“The principalship is the kind of job where you’re expected to be all things to all people.” (Fullan, 2001)
“Wanted: A miracle worker who can do more with less, pacify rival groups, endure chronic second-guessing, tolerate low levels of support, process large volumes of paper and work double shifts (75 nights a year). He or she will have carte blanche to innovate, but cannot spend much money, replace any personnel, or upset any constituency.” (Evans, 1995)
“At the present time the principalship is not worth it, and therein lies the solution. If effective principals energize teachers in complex times, what is going to energize principals?” (Fullan, 2001)
Not worth it. That is a pretty significant phrase, but one that I don’t believe most administrators find true. I would like to instead address Fullan’s question, “What is going to energize principals?” One possible answer? Connected learning.
I experienced some feelings of isolation my first year in the classroom, as my assignment was in a small, rural school where I was the only sixth grade teacher. The feeling of not having readily available help that first year pales in comparison to the isolation I felt in my first year of the principalship. Add to that the increasing demands Fullan describes, and the rate at which administrators are expected to lead change, and the complexity of our role increases hundredfold.
An administrator has the option of seeking guidance from a principal colleague or central office administrator, although there are times when doing so could cause the principal to feel fearful that she is exposing a weakness or lack of judgment. She instead turns inward for solutions, for explanations, until the isolation compounds and the day-to-day management tasks overwhelm the true leadership that should be prominent in her work.
As administrators, we expect our teachers to collaborate, cooperate, and continue to learn. We ask the same of our students. Why should we hold ourselves to a different, even lesser, standard? I believe assuming the role of lead learner in our school community is one of the most imperative roles we can play.
Harnessing the power of social media
We live in a time where the tools and technologies we are afforded have flattened our world. Principals and school leaders now have a vast array of options for learning and connecting with others. I have experienced the very real benefits of time invested in developing my own personal learning network, utilizing the Web and social media tools.
By harnessing the power of social media, principals can take advantage of improved organizational efficiency, solidify and broaden communications, serve as lead learner, and develop relationships that will ultimately build an organization’s capacity and benefit children. Our students will be expected to enter adulthood as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborative, productive team members. We must model the power of digitally enhanced learning for them, for our teachers, and for the community.
We must connect. If you’re capable of connecting and learning from those in your physical realm, consider the power of building relationships with other inspiring educators from around the world. Too often we think: how could that person’s experiences help me when their schools and circumstances differ so greatly from mine? That’s precisely the reason we can learn so much from one another. I have as much to learn from a high school principal in an urban school setting as I do from an elementary principal in a neighboring district. The varied perspectives are invaluable.
So, where can an administrator find these connections? For me and many others, Twitter has been the main vehicle through which we’ve built a network of professional learners. This article can help you get started, and I personally am willing to help any interested administrator embark on this journey! The blog Connected Principals was essentially born out of the relationships built around conversations on Twitter. George Couros, recognizing the valuable contributions stemming from our online discussions, decided to create a common space for administrative bloggers, to bring us together and unite our voices under a shared purpose. I know that if I ever need advice, ideas for projects or resources, or just someone willing to let me vent, I can go to any of my Connected Principals colleagues who will be there for me with a supportive, critical voice.
We must share. As a starting point, consider the simple benefits of using shared, digital spaces such as wikis to organize and exchange information with staff. Respect your teachers’ time by only holding a faculty meeting when there is an agenda item worth true discussion. Empower your teachers to be wiki contributors so they can add information of their own. Stop the insanity of searching aimlessly through email inboxes to try to find that tidbit of information someone mass-emailed two weeks ago! Do you and others often locate great resources to share? Use Diigo or a similar social bookmarking site to share and even annotate those resources in a streamlined, organized manner. Collaborate on projects using Google Docs. No longer do precious minutes have to be wasted in meetings if project authors can work in a common digital space and contribute at times that best suit them.
We must build community. Communications with families and community members are vital to the success of any school and can be powered up through the use of social media. Consider the advantages of writing about school successes in a public blog or Facebook page regularly, highlighting the wonderful accomplishments of students and staff. Social media affords principals the opportunity to develop forums where community voices can be heard and valued. The benefits of managing public relations before outside sources distort the facts are innumerable, and the platforms through which these communications can occur are, for the most part, free to use!
We must be transparent. Are you transparent in your learning? Would you like to be? What does transparency entail? For one, allow your teachers and students to see that you value your own learning. Have you ever discussed with a teacher how a book or article you’ve read could impact classroom practice? If so, you’re comfortable with sharing your learning in a local forum, so consider branching out to share your ideas with other interested parties. Blogging is a great first step to becoming a producer, not just a consumer, of information. Simply take the thoughts you’d normally converse about and compose a post! Posterous, WordPress, and Blogger are all user-friendly platforms and ideal for the beginning blogger.
Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong ways to express one’s feelings and share knowledge. New bloggers often ponder, “Who really wants to read what I have to say?” “What if someone doesn’t agree with what I write?” Begin blogging as a personal form of reflection, to help you examine your decision-making processes and actions as principal. Read other educators’ blogs. Subscribe to RSS feeds and organize the flow of new ideas with Google Reader. Comment and include links to your own writing to develop a readership. Get to know the other educators you’re connecting with. Learn about their philosophies, and let the shared wisdom you discover help guide your work.
Principals leading the way
The role of the principal is definitely worth it. It’s a role that should, first and foremost, be about sharing, building relationships and community, and connecting for learning. Principals need to ensure they are modeling and building capacity in the most efficient and meaningful ways possible. We need to embrace, not ignore, the tools we now have available to build powerful learning communities. We are faced with a compelling need for change, and we owe it to our children to lead the way in bringing connected, enhanced, and authentic learning opportunities to our schools, communities, and world.
Evans, C. (1995) ‘Leaders wanted’, Education Week.
Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change. Teachers College Press.
Image: Creative Commons license
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What a timely posting! As we are facing school reform not only in public policies but in educational approaches to best serve our students, the role of administrators is more relevant than ever.
You clearly articulate the importance of being the “lead learner’ in the school community and the essential characteristics of remarkable leadership.
A while ago I wrote a posting about the role of administrators as Leaders among Equals http://bit.ly/ccqv89
Your posting validates my beliefs about leadership.
Thank you for leading with such enthusiasm and dedication, you are truly a role model!
Thank you for your comments and the addition resource you’ve shared. When we consider the role of administrator as one of “learner,” alongside teacher learners and student learners, we help eliminate the “us vs. them” mentality that can be a detriment to a learning organization. I’ve enjoyed learning from you this year, thanks for your contributions!
I couldn’t agree more! Being lead learners can be tough, because it makes us vulnerable, but it is essential if we’re going to keep up with our students … and your young staff members! I started blogging a few weeks ago, and was really hesitant about it. I didn’t want people to say “who does he think he is?” But I’ve had some nice feedback, and I feel it does position me, as you say, as a producer of information. Further, it allows me to feel more credible when promoting new millennium pedagogy with our team. And … I”m having a whale of a time! Thanks for a great post! John
I appreciate your comments. Your Superpals blog is fantastic. What a wonderful endeavor to share the contributions of global educators making an incredible difference in the lives of children! I think my staff do appreciate that I am working right alongside them in this journey of becoming more connected, collaborative, 21st century teachers and learners. it sounds like you have experienced the same!
Thanks for your piece. It certainly rings true with regard to the potential for connectedness which is offered with so many of the tools for immediacy currently available. In the past, we were able to use newsgroups, then email listservs..it’s great that we now have access to other media. Thank you for reinforcing the value of building a PLN for leaders and for the sense of community which then becomes possible. You may be interested in a piece I wrote for an online conference back in 2006 about some of these similar ideas.
Roger, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I also appreciate the resource you’ve shared. Since the time of that publication, do you feel you have seen growth in the area of administrative connectedness? How do you best feel we can get the word out to principals to join in our efforts to connect?
I love this Lyn: this is a great post with a great message.
Every month you impress me more and more with your vision and your articulation, and it seems to me it is through the medium of blogging (at least in part) that you are developing both so excellently, which is testament in itself to the value of blogging.
Ever since I read Carol Dweck’s Mindset I have been obsessed with the “growth mindset” and its essential primary value for educators in these fast-changing times: What comes first is that we as leaders of learning be lead learners.
Fortunately, we live in this incredible age when we have social media to assist us in this learning. I love what you wrote here about blogging, and it cannot be repeated enough:
“Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong ways to express one’s feelings and share knowledge. New bloggers often ponder, “Who really wants to read what I have to say?” “What if someone doesn’t agree with what I write?” Begin blogging as a personal form of reflection, to help you examine your decision-making processes and actions as principal.”
Keep up the great work,
Your comments always mean a great deal to me. Thank you for your kind words! I so appreciate every opportunity I have to connect with you and our colleagues through Connected Principals. Not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new, share a resource with a teacher, or reflect upon a situation armed with the ideas and knowledge that my virtual colleagues have given me.
Blogging has opened up the doors of communication for me, and I much admire those who take the time to articulate and share their thoughts in their posts. Thanks for the hard work you put into your thoughtful posts. I learn so much from you each day, and thanks for taking the time to comment!
A must read for all principals and educators considering becoming principals!
Michael, thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll continue to add your contributions to the Voices posts. So much to learn and share with administrators here!
Sir Ken Robinson said that it is the way that leaders adopt technology and new methods, and demonstrate themselves as life long learners, starting with the superintendants, and working their way down – that will determine the attitudes of the teachers in the district. I feel this is true. My own superintendant is blogging. My principal is not a digital native, but looks for ways to learn more about improving practices in many ways, including technology.
James, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts here. I agree that is is necessary for educators in all levels of administration to establish themselves as lifelong learners and model this for each other, teachers, and students. You raise an interesting point about “digital natives.” How would you define a digital native? Do you feel most of our students are themselves digital natives?
