The Digital Acumen of Principals

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The principal of a digital school – as Lee and Gaffney articulated in 2008 (Lee and Gaffney) -must have a high level of digital acumen.

As the chief architect of a digitally based organization, where every facet of the operation, in and outside the school will be increasingly reliant upon and impacted by many digital technologies it is imperative the lead designer understands the technologies available, those being employed within the school’s socially networked community and how they are impacting the realisation of the school’s shaping educational vision.

They have to be able to play a lead role in shaping an apt digital ecosystem for the school.

They don’t have to be digital experts.

But they most assuredly must have a macro understanding of the current and emerging technology – both in and outside the school – and a good appreciation of how it can be employed to enhance the teaching, administration and shaping of the desired increasingly integrated and productive digitally based school ecosystem. The principal needs assist shape the school’s digital vision, to articulate the kind of digital ecosystem desired and to be the final arbiter on the acquisition and deployment of all digital technology.

On first glance all this might seem blindingly obvious,

But in Australia at least that is still not evident in the literature or national standards for school principals ( Incredibly there is no mention of the digital in those standards.

Vitally the principal needs to be able to collaborate with an empowered, socially networked school community that has normalised the use of the digital, where many have considerable specific digital expertise, with teachers pushing the digital envelope and a technology team striving to continually provide the apt digital ecosystem.

No they don’t have to have a detailed understanding of the myriad of digital technologies at play but they need the digital acumen to integrate – or not integrate – those technologies within the desired totality.

Principals who delegate this understanding to a middle manager are abrogating their lead role as a principal and any hope the school has of going digital.

We have studied and supported a large number of schools on their journey to embedding technology in their daily practice. Tellingly every successful one was lead by a principal with that digital acumen (Lee and Boyle, 2004), (Lee and Gaffney, 2008), (Lee and Winzenried, 2009), (Lee and Finger, 2010), (Lee and Ward, 2013), (Lee and Levins, 2016) (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

  • Lee, M., and Boyle, M. (2004), “Richardson Primary School. The Richardson Revolution.” Educare News March 2004
  • Lee, M and Gaffney, M eds, (2008) Leading a Digital School Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Winzenried, A (2009) The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Finger, G (eds) (2010) Developing a Networked School Community, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Ward, L (2013) Collaboration in learning: transcending the classroom walls, Melbourne ACER Press
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown –
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. 2nd Edition Armidale Douglas and Brown –