Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share the story of our digital transformation in the Salisbury Township School District with an audience of school leaders just beginning their journey. While our work has been documented in detail on TL2020.org (and previously TL2014.org) and in our published iBook, I wanted to prepare a simple message for the audience - one that broadly described the phases of our journey and inspired the listeners to action.
The simple message of our digital transformation is this: Lead it. Support it. Evaluate it. In this post, I’ll focus on Lead it. (While I’m discussing these principles in a linear manner, think of them as cyclical. You’re never really finished!)
The deeper I get into the work of digital transformation (and it’s been almost a decade), the more I see evidence of the importance and value of effective leadership. Digital transformations cannot be successful without leadership on multiple levels - district, school board, building, teacher and student.
If you don’t have district leaders - Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Director of Curriculum, Director of Technology - who understand the power and potential of digital learning, transformation will be limited to isolated classrooms.
In 2006, our schools had very limited access to technology, and both teaching and learning were rooted in 20th century models. Since then, our vision for teaching and learning and the goals of our digital transformation have largely been driven and coordinated by district level leadership. Today, we have increased access to technology (1:1, grades K-12) and increased use of progressive teaching and learning models. For a glimpse into student learning, instructional design and curriculum design, check out our iBook.
School Board Leadership
Be prepared to invest the time and energy into sharing your vision and goals, and educating the school board around the need for change. They are the gatekeepers of human and financial resources.
Our board meets as a committee of the whole for Curriculum & Technology Committee meetings once a month. Early on, we frequently engaged our board members in conversations about the need to change the way we teach and learn. We reinforced this need through presentations from teachers and students who were embracing the change process. Over many years, board members developed a rich understanding of the vision and need for change. When it came time to provide the human and financial resources, the decision was not a difficult one since the board had witnessed the benefits and understood the need. Today, we continue to have Curriculum & Technology Committee meetings in our school buildings with students and teachers regularly and publicly sharing their work. As our digital transformation develops, the board continues to play an important role, endorsing the vision and providing the resources to support its implementation.
Principals can make or break the transformation through the manner in which they establish expectations and create opportunities for conversations focused on improving practices in teaching and learning with digital tools.
In line with our digital transformation goals, building principals recently used a data protocol to analyze data from our walkthrough protocol. Building principals then took the data protocol and initial data analysis back to their school leadership teams for further discussion and action planning. Through building leadership, the incremental, day-to-day work of transforming our classrooms is being monitored and adjusted through regular conversation about practice.
Pioneering innovators and those who are naturally intrinsically motivated to tinker and experiment with new ideas, tools and pedagogy will provide valuable inertia as you implement and refine your vision for teaching and learning.
This year we have created the Innovate Salisbury team. Consisting of 15 teachers who have either demonstrated innovative practices in their classroom or an inclination to try something different, the Innovate Salisbury team is working to identify “uncommon dots” in education that could potentially become part of our vision for teaching and learning in 2020. Through the leadership and voice of this group of teachers, we will be reimagining the classrooms for tomorrow.
Even though students are our “customers” and have valuable insights into how they best learn both inside and outside of school, we too often leave their voices out of our digital transformation efforts.
As we focus on redefining teaching and learning this year, we are actively engaging the voice of our students. Lynn Fuini-Hetten, our Assistant Superintendent, along with our building principals and I have been meeting regularly with students. For our first meeting this year, we asked students to describe how they learn best, inside and outside of school, and how they collaborate. For our future meetings with students, we will work on a STEM-oriented Lego design challenge and engage students in conversation around what the future of learning looks like to them.
For me, there are two important takeaways on the topic of leadership and digital transformation:
1. Take leadership out of a digital transformation and you miss the foundation on which everything else is built.
2. The traditional notion of leadership - people with titles - is no longer valid. For digital transformations to be successful, leadership must be developed and distributed at all levels of the system - district, school board, building, teacher and student.
What role has leadership played in your digital transformation? Which area is a strength? Which area needs more development? Are there areas of leadership you would add to this list?