It has long been understood that strong principals play a pivotal role in the success of their schools. This has become especially true for those schools making the transition to personalized learning supported by digital tools. In a recent report, Project Tomorrow, the education-focused nonprofit that conducts the yearly "Speak Up" survey on technology use in schools, mined their 2017 survey data to identify just such an emerging group of principals: The New Learning Leader: The Role of the Agile School Principal as Digital Evangelist and Instructional Leader.
Through an examination of Speak Up survey responses, the report highlights some of these new learning leaders’ beliefs and the methods they use to guide their schools and motivate their teachers. It defines a set of common characteristics for principals who know how to operate in today's personalized learning, ed tech environment:
Using anonymous survey data to paint a picture of these principals can only be done in broad strokes. Nonetheless, the report’s findings offer an encouraging look inside schools that are being successfully transformed, and the principals who are making it happen.
One of the strengths of the Speak Up survey is the diversity of its responding districts. The teachers, students, administrators, parents and community members from the 3,600 districts represented in the survey are fairly well divided between urban (29 percent), rural (34 percent) and suburban (37 percent) communities. And 68 percent of the participating schools are Title I eligible, meaning they represent a significant number of low socioeconomic families.
Unfortunately, the report doesn’t distinguish the number of principals it identified as new learning leaders. Nor does it parse this leader cohort by their urban, rural and suburban districts. Had it done so, we could better understand the actual distribution of transformational leaders among these different demographics. Given the significant challenges facing urban school districts, this information could help assure struggling urban principals that such changes are possible.
Though the report doesn’t offer solutions for how districts can help principals become new learning leaders, we can extrapolate the report’s survey data on how its identified leaders support their own teachers and students. And with this information, we can define ways for district leaders to further develop nascent school principals. Strategies include:
School principals’ roles are becoming increasingly difficult. And it’s a huge task to be both a motivating digital evangelist and an effective instructional leader. But Project Tomorrow’s new learning leaders report provides some helpful insights on the skills and values necessary for principals to make this transition.
Registration is currently open for districts to participate in Speak Up 2018. The survey will be available from Oct. 15, 2018, to Jan. 31, 2019.