New ISTE Standards

“A new update is now available”

We’ve all been faced with updating the operating system on our phone. You know the drill:

“Install Now” or “Later”

Whether you are skeptical about the latest changes or eager to dive right in, you will inevitably accept the new version or risk being left behind with an older, outdated system. But how many people actually read the changelog, analyze key modifications, and ponder why certain changes were made? Usually, the excitement of exploring new features outweighs the disappointment of losing some of the previous functions. While updates to educational standards occur much less frequently than Android or iOS, important lessons can be learned through careful analysis of even the slightest changes.

At the 2018 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference & Expo in Chicago, ISTE CEO Richard Culatta revealed that the highly-praised ISTE Standards for Administrators had been reviewed, revised, and updated. According to the June 24, 2018 press-release, after a year-long process of collecting input and feedback “from over 1,300 educators and leaders from all 50 states and 36 countries,” the new ISTE Standards for Education Leaders emerged with a focus on “target[ing] the competencies and mindset required for leaders to leverage technology to transform how we learn, teach and lead.” The last time these standards were reviewed and revised was 2011, giving schools worldwide ample time to adopt and implement the ISTE Standards for Administrators. With this big new update, many administrators (or should I say education leaders) may find themselves facing one decision: “Install Now” or “Later.” Unlike updating a cell phone, there can be significant ramifications when implementing changes to well-established educational standards. Let’s face it, though, no school or district that was forward-thinking enough to be early adopters of the ISTE Standards for Administrators is going to be intimidated by the revised version. They’ll all jump on board sooner or later.

Education leaders should be asking:

What’s been added?

What’s been removed?

What’s been modified?


Side-By-Side Comparison

5. Digital Citizenship

Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

Educational administrators:

a. Ensure equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources to meet the needs of all learners

b. Promote, model and establish policies for safe, legal, and ethical use of digital information and technology.

c. Promote and model responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information.

d. Model and facilitate the development of a shared cultural understanding and involvement in global issues through the use of contemporary communication and collaboration tools.


In order from Standard 1-5

1. Equity and Citizenship Advocate

Leaders use technology to increase equity, inclusion, and digital citizenship practices.

Education leaders:

a. Ensure all students have skilled teachers who actively use technology to meet student learning needs.

b. Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.

c. Model digital citizenship by critically evaluating online resources, engaging in civil discourse online and using digital tools to contribute to positive social change.

d. Cultivate responsible online behavior, including the safe, ethical and legal use of technology.

1. Visionary Leadership

Educational Administrators inspire and lead

development and implementation of a shared

vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.

Educational administrators:

a. Inspire and facilitate among all stakeholders a shared vision of purposeful change that maximizes use of digital-age resources to meet and exceed learning goals, support effective instructional practice, and maximize performance of district and school leaders.

b. Engage in an ongoing process to develop,

implement, and communicate technology-infused strategic plans aligned with a shared vision.

c. Advocate on local, state and national levels for policies, programs, and funding to support implementation of a technology-infused vision and strategic plan.

2. Visionary Planner

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

Education leaders:

a. Engage education stakeholders in developing and adopting a shared vision for using technology to improve student success, informed by the learning sciences.

b. Build on the shared vision by collaboratively creating a strategic plan that articulates how technology will be used to enhance learning.

c. Evaluate progress on the strategic plan, make course corrections, measure impact and scale effective approaches for using technology to transform learning.

d. Communicate effectively with stakeholders to gather input on the plan, celebrate successes and engage in a continuous improvement cycle.

e. Share lessons learned, best practices, challenges and the impact of learning with technology with other education leaders who want to learn from this work.

3. Excellence in Professional Practice

Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.

Educational administrators:

a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration

b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology

c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools

d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning.

3. Empowering Leader

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

Education leaders:

a. Empower educators to exercise professional agency, build teacher leadership skills and pursue personalized professional learning.

b. Build the confidence and competency of educators to put the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators into practice.

c. Inspire a culture of innovation and collaboration that allows the time and space to explore and experiment with digital tools.

d. Support educators in using technology to advance learning that meets the diverse learning, cultural, and social-emotional needs of individual students.

e. Develop learning assessments that provide a personalized, actionable view of student progress in real time.

4. Systemic Improvement

Educational administrators provide digital age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.

Educational Administrators:

a. Lead purposeful change to maximize the achievement of learning goals through the appropriate use of technology and media-rich resources.

b. Collaborate to establish metrics, collect and analyze data, interpret results, and share findings to improve staff performance and student learning.

c. Recruit and retain highly competent personnel who use technology creatively and proficiently to advance academic and operational goals.

d. Establish and leverage strategic partnerships to support systemic improvement.

e. Establish and maintain a robust infrastructure for technology including integrated, interoperable technology systems to support management, operations, teaching, and learning.

