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Last week I shared Superintendency & Social Networking, a post that was also published in the AASA School Administrator Magazine.  I also wrote two smaller pieces for this most recent edition; edited versions are below.  I came back to two questions that I get asked frequently – how do you find the time and what tools should one be using.

Here are my thoughts:

Finding the Time for Social Media

The superintendency is already a completely consuming job, so how can you possibly find the time to invest in social media? These are my suggestions for those looking to add social media to their work routine.

Create manageable expectations. Whether it is a blog, Twitter or other tools, be realistic about the commitment you can make to participating in social media.

Choose a few tools and use them well. There are thousands of tools available. Select a few and develop a comfort level with them. Start with tools such as YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, all of which are heavily subscribed to by those around you.

Block out some time. As you get into a routine, schedule time each week to spend engaging in social media. It might be 15 minutes a few nights a week or some time on Sunday morning, but it needs to become part of your routine.

Decide what this will replace. As you start tweeting and blogging, decide what you won’t do and what this will replace. As you engage in social media, some of the more traditional outlets, such as reading newsletters, can be eliminated.

Embrace mobility. Be sure people know you want to be contacted, and then ensure you have access to all these tools on your mobile phone, whether it is phoning, texting, tweeting or Facebook use. You want to be mobile so you don’t have to be in the office to be at work.

Five Indispensable Tools

Blog: Consider this your home base for social media and the venue for sharing your ideas on leadership and education practices. My blog is where I share my thinking, and it serves as a great portfolio of the work that has engaged me.

Facebook: Often considered more of a personal communication tool, it remains an excellent way to connect to your community. It is still the No. 1 social media tool used by our families, so it functions as a great place to share photos from events and alert the community to upcoming events.

SlideShare: This is the place to post all of your PowerPoints so they are easily accessible to educators in your district and elsewhere. No longer do I distribute presentations by e-mail. Rather, I make them all accessible through SlideShare so others can use and share them.

Twitter: This is your avenue for connecting to your community 140 characters at a time. Twitter is a wonderful professional learning network, connecting me with colleagues from around the world.

YouTube: Short videos of your school visits or records of your speeches now can go online. The use of video is growing, and YouTube is a great place to create a repository of your work.

I know these are regular questions for many – I would love to hear other tools that people find as core, and also other strategies people use to find the time.

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Social-Network-Stock-PhotoThis post is a copy of an article in this month’s School Administrator Magazine

“When you hire me, you don’t just get me, you get my network.”

At least, that’s what I argued four years ago when I interviewed for the superintendency.

An hour prior to the start of the interview with the board of education trustees, I was given a question. And without hesitation, I was on my computer sharing the question on Twitter.

Over the next several minutes, I fielded a dozen responses from my network. There were a few quotable quotes, some links to helpful research on the Internet and a couple of “good luck” wishes. I took their thinking, blended it with my own and put together a presentation. Although the school board might have been curious about what I thought, I figured they were probably more interested in knowing I could find the best thinking, synthesize the ideas, contextualize them for our location and then share them in a thoughtful way — all in a timely manner.

Had I attempted this just a year prior, I may have been asked to leave the interview, or even been accused of cheating. It shows how quickly our world is shifting — what might have been considered disingenuous or even cheating a decade ago is now considered effective professional networking.

Since that interview, I have only become more reliant on my network, both in the face-to-face form and in the digital world.

The Network’s Power
The value of a strong network is nothing new, and social media serves to extend the reach of that network. Now, more than ever, it is not just what you know but who you know.

Traditionally, our personal and professional networks included the people with whom we went to high school or college or with whom we work and engage on a daily basis. These networks now extend globally. Social media allows us to build diverse networks with those in similar roles, across different segments of the community that have an interest in education. We not only get to connect with those we agree with but build a network that transcends the echo chamber we sometimes can detect in our daily connections.

Certainly, traditional structures where we gather in role-alike groups still exist — there are sessions for teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and the community, and sometimes we bring these groups together. Online, the roles tend to blur, and it is the ideas that become the focus, with the most current thinking and range of views. Tremendous power is available in being able to ask a question and engage so many in the answer.

District leaders can (and do) build networks across North America to learn from and with educators, such as Michael Smith, superintendent in Tuscola, Ill.; Pam Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County, Va.; Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent in Burlington, Mass.; and the hundreds of other district leaders who publicly share their ideas through social media.

Model the Way
We are continually encouraging our teachers and students to embrace digital tools. Leaders have a role to play in modeling their use, as well. We want students to take the risks in their learning and not to be afraid to make a mistake. Increasingly, we want them to engage with the real world, to own their learning and to create content for the digital world. We can help by modeling all of this.

True, social media can be daunting for school district leaders — the technology is new, and there are many waiting to pounce on any misstatement. This, though, is the world we want our kids to participate in.

