Crisis and School Leaders
The COVID-19 crisis affected education systems worldwide. Αs evidenced in empirical research studies (e.g., Walls & Seashore, 2021; Ärlestig, Breslin, Wakiaga, Johansson, Merchant, Nino, Pashiardis, & Zurita, 2021), the pandemic placed pressure on teachers, school leaders, and affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 200 countries (Pokhler & Chhetri, 2021; UNESCO, 2020). Azorin (2020) referred to this as a “supernova” force that changed the overall educational landscape and triggered periods of uncertainty in several unprepared educational systems.
In addition, this unexpected crisis within school organizations led to a further significant surge in the usage of a particular technology, primarily referring to distance or online teaching, that will continue to persist in the worldwide education market. Furthermore, the field of ICT has an increasing impact on school organizations, and the substantial role of school leaders as vital drivers of innovation on topics related to ICT is of great importance (Tulowitzki, Gerick & Eickelmann, 2022). On a European level, the European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice (2019) presented the report “Digital Education at School in Europe”. It argued about the need to continually review and develop new strategic policies and measures to meet the new demands for high-quality digital education.
Based on this particular report, only one-third of the education systems have current measures for promoting school leaders’ role in this digital transformation, while most of the European education systems are in the process of reforming the curriculum related to digital competence. The European Union is taking strides with the EU-wide “Digital Education Action Plan” (2021-2027) that aims to address and support Europe’s education and training systems in managing the aftermath of COVID-19. Based on the EU report, education systems are required to (1) Strengthen an ecosystem related to integrated digital education; (2) Promote the digital skills of teaching staff and school leadership. As a consequence, education systems in Europe and across the globe need to accept this “digital checkmate imposed” and accept this digital transformation of educational practice and work further to improve it.
In conjunction with the above, school leadership is considered a demanding and complex task, and school leaders are required to maintain their dynamism during periods of uncertainty. Specifically, during the outbreak of the pandemic crisis, school leaders emerged as a significant source of influence (Harris, 2020; Netolicky, 2020; Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020; Kafa, 2021; Kafa, 2022). Despite this, most school leaders in educational systems were unprepared to incorporate the digital aspect into their leadership roles. Having said that, and in order to effectively manage the aftermath of COVID-19 and the ongoing digital revolution, education and training systems must create high-performing digital education ecosystems with confident and capable school leaders. As a response to the pandemic, school leaders’ behaviors have specifically changed significantly and, to some extent, irreversibly. It is in this context that school leaders must keep their leadership agile and malleable while leading, coordinating, and facilitating this new and emerging digital educational growth, especially given how much of an influence ICT has on schools and learners.
School Leaders’ Digital Capacity Building
Government, relevant stakeholders, and education policymakers need to consider the improvement of school leaders in the post-pandemic era and prioritize specific practices to enable effective school governance based on the digital transformation of school organizations. By involving the active participation of public and private institutions from the domains of digital literacy and digital transformation of education, we can expand training courses, seminars, professional development, and digital support for school leaders and spur digital transformation in the education sector. By doing this; education systems could leverage the value of digital competence by fostering school leaders as (1) Digital coordinators and (2) Digital instructional school leaders.
These two perspectives facilitate strong digital communication with various internal and external stakeholders in the school and promote forums and online discussion groups within and between school organizations. Also, it is important to support the efforts of school leaders to implement digital learning communities among teachers. These collaborative and supportive communities could help teachers to successfully integrate digital technology into their classrooms and further enhance the teaching and learning process. In order to do this, there is a need to integrate the required technical infrastructure, as well as cooperation with various organizations and institutions with expertise in digital competencies to support the professional training and development of school leaders. It is in this context, allocating a considerable budget along with the well-thought education policies is essential to foster digital competence in school leaders.
In conclusion, it is critical for policymakers, professional development agencies, governments, education boards, educational institutions, and other relevant stakeholders to take the necessary steps needed to transform education by building the digital competence of educational leaders and support them in developing their roles as both digital coordinators and digital instructional leaders in this new and emerging digital era.