“When you finally let go of the past, something better comes along.” – Anonymous
There are many reasons why we tend to fall back on what we are either comfortable with or have always done. For one, comfort tends to be the enemy of growth. In other cases, the fear of failure of the unknown can derail us from taking the needed risks to implement new and better ideas. Then there is the most dangerous view in education that the way we have always done it is the best way. One last factor has to do with our experiences. We tend to teach the way we were taught and lead the way we were led and, in a sense, 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 kids.
With changing times, continuous reflection and learning are needed in order to move schools forward now. As I have said over and over again, 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. The image below can help you get started with this process.
I am not implying that we throw out the baby with the bathwater, but instead work to do what we already do, better. Here is where the Pillars of Digital Leadership come into play.
Each of the seven outlined below are either embedded components of school culture or an element of professional practice that leaders already focus on (or should be). Innovation in education is, in many cases, not an entirely new idea, but instead doing what we already do better. Let’s look at these Pillars and ways that we can lead in the now:
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. Leaders need to understand that schools should reflect real life and allow learners the opportunity to use real-world tools to do real-world work. As technology changes, so must pedagogy, especially assessment and feedback. Educators and leaders should always be looking to improve instructional design and establishing accountability protocols to ensure efficacy in digital learning and innovation.
Innovative learning spaces and environments: Would you want to learn under the same conditions as your students do, or in similar spaces? More often than not, the answer is no. Research has shown the positive impact that innovative spaces can have on learning outcomes. Educators and 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 through either personalized or blended strategies and increased access in the form of BYOD (bring your own device) or 1:1.
Professional learning: Research has shown, and continues to show, that job-embedded, ongoing professional learning results in improved learning outcomes. This needs to be prioritized. Additionally, leaders need and should want access to the latest trends, research, and ideas in the field. With the continual evolution of digital tools and increasing connectivity, schools can no longer be silos of information. All educators can now form their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to meet their diverse learning needs; acquire resources; access knowledge; receive feedback; connect with experts in the field of education as well as practitioners; and discuss proven strategies to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. Digital leadership also compels educators to create more personalized learning pathways for adults during the school day and year.
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 by meeting them where they are. No longer do static, one-way methods such as newsletters and websites suffice. A variety of types of information can be communicated through various tools and simple implementation strategies to create a more transparent culture.
Public relations: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and more often than not, another’s version will not be the one you want to be told. Leaders need to become the storyteller-in-chief. Leaders can use free social media tools to form a positive public relations platform and become the de facto news source for their school or district. It is time to change the narrative by sharing all of the positives that happen in schools every day to create a much-needed level of transparency in an age of negative rhetoric toward education.
Branding: This is how your school or district is defined. It is not something that you want to leave up to others. 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/retain families looking for a place to send their children to school. Tell your story, build powerful relationships in the process, and empower learning with a brandED mindset.
Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities. It requires a commitment to leverage connections made through technology to take advantage of increased opportunities to make improvements across multiple areas of school culture. The other six pillars connect and work together to bring about unprecedented opportunities that would otherwise be impossible, such as securing donations, resources, authentic learning experiences for students, and mutually beneficial partnerships. As Milton Berle says, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
In his session at OEB on Digital Leadership, Eric takes you on a deep dive into each pillar while providing pertinent research and evidence to better lead in the now as opposed to the past. For further details, check out the updated edition of his book.
If the goal is a relevant culture of learning, then leaders must begin by modeling that at the individual level. Only then can the arduous, yet gratifying, process of systematic change can occur.
Written by, Eric Sheninger