The subject of this book review is Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger, a joint publication between Corwin, a Sage Company and the Ontario Principals’ Council, Ontario. The paperback publication date was 18 March 2014; however, I downloaded the eBook version through online bookstore Kobo on 28 February, 2014.
Eric Sheninger has risen to world-wide prominence in schooling and education within the last four to five years. As a regular blogger at http://esheninger.blogspot.com.au/, host of his website http://ericsheninger.com/esheninger and prolific tweeter to more than 60 000 followers at https://twitter.com/NMHS_Principal, I was looking forward to reading and reviewing this book. As a principal for six years, and with the saturation of digital technology in that time, being a digital leader has figured prominently in both my formal and informal learning.
Integration of digital technology into the learning and teaching process is the most significant change that many teachers will undertake in their careers (Hargreaves 2005; Treadwell 2010). To lead this process of change is challenging, and the problem is there are few principals who understand what is required to lead a digital school (Moyle 2006; Gaffney and Lee 2008). Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times encapsulates the work of Eric Sheninger and the work of other leaders who have achieved sustainable change through the use of social media and web 2.0 technology. In doing so, Sheninger produces a book which is a credible reference point for principals and system leaders looking for ways to maximise the opportunities for learning in a digital age.
This is a book about digital leadership which records the actions of Sheninger and those of other leaders who have addressed the changed educational landscape in their local context. Whilst Sheninger does not offer a clear or succinct definition of digital leadership, there are numerous statements and stories which indicate exemplary ‘Digital Leadership’. This book is clearly written for principals, system leaders and teacher leaders with the understanding that we are all learners, most especially those leading schools in this digital age. And whilst the focus is on digital leadership there are references to research and literature which convinces the reader we live in changing times and therefore, we are obligated to change the paradigm of education.
The Forward is written by the internationally renowned Yong Zhao who reminds the reader that there are many disruptive influences already reshaping the workforces and workplaces of today (Davies, Fidler et al. 2011). Zhao argues that Sheninger’s book pushes educators and education leaders to begin the work of transforming schools to produce students with the necessary skills to work in a rapidly changing world, one where students will require skills which use information to collaborate and solve real world problems (Berners-Lee 2009; Davies, Fidler et al. 2011). Sheninger (2014, Ch4, p7 of 34) acknowledges this when he writes, “As technology’s role continues to become more prevalent, it makes sense to integrate it effectively in schools so that out students are not short changed upon graduation.”
The current and emerging changes to the workforce as a result of technology, and its implications for schools, form Sheninger’s strong case for school change. With credible references to research and literature including Education Week, EduTopia and the Pew Internet and America Life Project of 2010, Sheninger argues for a complete rethink of the learning landscape for schools if they are to be relevant for students and develop necessary skills students need when they leave school (Seely Brown 2012; Siemens 2013). However, the unfortunate reality is “Despite these major changes over the years, one thing remains unchanged: the structure of schools” Sheninger (2014, Ch2, p4 of 60).
The pleasing aspect of this book is that Sheninger’s call for change recounts the stories of pathway schools, led by creative leaders, who have commenced the process. This gives hope to schools, principals and system leaders struggling with the complexities of digital leadership. In the case of NMHS, connectedness was the catalyst for change but only after Sheninger himself had become connected with social media which provides him with the knowledge, tools and ideas to initiate change. Sheninger initially faced his fears head on and then began to model effective use of technology from which many school initiatives began to flourish.
Central to Sheninger’s book is his Seven Pillars of Digital Leadership. They are 1 Communication, 2 Public Relations, 3 Branding, 4 Professional Growth and Development, 5 Student Engagement and Learning, 6 Opportunity, and 7 Learning Environment and Spaces. Each pillar of leadership “provides a context for leaders to lead in different ways that are aligned with the societal shifts that place an increased demand on technological fluency and integration” Sheninger (2014, Ch4, p23 of 34).
These pillars are aligned to the 2009 International Society of Technology in Education’s (ISTE) National Educational Standard for Administrators and provide a framework which responds to information flow created by the social and technological changes of the digital age. In offering these pillars of digital leadership, Sheninger articulates the digital leadership requirements needed to respond to the increased connectivity which comes with web 2.0 technologies.
