intergenerational differences have always existed, today’s ubiquitous technology creates the potential for a more significant gap. For example, older educators — including district-level leaders — may feel that it’s rude for a (usually) younger colleague to be texting or otherwise occupied with a digital device during face-to-face conversations and meetings. More tech-savvy (often younger) educators may decry the wasted time and paper of traditional meetings and professional learning sessions, preferring the efficiency of device-based “handouts” and loving the opportunity to multi-task.

Age is obviously not the sole determinant of personal technology preferences. But failure to handle these differences, and the potential resentments that can result, simply exacerbates other issues of interpersonal dynamics that may exist in any group.

Setting group norms for personal technology

As a district leader, consider your principals. When you convene them as a group, what role does technology play? The following suggestions may assist in transitioning to an improved group environment.

Evaluate your own beliefs about technology use

First, inventory your own feelings and beliefs about technology. Do you feel offended when someone is texting during a personal conversation? Do you feel inclined to simply lay down some mandates about technology? Being honest with yourself is an essential first step in this area of leadership.

Have a conversation with your supervisor

How does your supervisor feel about technology? Obviously, if she or he believes that all devices should be powered off and put away during principals’ meetings, your conversation with her or him should center around clarifying this expectation for the group. You may also need to further explore his or her feelings and beliefs to see if there is any openness to other possibilities.

Discuss appropriate use of technology with your principals’ group

Facilitate an open discussion with the principals’ group about technology. This should include questions such as:

  • In our group, what is the range of personal feelings or beliefs about technology use during face-to-face conversations? Is it rude, or is it okay?
  • What norms do we need, if any, about that?
  • Are there specific times (table or partner discussions, presenter remarks) when we should agree that technology is put aside? If so, how should we signal that this is a no-tech time?
  • Who would be willing to participate in a task force to compile research on the efficacy of multi-tasking, and bring it back to the group?

It is important to structure this discussion so that everyone feels safe in being honest. Beginning the discussions with elbow partners, then having partners share with tablemates, and finally asking each table group to share with the full group is a way to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to put their voice into the discussion.

Supporting educators with different levels of technology literacy

As a meeting facilitator, also consider how you can support less tech-savvy group members as technology continues to expand and improve. Because the burden upon schools to produce graduates who are technologically literate has never been greater, it is important for school leaders to develop their own expertise in order to model for teachers and students.

Wise district leaders periodically make this expectation explicit — but privately, if it applies to just a few. However, technology literacy does not develop overnight in everyone.

Providing an option for hard-copy handouts can reduce technology-related friction

As you move toward paperless meetings and professional learning, consider providing a limited number of hard-copy handouts for those who are not yet comfortable accessing everything electronically. Inviting members who still prefer hard copies to request them via email in advance of meetings will preserve the dignity and feelings of those who might otherwise be seen by some of their colleagues as being a little “behind.”

Developing these agreements and structures will help reduce frictions that may be festering in your principal group. And when you demonstrate strong leadership in the area of personal technology transitions, you provide a model for your principals to use with their own staffs.

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