Bless you all, you have one of the hardest jobs that exist in today's world. But many of our school leaders are falling dangerously behind.
Professional development and the use of modern communication tools tend to focus on teachers and classroom instruction (and rightly so). But formal, institutionalized professional development has neither the agility nor the flexibility to serve the needs of educators in today's rapidly changing world.
As a consequence, many teachers have adopted social media and the concept of professional learning networks as their primary means of growth and learning. This is often referred to as, "being connected".
Unfortunately and for various reasons, this new playing field has left many school leaders behind. As the rules of the game have quickly changed, many administrators are still playing old-school, ever more alone and isolated.
If you are like me, you reached adulthood in the ancient days when the "deal" was clear; go to school, start a career, become an expert. Congratulations, you have arrived. You get to spend the next 20+ years knowing what to do, having all the answers, and showing others the way.
As a fellow leader, I'm sorry to break it to you, but that "deal" has been busted. The paradigm no longer applies, certainly not to our students. But it's critical for us to recognize, the same is true for us. The longer we labor under the old context, the farther behind and more obsolete we become.
The age of experts is over, and we are all learners. We have to let go of the notion that leadership requires that we have all of the answers, and embrace the idea that what leadership really means is that we support the right questions and the collaborative search for solutions. This is difficult to do if we refuse to adopt the new tools of the trade, because modern leadership requires communication and collaboration.
We also have to accept the fact that we are never going to "arrive". The remainder of our careers will be messy, full of mistakes, and will require constant growth and learning on our part. Even when you do master something new, your expertise is doomed to fade very quickly as the world moves on, and new tools replace old ones.
Fortunately, the same tools that have brought about this change in our culture and society are available to help us become the leaders we need to be. But we have to take the first steps in becoming connected. If we don't start moving in the right direction NOW, we will soon become irrelevant and ineffective. And if we stubbornly guard our old-school turf, we'll do more harm to our students than good.
One of the worst feelings in the world is to look up from dogged pursuit and see just how far behind you've fallen. The good news is, we've all been there. And this kind of game is not won by being first or scoring the most, it's won by trying. The only way to lose is to do nothing.
So, let's get in the game, let's take the first steps. They look like the hardest, before you take them. But they're not hard. They just take an open mind, a willingness to learn something new, and a little courage.
- Start a blog. Don't know how? Here's a short video tutorial for creating a blog using the google platform Blogger. If you have a google account, you already have blogging tools available. It's as simple as writing a Word document. Don't know what to say? Every administrator I know has at least a weekly news post to staff. Start with that. You don't' have to share it with the world, and you don't have to write a literary classic. Just communicate. Once you start, you'll see why blogging is a good tool for those weekly (or daily) posts.
- Learn the collaborative power of google docs. Here's a short tutorial on sharing docs. Share your meeting agenda ahead of time with your participants and ask them to help create the agenda. Want to know what people think? Write a question in a google doc, share it with your staff, and invite them to comment. Once you learn the basics, you'll find you can have all kinds of meaningful conversations without wasting meaningful time.
- Get in the habit of posting on Twitter or Instagram one positive thing from your school each day. Ask your staff to do the same, using the same hashtag. You will be amazed how this will impact the culture of your school. If you need help with social media, just ask someone who uses it, they will be happy to show you how it works. Yes, the unknown is scary. Remember the little bit of courage?
- Use Remind to communicate with staff, students and parents. Send one inspirational note or quote each day. Remind lets you schedule these ahead of time, your inspirational thoughts can be shared even when you are gone. It may sound a little hokey, but this is incredibly motivating to staff when it comes from their leader. Remind is also a great notification system for school events and alerts, and it is completely free. This simple tutorial will help get you started.
- Learn about and use screencasting to partially "flip" your staff meetings. Screencasting tools are free and very easy to use. Good ones to start with are Screencastify (a chrome browser extension) and Screencast-O-Matic (a program you install on your computer). These tools record your voice over what is happening on your computer screen. Very easy to use, and you can publish directly to YouTube or save the video as a file. (Note: If you publish to YouTube as unlisted, only those who have the link from you can view the video, you don't have to share with the entire world). Your staff will appreciate being able to get the details you want them to have when they need them, not just during the meeting. And they can easily go back and review.
Any one of these steps moves you forward in the world by leaps and bounds, each is simple to do, and none of them require a huge investment of time. You just have to start. And once you do, you are back in the game.