Book Review: Digital Leadership

“Digital leadership is a mindset and a call to transform a school’s culture into one that unleashes the creativity of students so they can create artifacts of learning that demonstrate conceptual mastery”

51qfa2pjytl-_sx373_bo1204203200_Eric Sheninger’s 2014 book, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (2014), is both an explanation of and a guide to effective digital leadership in today’s schools. I read this book a year ago (when it first came out) and it has really stuck with me. The book is easy to read and provides many real-life examples of effective school leaders in action. Sheninger himself didn’t begin his administrative career as a connected leader, nor was his school particularly innovative with technology or learning.  Once he began to connect with other school leaders and see the possibilities, he was able to establish a vision for how technology should be used in the school in order to support education.  The connection he found with other leaders and the transparency with which he communicates are the keys to the success he has had.

The main argument in this book is around the seven pillars of Digital Leadership, which he seamlessly dovetails with ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators.

Before examining the pillars of Digital Leadership, Sheninger makes a case for change in education.  Rather than focusing on memorizing facts, students today need to learn to collaborate and solve new problems.  In order to serve our students and prepare them for a new society, we must reinvent the way in which they are taught.  Sheninger makes the case that this can only be done by visionary leaders who take the time to communicate and model innovative learning.  In Sheninger’s words, “Leaders today must establish a vision and implement a strategic process that creates a teaching and learning culture that provides students with essential skill sets – creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, technological proficiency, and global awareness.”  Only after this vision is established can the leader embark on the seven pillars of Digital Leadership. These are outlined below.

Communication, Public Relations, and Branding

The first three of Sheninger’s pillars of Digital Leadership are closely linked in my mind. Communication, Public Relations, and Branding are all themes that come up repeatedly in ISTE’s NETS-A.  Sheninger make a clear case that leaders who are able to articulate their vision will have greater success than those who cannot.  Although he puts great value on blogging and social media for communicating with the greater world, he also makes a case for holding face-to-face workshops with parents. Along with the idea of communicating a vision comes Public Relations (building a story about the school) and Branding (building a story about the leader).  It is up to the school leader to communicate the story that he or she most wants the world to know.  If this isn’t done, then the world may tell a story that is less favorable and even untrue.  If the school leader can demonstrate positive Communication, Public Relations, and Branding for the faculty and students, they can follow the example and have more rewarding digital experiences themselves.

Professional Growth and Development

School leaders who can model modern professional growth and development will be more effective to themselves and their schools.  Particularly, Sheninger gives the example of several leaders who model learning through a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Rather than passively receiving information, as in a traditional school setting, leaders are making choices and constantly evaluating information.  School leaders who can effectively demonstrate personal learning are invaluable models to the faculty and students around them.

Increasing Student Engagement, Rethinking Learning Environments, and Discovering Opportunity

A school’s primary mission is to serve the students and to prepare them for their future. However, rather than start with this goal in his pillars of Digital Leadership, Sheninger finishes with it.  He feels student goals cannot be met until the school leader is able to communicate and model this way of learning.  For example, if technology integration happens before a shift in learning culture, we end up with teachers who use iPads as worksheets and SMARTboards as overhead projectors (Alan November’s $1,000 pencil comes to mind). Once school leaders and faculty embrace the ideas of connected learning, student environments can be transformed and made relevant to today’s learners. Students, like leaders and faculty, will learn to approach learning as an intrinsic, personal activity.  In locating, evaluating, and synthesizing the information around them, they will learn to be the resourceful, creative problem solvers the world needs them to become.  When leaders and teachers model connectivity, students will themselves learn more responsible ways to use social media in their education. Through connecting with others around the world in order to find and share resources, students can create a positive digital footprint that will begin to serve as their personal brand.

Throughout this book, Sheninger repeats that effective leaders have to model the innovative and collaborative behaviors that they want to see in their faculty and students.  To underscore this idea, he gives multiple engaging examples of school leaders who have followed the pillars of digital leadership with success.  These detailed, real work examples make clear to the reader the rewards of following the pillars of Digital Leadership.  Only leaders who can connect with others, communicate ideas, demonstrate lifelong learning, and create school environments that match this thinking will be be able to effectively lead their schools into the next century.

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Our Home Makerspace

Our Home Makerspace

I am a big fan of the Maker Movement and its effects on education both at school and at home. I love that making is hands-on (and screen free), that it encourages the exploration of new materials and their properties, and that it encourages kids (or adults!) to create something new rather than buying something off the shelf. With that in mind, I spent the past weekend setting up a makerspace for my kids in their playroom and so far, it’s been a big hit. I’ll be curiously watching to see where it goes in the future.

In case you’re interested in setting up a something space in your own home, this is how I set it up. First, I hung a pegboard on the wall with lots of tools and a few supplies, and set up some bins under a low table to hold some other supplies. Finally, I added a chalkboard for sketching out ideas.

