Profile of an Early Adopter

This is an excerpt from some work I did recently in which I described school leaders whose adoption of technology planning appeared to reflect Rogers’ (2003) stages of adoption of innovations.

Our school had been struggling with some aspects of our educational technology. Both our teachers and our technology people were trying, but we seemed to be making little progress. It was clear we needed a different way to make decisions. When I first heard about educational design research and how we could apply it to our decision-making, I was unsure. I reached out to some of my friends from graduate school, but no one was really familiar with it. I did need a couple of days to read a little more about it, but I found some good summaries online, and the iterative nature really made sense to me. Once I really understood what this new planning was going to look like, I was enthusiastic to begin planning following educational design research.

Even though I could not point to other places were this new planning had been used, I understood it was going to be different. First, we were going to be very purposeful in our design. I often hear leaders say they want to avoid reinventing the wheel, but it always seemed to me that there were differences between my school and the school where an innovation had been started or where it was successful. Sometimes the community seemed different, sometimes the strengths of the faculty were different, sometimes the timing is wrong. With this new planning, we were going to be looking at models and also looking at our situation to see what others were doing and how we might want to adpt it.

Second, it was going to be iterative and allow us to react to what we learned as we went. I happened to be teaching a class at the local state college when I was doing this, and it struck me that the planning in the textbook the department had adopted was presenting planning as a step-at-a-time process. According to the book, leaders set goals, develop plans, then evaluate how well they did before setting new goals. I saw what we were doing as emerging. Our goals and plans were likely to change as we proceeded. We might set goals, then change them as were learned more about what tools we had, or as what we were really trying to do became clear.

In the past, most of our technology decisions had been made with significant accommodation of the district technology coordinator. He was overworked and understaffed, so we were very deliberate in our planning. We had one chance, usually, to describe our goal with technology and what we needed, then he would go off and build it. More than once, we were not happy with the systems, and the response was often, “well, it might not be what you wanted, but it is what you asked for” when we gave him feedback on the ICT systems he built. This was going to be a change for us, but it was needed. With the iterative nature of this new planning, we had permission to change our minds as we went along, and this was going to be key to give teachers a voice in the technology decisions.

Our project was going to have significant effects on what teachers did in their classrooms, so I knew that teachers had to be an important part of the planning and design from the beginning. I could see how some of our failed technology projects had been done “to teachers” rather than being done “with teachers.” I was going to lose credibility with teachers if I didn’t involve them. That was, however, going to be difficult for the technology people to hear. They were used to building what was easy for them. We needed the system to be easy for teachers and to be a really good tools for instruction, so teachers needed to be the primary decision-makers, but they don’t always know what they want until they work with it in the real world.

I also knew our project was going to have to be built “on the fly.” We needed to get our technology up and running in a hurry as the school year was starting, and when we started we had nothing. We were also trying to serve some of the children of the most active and connected parents in our community. If we failed slowly, we were going to be heavily criticized in the community. So, the prospect of making improvements, then improving on our improvements was very appealing. Showing quick progress was going to put us in a good position. This also seemed a departure what we had done previously, especially with technology decisions. We really needed to go from having nothing to having a pretty sophisticated system in less than two weeks.

When it comes to technology, I find I am sometimes pretty unaware of what the options or the implications are. I might have an idea in my mind of what I want to see when I go into the classroom, but I might not know the details of how to do it or what the problems might be. This is not unusual for principals, and I know this causes some of my colleagues to avoid making technology decisions. We end up with deciding what is easiest or best for the technology people rather than what is best for the learners. With this way of planning and making decisions, there seemed to be a more active role for educators in technology decisions. To me, this was probably the biggest advantage even before we started. We were going to be making better decisions for education.

We had a very interesting outcome from all of this as well. A few months after our project was up and running, we had the chance to hire a new technology coordinator.  Because of the success of this project, I asked to lead the committee searching for the person to fill this position. Usually, one of the high school administrators will lead the search committee for district-wide positions, but I was asked to lead this one. The others on the committee who had heard of our project were very interested in our story, so I spent about half of our first meeting talking about our project and how the new planning based on educational design research had worked for us. They all were convinced that we needed to find a technology coordinator who was going to be more accepting of this type of planning than the previous technology coordinator had been.

I was also able to convince some of the teachers who participated in the planning committee to make a presentation describing their work at a conference. I had been serving on a committee for a regional professional organization, and we are always looking for new presenters at our annual conference. They ended up having a roomful at their presentation, and it was wonderful to see them talking about what they had done and how it had resulted in a system that solved a big problem in the school, that had some unforeseen benefits for our community, and that had been sustained. We are still doing what we started a few years ago.

We have changed how we make technology decisions in the time since we did this original project. I have handed much of that work off to others, including the new technology coordinator. I do have conversations with him often, and I repeat the expectation that they pay attention to the spirit of educational design research, although we do not have a formal model. We did have to focus on some other problems in my school since that project, so I have changed my focus. It is hard to say if I have changed my leadership style. I do still teach a leadership course at the local college, and I do share the experience with my students, and I encourage them to think about different ways of making decisions.


Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed). New York: Free Press.