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Challenges of being a digitally savvy principal

Jayson W. Richardson (Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA)
Jeremy Lucian Daniel Watts (Graduate Studies, College of Education, Anderson University, Anderson, South Carolina, USA)
William L. Sterrett (Educational Leadership, Watson College of Education, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 5 March 2021

Issue publication date: 2 June 2021




The purpose of this study was to better understand the challenges faced by leaders who have demonstrated excellence in integrating technology into teaching and learning in P-12 schools in the United States.


This case study of technology savvy P-12 school principals provides insights into how building leaders overcome digital technology innovation challenges. In the summer of 2017, the authors interviewed 12 of the 18 recipients of the NASSP Digital Principal Award. These principals serve as examples of how to lead schools in the digital age.


Using Bolman and Deal's (2013) conceptual framework, the authors analyzed the data around the four frames (i.e., political, structural, human resources, and symbolic) to understand the challenges of being a digital principal. Bolman and Deal posited leaders who function predominantly in a single frame may miss essential organizational change elements.

Research limitations/implications

The authors recognize several limitations in this study. First, the nominating process for the NASSP Digital Principals award involves an application process. Thus, while these principals were recognized for meeting these criteria, it is possible that these awardees were selected based on their nomination materials rather than on actual longitudinal evidence. Second, this study's data were gathered through interviews. The authors did not gather data through student work samples, teacher and staff interviews, or other data points, but rather the single data point of principal perspectives through interviews.


One silver lining from the pandemic is that leading schools cannot be detangled from the digital needs of diverse stakeholders. As such, digital principalship has become the new norm where the principal leads on a screen, teachers teach on a screen, and students learn on a screen. The award-winning digital principals in this study played an integral role in how they message their school's story, how they navigate and design structures, how they overcome political realities, and how they invest in addressing the needs of individuals.



Richardson, J.W., Watts, J.L.D. and Sterrett, W.L. (2021), "Challenges of being a digitally savvy principal", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 59 No. 3, pp. 318-334.



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