Pillars of Digital Leadership Series: Student Engagement and Learning

12/20/2013 12:00:00 AM
This post is the fifth in a series that will outline the foundational elements of my new book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  It is set to be published by Corwin Press on January 14, 2014.  Currently there is a pre-publication discount of 15% for any orders before this date.  Over the next couple of weeks I will introduce what I have come to identify as the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a conceptual framework for leaders to begin thinking about changes to professional practice.  My book will focus on each of these elements as part of a change process. It will illustrate them in action through the work of practitioners and provide implementation strategies. To view the entire series click HERE.

Pillar #5: Student Engagement and Learning

Many of us firmly believe in technology’s potential to transform the teaching and learning cultures of schools. Whether it is used to enhance lessons, assess learning, engage students, or unleash creativity, technology has a defined role in a variety of school functions.  Many schools and leaders still treat education as an effort to prepare students for a world that no longer exists, one in which technology is viewed as either a frill, distraction, or a non-factor in improving student achievement. For many students, school does not reflect real life. This results in various levels of disengagement during the teaching and learning process. The question then becomes, how do we move those schools that are the most irrelevant in terms of meeting the diverse learning needs of their students to begin the transformation process? This is pivotal if we are to truly begin to reform education in a way that is meaningful to our students.  It all begins with leadership, whether at the district, building, or classroom level.


NMHS students using Chromebooks and Socrative

Our students want to be creative, collaborate, utilize technology for learning, connect with their peers in other countries, understand the messages that media convey, and solve real-world problems. Schools and systems of education that do not embrace digital learning and place a high emphasis on standardization will always fail to resonate with our students. It only makes sense to harness the power of technology as a catalyst for authentic engagement and application of concepts among our learners. If schools allow students to use the digital-age tools that they are using on a routine basis outside their walls, chances are they will find more relevancy and meaning in what they are learning.

Digital leadership is a mindset and a call to transform a school’s culture into one that unleashes the creativity of students so they can create artifacts of learning that demonstrate conceptual mastery. It is about providing learners with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to succeed in college, careers, and jobs that have not even been created yet.  This is accomplished by allowing students to use real-world tools to apply what they have learned and construct new knowledge. By focusing on how specific technologies can be used to engage students, digital leaders are establishing a foundation for learning that will lead to eventual increases in student achievement. This becomes a reality when school cultures are transformed to meet and anticipate the needs of learners in the Digital Age. Chapter 9 showcases the work of Patrick Larkin and teachers at New Milford High School who have become change agents in this area. It provides leaders with the foundational elements to successfully implement digital learning across the curriculum.

It is crucial that sound pedagogical techniques and best practices are emphasized in order to effectively integrate technology to enhance teaching and learning. One of the most important questions a leader needs to answer is how the students are using technology to apply learning and demonstrate conceptual mastery. Students must always be at the center of this process. All too often technology is infused into the learning environment where the teacher is still employing a direct approach to instruction. Are you leading change in this area or abiding by the status quo?

cross-posted on A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.
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