Thursday, August 15, 2013

Leadership at Its Most Powerful is by Example

I once knew an executive who routinely displayed displeasure and sometimes contempt for his subordinates. Meanwhile he would preach to his team how they needed to improve staff morale. Unfortunately, the lieutenants emulated the leader. His team may have been told what to do, but they did as they were shown.

If the leader does not do it, there is actually a disincentive for someone in the rank and file to move toward the cutting edge. Whether intentionally or without awareness, a leader's actions (or inactions) are setting the thermostat for the organization. We want the acceptance and appreciation of our leaders, so we emulate them and their actions. This is particularly why we gravitate toward dynamic leaders. They epitomize the courage, determination, and enthusiasm that we would like to see in ourselves.

I understand why many educators are slow to personally embrace modern technologies in their schools and leadership. Schools are people-centric organizations. We are held accountable primarily for how we interact with others and build relationships with students, staff, and community. There are a number of competent and highly regarded school administrators who meet the current expectations of their schools without an extensive skill set in using technologies. And as technology races ahead of us, we wonder if it is truly worth our effort to include this vast territory in our domain.

I have had my personal experiences with these doubts. As a young educator entering the profession, I embraced desktop computing very quickly. I recognized how it could enhance my work, and I have taken pains to remain current in this area. However, after several years in the professional, I saw the emergence of the new social medias, and I did not understand them. Late-night comics made jokes about the banal "tweets" that celebrities issued. Twitter seemed unintelligible, and Facebook seemed prosaic. I did not understand why these were relevant, and I finally concluded that the concept was maybe a generational thing. I decided to let the younger set move ahead with social media and its applications to education.

Then I had a small epiphany. A few years ago, I attended the National Conference on Education hosted by AASA. I joined several sessions focusing on technology, and all the speakers said the same thing: "A leader has to lead by example."

I responded, "Of course! I knew that. Why did I forget that simple principle?" I left the conference with a personal resolution to get back ahead of the technology movement.

I believe my attitude toward technology and all it can do for our students is making a difference in how our staff view the future of education.

All leaders need to remember this simple truth about leadership by example, and we need to recognize that technology is the future for the students we serve. With this simple understanding, our direction is clear.

Be the leader. Set the example.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Every School Needs a Facebook Page

If your school does not yet have a Facebook page, it will soon. And if you do not create it, someone else will do it for you. Will you be controlling your message?

Launched in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates, Facebook is a social networking service with currently over one billion active users. People everywhere are accessing Facebook. More than half of users are accessing Facebook on a mobile device. Facebook is the most used social networking service by worldwide monthly active users. In April 2010 an estimated 41.6 percent (129.5 million) of the U.S. population had a Facebook account. Between 20 to 30 percent of Facebook users are "power users" who frequently link, poke, post, and tag themselves and others.

Your students are using it. So are your teachers, staff, parents, and patrons. They are engaging in a conversation about your district right now. It is important that your side of the story gets shared as well.

Schools have been slow to recognize change as it happens on the Internet. Years after "web surfing" became part of our parlance, many schools still did not have a web presence. Still today, more than 20 years after the Internet began to change education, many schools have a very plain, informational web site that does little to promote a positive image.

So too with Facebook, many schools feel it is beneath them to dabble in social networking. We like to think of education as a serious business and hope others will take us seriously as well. So we have little time for social trends or fads that may come and go.

But business and industry are involved. They recognize the serious profit potential this market creates. Politics takes it seriously too. It may have been one of the difference-makers in the last presidential election. Online social networking is something that schools need to take seriously as well.

Schools can use it simply enough. Someone needs to be the manager and take the primary responsibility for the page. But that person does not need to fly solo. Others school team members can be added as managers, content creators, or moderators. Together this team keeps the content relevant and the message positive.

Create content your public will want to read about. Catch kids doing well; compliment staff when they successfully achieve. Link your smartphone to your school Facebook page so you can update it on-the-go. Then snap a photo and/or add a quick comment when you see kids doing things worthy of recognition. Bring attention to the good things in your school. People care about good information flowing from your Facebook page. You will be surprised how quickly your message spreads.

The messages will spread anyway regardless of whether or not you are engaged in it. Be part of the conversation to spread the good word about your school.