Norwegian school leader Ann Michaelsen (ctr) with PLP co-founders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson at ISTE 2011.

If you’re a superintendent, a principal, or an educator in another key leadership role, you know that your students are using the Web, mobile technologies, and other tools to connect and create social networks. But do you also recognize their transformative potential for learning?

In their five-week Leading Edge Boot Camp e-course, PLP co-founders Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson help education leaders not only understand how 21st Century technologies are challenging curriculum and pedagogy but how savvy leaders can use them economically to expand learning opportunities and assure all students gain the skills and dispositions they need to thrive in the new millennium. (Find out more and register here.)

In a recent interview, Will and Sheryl talked about their Leading Edge course — and why they call it a “boot camp.”

1. Give education leaders a quick overview of PLP’s Leading Edge Boot Camp e-course.

Will: School leaders need to bring a fresh lens to their own practice and what’s taking place in their schools due to the huge shifts brought about by technology and connectivity. This e-course gives them a great way to understand the shifts more clearly and to rethink their own leadership role and the implications of digital-age learning for their schools.

Sheryl: And our Leading Edge Boot Camp e-course is carefully designed with the life of busy school and system leaders in mind. In the past, we’ve offered it as a challenging 3-day on-the-ground retreat (that’s the origin of “boot camp”) and participants gave it excellent reviews. But many other administrators who feel the urgency of these issues told us three days away from the office wasn’t practical for them.

By offering the experience in an e-course format, where we can blend weekly live webinars with anytime-learning via readings and  discussion threads, most education leaders can commit some hours each week for 5 weeks. During that time, they’re guided through an in-depth experience that begins with a general understanding of the shift taking place in the world of learning and ends — in week 5 — with a concrete plan of action to implement in their schools.

2. What is the biggest obstacle to “the shift” as you see it, from an administrator’s point of view?

Sheryl: Time. We hear it over and over again. Leaders don’t have time to learn what they need to know to recreate their schools as 21st Century learning environments. Teachers don’t have time to change their practice and fully engage their iGeneration students. In this course we help you understand how to find and manage all the needed time effectively.

Will: We’re living and educating in a really challenging period of transition, from analog to digital, from isolated classrooms to global connectivity. We’re figuring it out as we go. The larger themes of change are clear, but the practical aspects of seizing the opportunities and dealing with the challenges of that change are still fairly difficult to sort through. This boot camp, with its leading edge perspective, can help.

3. Who should take this e-course?

Will: Any school leader who is interested in making sure his or her students are fully prepared for the networked, collaborative, always on world they will live in.

Sheryl: In some cases that includes teacher leaders (and they are welcome!), but more often than not it includes superintendents, principals, curriculum providers or technology coordinators. Our goal is to help 21st century educational leaders re-envision practice and develop an action plan for shift and change in their local context

4. In the ecourse you make the case for distributive leadership and using the talent in your own organization to create a shared vision. Do you consider that a “non-negotiable” for today’s leaders?

Sheryl: Yes. Just think about. We live in a participatory culture in which educators can learn anything, anytime, anywhere. The smart educational leader knows how to leverage that capacity and the knowledge that results from it. When you distribute leadership, you enable your faculty and staff to go out, connect with others, harvest what they learn, and bring it back to inform your school improvement model and – most important – benefit students and student achievement.

Shared vision is essential to building a learning organization and a learning organization is the best hope we have for recapturing schools in such a way that they meet the needs of todays learners.

5. You’ve offered the e-course several times now. What’s one a-ha moment from past sessions?

Sheryl: Will and I have both learned so much from watching how different educational leaders apply the knowledge that we share in this e-course. But one well-documented example I can point to is Tony Baldasaro’s experience (he wrote about it here). Tony is a virtual charter school leader in New Hampshire and a former assistant superintendent and curriculum administrator. He came to understand what transparent, open leadership means in a connected world; the importance of vulnerability in producing an effective 21st century leader, and how a well developed digital footprint is critical in the personal and professional life of any school leader today.

6. What’s your e-course teaching style?

Will: We’ll look at context, practice, tools and some key research, but we’ll do it more by asking tough questions than delivering answers. If you like having your thinking challenged, you’ll enjoy this course.

Sheryl: The awesome thing about this particular course is that Will and I teach it together. We’ve been told we have complementary but very different strengths. There’s a nice mix of humor and roll-up-your- sleeves and get the job done instruction. It makes for a great time, but all of us — instructors and participants — really work too.

7. Anything else we need to know about the course?

Sheryl: The exciting thing about Leading Edge Boot Camp is that it gives the busy educational leader not only the research base they need to make policy sense out of technology trends and shifts in today’s schools but the opportunity to connect with other 21st century leaders who will share their lessons learned. They won’t just hear our voices. Participants will also leave with a well-honed personal online learning network, tailored to their leadership role, and a good understanding of how to leverage that network on behalf of positive change in their schools.

Will: If you are an educational leader, and you’re trying to figure out how you can become more connected, and more savvy about the rapid global advances in technology and their implications for your learning enterprise, then you want to take this course.

Join leading-edge instructors for this unique eCourse.

Find out more and register now. Course starts March 26.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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