July/August 2003 // Commentary
The Elementary School Principal as a Change Facilitator in ICT Integration
by John Schiller
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: John Schiller "The Elementary School Principal as a Change Facilitator in ICT Integration" The Technology Source, July/August 2003. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Computers and other forms of information and communication technologies (ICT) provide possibilities for changing the way children learn and teachers teach. A comprehensive survey on the state of educational computing indicates that the use of ICT is widespread in U.S. schools and is growing as teachers become more proficient with technology (T.H.E. Journal, 2001).

Despite the increasing presence of ICT hardware and software in schools and countless workshops on skill acquisition for teachers, the consistent integration of ICT into regular classroom programs is still a far cry from reality (CEO Forum, 2000). An Australian study found huge variations in ICT usage from classroom to classroom and from school to school (Meredyth, Russell, Blackwood, Thomas, & Wise, 1999). Many teachers use ICT only as an addition to regular instruction or as a reward for pupils after their work is completed. In other words, teachers use ICT to extend traditional pedagogical practices. Their challenge is to incorporate ICT into the pedagogy so that it also becomes integrated with the learning process (Riffel & Levin, 1997).

One effective agent for change in this context is the school principal. However, apart from a few books (Maurer & Davidson, 1998; Picciano, 1998), occasional articles that point principals to more effective uses of technology (Hoffman, 1996; Slowinski, 2000), and small-scale studies that demonstrate the impact of ICT on the ways in which principals work (Gurr, 2001), the ICT literature has largely ignored the role of the principal (Michael, 1998). This omission is odd given that substantial literature on school effectiveness and improvement (Fullan, 1996; Hall & Hord, 2001; Hallinger & Heck, 1996) identifies the leadership of the principal as a key factor in bringing about change.

In this article, I argue that the elementary school principal can have a significant impact on the integration of ICT into pedagogical practice and, in turn, on student learning.

Facilitating Change: Three Approaches for School Principals

While investigating educational changes during the 1980s, Hall, Rutherford, Hord, and Huling (1984) found that the interventions used by change facilitators such as principals could be grouped by functions; these included "developing supportive organizational arrangements," "training," "monitoring and evaluating," and "providing consultation and reinforcement." Differences in the frequency and manner of these interventions affected the successful implementation of a given change. For example, the authors found that a greater number of monitoring and consultation interventions were associated with better outcomes.

From their analyses of moment-to-moment and day-to-day interventions by principals over time, Hall et al. (1984) found that the overall pattern and tone of intervention behaviors led to different change facilitation (CF) styles. They classified these styles as initiator, manager, and responder (Exhibit 1). Initiator principals publicly demonstrated a strongly held vision of where their schools were heading and what was best for students. They had high expectations of their staff, and they made these expectations clear through many forms of communication. Manager principals focused on the administrative aspects of the school to ensure that it was well-organized and efficient. They tended to resist change until all components of the change were ready for implementation. Responder principals focused on current concerns of the staff and the school community without looking at the "bigger picture." They tended not to intervene as much as their counterparts. In simplistic terms, initiator principals "made it happen," managers "helped it happen," and responders "let it happen."

Effective Integration of ICT and the Role of the Principal

In a study that involved seven elementary school principals in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia, I applied the work of Hall et al. to the realm of computer education (Schiller, 1991). The change facilitation concept was useful in examining why some schools were more successful than others at implementing ICT, as measured by increased computer use by teachers over a 1-year period.

Principals who exhibited an initiator or a manager CF style were more likely to be successful in implementing computer education on their campuses. For example, the initiator principals in this study were able to identify long-term goals and implementation strategies for computer education and devise specific day-to-day tactics to accomplish them. They persuaded their staffs to accept computer education as a priority. Although computer education was deemed voluntary in other schools, initiator principals expected all teachers to become computer users in their classrooms. The principals stressed classroom applications of technology during staff meetings, organized staff training, ensured adequate time and resources for in-class computer use, and monitored every teacher's progress by reviewing instruction plans and other written materials. These principals also spent time in the classrooms, observing and talking with pupils and teachers as they used computers. Finally, the initiator principles not only stressed staff participation in the process, but also sought parental involvement and support through parent workshops and meetings. (See Exhibit 2 for more details on interventions by initiator, manager, and responder principals in this study.)

