Education Opinion

Reinventing Leadership Online

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 23, 2009 3 min read
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“Yikes! I feel for Ms. Gerald,” wrote one teacher in an online learning course of her principal, “being at work until 10:30 pm. On top of working, we all have our home lives too!” This comment was in the midst of an active online learning course where participants were online as late as midnight participating in the conversation, or up as early as 5:00 AM. Did they have to do this? No. They were engaged, excited about discovering each other online.

The campus principal who learns online with her staff sends a powerful message about the value of online learning environments and their use in schools.

One of the points that Ms. Gerald makes as a result of participating in online learning course appears below:

Imagine an elementary school where all students have access to all the technology "gadgets" that enhance their learning! I appreciate the information Miguel posted from Susan Patrick because she touched on something that I strongly believe in - the need to move from teaching as we were taught to teaching using the technological skills the students either already have, or will need to be successful. The day of the 1 textbook and the "sit & get" way of teaching are over! It is time for educators to move out of their comfort zones and get with it - principals included!

For a campus administrator, it can be tough in a high stakes, cut-throat environment to pull a team together. An online learning course--that experience of learning something new together--can bond the campus team together in a way that maybe face to face time can’t do. It’s the power of learning something new while you reflect on your current circumstances.


An entire campus signed up to be a part of the Intro course, and the principal came along...and not just for the ride. That principal led from the front, jumping into the online learning experience, modelling that learning is for everyone, not just the teachers in the trenches.

Online learners in my intro class shared their reflections of what online learning is:

  • • “I realized that online learning gives those of us who work opportunities for continued education at our own time and pace.”
  • • “I know that I am an independent learner, but I also know that I am one to respond positively through active conversation with others. I felt that the only way to do that was in a traditional classroom; now I understand that I can have that active conversation through others’ comments and postings.”
  • • “This introductory course has greatly influenced how I feel about online learning. Although I was very nervous at first it has clearly given me the self confindence to take on a course of this nature. In addition this course has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own experiences and evaluate those skills I already had. I encourage anyone who is skeptical about an online course to embrace it with open arms and reap the benefits it has to offer.”

For each of these participants, there was a checklist about teaching and learning that they were working from. Such a checklist might be:

  • • Traditional face to face workshops are the only way to learn.
  • • I would not do well in an online learning environment because I am not that tech-savvy.
  • • When you are online, you lose the affect of a conversation, you are distanced from other people.

Old habits have, perhaps, predisposed us to learning a certain way, or worse, limiting our understanding of what we believe we can do. As leaders, we have to be willing to embrace online professional learning, online conversations and begin to build online communities.


Moodle, a course management system, can provide a solution that can be used to bridge the divide between school and home. Principals also can use it as a way to direct book studies with their teacher teams or conduct electronic coffee meetings with parents and the community.

As an administrator, I wonder if a minor adaptation of Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Prayer of Jabez” might not be appropriate (my apologies to Bruce and Prayer of Jabez advocates!):

Please let me expand my opportunities to authentically engage my staff, parents, community and my impact on them in such a way that they understand how to help their children -- my students -- be and do more in life."

While you can find out about how to get Moodle going in your District--read one approach here--consider that every few years, an opportunity comes along. It is an opportunity to begin again with your team, to show how you are a learner just like them, swept up in the tidal wave of change and that survival depends on commitment and coordinated effort.

It is an invitation to reinvent ourselves in a public way, as leaders and learners. Robert Quinn, author of Deep Change, puts it in this way:

Empowered leaders are the only ones who can induce real change. They can forcefully communicate at a level beyond telling. By having the courage to change themselves, they model the behavior they are asking of others. Clearly understood by almost everyone, this message, based in integrity, is incredibly powerful. It builds trust and credibility and helps others confront the risk of empowering self."

Like you, I am called to reinvent myself daily. Let’s do this together...embrace online learning and engage your teachers, staff, and community.

About the Blogger

Miguel Guhlin serves as Director of Instructional Technology Services for a large urban school district in San Antonio. Read his blog online at http://mguhlin.org.

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk 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.