Dear Angela,

Sometimes you just have to help a brother (and a sister) out.

My good friend and TLN colleague, Bill Ferriter over at The Tempered Radical, urged me to check out Leadership Day 2010. Started a few years ago by Scott McLeod at his blog Dangerously Irrelevant, Leadership Day is an attempt by edubloggers from everywhere to reach our school leaders (principals, superintendents, central office administrators, etc) who need help when it comes to digital technologies and how important they are for today’s teachers and learners. Unfortunately, after tipping me to this worthwhile event, Bill couldn’t participate as he is neck deep in preparing for the start of school Monday! So, I thought this would be a good time to return him a favor, and hopefully, help some of the school leaders I know have a better school year.

I’m thinking of one elementary principal in particular who is a former high school student of mine. She was an outstanding teacher herself, earning district teacher of the year, before she decided to move into administration. My message to her and other school leaders here in on the Mississippi Delta region would be simply this:

Dear Angela,

As you prepare for another school year, I know you have many challenges facing you and your staff. I’ve spent much time in your school, working with the youngsters and observing all of you as you work so hard every day to accomplish your mission of educating every child to his/her highest potential. I’ve seen your sincerity and your sacrifices, and I wanted to do share something that I think will help all of you immensely.

I’ve noticed that the teachers and the children make very limited use of the computers in the building. Each class goes to the computer lab once or twice each week, and while there they almost exclusively work on the math or reading drill software provided. Likewise, I noticed that the teachers (at least from my observation) use their computers very little. You and the office staff still use the intercom to send messages, call for students, and make announcements. You still send around a paper daily memo and attendance that has to be typed, copied, and distributed (only to be corrected throughout the day).

All of this breaks my heart because I know you could be using that precious time much more efficiently if you would make better use of the technology you have available, particularly web tools and social networking. More important, you could increase student learning, which would help with those all important test scores next Spring. You would be helping your students prepare for the world in which they will actually work and live–an interactive, digital world. As I now teach at the community college, I know too well that many of the Black students who come to my classes are embarrassed at how little they know not only about how to really use computers, but about the Internet and all the wonderful Web tools and technologies with which many of their white classmates seem so at home. Of course, that’s because many of their classmates have had Internet access at home all or almost all their lives; while, as you know, many of the Black families in the Delta still do not have computers at home, or may not have Internet access. Some of the families in the outlying areas can still only get dial-up.

That’s why it’s so important that you give them as much access and practice with the computer and web tools while they are at school and after-school. I’ve actually witnessed a couple of the teachers there discouraging students from using the computers in the lab to do their homework (“You should do your homework at home!”). It was all I could do to keep from screaming! Not only do many of these children not have computers or Internet at home, some of them don’t have electricity; some don’t have homes. No, we as educators in 2010 have a responsibility to teach our students how to use these tools, how to communicate with their world, how to explore rich sources of information, how to evaluate and use the tremendous amounts of information available to them.

I know you have many, many demands upon your time and so do the teachers. Oh, how well I know. What I’m suggesting, however, will actually save you all time and make such a tremendous difference in the lives and futures of your students. In fact, it would have an equally powerful impact on the professional lives of your staff. Some of the best professional development for teachers today is available through social media; networks of teachers communicating with each other on all types of classroom topics, all grade levels and subject areas and across them (and much of it is FREE!).

Interested? I’d be happy to share some more detailed information with you, so you can begin to take the steps to lead your staff and students into a whole new world. Meanwhile, here are some examples of other school leaders who are using web and other technologies effectively to transform their schools, just to give you some ideas.

Your teacher and colleague,