Elements of success in digital learning: leadership

Last week we released Proof Points: Blended Learning Success in School Districts.  This and several upcoming blog posts will explore findings from the research into the schools that we have reviewed so far.

Strong school or district leadership is present in all scalable and sustained blended learning programs.

As we spoke with the programs that we were considering for profiles, in most cases it was clear that the exceptional leadership of one or more people was a fundamental key to success. Examples include the following:

  • Kenneth Grover is not only the principal of Salt Lake City’s Innovations High School, but he was central to the creation of the school. During several phone interviews his dedication to the school, and focus on students was clear. To see what I’m talking about, see his video on YouTube.
  • Randolph Central School District Superintendent Kimberly Moritz provided the first memorable quote of the project when she said, in her response to our survey, “a decade of mediocre results is our control group.”  She worked with school and district leaders to create and implement the program after first recognizing that the district needed to improve student outcomes. As many excellent leaders do, during our interviews she often deflected questions and credit to others who she brought onto the calls.
  • In addition to the research we did into the Poudre Global Academy, we were able to attend a presentation that principal Heather Hiebsch gave at a Colorado blended learning conference. Her energy in that session showed that she was passionate, but that she didn't let her excitement for the school get in the way of a clear assessment of initial results—which resulted in some early changes to the program to improve outcomes.
  • In addition to these positive examples, during our research we became aware of a couple of programs that have been held in high regard, but appear to have slipped since the person who was instrumental in starting the initiative moved on.

Among the ramifications of the importance of leadership is that a program likely can’t be considered mature until a change of leadership has occurred (along with other factors). A change of leadership, followed by continued growth and success, is a sign of program maturity and suggests that the blended learning initiative is here to stay. Until that point, it’s hard to tell for sure if the success of the blended learning school or program will outlast its founder.