Why change roles? As computing technologies have diversified and become commonplace in our lives, the role of technology in schools has also grown. Practically every department and school program uses technology in some way, and many of these uses have become sophisticated and complex. In the classroom, technology has come a very long way from the early days of application skills. Computers and tablet devices are now used as an integral part of the learning environment, a powerful tool that teachers and students use in diverse, creative ways to support teaching and learning.
As I deepened my work with academic technology, I found myself talking about teaching and learning more often than computers. What models of instruction were teachers using at the school? What new theories of learning showed promise? Does our rapidly changing world demand that we prepare students differently than before? At the same time, I was still responsible for oversight of servers, networks, and deployment systems, which seemed less and less related to my core work. I had increasingly become an instructional leader and sought an opportunity to make this my primary work.
As academic dean at University Prep, I am responsible for oversight and coordination of the school’s curriculum and professional development program. In plainer English, I support the development of the school’s teaching and learning practices. I chair a committee of the subject-area department heads and, together with the division directors and head of school, make decisions about the academic program. I coordinate the school’s distinctive Individualized Teacher Improvement Program, a three-year sequence of inquiry and reflection for teachers to develop their own practice. I maintain a library of education books on topics from differentiation to teacher leadership. Teachers seek me out to discuss their teaching and get feedback or advice.
I supervise the directors of the library, academic technology, global education, and learning support programs, plus the registrar. This gives me valuable insight into the school’s rich co-curricular programs and helps keep these programs tightly coordinated with instruction in its seven subject areas.
If I held an affinity event for west coast academic deans, we would probably only number a handful! Most schools here distribute responsibility for curriculum and professional development among division directors and other administrators. Academic deans are more common in east coast schools, but often their job is focused more on approving student academic programs. I like the statement that U Prep has made in actually having a single position with responsibility primarily for instructional leadership.
We have some exciting instructional initiatives under way this year. The school is preparing to take a significant step forward in its uses of computing devices to support student learning. The school has announced 1:1 student device programs for fall 2013, and so this year our teachers are investigating the opportunities (and some challenges) that this will create for their teaching. At the same time, we are updating the information, communication, and technology literacy skills that we teach across the curriculum. We are thinking deeply about our diverse student population and the cultural competency skills needed to make every classroom environment sensitive and responsive to all students.
Each day involves rich discussions of teaching, learning, and how to organize the school program as well as possible to support these goals. The school’s mission emphasizes intellectual courage, social responsibility, and world citizenship. The school’s mission is evident in classes, teacher conversations, and long-term planning every day. I am delighted to be a part of this and for the warm welcome that the school has provided.
I will try to continue writing on this blog in my new role, while recognizing that the academic technology community is much more active online than school instructional leaders. Please do send recommendations for instructional leaders to follow online, particularly if they blog.