Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More School Leaders Are Embracing Social Media - We Still Need More!

Image via Justin Tarte's Blog Post on the Value of a PLN on Connected Principals Blog
A friend on Twitter, Rich Kiker, asked me to write a blog post regarding my thoughts on the importance of Social Media for school leaders. I decided to look back at a post I wrote for Ken Royal's Blog back in 2009 and add an update.

I am the first to admit that I can be a bit naive sometimes. This is especially true in regards to anticipating how people will react when they are introduced to resources that will help them in their professional roles. 

For example, if I asked my fellow administrators the following question:
If I introduced you to a tool that would allow you to interact with educators all over the world, find solutions to problems, share best practices, and see the latest technological resources that will allow your teachers to impact teaching and learning dramatically then how long would you wait to use it?

I assume that most folks would answer something along the lines of ASAP.

The Reality

Unfortunately, this is where my presumptive abilities were once again proven to be drastically wrong.  After reading the December issue of the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ NewsLeader, I am a little bothered by the data in the bottom right hand corner of the cover under the heading “Principals Not Rushing To Adopt Social Media.” This data shows that 84% of Principals do not currently use Twitter. This is coupled with an even more alarming statistic that indicates only 4% of those Principals plan to start using Twitter at anytime soon.

In the past, I had worked under the premise that the word administrator is synonymous with the term “educational leader.” However data such as this again proves my inability to construct credible assumptions. What will it take to get more administrators out there utilizing web 2.0 tools and modeling for their staff and students? Our jobs as educators are changing and you can no longer just close the door to your office or classroom and do your job effectively.

Administrators Need to Embrace Technology Possibilities

If we want a relevant education for our students, we need at a minimum to have administrators who are keeping themselves and their school communities informed about these the exciting changes! Better yet, we need administrators who are embracing the possibilities that these technologies offer. Our schools and our classrooms should be at an all-time high in regards to student, staff, and parent engagement.

Unfortunately, in many places our students are receiving the same education as their parents and their grandparents.  I hate that story that people tell about Rip Van Winkle and the fact that if he woke up today that the only place he would recognize is the inside of a school. I think the reason I hate it so much is that it is still the truth in many instances. But these issues go well beyond the use of technology so I will not digress.

Answering the Questions

Back to the issue at hand, I guess I have a few other questions for my colleagues who have yet to embrace the powerful impact that web 2.0 resources could have on their schools. What are your wishes for your students when they leave your school?  Would you like them to be at the head of the pack when they go out into their post-secondary school lives? Do you want them to know how to utilize powerful tools that will help them collaborate, organize, and create?

Once again I am going to assume that I know how my colleagues would answer. I know for sure that we all want to provide the best education possible for our students and that there are a number of ways to accomplish this goal. I also know that if you deny the impact of new technological resources and do not promote their widespread adoption in your buildings then you will fail in reaching this goal and will provide your students with less than they deserve.

Time to Begin

My final requests are that you turn on the cell phones for learning, loosen up your web filters to allow access to all of the educational resources that are out there, and start social networking. Create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) and learn from the numerous educational leaders (mostly non-administrators) available to you.

I will conclude with a quote from Seth Godin - “How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation?"

While the pace of change is sometimes frustrating, it is clear that things there is a shift in the thinking of some in regards to the use of social media. First off is the position of the National Association of Secondary School Principals which put out a new position statement in May encouraging school to use using mobile and social technologies in schools. This position supports earlier efforts from groups like ISTE, which developed clear technology standards for administrators in 2009 and NCTE which began to expand the scope of the way school's define literacy in the 21st Century back in 2008.

In addition, on a personal note, I am thrilled to report that the number of administrators utilizing Twitter to connect, communicate, and collaborate has grown in the last two years from under 10 to a number in the hundreds (or higher). It is a true blessing to have so many phenomenal administrators so accessible and willing to share their successes and weaknesses. This has allowed for some great opportunities like the Connected Principals Blog and #cpchat on Twitter.

There are also a couple of great books on integrating social media that have come out in the last couple of months that are phenomenal resources for leaders interested in making this move.  Communicating and Connecting with Social Media by Bill Ferriter, Eric Sheninger and Jason Ramsden and Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli are full of concrete examples for educators looking to use these tools constructively.

The Future

It is impossible to predict what opportunities are ahead for educators given the arsenal of amazing tools and resources that grows daily and offers new opportunities to engage our students and our entire school communities in new ways. The only certainty is that leaders who embrace these new tools and support and model constructive uses will open doors that students in schools that do not support the use of these modern resources do not even have access to.

Steven Johnson sums this up well in his book Where Good Ideas Come From:
"Innovative environments are better at allowing their inhabitants explore...The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table."
I hope that the other school leaders out there will choose to avail their students to modern resources, but first they need to embrace them for themselves.   I look forward to the ongoing discussion...


