Michelle VanDenTop, Director of Technology and Information Services
Joel A. VerDuin, Ed.D., Chief Technology and Information Officer
Anoka-Hennepin School District

Frameworks are helpful. They often provide us with common language and an agreed-upon starting point for conversations. They help us see issues the same way, and provide us with a means of discussing differences when we do not. In this article, we would like to present two frameworks for discussing the important role of leadership in a digital age. We believe that by understanding and applying these frameworks, we can articulate a vision for leadership in a digital age and follow through with a mindset that supports professional learning. It is our belief, based upon years of work in this field, that great digital leadership is the key to achieving the most return for the investment in technology.

Starting with What Works for Students and Teachers

The first framework we developed in Anoka-Hennepin is modeled after the T-PACK Framework. The T-PACK framework was designed with the idea that technology cannot stand alone as a discreet item and that it must be integrated with strong (P)edagogical understanding, as well as (C)ontent (K)nowledge. The most impactful uses of technology for learning are skillfully interwoven within the context of effective instructional methodology and with a strong understanding of the content to be mastered.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

A Modified Model for School and District Leaders – TPAL

We used this model as a base, and working with administrators from across the district, we developed a version that, we believe, helps describe the domains of knowledge/skills for school and district leaders. In our model, the three domains consist of:

  • Technology Knowledge – A personal proficiency with a variety of technology based tools and a self-confidence in approaching new learning
  • Pedagogy – A deep understanding of the effective practices of teaching and their impact on learning
  • Leading Change – The demonstrated skill of guiding and supporting a system effectively through change efforts

In the model we adopted, the content knowledge of teachers is replaced with the domain called: Leading Change. It was our agreement that the role of a district leader or school principal has a focus on bringing about improvements in the experiences of students through managing the change process at the district or site level.


As shown above, the real benefit of using technology is realized when leaders are engaged in all three domains.

Incorporating the TPAL Model

This model has become the foundation for developing an ongoing conversation and professional development platform for principals and other district leaders in our school district. In each of our meetings on this topic, we anchor our conversations in the three domains. When we conducted a self-assessment, we framed it in technology knowledge, pedagogy, and leadership. Lastly, when we do develop personal learning plans individually, our framework will help us focus our goals on the district or school environments and how we manage the change process. We would like to describe a little more about this process through another framework of finite and infinite games.

Launching a Professional Learning Journey – The Infinite Game

Frameworks also help us examine the routines and structures we encounter in life and work from a slightly different angle. The author James Carse presents the difference between finite games and infinite games. In a finite game, eventually there is some sort of win; for someone. Sports are an obvious example, but most businesses are playing a finite game. Unfortunately, professional learning can look like a finite game as well. The win comes when you can check the box that you have attended, and you know your chore is done. Ironically, some students may say this is what school sounds like too.

In an infinite game, the point is to keep playing; because playing is the actual win. Good leaders know that building up people around them is an infinite game. The win comes from playing, and it pays forward. If you as a leader, and more importantly if those you serve, can see that professional learning is an infinite game, you will have made great strides for the organization.

In the professional learning game, we all have a starting point and it may be a different starting point for each. If people are committed to the infinite game idea, they will also know that they have one direction to go, and that there is no finish line. If you commit to the infinite game, you cannot stand still, you have to move forward. If there is little commitment to an infinite game, then the next dynamic speaker you bring in, or that additional professional learning day you worked hard to free up will not be as powerful as they could be.

Help Others See their Starting Point

If people are going to join the infinite game, they need to know where to start. To help assess this, we conducted a conversation around TPAL framework presented above with each leader asking and answering questions such as:

Technology Knowledge

  • I consider myself very knowledgeable about a variety of technology.
  • When compared to my peers, I would rate myself as better than the average technology user.


  • When observing classroom instruction, I can differentiate between low quality and high quality instructional practices.
  • I routinely have conversations about instructional technology practices with educators.


  • I regularly monitor the status, professional development and support needs of technology implementations in my area of responsibility.
  • I have an established technology support team (leadership + instructional + operational) that meets on a regular basis (at least twice per month).

We then met with each leader to conduct interviews around their personal profile and discussed goals in relationship to these three interconnected themes. The purpose of this portion of the activity was to help build relationships with the 50 building leaders in Anoka-Hennepin as well as help promote the ownership of goal setting.

Our next set of action steps include connecting our site and district leaders to the larger body of work reshaping our technology plan. Our goal for the next three years will be to focus on the student experience and it is the perfect context to discuss professional learning. Our plans are to have leaders develop their individualized plans, conduct cohort learning groups, provide resources and professional learning opportunities to help each person continue on their journey and meet their goals. It is a lot of work with no finish line, but the win is playing the infinite game.

If this is intriguing at all, or if you want to find out if we can help you or your school district, please contact us; we are all-in; just connect.

Leave a Reply