Expanding Your Learning Network via #SuptChat

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

September 01, 2016

Social Media

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a MakerSpace event for educators at the White House. When I glanced at another table of school leaders, I thought I recognized someone. I walked over and introduced myself to Jay Eitner, a superintendent in New Jersey. He and I had never previously met, but I recognized him from his Twitter profile photo as he was a member of my professional learning network, or PLN.

Today, it is fairly normal for the two of us to interact on social media, ask each other questions and learn from each another.

Positive Power

Social media often carries negative connotations, but education leaders ought to view it differently. We can leverage the positive power of social media to grow our PLNs and become better leaders for our schools and communities.

Meeting Eitner, who leads the 1,900-student system in Waterford, N.J., in person is just one example of how technology actually humanizes relationships. I could just as easily talk about Steve Murley in Iowa, Joe Sanfelippo in Wisconsin, Dan Frazier in Minnesota, Chris Gaines in Missouri, Matt Miller in Ohio, Steve Webb in Washington and countless other outstanding superintendents with whom I have established strong personal connections. Social media is shrinking the world and allowing school leaders to connect in ways never possible before.

Many superintendents have told me that they find social media intimidating and they don’t know how to get started. In 2014, Mike Lubelfeld, superintendent in Deerfield, Ill., and I started a monthly Twitter chat for superintendents called #SuptChat. On the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. Central, we co-moderate a discussion about relevant educational and leadership issues. During this one-hour professional development session, superintendents and other school leaders learn from one another, “follow” one another and build a network of colleagues from across the country and the world.

Last year, I was working with several colleagues to create legislation that would allow school districts in Illinois to run virtual snow days, something we called E-Learning Days. I turned to Twitter and found John Trout, a superintendent in Elkhart, Ind., who was tweeting about the same topic in his former district. I reached out to him, and he soon became an invaluable resource for me (and really for Illinois) as we implemented a pilot program in our state. 

More importantly, Trout and I are now part of each other’s learning networks.

Ready Advice

Another of my favorite social media tools is Voxer, a free walkie-talkie style application. Where Twitter allows you to connect and share with 140 character tweets, Voxer allows you to do the same without a length limitation, while actually hearing each other’s voices conveying the messages.

When confronted with a difficult problem of practice, I often use Voxer to ask a question to the colleagues in my PLN. Throughout the day, I will get notifications that people have responded and I can listen to their thoughts, experiences and advice.

If you want to learn about how to get connected using tools like Twitter, Voxer, Instagram, Periscope, Facebook or others, feel free to connect with me or a connected education leader in your area.

It has been said many times that the superintendency can be a lonely job because there is only one of us in any district. Building one’s professional learning network creates a support system of critical friends, role models and experienced advice givers. When we connect and help one another, our students and our communities benefit. We are all better together.


Nick Polyak

superintendent of the Leyden Community High School District 212 in Franklin Park, Ill. E-mail: npolyak@leyden212.org. Twitter: @npolyak