“What am I prepared to do to improve all facets of my school?” This is the driving question in Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey.
Recently released by Corwin, Digital Leadership serves as part memoir, part user’s guide for technology implementation; an appropriate read for pre-service teachers and state superintendents alike. But as a whole, Sheninger’s book serves as a call to action to educators at all levels to expose students to problems that have “meaning and relevancy” by incorporating digital tools into the curriculum.
“The driving question we should be asking,” Sheninger says, ” is how we should use the technology that is available to us to improve what we do instead of why we should use it to improve what we do.”
Throughout his book, Sheninger shares narratives of actual educators in actual schools who have acknowledged the need to leverage educational technology for learning and successfully done so through their vision and a willingness to act. “For many students school does not reflect real life,” Sheninger says. “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.”
Nevertheless, for those educators ready to lead change who simply don’t know how to get started with their own technology initiatives, Digital Leadership shares Sheninger’s Seven Pillars that helped him transform from luddite to leader. “The Pillars of Digital Leadership represent a basis from which new ideas and practices evolve in order to improve schools and professional practices…[They] provide a context for leaders to lead in different ways that are aligned with societal shifts that place an increased demand on technological fluency and integrations.”
And while such issues as Android versus iOS platforms are debatable, that the world our students live in and will graduate into requires an increasing proficiency with technological skills is most definitely not. “Technology is here to stay,” says Sheninger. “Its value rests in whether leaders decide to use it effectively to positively impact the lives of our students . . .The results and impact will speak for themselves.”
Inherent in Sheninger’s beliefs, as laid out in Digital Leadership, is a focus on commitment. In order to “get everyone on board to initiate and sustain change,” Sheninger points to the ideas of connectedness, vision, value, support, professional development, and embracement. Of these, Sheninger says, “We have seen many shifts in terms of instruction, communication, and learning at New Milford High, resulting in a transformative culture that is more able to meet the needs of our students.”
Yet, while students are the primary focus of digital leadership, all stakeholders benefit from adopting such a mindset. Stemming from the belief that it takes a community to raise a child, Sheninger asserts the importance of including all parties involved in the process of education. He says, “For school leaders, communication and community relations have been identified as one of the nine most important skills to master . . .It is our job to keep current with the astronomical increase in technology use by our stakeholders.” Additionally, Sheninger emphasizes the importance of creating an open environment allowing stakeholders to see and participate in a supportive school endeavor.
But before assuming that digital leadership works at New Milford High School because Sheninger has an entire staff who shares his passion for technology, understand that technology use at New Milford is an option, not a mandate. While many of Sheninger’s teachers have chosen to integrate digital tools such as SMART boards and personal learning devices into their classrooms, there are those still who haven’t. Nevertheless, as a digital leader at New Milford High, Sheninger responds to each of his staff members with the same unconditional love. He says, “The best way to love your employees in order to initiate sustainable change is to trust and support them unconditionally.”
You see, while Digital Leadership emphasizes the importance of meeting today’s students’ needs for meaning, it does so in a larger context. “As important as technology is to digital leadership, human interaction remains the key component of changing education now and in the future.” Through its interwoven narratives of successes and failures at New Milford High School and elsewhere, Digital Leadership makes this abundantly clear.
Dave Guymon is a public online middle school teacher, edtech blogger, and the author of If You Can’t Fail, It Doesn’t Count. He resides in Idaho Falls, Idaho and tweets at @DaveGuymon .