Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What Superintendents Can Learn From Twitter

Below is an article in the August 1, 2012 issue of School Administrator magazine that I wrote in partnership with my colleague superintendents Pam Moran, David Britten, and Joshua Starr.

Can a message of only 140 characters really affect change in the world? Twitter is doing just that one message at a time.

Twitter is the world’s second most popular social network with 140 million users. Members send microblogs or “tweets” of a maximum of 140 characters. Twitter forwards 340 million of these tweets every day. Educators around the world are using Twitter for conversations on significant educational issues. Joining the confabulation, a growing number of school superintendents are realizing the power of Twitter as a tool within the profession.

Twitter is helping superintendents overcome the isolation of the office. David Britten (@colonelb) of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Michigan said he found it lonely at the top. “Along came Twitter and although I didn’t really know how to use it effectively at first, when I began meeting other superintendents like Pam Moran (@pammoran), Dave Doty (@canyonsdave), and John Carver (@johnccarver),” said Britten, “I quickly realized the value of connecting on a nearly real-time basis with my professional peers.”

Pam Moran, superintendent of Albermarle County, Virginia, connected with Britten over Twitter and has participated in collaborative project work with him for two years. “Our work together often begins with a tweeted question or a shared resource,” said Moran. “As a result of our twitter professional learning network (PLN), Dave and I first connected about his district’s BYOD (bring-your-own-device) implementation. It wasn’t long before I had a commitment from @colonelb to Skype into our back-to-school leadership team meeting.”

For Britten, Twitter fits his philosophy of transparent leadership by providing him with a vehicle to communicate on the move to staff, students, parents, and his Board of Education. He links Twitter to the district’s web page, his personal blogs, and the district Facebook page, which her personally manages. “One of the immediate benefits of real-time communications is the growing level of trust between my administration and the professional staff,” said Britten.

Joshua Starr (@mcpssuper), superintendent of the 147,000 student district of Montgomery County Maryland, uses Twitter to promote best teaching practices. “If I am visiting a school and see a powerful lesson or an effective teaching strategy, I can take a picture and send out a Tweet,” said Starr. “It takes 30 seconds and not only let’s people know I’m visiting schools, but gives them a glimpse into my educational philosophy and what I value in teaching and learning.”

The depth of Twitter increases as users follow “hashtags,” key words beginning with the pound symbol (#). This makes them easy to search and connect. An on-going dialogue is taking place daily at #suptchat.

Lists also make Twitter more usable. “I follow @DanielLFrazier/supts and it’s a key list for me,” said Moran. “I can click in anytime and find any of several hundred other superintendents in the stream. Some days, I may lurk in watching what my peers post because I just need the reflective space. On other days, I will retweet and add to the conversation, bringing in other people to the conversation.”

Beginning users are cautioned to take it slowly but be persistent. The cacophony of messages can drive people away shortly after they start. Taken as a whole, the messages make little sense at first. But users watch and learn. It takes time to acquire an understanding of the power of the tool.

“Even if a superintendent is not actively tweeting, they should be monitoring Twitter,” said Starr. “There is an important conversation happening about education right now, and much of it is happening on Twitter. By following the right people, you can quickly understand what is going on in the world of education, know what you need to read or, at least, ask your staff to get up to speed.”

Moran describes Twitter as, “a tool for learning, re-energizing, engaging, and searching collaboratively with people from all walks of life and background experience. Twitter helps superintendents sow their seeds of curiosity and reap the benefits of exploring beyond the boundaries of our districts.”

Here’s to meeting you online! Find me @DanielLFrazier.

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