When the World Wide Web made global computer-to-computer connections possible, the ability to link people together in true social networks was not far behind. The first popular “social circle” network, SixDegrees, went online in 1997. In 2002, Friendster appeared and is often referred to as the granddaddy of websites that were truly “social.” In 2004, MySpace was created and allowed users to post information about themselves including pictures and videos. Shortly thereafter, Twitter and Facebook rocketed to global popularity. In 2011, it was Google Plus, re-energizing the circles model.

The enormous popularity of social networking today leaves little doubt that while the form is sure to evolve, the desire for social connectivity is here to stay. I believe that the human heart is intrinsically made to connect to others, and Social Media allows us to be connected to others in a way never before experienced or imagined.

My awareness of what it might mean to be “missing out” if you are not connected to any social media site hit home when I was asked by an exasperated educator: “Do you Twitter and why should I, as an educator, use this type of thing?” I sat down with him and began a quick explanation of the jargon of Twitter and tweets, aggregation software like TweetDeck, and how I use this tool as part of my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

During my conversation, I watched as his eyes glazed over and a confused look slowly crept across his face. I then went on to say, “Let me show you what Twitter is really all about.” I took him on a web tour of Twitter.com and a fuller examination of the anatomy of a tweet. We visited YouTube and found a wonderful explanation of Twitter that was simple and informative.

At the end of the conversation, I had a new Twitter user in my midst! He understood what it means to have a “personal learning network” and how it impacts his personal and professional learning. His doubt about the importance of communicating in this way morphed into a readiness and willingness to use the tool.

Social media for school leaders

Shortly after this conversation, Essentials for Principals: Communicating and Connecting with Social Media by William M. Ferriter, Jason Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger (Solution Tree, 2011) came across my desk. I was intrigued by the title. As I opened the book and skimmed the introduction, I read:

… schools cannot continue to overlook benefits that social media spaces hold for reaching out to our communities, preparing our teachers and connecting with our kids.(2)

I was hooked! Too many educational leaders, both administrators and teachers, are hesitant to use this type of communication. Communication that is clear and concise is the most important aspect of leadership in any venue, especially in education.

One can readily understand the value of communication between individuals within a school building, but the sharing of goals and vision among all stakeholders within the entire school community can only truly happen through the use of social media. What a great way to market and spread the passion of teaching and learning that is unique to your learning community!

Ferriter and his co-authors suggest that social media should be used to enhance school communications. Twitter and Facebook are ways in which educational leaders can actively engage communities they serve. (20) And, they wonder, why can’t educational entities learn from business and the way they market their corporations?

Consider that 60 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are using social media tools to build vibrant communities with their clients and that 95 percent of all colleges have a strategy for using social media tools to stay connected with both current and prospective students (2)

The authors advise individual educational leaders to find out how other “best practice” schools in their vicinity use this type of communication tool and then tap into their expertise. They also suggest starting small and sticking to simple goals and patterns. (22) This philosophy is always wise when you are implementing something new.

Social media and professional growth

A second feature that Ferriter focuses on is professional development. He states:

Some of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve ever had started with nothing more than a Tweeted question. Inevitably, the members of my network respond – either by adding to my ideas or challenging me to think in a new way. It’s this instant intellectual give-and-take that I like the best because I know that my final ideas will be far more polished than I started with. (38)

Good professional development programs need to be relevant to educators’ needs, collaborative and reflective,  and based on objectives that lead to improved student achievement. Social media tools can help school and teacher leaders meet all these goals. How to begin? Simply put: explore one tool, formalize a process for documenting the learning, and publicize your efforts. (43)

The use of these tools for PD requires developing professionally responsible social media practices. In order for this to occur, educational leaders must have a primary purpose for its use and should echo the school district’s communication polices already in place.

Finally, Ferriter and his co-authors reiterate that the use of social media is here to stay. Educational leaders should take the time and gain the experience needed to become fluent in social media applications. One of the best ways to do this is for leaders to build their own personal learning networks and perhaps begin blogging. With the insights gained, they’ll be well positioned to consult and influence district social media policies, build awareness of its potential, and gain allies within the leadership and teacher communities.

All this can be achieved, the authors say, by starting small and growing from the inside out. (71) In order to assist in this process, at the end of each chapter they include a series of rubrics, surveys, tracking documents and sets of starting points for educators interested in building a PLN.

In summary, this book is for both the techno-savvy and techno-challenged educational leader, since it not only includes basic tips on how to master and apply the tools but also ideas about the “next steps” in the process of full implementation of social media in the school organization.

It’s a good read and the kind of book you’ll want to keep on your everyday bookshelf for frequent review as you work to become a socialmedia-savvy school or classroom leader.

Image: savit keawtavee

 

About the author
Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). In her current position, she is responsible for Professional Development for teachers regarding “all things techy.” She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher who's also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.