What we can do is model the integrity, honesty, compassion and care in this space that we would want all others in our community to show. Our blogs as superintendents can lead to principals blogging, to teachers blogging and to students blogging. Our participation can model for others in our organization the power of the tools and also serve as the example for others to follow. Our participation does model the engagement we want for our communities in the serious issues of teaching and learning and does so in a respectful and appreciative way. District leaders can move (and model) beyond talking about it and start being about it.

Admittedly, I find blogging scary. I do it every week, but every time I hit “publish,” I worry I may have committed a spelling mistake for the world to see or said something that will be misconstrued or gotten my facts blatantly wrong. I have been in schools as a student and educator for about 35 years; I can only imagine the stress students must sometimes feel when they put themselves out there publicly — and it is also good for me to understand this.

Real and Connected
The superintendency often is seen as a role disengaged and detached from the reality of classrooms and schools. Social media can change that perception.

I clearly recall one angry parent who came to see me with a concern about a decision made about his child at one of our elementary schools. He explained his situation and ended by saying, “And I trust your opinion on this. I have read your blog and know you have four kids in school, so you obviously understand what it is like to be a parent.” In a way, my blog validated my credibility, not because of anything I had said, but because it helped to make me more real.

Social media engagement also allows leaders to keep tabs on what is being said in the community and elsewhere about your school or district. One can follow students, teachers, parents, media, politicians and others and then engage with them. Often, what is in the newspaper tomorrow or the day after is being discussed on social media today. The community wants to know what the superintendent thinks, and blogging lets us do this on our own terms.

Our Own Words
There are many people who are happy to provide a version of what the superintendent thinks and says. The local news media often paraphrase the remarks of the superintendent, as do union leaders and others in the community. Social media allows us a platform to connect directly with the community to tell our story. Instead of lamenting that our stories are not told factually and fully and that the only news reported is bad news, we can change that — by telling our own stories through social media.

The proliferation of social media had led to more public gossiping than ever. By the same token, the use of social media can help us reach our community unfiltered. I know my blog posts — typically two to four a month — influence the watercooler conversations in our schools. When I wanted our district to engage in a conversation about final exams, a blog post on the topic laying out some of the positives and negatives helped guide the conversation.

The profile and political nature of our job and the relationship with the school board and government officials all can give pause. I am careful and clear about the areas I discuss in social media and those I don’t. My focus is on teaching and learning. While I spend time discussing budgets and labour contracts with our board, those are issues for them to speak about publicly.

While others will gladly say what we believe if we let them, social media does help break down some of the traditional barricades to reaching the people we want to teach. It also can humanize us and allow us to share our thoughts and stories in our own words.

Professional Benefits
Professional learning and development for educators used to be scarce. Educators depended on monthly magazines, professional journals and occasional conferences. Now phenomenal resources are available just one or two clicks away.

While school districts’ physical boundaries remain well-defined, when it comes to professional learning, the district geography is blurry and becoming ever-less important. We are finding ways to connect and engage online that have little to do with geography. And just what can you find online? Without question, another superintendent in another school district is wrestling with the same issues you are dealing with.

My digital professional network has enhanced my face-to-face network. At last year’s AASA National Conference on Education, I connected with many colleagues I had known only digitally until then. I have found a common trend that I connect with people online and then meet them and then continue online — the combination of both digital and face-to-face connections has made these relationships far stronger than those I know exclusively online or in person.

Through Twitter and blogs, I have discovered we can connect with others in the field, solve problems, and open ourselves up to new ideas and learning.

Doors to Opportunity
Social media opens up opportunities. It gives space to highlight the work in our school districts. Each week I am sharing the best practices and programs I see in our schools — from teachers using inquiry, to students being able to self-regulate to maximize learning, to schools using digital devices. And then we can connect this work across the district and around the world.

Being engaged also opens up personal opportunities — from speaking and consulting opportunities to first insight on job openings. Social media means you have the power of your network to bring to any future job.

Anyone who sees participation in social media as another demand on an already full schedule hasn’t yet discovered the power that participation can have. None of us is truly too busy to blog, tweet or otherwise engage in social media. If we aren’t doing it, we just haven’t yet realized why it should be a priority.

West Vancouver is a school district of just over 7,000 students in British Columbia, Canada. But through involvement and engagement of our staff in social media, we are known around the world.

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canada&us_flag

I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at U.S. National Conference on Education hosted by the American School Superintendent’s Association (AASA).  The presentation I shared was  similar to the presentations given in BC: Social Media – How District Leaders Can Build Community. My focus here was on how important it is for leaders to not just talk about digital learning, but to model it in their own work and learning.

If the conference’s Twitter feed was any indication, I get the sense there are far fewer US school and district leaders engaged on the social media front than we are seeing in BC and across Canada. While Canadians probably made up less than five per cent in attendance, you wouldn’t have thought that from who was engaging digitally.

