The past year has forced all principals into technology, but true innovative principals are trailblazers who lead the way without the push of the pandemic. These leaders understand that technology can empower students to solve today’s complex problems and to engage with learning in a way that inspires progress and growth. It’s principals like this who are leveraging technology to close the equity divide, engage with all stakeholders in creative new ways, and work to cast a vision on how education and technology can converge to bring about the transformational change our education system needs. 

Each year, NASSP recognizes and honors principals who exhibit bold, creative leadership in their drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals with its Digital Principal of the Year program.  But today’s educational landscape requires all principals to lead digitally. Here are four ways to lead in a way that transforms learning: 

Tell the Story

First, the need to strengthen communication has increased greatly with the distance the pandemic has created. This requires principals to engage and communicate with all stakeholders in a way that’s creative, informative, and inspiring. It’s time that principals tell the story of their students, staff, and school. Dr. Quentin Lee, principal of Childersburg High School in Childersburg, AL, is an excellent example of how principals can leverage technology to tell the story of their school and inform at the same time. When the pandemic struck and Dr. Lee needed to share important information about returning to school, he created a humorous video about COVID-19 precautions. His video, “Can’t Touch This COVID Parody,” didn’t just get the attention of his students and families. It also captured the attention of the entire world after being featured on major TV networks in the United States and globally. His video even drew the attention of MC Hammer and Cedric The Entertainer when they invited Dr. Lee to be on their show. Dr. Lee told the story of his school in a powerful way that taught a lesson, informed families, and provided much-needed comic relief in today’s crazy times. His video has reached over 7 million views and continues to be featured around the world. 

Engage Students With Emerging Technologies

Digital principals engage students with emerging technologies in new ways that bring learning and teaching to life. Dr. Jeana Lietz, principal of Oak Lawn High School, is engaging her students in ways that are personalized, engaging, and preparing them for the future. A diverse high school in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, Oak Lawn has been recognized for its work as an Apple Distinguished School. It offers a full 1:1 technology program where all students receive an iPad. Dr. Lietz has provided innovative, collaborative, and visionary leadership that has helped the school engage learners and prepare them for the future. The learning story has been featured in a book available in Apple’s bookstore. 

Technology has provided Oak Lawn students with endless opportunities for personalized learning and has allowed teachers to redefine teaching and learning. Some examples include art students applying Japanese painting techniques while using iPad devices to virtually visit a garden in Japan and students in a mobile apps class learning professional software design using Swift, with the course conducted in a renovated classroom space that’s modeled after a Silicon Valley startup. In the art gallery, students use augmented reality, linking to iMovie projects illustrating their artistic process and personal meaning that allow observers to connect with student artists rather than passively viewing imagery.

Be a Connected Learner 

The ISTE Standards for Education Leaders focus on being a connected learner, requiring leaders to model and promote continuous professional learning for themselves and others. Dr. Marcus Belin is one principal leading the way by using podcasting to learn and grow as a professional. The principal of Huntley High School in Huntley, IL, Dr. Belin understands the power of podcasting. He recently started his own podcast for school leaders entitled “Unapologetic Leadership.” The podcast is focused on challenging principals to learn, grow, and stretch as leaders. 

Podcasting is an excellent way to grow professionally and to challenge your thinking in a way that produces real and sustainable change. I also started a podcast several years ago to inspire principals to lead the way with learning in their schools. “Lead the Way with Dr. Bill Ziegler” is a five minutes or less podcast packed filled with ideas on how to strengthen your leadership. Some of my other favorite principal podcasts are “Principal Matters” with Will Parker“The Transformative Principal” with Jethro Jones (2017 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year), and “Better Leaders Better Schools” with Danny Bauer

Build Equity

Digital principals leverage technology to build equity with students. They make sure all students have access to digital tools for learning and a high-quality education. Allison Persad (a 2019 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year) is principal at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, a 6–12 grade all-girls public school in New York City. She is committed to making sure that every girl is given an opportunity to thrive. The school prides itself in leading the way for the next generation of leaders with real-world learning, in real time, with real experts. 

To that end, Persad makes sure that every young lady that attends her school has access to the digital resources they need to be successful. As she shared in an interview with NY1, “it’s really important to have each girl have agency and ownership in their future and their lives. So we are preparing girls for a world that we don’t even know what it will look like or exist in the next decade.” 

Equity must be at the forefront of what we do as digital principals. Without this focus on equity, our progress is halted and student success is not achieved. However, technology is the great equalizer of education. It allows all students to have access and the ability to create, design, and publish. This equity isn’t just about the hardware—we must also make sure that students have access to WiFi that allows them to learn. That’s why so many schools are providing hot spots for students to access the internet while at home. 

We encourage you to apply for the NASSP Digital Principal Award Winner program. I’m honored to share that I am a 2015 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. Receiving this award opened so many doors for me to network, grow, and expand my influence as a leader. It has also challenged me to continue the great work of principals and sharpen my skills in the area of digital leadership and learning. 

Don’t be shy. Celebrate the work that your students and staff are doing by applying for this most prestigious award. Applications can be found here and are due by April 30. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d be happy to support you and help you with the application process. You can find me on Twitter at @drbillziegler or through my website at www.chaselearning.org.

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