Using the Technology SAMR Model to Rethink Educational Leadership

In the instructional technology circles, the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) has provided a way to rethink how technology is not only used, but how it can enhance instruction in the classroom. Ruben Puentedura began creating this model in the mid-eighties as a Harvard graduate student. The main idea behind this model is to help teachers take next steps to take advantage of new technologies to substitute the task with something more advanced or innovative.


Picture credit Kelly Walsh-read his article, 8 Examples of Transforming Lessons Through the SAMR Cycle here

In education, like many fields, sometimes technology is just used for technology’s sake, but it doesn’t always add value or aid in helping kids learn in better ways. Here is a great seven minute video by Common Sense Media hearing the SAMR model by Ruben himself.  I used this video as a prompt for a quick post on how the SAMR model aligns to how many of us, especially our #principalsinaction crew, view educational leadership and the necessary transformations that need to occur to be effective in our current society. But like anything else, don’t change something just to appear innovative. Make sure what you are adding or modifying is needed and wanted. Think of the SAMR model as options not as a progression of bad to good. 

“students taking charge of their own education”

One of the best lines is when Ruben talks about how important it is for students to take charge of their own learning. I couldn’t agree more! When students have options on the tools they use and the end product, it increases their ownership and engagement. When we rethink how the final product or task looks like, it helps us to really understand the objective we are trying to teach and the overall goals for the students. For instance, even through we are focusing on specific state standards for something like math, we are also always working on soft skills for positive interpersonal skills so students can effectively collaborate. We have many goals in every lesson, not just the main state standards.

Leadership is very similar. What is your end goal for a specific task or routine that you regularly do? There are so many traditional tools and practices that we are scared to change, but think of the missed opportunities and the risk of change. Newsletters, back to school night, parent/teacher conferences, etc., you name it. I had an aha moment one year when I was talking to my school’s advisory council about something in my newsletter, you know, the newsletter that I spent hours on and added all sorts of links and pictures. During that conversation, the parents admitted to never reading my newsletters that I sent out! That was the last one of those I ever did. From then on I maximized real time social media, emails, and videos. It was really more of my fault. Just because I do something or create something, doesn’t mean that anyone owes it to me to actually read or respond to it (like maybe this post…). What do your stakeholders want and how do they want it? Do you even know? Easy ways to redefine communication is to ask your families what they read and do research about what effective modern communication looks like for businesses.

“A continual re-examination of practice to make the best possible use of technology”

The SAMR model resonates with me in the field of educational leadership in many ways. I urge school leaders to rethink and redesign how they communicate, organize teams, and more importantly how they interact with their students. The field is constantly evolving and the expectations from parents on what our students need continually changes.

One strategy that has been very popular is our #GoodNewsCalloftheDay. Instead of just putting some pictures in a newsletter that no one reads, we are now calling from the office to parents at home to recognize their child (SUBSTITUTION). With modern technology, I can take a selfie with the child and print it out on my photo printer for them to take home (AUGMENTATION). Then I can help them tweet out their own positive message and then go on the computer and see it live (MODIFICATION). Still, all of this took less time than writing my crazy newsletters and has much more or a personal touch.

The final SAMR level is REDEFINITION and I love thinking about how we can redefine what we do in schools, such as how we celebrate our students. As good calling home is, consider redefining how your recognize students by helping them lead and create. One example of that last year is when I had our 5th grade social media team take videos of our classes reciting our school cheer using iPads and edit them using WeVideo. The team received a ton of experience making the video, which they did all on their own, recognition by being in the video and posting it, and more importantly a really high level of engagement in the process. It’s a redefinition because it completely changes the end product and the level of engagement for students compared to the basic phone call home.

Consider the SAMR model in school leadership. Strive to change the game in education by rethinking and redefining the status quo. Share those stories out there so we all can learn from them!

Posted in Leadership Lessons, Rethinking School Culture