The '20 to Watch': Technology Innovators

By Ann Lee Flynn

Ask any of the individuals recently named as a “20 to Watch” educator for NSBA's 2012-13 recognition program, and they all will talk about their accomplishments in the context of their colleagues. In the multilayered, complex world of K-12 technology innovation, it takes players at all levels to implement successful practices.

So what makes someone worthy of watching? The “20 to Watch” program looks for educators throughout the learning community who have an innate curiosity about emerging technologies; who think about how those technologies might effectively be applied to enhance learning and support their district's operations and outreach; and most important, who have inspired their colleagues to join them on the innovation journey.

Some districts have had the benefits of charismatic technology directors or superintendents, or even enthusiastic tech champions on the school board. Unfortunately, when these individuals leave, their initiatives often wither. Likewise, the most creative, dedicated, tech-savvy classroom educator rarely has enough power to influence systemic change across an entire district. Suggestions that creating a rich 21st century learning environment can simply be mandated from the top, contemplated in the boardroom, or eventually bubble up from the grassroots reflect a lack of understanding about how policy, practice, and infrastructure intersect.

I've had the opportunity to staff every education technology site visit NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network has hosted since 1992 (more than 65, at last count), and have heard dozens of compelling stories about how the board and technology staff, administrators, and teachers worked in tandem to bring about a new way of thinking in their districts, regardless of the current technology device or trend that was under consideration at the time. That's why I passionately believe the most successful districts understand technology must be approached as a team sport.

The school board is charged with engaging the community to establish a shared vision of the desired learning outcomes for students. Principal Robert Dillon from Maplewood, Mo., and one of this year's honorees, described how his board supports technology: “It is essential that the school board members serve this role of storytellers and spokespeople to build deep roots of trust in the community.” The implementation of that clear vision should be reflected in the technology decisions made by the superintendent and his/her leadership team.

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