The Role of the Principal in Improving the Digital School


By the IWBNet Team

The body of knowledge about the role of the principal in improving a school is immense. Just as immense is the enormity of the job. No simple theory can capture what is truly involved in such a complex endeavour.

The Wallace Foundation, has addressed the issue, primarily through its mission to foster improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children.

What can we learn from the Wallace Foundation’s research that has direct applicability to the principal’s role in improving a digital school? What are the key responsibilities that the school principal as leader must commit to if she truly has a mission to improve her digital school?

To answer this question we have referenced the Wallace Foundation’s suggested 5 key responsibilities of a school principal to guide schools to better teaching and learning, our collective experience in school and educational leadership, and our provision of high quality professional development around the effective use of digital technology over the past 12 years.

There is no more important responsibility for a principal than to shape a vision of academic success for all students. We would argue that today, academic success must include a component that engenders real confidence in students so that they can embrace without fear all that digital technology has to offer them in their studies. The student who does not have this confidence must surely be on the back foot. The principal must lead the way with this and thus it is necessary to upskill to a point where she can confidently shape the digital technology vision from a sound knowledge and experience base. The principal cannot leave this aspect up to the Deputy.

A next important consideration for a principal is to shape a school environment that is hospitable to digital technology. Take on the responsibility of understanding the possibilities for a robust infrastructure, clever devices, sound educational programs and smart ways to collaborate and communicate. Know enough to initiate and sustain meaningful dialogue around a road map or blueprint that will fit the purposes and ambitions of your school. This cannot be left to the Director of ICT.

The principal cannot and is not expected to do it all. We argue however that he must get to a certain point of expertise and then call on all of his skills to cultivate leadership in others. This is where you can draw in the Deputy, the Director of ICT, synergistic leadership teams and influential and skilled teachers at the grassroots to assist you in shaping a leading digital school. Hopefully your role is to draw them in, cultivate them, not to be dragged reluctantly by them to the important technology debate. A principal must be on the front foot in this regard.

As a principal who wishes to improve the digital technology programs and instruction in your school, you need to get on top of the “technical core”. You want your teachers to teach better with digital technology. How? With what? Why? Make sure you take the necessary steps to understand what the best teachers are achieving with digital technology. Only then will you have an adequate benchmark by which to measure the performance of your teachers.

So far we have been talking about 4 key leadership responsibilities that a principal must be capable of to successfully lead a digital school.

Add to this the management of the people, data and processes to continue to move things forward. You must hire well, attracting to your school the teachers who can fulfil your vision for a cutting edge digital school. You must gather the data, ask the questions, identify where change must occur and implement that change.

Continue to set high expectations of yourself, staff and students, stick to your vision and there is no doubt you will achieve your leading digital school.

For many years the Leading a Digital School Conference has been addressing the issue of how a school principal remains relevant, influential and powerful in the important aspect of shaping a school that is truly digital, offering its students all the benefits that that brings.

This is an invitation to attend the conference to add to your growing knowledge of what is possible with digital teaching and learning. Join the network of like-minded school leaders eager to take the best of the ideas presented and scale them up for the benefit of all students and teachers.

The conference is being held at the QT Hotel, Gold Coast on 17, 18 and 19 August 2017. Find out more in the Conference Flyer. Register now at:

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Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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