What is required of our school principals to effectively lead learning in their schools in the digital age? This was the focus of some presentations I gave at the First Time Principals gathering in Auckland today, where some 200 new principals were attending the final three day face-to-face meeting as part of their introduction to the role of principal.
Mark Treadwell set the scene for what I shared in his initial keynote in which he drew from ideas in in his recently published book “Whatever!” – The Conceptual Era and the Revolution. Central to much of what he presented were his thoughts about the “Upper Limit Hypothesis“, a concept originally proposed by Robert Branson of Florida State University (download his original paper here – PDF). Branston’s hypothesis is that somewhere between 1950 and 1960 education reached its upper limit of its potential capability, and that this is the reason that schools are incapable of achieving any real improvement in performance.
To make significant progress in education, Branston claims, will require three major changes:
- Fundamental redesign in schooling from the predominant teaching-centered model to a learning-centered model. Current school organization was established long before there was a science of learning and motivation.
- Major investment in the research and development of products and processes for schooling to make capable systems available. This research should be conducted by research institutes at the state level, much like the infrastructure for agricultural research or medical research.
- Cultural change within education to create demand for new products and processes based on R&D.
Treadwell extends this thinking to illustrate what he describes as the difference between the “book-based paradigm” and the “internet paradigm” in which the potential of education to achieve far greater levels of performance and potential is significantly increased.
In my session on leading learning in the digital age I focused more narrowly on the adoption of ICTs by schools and by young people – using the findings of the 2008 Horizon Report (PDF Download) as a basis for emphasising the role of principals as leaders of learning in the digital age. Key findings from that report include:
- The growing use of Web 2.0 and social networking, combined with collective intelligence and mass amateurization, is gradually but inexorably changing the practice of teaching/learning and scholarship
- The way we work, collaborate, and communicate is evolving as boundaries become more fluid and globalization increases
- Access to, and portability of, content is increasing as smaller, more powerful devices are introduced.
- The gap between students’ perception of technology and that of faculty/teachers continues to widen
it is the final point in that list that poses significant challenges for us as educational leaders. It is not simply a case of finding ways to include the use of more ICTs in our classrooms in the hope that students will somehow find that more engaging. Instead, our practice as educators needs to be more informed by our personal use and modelling of these technologies in every aspect of how schools are organised and managed. It is simply no longer acceptable for any of us to be heard saying “the students know how to use it all – I don’t need to, I simply let them show each other!”
Educational leaders in the digital age must be technologically literate, they must model this on a regular basis to their staff, students and community, and they must promote a similar disposition among all those with whom they work. Failure to do so will mean that we are not “Leading Learning” at all, but simply “following” it and, if we’re lucky, contributing to it in some way.