Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
While “the boss,” or principal, may be the one who leads a school’s digital initiative, any staff member or student can demonstrate leadership to enhance learning. As Donald McGannon said, “leadership is action, not position.” School leadership, which is the process of enlisting and guiding the talents and energies of teachers, students, and families toward achieving common educational aims, is not exclusively for administrators. With the new paradigm shift in education and digital learning, all staff and students can be leaders.
What follows are some key leadership attributes that I’ve observed during my years as a school and district leader and of the leadership opportunities that digital learning technologies bring.
People follow people, not positions. They respect people who have accomplished something worthwhile and demonstrated that they deserve to be followed. In a digital paradigm shift, leaders need to modify practices and change mindsets. They can’t just talk about it; they must take action. The following leaderships skills can empower all students and educators to become leaders by their actions.
Action: Have Vision
Amidst all of the information, media sources, apps, and tools vying for our attention and dollars nowadays, it can be hard to focus and feel a sense of accomplishment. But vision gives us focus. Vision is a mental picture of the future that guides us, provides motivation to grow and improve, and gives us a sense of purpose. In digital leadership, vision helps us focus on the unchanging goal in the ever-changing K–12 education environment. Leaders prepare for the future of instruction by looking forward to see how students will best learn and retain information.
Pushback in digital learning often comes from educators who ask, “Why do we need to teach like this? My students did well in the past, why change now?” Vision helps leaders communicate goals clearly and work on what is important to achieve the desired student success.
Action: Make a Difference
It’s often a teacher who provides that initial inspiration for a student to become a lifelong learner. Making a difference is not about what we do but about how we teach and act. By being both respectful and relevant, digital leaders inspire colleagues and students to become more confident and motivated critical thinkers and learners. In caring for students and collaborating with fellow staff members, digital leaders must be willing and able to use the most current and efficient learning tools to create an environment that is conducive for learning.
Critical thinking does not mean thinking harder before giving an answer. It means being critical of all possible answers. If students are asking more questions and feeling comfortable conducting digital research, you can rest assured that they’ll continue the habit outside your class. By demonstrating interest in their learning and providing the digital tools to assist them, digital leaders make a difference in the lives of students and their colleagues. That is action!
Action: Adding Value
Adding value is about opening doors to better opportunities for students or colleagues. Many leaders are too quick to take charge, but effective leaders listen (another leadership action) to understand those who will follow. A good digital leader listens to what every person believes is important and takes the needs of students and/or colleagues into account when choosing and sharing digital tools for learning and presenting knowledge.
Action: Take Risks
Everything that is worth doing involves risk. While it can be scary to try new things, once someone else jumps into the digital realm it’s a lot easier to follow. Dwight Carter said, “By taking risks and reflecting on the results, leaders create a culture of risk-taking in a school that affects both student and professional learning.” Successful leaders, guided by vision, are calculated risk takers. They’re willing to try something new, even if they fail. Instead of focusing on numbers and tasks accomplished, effective digital leaders reflect on the how and why as they assess, evaluate, and move vision into reality.
Schools are experiencing a dramatic shift from how they’ve been run and structured for over a century. Digital leaders can establish direction, influence others, and initiate sustainable change as they navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology with the clear goal of improving student learning. Such leadership requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills to enhance school culture through technology. A digital leader can be anyone who has a vision to make a difference and the courage to make that vision a reality.