Battling skepticism.

“Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.”

Source: Wikipedia

Yesterday in a conversation with an elementary principal colleague, I allowed myself to become irritated.

I wasn’t irritated with Bill. He seems to be a genuinely great person who works hard to bring the best learning opportunities to his school. I’ve never actually met him, although I imagine I will engage in a face-to-face conversation at some point in the future, since his school is in a neighboring county in Pennsylvania. P.S. Bill is working to develop his PLN, so visit his profile and say hello! 

Principal networking was the topic of our conversation. In our county, there are planned elementary principals’ meetings at our IU about once every two months or so. Turnout is low- maybe 12-15. Considering how many elementary principals there are in our county, it’s not an impressive gathering. They do their best to accommodate our schedules by beginning at 7:30 and striving to return us to our buildings by 9:30 to avoid interruptions to our day, which we all appreciate. They offer topics that are interesting and informative. There are robust conversations. We end up leaving with packets of paper. Not my favorite.

But I wonder – what about the two months between meetings? Surely we have topics to discuss, questions to ask, and may be in need of support during the “off” time? Why limit our network capabilities in this way? Resources are sometimes shared via a listserv (I didn’t even know to spell listserv), so needless to say there isn’t a lot of sharing and communication that is ongoing and/or powerful.

Bill shared that elementary principals in his county met for the first time using Elluminate. Wow! I was impressed to hear that they utilized that format to streamline the meeting process. Sadly, attendance was low. I believe he said there were about 2 or 3 participants.

2 or 3. Out of a county of 9 districts, one of which is a large urban district with 15 elementary schools. Imagine the power of bringing all of those principals together- each with unique skill sets, ideas, questions, concerns, and resources to share.

“If you build it, they will come.” Not always. Because, as we know, to delve into working with new technologies and interacting with social media in new ways requires a foundation of trust. In one another, in the systems, in the ideologies.

It takes courage and an open mind, too.

Here’s my irritation: A participant in Bill’s session voiced his concern about Twitter, in that you’re not able to trust who you follow online because they might not be who they say they are. Really? As building administrators, that’s the level of awareness we have about social media? I worry for our teachers and students in our schools if that is the case.

Could you possibly encounter someone online who is portraying themselves as an elementary principal but who really isn’t? I suppose. (And I could think of about a billion more glamorous personas to assume!) But a misconception that Twitter profiles are fluff comes from someone who has only encountered the portrayal of what social media could be. He has yet to experience this type of networking for himself. It comes from a need to learn more about digital literacies. And if he hasn’t experienced it, he surely isn’t modeling it for his school community.

So, as school leaders who find benefit in this type of networking, we need to do a better job of demonstrating how and why it makes a difference. Many of us share our ideas on our blogs, at conferences, in publications…. and I think we’re really getting somewhere with school administrators as a whole.

I know it is not the only way to network, and I appreciate face-to-face opportunities for learning. But I know the demands of this role become more incredible every day.  And I know that we all experience the strain and stress this job can bring, and that having a network I can turn to is sometimes my saving grace on the rare occasion when I steer towards my wit’s end. They always have answers, and they always provide support.

So what I’m looking for in the comments section below are ways that administrators who are new to social media and professional learning networks can get started. Help their fears subside… help them battle the skepticism and preconceived notions they may have about the tools and the connections made. By sharing one real example of how social media has added to your learning, and/or by listing resources such as Connected Principals where administrators can go to gain a sense of community, or book titles such as Communicating and Connecting with Social Mediawe can help grow our collective.

Please add to the conversation! 

This post was originally shared on my blog on 1/19/2012.

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user heyjudegallery

32 Comments

  1. Hey Pal,

    As suck-upperish as it may sound, the first step I ALWAYS take when trying to convince skeptical principals to embrace social media spaces is sending them to the Connected Principals hashtag on Twitter.

    The reason is pretty simple: I KNOW that the content being shared there is going to immediately help them in their work. Any principal can stop by — without signing into Twitter or sharing a thing — and take instant value away.

