Pellissier, R. (2001). Instructions to Leaders in the Digital Age

Digital Leader?

As a leader, think of climbing a ladder. Every time you take one step up the rung of the ladder, you gain a broader view of everything around you. Since the Digital Age requires a new type of leader, the new age leader needs to be quick to embrace a systems view of the school. In other words, get on the ladder and climb!

Climbing higher up the ladder means that you are now able to see more than others who are not on the same rung. It also means that while you climb, you need to let go of the practices and ways of seeing things that are no longer suitable to the next rung. While on a new rung, you can retain those practices, views and structures which are of value to the school and which can be integrated into what you find on the new rung.

Each rung that you step onto is going to challenge you to change and to see things differently. The success of the school will, to a large degree, depend on your own openness to an age of complexity and possibility.

Instructions to leaders in the digital age

In her book: "Searching for the Quantum Organisation: The IT Circle of Excellence" (2001), R. Pellissier cites five helpful instructions to leaders in the chaordic age.

  • Manage the change or transition.
  • Build a resilient school.
  • The old way of repeating and imitating just doesn't 'cut it', so get ready to de- stabilise!
  • Manage the present and future, eulogise the past where necessary.
  • Create and maintain the school as a learning and knowledge-creating organisation.

1. Manage the change or transition

Leading a school into the new age will be the most important thing you do as a leader or ICT champion. This will mean letting go of old styles of control and of placing greater responsibilities on educators, administrators, etc. Educators and administrators at the school (and in the District) will have to learn new ICT skills and new behaviours They, too, should be able to identify new problems, seek solutions, experiment with possibilities, make decisions and generate new ways of doing things.

Creating a sense of urgency about the need for change in the school, will only be successful if the leader communicates effectively and ensures that all understand the extent of the changes. Allowing people to mourn that bit of the past that they will have to leave behind is part of the process. It helps to create some form of 'closure' on the past.

Strategic change will not be effective if people do not understand the consequences for failing to integrate into the new way of doing things. Incentives for attitudinal and behavioural change need to be identified as well.

2. Build a resilient school

While concrete ceilings are one form of security that schools are investigating in order to protect their new ICT tools and assets, this is not what we are talking about here.

Leaders need to help workers see the logic in the chaordic new age system. They need to encourage staff and administrators to be able to 'bounce back' from staring complex change in the face. Educators and other school stakeholders need to be given the chance to absorb and adapt to complex change, so that they are able to weather the ICT 'storm'.

Encouraging the formation of multidisciplinary teams and even virtual expert groups can help educators, for example, to redefine themselves and the way they work.

3. The old way of repeating and imitating just doesn't 'cut it', so get ready to de-stabilise!

'De-stabilising' or disrupting the old status quo can have the benefit of improving the situation for learners and educators alike.

Allowing for a state of creative tension in the school, means that the leader and/or ICT champion nurtures creativity. In the business world, organisations are increasingly having to rely on their ability to innovate to survive. This is no less true of schools. A school that produces learners able to compete in the workplace effectively will have better standing in the community than one that does not.

Challenging old mental models is difficult for leaders and for stakeholders alike, but sticking to old ways can be more counter-productive than beneficial.

4. Manage the present and future, eulogise the past where necessary

More than ever, leaders are needed to encourage change at the same time as he or she maintains enough stability in the school (or District) to prevent a total breakdown. The leader in the new age needs to be tremendously agile and able to match styles appropriately to the situation. Rather than having an 'either/or' way of thinking, leaders need to think more inclusively by adopting a 'both/and' way of thinking.

This is an age where 'opposites' complement each other and exist in a continuum. The leader's role is to find a balance between a long list of pairings that include the following:

  • 'chaos/order,
  • mind/matter,
  • autonomy/interdependence,
  • stability/dynamism,
  • quality/efficiency,
  • freedom or letting go/control,
  • workplace democracy/financial performance
  • predictability/unpredictability' (Pellissier:2001, 220).

Leaders in schools need to remind schools that despite ICT integration, the core function and role of the school has not changed. As in the past, the focus of the school is teaching and learning for improved learner achievement and progress. The only difference is that ICT integration will introduce, require and support new ways and levels of expertise in the school to deliver learning programmes and meet curricular objectives with ICT tools.

5. Create and maintain the school as a learning and knowledge-creating organisation

Leaders and ICT champions have a responsibility to create school conditions where the existing culture of the school supports continuous learning and knowledge generation. This culture should be tolerant of healthy debate and conflict and see everyday problems as learning opportunities.

The school and the school's leader should not penalise experimentation, risk-taking and 'failure', since in this new age there are no 'sure-fire' recipes to follow. The starting points are intelligence or vision, flexibility, resilience and purpose as we move towards new understandings in our schools.

Despite tensions and/or constant pressure in this age of rapid change educators need to be given the space to work out solutions for themselves and explore new areas of competence. In learning and knowledge-creating organisations, the impulse to learn, develop, improve, grow and create comes from within, while the eye that appreciates external changes and trends stays open. Leaders particularly must move their school forward with both eyes open.

Last modified: Friday, 22 July 2016, 10:00 AM