Information Age Education
   Issue Number 141
July, 2014   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, four free books based on the newsletters are available: Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

This is the tenth IAE Newsletter in a long series devoted to Education for Students’ Futures. Within the long series, this is the fourth of a four-part mini-series that explores one important element of social media technology that is already profoundly changing our culture: the use of increasingly and often distractingly present cell phones and other digital communication devices in social settings. This article (below) discusses how to adapt K-12 instruction in regular classrooms in light of this new development, and how administrators might assist teachers to function effectively with these new social media developments.

Education for Students’ Futures
Part 10: The Administrative Role in Interactive Instruction

Doug Gleave
Retired Superintendent of Schools
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The three previous articles in this series focused on an educational issue that has emerged out of the recent global interest in hand-held wireless social media devices. We're a social species, and these devices enhanced social interactions in unprecedented ways. The first article underlined the central role that attention plays in cognition. Engagement of emotion and attention activates memory, problem solving, and learning. Smart phones and hand-held computers certainly enhance social interaction, but they are also potentially distractive. The second article suggested how to help students with attention disorders effectively manage technological distractions.

The third article suggested that when teachers focus on non-social instruction, students will move towards social interactions. Cell phones now provide a much better socially interactive venue for that than surreptitiously passing notes. The article suggested that teachers should move towards student-driven highly interactive instruction.

The Role of Administration

This article expands that issue: What can school and district administrators do to enhance a socially-oriented instructional shift? Most stakeholder groups want schools to adapt to new cultural changes, but curricula, instruction, and technology have changed only modestly from when I was a superintendent of schools in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan fifteen years ago. The changes that occur are promising, however.

Instruction is gradually and appropriately changing from transmission and rote acquisition to interactive approaches such as critical and creative inquiry, cooperative learning, and flexible use of instructional time. Still, tablets and laptop computers are used mainly for homework at many schools. School computer labs are often still scheduled for subject-based project work once every week or so.

Teachers are often blamed for a failure to keep up with research findings in highly interactive instructional areas. The teacher is, after all, responsible and accountable for classroom instruction (Gleave, 1997). However, instruction is only one of five components for school culture and student learning. The other four relate to school vision, curriculum, evaluation systems, and organizational structure. These are greatly influenced by building and district administrators, who can promote or hinder instructional change. For example, organizational structures such as school facilities, homogeneous grouping for instruction, and rigid time periods are basically unchanged from the 1950s when I attended school.

My twenty years of experience as Saskatoon superintendent of staff development and then as superintendent of schools convinced me that the individual school was, and is, the most effective unit for implementation of changes in curriculum and instruction. In this approach, the school superintendent effectively contributes to school change by facilitating and supporting individual school level innovation. Teachers participate through professional learning, teamwork, and collegial coaching. The building principal needs to help shape school culture through collegial and purposeful leadership.

School culture is used here to refer to the “taken for granted” way that we do things at a particular school. Culture is the most effective way for school administrators to understand and influence curriculum and instruction in their school. The components of school culture are the same as for a school district. Their actual implementation varies from school to school, and this variation constitutes a challenge to the superintendent.

The five components of school culture combine to guide the way that the principal, teachers, and students do things in this school. When these components are planned and act in concert, a school’s instruction can be updated quickly and effectively to provide the interactive instruction that Kagan (2014) advocates in the previous article. If the components are not acting in concert with proposed changes in instruction, one or more of the other four systems will impede the desired changes to instruction. As Mitra suggested in an earlier newsletter (Moursund, March, 2014), our schools are not broken. They are simply out of date in some or all of the above components.

A Planning Workshop for an Individual School

A three-day planning workshop (Weisbord, 1987) provides an excellent resource for school administrators who want to implement the highly interactive approach to instruction advocated by Kagan (2014). The planning workshop can simultaneously (1) incorporate complementary ways for schools to address cell phones and attention, and (2) consider all five components of school culture to ensure they act in concert.

A workshop facilitator will initially involve all teachers and administrators in a conversation that identifies past school successes and documents current difficulties and problems. Teachers and administrators can then jointly create a desired future that includes interactive instruction, improved attention, and effective use of technology.

On the final day of the initial workshop the group should develop concrete action plans for both the school and individual classrooms to implement the desired approach to school purposes, curriculum, instruction, evaluation, and organizational structure/technology. The plan should then be implemented using teamwork, problem solving, and coaching. Additional workshops provide time and opportunity for follow-up planning and encouragement.

Technology in School Culture

Workshop consideration of technology in school culture should include investigating the potential for positive, benign, and harmful effects of cell phones, tablet computers, and desktop computers. Creative and planned use of these devices can become an integral and valuable asset to highly interactive instruction (Moursund, February, 2014, and May, 2014). When ignored, these devices provide an easy distraction from learning.

