Everything is changing—society, the educational landscape, and learners—and it is time for educational leaders to embody a modern, progressive form of leadership. More often than not, the individuals trusted with leading change in the twenty-first century are the least knowledgable about the twenty-first century…. We can no longer sit back and watch our schools become less and less relevant while failing to meet the needs of our learners….
Eric Sheninger, author of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, speaks here not in judgement and superiority, but of himself as he once was. Because it was not long ago that Sheninger was that “least knowledgeable” leader. He has documented his journey away from the “dark side” (my words, not his) thoroughly on his blog, so I won’t recount it here, but that journey became Sheninger’s impetus for developing what became his Pillars of Digital Leadership.
In this book, the author breaks no new ground in how to lead change. In fact, he acknowledges early on that change leadership is essentially a solved problem; the principles and processes for doing so are well known and effective. What is different, however, is the context in which that change must occur, and the speed with which the world around the leader is itself changing. Sheninger provides a well-thought-out framework for applying these time-tested strategies for leading change to schools that are out of touch with the students who walk through their halls every day.
As I read, I realized that Sheninger’s seven pillars could be grouped into three categories: message, means, and medium. (Note that he does not group them this way—it is my way of capturing and understanding the big ideas he is presenting.)
Professional Growth and Development
Student Engagement and Learning
Learning Environment and Spaces
Each of these pillars is thoroughly treated in its own chapter which includes examples from the field, both from Sheninger’s own experiences at New Milford High School (NJ) and from other digital leaders doing innovative things with their schools. Sheninger anticipates possible objections and roadblocks and explains to us how to work through or around them. He never speaks in idealistic terms, and his suggestions are always grounded in practical reality.
If the book has a weakness, it’s that I believe it should be read back to front. He ends with a Call to Action which could just as well have set the stage as a motivator to know why the rest of the book matters. The pillars that come last, Opportunity and Learning Environment and Spaces, are to me the foundation for everything else that comes before them. Too many schools consider these, if at all, as afterthoughts. Sheninger rightly includes them as equal partners in the change leader’s toolbox, but I fear that casual readers will get through the first few pillars, and assume they have enough to get started, never realizing the full potential and power of Sheninger’s model. In reality, these pillars are not sequential, but parallel (as pillars should be), meant to be implemented together and in coordination with each other.
So my advice is this: get the book, and read it through twice, forward then backward, revisiting each pillar on the return journey and thinking about the context and interaction between it and the others. You will not be disappointed.
Disclosure: Eric Sheninger is a member of my professional learning network and a friend. I received a complimentary copy of the book in order to review it.