• by Veronica Betancourt, M.A., and Paula Johnson, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2013 •

Paula JohnsonVeronica BetancourtAs we finalize this three-part series on using iPads and other tablets in the educational arena (see September 2012 and April 2013 issues), we will examine the benefits of these technologies for school leaders. iPads are the hottest item to infiltrate the education front and its trinkets promise to increase student achievement – if used appropriately and with fidelity. They are here to stay… at least for now. In our previous articles, we discussed how iPads can be used to increase student efficacy during the learning process and teacher efficacy for instructional delivery. So this begs the question, “What role do iPads (and other tablets) play for school leaders in creating an equitable teaching and learning environment that will maximize student achievement?” This question becomes especially critical for traditionally marginalized student groups, such as English learners who already face the challenges of finding their social identity and learning a new language while discovering their academic identity as well.

As the administrative leader on campus, a principal’s chief responsibility is to build the capacity of its staff, create a college-going culture and ensure students are provided a safe and equitable learning environment. Being a learning leader means balancing the evaluation of teachers using collected data based on student outcomes set forth in the curriculum while also taking into account students’ ability to demonstrate the content, how they utilize higher order thinking skills in processing their understanding, and what problem-solving strategies are incorporated into the learning. By refocusing on the outcomes and process of learning, it becomes possible to establish a culture where professional learning becomes reciprocal.

Let’s consider how the iPad is currently being used by administrators on school campuses. Perhaps there are those administrators who use iPads mainly to stay connected and be available to the staff and community they serve by having email at their fingertips. Web access also may enable them to access online accountability data, such as absences, using a secure web browser on the district’s intranet or maybe even use their tablets for scheduling meetings. Perhaps some brave administrators have even ventured out and adopted a software program that enables them to collect data on their teachers for summative evaluation purposes.

So how does this connect with the technological capacities available at your fingertips? It depends on how innovative one is willing to be. Sure, one might hear at any given moment: “Oh, you need that? There’s an app for that!” However, this article is about capitalizing on what can be done on any tablet without the need to download or purchase any apps. The two areas we will be touching on are: online data collection for evaluative purposes and capturing ongoing “snapshots” of classroom life for value-based professional development that includes student voice as a means of reciprocal learning.

Online Data Collection

Tablets can be used to efficiently capture relevant evaluative data. While there are many options available on the web, we have found Survey Monkey to be secure and easy to use on mobile devices (SurveyMonkey.com). It is an online survey development tool that, with the basic free membership, enables administrators to create their own surveys with a maximum of 10 items per survey. Questions can range from posted lesson objectives to classroom arrangement. Surveys can be created for as many focus areas as are needed. This alleviates having to use paper, and reflections can easily be sent via email immediately upon completion of a classroom visit. The data collected is stored in your Survey Monkey account for future access and review. A very alluring perk is that reports can be generated using Excel, PDF and HTML formats as well as .csv and .xml files for more advanced data analysis systems.

Snapshots of Classroom Life

Administrators can bring the walk-through observation into the 21st century by using tablets to collect snapshot data through photos and videos of the learning environment. Conducting these visits at frequent intervals helps evaluators gain a more complete picture of the classroom culture, norms, engagement levels and curricular alignment. Stopovers in five- to seven-minute intervals provide a platform for observing the learning process without derailing the lesson. Ultimately, collecting data over the course of the year will give a more complete story of teachers’ instructional patterns (DuFour, 2002) and students’ efficacy with the subject. Things to look for include effective teacher practice, levels of student engagement, powerful examples of differentiated instruction or questioning, and intentional use of academic speak among and between students.

Additionally, it is an opportune time to observe and capture, through videos and photos, how traditionally marginalized students, such as English learners and special education students, are faring with the culture and content of the classroom. These captured moments can then be turned into short, one- to two-minute vignettes to use during team meetings, mini-professional development sessions, or day-long learning workshops as a platform to highlight positive teaching and learning moments (as well as the occasional discussion for improvement). This provides the potential for students to voice their perceptions of the value of learning the content and collective learning in the classroom.

It is through candid shots of student learning, informal dialogues for student feedback, and learning reflections from students that teachers can become reciprocal learners. Fletcher (2011) stated it best by noting, “Embracing a diversity of perspectives can make student voice the most significant tool in the school improvement toolbox.”

Adapting to the growing needs of the school by using technology such as tablets to build the collaborative learning culture needed for student success goes without question. When administrators shift the school culture to one that is inclusive and responsive to the children they serve, with learning outcomes as the focus of instructional improvement, “Students see that both administrators and teachers value instruction and learning” (Protheroe, 2009).


Betancourt, V., & P. Johnson. “Science Classroom Strategies for English Learners – Learning with the iPad and Other Tablets,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2012).

Betancourt, V. “Asset-Based Lessons for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2013).

DuFour, R. “The Learning-Centered Principal,” Beyond Instructional Leadership (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, May 2002) 59(8), p12-15.

Fletcher, A. “What Is Student Voice About?,” website (Olympia, Wash.: SoundOut, 2011).

Protheroe, N. “Using Classroom Walkthroughs to Improve Instruction,” Principal (Alexandria, Va.: National Association of Elementary School Principals, March-April 2009).

Veronica Betancourt, M.A., and Paula Johnson, M.A., are IDRA education associates. Comments and questions may be directed to them via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]