The importance of digital learning is, by now, well established. But as schools and classrooms across the nation use digital strategies to engage students and boost achievement, digital leadership has emerged as one of the most important areas in which to invest thought, time and resources.
Today, digital leadership isn’t limited only to administrators. With the emergence of teacher-leaders, educators at all levels have a chance to model digital leadership for their peers and for students.
Districts that model exceptional digital leadership often have several things in common. Here, Dr. Mark Edwards, senior vice president of digital learning for Discovery Education and former superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District, which has been much celebrated for its dedication to digital integration and 21st-century learning, shares insights on how districts can ensure they are full of digital leaders.
1. Align job descriptions, evaluation processes, and evaluation expectations around digital learning and digital leadership.
“I think aligning expectations around using digital resources and expectations around embracing them at every level, from district leaders on down, creates a sense of a willful disposition to learn more and grow in the digital space,” Edwards said. “Just as technology is changing constantly, that leadership frame has to change and evolve.”
Next page: 8 more strategies for supporting digital leadership
2. Leverage opportunities for collaboration.
“One of the great aspects of using digital resources are all the opportunities to learn in collaborative communities,” Edwards said.
Educators have to embrace the understanding that they have the opportunity and the value of having a community to learn from and from which to grow.
3. Make digital leadership a clear part of the hiring process.
“In terms of the interview process, questions should be very clear about an individual’s expertise in and comfort with digital leadership,” Edwards said.
When it comes to existing teachers, he said, the key lies in having a healthy respect for change leadership and in using directional nurturing.
“If you have a great teacher working hard for 20 years and they’re struggling to realign with digital resources, it’s natural–offer direction to veteran teachers in a nurturing way,” he said. “Everyone will move at a different pace, but the goal should be the same–helping children learn and helping teachers teach.”
4. Don’t underestimate students’ digital leadership.
“I think that when you’re thinking about hiring and developing digital leadership, that you attach it to student leadership too,” said Edwards. “One of the things I got real excited about seeing was seeing high school students provide digital leadership for elementary school students.”
5. Celebrate the small steps toward digital integration.
“Lots of districts celebrate small steps. They’re not declaring victory but they’re declaring progress,” Edwards said. “In every faculty meeting, I had a principal who celebrated small steps, but that led to big steps.”
6. Don’t underestimate the importance of school and district culture.
When educators talk about digital innovation and digital learning, they also realize how important it is to create a collective disposition that they are there to grow and learn with students. Modeling that mindset encourages students to do the same.
“When that culture is really strong with a deliberate sense of innovation, expectation, everyone benefits from it. If you don’t have that strong culture you can work really hard and not get things done. Culture is a huge factor in terms of creating that innovative spirit and innovation,” Edwards said.
7. If you don’t know where to start, reflect and review.
“I think those initial conversations [around an internal instructional reflective review] are vital,” Edwards said.
After those conversations have started and have been channeled to formal goals and plans, supporting some of the instructional changes with professional development is especially important.
“I believe professional development is the lifeblood of new learning,” Edwards said.
8. Partnerships can help increase digital leadership.
“Partnering with local universities [can help] so that when we’re trying to build the structure for teacher development, superintendent training, and principal training, to make sure that training is there at the university level,” Edwards said.
9. Be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.
Acknowledging progress often means experiencing failure, but when educators feel empowered enough to try something new, they should be applauded even if they fail, Edwards said.