Research abounds that references the pivotal role that building administrators play in the educational change process. Successful implementation of any school-based innovation can be traced to the attitude and actions of the site-based leader. Whether the change involves the implementation of a new reading program, the creation of professional learning communities, or the introduction of a new way of conducting classroom walkthroughs, the behavior of the school building principal can bring either success or failure with any innovation.
The LoTi Digital-Age School is by definition a school committed to improving student achievement and digital-age teaching and learning on campus. However, our experiences have shown that the level of success is directly related to the quality of leadership manifested by the campus’ chief instructional officer. On campuses that have flourished as LoTi Digital-Age Schools, the building administrator has manifested a high degree of what I refer to as the 5’C’s of instructional leadership: Cultivation, Courage, Creativity, Commitment, and Communication. Each of these attributes serves at the core of a successful LoTi Digital-Age School implementation.
How many times have you heard someone describe their educational leader (e.g., superintendent, principal, director) as a true visionary--someone who is able to envision a bold plan to improve student achievement, reinvigorate a dormant curriculum, or sustain
21st Century learning environments, yet is unable to execute on that vision? Though creating a vision for instructional change or renewal at the campus or district level is laudable, the inability to cultivate that vision for success into a viable plan of action can lead to staff discontent, apathy, and, worse yet, passive resistance to the entire change process. LoTi Digital-Age School principals who are able to cultivate a climate of change against perceived environmental barriers (e.g., standardized tests, staff resistance) possess that intangible attribute of a true instructional leader that cannot be taught in a graduate course.
Courage represents the ability to “stand for principle” in the face of mounting pressure to
find quick-fix solutions (e.g., extensive test prep exercises, over-reliance on drill and
practice activities) for long-term problems. In schools today, no one can escape the
inevitable “high-stakes” test given annually each spring to measure what students know
in targeted grade levels and content areas. Possessing the ability to challenge
conventional wisdom and focus on what research as well as what your “gut instincts”
tells you what works best for students academically (e.g., higher order thinking, student
engagement, authentic problem-solving, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning) defines the courage level of instructional leaders. Acting courageously simply means applying one’s convictions to a problem or challenge regardless of outside pressures. Successful LoTi Digital
Age Schools are lead by leaders with courage.
Top-flight LoTi Digital-Age School administrators are able to exercise their creative instincts to find solutions to problems. Where others see barriers, they see opportunities. Think about those building administrators whom you have known personally, read about in a periodical, or viewed
on You Tube who were able in a relatively short period of time to increase student attendance, reduce violence on campus, improve school climate for both staff and students, and raise test scores. Many of us have met these individuals and watched them as they steered their way through obstacles and against overwhelming odds as well as naysayers who said that it could not be done. These individuals are able to exercise their creativity with a large dosage of personal initiative to implement their vision for success.
In the movie, The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s character was reminded continually by his oldest son played by Heath Ledger to “stay the course” as it relates to the larger mission of defeating the British during the Revolutionary War rather than give up or focus energy on personal vendettas. Successful LoTi Digital-Age School principals are able to stay committed as it relates to the implementation of their action plans even when the popular decision would be to acquiesce to special interest groups on campus or stop the process entirely. During my graduate years as an aspiring administrator at San Diego State University, I will never forget a professor, Dr. Al Moreno, who often kidded us about the definition of leadership which was to “find which way the herd is going and get out in front.” True leaders do not rely on Gallup Polls to do the right thing; they “just do it.”
Effective communication is the cornerstone for an effective LoTi Digital-Age School implementation. Oftentimes, staff is unsure about the school’s central mission when the level of communication from the principal is reduced to a weekly email or a brief speech during a faculty meeting or via the intercom. Quality communication extends beyond the spoken or printed word. At successful LoTi Digital-Age Schools, the building leader is able to translate his/her words into action and create a consensus among all key stakeholders as to the school’s mission. Though the level of communication starts with the principal, it does not stop there. Quality communication involves all participants on campus best manifested in clusters of professional learning communities.
The 5 C’s of instructional leadership are central to the change process at a LoTi Digital-Age School. According to Joiner, “effective change requires skilled leadership that can integrate the soft human elements with hard business actions.” (Joiner, 1987 p. 1). Successful LoTi Digital-Age Schools are lead by individuals who possess these qualities.
May the LoTi be with you Always!
Joiner Jr., C.W. (1987). Leadership for change. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.