Digital Leaders Wanted – Applications Accepted Online Only Please

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

I was recently tasked with peers to rank leadership characteristics and to agree upon; their order of importance from one to twenty.  I anticipated that the process would be challenging, with the influence of schematic knowledge steering participants in different directions.  Nevertheless, our group came to consensus quickly, and our top traits – competence, honesty, intelligence, and fair-mindedness, were congruent. Kouzes and Posner (2012) synthesized decades of their research in leadership development and analyzed data collected from six continents.  Their findings indicated a consensus for the same highly ranked traits of desired leadership characteristics.  These findings were profoundly interesting to me, and I considered if the advancement of educational technologies is impacting the perceived qualities leaders require in twenty-first-century learning environments?

Sheninger (2019) postulated that while the principles of leadership remained intact, digital learning environments required digital leaders that understand and will champion the use of digital technologies.  In the context of higher education, I have witnessed many leaders that are late in the fundamental understandings and adoption of technologies.  These laggards often display the regarded traits identified by Kouzes and Posner (2012) though they still lack digital leadership skills.  In addition to the essential digital literacies required, leaders need to embrace the transformation of traditional learning environments.  Sheninger (2019) provided a framework of seven areas that could support leadership transformation and inform change in school culture.  From my perspective, two of the identified areas could have a tremendous impact on teaching and learning at my institution; opportunity, and re-envisioning learning spaces and environments.

Programs will require modernization, as will educators teaching twenty-first-century learners.  Progressive, digital leaders must find and provide opportunities for professional development to advance existing programs and professional practices.  Educational technologies and applications are ever-evolving, and forward focussed digital leaders acknowledge this advancement and will infinitely search out new resources and training opportunities in pursuit of remaining relevant. Digital leaders will need to provide these professional development opportunities immediately and must anticipate technological progress to prepare and deliver these opportunities.  Sheninger (2019) suggested that digital leaders will also require awareness and understanding of the vilifications that exist surrounding technological innovations.  Many educators scoff at the notion of using social media for teaching and learning, and erroneous beliefs are contributing to the underutilization of mobile devices as a teaching and learning tool. Digital leaders will need to be forward-thinking, savvy, and practical to be successful in achieving academic buy-in.

The re-envisioning of learning spaces and environments will entail comprehensive strategic planning to set priorities and to guide the process.  Sheninger (2019) argued that digital leaders must guide the implementation of the strategic plan to align systems to the digital world.  Institutions are behind in providing digital learning opportunities for students.  Many of the learning spaces within our brick and mortar walls are antiquated and do not support innovative learning opportunities.  Digital leaders require an understanding of the eco-system that configures digital learning environments, including delivery modes and technical tools that support pedagogy.

The International Center for Leadership in Education [Authored by Jones, 2010] created the rigor and relevance framework; an instrument used to analyze curriculum and constructive alignment. Sheninger (2019) has itemized and aligned digital tools with the rigor and relevance framework to support best pedagogical practices.  Digital leaders can rely on these tools to assist them in the quest for institutional culture change. The revitalization of traditional learning spaces and environments is iterative, and digital leaders that are committed to the modernization of education can ultimately achieve a “digital learning culture that is relevant, meaningful, applicable, and provides all students with the skills to succeed” (Sheninger, 2019, para.6)

Are your institutions prepared to modernize? Do you have the digital leaders you need?

Jones, R. (2010). Rigor and relevance handbook (2nd ed.). Rexford, N.Y.: International Center for Leadership in Education.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sheninger, E. (2019, December). Pillars of Digital Leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from


7 thoughts on “Digital Leaders Wanted – Applications Accepted Online Only Please

  1. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, and I pretty much agree with you especially when you said: “Digital leaders will need to be forward-thinking, savvy, and practical to be successful in achieving academic buy-in”. In a digital learning environment, the leadership team has to be forward-thinking, savvy and practical, this means that the readiness of change in the organization is presented by its leaders. The more they are well equipped, trained, and confident, the better the results! Employees can sense and read the body language of their leaders, they can know if a leader is really ready and confident enough about the new change. If they sense hesitancy and uncertainty, it will harder for them to follow.

