Friday, August 15, 2014

Digital Leadership Requires Leading from the Front; #leadershipday14

As a retired career military officer, I have always operated under the firm conviction that whether you serve children as principal or superintendent, you are obligated to lead the technological journey into 21st century learning from the front. Ultimately, as superintendent I’m responsible for providing a level of professional learning for leaders in my district that help accomplish this objective. There are many ways to provide quality learning experiences but I believe that the more personally involved I am and the more I set the tone by my own use of technology in my role as district chief executive officer, the greater the credibility for asking the members of my team to do the same.

This recent spring and summer, our administrative team has been engaged in an ongoing study of what it means to be digital leaders in our schools as well as our district as a whole. We’ve been reading Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (Corwin, January 2014) as the basis for our discussion and plan to wrap up our study during a one-hour, face-to-face discussion and development of coordinated action plans later this month.  Eric identifies what he calls seven pillars of digital leadership: 
  • Communications
  • Public relations
  • Branding
  • Student engagement/learning
  • Professional growth/development
  • Re-envisioning learning spaces/environments
  • Opportunity 

This is the first concerted effort we’ve made as an administrative team to delve more deeply into the use of technology in the performance of our daily work. My own use of technology has become well known throughout the area but for the most part, I saw the majority of our team limiting themselves to email and texting. Most of our past focus on technology has been on its use in the classroom with the main effort towards building a supporting infrastructure and equipping teachers and students with the latest tools. Very little has been accomplished in the area of engaging and enabling our school and district administrators to be visible leaders in this area by using and modeling digital tools on a daily basis.

To facilitate our study, I set up a free Blackboard Learn site to host our online discussions centered weekly around several threads based on Eric’s book. Here’s an example of the type of thought-starters I’ve been using to drive our discussion (from Chapter 2: Why Schools Must Change):

Sheninger argues that today's industrial-model schools no longer meet the needs of students. What are some of the common practices found in schools that are outmoded? 
Which of these practices are evident in our school district? If you could, which would you change and why?

I wasn’t quite sure at first how this would go since besides myself our team includes our two assistant superintendents (finance and teaching/learning), principals and assistant principal from all grade levels, business manager, tech director, dean of students, athletic director, special ed director, my executive assistant and HR coordinator, and the community education director. This variety ensured that our online conversations were not necessarily always focused on teaching and learning, and it’s been important that the discussion threads have been open to a wide variety of ways for using digital leadership in the workplace.  That way, no matter what our individual roles, each response may serve to directly or indirectly support the work within the classroom. The results have been better than I expected and the general feedback from members on our team has been very positive, to say the least.

Here’s one sample response to a question on professional connectedness as a digital leadership standard. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of thinking and reflection about digital leadership I’m looking for this summer:

Connectedness has always been the standard for anyone who desires to expand his or her ability to learn and grow. Digital resources and a self-created PLN help expand the opportunity and range of ways to become connected, to connect both to and for others. The greatest benefits to me have been:

·       The realization that the challenges in education are universal.
·       The affirmation that schools and school personnel worldwide are positive forces for change and growth for societies. 
·       The creative challenge to take what has worked for others and use it in some way to transform my own work.

All of these are enhanced by my own digital PLN. I am mostly a consumer of information, and have some growing to do begin more production of information. Guess it's time to dust off the blog I started a few years ago…

The variety of leadership viewpoints that have been expressed each week have demonstrated to me that while we all see the use of technology from different perspectives, we can certainly come together as a team and develop the synergy needed to further move our district towards a 21st century learning community. Ultimately, approaching our professional learning in this manner is providing me with a roadmap that I can use to further steer our learning over time. Use of the Blackboard Learn tool also enables me to capture our conversations so that eventually we can utilize everyone’s input in collaboratively developing a common theme for digital leadership that will serve as our joint resolution and basis for action planning in the coming year.

Ultimately, real change will require each member of the team to internalize what we've collectively and individually learned over the past ten weeks. But the driver of that change must be the leader of the organization, leading by both example and participation in the process. There's no room in 21st century schools for leaders who stand on the sidelines. It's time for all of us to lead from the front.

Read other Leadership Day 2014 posts.

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