Culture & Technology-Enhanced Instructional Practice

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School leaders who encourage innovation and model scaffolded risk-taking help create a culture where teachers feel confident and supported in trying new technology-infused instructional practices. Without this type of leadership, even high-quality professional development may not result in changes to actual classroom practice.

In our class “Educational Technology Leadership” in the DEL program at Seattle Pacific University, we continue to focus on ISTE (2011) Coaching Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation, Performance Indicator B: Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.  In this post, I would like to look at how a school’s culture, as shaped by its leadership, affects the adoption of technology-enhanced learning practices.

Culture Shift

Somekh (2008) argues that teachers’ use of technology is dependent on the interplay of cultural, social, and organizational factors, and that no one is truly a “free agent” (p.450). Since the most effective use of technology in education is in enabling students to be more autonomous and collaborative in their learning, this points to a major shift in culture for many institutions.

Citing research by Forkosh-Baruch et. al. (2005), Somekh says there were two models of technology-based teaching innovation observed: clusters of enthusiast teachers who made changes in their classroom practices, and schoolwide implementation that depended on “…the principal’s vision and motivation” (p. 456). As one would imagine, the second approach proved to be the most effective for scaling technology integration across the organization.

The pedagogical adoption of ICT is complex and requires an integration of vision, system-wide experimentation and new roles and relationships for teachers and students.

Somehk, 2008, p. 458

Culture Can Have a Larger Effect than Professional Development

Li & Choi (2014) surveyed over a thousand teachers in 130 Hong Kong schools to determine the effect of “social capital” on educators’ use of technology-supported learning practices. The researchers define social capital as “…collegial trust, support for risk taking and access to expertise within an organization” (p.1). They found that social capital strongly determined whether teachers made technology-based pedagogical changes in their classroom. In fact, social capital was more strongly associated with technology application than the perceived effectiveness of professional development.  All three aspects of social capital rely on strong leadership that:

  • Fosters trust and collaboration
  • Encourages innovation even if it results in failure
  • Provides teachers the time and mentoring to help them implement new practices

The social capital of a school can be used to engender a culture that helps drive implementation of change and reinforces teachers’ receptivity as well as responsiveness to educational change.

Li & Choi, 2014, p. 13

Education: A Risk-Averse Field

Education Week conducted research on teachers and technology innovation (see Figure 1 below) and found that less than 40% of teachers felt supported in taking risks with classroom technology and only 20% felt they were given adequate time to experiment. Perhaps most discouraging, only 28% felt that their school or district recognized a failed experiment as an opportunity to learn.

Chart showing support for classroom innovation with edtech
Figure 1: School/district support of teachers for ed tech innovation (Kurtz, Lloyd, & Harwin, 2019)
Source: Teachers and EdTech Innovation Survey 2019 by Education Week Research Center

Taking a Page from Business

Sometimes the culture of a school is driven more by its teachers than its administration. A principal (described in this Education Week article – Davis, 2019) wanted to encourage technology integration at a school where 82% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. The school scored well compared to other schools in the district in standardized testing, but the teaching methods were very traditional, and students appeared to be disengaged. The teachers at the school wondered why they should change anything given that test scores were good.

To change the school’s culture surrounding technology integration, the principal applied methods he had learned in a Rice University MBA fellowship program for educators. He took a long-term approach to what would be required in terms of budget and buy-in for a technology program to be successful, and most importantly, he scaffolded the risk of adopting technology by going slowly and building on small wins. This is essential for any entrepreneurial business leader who needs to limit risks for the people who work for them by “…putting boundaries around uncertainty” (Furr and Dyer, 2014). 

Creating a Culture of Trust and Innovation

Another principal who attended the same fellowship program mentioned in the Education Week article above said she viewed tech integration as identifying and meeting the needs of the various “target audiences” at her school – teachers, parents, students – whose support would be needed for the program’s success (Davis, 2019). Furr and Dyer (2014) say an innovative leader doesn’t just make decisions, they design experiments – asking the right questions to reduce the overall risks associated with changing the status quo. Not only does this provide valuable information for making decisions, it also models a way to manage change for teachers and makes them partners in innovation at their school.

So how else can a school administrator build or contribute to a culture of trust and innovation for integrating technology? In addition to scaffolding risk and determining needs as described above, educational leaders should:

  • Model the use of technology themselves (Star, 2009), and encourage and recognize the innovative use of technology in their organization
  • Attend (and encourage teachers and staff to attend) technology themed conferences and training (Star, 2009)
  • Understand the research behind successful professional development and mentoring. Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner (2017) say administrators need to provide enough time for teacher collaboration and training, conduct teacher needs assessments, and develop teacher leaders and mentors to provide ongoing support in specific areas.
  • Share research on the positive effects of successful technology integration in areas such as personalized learning, formative assessment, and classroom management. As a middle school webmaster was quoted in an Education World blogpost, “Staff members are more apt to use technology if administrators feel strongly about technology use for reasons that are based in fact — not merely on the assumption that they need to ‘keep up’ with other schools or districts.” (Star, 2009)


Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Learning Policy Institute Research Brief. Retrieved from:

Davis, M.R. (2019, April 23). Harvard Business Review, MBA lessons guide principals’ ed-tech leadership. Education Week. Retrieved from:

Forkosh-Baruch, A., Mioduser, D., Nachmias, R., & Tubin, D. (2005). “Islands of innovation” and “schoolwide implementations”: Two patterns of ICT-based pedagogical innovations in schools. Human Technology, 1(2), 202–215

Furr, N. & Dyer, J.H. (2014, December). Leading your team into the unknown. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:

Herold, B. (2019, April 24). Ed-Tech supporters promise innovations that can transform schools. Teachers not seeing impact. Education Week.  Retrieved from:

ISTE Standards for coaches (2011). ISTE. Retrieved from:

Kurtz,H., Lloyd, S., & Harwin, A. (2019). Teachers and edtech innovation: Results of a national survey. Education Week Research Center,

Li, S.C. & Choi, T.H. (2014). Does social capital matter? A quantitative approach to examining technology infusion in schools. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 30(1), 1–16. Retrieved from:

Star, L. (2009). The administrator’s role in technology integration. Education World.  Retrieved from:

3 thoughts on “Culture & Technology-Enhanced Instructional Practice”

  1. This post has so many points that resonate with me and it captures so well my educator relationship with the leaders and administrators at my school! The one point that makes me cringe is the point about encouraging innovation even if it results in failure. The ‘culture’ at my school is so focused on results, that educators become very risk-averse to trying any new technology that does not have a proven track record. This puts a pretty big damper on innovation. This is one of the biggest challenges for our education leadership!

  2. I like your post focusing on the relationship between technology and culture and how a school’s culture, as shaped by its leadership, affects the adoption of technology integration. I agree with your point that culture can have a larger effect than PD. The administrators create a culture of a school and the culture can determine teachers’ teaching strategies and the practice of learning. When they feel supported in taking risks with instructional technology, get encouraged to try new technology even if it results in failures, and feel trust from administrators, they will change their attitude on technology innovation if they are reluctant. Thank you for the sharing!

  3. You provide examples of school culture that need to regularly be addressed in order to maximize the learning environment. If we do not nurture a culture where educators are encouraged to try new tools and methods of instruction our systems will cease to meet the needs of the 21st-century learner and professional. The best professional development risks failure without a culture of inquiry and system of supporting educators and students as they ‘fail forward’. You are on point when you share that a culture that values and encourages risks will be a place where true learning is valued.

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