Tech Leadership

Social Media for Connecting and Collaborating

by KEITH KRUEGER

A key theme in the National Education Technology Plan of 2010 is connectedness — connecting students with learning experiences; connecting teachers with resources for driving instruction and improving outcomes; and connecting systems through developing infrastructure and rich data banks.

Keith Krueger

The vision sets an ambitious scale of change for school districts nationwide. “Episodic and ineffective professional development is replaced by professional learning that is collaborative, coherent and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration,” according to the technology plan’s report.

How can superintendents lead their systems to reflect this vision?

Some are turning to social media and online communities of practice. When Pam Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County, Va., wanted to connect district leadership and teachers so that everyone was working together to improve student achievement, social networking tools and online spaces provided natural tools to building 24/7 cohesive efforts throughout the system.

Seven years ago, Milwaukee Public Schools created an online space for their improvement work in TappedIn (www.tappedin.org). Then the district expanded its tools into a comprehensive suite of online resources and collaboration spaces.

In 2011, the district launched, Working Together, Achieving More, a website and online community that ties Milwaukee’s strategic goals to professional development opportunities and provides online collaboration spaces. The district’s media site is a space for posting recordings of professional development sessions so that teachers and administrators can access them 24/7.

Field Applications
Both Albemarle County and Milwaukee illustrate the power of social networking tools and online communities for more than communication and outreach. Digital spaces support two critical areas in district improvement — the culture and the professional development of educators.

Learning Forward, a professional association, called “learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility and goal alignment,” the first of seven National Standards for Professional Learning.

In an open letter on Edutopia, Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey, he commits to “breathe life into professional development” by promoting community in two ways throughout his school.

The first is to build a school culture in which teachers and administrators collaborate in an ongoing cycle of inquiry and action research to improve student learning. While traditionally facilitated through face-to-face interactions, professional learning communities benefit from the ongoing support and facilitation enabled by online social networking tools.

Sheninger’s second strategy is to model and encourage use of personal learning networks in which administrators and teachers use online tools to develop their own network of meaningful contacts and resources through which they learn innovative approaches and receive support for improving their individual work. These networks can include social networking spaces such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as participation in more formal communities of practice, such as ASCDEdge, Educator’s PLN and others.

“If we want to have an influence and presence as education leaders, our participation in digital space is no longer optional,” says Chris Kennedy, superintendent in West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Kennedy strongly encourages superintendents to take an active role in using social media tools and online spaces in their leadership. His Culture of Yes (http://cultureofyes.ca) blog illustrates how to use social media to tell the district’s story, integrating a focus on personalized student learning while building teamwork, transparency and commitment. His district has the highest graduation rate in Canada and has attained the highest achievement levels on all local, regional and provincial measures.

How are you using online communities of practice in your district?

Keith Krueger is executive director of the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, D.C. E-mail: keith@cosn.org

 

Additional Resources

  • Access4ed.net (www.access4ed.net) is an online community of practice developed by CoSN in partnership with AASA focused on innovation approaches to providing access to technology for learning.
  • Connected Educator (http://connectededucators.org) is a community of practice for leaders of communities of practice.
  • Culture of Yes (http://cultureofyes.ca) is Superintendent Chris Kennedy’s blog. His site is full of ideas for using social media strategically to support district improvement.