Book Review – Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger

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, host of his website and prolific tweeter to more than 60 000 followers at, 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

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

Siemens, G. (2013). “Changing Schools, Changing Knowledge.” The Agenda with Steve Paiken. Retrieved 30/03/2014, from

Treadwell, M. (2010). “” Retrieved 19/02, 2010, from

Travelling Abroad

The Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Wagga Wagga provides Renewal Leave for principals after six full years of active service in the position. In August of 2013, I made application to access Principal Renewal Leave in 2014. The focus of my Renewal Leave was a two-fold experience which focused on ‘Faith’ and ‘Learning’.

The primary focus of my professional development between 2010 to 2013 was participation in Doctoral Study. The focus of this study was the leadership required for school transformation through the use of digital pedagogy. This Renewal Leave was a continuation of my interest in, and commitment to being a leader of contemporary learning in a secondary school setting within a Catholic context.

I was supported by the Diocese to ‘self-direct’ my Renewal Leave rather than attend an ‘organised tour’. My itinerary was organised primarily through contacts and introductions on Twitter – Ahhhhh, the power of Twitter! The educational focus of my Renewal Leave resulted in visits to 6 schools and meetings with 3 people/organisations who support learning in schools. These all took place in England; mainly London and Manchester. The religious focus of my trip saw me engaged in a six day pilgrimage visiting religious sites of significance for the Presentation Sisters and Christian Brothers in Ireland. My reflections are as follows….

1. Pilgrimage develops meaning.
I am humbled to work in a school which honours the work of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Sisters, and Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers. For six straight days I engaged with each of their stories; stories which told of their call to serve the people of their districts through offering education to the poor. The poverty experienced by the Irish in the 18th and 19th centuries is well known. The persistence and bravery of Edmund and Nano to overcome the obstacles placed before them to educate the illiterate and the poor, is to be admired and never to be forgotten. To visit the resting places of both Edmund and Nano was a real privilege; something I will never forget. To sit with, and beside each of them, within a few days of each other, knowing that I work at at school which is directly linked to their commitment to educate the poor, was both humbling and moving.

2. We are “ahead of the curve” in Australia (as compared to England).
Maybe it was the fact that some schools “talked themselves up” when it came to their use of digital technology to support student-centred pedagogy, but the inquiry/PBL approach to learning in our Diocese and other schools around the state and nation, is only on the agenda on two of the six schools I visited. It is a small sample I know, but the classrooms that I saw were clean, tidy but traditional. In saying that, there were some very modern and attractive learning spaces; however, when I asked about how the spaces promote learning, I was met with little explanation as how this new (sometimes expensive space) supported learning. When talking with teachers, whose passion and dedication were as obvious as those in Australia, their methods of learning appeared to be still grounded in a pedagogy which required the teacher to direct rather then facilitate learning. Again, six schools is a small sample, but my email correspondence leading up to the visits were more promising than what I witnessed.

The most innovative school I visited was Cornwallis Academy
Under the leadership of David Simmons and with the strong support of his deputy, Claire Thompson, Cornwallis Academy has evolved into a school where students are engaged in learning within spaces which are modern, attractive and agile. There has been great thought and planning gone into developing learning spaces which ensure collaboration and team-based learning. Also, what was obvious was the “buy in” by teachers. David encourages teachers to develop their own action-research projects which align with learning philosophy of the College. I learnt much from my visit to Cornwallis.

It was also an amazing experience visiting Eton College in England. This world renowned school has the services of James Stanforth who understands the concepts of learning in a digital age. James has the support of the leadership team at Eton to engage in action research projects with like-minded teachers to use digital technology to support innovative learning. Although it is early stages, I look forward to watching from afar the developments which will eventuate.

One anecdote: I was informed one of the best schools in central London, according to “A level results” and “Ofsted Inspection”, is a campus where each faculty exists in their own, separate silos of three story buildings with windows only on one side. Whilst I am sure the community of this school are proud of their results I wonder whether students are being properly prepared for the world which awaits them.

3. The Accountability/Testing Agenda is all too prominent in England.
There is no other way of saying this other than to say that the “top down” thinking by government to impose their agenda on teachers and schools is a great worry. Education in England is focused on responding to the strong Ofsted agenda, which, due to recent changes, has become even tougher to “pass”. Creativity, critical thinking and collaboration are put aside by schools so that they properly prepare for, and then respond to, the outcomes of Ofsted reports. Without going into to detail, the preparation for an Ofsted inspection is all-consuming, with head teachers and leadership teams under extreme pressure to prove their worth based on learning outcomes which are ‘test driven’. Overall, I admire the commitment and willingness of teachers in England who maintain their passion and enthusiasm for teaching despite this crippling agenda which stifles imagination, creativity and innovation. Despite our own local challenges, I am very glad I work in Australia and not England when it comes to education!

4.Take a colleague next time.
Whilst I enjoyed seeing other schools in action, and was fortunate for different teachers giving up their time to show me their educational context, it would have been rich to ‘debrief’ each day with a colleague. Being on my own meant notes each evening, reflecting on photos taken during the day and comparing ‘my lot with their lot’. However, discussing these with a colleague or two would have been taken my thoughts and reflections to a new depth.

All up, this very generous Renewal Leave assisted my ongoing development in the principal leadership requirements of:
• Vision and Values of Catholic Leadership;
• Knowledge and Understanding of contemporary learning; and,
• personal qualities and social and interpersonal skills.

The experience deepened my understanding and empathy for the two pillars of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga; they being, Faith and Learning. The experience resulted in:
• A deeper understanding of the charisms of both Nano Nagle and Edmund Rice as expressions of the Mission of Jesus Christ;
• An improved understanding of the capabilities required to lead faith development and learning at Mater Dei Catholic College;
• Increased knowledge of the creative and adaptive leadership required to respond to the demands that come with digital technology; and,
• Established links with two English schools who are sound exponents of collaborative learning and agile learning spaces.

“Thank you” Diocese of Wagga Wagga for the opportunity.

Greg Miller