I recently had the opportunity to speak with a small group of our county’s elementary school administrators about social media use in education. I gave an abbreviated version of my Networked Administrator presentation, and while I did my best to showcase authentic examples of how social media use has benefited my school, students and teachers, and has added to my professional growth, there were definitely two or three people whose lack of eye contact with the presenter and almost grimace-like expressions indicated they were not buying what I was selling. In fact, they probably considered my ramblings a huge waste of their time. Conversely, some in the audience thanked me profusely for sharing this information and scheduled follow-up meetings with me so I could get them started with Twitter and discuss how they could use the tools in their own settings.
I shared my blog, and the audience members diligently copied down my URL. As I wrapped up my spiel about blogging, I projected the very site on which you are reading this post, and implored, “If you do one thing when you leave here today, I want you to visit Connected Principals. I want you to read the thoughts and ideas of principals and administrators from all areas of the world, from all different levels, with varying areas of expertise. You will always have something to learn from reading these posts.”
I didn’t ask them to comment. I didn’t ask them to set up a Google Reader account and subscribe to the many blogs I read. I didn’t ask them to start blogging themselves. I asked them to read – something, I would hope, most administrators are doing anyway. I know some of those administrators went home and read a few posts on Connected Principals. I know others tuned out my request.
As of late, there has been some chatter about whether or not blogging is worth administrators’ time. Ryan Bretag shared a great post detailing why his principal doesn’t need to blog in order to be a great leader. Justin Tarte responded by asking is blogging really worth it? Questions considered in these posts and comments: Why are principals spending time blogging when that time could be better devoted to doing other things in their schools? Are administrators blogging because they find true value in the practice, or because they’re trying to make a name for themselves? Where do administrators find the time to do this?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was young I filled notebooks and composition books with stories that usually involved a family with 8-10 kids whose names all started with the same letter. I’d write detailed descriptions of all of the characters and I’d invent their personalities and dramas through my words on the page. This was a creative outlet for me. It was entertainment.
Fast forward twenty years, and I have discovered that I enjoy blogging about educational issues. It helps me reflect on my practice. If I read a book, a blog post, or a tweet, writing about the ideas shared helps me make connections with my own work and that of our students and teachers. I also compose short posts on our district website. I like to share the exciting things going on in our school so parents can share in our experiences. Glorified newsletter on the school website? Maybe. Still, it’s another way for me to reach out to our community. I maintain the staff blog to provide updates about school happenings and share links/ideas I find in my online reading. I’m trying to connect my teachers with those ideas and model how I use social media to enhance my practice. Glorified staff mass-email? Maybe. But it’s way easier to maintain, and everything is archived in one neat little package. Our students began blogging this year. When I meet with a class who has just begun the process, I always show them my blog. It’s important for them to know that blogging is a mode of writing that many find to be valuable, and that we’re not asking them to blog for the sake of blogging.
So what do you think? Are administrators who blog and tweet self-indulgent at the expense of their schools?
My response to that question is also a question. Why is this a topic of conversation? Is this not yet another example of how the work of educators is viewed through such a critical, judgmental lens?
There are many teachers and administrators who write and publish books. Why are we not examining how those educators spend their time with an equally critical lens? I have to imagine the time commitment to writing, editing, and publishing a print book is much more demanding than setting aside time on a Sunday morning to compose a blog post. What about the teachers and principals who work second jobs? Or who serve as coaches? Or Sunday school teachers? Or who run 10Ks on the weekends? These uses of time benefit both the educator and those who are impacted by their additional roles. They are using their skillsets and knowledge to positively influence others and themselves, and the time commitment is great. That time is not devoted specifically to their classrooms or students.
On the flipside, what about the teachers and administrators who spend their evenings zoned out in front of the television? Couldn’t they be better spending their time to enhance the education of their students? Why are we not critiquing their evening hour activities? The simple reason is that we don’t know about it.
“This sounds really great, Lyn, and I definitely see the benefit, but I can’t seem to grasp how I would ever make the time, with all of the other things we have to do.” I get it. I’m a principal, too. A commitment to blogging or tweeting honestly requires you to take a really careful look at how you are spending your time, setting priorities for what you want to achieve for your school, deciding if blogging as a reflective practice will help enhance learning for your teachers, students, and self, and then make a plan to get it done. Superintendent Chris Kennedy addresses the time commitment from a practical standpoint in his post, “The “How do you find the time?” Question.” So for those of us that do make the time, it means that we have found ways to incorporate it into our seemingly endless list of to-dos. It does not necessarily mean that we’re sacrificing or overlooking vital responsibilities to make time to do this. I can say personally that I examine on an almost daily basis how much time I’m spending using social media, deciding where to adjust, looking at the growing stack of paperwork on my desk, contemplating how those processes can be more streamlined, etc. It’s one of the real struggles of leadership vs. management.
To be transparent is to be vulnerable. Blogging is not for everyone. I would never suggest that an administrator can’t be fully effective if he does not blog about his practice. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all education for a child, there is no right or wrong method for growing professionally. I blog because it helps me reflect on my practice. I choose to share the benefits of social media with others because if they can find one effective use of the tools to help their own professional growth and/or that of their schools, then I have helped to make a difference. I enjoy reading others’ posts because there is always someone out there who is doing something better than me, who has found a more effective way of implementing a program or idea, and who can lift my spirits when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious about my role.
I blog when I have something to share. I don’t blog because there’s a space with lynhilt.com reserved just for me. I don’t fret that if I fail to post for a few weeks, people are going to stop reading. I don’t even have a firm handle on how many people read my blog, because I am frankly clueless when it comes to Google Analytics. When I feel blogging no longer has something to offer, I plan to exit quietly. Will probably use Blurb to turn my blog into a book or something.
The bottom line for me is, if you enjoy blogging and it helps bring meaning to your life and work, do it. If you enjoy reading others’ blogs and commenting, do it. If Tweeting is your thing, fantastic. I am sure I will find merit in what you share. If you find that sitting at your desk analyzing stacks of standardized testing data is a beneficial use of your time, carry on. If none of these things appeal to you, then I hope you find joy in whatever method of professional growth you choose.
If wanting to reflect so I can better my practice, and reading to learn more so I can strengthen my ability to serve students is self-indulgent, then add another scoop of ice cream to that dish. And don’t forget the cherry on top!