Tech Leadership                                              Page 11


What Superintendents Can

Learn From Twitter     



 Daniel Frazier

Can a message of only 140 characters really effect change in the world? Twitter is doing just that, one message at a time.

Twitter is the world’s second-most-popular social network, with 140 million users. Members send microblogs, or “tweets,” of 140 characters maximum. Twitter forwards 340 million of these tweets every day. Educators around the world are using Twitter for conversations on significant educational issues. Joining the confabulation, a growing number of school superintendents are realizing the power of Twitter.

Twitter is helping superintendents overcome the isolation of the office. David Britten (@-colonelb) of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, a 1,700-student urban district southwest of Grand Rapids, Mich., says he found it lonely at the top. “Along came Twitter, and although I didn’t really know how to use it effectively at first, when I began meeting other superintendents like Pam Moran (@pammoran), Dave Doty (@canyonsdave) and John Carver (@johnccarver),” Britten says, “I quickly realized the value of connecting on a nearly real-time basis with my professional peers.”

Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County, Va., connected with Britten over Twitter and has participated in collaborative project work with him for two years. “Our work together often begins with a tweeted question or a shared resource,” says Moran. “As a result of our Twitter professional learning network, Dave and I first connected about his district’s BYOD (bring-your-own-device) implementation. It wasn’t long before I had a commitment from @colonelb to Skype into our back-to-school leadership team meeting.”

Ongoing Dialogue
For Britten, Twitter fits his philosophy of transparent leadership by providing him with a vehicle to communicate on the move to staff, students, parents and his board of education. He links Twitter to the district’s web page, his personal blogs and the district’s Facebook page, which he personally manages. “One of the immediate benefits of real-time communication is the growing level of trust between my administration and the professional staff,” Britten explains.

Joshua Starr (@mcpssuper), superintendent of 147,000-student Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools, uses Twitter each day to promote best teaching practices.

“If I am visiting a school and see a powerful lesson or an effective teaching strategy, I can take a picture and send out a Tweet,” says Starr. “It takes 30 seconds and not only lets people know I’m visiting schools, but gives them a glimpse into my educational philosophy and what I value in teaching and learning.”

The depth of Twitter increases as users follow “hashtags,” key words beginning with the pound symbol (#). This makes them easy to search and connect. An ongoing dialogue is taking place daily at #suptchat.

Lists also make Twitter more usable. “I follow @DanielLFrazier/supts, and it’s a key list for me,” says Moran. “I can click in anytime and find any of several hundred other superintendents in the stream. Some days, I may lurk in watching what my peers post because I just need the reflective space. On other days, I will retweet and add to the conversation, bringing in other people to the conversation.”

An Acquired Taste
Beginning users are cautioned to take it slowly but be persistent. The cacophony of messages can drive people away shortly after they start. Taken as a whole, the messages make little sense at first. It takes time to acquire an understanding of the power of the tool.

“Even if a superintendent is not actively tweeting, they should be monitoring Twitter,” Starr says. “There is an important conversation happening about education right now, and much of it is happening on Twitter. By following the right people, you can quickly understand what is going on in the world of education, know what you need to read or at least ask your staff to get up to speed.”

Moran describes Twitter as “a tool for learning, re-energizing, engaging and searching collaboratively with people from all walks of life and background experience. Twitter helps superintendents sow their seeds of curiosity and reap the benefits of exploring beyond the boundaries of our districts.”

Here’s to meeting you online! Find me @DanielLFrazier.

Daniel Frazier is superintendent of the Litchfield Independent School District 465 in Litchfield, Minn. E-mail: daniel_frazier@litchfield.k12.mn.us



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