    That’s pretty darn convincing — and it requires NO new behaviors on the part of principals. They’re already looking for resources. They’re already trying to do their jobs better. And they’re already struggling to do that in their time crunched days.

    By showing them Twitter as an information filter, it’s pretty easy to get them hooked — and once their hooked, it’s easy to move them forward into more sophisticated networking behaviors.

    So I guess that makes hashtags the gateway drug, right?

    (Probably shouldn’t use that metaphor in my presentations ; )

    Rock on,
    Bill

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Bill, you’re a huge supporter of Connected Principals and we thank you for that. It means a lot that you take the time to share your voice in these conversations! I agree it’s important to help new users of Twitter filter the mass amounts of information coming their way, and hashtags are a great way to do it. Thanks again for your comment!

      February 19, 2012
  2. David Wees said:

    I agree with you, Lyn. Convincing people that social media isn’t just fluff and filled with crazies can be difficult.

    I wish to object to the way you’ve used scepticism; I would have used the word ‘ignorant’ instead. It is ignorance that leads people to come to conclusions which are false. The point of scepticism is to examine beliefs that we have and hold them up against evidence to see if they are true. Scepticism is a healthy activity that has ended, for example, the practice of people travelling around in carnivals selling fake medicine (oh wait…). Ignorance is an unhealthy state of being that is our job to combat.

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, David, thanks for sharing your thoughts on skepticism vs. ignorance… I would have to then agree that it is important we as connected educators continue to share our stories, grow together professionally, and seek to combat the contrary line of thinking that many other school leaders embrace.

      February 19, 2012
  3. Dwight Carter said:

    Bill,

    I have to agree with Bill’s comments. What got me hooked almost two year ago was #cpchat, the Connected Principals website, then Shelly Terrell’s 30 Goals Challenge. Prior to being shown #cpchat my only knowledge of Twitter was based on stories in the media.

    When I share Twitter with educators I show them two key hashtags: #edchat and #cpchat. A number of teachers in my building who are using Twitter to establish their PLN were once skeptical. There are a couple of administrators in my building who are mow using Twittter as a result of #cpchat. What also helps is having a smartphone or another mobile device. Awesome post!

    Be Great,

    Dwight

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for sharing, Dwight! You mention some great strategies. I echo the sentiment about using your phone to connect. Many of us prefer not to be tied to our desks all day, and by using our smartphones we can stay connected and save resources that are shared at any time. I definitely value all that you have to share!

      February 19, 2012
  4. pneerja said:

    I have taken the time to dialogue with several members on my faculty convincing them about the values of joining Twitter and going on this fantastic learning journey. I have been sharing my own experiences with them but I have to admit that it is a hard sell.

    I will continue to try and once we have more tools in the school – Netbooks and ipads and if our district decides to unblock Twitter, I am positive, things will evolve —- time will tell.

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thank you for commenting and for sharing your positive outlook. Let us know how we can support you and your colleagues in these efforts!

      February 19, 2012
  5. Dwight, you are the one that got me hooked on to Twitter. I use to think Twitter was just some fun thing to do on-line and not for PLC. Having someone guide me through the process was extremely import. Now I have seen the light, and I will share it with all other educators. Personally, I had to fight with my district in order to open up Twitter. Now that it’s open I can truly see how valuable it is every day. Therefore, thank you Dwight. Keep your head up. We will slowly, one by one, pull more more educators into the world of social media.

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Thanks for commenting, Steve! I’m very glad Dwight sucked you into this networked world 🙂 Your voice is appreciated! I agree, we need to work together to keep sharing with other school leaders the impact it has made on all of us.

      February 19, 2012
  6. Bill,
    I love that idea – hashtags as a gateway drug! Joking aside, I think you have hit upon an important concept. A lot of administrators find twitter very intimidating – and quite honestly, I found it intimidating when I first started. Showing people how to use hashtags right off the bat as a way to get good information in their twitter stream is a great idea. If people can experience the value of twitter right off the bat, they are much more likely to push through their initial fears and learn how to use the tool. Plus, hashtags are a great way to help people build a PLN. It’s so easy to find like minded people when you follow hashtags.

