It is not about the device! Or is it?

The extract below comes from an article I recently wrote for our College Newsletter. We are a 7-12 secondary high school where all Year 9-12 students have been given netbooks thanks to the funding of the Digital Education Revolution. However, these devices are slow, fragile and students tell me too bulky for them to carry in their school bags.


At the end of 2011, a commitment was made to purchase devices for Year 7 & 8 students in 2012. I cannot see why it is any less important for Year 7 & 8 students to have a device. There have been some extraordinary events at our school this year that have meant the purchase was not a priority until recently; however, within the last month, the matter of purchasing devices for Year 7 & 8 students has been fairly restored to the top of the agenda list.  For reasons I won’t go into, we are not going down a BYOD option and I know, “It’s not about the device”; however, it still is important! Here is the extract ….


As Neil Postman says in Technology: The surrender of culture to technology: “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either‐or, but this‐and‐that.” This is the moment I am living right now.


Over the course of the last few weeks I have had many discussions with teachers, students, parents, CSO personnel and colleagues beyond the Riverina. I have asked many questions and listened to all and sundry about the pros and cons of laptops versus tablets, and the plusses and minuses of Microsoft Office as compared to the Apple suite of programs. The more I listened, the more I understood that there is no one device that will serve the diverse learning needs of a whole year group, let alone two year groups.


For the purposes of schooling, the technology (the device) needs to support the pedagogy (teaching and learning methods), not the other way around. The device needs to support our intentions for our pedagogy to be more and more student-centred; that means, providing students with greater choice of subject matter and pace of study. It also requires teachers to involve students in more decision‐making processes which result in memorable experiences where students ‘learn by doing’ with relevance to the real world. Examples of this approach would see students:

·         CREATE podcasts, video documentaries and websites;

·         COLLABORATE via wikis, blogs and Google share documents; and,

·         CRTICALLY ANALYSE the work of their peers using chat options and online media.


My desire is for Mater Dei students to more and more engage in activities that result in them Creating, Collaborating and Critiquing. They collectively need to move away from pre‐occupation of computer work being just “Word and PowerPoint”; and it is great to see that some are already doing this! The Google suite of applications is one option which supports “creating, collaborating and critiquing”. At the direction, and with the support of the Catholic Schools Office, the Google suite of applications will become available to all staff and students of Mater Dei from the beginning of 2013. Over the last few weeks when speaking with Year 7 & 8 students, I introduced them to the Google suite of applications and they were genuinely excited by the possibiliti
es. Furthermore, they were looking for a device that is ‘instant on’, connects quickly to the internet, portable, light (the lighter the better), had a keyboard and the battery needs to last the whole school day. Basically, they were telling me, “We want a tablet device.” The problem is that the Google suite of applications is very limited when applied to tablet devices. So, at this point we have two options:

          Option One: Pursue ‘lightweight’ laptops which turn on quickly and can access the full suite of Google Applications; however, laptops that are durable enough for school bags, generally weigh a tonne!

          Option Two: Wait until the Google suite of applications effectively can function on tablet devices, but no‐one can give a direct answer as to when this will be.


I am well aware that I am ‘on the record’ on saying that, in 2012, we will have portable devices for Year 7 & 8 students. I am still very keen to see this become a reality; however, I do not want to buy a device for the sake of buying a device. Also to be considered is that over the course of the next six months there will be some significant events including;

i)                    In September/October of this year there will be the release of a Windows Tablet which, by all accounts I am told, “will be a game changer”.

ii)                  By the start of 2013, the College will have a fully functioning Learning Management System.

iii)                As already stated, there is the knowledge that the suite of Google applications will be made available to students from the beginning of next year. I am told, “There will be an Google App for Tablets one day”. Yes, but when?

iv)                The College will be in receipt of a significant amount of government funding which directly contribute to the purchase of devices for Year 9 students in 2013. Some say we would be mad to spend our own money now when, in six months, the government will pay for them.


So, I refer to Postman’s quote at the beginning of this article, “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either‐or, but this‐and‐that.” I think it prudent to ensure the device that we do purchase best supports our developing student‐centred pedagogy, and is therefore more of a blessing than a burden.

A Principal – Reflecting and Acting

The most effective leaders use different leadership styles at the right times relevant to the task, the people and the situation (Fullan 2005; Leithwood, Day et al. 2006; HayGroup 2010) . Such leaders take into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of employees, the complexity of the task, time pressures and available resources (Caldwell and Spinks 2008; HayGroup 2010).  


Hay Group are a worldwide research company who has extensively researched the qualities, skills, attitudes and actions associated with leadership in varied fields including education, management, business and politics. Combining with the Education Faculty at the University of Melbourne, material has been developed since 2008 for the Leading Australia’s Schools Program. The Program identifies six leadership capabilities that were consistent across industries. They are:

i)                    Directive

ii)                  Affiliative

iii)                Pacesetting

iv)                Participative

v)                  Visionary and

vi)                Coaching.


In 2010 I attended the Leading Australia Schools Program. The program provides comprehensive information for participants derived from self-reflection tools and survey instruments designed by Hay Group and University of Melbourne. Data derived from these tools provides rich information about the individual principal’s Social Motives, Leadership Styles (outlined above) and the Organisational Climate of the workplace, and this enables one to reflect on practices that will sustain change and achieve school transformation.


