Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm Not Your Father's Principal: Valuing Weak Ties and Connected Leadership

This morning a teacher approached me in the hall and asked me how to post a video of her class on Twitter.

I found this delightful for a number of reasons.  First, she is a very recent convert to Twitter as a teaching/learning/communication tool and has remained somewhat hesitant in it's use, secondly, she is taking that next step and beginning to post new content rather than simply lurking, and that is where Twitter begins to become valuable as a communication and sharing vehicle.

As we concluded our conversation, she asked me not to "let the principal know that she's late for her hall duty" because of our conversation.  I replied that I am pretty sure that the principal and assistant principal would be supportive of her using professional time for tweeting... as she may have noticed ( I said facetiously), "we do tweet from time to time as well..."

She responded, "Yes... and during school time," which gave me pause. Was she viewing this like teachers often do when kids are tweeting or texting during class?  Is there something else I should be better spending time on in her opinion?  Do people view the use of professional time by teachers and principals to Tweet, blog or read them as wasting time or being unprofessional?  Hmmm... that had never occurred to me before.

So, how do you act as a reflective practitioner? Through tweets and blogging, I can reflect on my own practice, receive input from teachers, students, the community and other practitioners from around the world. The use of tweets and my blog also allows the school community to have a clear understanding of exactly where I stand on important issues. As an educational leader, I think it's very important to clearly communicate my goals, values, and vision. Blogging allows me to do this, as well as providing me with a forum where those things can be developed over time.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about “connectors” (people who relate easily to people), mavens (people who relate easily to knowledge and data) and how the types of relationships that people have can directly influence the way they think. Gladwell says that your close circle of friends think quite similarly to you; that's why they're close friends, and this results in a strong connection, but they don't push your thinking, beliefs or practices very much. It is the people that you know who are not in your immediate and closest circle of friends that can have a dramatic impact on your learning because their thinking may diverge from yours. Gladwell argues that this weak tie, this connection to others that provides you with alternative viewpoints, can be an extremely powerful learning connection, one that can challenge you, and one that can serve personal growth. That’s where social media outlets such as Twitter and blogging come in.

My Twitter (@MrChaceEGHS) enables me to connect with people who share similar interests, and develop those "weak tie" relationships with other educators; those connections serve to enhance my personal learning, supplement my understanding and to change my thinking. Sometimes my thoughts are validated, sometimes they are greatly challenged. But that's good, and it forces me to refine how I think about my practice and the beliefs that underlie it. Being connected to other educators who share the same challenges provides an opportunity to learn daily, from some of the brightest and most talented people in my profession, all around the world.

I see reading, researching, debating and writing about teaching and learning as something that is a big part of my work day. Every single day. As a lifelong educator, I need to be a learner too. I need to develop an understanding of what is happening in schools all over the world. If I don’t learn and develop new ideas and understanding, how can I expect my teachers or my students, to do the same? Blogging and connecting with others not only helps me to learn; but to do so in a transparent environment where others can see me doing it day and night, seven days a week. As a leader, you shouldn't expect things from others that you are not willing to do and model yourself.

As Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”  I do hope that I can make a small difference as stones that I throw out provide small ripples to new connections and create more informed and self-actualized leadership dialogues that may grow into better practices in our schools that benefit kids.

Won't you join me, fellow principals and teachers?  Find the time. Make the time.

Come on in, the water's fine.

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