    I think it is important for us to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight and that sometimes people need repeated exposure to an idea before they are motivated to try something new. Don’t get discouraged just because someone doesn’t jump onto twitter the first time you tell them about it, or even after their first inservice on twitter. Keep sharing your positive experiences with twitter. When I find something of value via twitter for a teacher or administrator at my school, I send them a link and always preface it with “this turned up in my twitter stream and I thought you might find it interesting” or something like that. Eventually they may decide to give twitter a try because of all the great resources you are sharing!

    Last fall I attended a conference at which Mark Milliron was a keynote speaker and he said something that has really stuck with me: “You should always be a rookie at something.” I have often repeated that statement as a way to encourage people to give social media a try.

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      You’re right, Susan, Twitter can be intimidating. Sometimes I feel like I’m repeatedly saying the same things over and over again (and, to some extent, I am 🙂 but it helps to realize that some administrators are hearing about Twitter or the benefits of social media for the first time. Thanks for including the tip about hashtags to help organize the streams of info. I love the quote you shared!! What a great thought for us all. Thanks for commenting!

      February 19, 2012
  7. @karentigani said:

    Here is what I did/suggest: Start by following a small number of trusted, respected people. These will be the people you know and/or know of, who contribute to Twitter in ways you find meaningful. They may also be recommended to you or they are being followed by people you respect. Over time, you’ll see who these people follow, what they post, etc and you will slowly build your PLN. Initially you will likely find that the people you follow are similar and/or share common perspectives…if this happens challenge yourself to follow some people whose opinions are divergent ‘from the crowd’. Thus, you will be presented with more opportunities to test your ideas by considering other perspectives. You can keep you tweets purely focused on one theme (ie education) or mix in some personal tweets…that is up to you. Take your time and see where your comfort level takes you.

    I’ve made a decision to take a more active role in Twitter over the past few months and I’m finding it very rich. It’s become a primary source of professional reading. If you are new, please note that it took me well over a year and a half of hanging around before I ‘found my Twitter voice’.

    Good luck!

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Karen,
      I like your recommended steps for getting started. One of the most difficult realizations for people new to Twitter is that IT TAKES TIME to develop a strong PLN. It has to be nurtured and tended, like a garden, if it’s going to flourish. You have to give to get. Thanks for emphasizing that, and for taking the time to comment!

      February 19, 2012
  8. It is hard to get administrators hooked on social media. I was hooked by way of an e-learning class this past summer. That class forced me to do something that I wanted to do but didn’t make the time to do. I started looking for blogs to follow (like Connected Principals). That is less threatening than putting yourself out there on Twitter. Then I created a Twitter account and followed a few people that were recommended to me. Lyn, you were one of them. From there, I found more to follow. Like @karentigani, it took some time before I found my Twitter voice, and like Susan, I share what I find on Twitter by forwarding the actual tweet. I do that with teachers and administrators.

    I presented to a group of administrators on how to develop your PLN using blogs and Twitter. I only had one administrator create a Twitter account (out of about 15) and she marked her account private. Our District values social media (they created a District Edmodo account), and we have a principals group, but only about 3 of us ever post and try to get conversations going (out of 2 large high schools, 3 middle schools and 10 elementary schools). I don’t know the answer. Time seems to be the excuse. Hopefully, they just need more time and they will come around. We just have to do our part and continue to encourage.

    February 18, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, Kathy, thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that it’s often easier for admin new to social media to select a small number of ed leadership blogs and regularly read how administrators are sharing in blog spaces. Then, I’d agree it’s important to at least establish an account on Twitter, follow some quality folks, and watch the interactions and shared resources, contributing when ready.
      Here’s a question I’d have for your district- if they truly value social media, what are the school leaders doing to model and support this vision? Are they working to show their teachers and students how developing a digital footprint is an important part of their professional learning lives? If not, I’d say that it would be difficult for them to say they truly value social media for learning.
      Time is typically an excuse, and no one is pretending that time is precious for all educators (and, let’s face it, all PEOPLE!) But as admin begin to embrace social media tools, they may actually find that they are able to communicate more efficiently and effectively and time may actually be saved in the long run. Not to mention the abundance of resources and ideas that will come their way.
      Thanks again for sharing!

