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What is Digital Leadership?

I find myself amidst the conversation of digital leadership almost every day. Whether I’m talking with teachers, parents, or administrative leaders, the 2 words come up and naturally embed themselves around education related discussions.

It’s funny that I’m writing about digital leadership now, as I just came from an administrator’s office where we were discussing what it means to be a digital leader. Sometimes I feel as though I throw those 2 words out and people look at me like I’ve spoken another language.

I’m concerned that educational systems have hit this point where they know technology should be integrated, teachers are evaluated on it, tech coaches are put in place, but no one wants to look at the bigger picture of what digital leadership means nor how it plays a role in education.

Digital leadership is more than just administrators using technology. Digital leadership is an entire culture shift; a move towards excellence to include the creation of other digital leaders as well as the creation of digital age learning environments.

It’s almost impossible to talk about leadership without having the conversation of manager vs leader. Finding information about Manager vs Leader is easy to come by but what about Digital Manger vs Digital Leader?

I designed this chart to highlight the differences, in an effort to further capture my thoughts throughout this blog post.

The term “talk the talk and walk the walk” comes to mind when digital leadership comes into play. A leader can talk all day about how technology should be integrated. They can even evaluate teachers on technology use in the classroom. But until leaders themselves model the use of technology and embed it into everyday practice, a culture shift will not take place toward digital age learning environments.

I’ve been a part of many schools, counties, and districts that have “digital managers” in place to “encourage” teachers to use technology. Digital managers often come in the form of Principals, Assistant Principals, Technology Directors, Superintendents, and other positions of influence. Often times these digital managers demand technology use in order to meet the requirements of the county/district and or state. The demand is met through a type of “check off” form within the yearly teacher evaluation.

Is the teacher using the projector? Check!

Is the teacher using computers? Check!

Is the teacher using Apps/Software? Check!

There are several problems with these types of evaluations.

First, these evaluations do not encourage those digital managers to become Digital Leaders thus leaving teachers to feel discouraged, managed, and fearful of technology use.

Second, they do not encourage a more thoughtful, visionary, and transformative use of technology. They are only checking the box that technology is being used.

Third, it’s very difficult to shift a school culture into the digital age if teachers are being managed rather than led.

Being a digital leader comes with many responsibilities and commitments that go beyond the 8-3 school day.

Fortunately, social media lends itself to digital leadership on a 24/7 basis. Twitter is a great platform for digital leaders to provide professional learning opportunities and encourage technology use in the classroom. Many digital leaders have started weekly Twitter chats for their school and or district in an effort to bring together educators who are interested in educational discussions. I’ve seen many new digital leaders born out of participating in these weekly chats. The official list of weekly educational Twitter chats can be found at

Digital leaders also dig deep into pedagogy and provide resources for faculty to answer the why’s and the how’s of not only technology integration but what a school, district, and/or county should look like in the Digital Age. Instead of typical “sit and get” professional learning, digital leaders may use additional resources such as

  • Skype or Google Hangout in an expert

  • Tweet to a hashtag during professional learning

  • Allow teachers to speak about classroom experiences

  • Flipped professional learning

  • Webinars

  • Blogs

In my current roles as Director of Innovation and Instructional Technology Consultant, I strive to make a push toward digital leadership amongst the administrative teams of every school I work with. I envision school environments where technology is used meaningfully by every member of the leadership team. I envision teachers looking to their administrator not as just an evaluator, but as a model of digital leadership. I envision teachers collaborating with one another with an administrator right by their side demonstrating what it looks like to be a digital leader.

Changing the culture of a school is never easy. It takes time. It takes a vision. It takes digital leaders. Digital leaders are the key to effective digital age teaching and learning environments. You can choose to be one and you can start today!

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