4. Systems Designer

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

Education leaders:

a. Lead teams to collaboratively establish robust infrastructure and systems needed to implement the strategic plan.

b. Ensure that resources for supporting the effective use of technology for learning are sufficient and scalable to meet future demand.

c. Protect privacy and security by ensuring that students and staff observe effective privacy and data management policies.

d. Establish partnerships that support the strategic vision, achieve learning priorities and improve operations.

2. Digital Age Learning Culture

Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.

Educational administrators:

a. Ensure instructional innovation focused on continuous improvement of digital-age learning

b. Model and promote the frequent and effective use of technology for learning

c. Provide learner-centered environments equipped with technology and learning resources to meet the individual, diverse needs of all learners

d. Ensure effective practice in the study of technology and its infusion across the curriculum

e. Promote and participate in local, national, and global learning communities that stimulate innovation, creativity, and digital age collaboration

5. Connected Learner

Leaders model and promote continuous professional learning for themselves and others.

Education leaders:

a. Set goals to remain current on emerging technologies for learning, innovations in pedagogy and advancements in the learning sciences.

b. Participate regularly in online professional learning networks to collaboratively learn with and mentor other professionals.

c. Use technology to regularly engage in reflective practices that support personal and professional growth.

d. Develop the skills needed to lead and navigate change, advance systems and promote a mindset of continuous improvement for how technology can improve learning.

The breakdown

When carefully comparing the new ISTE Standards for Education Leaders to the now defunct ISTE Standards for Administrators, a few key shifts can be seen. The vast majority of these updates lead to a stronger, more viable set of standards which have the fortitude to successfully guide education leaders into the next decade. Overall, the words and phrases used in the new standards shy away from the idea that an education leader can only be defined as an administrator. There is a clear shift from a top-down leadership style to a collaborative, shared responsibility. However, despite all the positive changes, ISTE’s revision of these standards yielded one glaring oversight. Their omission of one small phrase (which carries a whole world of meaning) has left me asking, “What happened to cultural understanding?”

By positioning the role of Equity and Citizenship Advocate first, ISTE is sending the message that one of the most important aspects of an education leader’s job is to “use technology to increase equity, inclusion, and digital citizenship practices.” Previously, in the 2011 standards, Visionary Leadership was assigned the number one slot and held a call to action including: “inspire and lead” & “promote excellence.” That’s not to say that these themes have disappeared from the standards, but educator leaders like Jason Markey and Gail Moore have voiced their appreciation of the new focus on equity and inclusion ( 12:40-13:35).

The fourth standard featured in both versions (2011: Systemic Improvement; 2018: Systems Designer) centers around building and maintaining strong support systems. One key shift here: 2011: “Administrators provide digital age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization” → 2018: “Leaders build teams and systems to implement, sustain and continually improve the use of technology to support learning.”

One perspective that was lacking in 2011’s Systemic Improvement standard was an administrator's responsibility to consider the scalability and longevity of resources and technology. With the 2018 revision of this standard to Systems Designer, education leaders are urged to take a proactive approach to sustainability and “ensure that resources for supporting the effective use of technology for learning are sufficient and scalable to meet future demand.”

Why did ISTE remove cultural understanding from the standards?

At Singapore American School, one of our most important desired student learning outcomes is cultural competence. Whether your school is in an international setting or in your own home country, it’s safe to say that a fundamental requirement for education leaders is the respect of other cultures. However, cultural competence goes beyond passive acknowledgement and respect. A culturally competent education leader encourages open discourse, embraces opportunities for teaching and learning, and encourages active curiosity and inquiry into all cultures.

Previously, the ISTE Standards for Administrators acknowledged the responsibility of administrators to “model and facilitate the development of a shared cultural understanding and involvement in global issues through the use of contemporary communication and collaboration tools.” Sure, it was the very last directive to be listed on the last standard, but at least it was included at all! With the latest revision, the ISTE Standards for Education Leaders fail to mention any type of bigger picture cultural understanding. Given the amount of time and resources ISTE dedicated to this revision process, and with the amount of input and feedback they sought, the removal of the phrase “cultural understanding” must have been carefully calculated. But why?

The closest the new 2018 version gets to addressing cultural understanding is, “model digital citizenship by… engaging in civil discourse online and using digital tools to contribute to positive social change.” Of course, engaging in civil discourse and contributing to a positive social change are responsible and admirable endeavors, and their addition to the standards is respectable. But I’m still left feeling uneasy and wondering, “What happened to cultural understanding?”

As you can see, I appreciate the overall update to these standards, and find them to be a forward-thinking set of guidelines for any education leader. But I just can't shake this cultural oversight. If you have any helpful information about this decision, or perhaps you disagree with my interpretation, please share your perspective in the comments section below.

Quick Word Analysis:

-Various iterations of the word “learn” occurred 17 times in the old standards and 25 times in the latest version.

-The word “facilitate” is used four times in the old standards, but does not appear once in the new version.

-The word “pedagogy” is only used in the new standards.

-The word “global” is only used in the old standards.

-The phrase “cultural understanding” was used in the old standards, but does no appear in the latest version.