Pay attention to school culture when introducing new technologies

Photo/Dennis Sparks

Culture trumps innovation. That’s true whether the innovation is a new teaching method or the use of technology to improve learning or promote collaboration. While technology can stimulate cultural change and even serve it, it is not a substitute for school leaders thoughtful attention to cultural attributes such as teamwork, interpersonal accountability, and meaningful, student-focused professional learning.

Evan Rosen describes it this way: “To create value, tools must fit the culture. If your organization’s culture is command and control, the culture must shift to let collaboration happen. The expectation that team members must go through channels or move requests for decisions “up the flagpole” runs contrary to collaboration. Introducing collaborative tools into this type of culture sends mixed messages and breeds confusion. Therefore, senior leaders must first focus on reducing formality throughout the organization, because formality poisons collaboration and diminishes value.”

Take a moment now to . . .

• reflect on the extent to which the culture of your school promotes teamwork, innovation, and job-embedded professional learning, and determine a next step to promote such a culture.

2 Responses to “Pay attention to school culture when introducing new technologies”


  1. 1 Cathy Gassenheimer May 17, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Dennis,
    Thank you for your thoughtful posts. While I don’t always respond, I look forward to reading each update/thought.

    This post was of particular interest to me. We were a recipient of a Microsoft Mid-Tier grant to introduce 21st Century learning concepts/thoughts/skills to our Powerful Conversations Network. Some schools fully embraced this work and evidence abounds of changes made. In other schools, changes were made on the periphery – one one or two classrooms or maybe even a grade level. In others, nothing much happened.

    When investigating reasons for this disparity we weren’t surprised to learn that culture had a lot to do with it. In schools where collaboration was the norm, teachers embraced the information/ideas and worked together to learn and implement. In other schools without that norm, teachers reported that what we were asking them to do was overwhelming and they just didn’t have time to work their way through it.

    I’m convinced that schools must become collaborative learning organizations if they want all of their students to be prepared for this ever-changing world. Are we making progress? What would your guess be about the percentage of schools that are working together to build this type of collaborative culture?

  2. 2 Dennis Sparks May 17, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Creating and sustaining school cultures in which both students and adults thrive is very demanding work. It begins with an acknowledgment of the power and influence of culture on collaboration and innovation, an understanding that is not always present. It requires intention, persistence, and skillfulness on the part of principals and leadership teams. That’s a long way of saying, Cathy, that in my experience only a small percentage of school systems and schools are willing to take on this challenge in a meaningful, sustained way.


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