5 steps to getting community buy-in on your edtech programs

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Technology-infused classrooms that employ 1:1 policies and “bring your own device” programs are increasingly common in today’s schools, but there are still plenty of decision makers who are hesitant to support them.

In a recent webinar hosted by edWeb.net, three educators — hailing from Connecticut, Arkansas and Alaska — shared various ways in which education leaders can promote the use of technology in the classroom and get buy-in from within their schools and communities, improving chances for program success and longevity.

1. Be clear about edtech’s value

The three presenters — Mark Benigni, superintendent of Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut; Doug Brubaker, superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools in Arkansas; and Mary Wegner, superintendent of Sitka School District in Alaska — each supported the idea that school leaders must make a clear case to their communities on why edtech is valuable.

When everyone within a school has a cohesive narrative about why technology is worthwhile, they are more likely to back new technology initiatives. Edtech is valuable, the presenters said, because it improves students’ educational opportunities and outcomes, not because anyone enjoys reveling in the presence and the devices and tools themselves.

2. Prepare for mistakes

Another benefit of ensuring everyone understands why edtech is valuable is that it provides a safety net for when things go wrong during the roll-out of a new initiative. No matter how well-planned the initiative, there are bound to be slip-ups and errors. Schools need a supportive team of educators, students and parents who will keep their attention on the end goal and not use the problems as an excuse to ditch the plan.

3. Empower your stakeholders

Once the mission is clear, leaders should work with the technology team and teachers to ensure that the technology will meet the stated goals. The presenters recommended bringing in the technology team from the beginning to talk about the school and district’s current infrastructure and what’s needed to implement the plan. Give them a voice to ensure goals are achievable and let them offer their expertise.

Teachers, as well, should join the conversation from the start. And while more tech-savvy teachers may be involved with the initial discussions, don’t wait until the technology is all in place to start working with other staff. The presenters suggested tiered professional development to bring people with varying skill levels up to the task, and ongoing checkpoints to make sure no teacher is left behind. Moreover, keep checking on classrooms to make sure the technology is helping as envisioned rather than just becoming an afterthought.

4. Encourage decision makers to maintain the long view

District technology plans also have an important human element to consider, the presenters said. Leaders must ensure lawmakers and board members view the plan as a long-term, sustainable project and not just a one-off purchase of laptops. Within the schools themselves, students should become responsible stewards of the technology, as well, and should be included in setting guidelines for responsible use.

5. Keep communication lines open

Overall, communication is key at every step. Sometimes, the impetus for a given technology project will come from students. Other times, it will come from school leadership. And everyone in the community — regardless of whether they have children in school — should understand how funding technology projects improves student outcomes. Emails, advertisements and text alerts to parents are common ways of sharing this message. 

The presenters said they also invited parents to school to see the technology in action, while others have community walkthroughs that let a broader audience observe tech-supported learning first-hand. Every message about technology, they said, should be focused on the students and their needs. Consequently, leadership should talk to and survey students regularly to get their viewpoints on all aspects of technology programming.

“We need to stop and listen, and there’s no one better to listen to than our students,” said Benigni, the superintendent from Connecticut. “I want to hear from them what’s going well, and what we could do differently.”

About the presenters

Mark D. Benigni, Ed.D. has been an educator for over 20 years and begins his 10th year as Superintendent of the Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut. Dr. Benigni served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and Mayor of the City of Meriden. In addition to leading the Meriden Public Schools to its highest academic scores in district history, Dr. Benigni has presented at national conferences, taught doctorate classes, and published a book and numerous articles. He was recognized as CoSN’s 2018 Empowered Superintendent, a 2015 Education Week Leaders to Learn From, and one of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans. The Meriden Public Schools has received awards from CoSN, the Learning Counsel, NSBA, Digital Promise, District Administration, and Edutopia. Dr. Benigni is currently the co-chair of the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents, as well as 2nd vice president of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

Dr. Doug Brubaker serves as Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, AR. Over a career spanning 24 years, he has served in a variety of leadership roles in school districts ranging in size from 7,000 to 60,000 students. As Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, Dr. Brubaker launched the district’s Vision 2023 strategic planning initiative and worked with students, parents, educators, members of the community, and the FSPS Board of Education to identify, prioritize, and begin to address the district’s greatest needs. In May 2018, in part due to broad-based support for Vision 2023 goals, the district passed its first millage referendum in over 30 years. A dedicated funding stream for technology replacement has been a key accomplishment. Dr. Brubaker and his wife, Heather, have a daughter who attends school in the district. Dr. Brubaker has CoSN CETL certification and a Ph.D. in educational computing from the University of North Texas.

Dr. Mary Wegner is the superintendent in the Sitka School District in Sitka, Alaska. Her work focuses on transforming the learning landscape to be relevant for today’s students. Additionally, she is a strong advocate for digital-rich learning environments, as well as policies and funding that promote the value of public education to society. Mary is active in arts education organizations in Alaska and works to end homelessness in her home community.

About the host

Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director, Educational Technology in the Klein Independent School District, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 professional educators serving 50,000 students. Ann served as co-chair of Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020. Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles working as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Project Tomorrow advisory council and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann co-authored Life Lessons in Leadership, a guide for leaders ages eight to 88.

Join the community

Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders. 

The edWeb webinar referenced above, co-hosted by CoSN and edWeb.net and sponsored by ClassLink, can be found here.

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