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3 Ways School Leaders Can Support Digital Citizenship

By Carrie Rogers-Whitehead
February 28, 2023
Leader Standards Twitter

Digital citizenship is everyone’s responsibility, but no one’s authority. That means it can be difficult for school leaders and advocates to implement digital citizenship in a coordinated way. However, one resource that building administrators can turn to for guidance is the ISTE Standards.

In the Education Leader section, three standards specifically relate to the skills and dispositions that create empowered educators who can support digital citizenship in their classrooms. 

1. Visionary Planner

Leaders engage others in establishing a vision, strategic plan and ongoing evaluation cycle for transforming learning with technology.

Vanessa Monterosa is the co-author of the ISTE book Deepening Digital: a Guide to Systemwide Policy and Practice. In the book, she writes about her work creating a digital citizenship professional learning program with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Vanessa describes the work of a visionary planner to create a “system-level digital citizenship program.” She writes, “Engaging students, staff and district leaders comprises a large portion of a systemwide effort, but a visionary planner will also consider how families have a stake in digital citizenship learning.”

Here are some questions for aspiring visionary planners:

  • How are you communicating with your families in the broader school community?
  • Do those families have any say or way to provide feedback on digital citizenship learning?

Deepening Digital Citizenship

2. Empowering Leader

Leaders create a culture where teachers and learners are empowered to use technology in innovative ways to enrich teaching and learning.

How can educator leaders be empowered to support learners when they themselves are hesitant or fearful about digital engagement?

In Vanessa’s research, she found countless education leaders who were nervous about being online because they feared saying the wrong things that might land them in hot water or even get them fired. Although losing a job over an online comment is rare, it is a legitimate fear.

Empowered leaders create a culture of supports, not discipline and fear. This can be hard to do, especially with all the outside pressure on school leaders to punish students for misdeeds instead of adopting an attitude of guidance. While online safety is important, it’s equally vital that educators, students and their families understand the value of learning online.

Here are some questions empowered leaders can ask themselves:

  • How do I feel about my own digital presence? What platforms am I on, and what do I share?
  • What are my school and/or district policies regarding educator activities online? Do they exist? And if so, are they overly punitive? Do they need to be updated?

3. Systems Designer

Leaders build teams and systems to implement, sustain and continually improve the use of technology to support learning.

Digital citizenship learning involves more than just classroom teachers and students. Systems designers must create differentiated learning opportunities at multiple levels and locations. In Deepening Digital Citizenship, Vanessa asks questions about school leaders’ roles:

“If a teacher’s role is to engage students in digital citizenship activities, what is the principal’s role in supporting that teacher? In turn, what is a district administrator’s role in ensuring a school principal can extend support and resources to their staff?”

Here are some questions for school leaders designing systems:

  • Is your school or district providing digital citizenship learning and supports to leaders, not just classroom teachers?
  • Who is responsible for digital citizenship implementation at the school and district level?
  • What accountability measures are used to evaluate the effectiveness of digital citizenship professional learning?

Suzanne Judson-Whitehouse teaches education leaders around the world so they can be ISTE Certified. In her work with the Collaborative for Education Services she sees the ISTE Standards not only as a teaching and coordinating tool, but one that can improve equity. She says:

“ISTE Educator Leader 2.2.b is a critically important guide to the work we do as technology leaders, centering the experiences of underserved learners and ensuring that they have access to technology that helps them to access learning. By leveraging technology to remove barriers, we can support students who have historically been pushed to the margins of our schools and our curriculum to have access and opportunity. I mean, that’s the goal, isn’t it?”

The ISTE Standards can, and should, be synthesized with instructional standards for effective digital citizenship instruction. Implementation and opportunity should be the end goal — because if digital citizenship is everyone’s responsibility but no one’s authority, then no one will take the lead to make it happen.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead will present at Creation Lab Deepening Digital Citizenship: Building Capacity to Change School Culture at ISTELive 23. Preregistration for her session is required. Register for ISTELive 23 today!


Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability, a mission-based company that has taught tens of thousands of students, parents and educators digital citizenship around the world. She is the award-winning author of seven books, including the most recently released Deepening Digital Citizenship: a Guide to Systemwide Policy and Practice, with ISTE. She lives in Utah with her family.