  1. Outstanding, Pat! I am just about to finish reading Linchpin by Godin and that quote rings loud for me right now. In the book, Godin talks about the "exceptionalism" that everyone has as artists but too often the resistance in our mind stalls us. I feel that social media is a conduit for embracing the shift. The tools are there to lighten the challenges we face school leaders now we have to take it. Thank you so much, I am sure the folks at Lehigh University will enjoy and learn from this post today!

  2. You posted great links and resources for us to consider. I agree that we, as educators, need to first embrace the new technologies before we bring it into our classroom, which for some, is a HUGE first step. Any suggestions on how to encourage and even slightly push resistors into trying to integrate technology into their daily lesson plans?

  3. Interesting read. One comment, I have been to three professional developments in the past two years about the evils of facebook in public education, and how all educators should immediately delete their accounts.

    It is refreshing to hear a call to embrace social media instead of buying into scare tactics that reinforce a classroom experience from 1995.

  4. I agree that teaching digital citizenship must become a priority. We can no longer ignore the value of social media. Technology provides us with the access to such a wealth of knowledge. It is of utmost important that we take advantage of the knowledge that can be shared through global connections.

  5. I'm still a novice, but am embracing this GREAT technology into my pedagogy. In response to RBodnar, I would encourage the "resistors" to first engage in the Internet with students, with YouTube videos, etc. I have the students use their cell phones, IPods, etc to look up pertinent data on the Internet. They're almost ALWAYS willing to participate in this. They whip out their devices and participate in a "hands-on" style. When I assign projects, I often have these projects be accompanied by music. What greater way than to have the students delve into YouTube. Last year one of my classes did a fashion show to illustrate the new vocabulary. We put them all on YouTube. My French classes have Skyped a family in France. We also followed this family's blog throughout the year. So, little by little, the "resistor" will gain confidence by employing Social Media in the classroom. I'm the expert in my pedagogy, and the students are the experts in the technological tools. They're the ones who assist me with these devices.
    There are some wonderful tools which aid the classroom teacher: Edublog, Blogspot, Twitter, Dropbox, Edmodo, etc. All of these are FREE and easy to implement. It was so hilarious seeing my students take a picture of their test grade and immediately sending it to their parents. With my IPad, I've recently learned how to make podcasts.
    So, I would greatly encourage these "resistors" to jump in and see how their classrooms can and will be enhanced by modern technology.

  6. I always like the idea of starting small before jumping into the new technology tool and wonder if that is a roadblock for some educators. It is not expected that you hear of a tool and jump right in. Of course, you take time to try it out and see how it can naturally fit into the classroom.

    There are many social resources, i.e., blogs and twitter, that educators can learn from their peers the pros, cons and implementation process. Teaching and education are no longer an isolated field. It is collaborative, creative and reflective.

  7. I connected to your thoughts about the low numbers of admin that are not adopting the technology. I believe that this is just as true for teachers. How can we lead our students down a road that we have never traveled? We can't and that is why we haven't seen wide spread adoption. This needs to change.

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  9. The idea of loosening up our web filters to create responsible citizens and develop a classroom that supports learners that will be productive in the evolving society is exciting! I hope to take one step at a time to forge ahead of the possible constraints that may be in the way in the current school structure. Anything based in creating global learners as long as it is done with safety, standards, and student progress in mind is something I back full-heartily. I look forward to sharing the knowledge with colleagues and friends. Blogging, Twitter, and teaching websites here I come! Thank you all

  10. I think that the way you have embraced technology and social media is inspiring. For teachers to make the classroom experience relevent, they must let students engage in and own their learning. This requires teachers allowing students the time to "play" with tools and become more comfortable with its use in the classroom. Teachers also need this time to "play." As an administrator, when do you find that time to try new technologies and how do you provide time to your teachers to do the same?

  11. It is encouraging to read about the value of blogs, twitter, and other technology resources in the classroom. I have been hesitant to use this technology myself because there is so much out there and have been told so many times to be careful what I allow in the classroom. I realize after reading this and listening to you this morning that these warnings are based in our fear for what "bad things" may happen instead of imagining the possibilities and giving students the opportunity to use these resources to become digital citizens. The first step is to begin using these resources myself so I can comfortably use these with my students and I intend to do so immediately. Thank you for providing resources and ideas about how to easily incorporate technology into the classroom!

  12. I am ready (not prepared) to start implementing social media into my instruction. Besides learning how to use various web tools, my greatest challenge is convincing school leaders to support this approach to learning. I appreciated the data you presented regarding the number of principals who use Twitter. I will ask my principal if he "tweets" next time I see him. My organization is very slow to change. Many of the Web 2.0 tools are blocked by the school filter. How do you influence a change in the mindset you have described regarding the reluctance of school leaders to support the innovative use of technology in schools? I'm afraid my organization is so far behind we wouldn't know where to start. All in all, I am ready to embrace, but may need permission from school administrators.....

