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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is Your School Leadership Style...Outdated?

By Peter DeWitt — January 12, 2014 4 min read
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It’s 2014, and hopefully we are past pontificating about 21st century skills. At this point, we all should know it’s the 21st century, and our students need those skills to survive in our present and future world. How can we deny the importance of technology in our everyday lives? Walk into a restaurant and you will see numerous people on their smartphones. Some of it may be overkill but it illustrates the importance of connecting to others.

But that’s in our personal surroundings.

Our schools are vastly different. Smartphones are prevented from entering the main door...for students. Technology is embraced in some schools, while in others it seems to be outlawed. Some of that is due to the ever-increasing cost, but too often it’s due to an unwillingness on our part to change. Too many educators dislike technology, and too many school leaders are at the center of why that happens.

If you watch the Today Show, their new studio comes equipped with a social networking room where they cover what is trending...Today. Whether it’s a morning show or the nightly news, viewers are inundated with images that the newscasters, or their producers, find on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Yet, those very sites are blocked when our students enter our buildings, which is a big sign telling them that their schools are behind and outdated.

What’s worse is that it prevents our students from having a richer experience in school. For example, Skype could open up a whole new world for them. Whether we have relatives living in other countries or across our own country, Skype is a tool that provides virtual face-to-face communication. It could be used to communicate with other classrooms around the world, or the author of a book that a class just finished. Unfortunately, it’s typically blocked in schools.

It’s time we change that, and Eric Sheninger, the progressive high school principal in New Milford, NJ is going to help us do that. Sheninger’s forthcoming book Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times will likely ruffle a few feathers in the education field because he takes on an unwillingness to embrace technology...something our students embraced at birth.

Let’s face it, most people have technology in their pockets. To prove that Sheninger cites some interesting statistics. For example, using research from mobiThinking (2012) Sheninger writes, “At the end of 2011, there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions. That is equivalent to 87% of the world population and is a huge increase from 5.4 billion mobile subscriptions in 2010 and 4.7 billion in 2009.”

Not only do we have the technology, we use it a great deal as well. Sheninger writes,

The average time Americans spend online increased dramatically over the first decade of the 21st century, from 2.7 hours per week in 2000, to 2.6 hours per day in 2010; and that's the average; high school students are much more active users of Web 2.0 technologies (Rodriguez, 2010, p. 56)."

Given the amount of time that we spend using technology, trends change rapidly. Those trends sometimes add to the frustration about technology, because people feel they cannot keep up with it. The problem for educators is...our students can.

Current Trends

There are new start-up companies, ever-changing social networking possibilities, and our devices have changed from being immobile on a desk top to having the ability to fit into our pockets. Sheninger delves into current trends, and provides a deep understanding of each, as well as a framework for what schools can do to embrace technology. The following are just a few of the changing trends he highlights in the book:

  • Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) - Smartboard, etc.
  • Tablets - iPads, Samsung, etc.
  • Document Cameras - The new version of the overhead projector. Come on...you still have teachers that use overheads.
  • Chromebooks - No memory, just instance access to the internet.
  • Cloud Computing - Yes, he mentions privacy laws.
  • Web 2.0 Applications - And he explains what this means.
  • Video Conferencing - Skype, Google Hangout, etc.
  • Open Courseware (OCW) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) - Something that is very controversial these days.
  • Gaming - Do games really help promote creativity?

Although very pro-technology, Sheninger offers a realistic view that provides a look at both sides of the argument. And just to be clear, that’s just the first chapter.

From Soup to Nuts

As a school leader I know it’s difficult to try to keep up with trends without spending too much money on devices that may not be the best fit for the needs within the school. In addition, school leaders understand that they also have to figure out how to cheer on the people who are already doing a great job with innovative technological practices, at the same time they have to hold the hands of those who are unwilling to move forward.

Sheninger covers a broad range of topics, provides the framework for what leaders need to do to move forward, and offers vignettes about schools that have taken the plunge in all the different areas. Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times focuses on the evolving educational landscape, why schools must change, Keys to leading sustainable change, leading with technology, communication, public relations, branding (Should Leaders Brand Their Schools), professional growth and development, increasing student engagement and enhancing learning, rethinking learning environments and spaces, discovering opportunity, and finishes with a call to action.

In the End

Eric is a valued member of my PLN and has become a friend. He and I both write for Corwin Press, but I don’t get a kickback for covering his book, it’s just that good. Technology is vast and there is so much to it, which is why this book is important for school leaders and educators. Sheninger literally has something for everyone in his new book, and he provides most of what school leaders need so they do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many school leaders have outdated practices, and others who are looking for help to move forward. Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times will help meet that need, and it is available on Tuesday, January 14th from Corwin Press.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.