Tag Archives: cyber school leadership

Leadership Insight

Virtual School Leader Insight

by Mark Sivy, Ed.D.

Throughout my research on virtual school leaders, the participant responses provided some insight into their personal leadership traits, approaches, and styles. More specifically, the following open-ended question directly sought this information:

What are your thoughts on the senior leadership approach for a virtual school?


So what I found as a whole, rather than directly talking about themselves, the leaders typically responded to these questions by citing practical examples about their operations and their interactions with their school and staff. The following is a breakdown and discussion of the findings.


Some leaders brought up this topic when they expressed having a lack of authority or input regarding most of the state and local school district policies related to the virtual school and the use of its services. A few other comments were made concerning authority within the virtual schools. In these instances, the leaders preferred to work with and make decisions as a team, but that they would step in with authority when needed. This is aligned with Carreno (2009) who states that the lines of authority should exist, but that concept development and decision making should be done as a team.

Forward Thinking

Both directly and indirectly, the leaders made statements about monitoring trends and innovations, preparing for the future, and looking for new opportunities. Also brought up was the concept of being a change agent, by which the leader would be open to creativity, new ideas, different directions, and calculated risks.

change agent

Personal Motivations and Interests

The most consistent and heartfelt motivation for the virtual school leaders was their dedication to the students. These leaders were authentically concerned about the students, their learning, and their well-being. Some of the leaders expressed having previous enjoyment as a classroom teacher in a traditional school and view their leadership position as a continuation of that role. Others stated that they wished they had the opportunity to teach in an online setting. Other intrinsic incentives were the leadership role itself, working with curriculum and instruction, being on a leading edge of education, and facilitating education using technology.

Role Approach

These leaders maintained an arsenal of personal tactics, strategies, and methodologies that were used in addressing the large number of different leadership challenges and responsibilities. Their approaches were determined by the people, circumstances, limitations, and resources that were involved.

Final Thoughts

In addressing their virtual school leadership demands, the most common characteristics were for the leaders to be dynamic, adaptable, open, and agile.

Reflection Point – ““I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”    ~Mother Teresa


Carreno, I. (2009). E-mentoring and e-leadership importance in the quality of distance and virtual education Century XXI. Retrieved from the Multimedia, Information and Communication Technologies in Education website.


Traditional School Leadership

Virtual School Leadership Has Its Roots in the Traditional School Setting

by Mark Sivy

Throughout the history of American education, the responsibilities of the school principal have evolved and become more complex. Despite the importance of this role when compared to other aspects of schools and district-level administration, relatively little historical research has been done on this position (Kafka, 2009; Rousmaniere, 2007).

Traditional SchoolUntil the early 1980s, school leaders had been viewed as managers of operations and programs (Irwin, 2002; Kafka, 2009; Rousmaniere, 2007). In 1983 with the release of A Nation at Risk, new demands and a greater emphasis were placed on the role of the school leader. With this publication calling for major school improvement efforts, the traditional roles of school leaders began rapidly evolving to meet the additional responsibilities and pressures of reform that were being placed on them. With the introduction of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation in 2001, there was the additional expectation for these administrators to provide strong instructional leadership.

Student AchievementSince the NCLB legislation, research has supported the assertion that increased effectiveness of school senior leadership is directly related to higher student achievement (Bottoms & Fry, 2009; Leithwood & Jantzi, 2008; Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2004). Research has also indicated that only the classroom teacher has a greater impact on traditional school success (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008). In the case of the school leader, how they execute their leadership can also influence their effectiveness. Mitello, Fusarelli, Alsbury, and Warren (2013) determined that there are three categories of leadership practice that are most prevalent in achieving intended school outcomes – collaboration focus, policy focus, and vision focus.

Based on different researchers’ analyses of data from the Learning from Leadership Project, Wahlstrom (2008) identified four emergent themes that influence leader success when facilitating reform with the goal of improving student achievement:

  • School context is key in any attempt to view and manage leadership.
  • Relationships between leaders and those being led are neither linear nor uni-dimensional, meaning a more distributed and lateral distribution of responsibility and power.
  • Belief systems, such as efficacy and trust, appear as powerful factors to enable leadership efforts to take hold.
  • Most effects of educational leadership on student achievement are indirect. (p. 593)

School PrinicipalAdditionally, the success of academic reform efforts and the adaptation to educational changes and innovations depends largely on local leadership being effective in gaining cooperation and in providing support (Bottoms & Fry, 2009; Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004; Murphy & Datnow, 2003). Bottoms and Fry (2009) found that senior leaders who were most effective in implementing reform were empowered to do such and able to work collaboratively with a district office that loosely controlled the process.

LearningReflection Point – You can have great teachers, but if you don’t have a good principal, you won’t have a good school. ~Eli Broad



Bottoms, G. & Fry, B. (2009). The district leadership challenge: Empowering principals to improve teaching and learning. Retrieved from the Southern Regional Education Board website: http://publications.sreb.org/2009/09V11_District_Leadership_Challenge_color.pdf.

Irwin, P. (2002). Life’s playbook. October, 3(2), 41-45.

Kafka, J. (2009). The principalship in historical perspective. Peabody Journal of Education, 84(3), 318-330.

Leithwood, K. & Jantzi, D. (2008). Linking leadership to student learning: The contributions of leader efficacy. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 496-528.

Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, University of Minnesota and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Mitello, M., Fusarelli, B., Alsbury, T., & Warren, T. (2013). How professional standards guide practice for school principals. International Journal of Educational Management, 27(1), 74-90.

Murphy, J. & Datnow A. (2003). The development of comprehensive school reform. In J. Murphy & A. Datnow (Eds.), Leadership Lessons from Comprehensive School Reforms (pp. 3-17). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Robinson, V., Lloyd, C., & Rowe, K. (2008). The impact of leadership on student    outcomes: An analysis of the differential effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 635-674.

Rousmaniere, K. (2006). Go to the principal’s office: Toward a social history of the school principal in North America. History of Education Quarterly, 47(1), 1-22.

Wahlstrom, K. (2008). Leadership and learning: What these articles tell us. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 593-597.

Waters, T., Marzano, R.J., & McNulty, B. (2004). McRELs’ balanced leadership framework: Developing the science of educational leadership. Retrieved from http://www.mdecgateway.org/olms/data/resource/4878/0404mcrel.pdf.

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.

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