Of course, there is far more to connect about than social media. I was interested to connect with my American superintendent colleagues and compare the work we do north and south of the border. I found we have a lot in common in sharing the important role of working with elected Boards, a focus on 21st century learning, and we are always searching for the balance in our work and personal lives. What made the event most interesting was to realize where our jobs, and how our conversations differed:

Football

Okay, not just football, but school sports in general. For many, this is very connected to the identity of the school district, something we don’t see with the same passion in Canada. I spoke with several superintendents who described several situations—including pressure from their Boards—to have high achieving sports teams and who should make the team and play in the games. Some situations from the playing field regularly came forward to the superintendent level for comment. While attending a session on legal issues affecting school districts, there was an interesting discussion on whether school sports were a right or a privilege. It was a very different opinion than the Canadian one where sports are seen largely as extracurricular and coaches are volunteers.

High Test Results

In BC and Canada more generally, we are spending less and less time focussing (or obsessing) on test scores. I often say we are moving to a post-standardized world. We have no high stakes tests and, while we use data, it is often teacher-generated data. In contrast, it was interesting to learn that superintendents use test results around teacher evaluations and test results also drive some funding allotments.

Safety

Yes, we talk safety, but not with the same intensity as it is currently being discussed in the United States. For example, many superintendents acknowledge the importance of school security guards.  It is something not really discussed in British Columbia. At a district board meeting this past month I reconfirmed (under advice from local police) our practice will be to continue to keep all school exterior doors unlocked. Many of my American colleagues were making different decisions.

Turnover

We have some turnover in superintendents in Canada, but job terminations are very rare. In contrast, there was a much greater sense from my US colleagues that being a superintendent was much like being a professional sports coach—often on two- or three-year contracts and ready to be free agents if “things just didn’t work out.” It does make me wonder how one can move an agenda forward with such regular turnover. It did seem some districts really valued stability over change, but that did not seem to be the norm, particularly in larger urban centres.

Money

Yes, we all talk money, but funding is provincial not local; a formula in BC is used to fund all 60 districts. In speaking with many of my colleagues, there can be wide gaps in funding in neighbouring committees, a particular challenge BC does not have to deal with. And, despite my best efforts to fully understand the US school funding model, I actually still don’t.  There is also federal money that flows through to districts (again something we don’t have in Canada); there is also local monies based on taxation, and often a lot of grant monies (something far less common in Canada). Of course, the larger topic of adequate and stable funding is universal, and the conversations around inadequate funding and its effect on public education are the same conversations we are having in British Columbia.

However, one concern is common across both the Canadian and US perspective — great value on a strong and vibrant public education system. It was interesting to see below the headlines where our stories matched and where they differed. My thanks to all those who welcomed me and made me feel so connected.

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fish

I often speak and write about how the principalship and the superintendency need to look different in the era of social media. And, while it can be difficult to distill  ideas to a few key points, a recent post from Brian Verhoeven does a great job of summarizing what that leadership looks like, and while the post was not specific about schools or school systems, I think the messages are right on for our system.

Verhoeven’s post summarizes a discussion by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Humanize:  How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World.  The messages and the five key points about what makes a good organizational leader are very straightforward (my own thoughts are added below each point):

1.  They provide clear direction.

This list rings true for our education system.  Districts should set direction for schools, schools set direction for classes, and then leaders should step back and not micro-manage.  This action allows staff autonomy to find their own solutions, with superintendents and principals providing clarity of direction, and not necessarily all the answers.

2.  They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.

Principals and superintendents are often regarded and turned to in times of change, whether the changes are from government, in demographics, or in our understanding of teaching and learning, we always need to be out front and curious, with change not for the sake of change, but for different and better.

3.  They are transparent and share information freely.

The era of control is over, or almost over.  In the era of the instant, spending time thinking about “managing the message” has passed.  There is an expectation of timeliness and that we remove the secretive nature of the work.  Information is just that; the job of leaders it to make sense and direction of that information.

4.  They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.

The quote I often use, borrowed from a former colleague in Coquitlam, is that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.”  For us, in the West Vancouver school district, it is the notion and practice of a ‘culture of yes’, of thoughtful experimentation, and risk-taking, knowing we do not move forward unless we leave our comfort zone.  The best school and district leaders are supportive of staff and students taking the risk, quick to give praise when it works out, but just as quick to shelter those taking risks from criticism when it doesn’t.

5.  They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.

Although the final decision is often made by one, along the way there are huge opportunities to leverage the brainpower of the room (whether that be a physical or digital room) to help ensure the best decisions are made. And, with such powerful and accessible networks, we would be remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity to make the best possible decisions.

A very straightforward, five-point list. Yes, but a very effective way of showing what we need today in educational leadership.

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