Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger

Communications

  • The key point here is that using new technology for communication with parents and other stakeholders will complement traditional forms like phone calls, email, and face-to-face conversations. It will allow you to meet more parents where they are and when they are available more often. Eric recommends setting up a Twitter account and connecting it to the school’s Facebook page so that tweets automatically show up there. There is a risk, however, of allowing two-way communications that everyone can see.
  • At this time, most elementary parents are in the prime Twitter demographic of 18 to 35. Any information parents might want to know such as athletic results, event schedules, class activities and successes, student work, and performances are fodder for social media delivery. You can check out what Eric’s school does at the New Milford High Facebook page and follow them on twitter at @NewMilfordHS. (Eric is no longer principal there.) There are also links to eight other innovative schools to check out. Training is key for staff and parents and needs to be ongoing. This chapter also includes suggestions for how to use many other social media tools.

Public Relations

  • For education, like any other profession, the media is more likely to feature negative stories. The key point is that if school leaders don’t tell their school’s story, other people will, and most of it is likely to be negative. In this chapter, Eric spells out the details of how he tells New Milford’s story with involvement from staff and students. Beyond Twitter and Facebook, they use pictures, videos, and blogs. For smaller districts that aren’t likely to get much if any media attention, it allows them to get the word out to their community and beyond.

Branding

  • Most educators don’t see themselves and their schools as brands, but they are. A brand is the distinctive sum experience people have with a product or service. In this context, students are products and education is a service. Leaders need to focus on their personal brand as well as the brand of the school, and social media is a key tool for doing so. If you are using social media for communications and PR, you are on your way. You need to start by identifying your professional personality. Often this can start with a word or two that tells people who you are. Your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions need to come out as part of your branding efforts. The basic idea is to improve your culture, student performance, and school resources.
  • When it comes to your school’s brand, you can push test statistics if they are high quality, but what you really want to get at are your innovative programs, extracurricular activities, and authentic student products and performances. Such marketing is not new for schools, but with the power of social media, schools and leaders can do a much better job and expand their brand awareness beyond their local communities.

Professional Development

  • Thanks to social media and Web 2.0 tools, it’s easy for a leader to form a professional learning network (PLN) that can span the globe. Your PLN is composed of people with common interests and responsibilities who exchange information and engage in conversations. Leaders can use it to acquire resources for teachers, and as they become more skilled, they can put on workshops for interested teachers and other leaders. The strength of this approach to professional development is that it is based on the interests and passions of the learner and promotes intrinsic motivation. It also allows for bite-sized daily efforts. At Eric’s school, teachers have two or three periods a week where they are expected to engage in professional growth via their PLN. At the end of the year, each person has to provide a learning portfolio as part of their yearly evaluation. If you want some step by step directions for how to get your PLN going, Eric provides them in this chapter.
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