GUEST COLUMN | by Joe Mazza
For a little over a year now, I’ve been “virtually mentored” by the likes of George Couros, Patrick Larkin, Eric Sheninger and many others on how to be a “connected educator and school leader.” I currently define being “connected” as not only utilizing the strengths and expertise of those in my school and district network, but by being in constant connection with other educators from around the world by use of social media tools. For me, Twitter has been a game-changer in my role as lead learner at a large, diverse elementary school.
Below are the top five ways becoming a connected principal has impacted my school’s learning community.
1. Creating a “glass-house” effect for parents and community members. Parents are busy working multiple jobs. Many want to to be present in schools more but schedules don’t often allow them the eyes of the principal during the school day. As educators, we can bridge this gap providing a transparent “heartbeat” of tweets throughout the day. While visiting classrooms cheering on student learning, recognizing teacher instructional efforts and engaging with parents and the community, I’m tweeting out what I see happening. Teacher efforts, parent volunteers in action, special projects and student leadership tweets are the most re-tweeted of our school’s 2,000+ tweets. Tweeting “kidquotes” are also a fun and authentic way to capture student learning. Each of these uniquely special moments are tweeted out using our @KnappElementary family engagement Twitter account. As we provide training for parents on using social media to engage all families, the visual we use to show its potential is included above (from a recent 140edu talk on Home & School 2.0 highlighting the 21st century dinner table with Twitter playing an family engagement role).
2. Participating in hash tag (“#” on twitter) chat discussions and embedding these into PLC (professional learning community) discussions. During the week, I spend time watching and participating in hash tag chats to better my understanding in a wide range of areas. Besides Parent-Teacher Chat (#ptchat), which I co-host on Wednesday nights, I’ve spent much time learning at #cpchat, #satchat, #elemchat, #d5chat, #ntchat, #edchat, #stuvoice and others. Even though most discussions take place in the evenings outside “official” school hours, I’ve been working to embed these meaningful and thought-provoking discussions into PLC meetings, informal discussions, and e-mail links to archived conversations using the now “traditional” e-mail system. Heck, I’ve even printed articles and discussions out and shared them with folks to help them realize the educational opportunities available on Twitter. I’ve found that oftentimes we need to think traditionally in our approach to get folks thinking innovatively. As lead learner, I consider it my responsibility to meet parents and staff “where they are.”
3. Providing edcamp-style professional development opportunities. Traditional professional development efforts have become stale. Ask any teacher about PD in their district and watch their facial expression. I’ve even noticed an increased staff absence rate over the years on in-service days. In an effort to make this time more meaningful for staff, I attended an EdCamp and an EdCamp Leadership over the past year to look at other options. The hash tag #EdCamp is seen regularly on Twitter, and I needed to understand what it was, and how I might be able to apply it to our school setting. One of the best parts of being a Connected Educator is that it’s all about “choice.” You get to pick and choose who you follow, what you click on and which chats/hash tags to follow based upon what you want to know and where your learning/PD needs are. Who else knows more about what you need to help your students but you? On the first day of Teacher In-Service this year, I attempted to put this new PD approach in motion. What did teachers think of this “flipped” PD model? Check out feedback from “KnappCamp12” here.
4. Connect your school/district with a shared hash tag (i.e. #psd70 #nped, #bpschat). Connected Educators Month has encouraged more schools and districts to become connected. The more educators that choose to be connected, the more a school and/or district hash tag becomes a viable option for bringing everyone in the organization together. Let’s say you are working on Balanced Literacy, Bullying Prevention and Digital Citizenship as an organization. Each time you find something online relating to those topics, tweet them out with your personalized hash tag at the end. By creating this continuous stream of resources based upon what others in your local network are working to improve, each is exposed to valuable resources by clicking the hash tag. We’ve begun using #nped for this purpose of transparent collaboration.
5. Modeling of being a life-long learner, digital citizenship for parents, teachers and students. It’s hard to believe I’ve tweeted over 10,000 times in the last year. With each 140 character tweet, I’ve broadcasted my learning for others in and outside of my learning community to connect, offer ideas to push my thinking and become aware of what my school is all about. I’ve allowed others to possess the pulse of my school and my learning. By making this learning public, I’m simultaneously role-modeling appropriate digital citizenship, deepening relationships between home and school, as well as removing traditional barriers in the way of the best teaching and learning.
Becoming a connected principal has been the best decision I’ve made in my educational career. By being connected, the potential and reach of your school learning community becomes limitless. The more great minds you have working to support your students, the better the education you are providing for them.
Joe Mazza is the principal of Knapp Elementary School in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania studying technology’s impact on home-school partnerships. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_Mazza or at his school @knappelementary and participate in a weekly #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) he hosts on Wednesdays at 9PM EST. Joe writes the eFACE Today blog aimed to share innovative family engagement ideas to build home-school partnerships.