Similarly, these devices can be used for antisocial, harassing, and bullying behavior. Zero tolerance policies toward harassment and bullying are a necessary but an insufficient response from schools. Changing a school’s culture is the most effective way to prevent unproductive and antisocial use of technology.

Early in my career as a physics teacher, most students readily understood the physics concepts, principles, and equations. However, many students had trouble with the complex calculations required in physics. The slide rule was a technology I taught to help students calculate quickly and accurately. Later, hand-held calculators became a simpler and faster way to calculate. Many physics teachers resisted these innovations and refused to allow students to use slide rules and calculators in year-end exams.

This provides a good example of where school-wide (indeed, district-wide) planning and cooperation would have been helpful. From my point of view as a physics teacher, I believed that students needed to learn to make effective use of calculators in their math classes, and then make use of them in their science, business, and other classes where such tools are important to practitioners.

Some of the same calculator-acceptance ideas apply to cell phones and tablet computers. Students readily learn the rudiments of cell phone and tablet computer use without the help of our school system. But, what deeper learning and use do we want students to learn to apply in a manner that cuts across the various courses they take?

Information retrieval from the Web and by communication with individuals or groups of people provides an excellent example. Yet many teachers are still reluctant to embrace computers and cell phones as an aid to student learning.

Decision Makers and Stakeholders

As a superintendent of schools I would meet with the school principal after the three day workshop to review administrative tasks:
  • The principal’s plan to meet with parents regarding workshop proposals for school vision, curriculum, instruction, evaluation and organizational structure. This would provide an opportunity for parental clarifications and concerns.

  • The principal’s budget estimates to enable implementation of workshop plans would be considered. Existing school and district budgets would be considered before any budget proposals to increase funding from the Board of Education.

  • The principal’s conversations with any teacher actively opposed to changing the five components of school culture. The principal would be advised to encourage the teacher to collaborate with other teachers in implementing and modifying the plan. The teacher would also be advised that individual teachers do not hold a veto on the plan. If their opposition is firm and unyielding the teacher would be gently reminded of their opportunity to request a transfer to another school in the next school year. The intent of this option is to avoid unhappiness and unresolved conflict.
It is crucial that administrative tasks reflect the interactive spirit of the school culture created in the workshop. The principal’s response to parental and teacher concerns must be collaborative and problem solving. The shared interests of all parents, teachers and administrators must be understood and pursued in an ongoing manner.

As mentioned earlier, I am convinced that implementation of interactive education and technology is most effective when each school creates its own school culture within the context of district goals and priorities. In this model, an exemplar school provides enthusiasm and a model for other schools to adapt to their situation.

School culture is 'the taken for granted way we do things around here'. Culture is socially constructed through extensive dialogue, peer coaching, joint problem solving and planning workshops. This conversation is especially powerful when it includes school vision, curriculum, instruction, evaluation and organizational structure. Gleave (1994) documented how changing school culture assisted some Saskatoon schools in shifting from transmission oriented instruction to interactive instruction. School culture will also work for using cell phones and tablets positively and productively.


School culture is taken for granted as “the way we do things around here.” Culture is socially constructed through extensive dialogue, peer coaching, joint problem solving, and planning workshops. This conversation is especially powerful when it includes school vision, curriculum, instruction, evaluation and organizational structure. Gleave (1994) documented how changing school culture assisted some Saskatoon schools in shifting from transmission oriented instruction to interactive instruction. The same approach will also work for using cell phones and tablets positively and productively.


Gleave, D. (1997). Bifocals for teacher development and appraisal. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 12(3), 269-281.

Gleave, D. (1994). Changing school culture through transactional education. Journal of Staff Development, 15(2), 8-11.

Kagan, S. (June, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 9: The problem is not the cell phone. Information Age Education Newsletter, Issue 140.

Moursund, D. (May, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 6: The second machine age. Information Age Education Newsletter, Issue 137.

Moursund, D. (March, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 3: Sugata Mitra’s thoughts on the future of learning. Information Age Education Newsletter, Issue 134.

Moursund, D. (February, 2014). Education for students’ futures. Part 1: Introduction. Information Age Education Newsletter, Issue 132.

Weisbord, M. (1987). Productive workplaces: Organizing and managing for dignity, meaning and community. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.


Doug Gleave served as superintendent of staff development and superintendent of schools in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for twenty-three years. He was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Oregon. He continues write professional articles for interest and possible publication. However, most of his time is spent with his six grandchildren.

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