Recommendations for Virtual School Leader Preparation

Research-based Recommendations for Professionally Developing Current and Future Virtual School Leaders

by Mark Sivy

Based upon the outcomes of my recently completed virtual school leadership study, recommendations are made for:

  1. Continued research
  2. Development of leadership standards
  3. Creation of leadership preparation and development opportunities
  4. Application of current findings to leadership practice

Virtual leadership

To continue the work started by this dissertation research, additional virtual school leadership study is recommended. The initial focus should be further study of virtual school leadership to discover remaining factors or factor details that influence the role. It is then suggested to broaden the scope of study to produce generalizable findings for the field of virtual school leadership. These findings would be inclusive of and applicable to senior leaders of state-led virtual schools (Florida Virtual School and Michigan Virtual School), charter virtual schools (Wisconsin’s Online Charter School), online school consortia, commercially-backed virtual schools (such as those using K-12), and other virtual learning endeavors.

It is then recommended that the study of the virtual school leadership role be complemented by the development of a vetted and accepted compilation of virtual school leadership standards. The standards should be developed in association with a professional organization such as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).

TrainingWith standards in place, the next recommendation is the design and creation of comprehensive certification agendas, higher education programs, and professional development programs. These learning opportunities should be based upon research, practice, and standards and be created in a manner that ensures virtual school leaders develop knowledge and abilities through meaningful rhetoric, critical thinking exercises, and case study analyses. It is suggested that the development of these offerings include broad input and review from stakeholders, subject matter experts, existing leaders, and national professional organizations.

It is advocated that certification agendas and professional development programs be crafted to provide comprehensive leadership preparation that addresses all the themes presented in this study. These should be supplemented by ongoing communities of practice and support. In addition to the inclusion of central topics, professional development offerings should also include special topics as they arise, panel discussions, case presentations, and content for other levels of virtual school administration and leadership.

With the understanding that currently there is a relatively small group of individuals who would be interested in virtual school leadership, at least one graduate level course that introduces virtual instructional leadership should be offered in higher education programs at larger institutions. This overview course would benefit individuals who are in a variety of roles, from the leader of a traditional school offering online courses to the leader of a virtual school to individuals who are in other leadership roles associated with online learning.

Professional networking

Realizing that online and virtual education and virtual schools are rapidly expanding and reaching a critical mass, the next recommendation is for the creation of a national center for virtual school studies at a higher education institution. This center would take the lead in the study of virtual school theory and practice including, but not limited to, leadership. Based upon the work of this center and other researchers, a graduate program offering a specialization in virtual school leadership should be created.

Individuals who are currently interested in becoming a virtual school leader should seek membership in professional organizations, read existing academic literature on virtual schools and virtual leadership, and take advantage of networking opportunities with current virtual school leaders. Virtual school employees who are considering advancement into a leadership position within their virtual school should inquire about succession planning. For purposes of support, documentation, and ongoing development, it is suggested for existing leaders to create a formal consortium or collaborative organization that is open to leaders from various online and virtual school efforts.

Reflection Point – A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. ~Lao Tzu

 

Virtual School Leader Standards

Virtual School Leader Standards Framework

Based upon the review of literature for my dissertation titled State-Led Virtual School Senior Leaders – An Exploratory Study, significant gaps were found in academic studies pertaining to the topic of virtual school leadership. In light of this, the review incorporated virtual school leadership and related fields of study including virtual schools, traditional school leadership, traditional school leadership for instructional technology, traditional school leadership standards, virtual leadership, leadership style in a virtual setting, virtual school senior leadership development, and online teaching standards. No studies were discovered during the review that sufficiently addressed the personal, professional, and functional parameters that affected the work and success of virtual school leaders or their intentional preparation through such means as succession planning, formal education, or professional development.

<img src="image.gif" alt="virtual school leadership" />

The purpose of my dissertation was the discovery and presentation of findings related to the role characteristics, influential factors, and requirements that can impact virtual school administrators’ leadership qualities, attributes, beliefs, and approaches. The benefit of the study outcomes is that they would lead to the development of virtual school leadership standards, which would also inform their preparation and development.

As a result of the qualitative study that employed the constructivist grounded theory methodology described by Charmaz (2009), the categories of elements that guide, influence, motivate, and change virtual school leaders are:

(a) Leader education, experience, and professional growth (prior to and during the role)

(b) Leader profile (leadership style and approach)

(c) Curriculum and instruction (curriculum standards to instructional delivery)

(d) The learner (student concerns)

(e) Human capital (instructional and non-instructional)

(f) Work environment (internal and external to the school)

(g) Internal communications

(h) External communications

(i) Capital resources

(j) Governance (those who have authority over the school)

(k) Operational logistics

These 11 themes and their associated sub-themes set the framework for the development of a comprehensive set of virtual school and online education program leadership standards.

Reference:
Charmaz, K. (2009). Constructing grounded theory. London: Sage Publications.

Reflection Point – I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. ~Ralph Nader

Virtual School Leadership Blog

Announcing my Virtual School Leadership Blog

by Mark Sivy

Graduate GlobeMy dissertation in now complete and will soon be published, bringing an end to a long doctoral program journey for this mid-career professional-gone-student. The rationale for taking this life-altering path was to gain a breadth and depth of knowledge, research skills, and theoretical perspective that would augment many years of practical experience in educational technology, e-learning, and educational leadership. It’s now time to regroup and put the new abilities, wisdom, and education to good use.

Did I accomplish what I expected? Yes and more! On the surface I knew I was pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership with a specialization in instructional systems technology. Done! Then there was the strengthening of self-motivation, self-esteem, self-efficacy and indomitable character that enabled the completion of years of coursework and research, all while moving into an unknown future. Made it! Studies included organizational theory, advanced instructional design, policy, learning theory, educational technology, instructional systems, leadership, research design, and more. Suited my desires and needs! Then came the freedom to explore educational innovations and technological trends in the areas of e-learning, online professional development, virtual school ecosystems, and virtual school leadership. Icing on the cake!

So, now what? Well, I’d been thinking about blogging as a way to share what I’ve learned and will yet discover. I have many curiosities, so rather than try to pack them into a single mixed-blog I decided to create the following blogs:

Sailing Ship LRI’ve used a similar post to introduce all my blogs and after this point they shall each set sail in their own direction. The destinations are many, with several being charted, others pursuing intriguing trends, and some going where the winds might blow. So now onward with these journeys…

Reflection Point – I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.  ~ First stanza of Sea Fever by John Masefield