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Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times
A scholarly book review for the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) at Charles Sturt University
April, 2014 - Matt Ives - @hunch_box +MattIves 
There is no denying the impact new digital technologies are having on our society. In
Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times
 published by Corwin Press (2014) the author, Eric Sheninger, advocates a rethought school leadership model for these changing times. Sheninger believes the 21st century’s enhanced ability to connect, communicate, and collaborate is an underutilized tool for modern leadership which if successfully harnessed can lead to improved relationships and a stronger school culture.
The intention of the book is to provide principals, school leaders and teachers the tools and knowledge to put into place what Sheninger calls ‘The Pillars of Digital Leadership’. These are seven areas (ranging from specific to general) that can be enhanced via the opportunities new digital technologies, in particular social media, enable. The book is not a thorough investigation into leadership - Sheninger states that much of that knowledge, for example the ‘Six Secrets of
Change’ framework (Fullan, 2008, as cited in Sheninger, 2014, p54), currently exists - but rather a reimagining of the principles of effective leadership set amongst the connected, changing world of today (Aungst, 2014).
The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of this leadership model comprises the contents and forms to structure the book. Roughly the first third provides context: the post-industrial world now, explaining why change is complicated but essential. This is proceeded with the bulk of the book, the ‘how’ - ‘The Seven Pillars of Digital Leadership’, each pillar allocated a chapter.
As a self-confessed techno-sceptic turned social media expert (Welborn, 2014), Sheninger’s  journey (along with the school he is currently principal of - New Milford High School in Bergen County, New Jersey) provides much of the evidence for the efficacy of his leadership framework. Indeed, this is a strength of the book - it is written by an author ‘in the trenches’, a practising principal who has led change successfully, navigating the pitfalls and finding out what works (Johansen, 2014). It also comprises a range of personal vignettes from teachers and principals across the United States, and as such,
Digital Leadership
 rings with an air of (US-centric) authenticity, rather than that of a by-the-numbers, heavily analytical approach. This review will critically analyse two core issues related to author intention: does the author provide compelling reasons why change leadership is necessary? And, through the lense of social media, are the practical steps the author suggests valid and useful in regards to addressing what therefore needs to occur?
The Why
The premise for Sheninger’s assertion that we need to rethink leadership in our changing times, is that, in fact, we do actually live in rapidly changing times (Sheninger, 2014, p17). This is a difficult statement to dispute, and one which Sheninger provides evidence for through Pew Internet and American Life Project (2010), Childwise (2013), and mobiThinking (2012) research. As to the veracity of this data, The Pew Internet research Sheninger draws heavily from was compiled from surveys of approximately 800 adolescents and 2 250 adults in late 2009, and is considered an accurate, nonpartisan source of statistical data (Keeter, 2010).
Sheninger posits that of greater importance is that fact these shifts in society have not been mirrored in schools (Sheninger, 2014, p5) - views which a range of reputable educational thinkers confirm. The actual issue then is the fundamental disconnect between students and the schools they attend (Kelly, McCain & Jukes, 2009, p9). This disconnect is an often heard lament, with many suggesting that schools are stuck in an industrial age education paradigm (Robinson, 2006). A further exacerbation is the education ‘reform’ movement focused on mass standardisation and high-stakes testing. Together, these forces act as deep-rooted complicators, generating negative side-effects such as the narrowing of curriculum and reducing of achievement (Berliner, 2011, p288).
The opposition of this industrial age education and standardisation to what we understand as required learning for current times is striking (Moravec, 2013, p44). It is a tension explored by