Putting the Wheels on Digital Leadership - A School Principal's Journey

Teaching Strategies

By Michael Hilkemeijer

Dr Spike Cook from R.H Bacon Elementary School, New Jersey, is considered as a role model for school principals around his district. In Sheninger’s (2014) book on digital leadership, the story of his journey exemplifies how a shift to a new leadership paradigm can initiate change within a primary school. 

Spike wanted to set an example for his teachers and students and be a more relevant leader so that he could inspire his colleagues and student to reach their potential. For this to occur, he needed to establish a vision for both himself and his school as an effective 21st century principal which required him to reflect on the school’s culture in relation to society and anticipate the changes that were needed for improvement. 

Educational Leadership in Technology Integration

The story is an inspiring story for school principals and other educational leaders who have the desire to lead a digital school in the 21st century. It discusses how this school principal used blogging as a reflective tool and even used it to blog daily about the happenings of the school itself. Spike showed commitment to reading information on leadership daily and this set an example for his peers and teachers. Such a commitment increased his own personal knowledge as well as being able to build capacity among his staff. 

By empowering a few risk takers and arming his staff with the necessary tools to integrate ICT, he led his school to ICT greatness through a plan that would help the school sustain change. 

Achieving sustainable change today relies on these key aspects (Sheninger, 2014):

  • Identifying the problem(s);
  • Developing implementation plans to improve school culture and;
  • Anticipating future changes.


Fullan (2008) as cited in Sheninger (2014, 73-75) aligns the actions of this school principal to following key secrets to change: 

Love your employees - Explore the importance of building the school by focusing on the teachers and staff, students, and the community. The key is enabling staff to learn continuously while giving them a certain amount of autonomy to take risks and be innovative. 

Connect with peers with purpose - Purposeful peer interaction within and beyond the school is crucial. Student learning and achievement increase substantially when teachers work in learning communities supported by school leaders who focus on improvement. It is also essential to develop relatable goals and associated outcomes with every change initiative. 

Capacity building prevails - The most effective strategies involve helping teachers and principals develop the instructional and management of change skills necessary for school improvement. Capacity building concerns competencies, resources, and motivation. 

Learning is the work – Continuing professional development in the form workshops, online courses and online communities is essential and school leaders must not only be creative in finding time for teachers to engage in CPD but become lifelong learners themselves. 

Transparency rules - Ongoing data, access to seeing effective practices, sharing innovation for others to learn from, and embracing digital tools are necessary for success. 

Systems learn - Continuous learning depends on developing many leaders in the school in order to enhance continuity. It also depends on schools being confident in the face of complexity and open to new ideas.


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