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Modern education leadership from a high-school principal

6 min read


As society, education and learners change, so does the need to have educational leaders who embody a modern form of leadership. Modern leaders must establish a vision and implement a strategic process that creates a teaching and learning culture that provides students with essential skill sets (creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, technological proficiency and global awareness). Consistent innovation, effective integration of technology, quality professional development and an open mind are all mandatory duties of a modern leader.

This process has become more difficult, with staff morale diminished by mounting challenges such as budget cuts and what seems to be a relentless attack on the profession. That said, quality modern leadership becomes even more essential to cultivate a school culture whose primary focus is the learning and achievement of every student. Here are some of my modern leadership strategies for making change during challenging times. Feel free to share other ideas in the comment section below.

The time for excuses is over

Success in this endeavor depends on us taking a no-excuse attitude. Ask yourself: What am I prepared to do to improve all facets of my school? How will I accomplish more with less? Think and reflect upon the ways to accomplish your goals as opposed to the challenges, roadblocks and push-back you will experience. These are all common complications that arise during the change process and should not be used as excuses not to push forward.

We must be the pillars of our respective institutions and focus on solutions rather than problems. Succumbing to the negative rhetoric, abiding by the status quo or having a bunker mentality will do nothing to initiate needed improvement in teaching and learning.

Each day, we as education leaders are afforded an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. Our passion for helping all students learn and assisting staff in their growth should be the driving motivational force, regardless of obstacles. Everything is changing — the world, learners, the job market, technology, access to information — but the sad reality is that schools are not. We need to be catalysts to drive this change! Take time to meet with your administrative team and teacher leaders early on and throughout the school year to identify issues where excuses routinely arise. Begin to map out collective responses, with a focus on positive solutions.

Model a vision for excellence, innovation and creativity

Begin by articulating a clear vision to your staff. The consensus has to be that every student can and should learn. Getting your staff to embrace this concept is at the heart of effective modern leadership. I prefer to use the word “embrace” rather than “buy-in,” a more commonly used word synonymous with change efforts.

To promote the embrace of ideas, strategies and techniques, we need to collaboratively work with staff to transform traditional classroom environments into vibrant learning communities where all students are authentically engaged. Consistently engage your staff in brainstorming sessions to develop a collective vision on how to transform the school for the betterment of all students.

Embrace 21st-century pedagogy, curriculum and instruction

A vision begins with talk but becomes reality only with action. As society and technology evolve, modern leaders must ensure that instruction and learning follow suit, or we run the risk of our schools becoming irrelevant. By irrelevant, I mean our ability to prepare students with skills to think critically, solve problems, demonstrate learning through creation and compete in a global society.

As instructional leaders, it is our primary responsibility to observe and evaluate instruction. With this comes the responsibility to ensure that teachers are provided freedom to take risks, knowledge of effective practices, resources to make them happen and flexibility to incorporate innovative teaching strategies. With these parameters in place, principals must be able to consistently identify, foster, support and promote 21st-century pedagogy.

Inherent within this shift is a need to re-evaluate the curriculum as the real-time Web and information age present challenges to instruction and student engagement. The time is now to mold students who are critical consumers of content, understand the importance of digital citizenship and possess the ability to create, analyze and interpret an array of media messages. Gather stakeholders to collaboratively revise the curriculum to emphasize essential skills necessary for today’s learners to excel beyond your walls.

It is imperative that we become technology leaders as well. This article outlines characteristics of highly effective technology-leading principals.

A new era of professional development

Most teachers cringe when they hear the words “professional development,” and rightfully so. The traditional model forces educators into structured silos based solely on district and school goals, while ignoring staff interests and passions. If you thirst for an innovative culture focused on student achievement, begin the process of transitioning to professional learning communities. To take it a step further, model and encourage your staff to form a personal learning network. Then step back, give up some control and watch your staff thrive as its passion fuels a transformation of the teaching and learning culture at your school. This is modern leadership at its finest.

Become a connected leader

Modern leaders need support. Here are some resources to help you stay connected to others making change.

Change begins with a no-excuse mentality. Don’t waste one more minute pondering what could be. There is a revolution going on in learning, and it is up to us to lead the way in a modern fashion. Please share any leadership strategies that are making a difference in your building.

Eric Sheninger is the principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey. He is the 2012 winner of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Digital Principal Award, a Google Certified Teacher, a 2011 Conference Scholar of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, co-author of “Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals,” an education writer for The Huffington Post and co-creator of the Edscape Conference. Sheninger was named to the National School Boards Association’s “20 to Watch” list in 2010 for technology leadership. He presents and speaks nationally to help other school leaders embrace and effectively utilize technology. His blog, A Principal’s Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs. Learn more about Sheninger.