Volume 12 Issue 1 (2023)

Digital Leadership and Sustainable School Improvement—A Conceptual Analysis and Implications for Future Research

pp. 7-18  |  Published Online: March 2023  |  DOI: 10.22521/edupij.2023.121.1

Turgut Karakose, Tijen Tülübaş


Background/purpose – We live in the age of digital transformation, and our lives are fundamentally shaped by the influence of digital technologies. This transformation is calling for profound changes in the education of new generations, and forcing schools to realize structural and pedagogical transformation so as to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary for life in the 21st century. Under these circumstances, digital leadership has become significant in sustaining digitally-driven school improvement. Digital leadership, used as an umbrella term to refer to technology-referenced leadership models such as e-leadership, technology leadership, virtual leadership, or leadership 4.0, aim at integrating digital technologies into the functioning and improvement of organizations and leveraging their sustainability in the digital era. This study aims to discuss the potential contribution of digital leadership to sustainable school improvement efforts in the digital era, and suggests implications for future studies.

Materials/methods – This is a conceptual paper which briefly defines digital leadership, school improvement, and the relationship between these two variables. Based on this analysis, it also points out some aspects to be addressed by future studies.

Practical implications – In this paper, we argue that digital leadership has much to offer to enhance school improvement in accordance with the requirements of this age. We also analyze the digital leadership and school improvement literature to identify potential gaps in research and suggest implications for the future investigation of digital leadership with a particular focus on school improvement.

Conclusion – An overview of digital leadership and school improvement literature suggest that future research should particularly address digital leadership from a distributed and social justice perspective, and provide further evidence on the mechanisms and means of enacting effective digital leadership in enabling schools to respond properly to their fast-changing digital environment.

Keywords: Digital leadership, school improvement, principal, leadership, school effectiveness.


AlAjmi, M. K. (2022). The impact of digital leadership on teachers’ technology integration during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kuwait. International Journal of Educational Research, 112, 101928. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2022.101928

Amelda, B., Alamsjah, F., & Elidjen, E. (2021). Does the digital marketing capability of Indonesian banks align with digital leadership and technology capabilities on company performance?. CommIT (Communication and Information Technology) Journal, 15(1), 9-17. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from https://garuda.kemdikbud.go.id/documents/detail/2180225

Avidov-Ungar, O., Shamir-Inbal, T., & Blau, I. (2022). Typology of digital leadership roles tasked with integrating new technologies into teaching: Insights from metaphor analysis. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 54(1), 92-107. 1.     https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2020.1809035

Azrai, E. P., Rini, D. S., & Suryanda, A. (2020). Micro-teaching in the Digital Industrial Era 4.0: Necessary or not. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 8(4A), 23-30. https://doi.org/10.13189/ujer.2020.081804

Battro, A. M., & Fischer, K. W. (2012). Mind, brain, and education in the digital era. Mind, Brain, and Education, 6(1), 49-50. 1. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01137.x

Bryk, A. S.; Gomez, L. M.; Grunow, A., & LeMahieu P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America's schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Chang, I. H. (2012). The effect of principals' technological leadership on teachers' technological literacy and teaching effectiveness in Taiwanese elementary schools. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 15(2), 328-340. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.15.2.328  (accessed on 12 March 2023).

Cosner, S., De Voto, C., & Andry Rah’man, A. (2018). Drawing in the school context as a learning resource in school leader development: Application-oriented projects in active learning designs. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(3), 238-255.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775118763872

Davis-Singaravelu, S. (2022). The potential to build collective capacity for organisational learning in the context of teachers’ use of digital technology for school improvement. Education Sciences, 12(1), 33. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci12010033

Eberl, J. K., & Drews, P. (2021). Digital Leadership‒Mountain or molehill? A literature review. In Ahlemann, F., Schütte, R., & Stieglitz, S. (Eds), Innovation through information systems. Wi 2021. Lecture notes in information systems and organization (48th ed., pp. 223-237).  Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-86800-0_17

Flanagan, L., & Jacobsen, M. (2003). Technology leadership for the twenty‐first century principal. Journal of Educational Administration. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230310464648

Frost, R. (2008). Developing student participation, research and leadership: The HCD student partnership. School Leadership and Management, 28(4), 353-368. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632430802292308

Fullan, M. (2015). The new meaning of educational change (5th ed.). Teachers College Press.

Greaves, T., Hayes, J., Wilson, L., Gielniak, M., & Peterson, R. (2010).The technology factor: Nine keys to student achievement and cost-effectiveness. Market Data Retrieval.

