7 pillars of digital leadership

Continuous reflection and learning are needed to move schools forward

There are many reasons why we tend to fall back on either what we are comfortable with or what we have always done. Comfort tends to be the enemy of growth, and the fear of failure and the unknown can derail us from taking the necessary risks to implement new and better ideas. The most dangerous view in education: The way we have always done it is the best way.

One last reason has to do with our experiences. We tend to teach in the same way that we were taught and lead in the same way that we were led, and in a sense, we become victims of our past.

My point here is that change can be hard, confusing, scary and unpredictable. None of these reasons should stop anyone from doing what’s best for students.

Continuous reflection and learning are needed to move schools forward now. The world is changing. Jobs are changing. Expectations are changing. As such, teaching, learning and leadership must change if growth and improvement are the goals.

It requires all leaders, regardless of title, to seek out answers to crucial questions that can pave the way for innovative ideas aimed at improving outcomes for all learners while fostering better relationships with stakeholders.

I am not implying that we throw out the baby with the bathwater. We must continue to do what we already do but do it better. Here is where the pillars of digital leadership come into play.

Teaching, learning and leadership must change if growth and improvement are the goals.

The seven pillars outlined below are either embedded components of school culture or an element of professional practice that leaders are already focused on (or should be).

Student engagement, learning and outcomes: We cannot expect to see increases in achievement if students are not learning. Students who are not engaged are not likely to be learning. Engagement is not a silver bullet, though. Students need to be empowered to think at the higher levels of cognition while applying what has been learned in relevant contexts.

Innovative learning spaces and environments: Would you want to learn under the same conditions as your students do, or in similar spaces? Leaders must begin to establish a vision and strategic plan to create classrooms and buildings that are more reflective of the real world while empowering learners to use technology in powerful ways.

Professional learning: Research has shown, and continues to show, that job-embedded, ongoing professional learning results in improved learning outcomes. Additionally, leaders need and should want access to the latest trends, research and ideas in the field. Every educator can now form their own personal learning network (PLN) to meet their diverse learning needs.

Communication: You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Leaders can now provide stakeholders with relevant information in real-time through a variety of devices and by meeting them where they are using digital tools.

Public relations: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and more often than not, their version will not be the one you want to be told. Leaders need to become storyteller-in-chief for their schools. Leaders can use free social media tools to form a positive public relations platform that becomes the de facto news source for their school or district.

Branding: Businesses have long understood the value of the brand and its impact on current and potential consumers. Leaders can leverage social media to create a positive brand presence that emphasizes the positive aspects of school culture, increases community pride, and helps to attract and retain families looking for a place to send their children to school.

Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources and professional learning opportunities. The other six pillars connect and work together to bring about unprecedented opportunities, including securing donations, resources, authentic learning experiences for students, and mutually beneficial partnerships.

Eric Sheninger is a senior fellow and thought leader with the International Center for Leadership in Education and the author of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. Prior to this, he was the award-winning principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. Sheninger will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.

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