Of the six leadership styles that need to be applied to any one situation the Visionary, Participative and Coaching styles are best suited to sustained, long term change or transformation (HayGroup 2010). By providing long-term direction the Visionary Style creates a sense of direction and influences others to follow it. By generating new ideas the Participative Style builds commitment of the stakeholders through participation. By engaging in long-term professional development of staff, the Coaching Style develops the unique strengths of others for the future (HayGroup 2010).


The complexities of leading school transformation in a time of such accelerated change, requires principals to do all they can to support the transformation process. In 2010, information specific to my context and my capabilities highlighted the need for me to:

i)        Enable Teacher Autonomy; that is, develop the feeling among staff that they can decide how to do their jobs without constantly consulting their co-ordinator.

ii)      Encourage Risk Taking among teachers; and,

iii)    Promote Innovation by encouraging people to develop new ideas and approaches.

Specifically, I reflected that I needed to (and still need to):

          Delegate authority to the lowest appropriate level and set a minimum number of check-offs (depending on capability) in order to empower people;

         Ensure that teachers to have sufficient room to act and encourage them to exercise individual judgement, take reasonable and calculated risks, and use their time well;

        Encourage creativity, experimentation, and original, independent thinking in designing new systems, solving complex problems, exploring alternatives, and pursing new opportunities; and,

          Be flexible and help put new ideas into practice.


It is eighteen months since I attended Leading Australia Schools. Since then an eLearning Plan has been developed, pilot programs implemented and constant opportunities for teacher professional development have been initiated. The evolution of the eLearning Plan has resulted in new initiatives for 2013. In particular, our energy and actions are focused on producing integrated, cross-curricular and connected lunits of work for Year 7 next year and also a blended, multi modal approach to Year 11 Studies of Religion.


I look forward to the planning of the next six months before implementation in January of 2013.


Greg Miller

11 June 2012.





Caldwell, B. and J. Spinks (2008). Raising the stakes: From improvement to transformation in the reform of schools, Psychology Press.


Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & sustainability:
System thinkers in action
, Corwin Pr.


HayGroup (2010). Leading Australia Schools Program. Leading Australia Schools Program, Melbourne Business School, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.


Leithwood, K., C. Day, et al. (2006). “Seven Strong Claims about Successful School Leadership. .” National College of School Leadership.

Attending a Congress and a Conefrence

I have just spent three days in Sydney attending a Congress and a conference. Firstly, I attended Day One of the three day K-12 Technology Conference held at Darling Harbour, Sydney Australia. This was followed by two days at the Association of Catholic School Principals (ACSP) Conference held at the Sofitel Wentworth. Over the course of the three days I had the great pleasure to listen to many learned people about contemporary education; their strong message being that now is the time for schools and systems to dramatically change.


Alan November’s message is that it is more important to address pedagogy than it is to utilise technology. However, in saying that, there are many opportunities where technology can assist pedagogy which takes into account student choice and interest. If you wish, visit where Alan November speaks about the importance of ‘updating education’. Stephen Heppell spoke about the need to make learning spaces appear inviting and engaging for students. Part of his presentation displayed examples of some amazing learning spaces, very different to the traditional ‘rows of desks’ classroom. For an insight into his work, you can visit Another one of three international speakers I heard was Sir Ken Robinson. He argues that education needs to change in order to prepare students for the world which awaits them. A fantastic summary of his message is a well-known You Tube clip, In one sense I did not learn a lot that was new; in fact, many other principals felt the same. The message has been around for a few years now; the message being, it is time for schools to be bold, be innovative and take a few risks when delivering an education for the students under their care.


There are some fine examples of ‘leading schools’ who were bold and took action a few years back. Schools such as Northern Beaches Christian School and Corpus Christi, Oak Flats changed their pedagogy by ensuring that student interests were addressed. Parramatta Marist is another such school. It is the oldest Catholic school in the country, but it is a great example of contemporary education and their story can be found at In summary, there is now far better engagement with students because of their commitment to be learner-centred. I am assuming that the students were not the only ones seen as learner! These ‘leading schools’ focused on pedagogy and then looked at how the technology could support learning which is student centred. They did not start with the technology, nor did they see it as the ‘magic bullet’.


A recent article by Charlie Osborne, found at, refers to a study by Economic & Social Research Council of America. The study finds that Web 2.0 technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr can be distractions rather than learning tools. From my witness, that is where leading schools have got it right. When necessary, they explicitly teach skills to use technology but only when it supports student-centred pedagogy. Often, it is the students who teach the use of such technology. They share, they collaborate and they critically think about how to use the technology. These “21st century skills” are ones that Robinson, November and Heppell argue students will need when they enter the work force. Instead of just simply embracing Web 2.0 tools for information transmission, leading schools have decided to embark on creating a curriculum that utilises technology as part of a larger creation process. Like the writing process, which requires planning, prewriting, drafting, editing, and revision, leading schools commit to learning which sees student utilisation of audio, still photos, and video. Also, students learn how to collaborate using Google Docs, analyse images and video in the context of literature and narrative, and apply photo rules when they shoot, interview, edit, and sequence all of their raw footage and images. They create photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries from start to finish, then collaboratively critique each other’s work. All the while, these schools continue to explore best practice pedagogy and test out new programs and technology applications to enhance the course.


Enough of the rhetoric and more of the action! I would dearly love the next conference I attend to be wholly and totally about hearing and seeing student generated evidence of what is working in schools. My hope is, that with the effort, energy and actions planned over the next 12 months, that the school I lead is one of those schools.