Back when I was in school (longer ago than I care to admit), the role of principal often focused on handling site-level operations, behavioral issues, and community relations. Today, principals play a critical and complex role as education leaders and as frontrunners in education transformation. No doubt those predigital-age responsibilities still remain, but as a site-level administrator, you’re now called upon to do and be much more: chief inspirational officer, buy-in creator, justice seeker.

Education stakeholders understand that principals are pivotal leaders. We know from research and real-life examples that a truly inspired principal can make all the difference in the world for students, staff, and the overall success of initiatives at a school. 

In the 21st century, your role must also include a commitment to digital-​age learning and teaching. The promise of tech integration is too great to overlook this aspect of the job. But you’re not in this alone. As principals and education stakeholders work to transform learning and teaching through a shared commitment to serve all students, leveraging technology as a means to connect and collaborate with other grassroots change agents becomes mission critical to positive change.

Moving forward, that promise of education technology must include digital equity. This is about making sure all of your students benefit from a well-developed, local ed-tech learning plan. In order to do that, you must have educators who have benefited from meaningful professional learning and the necessary access to robust infrastructure and connectivity.  

Access Is Critical 

Being connected to technology is critical for digital-age learners. Lack of access results in decreased opportunities to learn, to learn differently, and to grow and develop in college and the workforce. In the United States alone, about 5 million households with school-age children are without high-speed Internet service at home—and low—income households make up a disproportionate share of this 5 million.

As Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), told the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), “To succeed in school, to succeed in life, and to have a fair shot to succeed in the digital economy, students need digital access.”

When I think about addressing digital equity, I think about leaders like former principal Darryl Adams, now superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified School District in California. This innovative ISTE member parked Wi-Fi-enabled buses in neighborhoods where students didn’t have connectivity so they could get the access they needed to continue their learning at home. 

I also think about myriad school leaders who extended school library hours, collaborated with faith groups to provide Internet access, or asked telecommunications companies to extend service to inadequately connected neighborhoods at no charge—all in an attempt to provide digital equity.

Today you’re called upon to address more than site-level issues. You’re charged with being the collaborator. The transformer. The change agent. And with that comes the responsibility to join the push for digital equity, so all students can participate in the transformative process that is found in digital-age learning.

I thank you for your leadership in this most noble cause to continue to work toward transformed learning that is available and equitable for all learners. 

Brian Lewis is CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).