Gurr, D., Longmuir, F., & Reed, C. (2021). Creating successful and unique schools: leadership, context and systems thinking perspectives. Journal of Educational Administration, 59(1), 59-76. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEA-02-2020-0045

Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. H. (2002). What do you call people with visions? The role of vision, mission and goals in school leadership and improvement. In Leithwood , K., & Hallinger, P. (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational leadership and administration (pp. 9-40). Springer.

Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. H. (2010). Collaborative leadership and school improvement: Understanding the impact on school capacity and student learning. School leadership and Management, 30(2), 95-110. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632431003663214

Hamzah, N. H., Nasir, M. K. M., & Wahab, J. A. (2021). The effects of principals' digital leadership on teachers' digital teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia. Journal of Education and E-Learning Research, 8(2), 216-221. https://doi.org/10.20448/journal.509.2021.82.216.221

Hargreaves, A. & Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable leadership. Jossey-Bass.

Harris, A. (2001). Building the capacity for school improvement. School Leadership & Management, 21(3), 261-270. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632430120074419

Harris, A., Jones, M., & Adams, D. (2016). Qualified to lead? A comparative, contextual and cultural view of educational policy borrowing. Educational Research, 58(2), 166-178. 1.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2016.1165412

Hopkins, D., Ainscow, M., & West, M. (1994). School improvement in an era of change. Cassell.

Ilomäki, L., & Lakkala, M. (2018). Digital technology and practices for school improvement: Innovative digital school model. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 13, 1-32. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41039-018-0094-8

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2023). Standards for Administrators. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://cdn.iste.org/wwwroot/Libraries/Images/Standards/Download/ISTE%20Standards%20for%20Administrators%2C%202009%20(Permitted%20Educational%20Use).pdf

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2023). Standards for Educational Leaders. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-education-leaders

Karadag, E. (2020). The effect of educational leadership on students’ achievement: A cross-cultural meta-analysis research on studies between 2008 and 2018. Asia Pacific Education Review, 21(1), 49-64. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-019-09612-1

Karakose, T., Kocabas, I., Yirci, R., Papadakis, S., Ozdemir, T. Y., & Demirkol, M. (2022). The development and evolution of digital leadership: a bibliometric mapping approach-based study. Sustainability, 14(23), 16171. https://doi.org/10.3390/su142316171

Karakose, T., Polat, H., & Papadakis, S. (2021). Examining teachers’ perspectives on school principals’ digital leadership roles and technology capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainability, 13(23), 13448. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313448

Karakose, T., Tülübaş, T., & Papadakis, S. (2023). The scientific evolution of social justice leadership in education: Structural and longitudinal analysis of the existing knowledge base, 2003–2022. Frontiers in Psychology, 14, 1139648. https://doi.org/0.3389/fpsyg.2023.1139648

Leithwood, K., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2020). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership revisited. School Leadership & Management, 40(1), 5-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2019.1596077

Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D., & McElheron-Hopkins, C. (2006). The development and testing of a school improvement model. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 17(4), 441-464. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243450600743533

Levin, B. B., & Schrum, L. (2014). Lessons learned from secondary schools using technology for school improvement: It's just not that simple!. Journal of School Leadership, 24(4), 640-665. https://doi.org/10.1177/105268461402400403

Lewis, C. (2015). What is improvement science? Do we need it in education?. Educational Researcher, 44(1), 54-61. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X15570388

Liljenberg, M., & Wrethander, M. (2023). Leadership for school improvement–linking learning to leading over time. Professional Development in Education, 49(1), 30-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2020.1752288

Limna, P., Jakwatanatham, S., Siripipattanakul, S., Kaewpuang, P., & Sriboonruang, P. (2022). A review of artificial intelligence (AI) in education during the digital era. Advance Knowledge for Executives, 1(1), 1-9. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://ssrn.com/abstract=4160798

Lythreatis, S., Singh, S. K., & El-Kassar, A. N. (2022). The digital divide: A review and future research agenda. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 175, 121359. 1.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2021.121359

Meyer, F., Bendikson, L., & Le Fevre, D. M. (2023). Leading school improvement through goal-setting: Evidence from New Zealand schools. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 51(2), 365-383. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143220979711

Oberer, B., & Erkollar, A. (2018). Leadership 4.0: Digital leaders in the age of industry 4.0. International Journal of Organizational Leadership. Retrieved March 14, 2023, from https://ssrn.com/abstract=3337644

