Friday, August 6, 2010

Building Momentum

Yesterday was a particularly busy day for me.  In the midst of interviewing candidates for an open vice principal position, calling prospective teachers, and going through mounds of paperwork I managed to make the time to video conference with administrators and educational stakeholders in Virginia, Iowa, New York, and Florida.  Let me begin by saying that I was absolutely honored that various members of my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and the greater educational community reached out to me to address administrators looking to embrace social media, plan an educational technology conference at my school, and discuss leadership in the digital age.

Speaking to administrators who are skeptical about utilizing social media is something that I am extremely passionate about.  A little over a year ago I was in their shoes, but worse.  I blocked sites and banned mobile devices to such an extreme.  The scary part about this is that I really thought I was doing what was best for my students and staff.  Boy was I wrong!

Obviously my views and actions have changed dramatically.  After becoming educated and seeing the error in my ways, I have now become an advocate of empowering educators to effectively integrate technology combined with best instructional practices.  This being said, each chance I get to discuss my transformation in this area with skeptical administrators I jump on the opportunity.  Why I do this is simple.  I now have the confidence to clearly articulate how social media has enabled me to become a more effective and efficient administrator in many areas.  I stress the fact that this phenomenon is not going away and is a major component in the lives of today’s society.  As educational leaders we should be modeling, supporting, and collaborating with our respective staffs to create a vibrant school culture that fosters risk-taking and innovation.  Learning environments that are structured in such a way will not only help students think critically, problem solve, and master the content, but also teach them how to be digitally responsible. 

There is another important reason why I make time to speak with other administrators who are considering harnessing the power of social media tools.  I NEED THEM TOO!!!!  It is depressing when I look around in my own state and others and notice the lack of an administrative presence in the world of social media and other areas of educational technology leadership for that matter.  What can I do to help change this? Maybe my fellow principal buddies such as George Couros, Patrick Larkin, Chris Lehmann, Deron Durflinger, or Dave Meister can help me out with this one? There are all doing their part to build momentum in this area.
I have so much to learn about educational leadership and facilitating sustainable change.  What better way to learn than from experienced leaders in the trenches that can share their knowledge, strategies, successes, and failures?  This is how I learn best.  I need their help, support, ideas, and advice on all aspects of educational leadership, not educational technology.  I want and need to become better.  Together we can all collaborate to grow, lead more effectively, and move towards substantive reform.  Does this make sense?

In my discussions with administrators I discuss what I have found to be the five facets of social media that truly assist educational leaders to become more effective and efficient.  I have blogged about these over the past couple months and will either provide brief descriptions or links to past posts.  They are as follows:

1.   1. Communication: Effective communication is one of the most important characteristics associated with successful leaders.  Social media provides free tools to enhance public relations, celebrate student/staff accomplishments, and keep all stakeholders informed 24/7. Blogging is one of the best tools available to aid in communication.  Here are some other ideas.  Twitter has been a phenomenal tool to improve school communications.  Within minutes of creating a school Twitter account (@NewMilfordHS) I began sending out information "tweets".  The ease of getting information out quickly out there has been quite convincing.  To get that same information on our traditional website would have taken a week’s worth of emails and action by two or three different staff members. 

2.   2. Branding:   When updating our school Facebook page or sending out a message on Twitter I often include a direct link back to our school’s main website and our school’s colors, mascot and logo.  This makes our pages stand out to viewers and establishes a brand presence.  People know who we are because I took the time to fill out that basic information.

3.   3. Professional Development/Growth: Educators now have access to relevant, meaningful resources that are available as needed.  We can now connect with experts in a variety of fields of study, pick their brains, strategize, and receive feedback like never before.  The best of all is that we can do this from our office, home, or on the go with mobile devices during times that are convenient for us.                              
      4. Opportunity: Social media has allowed me to forge strategic partnerships where my school has received free technology, all-expense paid travel for my on my teachers to visit schools in Israel, and multiple opportunities to extensively promote the happenings at my school.  THere is some more detailed information in this post.

5.   5.  Collaboration: This is such an exciting time to be in education as we now have the ability to connect on a global scale.  This not only does wonders for our own learning but also really sets the stage for developing authentic experiences for our students.

Doing my part to encourage other administrators to embrace social media in ways that will work for them is one way I try to build momentum for leadership in the digital age.  I’ll save my thoughts on organizing a major EdTech event at my school for another day.  

Thank you to Lisa Nielsen for motivating me to write this post!


  1. I, too, would like to share my love of utilizing technology as an administrator to other administrators. It's easy for me to reach an audience of teachers every day... somewhat harder for me to garner an audience of administrators! I am hoping to put together a presentation for our state's technology education conference this winter, and as I began drafting the presentation, I see a lot of my points about how technology has helped me become a more effective, efficient administrator mirror your own. If my proposal gets accepted, can I call on you for a Skype-in? :) Thanks, as always, for sharing your expertise!

  2. Lyn:

    I'd be more than happy to Skype in!