      February 19, 2012
      • Kathy Paiml said:

        Lyn, you are right and made me think. I guess I need to change that the District “values” social media. They see the need and are willing to go in that direction because we have a great group of tech folks that “value” social media, and the District is listening to them. Not many administrators in our district are modeling the use of this type of learning. Those of who are need to be more transparent. I’m trying….Thanks for the conversation!

        February 26, 2012
  9. I have one story that I share with people who are questioning the value ot Twitter and one strategy for getting people started.

    I was in a meeting where we were discussing the process for hiring a new director of IT and we were talking about interview questions. I put something out on twitter and before the end of the meeting I had connections to examples of questions. We were able to use these resources to craft our questions and everyone was impressed by how quickly people responded.

    I have found paper.li to be a very effective tool for my learning. Each day I receive the paper that is put together from Tweets. I must find 3 – 4 relevant and interesting resources each day that I can share with colleagues,. It does not take me much time to go through so I find that it’s an excellent way to manage the river of information.

    Lyn, thanks for sharing.

    February 19, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, Blair,
      This is a great example of one way that inclusion in social media can benefit an organization. I have shared a similar story about asking my Twitter network for student blogging guidelines. A few short tweets later, I had my hands on a great set of guidelines developed by Kim Cofino that I simply tweaked for use in our district. If I would have had to write those from scratch, many more hours of work would have been required. Thanks for sharing about paper.li … I know others enjoy scoop.it as well! Both great curating tools. Thanks for commenting!

      February 19, 2012
  10. Chas Miller said:

    What a timely post, Lyn! I actually received my very first parent comment on my blog yesterday – and I gave my very first blog response to a parent comment today! I’m embarrassed to say I was so nervous it took me about an hour to write the response and I had my wife (a first grade teacher) read it over just to make sure it made sense! I had the same feelings of anxiety before sending my first Tweet last July, but it’s like Bill Ferriter said, Connected Principals is an amazing resource – it helped me to feel okay about jumping into these networks knowing that so many others were doing it. I was also very fortunate to have an excellent role model within our school system – Kevin Biles, Principal at Pleasant Union Elementary – to walk me through it all. Having a trusted peer to sit down with me (Kevin sat with me for a couple hours!) made all the difference in the world…and I highly suggest that any administrator new to these networks finds himself/herself a networking-mentor.

    February 19, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Chas, thanks for sharing your stories and ideas. I think having a networking mentor/buddy is a great idea. It always helps to have someone who you can bounce ideas off of and get feedback on a post or comment before publishing. Many have those peers in our face-to-face settings, and other times we look to our online peers for that type of support. Sometimes, we’re privileged to have colleagues who offer us that kind of support in both settings!

      February 19, 2012
  11. One way that social media like Twitter is taking on more respect in my school is via the projects and learning we do. People will ask, “Where did you get that idea?” and I’ll respond Twitter.

    February 19, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      That’s a great way to continue the conversations and spark people’s interest in connecting through that medium! Thanks for sharing!

      February 19, 2012
  12. Christian Klaue said:

    I have had various administrators try to convice me to start with Twitter since last May. Due to the negative comments in the media I have heard regarding social media, I was very skeptical. It finally took me reading an article on ‘On becoming connected’ to push me over the edge. I finally took the plunge last November and have been amazed at the quality and depth of discussion that I have come across. I still have technical issues to learn about (how to embed a URL) but am sold on the potential for professional growth. I plan on introducing Twitter to my staff in the near future and connecting them with #bced and some of the teacher-oriented hashtags.

    February 19, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Christian, thanks for sharing your story and admitting it was a difficult start for you. I think your experience parallels that of other administrators, but I appreciate that you shared how meaningful these connections have been for you!

      February 25, 2012
  13. Mary Alise Herrera said:

    I am a new principal and new to twitter this winter. I”m not good with hash tags (yet), but have found that by following people who write blogs I’ve learned from, I now have a twitter stream I learn from! I am surrounded with professional resources, readings, and am even participating in a professional book club. While my local colleagues have been great in helping me, this assorted collection of twitter administrators are an even stronger resource in my own professional learning!

