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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

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Books in Translation

What Makes a Good Leader?
December 22, 2011 | Volume 7 | Issue 6
Table of Contents 

School Leadership Needs to Face Technology's Influence

Scott McLeod

We live in a hyperconnected and hypercompetitive world. To prepare our graduates to be high-functioning citizens in today's increasingly global society, to master the dominant information landscape of our time, and to be productive employees, our K–12 education system rooted in a past industrial age must change. School administrators and teacher leaders have the authority and resource control to bring about those changes, but they have to be willing to use that power.

For high school graduates to be effective citizens and workers, they'll need the same cognitive and interpersonal skills that we've traditionally reserved for our college-going elite, notes Harvard education professor Tony Wagner (2008). A good education leader today recognizes that we have to ramp up students' use of higher-order thinking skills in our classrooms. Accordingly, good leaders will be working to transform classrooms into learning spaces that emphasize critical thinking, hands-on inquiry, collaboration, and problem solving instead of teacher lecture, rote practice, and fact regurgitation.

School leaders also must recognize that the digital technologies transforming every other information-oriented segment of society are also going to radically and rapidly affect preK–12 schooling. Good leaders also are ensuring that powerful digital learning tools—whether laptops, netbooks, iPads, or smartphones—are frequently getting into the hands of students so that they can start learning how to use the tools of "knowledge work," the intellectual work that is already dominating in the information age.

Revolutionizing How We Learn

Good school leaders are investing money in providing teachers with better support to integrate technology, rather than simply buying more "computer stuff" and hoping for magic despite inadequate training. They are experimenting with some online learning in-house, perhaps by having each teacher design and deliver a unit wholly online, rather than face to face.

To prepare for the inevitable transition away from traditional textbooks, their schools might be piloting a unit or two for which teachers use no textbooks (paper or digital) whatsoever. Instead, they use wikis or social bookmarking tools with students, and teaching peers co-curate sets of online learning resources that accomplish the same or better learning goals.

In schools that are thinking ahead, whole staffs are investigating what it means to effectively communicate these days. They are learning for themselves and from their students about how to present information online—hyperlinked and networked writing, online video, infographics, transmedia, and so forth—rather than simply writing with ink on paper.

Good leaders recognize that their teachers need to be learners again to be effective educators. Those leaders also realize that essential policies about student and teacher technology use, particularly those related to filtering, blocking, and banning, should be revised toward enablement rather than restriction.

To effectively communicate with families and the wider community, good leaders go out of their way through face-to-face, print, and online information channels to help parents and communities understand how schools must prepare learners and workers for a rapidly changing world. Good leaders also realize that, like other organizations that use social media to great effect to communicate with the people they serve, schools can do so as well.

Don't Forget Student Voices

Finally, good leaders are confronting what probably are brutal truths by surveying students in detail about their level of engagement and interest in their classes. They're asking students for input about how their own technological (and other) skills and interests can be better used for their learning. If it's truly about putting the kids first, we have to start treating students as partners, rather than mere recipients, in their own education.

In short, a good leader understands the world as it is and will be and is proactive rather than reactive. A good leader has the ability to take the changes that are swirling around schools and use them to inform their decision making and concrete actions.

Whether it's preservice preparation or enhancing the skills of practicing administrators, we've got our work cut out for us to truly prepare our students for today and tomorrow. As education leaders, we must find the courage to pursue the changes our students need.


Walser, N. (2008, October 9). A conversation with Tony Wagner. Voices in Education: The Blog of Harvard Education Publishing. Retrieved from

Scott McLeod is an associate professor of educational leadership and the founding director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education at the University of Kentucky.


ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 6. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit


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