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school principals

Are you a regular principal or a New Learning Leader?

New data shows that school principals are both instructional leaders and digital evangelists

School principals recognize their unique positions as digital evangelists and are evolving to lead their schools into a new era of learning, according to new data on school leadership.

New data from Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up survey, packaged in a report along with Blackboard, shows that the “new” school principal has skills and values that “inherently emphasize the importance of personalized learning and effective school-to-home communications.”

This new approach, dubbed the “New Learning Leader,” means principals embody the roles of both instructional leader and digital evangelist. They support new approaches to online and digital learning and they value technology’s potential to create more personalized learning, while at the same time acknowledging teachers’ irreplaceable roles in learning.

This new category of school principals is more likely than others to have implemented blended, competency-based, or flipped learning environments at their school, according to the new research. Fifty-one percent of all principals have implemented blended learning at their school, while 74 percent of New Learning Leaders are in charge of a blended learning school.

Two-thirds of New Learning Leaders say their most significant challenge in using digital resources effectively is offering effective teacher training. These principals have a stronger focus than others on modeling self-directed professional learning for their teachers.

New Learning Leaders also are more inclined to use data to inform their leadership tasks, including:

  • Providing feedback to their teachers on how to improve classroom practices (89 percent)
  • Setting schoolwide goals (85 percent)
  • Sharing information with parents (74 percent)

New Learning Leaders also share district concerns about student outcomes and educational equity, according to the report. Nearly 60 percent of these principals say closing their school’s achievement gap is a top priority, and they also appreciate the importance of maintaining high teacher morale as new digital strategies and initiatives are implemented.

Forty-five percent of New Learning Leaders say motivating teachers to use technology more often to personalize learning in the classroom is an ongoing challenge.

Despite this challenge, teachers’ use of digital instructional content has increased steadily over the past five years. In 2012, just 30 percent of teachers used diigtal or online games in their classrooms, while 62 percent of teachers reported using games at least monthly in 2017.

The report notes that New Learning Leaders recognize that increased digital content doesn’t necessarily mean teachers are integrating digital resources and content effectively, and these leaders are focused on driving innovation from various angles. They are creating tech-rich environments to support blended, flipped, and competency-based learning and are acting as instructional coaches to model digital teaching and learning processes.

Nearly all New Learning Leaders (95 percent) agree that effective use of classroom technology is important for students’ future success, and two-thirds of these principals believe effective digital learning is extremely important for students’ future.

The report also shows that New Learning Leaders tend to implement new learning models more than all other principals, including flipped learning (53 percent of New Learning Leaders versus 35 percent of all other principals), competency-based learning (67 percent versus 46 percent), and blended learning (74 percent versus 51 percent).

New Learning Leaders say preservice teachers should develop a number of digital teaching skills before joining their school team:

  • Be able to effectively use technology to differentiate instruction (89 percent)
  • Interpret and use data to support student learning and improve teaching practice (84 percent)
  • Know how to use digital tools to communicate with parents and students (82 percent)
  • Use technology to create authentic learning experiences for students (78 percent)
  • Use technology to facilitate student collaboration (78 percent)
  • Evaluate quality of digital content and resources for classroom use and use effectively to support student learning (69 percent)

In their role as instructional coaches, New Learning Leaders are challenged with balancing instructional time constraints and finding the right mix of addressing curricular standards with opportunities for both engaged student learning and the effective use of digital resources. They also focus on equity challenges, access to appropriate devices in school, ensuring high-quality products are available, and ensuring those products are aligned to and support the curriculum.

As these principals evaluate digital content, they demonstrate a strong understanding of how to support their teachers’ adoption process through a select set of metrics:

  • Content that allows teachers to modify usage to meet individual classroom needs (82 percent)
  • Content that creates a rich set of student data that teachers can use to personalize instruction (75 percent)
  • Content that includes embedded professional development for teachers (71 percent)
  • Content that is created by practicing teachers who understand real classroom environments (57 percent)
  • Content that has been evaluated by practicing teachers for appropriateness and implementation success (55 percent)

New Learning Leaders rely heavily on data to inform their leadership tasks, with the majority using data to develop strategies for school improvement, to provide feedback to teachers about how to improve their classroom practices, setting schoolwide goals and objectives, determining teachers’ needs for professional development, tracking trends over time and within certain student cohorts, and sharing information with parents.

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Laura Ascione

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