Education Opinion

A New 21st Century Educational Leadership Curriculum

By Beth Holland — August 25, 2016 4 min read
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Many thanks to Courtney Pepe, a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction in New Jersey, and Dr. Steven Locascio, the Director of Educational Leadership at Kean University, for this guest post.

We recently had the opportunity to co-teach a 21st-century curriculum course in an educational leadership program in New Jersey. Our entire department, which once exclusively employed traditional face-to-face classes, transitioned towards an online option in the past year. However, as Harvard professor Christopher Dede once said, “You can’t just sprinkle 21st-century skills on a 20th-century donut.” We stressed the principle that our educational leadership students have relevant and rigorous experiences that emphasized 21st-century communication, collaboration, and innovation.

21st Century Communication

Distance learning is not a new phenomenon and actually began in the 1800’s. At that time, courses were generally referred to as correspondence courses and met the needs of nontraditional students. Today, 21st-century learners are looking for something different and do not want a “cookie-cutter” approach to education (Saba, 2016). That said, just because students are participating in distance learning does not mean that they should have an isolating experience.

Our online course was developed as an eight module sequence, and like many online programs, moved at a predetermined pace (Saba, 2016) as students worked on the same assignments each week. To highlight the innovation of the course, during the second week, the students were asked to follow ten different thought leaders on Twitter. After the third week of the course, the students also followed one of the professors on Twitter. This experience taught the students to expand their global Personal Learning Network (PLN) and allowed them to see the inherent opportunities of sharing best practices.

The course ensures that 21st-century learning is continuous and extends beyond the four walls of the classroom. Once the students have completed the course, they have connections with a global network of world-class educators who will help drive their practice. In a follow-up assignment during the third week, students participated in a live twitter chat and wrote a reflection about how it furthered their learning. Collectively, these experiences will also prepare new educational leaders who are informed and able to “think outside of the box”.

21st Century Collaboration

Since the course required the students to follow various thought leaders on Twitter, it caught the attention of Dr. Lamont Repollet, Kean University Board Member and Superintendent of Schools in the Asbury Park School District, NJ. After being followed for several weeks, Dr. Repollet requested that the students virtually participate in an urban leadership conference. In order to facilitate that experience, two different tools were used: a TweetWall and Hootsuite.

Tweetwall allowed us to set up a live stream of Tweets that were displayed on a large projector screen at the conference while the face-to-face conference participants, all local educational leaders from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, participated in discussions about educational innovations. Essentially, the Tweetwall provided an extension of the scholarly conversation to many others beyond the meeting. Having the opportunity to see the Tweets of the graduate students provided an inspiration to the conference participants. The conference organizers were extremely pleased with the outcome of the discussions and the sharing of information. Dr. Repollet commented, “Social media improved the Educational Leadership student learning by giving them a front row seat to relevant discussions by practitioners and allowing them to participate and weigh in on the discussions and critical issues pertaining to urban education.

ImageMs. Pepe caters to two audiences at the same time: one audience is the face-to-face participants, and the other is her students who participated from home via Twitter, Hootsuite, and Tweetwall.

Future leaders need to be knowledgeable of the importance of digital leadership. Since school leadership can often be isolating, technology can help alleviate that isolation by providing a platform of shared ideas Further, as was discussed at the conference, leaders have the chance to set the precedence for the utilization of technology. Moving forward, this may give leaders a new way to work with their faculty and to ensure that they have “the right people on the bus”, which is important in an organization (Collins, 2001).


Blankstein, A. M., Noguera, P., Kelly, L., & Tutu, D. (2015). Excellence through equity: Five principles of courageous leadership to guide achievement for every student.

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap ... and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

Saba, F. (2016), Theories of Distance Education: Why They Matter. New Directions for Higher Education, 2016: 21-30. doi:10.1002/he.20176

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