  13. I think Pat makes a great point about embracing Web 2.0 tools yourself and modeling their use before incorporating them in lessons. It is important to have experience utilizing the tools we want our students to use so that we can guide them. The fact remains that our students, most likely, already know how to use many of these tools, but it is up to us as teachers and school leaders to teach them how to use them responsibly and productively. In her book, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, Heidi Hayes-Jacobs talks about how students must feel as though they are in a time warp when they walk into school only to be returned to the present when they leave school. The effective use of technology tools to accomplish tasks such as, (but is not limited to) solve problems, work more efficiently, communicate with the global community, are not only motivating to students, but are critical to their success when they leave our classrooms.

  14. As a student in Lehigh University’s Principal Certification program, I’ve been inspired by your data regarding educational leaders and their reluctance to adapt to social media. As a result, I’ve created a twitter account to follow true leaders like you and your colleagues. This school year I will reach out to my students regarding their perceptions of social media, and how educators can use it to reach a greater population of students to maintain interest and encourage creativity. I agree with your statement that we need to teach our children the responsibilities of digital citizenship. How else can we model for our students how to utilize the vast amount of internet connectivity options available, or handle downfalls of decreased privacy than to set a good example through our own uses of these web 2.0 tools?

  15. Pat
    I think that the commercialization of the internet may be education's saving grace. I too am getting the feeling that we as educators are SLOWLY shifting in the right direction and I feel that industry may be to thank. I feel from my interactions with reluctant participants that a lot of the web 2.0 innovations were viewed as purely social in nature. As industry has shown how powerful these tools are for collaboration education is begrudgingly coming along for the ride.

    The issue that strikes me the most is the issue of accessibility. The power of web 2.0 throws the contrast between the haves and have nots into stark perspective. I think a pledge to ensure that essential technology be available to low income families should couple with the push for educational tech in schools!

    Scott Cole

  16. Feeling inspired by your "call to begin," I have been thinking about how to embrace social networking myself as well as model the behavior for my colleagues. As an administator in a relatively large suburban district, it is easy to remain isolated or perhaps only reach out to neighboring districts. This practice, however, stunts organizational and personal/ professional growth.

    Thank you for introducing me to first professional blog. In addition to joining your blog, you have inspired me to begin an internal blog with the other administrators in my district. While we do meet monthly to discuss relevant upcoming topics in our elementary program, the meetings afford little time to engage in professional dialogue on topics of relevance to educational leaders. Through this simple act, I can model (on a very small scale) the power and ease of social networking!

  17. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us this mornining an for your post. I agree with BDavies, I have avoided twitter and such after being told by many to avoid getting caught with a public identity; that my role as an educator means that I should remain seperate from others via technology. Took my first step towards remedying this after the talk this morning by applying for a Google account so that I could respond here- next step, Twitter. Thanks for the inspiration to do what seems like the next natural step in education, adopting the technology that our students navigate so well.

  18. Upon reflecting on your post and listening to this morning's talk via Google+, my mind is on hyperdrive. My administrators have always told me (and other teachers in my district) to not use social media; it brings nothing but litigation. I now recognize that more than ever we need to be incorporating it into our daily lessons and school community. Students are using social media everyday; it MUST become our responsibility as educators to seize this opportunity to make our students better citizens in a digital world. With cyberbullying on the rise, we must recognize that the way we teach communication skills needs to change. Students need to see appropriate use of this type of media modeled by community agencies. Where better to start than in our schools - a place where our kids interact every day.

  19. Thanks for taking the time to post all of the thoughtful comments. It is encouraging to know that there are so many aspiring leaders out there who recognize possibilities rather than just seeing problems when it comes to the integration of web 2.0 tools. I hope that you will reach out with other specific questions related to this issue.

    Here are a couple of other posts related to the topics that we talked about and

  20. I am currently in a leadership program and I am currently in the process of setting up my PLC. I have always been a public person, and feel that there is no part of me that I would like to hide. As administrators, do you keep your public and private avenues of social media the same?

    I have found this post really helpful. Thanks!

  21. Dani - That is a great question...I think ultimately that we have to be transparent and really shouldn't have anything to hide. Having said this, I do tend to utilize SM for mostly professional work. However, having now met so many of my professional contacts on here in person and having become friends with some of them these lines blur at some point.

    But again, the things we are discussing, tweeting, sharing are things that we would not have a problem with others seeing or knowing about.

  22. I confess -- I am not on facebook, and I do not plan to be anytime soon. But after listening to Rich Kiker in class last Thursday, I can see the value that a positive facebook page can make for an educator's public image. School boards have policies against teachers communicating with students through this social media, and colleges advise education students against placing personal information on line. It makes sense for us to begin using social media for our own purposes. We need to stop fighting it and begin to embrace it. It is clear that it is not going anywhere anytime soon.

  23. social media Thank you for taking the time to talk with us this mornining an for your post. I agree with BDavies, I have avoided twitter and such after being told by many to avoid getting caught with a public identity; that my role as an educator means that I should remain seperate from others via technology. Took my first step towards remedying this after the talk this morning by applying for a Google account so that I could respond here- next step, Twitter. Thanks for the inspiration to do what seems like the next natural step in education, adopting the technology that our students navigate so well.