Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Vital Role of Digital Leadership in Transforming Education

Education will not be the same.  Now before you think that this is a “doom and gloom” outlook, let me elaborate.  The COVID19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our world more than we could have ever imagined. In the case of schools, there has been a dramatic shift to remote learning that has allowed all of us to reflect on where we are, but more importantly, where we want and need to be in the near future. There has been a myriad of challenges that have, and will, continue to be overcome. Through all this adversity, educators have risen to the occasion and have begun the tedious process of redefining education and what real learning really should be.

In times of chaos, opportunity arises. That is how we must look at the present situation.  We can ill afford to go back to a mindset of that’s the way we have always done it (TTWWADI) as our learners and educators deserve better. The lessons learned from this crisis can empower us all to chart a new path to create cultures of learning that provide kids with the competencies to succeed in a post-COVID19 world.  What this will look like is truly anyone’s guess, but the one thing I know for sure is that the ability to think, regardless of what’s going on in the world, will best serve our learners.

So, where do we begin? The answer is and has been right in front of us, and that’s digital leadership.  The thing though, is that it can no longer be optional or just aforethought. Here are some of my thoughts from 2013, which have aged nicely:
Digital leadership considers recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century, as what started as a personal use of technology has become systemic to every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, and initiating sustainable change through the access to information, and establishing relationships to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future. It requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills that are employed to change and/or enhance school culture through the assistance of technology.
I must say that the definition and description above align seamlessly with the environment we are currently experiencing. In a previous post, I outlined the Pillars of Digital Leadership that included key considerations. Below I will address these through a new lens from which we can begin to transform teaching, learning, and leadership in a post-COVID19 world. 

Student engagement, learning, and outcomes: How will learning change in ways that better meet the needs of all learners? The pandemic revealed a harsh reality that a good number of educators already knew, and that was the fact that in many cases, education was preparing students for a world that no longer exists. The purposeful use of technology and sound pedagogy that empowers kids to think through relevant applications should be the drivers. Learning going forward should be anything but common

Innovative learning spaces and environments: How will the environment and conditions under which kids learn change to more adequately reflect the reality of the world they live in? Remote learning has brought to the forefront the need to develop pedagogically sound synchronous and asynchronous strategies, especially in virtual environments. The “space” during the COVID19 pandemic hasn’t been a brick and mortar school, but a home. Investments in flexible seating should continue, but a more concerted effort to personalize learning through high-agency practices such as blended learning is needed at scale. Many kids have flourished during remote learning as they have been able to follow a unique path or learn at their own pace. This might be one of the most valuable lessons learned during the pandemic and can be a catalyst to re-envision learning when schools re-open.

Professional learning: How will professional learning change to better emulate the conditions where kids are now expected to learn? This question also takes into consideration the support that teachers and administrators need based on lessons learned from COVID19. Let’s face it - many schools were caught off guard and were not prepared to implement remote learning. While educators across the world stepped up and have made it work, support now, and in the future, has to be prioritized.  When it comes to professional learning that leads to improved outcomes, the research is pretty clear in that it should be job-embedded and ongoing. We can now add that it should also be more reflective of the current landscape. You can’t re-envision or transform education if professional learning doesn’t change. A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a must in a remote learning world. 

Communication: How have you effectively and consistently given stakeholders the right information at the right time through a variety of digital and non-digital pathways?  Excessive communication during times of crisis is a must and is greatly appreciated by all members of the community.  The key is to leverage a variety of tools, but also be cognizant that not everyone might have access to or even want to use technology.  Finding a balance and sweet spot should be the goal. Consider taking risks with different mediums and media to better connect with those who you serve and support. 

Public relations: How are you sharing remote learning successes and forging relationships with the mainstream media? As I have stated for years, if you don’t tell your story, then someone else will.  Social media is a great tool that everyone has access to use. However, we cannot forget the power of television, newspapers, radios, and other traditional sources. Not only do they still have value, but also, in some cases, they resonate more within and beyond a community. Digital leaders understand that a strategy has to be in place, and it will be crucial to garnering support for a new normal of learning. 

Branding: How does our messaging resonate with stakeholders while building relationships in the process? The “brand” is your work that is shared through communication and public relations strategies. Anything shared works to create a presence, either positive or negative. Digital amplifies this process. The key is to embrace 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. Improve the work, share the work, celebrate the work, and the process of change will take hold. There is no better opportunity to re-envision and transform education than now. 

Here are a few points to keep in mind. Leadership is about action, not title, position, or power. Teachers are just as, if not more, important than administrators in terms of ushering in change at scale. Autonomy, selflessness, support, and a growth mindset are critical. The most effective leaders are not in it for themselves. They are great because they build capacity, promote the success of others, provide needed support, and always give credit where it belongs. 

When it is all said and done, the embracement of digital leadership can, and will, lead to the creation of schools that not only work better for kids but also leave them better prepared if and when another crisis occurs. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

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