Tag Archives: virtual school leader

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?

interview

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.

Authority

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

Reference

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.

Virtual School Internal Communication

Virtual School Internal Communication

by Mark Sivy

As the leader of an online, virtual school, or cyber school, attention to communication between co-located and geographically separated individuals requires a heightened level of importance and skill. In a recent study I performed on leaders of virtual schools, the participants’ continual return to the communication topic throughout the interview process highlighted communication as one of the most essential and influential components of their leadership. The data analysis revealed two differentiated areas of communication – internal and external.

virtual school communicationThis blog post examines aspects related to internal communication, which were categorized as being general internal communication, central office employee communication, and at-a-distance employee communication. Almost all study responses involved at-a-distance and electronic forms of communication through emails, phone calls, online meetings, learning management systems, and instant and text messaging. The leaders involved in the study said communicating through the various media presented challenges in terms of ensuring that they were done correctly, clearly, and effectively. If these criteria were met, the leaders indicated that contemporary methods of electronic communications were seen to be advantageous over previous in-person ones. The participants also cited having face-to-face conversations, typically when employees were within a short walking distance of each other, such as in and adjacent office or cubicle.

General Communication

The means of and approaches to communication in a virtual school are different than in a traditional one. In a traditional setting, general internal communications are often done Technologyaccording to a daily schedule, are commonly unidirectional, and are often asynchronously viewed, heard, and given response. The majority of the participants felt communication that occurs in a virtual school is more immediate, dynamic, frequent, and closer to real-time than in a traditional physical setting. The leaders were able to leverage at-a-distance electronic communication in a manner that promoted the overall importance of communication, the need for clarity of communication, the unique uses of communication, and the value that communication has to the school team and community. The media used for internal communication were varied and depended upon the geographic relationship of those who were in contact and the purpose of the communication.

Most leaders alluded to the fact that there is a heightened sense of importance placed on communication within an online school due to the geographic distances between staff. One profound comment that sums up the feeling of many was, “Communication, communication, communication. I don’t think we can communicate enough.”

Central Office Employee Communication

The leaders reported communicating with co-located staff in a variety of ways that were purpose specific. There were standing times set for face-to-face meetings with all central office staff, with these typically happening on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Many of the leaders supplemented these meetings with the use of online meeting systems to connect with those staff who were unable to attend in-person.

The participants also used various means to communicate with those staff that they were more dependent upon and had to speak with more frequently. Each relationship developed a favored online meeting systemform of communication. Being dependent upon proximity, time, and purpose, the common avenues of interaction would involve walking to an office to talk, calling someone by phone, sending an email, using an online meeting system, or using instant messaging. Even in a common physical setting, the sense from the leaders was that the availability of these at-a-distance electronic communication often allowed more responsive and frequent communication and a greater openness than they experienced with in-person discussions.

At-a-Distance Employee Communication

Communications with these employees (typically faculty) involved some sort of electronic medium, most commonly email, instant messaging, and content sharing via intranet. When compared to a single location organization, there were more frequent and more random communications with employees, both individually and as teams. Some leaders noted that at-a-distance communication increased the amount of communication between employees, thus creating a greater sense of support and team effort.

virtual team leadershipMany study participants described communication strategies as being based on the importance of the messages and types of information. The leaders wanted to manage communication in a manner that reduced the burden on employees to keep up with the volume of communications. Messaging systems were used for quick input from an individual, content management systems typically served as a repository for both reference materials and current information. Emails were often used as a means for personal and team communication or specific requests.

Reflection Point – “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Tony Robbins