Contemplating instructional leadership in an online world

November 5, 2018
By Jane Macleod, Senior Manager, Research and Records

Recently, a few school divisions in Canada have been calling for a ban on smart phones in schools. In response, Finnish educator and author Pasi Sahlberg recommends on his blog (pasisahlberg.com) that rather than developing watchdog policies, parents and teachers should focus on helping students understand the importance of self-regulation, thus enabling them to balance their online activities with a healthy lifestyle. 


Sahlberg acknowledges that accessing and consuming media online has become a way of life for young people today. Sahlberg cites the Common Sense Media 2015 survey (www.commonsensemedia.org) that reports a nine-hour daily average media use, excluding time for school and homework, by teens in the United States. Combine this with the fact that many teachers successfully integrate online and smart phone technology into their instructional repertoire–the hours add up. 


As educators, we ask ourselves if the issues and challenges confronting young people today (e.g., mental health, poor sleep and nutrition habits, inattentiveness, cyber bullying etc.) are the legacy of too much screen time. How can teachers support student well-being without compromising the importance of responsible digital citizenship?


For principals, supporting teachers in addressing this issue encompasses both management and instructional leadership perspectives. Responding to management expectations will be second nature to experienced principals. However, providing guidance and support for teachers as they plan for student learning in an online world clogged with social media apps and questionable information requires attention. Research offers a couple of suggestions:
1. Build awareness and understanding through staff dialogue. Set time aside at an early staff meeting to allow teachers to share their thoughts, ideas, queries and even anxieties around the integration of social media technology into their practice.
2. As the school leader, where do you stand? Take time to review resources regarding the professional use of technology and social media in the classroom (e.g., division, federation, ministry policies, guidelines and communiques). Work with and reflect on the expectations of those around you–your students, your staff and your community–and clarify your personal, professional approach to the use of social media technology in the school. 
3. Share your expectations. Your staff, students and parents will appreciate the guidance and direction.
4. Engage the trailblazers. Most school staffs today include millennials who have grown up in a wired world. These teachers may be interested in exploring the research regarding the successful integration of technology and social media as a tool for learning. There’s a real opportunity for teacher leadership here. 
5. Ask the same questions you would with any innovation in a teachers’ instructional practice. Questions such as, How does the use of this technology connect with the curriculum goals? How will this enhance the quality of the instructional process? How will you assess student learning? Do all students have equal access to the technology? How are you adapting the instruction to meet the diverse learning needs of your students? 
6. The power and influence of online and social media technology grows exponentially. Keep learning and keep an open mind to innovative ideas that can make a positive contribution to student learning and well-being.


Successful school leaders know that the best policies are those that emerge out of thoughtful dialogue and active participation from stakeholders. Undoubtedly, such an approach is valuable when developing instructional leadership strategies that support teacher and student success in an online and connected world.


Your turn. What other ideas or suggestions do you have? Let us know! Please forward to jane.macleod@stf.sk.ca