Pata, K., Tammets, K., Väljataga, T., Kori, K., Laanpere, M., & Rõbtsenkov, R. (2022). The patterns of school improvement in digitally innovative schools. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 27(3), 823-841. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-021-09514-5

Peng, B. (2022). Digital leadership: State governance in the era of digital technology. Cultures of Science, 5(4), 210-225. https://doi.org/10.1177/2096608321989835

Raman, A., Don, Y., & Kasim, A. (2014). The relationship between principals’ technology leadership and teachers’ technology use in Malaysian secondary schools. Asian Social Science, 10(18), 30-36. http://doi.org/10.5539/ass.v10n18p30

Rhodes, C., & Brundrett, M. (2009). Leadership development and school improvement. Educational Review, 61(4), 361-374. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131910903403949

Richardson, J. W., & Sterrett, W. L. (2018). District technology leadership then and now: A comparative study of district technology leadership from 2001 to 2014. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(4), 589-616. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18769046

Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2016). Sources of systems thinking in school leadership. Journal of School Leadership, 26(3), 468-494. https://doi.org/10.1177/105268461602600304

Sheninger, E. (2014). Digital leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times. Corwin Press.

Shields, C. M. (2004). Dialogic leadership for social justice: Overcoming pathologies of silence. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(1), 109-132. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X03258963

Shin, J., Mollah, M. A., & Choi, J. (2023). Sustainability and organizational performance in South Korea: The effect of digital leadership on digital culture and employees’ digital capabilities. Sustainability, 15(3), 2027. https://doi.org/10.3390/su15032027

Spillane, J. P. (2005, June). Distributed leadership. The Educational Forum, 69(2), 143-150. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131720508984678

Sterrett, W., & Richardson, J. W. (2020). Supporting professional development through digital principal leadership. Journal of Organizational & Educational Leadership, 5(2), 4. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://digitalcommons.gardner-webb.edu/joel/vol5/iss2/4

Sun, J., & Leithwood, K. (2015). Direction-setting school leadership practices: A meta-analytical review of evidence about their influence. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 26(4), 499-523.  https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2015.1005106

Tam, V. C., Chan, J. W., Li, S. C., & Pow, J. (2018). Developing and managing school human capital for information and communication technology integration: A case study of a school-based e-learning project in Hong Kong. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 21(4), 447-461. 1.  https://doi.org/10.1080/13603124.2017.1318958

Tan, C. (2021). Conceptualising social justice in education: A Daoist perspective. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 51(4), 596-611. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2019.1660144

Timperley, H. S. (2005). Distributed leadership: Developing theory from practice. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(4), 395-420. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220270500038545

Tülübaş, T. (2022). The influence of educational employees’ policy alienation on their change cynicism: An investigation in the Turkish public schooling context. Educational Process: International Journal, 11(1), 40-64. https://dx.doi.org/10.22521/edupij.2022.111.4

Wiyono, B. B., Komariah, A., Alghamdi, A. A., & Fahlevi, M. (2023). The influence of principals’ e-leadership on the effectiveness of schools’ public relations and organizational improvement. Sustainability, 15(2), 1296.  https://doi.org/10.3390/su15021296  

Wong, E. M., & Li, S. C. (2011). Framing ICT implementation in a context of educational change: A structural equation modelling analysis. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(2), 361–379. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from https://ajet.org.au/index.php/AJET/article/download/975/249.

Yirci, R., Karakose, T., Kocabas, I., Tülübas, T., & Papadakis, S. (2023). A bibliometric review of the knowledge base on mentoring for the professional development of school administrators. Sustainability, 15(4), 3027. https://doi.org/10.3390/su15043027

Yusof, M. R., Yaakob, M. F. M., & Ibrahim, M. Y. (2019). Digital leadership among school leaders in Malaysia. International Journal of Innovative Technology and Exploring Engineering (IJITEE), 8(9). Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mohd-Faiz-MohdYaakob/publication/334508172_Digital_Leadership_Among_School_Leaders_in_Malaysia/links/5d2ed0a7458515c11c36d004/Digital-Leadership-Among-School-Leaders-in-Malaysia.pdf

Zhong, L. (2017). Indicators of digital leadership in the context of K-12 education. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange (JETDE), 10(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.18785/jetde.1001.03



EDUPIJ Statistics from Scopus

CiteScore: 1.8, view Scopus page

SCImago Journal & Country Rank

► Educational Process: International Journal is member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). 

► New issue coming soon! (Volume 12 Issue 4, 2023)