New Cohort of Principals Emerges Leading Evolution of Teaching

A new cohort of school principals is emerging across the country, according to a report released today by Blackboard and Project Tomorrow. These school leaders, “New Learning Leaders,” are rethinking instructional practices, providing a bold vision for the future of their schools, leading by example and supporting their teachers through this transition.

More than 400,000 teachers, parents of school-aged children, K-12 administrators and students across the nation shared their views on these issues as part of the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning. The report released earlier this yearfrom Blackboard and Project Tomorrow on the findings, Trends in Digital Learning:  The New Learning Leader – the emerging role of the agile school principal as digital evangelist and instructional leader..

“The New Learning Leader is ahead of the pack in terms of rethinking existing instructional practices and energizing their staff and community to be bold in visioning for the future, while at the same time reacting effectively to new challenges and reinventing educational outcomes that meet both student and community needs,” writes Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. “Understanding the activities, attitudes and aspirations of this emerging cohort of school principals helps to drive both enhanced expectations and appreciation for the critically important work of school leaders today.”

New Speak Up findings provide a unique lens for examining the current state of leadership capacity in our nation’s schools for creating a fresh approach to personalized learning and community engagement. This year’s Digital Learning Trends Report explores the characteristics of the New Learning Leader, and examines the activities and attitudes that make certain principals more effective in this dual role of instructional leader and digital evangelist. The analysis focused on two sub-cohorts of New Learning Leaders:  school principals who have implemented new learning models, and principals who have prioritized supporting their teachers in the transition process to digital learning.

“The evolution of school leaders and teachers is exciting to watch and contribute to,” said Judson Aungst, Regional Vice President at Blackboard. “This new cohort of school principals, and the teachers they are leading, are making a huge difference in the individual lives of their students, as well as in the broader education community. Blackboard looks forward to continuing to partner with school leaders to implement their visions.”

Key findings from this year’s Digital Learning Trends Report   

  1. District leaders are increasingly placing a high value on the leadership skills of their school site administrators.  40% of education leaders now say that enhanced school leadership has the potential to result in improved student outcomes relative to college and career readiness; only 11% held the same view in 2010.  
  2. A new type of school principal, the New Learning Leader, is emerging who is both a digital evangelist at his/her school supporting new classroom models and an instructional coach providing modeling for  about effective technology use for professional tasks.  
  3. The New Learning Leader is more likely than other principals to have implemented blended, competency-based or flipped learning environments at their school.  While 51% of all principals say that they have implemented blended learning at their school, 74% of these new principals are at the helm of a blended learning school. 
  4. Two-thirds (68%) of New Learning Leaders say that their most significant challenge in the effective use of digital resources at their school is providing effective teacher training.  Consequently, these principals have a stronger focus that most principals on modeling self-directed professional learning for their teachers. 
  5. The New Learning Leaders are using data to inform their leadership tasks including providing feedback to their teachers on how to improve classroom practices (89%), setting schoolwide goals (85%) and sharing information with parents (74%).    

Here’s what a few of these New Learning Leaders told Speak Up:

  1. “Administrators must model the practices and be instructional technology experts,” said a high school principal in Delaware.
  2. “Empowerment happens through challenging teachers and then follow-through support. We must find ways to support our teachers and help teachers feel that they can experiment without judgement or fear of mistakes,” said a middle school assistant principal in Oklahoma.
  3. “Change of instructional practices toward greater use of digital tools is no different than any other instructional change.  A leader has to set the expectation with an understanding that some staff members will be trailblazers, some pioneers and some will be settlers. Create the capacity for teachers to experiment, to take a risk, and to learn from failure without being hammered if they do fail,” said a high school principal in Indiana.

Since 2003, Project Tomorrow, a global education nonprofit organization, has facilitated the annual Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning. A key aspect of the research project is to track the growth in student, educator and parent interest in digital learning, as well as how the nation’s schools and districts are addressing that interest with innovative learning experiences in and out of the classroom. Project Tomorrow and Blackboard have collaborated since 2007 to create a series of annual reports that focus on the year-to-year trends in the use of digital learning tools to change the classroom-learning paradigm through an in-depth analysis of the latest Speak Up data findings.