Becoming a 21st Century Administrator

There are many ideas and conversations surrounding 21st Century Learners and 21st Century Teaching/Teachers.  While learning more about ISTE Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation - Performance Indicator B - Design, develop and implement technology-rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment, I wanted to extend this learning into how administrators specifically can embrace 21st Century practices.  What can administrators do to become 21st Century administrators? ISTE Administrator Standards are: 

Three of these standards – Visionary Leadership, Systematic Improvement, and Professional Practice connect deeply with ISTE Standard 4 – Professional Development and Program Evaluation.  Dan Morris and Susan Brooks-Young put forth a framework to become an effective 21st Century Administrator in their post – Becoming a 21st Century Administrator.  They ask the following questions for administrators to consider: 

  • What outcomes do we want to accomplish in the classroom?  
  • What available tools and resources can and will support teachers in helping their students meet these outcomes?  
  • What preparation do we need to ensure teachers and students appropriately utilize tools and resources?  
  • How will we measure the effectiveness of these tools to gauge how well they support and improve teaching and learning?  

With these questions guiding dialogue between administrators and educators, the next steps can focus on how to translate the answers and ideas from these questions into action plans for supporting 21st Century learning, designs, classrooms, and students.  When stakeholders are coming from similar perspectives of implementation and needs for increasing 21st Century PD, specific to roles within schools and reshaping the design of how we approach 21st Century education and skills, we are left we a comprehensive plan instead of a one-sided approach to the ever-changing environment of education.  

Morris and Brooks-Young also suggest strategies for what administrators can do specifically to shift into a 21st Century mindset: 

  • Invest in your own personal exploration and use of new tools 
  • Be sure that your technology experts interact regularly with the classroom experts in your district 
  • Provide ongoing staff development for teachers and administrators on appropriate and effective use of instructional technologies 
  • Model the use of appropriate tools and applications when working with staff 
  • Celebrate successes and build a culture where exploration and innovation are valued.

Between asking 21st Century based questions and using strategies that support 21st Century learning implementation, the framework is strong for all to continue growing professionally with 21st Century student learning at the heart of these changes.  

The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) defines a 21st Century School Leader as:

“One Who Educates, Empowers, Engages and Excels through visionary leadership that inspires ALL to be intentional learners, to think critically and to work collaboratively to meet the demands of a global, digital and dynamic world.” 

The DoDEA has created a set of roles and competencies with self-assessments and reflection continuum coupled with professional learning plans to help implement changes that leaders can embark upon to shift from being a 20th Century Principal to a 21st Century Principle. The four roles that principals can follow and then assess are: 

The self-assessments and reflection continuums focus on what it takes to shift 20th Century practices into 21st Century practices and are the support administrators need to know HOW to make and sustain changes for themselves, staff and the community they serve.  Take a look at the whole report to dig deeper into the assessments and reflections. Here is one to give an idea of what can be gained from this approach and evaluation technique: 

Mr. Keenan, from the blog Developing Education, outlines 5 Traits of the 21st Century Administrator and reminds us of the holistic and soft skills that leadership can come to the table with to support a safe and open culture for conversation and collaboration between all stakeholders during such a powerful shift in education. 

Finally, I love this reminder and metaphor from Gerald Aungst – 

“In a way, the job of school district administrator is like a tugboat.  If you have ever watched a tugboat work, it appears far too small for its job of maneuvering huge ships around a crowded harbor. Yet a smart tugboat pilot knows exactly where to push or pull on that ship to ease it into the needed location. Administrators, likewise, need to lead through influence, and must choose carefully where they nudge and tug on the enormous mass of a school district organization to guide it exactly where it needs to be.”  

As an educator, I feel that educational technology advances currently rely on teacher buy-in and a desire for professional growth despite the many obstacles and personal time it takes to take on this growth without much support, if any at all.  Yet, this is such an important and large-scale change for all to take on. Leaders (principles, administration, district-level stakeholders, etc) need to be at the forefront for there to be proper training and support to help maneuver and steer this gigantic and always evolving educational shift in order to meet the needs and realities of the current educational landscape that teachers and students are part of.  

Nightman1965 – Royalty-free stock photo ID: 326359325 – Tugboats assisting container cargo ship to harbor.


Aungst, Gerald. (2012, March 26.) 21st Century Administrators: New Roles, New Responsibilities.  Retrieved from 

Department of Defense Education Activity. (2014). The 21st Century Principal – 21st Century Teaching, Learning and Leading.  Retrieved from 

ISTE Administrators Standards. Retrieved from 

Keenan. (2013, March 12). Developing Education. 5 Traits of the 21st Century Administrator. Retrieved from 

Morris, Dan and Brooks-Young, Susan.  Creative Educator. Becoming a 21st Century Administrator. Retrieved from 

3 Replies to “Becoming a 21st Century Administrator”

  1. Christine- I love your focus on 21st century administration! Your info-graphics are very informative and helpful in defining what a 21st century administrator looks like and their responsibilities within a school. I also thought the metaphor of the tugboat fit perfectly with your research! I believe that knowing your staff and the motivations they need to reach their goals are essential for being an effective 21st century administrator.

    1. Thank you for sharing your resources and ideas! I am excited to share the tugboat metaphor with the rest of my staff!

  2. Christine,

    Thank you so much for this post and it’s helpful resources. I really liked the holistic traits we can all bring to a leadership table. Kind of like your tug boat analogy there is a quote in there that says, “use your strengths, and manage your weaknesses”. I feel like this is a whole other gift in itself and a reminder that we can surround ourselves with supports that help lift us up. I think that this grounding helps me better to see how we all can shift towards a 21st century mindset and leadership!

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