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2015-01-04 post date.

Leading a Learning Innovation: Seven Keys for the Digital Learning Transformation

Making the shift to a district-wide, blended learning environment means more than adding devices and beefing-up infrastructure.
Leading in this age of digital transformation is collaborative in nature. This includes empowering others to share in the decision-making process. It is also having the authority to empower others to make their own decisions. Today’s leader knows that leadership is a responsibility shared by all.    

Typically, educational reforms occur with the assumption that the organizational goals, policies, and practices are adequate to support student learning. In reality these reforms do not always have a significant impact on student learning. What educators need now is a complete transformation from the way they were. Administrators and principals need to strive to incorporate highly social, interactive, and personalized opportunities for students and for teachers.

Pre-Assess, Then Plan

You must know where you are going. This begins with knowing where you are! This is the opportunity for systemic improvement that will lead to educational equity. To make these improvements sustainable, it is imperative to determine your school/district’s needs and capabilities by analyzing things like bandwidth, teacher readiness, IT support, tools, community engagement, resources, and contingency plans. By engaging in thoughtful pre-assessment, we can effectively troubleshoot potential issues before they arise and negatively impact both teachers and students.
Once you have determined the level of digital initiatives your school/district is prepared to implement, include all stakeholders to revisit or reinvent your goals. With representation of all stakeholders on a leadership team, move the focus to reinventing or refreshing your vision, mission, milestones, resources, roles, and responsibilities. A part of the plan should include how you are going to monitor and evaluate the progress. Discuss these goals regularly with members of the leadership team.


Effective school leadership is a large contributor to student achievement. To be effective, a leader must have a clear sense of what he or she sees as the essential purpose of the district/school. There must be an intrinsic drive for this purpose. Set realistic goals. You need to move slowly to go fast. This is not a race, it is a journey.
Reculturing not restructuring: Build a culture of communication, collaboration, and creation.
This starts with a shared vision of focused goals based on research and best practices. For people within the organization to do things differently, they must embrace the ideas of what is to be. They must be included in the development of the vision itself.
Create a common definition of the learning environment with all stakeholders. Include students and faculties across all grade levels and disciplines to discuss the skills, values, and attributes students need to be successful now and in the future.
Effective communication both internally and externally is necessary to build the support required for this transformation. Pay close attention to relationships in all areas of the organization and community. Leaders also need to get into the classrooms for observations and participation. Be a part of the change.

Professional Learning

A professional development plan should mirror the district’s strategic plan for implementing a digital environment. Each step in the process of improving teacher efficacy, principal leadership, and parental involvement begins not with the needs of these groups, but with the needs of students. Twenty-first-century students live in a world where nearly every piece of information acquired is a click away. Teachers and administrators should anticipate changes in their own ideologies about what joyful, engaging, and successful learning can look like. This type of transformation occurs through regularly scheduled, professional development for administrators, teachers, technical support, and parents/guardians.
Teachers today are being asked to teach in a way that they have not experienced as a learner, blending technology tools and face-to-face instruction. Provide a blended learning environment for teachers to learn content in context. Engage with an outside educational organization that has the expertise to support a mentoring model to build internal capacity. Learning from these experts provides a powerful model for designing meaningful learning experiences for students. Build on existing skills and address deficits, while surrounding educators on an ongoing basis with resources and expertise.

Technology Infrastructure

The educational digital transformation is dependent on the existence of a robust, sustainable technology infrastructure and maintenance plan that is embedded within the district strategic plan. Four elements to consider are network capacity, interoperable systems, IT staff, and equipment and hardware:
•    Network capacity is a central component for success. Ensure that a reliable network is available at all times in the digital environment.
•    Interoperable systems: It will become necessary to manage content, learning activities, student accounts, administrative accounts, and other components of the digital learning environment. These services should all have one portal of entry, or single sign-on. This can be easily managed through a Learning Management System (LMS).
•    Equipment and hardware should be purchased only after defining the purpose as it relates to the educational goals
of the students.
•    IT staff at multiple levels are recommended for supporting the digital transformation: system and network personnel, district- and site-based support staff, an academic technology administrator, and technology or digital integration specialists.
Design collaboration between Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology departments, as they should work together as one. First and foremost there must be a clear understanding of educational goals and objectives. Inherent in a digital environment are the development and implementation of authentic performance tasks within the framework of a rigorous curriculum. Throughout the infrastructure design process, the support of these tasks should remain paramount.

Commitment of Resources

Find the money. Advancing a vision requires dedicated resources with a comprehensive financial plan that includes allocations for infrastructure improvements, hardware replacement costs, software, professional growth opportunities, maintenance, and repair. The plan should be developed in concert with a multi-year district budget analysis. Realign personnel to match the new learning environment. School schedules may adjust. Embrace the ideas that support the growth of this new environment. Don’t continue to push a square peg into a round hole. A commitment of resources is imperative for student success.

Continuous Improvement with Ongoing External Evaluation

Include an independent research or educational organization to provide initial and ongoing evaluation. This offers an objective perspective on the review of the state of the school/district. An external partner offers an accountability piece for reaching benchmarks and making adjustments or adaptations as needed.

Celebrate Successes

We want to curate evidence of growth and success within the school and district by sharing the stories of success. No accomplishment is too large or too small. Celebrating successes will change the way stakeholders see the pedagogical shift. Leverage the triumphs to create transparency. The more attention you give accomplishments, the more success you’ll see. This is how we learn and grow.
Just as collaboration is essential to our students, teachers, and leaders within the school/district, the district itself should build a network of partners and experts. Build vendor partnerships, reach out to other districts, and construct your own showcase to share. Communication, collaboration, and creation should not stop at the classroom door.

Source:  by Debb Oliver, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt