Tech Leadership

The Most Important Tool You Probably Don’t Know


When Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County, Va., Public Schools, needs to filter the online noise and rapidly find what’s important to her, she turns to her reader. Her reader sifts through the cacophonous web and quickly culls pertinent information from some trusted voices, leaving the dross behind.


Moran’s reader serves as her primary information screener for the voluminous Internet, ensuring that only the good stuff reaches her. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It is. But Moran’s reader isn’t a person on her office staff. It’s free software.

Tech Leadership McLeodScott McLeod

What’s RSS?
The software Moran is using is called an RSS reader. The abbreviation stands for real simple syndication, but you don’t need to remember that. What you should remember instead is that an RSS reader allows for ridiculously simple subscriptions to those valuable information channels you find on the web.

As Moran notes, “I don’t know how any of us can sustain attention to the volume of media sources that are relevant to our work and interests without a feed. My reader helps me to screen out noise. I also use folders to organize my feeds so I can better stay on top of what’s in my current mix.”

RSS readers like Google Reader or Netvibes allow you to subscribe to various blogs, news channels and websites, which means they come to you and are gathered all in one place rather than you having to visit each one individually or find them via search engines. These sources continue to feed your reader even when it’s not open. The content simply waits for whenever you’re ready.

The ability to subscribe to selected portions of the Internet can be extremely helpful. As you begin to load up your reader, your subscriptions will regularly send you knowledge and resources that can enhance your practice as a busy school leader. Chris Kennedy, the superintendent in West Vancouver, British Columbia, claims RSS readers have changed how he interacts with online content. “I have spent much of my career searching for information,” he says. “Now the information I need finds me.”

A Content Mix
An RSS reader is an excellent way to keep a finger on the pulse of a conversation or topic of interest. The ability to search within your reader lets you quickly pull up what others are saying about an issue. Your reader also will feed you resources that you otherwise would never have found. There’s a great deal of serendipity inherent in the use of RSS readers.

Mike Maryanski, superintendent in Tahoma, Wash., finds the biggest advantage of using a reader is time savings. By allowing him to organize his information streams into folders and easily see when they’ve been updated, his RSS feed enables him to quickly hone in on what he needs, see when a stream is no longer relevant and stay on top of issues of concern and importance.

RSS readers aren’t just for work, either. Like the other superintendents mentioned here, David Britten, superintendent of the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Wyoming, Mich., uses his reader software for both professional reading and his personal hobbies and interests. His first few pages include a mix of local and national news, education thinkers and other leadership-related content. His later pages include feeds related to running and his beloved Detroit Red Wings hockey team.

Reflecting his military background, Britten says he sees RSS reader Protopage “as sort of a command console, whereby I readily get the type of intel I need on a 24/7 basis to accomplish my daily objectives and keep on my toes for what’s coming down the pipe.”

Getting Started
I hope you’re intrigued enough to investigate further what an RSS reader might do for you. The resources below will help you get your reader set up, find feeds to which you can subscribe and see examples of how other superintendents are using blogs for stakeholder communication and personal reflection.

Spend a few hours one weekend to get yourself set up with a reader. (Did I mention it’s free?) As you begin loading it up, be sure to include some streams from sources that think or believe differently than you do in order to avoid immersing yourself in an echo chamber. Commit to checking your reader once a week, and soon you, too, will discover the power of having the web come to you.

As more school district leaders begin using readers, who knows? Perhaps the RSS abbreviation will come to stand for something else, as well: real savvy superintendents.

Scott McLeod is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Kentucky. He blogs at and E-mail:


Additional Resources

Scott McLeod recommends these sites:

Blogs for Busy Administrators,

RSS Guide for Educators,

Superintendent Blogs,