Cloud computing and mobile learning are increasingly becoming part of the educational landscape (Johnson, Adams et al. 2013). Many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, live in the cloud are accessible by mobiles devices and therefore act as interactive platforms where individuals and groups generate, share and update content. Sheninger strongly pushes the use of social media for the purposes of community engagement and provision of information to school stakeholders through a variety of media to foster two way communication. At one stage, Sheninger lists a number of web 2.0, social media platforms that various schools are using as a means to increase engagement for students and members of the relevant local community. This is most helpful.
A strong theme which is weaved throughout the book is that of ‘connectivity’. With the premise that ‘connectedness matters’, and with the conviction that the educational landscape is changing, there are dynamic examples of digital leadership. Firstly, there is the story of the Van Meter district whose system leaders committed to being connected with each other, and with their community stakeholders, through the use of blogs, wikis, YouTube and Twitter to transform education within the district and withstand competition from other districts. Other stories see Sheninger recalling the trailblazing work of Dr Spike Cook, the sound leadership of David Britten and the innovative professional development programs implemented by Lyn Hilt. Each story is an excellent example of a leader who uses digital technology to collaborate and create content to benefit their individual learning whilst contributing to the learning of their online community. These educators engage in both consumption and publication where knowledge is shared, exchanged and co-created. As professional learners within a global digital commons, they learn from leaders and become thought leaders themselves whilst also demonstrating a sound understanding using social media for meaningful professional learning.
In the case of NMHS, Sheninger instigated the use of school Twitter and Facebook pages to increase community access to school events and strongly encouraged teachers, students and parents to follow his blog. It was, and still is his way of ensuring that as principal of the school he leads, that community members remain connected. He talks of the need for teachers and schools to use social media to create more transparency with parents and also promote innovative and creative learning activities that take place in school. Furthermore, he cites examples from various schools where students are adapting social media tools to extend and enrich the learning process to assist with learning goals; however, these examples are limited.
There is only one chapter of the book which focuses on student learning, after all, the book is about digital leadership. Sheninger refers to a pedagogical framework for digital tools and reflects on twenty-first century learning at NMHS which fosters the skills of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving. Critics could argue that he provides no clear evidence linking new methods with student learning gain. This is probably correct when comparing learning growth solely on results from state based mandated tests. However, that same testing does not acknowledge nor measure the 21st century skills required of students when they leave school.
One clear message of the book is that students can only maximise the learning potential of digital technology when the school leader models it. It is through this modelling that teachers will begin to understand the benefits of social media and web 2.0 technologies for the purposes of learning. Eric Sheninger’s clear intent is for students to fully utilize the interactivity and availability of information to be globally connected, and it appears his message is this can only happen after leaders understand the potential of learning digitally through their own experiences.
In conclusion, Eric Sheniger’s book certainly addresses the paradigm shift taking place in education as a result of increased connectivity and access to information. The internet has irreversibly changed education forever and there is an urgent need for education systems and individual schools to respond appropriately. Sheninger’s own story, and the stories of other innovative educators, certainly records the intelligent and brave leadership of those who are responding to the challenges presented by the current paradigm shift in education. Although we may not know exactly how technology will continue to drive the changes that will impact on the learning experiences of school communities, schools must be prepared to accommodate those needs by utisling the opportunities that come with the emerging technology trends. Sheninger’s book offers current and future educational leaders a framework to do this and I am far more informed for having read Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.
Berners-Lee, T. (2009). “Tim Berner-Lee on the next Web, TED Talks, TED Conferences, LLC.”. from http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_berners_lee_on_the_next_web.html.
Davies, A., D. Fidler, et al. (2011). “Future work skills 2020.”
Gaffney, M. and M. Lee (2008). Leading a Digital School. Melbourne, ACER Press.
Hargreaves, A. (2005). “Teaching in the knowledge society.” Professional Voice 4(1): 11-25.
Johnson, L., S. Adams, et al. (2013). “The NMC horizon report: 2013 higher education edition.”
Moyle, K. (2006). “Leadership and learning with ICT : voices from the profession.”
Seely Brown, J. (2012). “The Global One Room Schoolhouse “. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://youtu.be/SoRV0BEwvEU.
Siemens, G. (2013). “Changing Schools, Changing Knowledge.” The Agenda with Steve Paiken. Retrieved 30/03/2014, from http://youtu.be/JR_ziHA_8LY.