Reframing Leadership for Online Learning in the New Normal

Concurrent Session 5 & 6 (combined)
Streamed Session Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

As the world quickly transitioned to online learning, leaders are relying on simplified assumptions preventing them from optimizing the new environment. The workshop explores Bolman and Deal’s four-frame leadership model to provide participants with advance understanding of the leadership needed to move online learning forward in the “new normal”.


Dr. Strong is an Associate Professor in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC) Department at Texas A &M University. Dr. Strong's research focuses on technology-enhanced learning and cyber learning technology delivery applications.
Dr. Nicole Stedman –Dr. Stedman is a professor of leadership in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at the University of Florida, where she currently serves as the Associate Department Chair and Undergraduate Coordinator. Her PhD is in agricultural education and communication from UF with a specialization in leadership development teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has served as the University of Florida’s Faculty Senate Chair and as a Board of Trustee member. She is an active scholar publishing and presenting her work and has partnered for $2.2 million in funded grants. She has been recognized for her teaching with awards from the University of Florida (2010, 2013), the American Association for Agricultural Education Southern Region (2013), NACTA Teaching Fellow (2011) and Scholar (2015) and the APLU Regional Excellence in College and University Teaching (2016). She is active in her international work with professional trips to Ireland, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Belize, England, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. While her research is grounded in critical thinking pedagogy, she has worked to collaborate on a model of Emotionally Engaged Thinking (EET), a model which promotes the use of emotion as a catalyst for decision-making. EET is being studied for its impact on student learning, complex and contentious decision-making, and leadership development.

Extended Abstract

As the world quickly transitioned to online learning, leaders are relying on their assumptions to navigate this new landscape. However, these assumptions, led by ambiguity and fear, are often incomplete and prevent leaders from optimizing the new environment. In order to lead more effectively, leaders in higher education institutions, k-12, industry and government need to address a more complete approach to the leadership, which have emerged in this new landscape. Research suggests, from a practical application, there are four essential lenses of leadership that need to be considered to provide contextual clues on how to lead more effectively in these online learning settings. Without a doubt, the most valuable aspect of identifying and utilizing different lenses of leadership is to help you and those individuals tasked with online learning move forward quickly in these complex and uncertain times.

In this workshop, Bolman and Deal’s (2017) leadership model will be employed as a framework to develop the participants’ capacity to identify and address different leadership frames. Unfortunately, most leaders oversimplify challenges and do not know how to address systemic issues or complex challenges. By achieving proficiency in Bolman and Deal’s four-frame model, participants will be able to address the competencies and skills associated with successful online learning leadership practices. These four frames or “maps” can be applied to address a number of key topics including: (1) planning and alignment of initiatives; (2) recruitment and retention initiatives; (3) addressing partnerships; (4) proving best practices for online training and professional development; and how to engage all the key stakeholders to ensure leadership success on online learning initiatives.

Throughout the workshop, participants will first learn about the four different leadership lenses, allowing participants to reframe the way they perceive and understand online learning in their institution/organization and the role they play in promoting or inhibiting success. Participants will quickly learn that they tend to use one frame/map to guide their understanding of the online learning environment and leadership. Unfortunately, this comfortability with just one frame may or may not work in this “new normal” and poses the risk of delaying positive advancement in online learning that may be ready to advance during this unique time. It is like using a Pennsylvania map successfully in Philadelphia, but then believing the same map will have the same level of success in Orlando, Florida. The map leaders have been utilizing prior to the pandemic might not work as well in this new environment.

After a brief overview of Bolman and Deal’s four-frame model is addressed, participants will be asked to explore the four different frames as they relate to the leadership of their online learning. First participants will learn about the Structural Frame, which emphasizes the impact goals, specialized roles, and formalized relationships has on leadership initiatives (Bolman & Deal, 2013). Problems with this frame are often associated with a current structure that does not fit within the current environment. For example, depending on the structure of the online program’s leadership, the rules, policies, procedures, and the communication can determine the program’s success. Participants will be asked to address the following questions in this first frame:

  • How does you current online learning structure work? Does that need to be redesigned?
  • What are the roles, responsibilities and relationships of those promoting online learning? What works?
  • How does the “new normal” impact goals and strategies moving forward?
  • How is your leadership disseminating facts and information to increase communication effectiveness?

Once the structural frame is discussed, the questions are posed, individuals will pair-and-share with others and then facilitators will provide space to discuss best leadership practices as it pertains to the structural frame. Then participants will move into the second frame, Human Resources.

The human resources frame, which emphasizes the role individuals play in the online learning environment. This draws attention to the leadership needed to help all stakeholders to feel good about the program and online learning environment. Specifically, this frame takes into account stakeholders needs, feelings, skills and limitations. The workshop will address the following questions:

  • Is there a “good fit” between the online learning environment and the intended stakeholders?
  • How do you recognize and promote talented individuals who work well in your online learning environment?
  • How do you empower others to engage in the online learning environment?
  • Where does creativity and innovation happen within the program? Who are the individual providing these behaviors?

Once again, participants will pair-and-share and then the larger group will discuss best practices. This will then move to the third frame, the Political frame, which addresses the ability of leaders to successfully use conflict, negotiation, bargaining to achieve the group’s goals. This is an opportunity for participants to address something that is often overlooked or intentionally not discussed between different leaders, for fear of judgment. However, all leadership takes place in politically charged environments where coalitions composed of individuals/groups look to divide scarce resources. How to best use the current landscape to move the program forward is a critical conversation that all online learning leaders need to be having with peers.

The questions in this area will consist of:

  • How is communication and information used to address stakeholder needs?
  • What are the most powerful connections online learning programs/leaders have with different stakeholders inside/outside their institution/organization?
  • What is currently on your agenda and how is this dictating what is being discussed and the strategic actions of the program?

Finally, after the Political Frame is discussed amongst participants, we turn our attention to the last frame, the Symbolic frame. The Symbolic frame addresses the culture of the online learning program. The session will explore how the online learning leaders are utilizing stories, myths, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols, like vision, mission, and values, to move the perception of the online learning culture forward. Questions in this area will address:

  • What is the mission, vision and vales of your program? How do they help make decisions during this turbulent time?
  • How has the history of the program impacted the success of the program? What will your history of the program be a year from now?
  • What are the stories you are currently telling others about online learning?

Once again, the frame will be explored through a pair-and-share process and then best practices will be provided to the larger group. The workshop will conclude with a recap of framing and the four frames. The facilitators will share different programs that have used the four frames in online learning that have had effective leadership results.