The listing of Facebook on the stock exchange (now valued at $100 billion) highlights how social media has become serious business. As we conceptualise organisations differently as dynamic, porous and self-learning, we must recognise that social media has be part of the expanded tool kit of leaders. This is no where more pressing than for school leaders and I don’t think we can be observers anymore, we must be participants and contributers to the educational narrative.
In a news article last week, principals in South Australian public schools will be encouraged to ‘blog, tweet and use a school Facebook page to communicate with parents and the local community.’ It’s part of a broader strategy developed by the SA Education Department to improve leadership in public education. While the initiative is timely, it does leave out a critical aspect of social media – the opportunity to collaborate and connect with peers.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to address our newly appointed leaders and explained that if leaders are not socially aware and social media literate, then it’s difficult to understand the context in which we are learning and teaching. Social media such as blogs and tweets are powerful tools to enable and empower school leaders. When you are continuously sharing, reflecting and engaging with people, it stretches your thinking. You learn by sharing, you learn by learning, you learn by connecting with others.
It’s this ability to connect that gives leaders the confidence to draw from the wisdom of the crowd in order to share and solve problems. When leaders are networked into other, more expanded, learning communities (physical and virtual), you see best practice being shared freely and connections develop so that there is an ever expanding understanding of what is achievable.
Michael Fullan in Change Leader has a chapter on collaboration. Fullan cites a study of Stanford business graduates which found the ‘most creative individuals had broad social networks that extend outside their organisations and involved people from diverse fields of expertise..were three times more innovative than uniform vertical networks.'(p99).
I have never proclaimed to be a tech guru but I do use social media and have benefitted enormously from the depth of professional conversation and feedback on twitter and bluyonder. Despite trying to engage and encourage my colleagues, the response has been luke warm. I believe this is reflective of a growing gap between those who are connected and those who aren’t; leaders who are taking responsibility for their own learning and growth and those who are happy to continue along the same path.
Mary Beth Hertz wrote an insightful post recently about the social media divide in education. Reflecting on her experience at a recent teaching conference, Hertz noted that she was part of a ‘small group of educators who were tweeting and blogging about the sessions’ and how her virtual colleagues had developed a common language, drawing from a common canon of books, articles, blog posts and thought leaders.
In recognising the growing gap between teachers, Hertz says:
We are part of a community of learners that knows no walls, that our learning has no boundaries. We can meet someone face to face for the first time, draw from the same knowledge base and even continue a conversation that may have spanned thousands of miles. These conversations are also based on current research, and on articles written by leaders in the education world. We take these conversations and this knowledge back to our classrooms and our schools, impacting our students and our colleagues. Teachers who learn together grow together. And teachers who grow together teach children in powerful ways. This silent gap, should it remain unclosed, will only widen the existing, perceptible gap in our schools.
Leaders have a responsibility to look for ways of closing the gap. As Fullan says in Change Leaders effective leaders in whatever field walk into the future through examining their own and others’ best practice, looking for insights they had not previously noticed. Social media is one way of allowing leaders to do this. How many of your colleagues have crossed the social media divide?