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Hand in hand: together, Michigan administrators are learning to enhance leadership and decision-making by using handhelds.

When a third grader's mom called frantically searching for her son who was late coming home from school, Eastlawn Elementary School Principal Jeff Lauer was out of the building at a district meeting. Lauer's assistant reached him on his cell phone.

His first reaction: Make an announcement over the PA system to see if the child stayed after school. When the boy still couldn't be located, Lauer turned to his Palm handheld computer and pulled up some transportation system data. Moments later he had found the name of another third grader who rode the same bus and lived nearby. A call was made, and sure enough the boy had stopped at his classmate's house without telling his parents. Crisis solved.

"There's a lot of different problem solving I can do with that database," Lauer says. "If it weren't portable, I couldn't do that."

The database that Lauer won't leave school without is one reason he knows using a handheld makes him a better leader. But the Palm-powered effectiveness Lauer relies on has taken years, and some professional training, to develop.

Lauer had just started using a handheld as part of his daily routine when he became part of the first group of principals and superintendents in Michigan to attend LEADing the Future.

The professional development program was developed with a three-year, $6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was part of the foundation's $350 million State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development, a three-year program that began in 2000. Like the programs developed in a handful of other states, LEADing the Future focuses on using handheld computers to integrate technology as a natural and intuitive part of leadership.

"Most people think of a handheld as something you keep your addresses and calendar on," says Marion Ginopolis, director of the Michigan Gates project and a former Michigan superintendent. "We've expanded the use of the handheld as a much more powerful tool."

Experts say Lauer is one of thousands of school administrators who use a handheld as a database.

"For principals, probably the biggest and most popular use is bringing student information system data into their handhelds, and being able to access student schedules, ID numbers. Some can even scan a student ID and immediately see where that student is supposed to be," says Karen Fasimpaur, president of K12 Handhelds, a consultant firm that works with K-12 schools and universities on handheld computing projects.

Geoffrey Balkam, superintendent of the Climax-Scotts (Mich.) Community Schools, says the tool will be just as valuable for district leaders.

"I can see myself using it for many daily activities, principal evaluations, accessing resources and research for board reports or special projects," says Balkam, a handheld novice who recently attended his first LTF training session. "I had no idea how strong these units were, especially with the built-in digital camera." Each training participant gets the newest version of a Palm handheld, with Balkam's group receiving devices with built-in digital cameras.

It's the Data, Dummy

The Gates Foundation lets each state design its own program, with a few guiding principles. The over-arching mandate: principals and superintendents must be taught to use technology to access and use data to make leadership decisions.

"If you want to make changes and understand what is happening in your school, you really have to have data," says Kathy Klock, a program manager with the foundation. "Stories are great, but you have to have data to support what you're saying."

LEADing the Future includes two one-day, face-to-face training sessions, along with required participation in an online learning community and optional online continuing education exercises. In designing the program, Ginopolis and her team incorporated the foundation requirements and standards related to Michigan's Education YES! state accreditation system.

So far, nearly 2,000 administrators have participated in the program, which has funding for 4,000. All are required to use their handheld devices during the training, which includes sharing ideas with other groups and presenting solutions. LTF allows them to share ideas on district and school accountability. Meanwhile, it introduces administrators to new ways to use the handheld technology.

A Tour Tool

One of the primary ways that LEADing the Future participants are putting their training into practice is by conducting formal and informal classroom observations.

Rande Horn, principal at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Mich., is a strong proponent of this application. He tries to tour his three-story, 1,100-student building several times each day, stopping in at least one classroom on every floor. With his Palm in hand, Horne takes notes on what he sees, and often takes a picture or two. Back in his office, the notes and photos often become the heart of an e-mail to a staff member.

"I can write, 'I saw this--have you thought about trying it this way?' and 'By the way, here's a picture. Take a look at yourself in front of the class," says Horne, who is now a facilitator for other LTF cohorts.

When it's time for formal observations, Horne also relies on his handheld. But for these visits he brings along a full-sized keyboard so he can type notes. This eliminates the work of transferring handwritten notes to a computer, of rewriting them in another form.

Some program participants take these observation tactics a step further by joining the informal and formal in a running critique of teachers, according to the International Society for Technology in Education, which conducts formal assessments of the LTF training. This results in evaluations based on more comprehensive data, rather than one single visit.

The increased efficiency and effectiveness of observations is one reason handhelds can enhance school or district leadership, experts say. "Leaders only have so many minutes, and we have to think carefully about how we use our time," says Klock.

Or, as Lauer puts it, "If you can get some of the minutiae out of the way, it leaves you time to explore your vision, dialogue with teachers, talk about important things about your mission in your building."

Go Lead

Leading relevant news stories, journal articles and other professional development material is a key part of leadership in any industry, but particularly in education, where No Child Left Behind and state assessments are placing new and more rigorous demands on schools.

"At one point we said, 'Too bad we can't read these journals for them.'" says Fred Trimble, president of Trimble Consulting and part of Ginopolis's four-member LEADing the Future team.

With that in mind, the team created what it calls the "GoLEAD" channel. It's part of a free service created by the company GOKNOW that allows LEADing the Future participants to download news or other articles to their handheld periodically and read them whenever they have time. (Anyone can access archived articles at GoLEAD provides 10 new articles relevant to education leadership every two weeks.

