Interview with Dr. L. Rob Furman, Principal and National Education Technology Advocate
Being an administrator is not the only part of Dr. L. Rob Furman’s job. This elementary school principal in Pennsylvania’s South Park School District realizes that bringing technology to the classroom is not about putting the latest bells and whistles in students’ hands. It’s also about providing teachers with the best technology out there, giving them plenty of time to learn and use it in order to help all students—even the most reluctant ones—to become smarter, more creative, innovative, and develop the ability to problem-solve and collaborate with others.
An inspirational national speaker and instructional technology advocate, Furman started his education career as a music director at the high school level, before becoming a middle school assistant principal and finally an elementary school principal. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in music education K-12, a Master of Science in educational administration and a Doctorate in instructional leadership. Some of his professional interests have been incorporated into his career as a principal, including his thoughts on free technology applications to improve school management and classroom instruction as well as his research on using technology to improve instruction and to help administrators perform more efficiently.
Furman is a highly sought after education expert, giving presentations at numerous state, regional and national conferences. He is the author of Technology, Reading & Digital Literacy: Strategies to Engage the Reluctant Reader, which offers strategies that can help reluctant students discover the joy of reading through the use of technology. His participation in virtual conferences and webinars and his role as a blogger for the Huffington Post has earned him a reputation in the education community and among major education companies. Honored by the National School Board Association as a “20 to Watch” in the field of educational technology, Furman has also received numerous other honors and awards that make him an inspiration to both teachers and administrators across the city and around the world.
Take a moment to delve into our full interview with Dr. L. Rob Furman as he shares his thoughts on digital literacy, his passion to ignite the love of reading in reluctant readers and the most effective ways of using technology in the classroom.
GradSchools: What is the relationship between your work as a school administrator and your interest in educational technology? Which came first?
Technology is the 21st century version of the pencil, overhead projector, chalkboard, research library, and so much more. It is redefining how and what we teach. As an administrator, it is my job to make sure my teachers have the knowledge and resources to be the best teacher they can be. For that to happen, I must be on the cutting edge of technology as well as curriculum and process.
Being an administrator came first because a lot of the tablet and smart phone push didn’t happen until I was already a principal. However, my love for all things technology started when I purchased my first TRS-80 and Atari.
GradSchools: You have worked as an administrator in elementary schools and middle schools. What are the differences in these student populations in terms of classroom technology? How does the use or approach to classroom technology change between elementary school and middle school?
In theory, there should be no difference in terms of Edtech and grade level. We are to the point in Edtech now that we should be thinking beyond the hardware and software and get the meaning of using the tech—which is to increase our students level of proficiency in the skills of the 21st century, creativity, research, innovation, problem solving, communication, collaboration etc.
GradSchools: You take a particular interest in “digital literacy.” Can you define what the means and how it affects student success?
Digital Literacy is the knowledge and understanding of technology. Digital devices have a language of their own. Being a digital literate citizen means that you are a part of the growing body of knowledge and understanding of technology and how it defines our world as a user.
GradSchools: Your work also demonstrates an interest in helping “discouraged” or “reluctant” readers. How can those students be helped with classroom technology?
Using the tools that the students grew up with only makes the experience that more personal to the reader. My book, Technology, Reading and Digital Literacies, published by ISTE really outlines in detail the ways technology can help those reluctant readers.
GradSchools: You have been involved with music education. How can technology be used in music instruction?
Oh my! I would need an entire article alone to discuss the amazing things out there for music education. When I started teaching, there wasn’t much. I used a computer to create my marching band drills and to write some music using an older program called Finale. Now, I use music apps all the time. My son taught himself how to play guitar using a variety of apps. Students can create some amazing musical pieces using only music apps such as Launchpad, songwriter and so many more.
GradSchools: Many principals have talked about the need for engagement with parents and guardians. How do you encourage this? Does technology have a role here as well?
Parents need to be more than involved, they need to be engaged. Technology easily plays a variety of roles with the parent. Communication can be upgrader by using apps such as remind. There are apps that simplify the permission slip experience, the volunteer experience and so forth. Also, parents can use apps to help them at home with student homework, time on task, and other important home school experiences.
GradSchools: How do you encourage and then facilitate teachers to integrate educational technology into their classrooms?
As a leader you really have to do four things:
- You have to help them find good quality technology and make it readily available for them to use—and make sure it works!
- You have to model proper use of technology.
- You MUST give them time to learn how to use the tech and time to experiment with the tech.
- You MUST give them time to create lesson using the new tech.
Without this simple four step process you may be setting the teachers up for frustration and ultimately failure.
GradSchools: Are there limits to the use of classroom technology? When do you encourage teachers to avoid using technology?
Don’t use technology simple to say that you used it. Use technology to enhance your lesson, to teach the students something that they may not be able to experience without the technology. Use technology to save time and make your teaching life more productive. It’s OK to use the tech if it is going to make your life easier as well. Have a reason why you decided to use the technology, not just because you may be “required” to use it.
GradSchools: What’s the hardest part of a principal’s job? And what’s the most enjoyable part of your profession?
I love being a principal. It is a calling and my passion. You have to love this job because it can be very difficult and trying at times. You are middle management, which means you are only able to make certain decisions and you are always in the middle, between teachers and central office or parents and teachers etc. The hardest part of my job is not being able to institute larger change and watching the image of education on a national scale turn into a political football. The most enjoyable part of my job is being with the students and watching them learn.
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