To learn. Like many others, I read books and articles, attend conferences, workshops and trainings, and visit other schools in order to learn more about best practices and innovative new approaches. But I know about myself that I will retain much more, and be much better able to draw upon and use that information in the future, if I write while I am learning, if I record the main ideas I am learning in writing, and if I reflect upon them. So I write to learn, and if I am writing about these ideas anyway, I figure, why not share these writings.
To model learning. I think that educational leaders should publicly demonstrate that we too are learning and we too love learning: chiefs of learnings need to be chief learners. Blogging is a great way to display the ways in which I too, like our students, am trying regularly to learn.
To share. Like all principals and school heads, I often speak) to students, teachers, and parents, and sometimes it seems that what I say might be of interest to other constituencies or those who could not attend. My blog is a great way of making these remarks available for everyone.
To showcase my school. There are so many things about my school I am proud of and which I want others to know more about so they will more strongly appreciate and admire my school (and perhaps choose to attend it). My blog is a way to share great things happening here at school. I can re-post the syllabus for a cool new class, write up what is said by teachers about their courses at Curriculum Night, or publish fine student work.Videos made about our school can also be reposted. Prospective parents considering attending St. Gregory should be able to, and do, find my blog a valuable showcase of the school’s qualities.
To articulate a vision. School-leaders are often asked to have a “vision,” and at times, earlier in my career, the “v-word” seemed daunting. I neither knew how I was supposed to have a meaningful and broad “vision,” nor how I was supposed to effectively articulate it. I demurred; I don’t have a vision, I am just here to serve the school and its mission.
I still believe that to serve a school and its mission is important, but I have come to recognize and appreciate that leadership is more effective when a leader does have and share a clear vision and conviction of his or her educational aims, aspirations, and ideals. My blog is one of the essential ways I articulate my vision of where our school is headed in its never-ending journey of educational improvement.
To develop a vision. That said, blogs are not final, static documents; blogging is a new narrative form which is vital, vibrant, and dynamic, and my blog is intended to reveal the journey I am on in continuing to shape my educational vision. Andrew Sullivan, who blogs so brilliantly for the Atlantic, is a terrific thinker about blogging as a unique writing practice. In an excellent video he posted recently (entitled How Blogging is Changing Writing), he explained “Blogging is ‘truer’ than the ‘conceit’ of a finished piece of work…. Blogging is thinking & writing in real time, in a constant present-ness.”
To connect and converse. There is an interesting conversation happening in the blogosphere about whether blogging is a “social media.” The term derives from the words web-log, and a log is largely synonym for journal, and we don’t think of journaling as social. Blogging can be lonely and isolated; a blogger is sometimes perceived to be a hermit in a basement writing only for himself. But when I blog, I am so delighted when people reply and comment, or discuss with me the ideas expressed, or reach out to me and want to communicate further; I feel far more connected with a large and widespread set of colleagues than I ever did before as a result of my blogging.
To lead. Recently I heard my national association President, Pat Bassett, tell a group of school-leaders that he believes we are mistakenly spending too much time managing, and too little time leading. I agree. Over 12 years of heading two schools in California, I found myself much too much a manager: responding and reacting rather than initiating and guiding, attending to organizational details rather than to educational program development.
In preparing for my new, now current position, however, I became determined to not repeat that mistake, and to use the blog as a platform from upon which I can lead. By virtue of my blog and its public recognition, I view myself as an educational thinker and leader who is applying himself to the particular school I have been called to serve, rather then seeing my identity as an educational leader derived from, tied to, and dependent upon my (perhaps temporary) job.
This seems funny, and maybe it is bizarre, but I am a blogger first and a school-head second. I was a blogger before I became head of St. Gregory, and I will be a blogger afterwards. My blog is not a “head-of-school-blog,” it is the Head of School’s…blog. (It is linked to from and embedded in the school’s website, but it is not hosted on the school’s website and I “own” it.)
To contribute to and influence the broader educational conversation. It is an enormous honor and privilege for me to have been called to serve St. Gregory as its head, and I would hate to ever allow the inference that I think it anything other than that. I am very appreciative for and humbled by this opportunity.
But that said, it isn’t enough for me to seek to improve learning at my school only. From my more than 20 years of practice, observation, and reflection, I have ideas I wish to share about how we can improve learning for all students. I am so very glad blogging exists: it is a such a wonderful way to have a voice and to participate in and contribute to the broader conversation around the nation and the world about where schooling should be headed, and it is so meaningful and rewarding to me that by blogging I can do so.
To get perspective. Many days on campus I spend entire days drawn away from what is most important and interesting to me. It is incredibly important to my successful leadership that I raise funds, organize marketing, plan events, hire, fire, budget, etc. I do enjoy all these aspects of my job (well, not all of them, but most), but it can be disappointing and even disillusioning when there are days when they are all I get to do.
In blogging, though, which I do almost exclusively at home outside of normal work hours, I get to return to my professional passion: learning about, reflecting upon, and sharing ideas about k-12 education in the 21st century. In blogging, I gain the perspective that those work-day actions are in service of my opportunity to advance the kind of educational excellence to which my blog is devoted.
To make mistakes. Blogging is like live TV; it is less polished, unfinished, a work-in-progress. I make mistakes when blogging; I experiment with ideas; I try things on for size. This project is anything but perfectionist in quality or in style. I make too many mistakes on my blog; I know I ought to do more and better copy-editing and proof-reading, (and I will!).
But as one twitter friend/colleague, Matt Montagne, tweeted recently, “blogging goes a long way in crushing a culture of perfectionism.” Let’s all allow ourselves to reflect, observe, comment, observe, and share without allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
To show off. Time to name the elephant in the room. I know all too well that some observers of my blogging, and the blogging and tweeting of others, think it is nothing but attention-seeking and showing off. Why don’t you just keep your thoughts to yourself? Why do you need to foist every idea, every observation, every thought that comes into your head onto others?
It is hard to know how to respond to this. I do do some small things to call attention to my blog; I try not to push it upon others; it is really always only voluntary reading. I don’t email it to people, like a chain letter, except to those who have signed up for its delivery; I don’t “assign it” as required reading (in contrast, say, to the way we insist parents read school newsletters); I don’t announce new posts on list-serves or on other web-sites (except twitter).
I am aware, I believe, that many or most of my fellow school-leaders could do just as good a job as I do (or better) writing a blog like this if they took the initiative to do so. Most don’t. I do, but in doing so I only earn and deserve credit for my initiative, not my intellect.
The other thing to say about this criticism is that it is not entirely unfounded. Yes, I do like the attention. It makes me happy to know that people are visiting my blog, mentioning me in tweets, recommending me to others, and learning from what I am sharing. It is nice to be valued and praised as an educational writer; it is among my many goals to continue to build my prominence and enlarge my visibility, and if that means calling a bit of attention to my blog, so be it.
To write. I love to write. I find myself constantly composing sentences in my head, and wanting to try to put them on paper. (Metaphorically speaking; it doesn’t sound the same to say “wanting to rearrange electrons on a screen”). I don’t think I am an especially good writer, but I enjoy it, and it makes me happy.
[cross-posted from my blog, www.21k12blog.net]