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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Connected Leadership Isn’t Just About Technology

By Peter DeWitt — April 09, 2013 5 min read
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Experience isn’t just about what we bring to the table as the leader. It’s about what we learn when we’re there.

Many leaders think they need to know it all before they enter a leadership position. After all, entering into an interview, the potential leader has to have the edge over the competition. Don’t most schools want a leader who knows it all? That answer should be “no.” Good schools want a leader who has compassion, experience, intelligence and shows the potential to learn more.

It’s funny how being in a school leadership program to be a leader, and doing interviews to become a leader can make someone feel as though they are on a roller coaster ride. At times, like in leadership classes, they feel confident they are prepared but as they enter into an interview, they wonder how well prepared they are.

After a great deal of hard work and many sacrifices, new school leaders walk out of their programs with a degree in educational leadership. Perhaps they had an outstanding administrative internship in the school where they taught. They were able to sit in on parent meetings, budget discussions, run a faculty meeting and learn more about their colleagues who are gifted at engaging students and others who are not. If they were fortunate enough, they interned with an experienced school leader who they looked up to.

The internship is a culmination of a great deal of hard work, but it only offers a small glimpse into what it is like to have a full-time job as a leader. No matter whether school leaders are new or experienced, it’s important that they practice connected leadership because it will inspire them to become more creative and collaborative, and it will also help them get through the hard times.

Connected Leadership
Educators hear a lot about being a connected educator and instantly assume that it means embracing technology. At this point, technology should be naturally infused in most things we do. Although that aspect of connected education should not be such an issue anymore, we know that it is. However, being a connected educator is so much more than just technology. Connected education is about how we connect with others.

This concept can clearly be infused into leadership practices as well. It’s important for leaders to be connected because we need to change the old perceptions about leaders. There are still too many stakeholders who believe that leaders spend too much time in the office and not enough time promoting and researching good teaching practices. Being a leader is about connecting with staff, students and parents.

Yes, most connected educators use social media, so the pressure is there for leaders to do the same. Twitter is often the venue they use to connect. The excitement is not about the tool that we use but the way we use it. A few years ago I never would have thought that I would be on Twitter talking with colleagues near and far. That’s the great thing about our world and the experiences we gain every day. Experience isn’t just about what we bring to the table as a leader. It’s about what we learn when we are there. We should learn as much as a leader as we did when we were students.

As a new leader it is important that you connect with all stakeholders in your school community. Leaders have the opportunity to connect in such personal and long lasting ways. Whether it happens during happy or sad events or through the natural conversations that take place every day. Every conversation we have offers us a chance to connect.

Being connected to our school communities is vitally important as a leader. The stakes are too high to not put ourselves out there. Our communities and the public at large want to see what we are doing. They want to see that we are preparing our youth for their world in innovative ways. Connecting with them is one way we show the ways we engage their children.

Next Steps
Actions speak louder than words and connected leadership means different things to different people. It mostly depends on the comfort zone of the individual. Begin by flipping some faculty meetings and joining Twitter. Even if the leader doesn’t feel comfortable Tweeting 140 characters, they can join and follow conversations. After a few #edchats and #Satchats they will want to join right in.

However, being connected also includes the way leaders talk with stakeholders. I have always felt that the best leaders follow the role of being a servant to the staff, students and parents. It doesn’t mean they wait on them hand and foot. Servant Leadership is a concept by Robert Greenleaf. The leader is in the position to serve others which means sometimes those stakeholders will get what they want, and other times they will not. The leader knows how to serve their stakeholders well.

Being connected to others is exciting. As educators we have powerful networks where we can share ideas and learn from one another. Too often we used to work in isolation of one another and that no longer needs to happen. We have the opportunity to share our best ideas and stretch our thinking. That is what being a connected leader is all about.

Connected leaders should:
Engage in Social Media - create a Twitter account. Find some people you look up to in the world of education. Find other leaders and educators.
Send Out Good News - Flip your parent communication. Don’t just send out a monthly newsletter. Use tools like Edline which will help you send out e-mails to all parents. Send out links to short videos that promote what is going on in the building. These can be exciting events or day to day activities (The day in the life of your child).
Serve Others - Schools often have the reputation of playing favorites. Try not to do that. Every stakeholder, even the ones who may not like you, deserve a place at the table.
Disconnect - One of the ways that helps us connect better is disconnecting. In the words of Stephan Covey, we need to sharpen the saw. Make sure you turn off the device and disconnect from the noise around you.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.