"I read every one of those articles ... and these are publications I don't have the dollars to purchase," says Mary Miller, principal of St. Isaac Jogues School, a pre-K-8 Catholic school with 415 students in St. Clair Shores, Mich. "I think in order to be an effective leader, I need access all the time, wherever I am in the building."

Superintendent Pam Campbell of Tekonsha (Mich.) Community Schools, agrees. "In a basic sense, [my handheld] keeps me more organized. But in a higher sense--and what the leadership portion is all about--it allows me to transport ideas in a more organized fashion," she says. "GOKNOW allows me to take a lot with me to read when I have time, so I don't have to have a big piece of paper of a magazine."

The ISTE evaluation found that LEADing the Future participants have particularly embraced the GoLEAD channel. In August of 2003 the Web site logged 350 distinct visits, and that number jumped to 947 in November.

Model Behavior

LEADing the Future superintendents, who make up about 20 percent of the participant group, are apt to increase their support for principals and teachers who are frequent users of technology. When Climax-Scotts' Balkam returned to the district after the training, the first thing he told his four principals was that he'd like them all to attend as well. And beyond that, he hopes to introduce the technology into classrooms in his district, as many LTF participants have, Ginopolis adds.

"I think we all need to develop our thinking as to new technologies so our kids can also take advantage of these opportunities," Balkam says. "Even in a tight budget situation, looking to the future I plan to see if the handhelds could somehow fit into our curriculum."

Curing Administrators' Blues

After they've completed the foundation training session, program participants are required to take part in asynchronous online discussions relating to the handheld technology and leadership. The forum works like any other Internet bulletin board where users post questions and others reply with information or links.

Lauer says he cheeks in with the online community at least weekly, and he has gleaned valuable information about improving reading scores from the Web site.

"As a building principal it can be very lonely," he says with a laugh. "This gives us a global community, a place for administrators to dialogue."

Data Snapshots

The leadership-developed grant awarded to Michigan by The Gates Foundation dial more than give administrators there the chance to work with handhelds. It also forced the production of some valuable new data.

One of the participation requirements for the state's LEADing the Future program was that principals and at least 80 percent of their staff members participate in an online survey called Taking A Good Look at instructional Technology (

The survey of what technology was to schools, and how teachers were using it, was intended to give district leaders a snapshot of their local tech territory. When the survey was complete, program participants could use the data to make technology decisions.

Rande Horn, principal at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, dial just that. He used data to decide what kind of technology-related staff development programs to offer the next year.

Software Favorites

Using handhelds to improve educational leadership requires going beyond traditional PDA uses--like calendars and phone books. Principals and superintendents who get the most from this technology recommend these favorite tools:

Documents To Go, $30-$70

Administrators can create word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations that can be synched back to a desktop computer running the usual Microsoft programs. The premium version is compatible with Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint and allows users to view PDF files, pictures and e-mail.

Presenter-to-Go, $199

Available as an add-on card to most handheld devices, this software allows users to give high-quality presentations by connecting their handheld device directly to a projector.

GoObserve, $39.95

This application aims to assist principals in conducting, charting and tracking classroom observations. It resides on a desktop or laptop computer and can be synched with the handheld that are used during the observation.

Other States Tackle Leadership

In their administration of the Gates Foundation State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development, more than a dozen states focused on using handheld devices to enhance leadership. And though they all had the same basic goals, the programs that were developed to accomplish these goals varied greatly. Here's a sample:

Georgia: It's About Leadership

This public-private partnership has three goals--to influence policy with regard to recruitment and retention of leaders: to conduct research on best practices in educational leadership; and to provide leadership training and support for participants. "Change teams" from 60 school districts receive training and follow-up for three years. Principals from the teams must initiate a specific improvement project that is monitored for success over the three-year period. "We saw PDAs as a way to wean people toward technology in a way that was very practical for them," says Deb Page, executive director of Georgia Leadership, the organization that runs the partnership. "Using technology is a big part of being an effective leader these days. We work with them on whole aspects of managing performance."

Florida: Florida

A three-day institute on leadership and technology integration provides school-level administrators with training and tools to model effective uses of technology in their schools. Some 60 retired principals have been hired to act as mentors to the participants after training, evaluating online coursework and teaching new handheld a applications as they become available. "Effective technology should be invisible. It should enhance what you do. whether it's leadership or anything else. If the technology can provide you with efficiency in the things you need to do as an administrator or educational leader, it's been successful," says Project Director Henry Pollack.

New York: NY Talks

This program encourages the participation of district teams in a one-day orientation session and regional follow-up sessions. The first day looks at the vision of where technology is going and how it can be used in instruction, particularly handheld technology, e-learning and 24/7 professional development, The subsequent sessions includes instruction on how to use specific Palm software along with visits to schools or businesses that exemplifies best practices in technology use. "After getting all that PDA experience, the goal is that they will find ways to use it effectively as a school leader, and also get a glimpse of how this could be used in the classroom," says Jim Torrance director of the New York State challenge grant program.

Rebecca Sausner is an education writer based in Brooklyn, N. Y.
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Author:Sausner, Rebecca
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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