The supplies we’re starting out with are:

  • Simple hand tools: hammer, screwdrivers, pliers, scissors, ruler
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • Helping hand magnifying glass
  • Extra light source (we used an LED lantern that we already had)
  • String and lots of different colors of tape
  • Craft supplies: popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes (special request).
  • Low-temp hot glue gun (this is a must)
  • Conductive wire, LEDs, and batteries

These are all things that I’m comfortable with them using unsupervised.  I also have a high-temp glue gun, soldering iron, and various power tools that are available with adult supervision.

What do you think?  Did I leave anything out?  I can’t wait to report on the evolution of the space!

Enough with the scary messages to parents

Marilyn Monroe

I’ve seen more than a few schools recently hire scary speakers to talk to parents about the dangers of the internet.  Words on these fliers say things like “Learn more about Sexting and Cyberbullying!”  “Mistakes are permanent!”  “Predators are out there!”  “Screens rot your child’s brain!”  The message of these speakers is “Turn it all off and lock it down.”

Although there is some truth to these negative messages, I feel like these scare tactics are counter productive.  Most parents are already afraid of internet issues with their children.  They don’t need to be made more afraid – they need to be educated and empowered.  Parents (and their children) need to be aware of the dangers of the internet, yes, but not be crippled by them.  Technology is not the enemy.  It’s a tool.

There are so many amazing things that technology makes possible.  Children, with the guidance of their parents and teachers, can learn, connect with people around the world, and create things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.  In order to do this, children and their parents need to work together to navigate the world of the Internet.  Kids may have the tech skills that parents often lack, but parents have experience, decision making capabilities, and fully developed frontal lobes.  Kids need their parents, whether they acknowledge it or not, to help them figure it all out.  In other words, the technology doesn’t change the parent’s job of guiding children to responsible independence.

This guidance is crippled, however, if the parent lives in fear.  Rather than frightening parents into locking down or banning technology, schools should encourage parents to calmly discuss technology with their children as they would any other topic.  “Tell me about that website you’re using.  What does it do that others don’t?  Are other users of the site respectful of one another?  What do you think about that?”  Through these discussions, parents can learn more about the technology their kids use, and kids can start learning to judge appropriate from inappropriate uses for themselves.

Out of the mouths of babes

Whimsical artwork from Lori H. Barrett

Digital Citizenship is a huge focus for me professionally and as a student.  I continuously study research on digital citizenship education.  I counsel people daily on elements of digital citizenship, such as etiquette, privacy, digital rights, and keeping a healthy balance with technology.  So imagine my surprise this week when my 10-year-old son gave me a lesson in digital citizenship!

Last Friday, he brought home his chosen band instrument: a baritone horn.  He has a great “ear” for music and was quickly able to pick out a few melodies.  I captured a 30 second video of him playing and, being the proud mother that I am, I posted it on Facebook for our friends and family to enjoy along with me.  End of story, right?

The following Monday, he came home from school and said, “Mom, did you put that video on FACEBOOK?!”  I confirmed that had, but assured him that only our friends and family could see the video, so it was perfectly safe.  He said, “Mom! Don’t you know you’re supposed to ask someone’s permission before you post pictures or videos of them on the internet?!?!”  He went on to say that one of his classmates (whose dad is my friend) had seen it and he was embarrassed.  Egg on face.

The thing is, I didn’t realize until that moment that my 10-year-old was a real person with real rights just like everyone else!  I thought it was my decision as a parent whether to post pictures or video of him!  What I learned that day was that he needs to be a part of the decision.  He doesn’t fully understand digital privacy, rights, or etiquette, but there’s no way he’ll learn unless I set a good example for him and include him in the decision.

I post this (with his permission!) because I think other parents may be facing a similar situation.  We want our children to be respectful of others online, but we often forget to model what we want them to see.  I, for one, have had my eyes opened.  I will now include him, as well as my younger children, in conversations about what I post (especially about them) online and why.  Through this conversation, we will hopefully all come to understand digital rights and privacy better.

Have you ever had a digital citizenship lesson hit home before?  Post a comment so that we can all learn from it.  Thanks for reading!

Communication is the new black

Image available under creative commons license from the gorgeous Flickr photostream of DailyPic.

Image available under creative commons license from the gorgeous Flickr photostream of DailyPic.

I think it’s appropriate that the first post on my new blog be about communication.  As a school tech director, as a M.Ed. student, and as a parent, I spend a lot of time researching and reading about the uses of technology in education.  Although I learn a lot from what I read, I need to do a better job of reflecting on and sharing what I learn.

In some ways, I communicate all day long.  I talk to people and answer technology questions every day.  I respond in a (mostly) timely fashion to emails.  I use Twitter to share resources I find with the world (and also as a way of saving them for my future self).  I use Facebook and Instagram to share with friends and family.  I even make an effort to use Google+ and not many people can say that!

Still, I would like to do a better job communicating what I learn and I’m hoping this blog will allow me to do that.  If you’re interested in technology in education, or in technology and parenting, I hope you’ll stick around.