    February 19, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Mary Alise,
      Thank you for commenting and sharing your experiences. I hope you will continue to contribute to our collective voice!

      February 25, 2012
  14. jason Markey (@jmarkeyAP) said:

    Lyn,

    I have felt similar to what you have expressed here quite a bit over the last year as I’ve presented Twitter to our school. On one hand, I have felt like there is a great deal of interest with over 80 teachers and administrators creating accounts, however, I didn’t see the sudden explosion of activity on Twitter from all of those learners. Through reflection, I have realized that what I was waiting for was my version of Twitter to simply be replicated by everyone who followed.

    I thought I explained the why, as @gcouros explained in his recent blog, but again I shared my version of the why and the how. I think the difficulty in Twitter gaining traction in some circles is its mercurial nature, the fact that it really can be anything you want it to be is challenging for some to grasp and others to allow. What I didn’t realize when I was somewhat disappointed in the amount of “activity” I saw from our teachers on Twitter, was that beneath the surface many of them have been gaining a great deal of perspective and learned of resources they may not have otherwise found, they just didn’t openly respond like I and others have. This rang true again, when our School Board president followed me yesterday on Twitter, we (the publicly active tweeps) assume that if it the activity is not in the public timeline it does not exist. Although, I still push for that open collaboration among educators on Twitter and not only the picking of resources, this is my version of what Twitter is, not the only version.

    Thanks again for making me think and reflect Lyn – I truly value your contributions!

    February 20, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Jason, you’ve been a wonderful contributor to my learning over the past year! Thanks for sharing and taking the time to comment here. Keep serving as a great role model for your colleagues… you’re definitely making a positive impact!

      February 25, 2012
  15. Great piece, Lyn; thanks so much for thinking it through and sharing it!

    Many of these comments speak to my experience. Loved Chas’ honesty about pushing past the nervousness and how powerful peer-to-peer support can be. I also like what Jason says about not being able to assume that your “why and how” will map onto someone else’s “why and how.” I sometimes start a conversation about Twitter now with a question about what kinds of professionally-relevant learning the other person is currently enjoying. If they’re a big reader, I might recommend a book and include the fact that I learned about it on Twitter. If they loved the 5th grade interest group at the last conference they attended, maybe I’ll talk to them about #5thchat or @cybraryman1’s great curated list of ed-related chats (http://bit.ly/edchats).

    I think one key is to somehow move “social media” from “way over there” to “right over here” in folks’ mental landscape.

    Metaphors can help… I sometimes say that Twitter can be like a giant virtual faculty room into which you put a hand-picked group of smart, funny, engaged educators. The room is there 24/7… you can pop in whenever you like!

    And going for the thought-leaders in your building can really help, too. I loved it when the head of my school off-handedly mentioned my first Tweet of the day in an admin meeting; you could almost see people’s gears turning!

    Still, the resistance is there, and it can be frustrating, so thanks to everyone who has shared and will share their thoughts/tips here.

    February 23, 2012
    • Lyn Hilt said:

      Hi, Shelley, thanks for reading and commenting. What a great perspective- making sure that new users find the meaning in what we’re sharing. What we find powerful in this type of learning might not have the same impact on others’ thinking. They need to find their own value in these connections. Thanks for your contributions!

      February 25, 2012
  16. Anne said:

    I think showcasing the effects it has had on the teachers who have principals that are connected is very powerful. My administrator (@dms_principal) finally convinced me to expand my PLN and give Twitter a try. I am glad I listened. Twitter has transformed my career and my classroom. I am now connected to other educaters around the globe who support me and give me fresh ideas everyday! As educators, we are in a time where we have the resources to globally connect and create a flat classroom. We no longer have to only read about other cultures, we can now Skype with them. We can instantly share and receive the best ideas from around the world rather than having to wait for them to be published in a book. To not take advantage of this great resource is a shame and a great disadvantage to our students.

    March 4, 2012

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