Thank you so much for this post! As a principal in my second year, I can relate to the loneliness of the job but wholeheartedly agree that the role of the principal is definitely worth it!
I am a recent immigrant to Twitter nation and am greatly enjoying connecting with Principals and educators across the country and across the world. It is empowering and is making me feel much more connected as opposed to isolated.
What you said about being transparent with staff about our own learning also resonated with me. Recently, because of a suggestion from someone in my PLN, I began sharing my exploration through Twitter nation with my staff in our weekly newsletter. Now included in this email is a section entitled “Twitter Explorations” containing links in which I think my staff may be interested.
Julie, I appreciate your comments, and it’s great to connect with you! I think your idea to share the resources you’ve found via Twitter with your staff is a great idea! I do something similar on our daily blog updates, and in conversations when I’m sharing new resources or ideas, I always mention the source of the information, whether it was from Twitter, another educator’s blog, or an unconference I attended. I am hoping this simple act of sharing will allow my teachers and staff to see the impact of connecting! Several of my staff members are now on Twitter and contributing some great ideas! Congrats on taking the lead!
Thanks for this great post. I love reading your thinking about leadership and connected learning. Despite our coming from entirely different perspectives, I learn so much from your transparent thinking and reflection. I’m still relatively new to using the tools you describe in this post, and it’s extremely helpful to me to read how you see these many amazing tools fitting together coherently to share ideas and model transparent and collaborative learning with your staff.
Thanks for pushing my thinking and helping me to think clearer.
I’m really glad we’ve connected this year. I enjoy your perspectives and have learned so much from the thoughts you’ve shared on your blog and in our interactions at Educon and in Burlington. I appreciate your honest reflections and the tough questions you pose that cause us all to reflect upon our daily practices. I think sometimes as leaders we assume that we have little learn from others whose environments vary so greatly from our own, but I think we’ve helped to prove otherwise. Thanks for your comments!
Of course, what you are saying about principals is exactly the same for Superintendents and others who work at the District. I love the phrase I heard recently that “Superintendents need to be up to their elbows in student learing”. It is crucial that just as your example will be an excellent one for your colleagues and teachers in your school – district leaders need to set the same example for other district leaders and school leaders in their districts.
I can also tell you that the qualities you describe are like the check-list in our district for those we are considering for school principal and vice-principal positions.
Thanks for being part of my network.
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Your blog has been a must-read for me since you began posting. I appreciate how, as superintendent, you have established yourself as a transparent lead learner for your organization.
I have been working with members of my administrative team, including my supervisors in central office, to share the impact connected learning has made on my practice. While I can say they recognize the value in establishing learning networks, it has proven to be more difficult for them to engage fully in these practices. They have been nothing but supportive of our efforts to engage our teachers and students in connected learning, and I am grateful for that. But I will continue to try to support them in their personal efforts in the hopes that they may, too, reap the benefits of these personal, powerful networks of learners.
“How would you describe your personal learning network? How do you connect with others to enhance your learning?” I am certain that those are two questions that we should be asking every new teacher candidate, every pre-service teacher, every administrator, every teacher, every student, and every parent in our organizations.
I look forward to continued learning with you!
Thank you so much for this post. Connecting and learning from others is so important.
Thank you for commenting, Karen, and for your regular contributions to my learning!
I had to smile when I discovered that the second line in ‘about the author’, pretty much sums up what it means to ‘become the lead learner’. As a professional who continues to learn in very public ways, you are a model networked leader. Here’s hoping more will begin paying attention.
Rodd, I appreciate your comments and kind words. It was a pleasure meeting you at Educon this year! It may be easier for me to model “networked” learning because I am so passionate about connecting with others to learn from their expertise, which I know is not true for everyone. I think as more teachers and administrators continue to share practical applications of using technology to enhance communications, collaborative work, and opportunities for their students, comfort levels will rise, and the collective knowledge that is found to be so powerful will continue to grow.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! This is a great post with some clever points. I cannot tell you how excited I am to become a new administrator, and how naively idealistic I believe I am about the way my faculty will support and respond to the goals I hope to set (including the adoption of connected learning). It’s great to hear your experiences.
You’re spot on! You’ve presented the issue in a powerful way. We talk a lot about learning communities and collegiality (I do, anyway!), and the principal needs to jump in and be part of the fabric. That means sharing our worries and flaws, too. Thanks for these thoughts.
Hello, Tom! In the years since I’ve written this post, it’s become even more apparent to me that the engagement of the building administrator is vital in promoting the innovative growth of an organization. Admin have to play active roles in all of the school initiatives and model that risk-taking spirit and commitment to learning we want all teachers and students to exhibit. Thanks for your comment!
I am thankful to have arrived back at this post after a recent comment and to catch up on the comments I’ve missed. Thanks for contributing to the conversation and I wish you the best in your administrative endeavors! Please continue to reach out!