It is the most exciting of times and the most challenging of times for schools and Principals in 2017. The world is moving ahead more quickly than it has ever before. This change brings with it untold opportunity. Opportunity to do things in ways we never contemplated before. Countering this though, is a level of caution. Educators are both idealists and realists. We dream big dreams but we are also mindful of government set standards, societal expectations and working within the constraints of often limited resources. Schools that embrace digital learning are able to meet the challenges of the new educational landscape in ways that can redefine the ways we connect with our students.
As a Principal, there are some key considerations that need to be addressed when developing and leading a digital school. Firstly, we need to be clear about the kind of school we want to be. Having a defined school culture that is conducive to innovation and 21st century learning is the bedrock on which everything else is built. Once this is in place, the next key ingredient is to build contexts for the learning that will take place within your digital school. This will drive the agenda for the acquisition of technology as well as provide a roadmap for how it will be integrated into the curriculum. Schools are sometimes guilty of putting the cart before the horse – purchasing the technology first, then figuring out how they will use it. Developing ‘real world’ contexts for digital learning enables students to understand not only how to use technology as a tool, but more importantly, when and where to use the technology appropriately to produce meaningful and valuable content. In my school this has seen us establish projects such as our school radio station, film festival our Maker Space. The digital learning that takes place results in students producing real content for real audiences. Once culture and context are in place, developing teacher competency must follow. Teachers need to be confident operators in the digital realm if they are to be competent leaders of this new way of teaching. One of the best ways to achieve this, is to have teachers learning alongside their students. Schools should not be afraid to develop partnerships with outside organisations that can provide expertise and support in digital learning. Often these partnerships enable a school to engage immediately with new technologies such as coding, 3D printing, robotics and app building rather than wait for staff to be trained and develop confidence. This model is not as effective in the current educational climate as the goal posts move forward more quickly than teachers can learn the skills required to teach these technologies.
As a leader in a digital school, you need to be excited and energised about what you are doing. You need to been willing to try new things and be prepared to fail. You need to absolutely be focused on developing within your students the ‘future skills’ of communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity (4 C’s). Great digital schools have as a key strength, the ability to teach the 4 C’s, using technology in ‘real world’ contexts and connecting with real audiences. The best Digital Schools are able to leverage the modern student’s connection with technology and use it to engage them fully with learning in meaningful ways, where they can produce high quality content. Where schools successfully take the leap into digital learning, they are preparing their students for a world where skills in literacy and numeracy alone will no longer be adequate.