Man wearing glasses illustration of digital technology surrounding him

It’s all about technology and data, or if you prefer, data and technology.

There’s no question that technology has radically changed the job of the secondary school principal. In the last five years, technology has shifted the conversation from gaining access to technology to using it for instructional and administrative purposes, from understanding social media to using it constructively to communicate with students, parents, and the community. 

But today, principals who truly embrace new technology are using it-on a daily basis-to make themselves more productive, their jobs a little easier, and yes, at times, their lives more enjoyable. And the key to that transformation is data-both little and big.

“The secondary school principal now has access to robust, real-life data on student performance and mastery that can provide a level of monitoring that we’ve never been able to accomplish before,” says Ryan Imbriale, executive director of the Department of Innovative Learning for the Baltimore County Public Schools. 

Principals will continue to experience exponential growth in the amount of data they have access to on a daily basis, Imbriale asserts. “With access to data will come an expectation regarding monitoring and performance management. The school performance cycle will accelerate as technology allows for more immediate access,” he explains.

In addition, Imbriale says, secondary school principals will need to be social media marketing directors in addition to serving as instructional leaders. “The use and access to social media tools will continue to accelerate, and principals will need to use these tools to market their school to ensure their positive messages outweigh the negative ones,” he adds.

“Technology has impacted every facet of our work in the last five years,” says John Bernia, a 2015 NASSP Digital Principal who serves Carleton Middle School at the Warren Consolidated Schools in Sterling Heights, MI. “For staff, we have had to refocus our professional development (PD) on using instructional technology for learning and to showcase the opportunity to individualize assessments and instruction for learners. PD has also become individualized; technology is allowing teachers to find out about new strategies and tools in a faster, cheaper way,” he explains.

As for students, Bernia says, “We’ve come to see that the policies of ‘don’t bring/use devices’ are not sustainable or manageable. We’ve had to shift our thinking to modeling appropriate use and [adopt] policies that open access in a way that doesn’t interfere with learning. Tools such as student response systems have changed how we think about formative assessment, Edmodo and Moodle (online learning platforms) have opened doors for students, and online diagnostic tools have made our work more efficient and targeted,” he says.

As a leader, technology has improved his capacity to communicate with stakeholders, Bernia says. Online forms and tools like School Messenger, Remind, and Voxer make talking with the community easier, he notes. “I think the rise of the ‘connected educator,’ where professionals are having national/global conversations around their practice, has been incredibly significant and valuable to our profession. The exchanges we’re seeing on Twitter and other social media platforms are creating learning opportunities and professionalizing our work in new ways,” Bernia asserts.

Technological Tools That Work

Principals need to embrace the new technology rather than attempt to slow its inevitable presence. Craig Reed, principal at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore, MD, has embraced the new technological advances that are impacting education. Reed utilizes a variety of new technological devices to improve his productivity, including: “I am always running across articles that have been shared on Twitter or that have been emailed to me directly,” Reed says of the website. “I often want to save these articles so I can read them when I have some uninterrupted time or pull them back out to share with my leadership team or faculty.” 

SaneBox and Pushbullet: There are lots of handy ways to improve the organization of your email, Reed says, but he prefers SaneBox, which costs $100 a year. As far as text technology is concerned, Reed is a fan of Pushbullet (free!), which allows users to view a text and respond to it on his or her personal computer. 

Meanwhile, Bernia focused on technology as he made a concerted effort to go paperless a few years ago. “Harnessing several technology tools, my important notes and other materials are with me wherever I go, eliminating the need to run back to my office when I’m in a meeting. Wufoo forms, an online form generator, has made my classroom feedback to teachers possible while I’m visiting-this has opened up the opportunity to get into more classrooms,” he explains.

In addition, Bernia says, he uses a task management app-Remember the Milk-that syncs across his devices. “Now my list is always with me. It’s a small change that has made me more productive,” he says.

And there’s always the cloud. “Secondary school principals are using the cloud to manage work on a daily basis,” Imbriale says. The use of services such as OneNote and Evernote have improved productivity and made constant multitasking manageable, he explains. 

In addition, he notes, cloud-based solutions allow principals and other evaluators to collaborate virtually on written feedback, which saves time and creates efficiencies. “As school systems continue to seek one-stop solutions for administrative tasks, the job of school management should become less daunting and, therefore, allow more time for the principal to be an instructional leader,” he concludes.

Technology Challenges

But there are concrete challenges ahead for secondary school principals when it comes to using new technology for school administrative tasks. “There are so many choices; it’s easy to get caught up in the next ‘big thing,'” asserts Imbriale. “It’s important for principals to remember that sometimes we need to go slow to go fast. Principals also need to make sure they are asking the right questions about products and options that educators and even students bring their way,” he says. And one more caveat from Imbriale: Data privacy must be considered when choosing technology tools. Visit for more information on this important issue. 

The biggest challenge for Bernia? To have “the discipline to stick with tools that are working, and the discipline to focus not on the bells and whistles of a given tool, but the capacity to create learning opportunities,” he says.

What will the future hold for technology and the secondary school principal? “We’re already starting to see the need for technology beginning to impact our textbook/materials purchases,” Bernia says. “The day is likely coming where, as an organization, we’re further ahead in distributing hardware to students with textbook subscriptions.” In addition, he says, there is an infrastructure challenge. “What do we need to do over the next several years to build our WiFi network and tech support staff to ensure access for all, both during and after school hours? In the 1950s, communities came together to build the interstate highway system; we need a similar effort around the expansion of access to technology,” he says. 

Sidebar: Making it Work

10 Steps to Successfully Using Technology

While new technology turns over at warp speed, the keys to secondary school principals using technology remain relatively constant. Check out this list put together by Chris Toy, former principal turned senior consultant at Learning Capacity Unlimited, who came up with the following 10 guidelines to help secondary school principals integrate 21st-century learning technology in their schools.

  1. Principals must effectively and consistently model the use of the same technology tools they expect teachers to use in their classrooms with students.
  2. Principals must be consistent in their decisions and expectations about integrating learning technology in the school.
  3. The principal’s communication about the pace and process of integrating learning technology needs to be clear and reasonable.
  4. The principal must provide appropriate professional development time and resources to support effective classroom implementation of technology.
  5. The principal must support early adopters and risk takers.
  6. The principal must do whatever it takes to ensure that all staff has early access to the very same digital tools that students will be using in their classrooms.
  7. As the educational leader, the principal must make it clear to the technology leader that all decisions relating to learning technology will be made by the educational leaders with input from the technology leaders, not the other way around.
  8. The principal must set and support the expectation that student work will be done and stored using technology.
  9. Principals must ensure that families and the public remain informed about the school’s goals and progress relating to its use of technology as a learning resource.
  10. The principal must be an active and public champion for all students, staff members, and the school in moving the vision of fully integrating learning technology for the second decade of the 21st century.

Michael Levin-Epstein is senior editor of Principal Leadership.