    The challenge is that as you said educational technology is continuously evolving and this puts pressure on leaders as they need to be always up-to-date and continuously working on their skills and knowledge in order to be effective leaders!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Tala, the pressure is on indeed for the leaders of tomorrow! Not only must they be current in their knowledge and practice surrounding digital environments, but those they lead will be expecting leaders to appear confident in this knowledge…challenging to juggle all of the skills and knowledge that will be required.


      1. Hi Lisa,
        As both you and Tala point out – the pressure is on for leaders to be “forward-thinking, savvy, and practical” to encourage buy-in and thoughtfully modernize our educational spaces. In your role, what do you see as some forward-thinking strategies to help people rethink or adopt new practices? Though changing learning spaces themselves can be costly (and often those decisions are made outside of our normal roles), as we move into thinking about change this week, do you see any opportunities for small changes that you think could help support more innovative teaching practice at your institution?

        1. Hi Michelle,

          Thank you for your thought-provoking question, In my role, I support faculty with tech integration to support pedagogy.
          Some strategies I have recently been incorporating, especially with late adopters, are to come at it from a growth mindset…Acknowledge and embrace failure and imperfections,
          provide small pieces of tech that can be incorporated easily in any classroom context, provide an evidence-based rationale (ie learning theories) that support this integration.

          I often encourage our tech “champions” from different faculties to share their experiences in various settings (low risk) and to be vocal about the process, including failures and successes.
          I think there are many opportunities from informal to formal that could provide an avenue for small changes. Peers learning from peers in my experience can provide opportunities for education, and often, more importantly, help to achieve buy-in. Weiner (2009) theorized that an organization’s preparedness for change involves a high commitment from collective members within the organization. By supporting faculty in my institution in both pedagogical approaches and educational technologies, I am beginning to make small changes to modernize teaching practices. By working with those most affected by changes in practice, it will help lessen the perception of forced change from the top down when leadership makes decisions to change learning spaces and practices.


          Weiner, B. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1). doi:10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Great post! I just wrote down a number of thoughts and connections to what you have shared, the readings, and my K12 teaching context – that resonate so much with what you have shared… AND IT WAS ALL LOST when I attempted to paste a link and the comment overridden!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!! I hate it when that happens. I had written a fair bit, so let me re-capture some of the basics:

    You shared that you have worked with different leaders who have many of the leadership attributes that Kouzes and Posner (2011) identify, but who still lack “digital leadership skills.” This is a really big deal when we are currently engaged in a revolution in education that is all about the digital era in which we are living. The 21st century learner competencies that are “all the buzz and rage” are not attainable without digital competencies — they are built upon notions of global interconnectedness, communication, and technology-driven collaboration. And what is very challenging in this sense, can be the disconnect sometimes between the executive levels of post-secondary or K12 school boards who hold the financial decision-making power, and the educators who may have a different understanding of the most useful educational tools/apps/resources to build the digital learning environments that we are “talking” about.

    I appreciated Michelle’s question that touched on part of what I have identified above. Your response and actions are encouraging and, I believe, what needs to happen in many digital learning environments. You have identified some “tech champions” to build on the collective support that promotes the organizational readiness that Weiner (2009) theorized as foundational to change management. And your support of the “late adopters” of edtech, with a growth mindset and research-based learning theories and pedagogy is awesome. You pointed out Sheninger”s (2014) reference to the rigour and relevance framework, which I think is a useful reference in digital learning environments. It made me think about the SAMR model, created by Dr. R. Puentedura, that I have really appreciated in sharing edtech opportunities with K12 educators. There is a great visual of this model that I will attached separately.

    I see you as an effective leader of change in your current role, Lisa! Thanks for sharing.


    Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Chapter 1: Leadership Is a Relationship. In Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (2nd Edition)[DX Reader Version].

    Sheninger, E. (2014). Pillars of digital leadership. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from

    Weiner, B. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(1). doi:10.1186/1748-5908-4-67

    1. Hi Leigh, thank you for sharing your thoughts (TWICE!).

      I LOVE Sylvia Duckworth’s SAMR model, this is my first introduction to this visual framework and think it could be very useful in defining the spectrum of EdTech. We will continue to gain momentum through our “champions”, but using simplified visual frameworks (Like SAMR) helps to provide basic foundations and understanding for our late adopters.


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