By Henry Blue and Win Smith

“What Digital Instruction Means” is a four-part series examining the effects of and opportunities within the digital instruction movement in education.  Parts one and two outlined web-based tools that help teachers save time and innovate pedagogy; part three examines the implications of the digital era for school leaders.

As teachers continue to embrace digital instruction tools and techniques in growing numbers– hundreds of thousands of teachers now bring connectivity to their profession by utilizing Twitter as their professional learning network, for instance– a number of principals, and superintendents have begun to distinguish themselves by promoting the adoption of digital practices in their schools.  As one such leader, Eric Sheninger, principle of New Jersey’s New Milford High School, writes in Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times: “Technology is here to stay.  Its value rests in whether leaders decide to use it effectively to positively impact the lives of our students…The results and impact will speak for themselves.” The growing recognition of leaders such as Sheninger, is not derived from their innovations alone, but is instead very much rooted in the productive fruits of their labors that have injected a.) efficiency into spending practices and b.) boosted student learning.

The digital instruction movement has allowed schools and districts to save funding through more efficient allocation of purchasing decisions.  Primarily, digital leaders in schools have begun to alleviate the burden on IT professionals and administrators to acquire robust instructional software systems and costly textbook packages.  Instead, innovative leaders are now empowering teachers to purchase the tools and content they need for their specific classrooms by increasing their reimbursable spending dollars, which leads to a far more efficient overall IT budget.  In this same vein of putting IT purchasing decisions in the hands of the teachers, leading the charge from outside the school system is— a collaborative effort of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Digital Promise— that funds teachers up to $6,000 per year to fully outfit their respective classrooms with learning-enhancing applications and digital content.  As with other industries, efficient and effective spending will arise as the end practitioners– in this case the teachers– are empowered with the purchasing power.

In addition to reducing spending by handing purchasing power for classroom tools and resources to teachers, innovative digital school leaders are also driving greater success in the classroom.  In one notable example, Mark Edwards of Mooresville School District (North Carolina) and winner of the AASA 2013 Superintendent of the Year, drove his district to 3rd in the ranks for statewide graduation rate and 2nd for academic composite despite ranking 100 out of 115 in per pupil funding.  How did he do this? While facilitating a strong collaborative culture of administrators, teachers, parents, and students, Edwards made an early investment that paid large dividends in securing full-time laptops for every student from 4-12 grade.  This allowed Mooresville County Schools to fully implement blended learning, setting the stage for President Obama to choose Edward’s district as the sight to lay out his national goal for school wireless connectivity, which will only serve to increase the adoption of digital instruction leadership practices.

Henry Blue and Win Smith are the co-founders of Alchemy Learning, a Baltimore-based edtech company that specializes in curricular and learning management tools.  Blue previously taught middle school history and English at the Boys’ Latin School of MD and holds a B.A. from Davidson College, an M.A. from the University of Virginia.  Smith was previously a member of the software investment team at ABS Capital.  Smith holds a B.A. from Davidson College and an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.