In a more recent exploratory study conducted in the same geographic region (Schiller, 2000), I examined how staff development strategies helped teachers learn to use ICT in their classrooms to improve student learning. As part of this study, I interviewed the principals of nine elementary schools that had been selected by district technology advisors as exemplary institutions for ICT integration. I sought to determine what interventions they and other change facilitators had made that might account for the high levels of ICT integration. The principals reported that the following interventions were particularly helpful in their schools:

  • regular discussion about ICT and frequent, brief workshops during staff meetings;
  • one-on-one practice sessions during lunch breaks or after school;
  • peer tutoring;
  • team teaching with, and shadowing of, more experienced colleagues;
  • encouragement to attend computer courses offered within the system and by other providers, such as technical colleges and private training companies;
  • assistance from friends and colleagues who were more computer literate;
  • use of "train the trainer" approaches; and
  • clear identification/appointment of a technology leader or leaders in the school.

It was clear from the interview transcripts that the principals were the main source of these interventions. All stated that they expected their staffs to use ICT in teaching and learning, and that they visited classrooms to observe ICT use and discuss integration strategies with teachers. Such actions are typical of an initiator CF style.

Postgraduate students enrolled in a course on ICT and leadership comprised another group in the 2000 study. Along with the primary school principals, they argued that the key responsibilities of the principal were to develop a school vision that included ICT and to facilitate investment in the appropriate school infrastructure. Both groups also suggested that staff development in ICT was a major contributor to technology use. They confirmed that when principals promoted specific staff development strategies, there was a much greater chance of ICT integration into classroom efforts to improve student learning. The consensus was that large workshops were of limited use in preparing teachers for ICT integration, unless they were supplemented with individual tutorials and small-group interaction on a continuing basis.

The studies described above (Schiller, 1991; Schiller, 2000) highlight the key roles of elementary school principals in helping their staffs better use computers to enhance teaching and learning and to assist with administration and management. In particular, intervention in staff development is crucial. Data from Meredyth et al. (1999) indicate that the teachers most likely to lack basic computer skills are over 50, are female, and teach in elementary schools. Because instructors at the schools discussed in this article conformed to this profile, staff development was a major challenge. Yet integration had taken place in schools with principals who exhibited the initiator CF style in their interventions; lesser results were found in schools with principals who demonstrated the manager or responder CF style. More research is required to confirm whether these CF styles yield similar results in different contexts.

It is important to note that initiator principals do not work alone. In both of the studies that I performed, principals frequently referred to and worked with a second or even a third change facilitator—the deputy principal, an enthusiastic ICT teacher, the librarian, or the district technology advisor, for example. These persons worked collaboratively with and supported the initiatives of the principal. Sometimes they influenced the opinions of colleagues by addressing the concerns of teachers and offering them direct help with specific aspects of ICT; sometimes they demonstrated their own use of ICT to show others that it was workable and could benefit classroom processes. The second and third facilitators became opinion leaders (Rogers, 1995): individuals whom others could trust and turn to for advice about proposed changes. This team approach appears to be critical to the successful implementation of ICT and is consistent with recent literature on the facilitation of change (Hall & Hord, 2001). More exploration of team approaches is needed for principals facing ICT challenges in their institutions.


Principals have a key role to play in the facilitation of educational change. At a time when information and communication technologies are being integrated into the classroom as learning tools, and when teachers are being asked to incorporate technology into their teaching practices, principals who demonstrate an initiator CF style are more likely to achieve success in their schools. By taking an active approach to innovation, principals can foster an environment in which such innovation has greater benefits for their staff and students.


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Schiller, J. (1991). Implementing computer education: The role of the primary principal. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 7(1), 48-69. Retrieved March 17, 2003, from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet7/schiller.html

Schiller, J. (2000, September). Integrating computer use in primary schools: The challenge for principals. Paper presented at the Australian Council for Educational Administration Annual Conference, Hobart, Australia. Retrieved March 17, 2003, from http://technologysource.org/resource/papers/01009-3.htm

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