George Lucas Educational Foundation

Idaho Digital Learning Academy

Grades 9-12 | Statewide, ID

Meet a Virtual Principal: How to Lead from a Distance

Administrator Jeff Farden takes us on a ride through his workday and describes the unique demands of leadership for online learning.
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Narrator: Jeff Farden has an enviable commute. It's about 100 yards from his home to his home office in New Plymouth, Idaho. Farden is a principal for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, or IDLA.

Jeff: See, as a principal, these are the courses that I oversee.

Narrator: With funding from the state, IDLA offers a range of courses to middle- and high-school students who are learning on their own or in classes facilitated by onsite coordinators.

Okay, so there you have some...

Jeff: As online administrators, one of our jobs is to ensure that the coursework and the teachers are really up-to-date with the daily workings of the class. We're looking for how frequent teachers post announcements, the overall communications they have with their students. Our primary goal is to ensure that the teachers have the resources available to do a good job within the class. Getting sent to the principal's office in a virtual world is a little bit different. We obviously don't physically see them, but if a teacher has a concern, maybe inappropriate language, maybe there's a question on a plagiarism, that's something that can be referred to us.

Narrator: While Farden spends most of his time monitoring classes virtually, he also hits the road as a regional liaison for IDLA and checks in at school sites where the courses are delivered.

Jeff: Being a principal in a brick-and-mortar school, you're aware of really what teachers have good control of their classroom. That may be, you know, just through the noise level, maybe through the disciplinary referrals that they send to the office, whereas in an online environment, I really have to go in there and look at the gradebook and monitor the discussion boards.

This is the only correction I have. It looks really good. What I want you to do is be specific about...

Jeff: I really don't want to see a teacher just tell kids, "Great job, great job, great job." I'm really looking for some personalized feedback from that teacher to make a connection with those students, and then also, you know, to help point them in the right direction for their future success.

Okay, let me just see where you're at.

Jeff: An online course, it's something that you can't just let the kids run free with. They do still need the structure, and they need the support to ensure that they're learning the content and actually that somebody is there to support them. You know, hence, my role, also. I am a level of support to really help the teachers to therefore turn around and help the students.

You can always get ahold of Miss Sheldon, and I'm always in here or around school.

Narrator: For more information about what works in education, go to

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Video Credits

Senior Producer

  • Grace Rubenstein


  • Karen Sutherland

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Doug Keely
  • Ken Ellis

Executive Producer

  • Ken Ellis

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Thanks for the feedback! If you ever find yourself using our materials, please do let us know. We love to get a sense for our impact!

Thanks again,

[quote]Hello everyone, I think this is a marvelous site.[/quote]

Dan Martin's picture

[quote]Thanks for the feedback! If you ever find yourself using our materials, please do let us know. We love to get a sense for our impact!

Thanks again,


Just a heads-up that I featured Edutopia today on my education blog, EdConnections. The blog is located at You can find out more about me at I am a former teacher and administrator.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns!



[quote]Hello everyone, I think this is a marvelous site.[/quote][/quote]

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