The Price of Innovative Leadership in 2017

Professional Development

The Price of Innovative Leadership in 2017

By Philip Hickman     Dec 10, 2016

The Price of Innovative Leadership in 2017

This article is part of the guide: EdSurge 2017 Personal Statements.

Here’s what Philip Hickman, superintendent at Columbus Municipal School District, had to say.

"Oh, The Places You'll Go" is one of the most popular books by Dr. Seuss. Where do you hope education technology will go in 2017? What aspects of curriculum or community might get us there? (Dartmouth College)

As leaders in districts, Superintendents are responsible for driving change, making tough decisions on budgets and appeasing various stakeholders (our boards, parents and the like). And when it comes to edtech, it is increasingly important for us all to take the necessary—and sometimes unpopular—risks to recognize more consistent and positive outcomes for our students.

As the superintendent for Columbus Municipal School District for the past two years, I have been focused on using technology in my district to drive a better learning experience for our teachers, administrators and, most importantly, for our students. I have introduced technology to do this, like a learning experience platform called Fishtree which drives personalized learning and other teacher tool kits. Since implementing these tools, our graduation rates have improved significantly, going from 60 percent in 2014 to 80 percent in 2016. Based on our progress and the investments we have made in technology like Fishtree, I feel confident in the current role education technology is playing in our district and continuing my focus on how we can both empower our teachers and engage students.

In addition to new technology and programs, the most important aspect of our success has been bringing people across the community on the journey with us. We have helped people understand what we are trying to do, why risks around technology—like replacing textbooks—could work, and why it’s important to take some of those risks.

I have always believed if we focus on empowering our teachers, the single biggest driver of learning outcomes, it will result in positive change—even if met with resistance, which an innovative superintendent may at times face. Challenging those resistant to change requires a superintendent to have tough skin, be ready for a long communications battles, and prepared for a backlash of opinions and negative media coverage. The average term of a superintendent is 2.5 years, an incredibly difficult amount of time to drive change or see quick results. But there are big dials that we can turn in the short term, and remaining laser-focused on the endgame will ultimately drive a better learning experience and outcome for every single student in the district. Every. Single. One.

So, how can we drive change by keeping with the status quo? How do we help parents, board members, teachers and students understand the broader plan and that this improvement takes everyone? It has to be planned, it has to be resourced and it has to be consistent. In my view, edtech has never been considered critical to a district’s success. But it is, and it should be now. A teacher needs to be empowered to truly understand the students’ needs and this cannot happen at scale without technology. This is the change we have driven in our district, and it can happen in anywhere, but districts desperately need the support and forward thinking of every stakeholder. I hope that in 2017, school boards and community members will wholeheartedly support the advances in education technology. Edtech is getting smarter and personalization is possible with big data, adaptive analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and open educational resources. But we must get even smarter with community and board support, which is necessary for administrators to lead districts to benefit from the opportunities in educational technology.

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