Leading: The Dance for Digital Conversion

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Leadership for education transformation calls for a holistic, dynamic approach.  Leaders trailblaze a shared leadership model within the school and/or across the district.  The collective and individual strengths of each stakeholder need to be called upon for designing and launching a digitally enhanced environment.  The powers of well-infused technologies will be seamless and invisible when well implemented.  Adaptability and flexibility will be essential for day to day, short and long term goals and activities.

Dancing with Change

Dancing with ‘change’ becomes the norm not the exception. The driving force within collective leadership is the school’s focus on student progress.  At the heart of the school’s/district’s leadership are a collective vision, which calls on the spirit; learning, which invigorates the brain; and action, which produces vigor. From these perspectives, leadership development shifts from individual-centered to collective-centered; from static curriculum and instruction to dynamic content production. The robust technology classroom continuously evolves around students’ personalized learning experiences.  Teachers empower learners; leaders empower teachers. In this distributive leadership model, each person contributes to the whole with a focus on the learner.

Grasping Culture Shifts

An education technology leader first must create a successful foundation by developing a shared vision.  Leading the effort with honest communications, sharing expected program outcomes, modeling technology integration, building an effective and supportive infrastructure are necessary components.  An engaged leader strives to grasp the culture changes happening to stakeholders by understanding new processes, environmental shifts, accelerated pace and robust technology integration that characterize true 21st century schools.  Facilitating consistent professional development and understanding the impact of ‘change’ for individuals is a significant piece of this leadership work.

Rich education technology engagement causes a dramatic shift in educational practice presenting opportunity and challenge.  The leaders’ ability to navigate and guide a transformed ecosystem is critical for success.  Embedded, consistent professional learning is crucial to a positive shift and increased student outcomes.  This is the backbone of good organizational systems and closely tied to learners’ achievement when effectively integrated in the working lives of educators.

Planning is crucial.  For some, the changes from a traditional to a high tech environment will be embraced.  For others, the divergence will seem to ‘attack’ core values and beliefs.  Those in the latter group need the collective leaders to address their fears while encouraging risk-taking in a safe environment. McREL calls this ‘leading second order change’ in schools.  There are 11 leadership responsibilities necessary for facilitating second order change (McREL 2005).  Those responsibilities coincide with what we have learned about leadership needs for implementing education technology rich environments.

A New, Learner Centric Culture

The fact is that leadership of old holds no hope of providing the quality of skill set needed for today’s schools.  Leading digital transformation invokes recreating the necessary culture while valuing the principle of being learner-centric.  This is tough stuff and not for the weak of heart and spirit.  It can also be amorphous.  There are times when there is no perfect solution for a challenge or major issue that emerges.  It is the nebulous nature of leading in today’s schools that mirrors the world into which our learners will emerge as workers and citizens.  There is no linear path or particular road map.  So, what does the leader do?  How does he/she figure it out?  Understanding the connections between human nature, learning and technology integration is a start.  Knowing that our traditional habits may need to be unlearned in order to be replaced with new habits best suited for schools today is important.


Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.

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