  3. Eric,
    Thanks for the shout out. I think it is critical that the leaders of our buildings and districts learn to harness the power of the technologies available today. Being an effective leader is hard work, by having access to a network of peers throughout the world to connect with and learn from, it empowers us as individuals to grow and improve. I have been able to learn more in last year through colleagues I have met through social media than in most classes I have taken in grad school. As someone who has embraced this new world, I think our role is to help get as many other administrators on board as possible. This will not only help them improve, but it will help me grow as well because I will have access to more principals throughout the world. However, more importantly, with more educational leaders embedding themselves into this new modality, we can create an educational system that best meets the needs of kids today. I look forward to the challenge and truly value your support in my own personal growth. Thanks for including me in the conversation.

  4. Eric,
    Great post! I too am looking for help on how I myself can grow as a leader and foster understanding for the needed reforms in our schools. I know that the issues and ideas that I consider have grown in quantity and quality since I have become more active in social media. If only more of the school community would join us in becoming learners who are constantly being challenged in our beliefs and our understanding of issues. I think we must take our message to anyone who will listen. We don't need to wait for a hero to save our education system. There is a hero in every classroom waiting to be unleashed and it is our job to give them the tools and training they need to turn learning on for their students. It is up to the leadership at both the building level and district level to embrace the social media revolution and its game changing affect on all areas of our society in order to make education relevant for our students.

  5. Eric: nice ideas, and whats most interesting to me is the transformation that you made. I find a wide gap in the administrative ranks with regards to support for social media, ranging from completely opposed to completely for, and everything in between.

    I think the story of your change process is a compelling one, one that others should benefit from. If you are planning on attending Educon, why not submit a conversation around that change? I think you would pack the room...

  6. David:

    I am already booked to attend Educon and will contact Chris Lehmann about submitting a conversation on this. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Eric-We are in the process of building momentum on our campus too. We did open up our school to mobile communication devices last year. We did experience some resistance from several of our teachers at first but in the end it really became a useful policy. We had to teach the kids when and how to use their mobile electronic devices (cell phones) in the correct manner. If a few kids throw their pencils do you pass a school wide policy banning pencils? Of course not.
    However, I think the most important thing we did in order to build momentum was to embrace an enviroment of risk and dare I say failure. Sure we celebrated our technology victories but we also celebrated those teachers who attempted new ideas, concepts, or tools and failed in the process. Heck, I had more failures than any of our teachers and celebrated every single one of them at our meetings. By embracing risk and failure even the most tech resistant teacher felt free to step out and try new things. Good luck to you, and I hope you have some great failures along the way.

  8. Eric,

    First off, I appreciate being mentioned in your post. While I have been blogging for a bit, I also am a late-comer to the idea of social media as a vital resource for learning. I appreciate your constant modeling for all of us. You were the first Principal that I found on here and I will be forever grateful for your generosity in sharing with all of us.

    In regards to the lack of administrators joining us, I thin that we just have to continue to reach out to our fellow administrators. They may be like we were a short time ago, not dedicating sufficient time to see the impact that this stuff can have on their staff and their students.

    Speaking of students, I really think that is where the tipping point is on this adoption of social media by all administrators, or at least those administrators who will continue to lead their schools for any significant length of time. We need to et our students' voices be heard over and over and make it clear that they are more engaged and collaborating more than ever. We need to show the excitement that these tools add to the education of our students.

    We need parents and students in neighboring towns to start asking why their schools are denying them the opportunity to use the most relevant resources in their classrooms. I think it will take a little time, but I think this is how things are going to go down. Maybe we should all post a letter or a petition for other administrators to sign that states that as Principals they will employ every possible resource to ensure the highest quality education for their students?

    I could go on and on...Thanks again for your tireless leadership in this area. It gives me continued momentum!

  9. Hi Eric. We are going to be doing some tech PD with our administrators this year. Could I contact you through Twitter when I have a date to Skype into one of our meetings with them? I definitely think it would mean a lot more coming another administrator than a tech person in the district.

  10. Eric,
    I appreciate your candidness as always; your "truth-speak" about change, reform, and creating new behaviors. Although I work with may principals around our state, your work and the work of Deron, Patrick, Dave, Chris, George and i might had Brian Nichols (now Director of Elementary Ed) inspire me to be a better leader but has also equipped me to challenge, learn, and lead with our state ed. leaders. In fact, every time I read your stuff I am itching to get back to a building with walls and make a difference in a f2f environment with blended opportunities. Thanks again for all that you do. You are truly inspiring.

  11. Firstly, I apologise for the out of context reply. I originally have difficulty posting the response via iPhone. So emailed the text and I am back for the 2nd time 3 days later.

    The key word for me is confidence. The key outcomes however are varied, efficiency, inspiration, collaboration and I am sure too many to list..... I am posting to also note the international element a PLN can offer, that a local network finds much more challenging. I am sure you connect with educators / school leaders from across America and internationally.

    We are looking at how we can encourage more of our school leaders here in the UK to engage with media tools, but Twitter specifically. Perhaps you and your colleagues can identify how best to influence such strong willed and independent thinkers? What title would you give for a workshop to introduce Twitter? 'Twitter for School Leaders' is just - uninspiring but I am looking for the crossroads between my enthusiasm for Twitter and senior leader hesitancy to try something... very vibrant and 'fandangled technology.'

  12. It is great to know of educationists who are bringing about a change, encouraging teachers to use social media. I am a Grade head and teacher of ICT in an International school in Dubai and am trying to bring about a change in my classroom by empowering students in the use of wikis and blogs. Just began the school year. Need to see how it goes. Very encouraging remarks Eric. Thanks