How to Lead a Digital Learning Transformation

How to lead, support, and evaluate an effective digital learning shift. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Randy Ziegenfuss 

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”

—Joseph Campbell

CREDIT Western Salisbury Elem TL2020.pngI am an educational practitioner – a superintendent in a small school district in Pennsylvania, Salisbury Township School District. We are now in our seventh year of a digital transformation, what we are calling TL2020 (Teaching and Learning 2020). Any transformation – true transformation where we let go of the past and create something entirely new – is hard, hard, hard work! And because it’s so hard, I find that K12 leaders are quick to find some kind of formula, a step-by-step path to transformation. Follow the prescription, and you’re done!

As a result of monitoring our digital transformation for several years, we developed a framework to help guide us through the process.

But as Joseph Campbell reminds us, we have to create our own path – a unique path to digital transformation. There are no pre-packaged paths because every one of us has a unique learning context, complete with strengths and challenges. Unique context is what makes the work so challenging.

Even after seven years of this work, we still have lots of heavy lifting to do before our digital transformation meets our vision. My colleague/assistant superintendent, Lynn Fuini-Hetten, and I have come back to a simple framework for guidance along the journey:

  • Lead it
  • Support it
  • Evaluate it

Using this broad framework, anyone can define effective strategies and actions to fit that unique context, and, over the course of time, effectively navigate a digital transformation journey. Here’s a glimpse into what distinguishes each phase of the framework.

Lead It

Digital transformations cannot be successful without leadership on multiple levels – district, school board, building, teacher and student.

School board leadership: Be prepared to invest the time and energy into sharing your vision and goals, and educating the school board around the need for change. They are the gatekeepers of human and financial resources.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Randy Ziegenfuss and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

Building Leadership: Principals can make or break the transformation through the manner in which they establish expectations and create opportunities for conversations focused on improving practices in teaching and learning with digital tools.

Teacher leadership: Pioneering innovators and those who are naturally intrinsically motivated to tinker and experiment with new ideas, tools and pedagogies will provide valuable inertia as you implement and refine your vision for teaching and learning.

Student leadership: Even though students are our “customers” and have valuable insights into how they best learn both inside and outside of school, we too often leave their voices out of our digital transformation efforts.

Two key takeaways on the topic of LEADERSHIP and digital transformation:

  • Take leadership out of a digital transformation and you miss the foundation on which everything else is built.
  • The traditional notion of leadership – people with titles – is no longer valid. For digital transformations to be successful, leadership must be developed and distributed at all levels of the system – district, school board, building, teacher and student.

Support It

Simply providing a digital device for students and staff does not a transformation make. To reach the goal of transforming teaching and learning through digital tools, teachers (and students) will need to learn, unlearn, and relearn. They’ll need to be supported to turn vision into reality.

Professional Development for Teachers: Be prepared to provide a variety of learning opportunities that align with the goals of your initiative. Just like our students, teachers are at different places in the journey and should be supported wherever they happen to be.

Professional Development for Leaders: In Salisbury, the leadership team participates in their own professional learning. The team meets monthly for intentional professional learning and occasionally for lunch and learn sessions.

Rethinking Resources: We want our teachers and students to be creative and innovative, designing new products and processes that have value. How can we use human and financial resources in ways that will more effectively support our digital transformation? How can we model creativity and innovation? We did this by rethinking how we utilize computer technicians and school librarians.

Two key takeaways on the component of SUPPORT in a digital transformation:

  • Frequent opportunities for professional learning keep your digital transformation goals at the forefront with everyone in the organization focused on transformational learning, professionally and for our students.
  • While everyone needs a common language around technology and pedagogy, effective supports meet teachers and leaders where they are and challenge them to embrace a growth mindset for continuous improvement. Building and district leaders must work collaboratively to ensure the individual and collective needs of teachers and leaders are being met.

Evaluate It

There are many reasons you will want to evaluate your digital transformation: to understand how and where teaching and learning are evolving; to determine if the financial investment is paying off; to measure progress toward meeting project goals; and to support shifting priorities with appropriate data.

As a result of monitoring our digital transformation for several years, we developed a framework to help guide us through the process of evaluation and assessment. Our framework includes the following questions:

While the components of the framework are shared here in a linear fashion, the process of digital transformation the framework is best approached in a recursive manner. The challenge of digital transformation is balancing and addressing all three components simultaneously on some level – Lead it. Support it. Evaluate it.

Now that you have an understanding of the framework, what strategies and actions will you develop for each of the phases to best support your digital transformation efforts? To learn more about the strategies and actions we’ve taken in Salisbury Township School District, read this ebook on the framework. Then set out to make your digital transformation a reality!

Randy Ziegenfuss is Salisbury Township School District superintendent. Previously a classroom teacher, department chair, tech integration specialist, director of technology, and assistant principal, he is currently adjunct professor of education at Moravian College, his alma mater. He teaches courses in assessment and technology. He earned his M.A. from Teachers College in Technology Leadership and a doctorate in educational and organizational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Follow @ziegeran, and visit or listen in to and


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