Social media is a dominant topic in our society right now because of the large numbers of people and organizations using it to connect with people all around the world. The more that I have read books such as “Open Leadership“, the more I am seeing the alignment of using the Internet to connect with effective leadership and building relationships.
“…tapping into the power of social technologies isn’t about mastering the latest shiny technology; it is actually about having a clear idea of the relationship they want to form.” Charlene Li, Open Leadership
As learning organizations, we need to start to embrace these values and align many practices that we do within our schools. By doing this, we do not only become role models to our students, but we also connect with our school communities in a more effective way. Schools are often seen as defining many communities, not the other way around. We know they are important so what we do do within these schools is imperative.
This is not only about how we use these tools, but it also our practices with blocking certain websites that are sending mixed messages between what we say and what we do.
So really, what does using a blog really have to do with leadership? Why would we not just have a traditional school website as opposed to a blog? Why would Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter even be opened to our students?
- The need for transparency. Many processes that we use within our schools are very transparent and can be communicated through a traditional website. Effective leadership is often amplified by our communication skills. When we use the term “communication”, many default to the belief that leaders are great speakers. Communication though is a two way practice and we often talk about the art of listening as essential. Do we provide our stakeholders a forum that they can communicate to us their thoughts? Many will not send off an email to a superintendent or principal but would prefer different opportunities to communicate. Parents within my school often communicate through our school blog and many times will contact myself via Twitter. Email for many is becoming an archaic tool for communication and they are used to asking questions through Facebook walls; we need to go to where our stakeholders are and provide them different opportunities to communicate. As I listened to Michael Fullan a few weeks ago, he mentioned that effective leaders are both able to send and receive. Our communication tools need to be able to do this as well.
- Collaboration. In education, I truly believe that educators should be the experts on the practice, and parents should be the experts on their own children. If we could bring this together, our kids and schools as a whole will move forward tremendously. Parents and schools working together to serve students is much more effective than schools working alone to serve parents and students. The ratio is just better in the first option. Giving parents the opportunity to give feedback on initiatives within the school and how they can best serve learning will only make our schools stronger. We do more together than we ever could alone. School blogs that get feedback through the comments are a great way to build stronger, collaborative environments.
- Safety and control are not the same thing. We talk about trust and how it is essential to building strong relationships within schools. Then we block blogs. Then we block facebook. Then we block YouTube. This is not only for our students but our staff (which it should really be neither). Although we have Facebook open within our school, I do not worry about what teachers are doing with it during the day. If they were continuously on it all day, then there is obviously an issue but this seems to happen in only rare circumstances. We need to always ensure that our students are safe in school, but by shutting down websites that many often use, we do not teach our students anything about the world that exists outside of school; we shelter them from it. By controlling websites like this and not being proactive about what our kids face when they walk out of our buildings, are we really keeping them safe or are we just covering ourselves? We teach kids about drugs in school when they have no benefit yet too often social media is ignored when it can have immense benefit. Something doesn’t fit. “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” Kofi Anaan
I will be honest; we have used social media practices such as blogging, Twitter, and Facebook within our own school and the back and forth communication has not been extremely high (although it is building). It is still in its earliest phase and this is new to many schools. It is not a bad thing if we are sometimes ahead of the curve. The thing is, as long as people still need to connect with one another (which they always will), social media will not be going away. It may look different, but the opportunities to reach out to our stakeholders, while they reach back, are needed.
As schools, we need to align these practices with our beliefs.