What is Digital Leadership in Education?

Written by Scott Wilson

What is digital leadership in education? Digital leadership is the process of analyzing trends in information technology, developing plans around them, and supervising the execution of those plans. As the pace of digital technology development accelerates, digital leadership is becoming critical in the education world.

using vr glasses

Leadership is how things get done in schools. Whether it’s setting policy for school uniforms or negotiating new contracts with the teacher’s union, it takes someone with knowledge, vision, and skills to get staff, students, and faculty moving in the right direction.

Leadership may be even more important when it comes to digital technology today.

In a field that has sprouted both flowers and thorns throughout the education system, finding a guide through the wilderness can make all the difference.

That’s why more and more degree programs in educational leadership include a focus on technology. And even those concentrating in other aspects of educational administration incorporate the skills and knowledge needed for effective digital leadership.

Why Leaders Have to Take the Technology Bull by the Horns in Schools Today

empty classroom connectedLeadership can be a squishy concept. When you boil it down, it means setting the goals for an organization and then making sure they happen. Typically, that involves getting down into the weeds with some of the toughest obstacles.

That’s particularly the case when it comes to digital leadership. Technology is famously complex. The impacts it has had in both education and society come with a raft of unintended consequences. Even the best uses of digital technology can be enormously disruptive.

Every impact that technology has on the field of teaching is also an impact on the nature and requirements of effective educational leadership.

It’s the responsibility of educational leaders to not just monitor how technology is changing, but to anticipate where it is headed next. As principals, superintendents, IT and instructional coordinators, and even teacher leaders come to grips with the technology of today, they still have to look to where it’s heading tomorrow.

In schools and school districts, digital leadership is focused on that journey. In three different ways, educational leaders are forging new paths to tomorrow.

Principals and Superintendents Lead Administrative Staff and Teachers Toward New Possibilities

woman at office computerTechnology has introduced many new tools that educational leaders can count on when performing daily tasks.

So many of these have become so engrained that you may no longer even think of them as technology.

For principals and superintendents, digital leadership is needed in day-to-day school operations.

Just like any other kind of organization, school district business and operations produce reams of paperwork and data and have a lot of overhead utility costs that are easy to forget about. Moving that information into digital formats can lead to lower costs and greater efficiency.

Building automation systems can save tens of thousands in annual heating and lighting costs. Or, done wrong, that same system can lead to a glitchy green lighting system that sticks in the on position and costs the district thousands of dollars per month in additional electrical costs.

Just as importantly, leaders are responsible for preparing students and teachers for the unintentional impacts of new technologies. With the complexity of emergent systems increasing rapidly, unforeseen consequences are the order of the day. It takes senior leaders with a grasp of digital leadership concepts to weather the inevitable storms.

Instructional Technology and Curriculum Coordinators Develop New Methods of Pedagogy

computer science classWhile office technologies have changed how the business of a school is conducted, they aren’t the end of the story. Specialized educational technology, or edtech, has also come to the classroom to change the way teachers teach. Digital leadership helps educators adopt the best and most effective tools for teaching today.

Everything from jumped-up smart boards that turn whiteboards into high-resolution video displays to VR goggles that can put students and teachers from half-a-world-away into a shared virtual space offer new ways to share information and build skills.

These are all areas where the district educational technology administrator plays a crucial role. These admins can both suggest the best tech for a teaching need and help teach teachers how to use it. And they are essential in smoothing out the glitches that come with new technologies. Their ability to communicate and coordinate through those transitions is an essential exercise of leadership skills.

The technology itself is only one piece of the pedagogical puzzle, though. Integrating actual course materials, or figuring out how technology best serves the lessons at hand, falls to curriculum and instructional specialists. While their focus may not be on the digital side of the table, their expertise is crucial in helping instructors and edtech admins apply new digital tools with practical effect.

These roles are both more education-focused and detail-oriented kinds of leadership than principals or superintendents engage in. So the education they get is more specialized in their respective fields. But with the right degree program, it also incorporates essential leadership skills to help other educators get with the program.

Online Learning Administrators Take Schools into the Digital World

education at homeOf course, there is no discussing technology in education and educational leadership today without talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures and a rapid shift to remote learning caught every education administrator in the country off-guard. Digital leadership was a crucial part of making the transition to online studies.

That has also raised the profile of the role of the online learning administrator. These digital leadership professionals have expertise in network operations and technologies. They build on that by also mastering online teaching techniques and curriculum modifications designed for remote learning. Finally, they are the ultimate resource for maintaining and troubleshooting the Learning Management Systems (LMS) that make it all possible.

Like other digital leaders in education, they have their own specialized degree programs that blend technical expertise with leadership and management training.

Educational Leadership Degrees Today Come with Increasing Levels of Digital Technology Training

girl on computer at homeYou can expect master’s degrees in educational leadership like a Master of Education (MEd) in Learning Design and Technology or a Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership: Digital Technologies and Connected Learning to come with strong technical training.

What you might not expect is that even doctorate degrees more focused on general building and district leadership roles like a Doctor of Education in Leadership in Educational Administration also have extensive coursework in edtech. Digital technology is so pervasive at all levels of educational administration that concepts like digital information access, multimedia instructional design, and technology integration are taught to all prospective education administrators.

Getting Leadership Training That Is Timeless and Effective with a Graduate Degree in Educational Administration

You’ll also find that it works the other way around: even degrees focused on educational technology built in traditional training in core leadership skills.

Although digital leadership requires some new and detailed knowledge about information technology, it relies on the same tried and tested skills that any leader needs in any field. So even concentrations in edtech or instructional technology come with classes including:

Through those proven skills, you develop the empathy, problem-solving, and planning abilities to help take your school into the future.

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