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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

School Leaders: Don’t Succumb to the Myths of Using Social Media

By Vicki Day & Lisa Meade — August 21, 2014 6 min read
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Today’s guest post is co-written by Vicki Day, the Principal of East Elementary School in Gouverneur, NY, and Lisa Meade, the Principal of Corinth Middle School in Corinth, NY.

Social Media still hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. For those leaders who are engaging in social media use daily and working hard to be lead learners in their schools, where they model what they hope to see in others, it’s easy to forget that others do not speak your language...yet.

We’ve had the good fortune of being asked to present about the topic of social media use among leaders. Perhaps it’s because we have become the cheerleaders of sorts in our area. We began this “trek” of ours with an article published in a Digital Leadership edition of SAANYS Vanguard Magazine. Later this Fall, we will be back on the road presenting. It’s not always easy finding a balance between being leaders in a school and trying to get new school leaders to try using social networking tools like Twitter, Voxer and Google Hangouts...but we have to do it.

Our students use social media in every part of their lives...and we need to go to them if we want more of them leaving school thinking we understood them.

We have been cautioned by other administrators. We have been told that not everyone shared our enthusiasm for the topic. Not everyone was up to speed as we appeared to be with the possibilities. We discussed this with each other more, via Voxer and in person.

  • Did we include too much in the presentation?
  • Can we talk about Twitter without talking about having a PLN?
  • Do we stop with Twitter or can we include examples of flipped leadership and branding our schools?
  • What about blogging? We should mention that too.

Our list of ideas goes on and on, but is it like drinking water from a fire hydrant?

We are very careful, when we talk or write about the topic. We know being a connected lead learner is a process. No one leader suddenly embraces all the possibilities using tech and then uses it all successfully. It’s evolutionary. You pick what works for you and build from it. If you can commit to one new idea, we count that as a success. The key is picking something and then getting started.

One night, after discussing the topic of social media and leadership, via Voxer with some members of our PLN, our friend reminded us we were outliers. Outliers? That didn’t seem possible. But, as we’ve connected with other administrators in our area, we think he may be onto something.

When you are a connected lead learner trying to promote the role of technology within leadership, you open yourself up to critical feedback. Some of it may be valid. Unfortunately, some of it sounds like a long line of excuses.

“I can’t afford to give up my privacy.”

School administrators never have as much privacy as they think they do. We are in the public eye - everyone is watching us, even what we buy in the grocery store. You can let others tell your story or you can tell your story. Using social media gives you that lever.

“I don’t have time for one more thing.”

We all have the same amount of time each day. It’s fixed. What we do with it is important. Connecting with students, staff, colleagues near and far is highly important. When it comes to time...you don’t have time NOT to. We need to move away from the excuses. Start small and learn because you are missing the connections and relationships. Get your self off of administrative island, or how we like to call it, “Gilligan’s Island.”

“I feel like I am stalking other people.”

We don’t call it “stalking”. Ok, sometimes we feel like we are, but most times it’s really just lurking. Yes, we like to use the term “lurking”. Lurking is actually the first step of getting to know twitter and it’s acceptable! Log on and follow the stream and find something that interests you. No need to comment, retweet or favorite. Just read and check it out. That’s what lurking really means.

“I’ll never be good at it so why even bother?”

Everything we know about mindsets tells us that myth screams fixed mindset. We’ve met some pretty amazing and enthusiastic administrators “on the road”. Their passion keeps us going. One individual in particular, who has really embraced the use of social media is someone who has spent, at our best guess, over 40 years in education. It would be very easy for him to casually look at social media as a fad, but he hasn’t. In fact, he began using twitter to get connected. Then, he branched out to using twitter in his graduate classes and hosting online chats every so often to discuss assigned topics online. He now moderates those with ease and has moved onto using Voxer and will soon begin blogging. He has so much to share that so many of us would benefit from hearing. We can’t wait until he shares his voice with an expanded PLN.

“This isn’t the way other principals act.”

There is a belief and a new mindset that no longer is the principal the “instructional leader”, but is the Lead Learner of the school. This means, as Michael Fullan states in The Principal, that the principal, or lead learner creates the conditions of learning for ALL learning, be it students, teachers, and parents and stakeholders. Principals aren’t managers anymore.

“This isn’t going to help my test scores.”

Not so. It is about connections and relationships - growing and learning from each other. It is also about sharing ideas. It’s also about taking those risks. We both blog. We feel that blogging is a reflective practice and we share what we are experiencing as lead learners. This has helped us find solutions and ideas to bring back to our schools to enhance learning of all kinds.

“What is the twitter thing all about anyway?”

We always say it isn’t about the program, ie Twitter. Twitter has been our go to app. It is want springboarded our journey from principal to connected lead learner. But, it’s not just Twitter, it is about Social Media. That can be Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Voxer, Glide, etc. It isn’t about the app, it’s about forming relationships with like minded folks - people who are in your PLN and who are willing to help you, 24/7.

There’s an irony that exists right now between leaders and teachers. Many teachers are expected to take risks and embrace the use of new technologies in their classrooms. As principals, how can we expect teachers to do all of that if we are not willing to model the growth mindset and risk taking connected to it ourselves? It seems dishonest to say we promote using new ideas in the classroom when we do not actively put ourselves out on a limb with new ideas in leadership.

At one of our last presentations, we caught the side conversation of two gentlemen during our presentation. You could tell they were not open to the ideas we were presenting. That’s par for the course and we know that we will encounter some “fixed mindsets.” After the presentation, including days that followed, that memory was replaced with the names of new administrators joining twitter or voxer as a result of our sharing our story. Seeing other administrators connect their ideas to something we may have mentioned makes it all worthwhile.

In many ways, we are paying forward the ideas that amazing connected educators, like Peter DeWitt, Tony Sinanis, Eric Sheninger and Brad Currie have shared with us. That’s the beauty of being part of a professional learning network. We can’t imagine being an administrator without one! Look past the myths and embrace the use of social media, baby steps or giant leaps.

The ball is in your court....

Connect with Vicki and Lisa on Twitter.

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.