Final day of the Learning@School conference and I had the opportunity to lead a session in the unconference area on leading learning in the digital age. There was a small, but intensely interested group from both primary and secondary school backgrounds that gathered to consider what is required of those who are leading learning in our schools in a digital age. Here’s a quick summary of some of the things we discussed and explored…
- Long horizon vision – this was the unanimously agreed on as being the most significant attribute of a leader. We discussed the difference between a “short horizon” vision and a “long horizon” one – and how it is the latter that is required. An example of a “short horizon” vision is the school leader who explains that his/her vision is to have a wireless network throughout the school so that students and staff are able to connect to the internet using any device they have available. A school leader with a “long horizon” vision might explain his/her aspirations for his/her students to be able to function effectively in a digitally enabled world, and that a part of this is being able to have ubiquitous access to the ICT tools and networks as a regular part of learning activity. The provision of a wireless network might be one of the tactics used to achieve this.We also referred to the work of Henry Mintzberg who, in writing about Visionary Leadership, identified three key characteristics of a visionary leader…
- the capability to envision view of desired future organization state,
- the ability to articulate and communicate that vision to followers
- the ability to empower followers to enact the vision
We observed that while a number of school leaders make claims in terms of the first of these, many fail to communicate this effectively, while others simply don’t hold the trust of others to make it happen.
- Modelling – we had much discussion around the fact that leaders must be users of the technology for them to have any credibility in terms of their vision or engaging others to enact that vision. To fully appreciate what it means to be able to function in the digital age one needs to experience that – it’s almost impossible to assimilate such understandings from simply observing others or reading about it all. Schools that are most successful in the ways they are working with ICTs are the ones where ICTs are very naturally and appropriately used by everyone as a part of the everyday learning activity – including the school leaders.
- Teachers as leaders – there was also much discussion about how to effect change when the principal of a school simply isn’t operating as a 21st century educator – whether through fear, ignorance or simply because retirement is looming 🙂 Sadly, from the conversations in our group, such people still exist, and because of the position they hold, can prove to be a “block” to making progress. We discussed the fact that principals are only one of the leaders in a school, and that all teachers should think of themselves as leaders in paving the way forward in such circumstances – through developing creative and innovative programmes, through modelling appropriate digital behaviours themselves, through helping develop the leadership skills of others (mentoring etc), and through actively contributing to and informing school policy and resourcing decisions.