Battling skepticism.

“Skepticism has many definitions, but generally refers to any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts, or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.”

Source: Wikipedia

Yesterday in a conversation with an elementary principal colleague, I allowed myself to become irritated.

I wasn’t irritated with Bill. He seems to be a genuinely great person who works hard to bring the best learning opportunities to his school. I’ve never actually met him, although I imagine I will engage in a face-to-face conversation at some point in the future, since his school is in a neighboring county in Pennsylvania. P.S. Bill is working to develop his PLN, so visit his profile and say hello! 

Principal networking was the topic of our conversation. In our county, there are planned elementary principals’ meetings at our IU about once every two months or so. Turnout is low- maybe 12-15. Considering how many elementary principals there are in our county, it’s not an impressive gathering. They do their best to accommodate our schedules by beginning at 7:30 and striving to return us to our buildings by 9:30 to avoid interruptions to our day, which we all appreciate. They offer topics that are interesting and informative. There are robust conversations. We end up leaving with packets of paper. Not my favorite.

But I wonder – what about the two months between meetings? Surely we have topics to discuss, questions to ask, and may be in need of support during the “off” time? Why limit our network capabilities in this way? Resources are sometimes shared via a listserv (I didn’t even know to spell listserv), so needless to say there isn’t a lot of sharing and communication that is ongoing and/or powerful.

Bill shared that elementary principals in his county met for the first time using Elluminate. Wow! I was impressed to hear that they utilized that format to streamline the meeting process. Sadly, attendance was low. I believe he said there were about 2 or 3 participants.

2 or 3. Out of a county of 9 districts, one of which is a large urban district with 15 elementary schools. Imagine the power of bringing all of those principals together- each with unique skill sets, ideas, questions, concerns, and resources to share.

“If you build it, they will come.” Not always. Because, as we know, to delve into working with new technologies and interacting with social media in new ways requires a foundation of trust. In one another, in the systems, in the ideologies.

It takes courage and an open mind, too.

Here’s my irritation: A participant in Bill’s session voiced his concern about Twitter, in that you’re not able to trust who you follow online because they might not be who they say they are. Really? As building administrators, that’s the level of awareness we have about social media? I worry for our teachers and students in our schools if that is the case.

Could you possibly encounter someone online who is portraying themselves as an elementary principal but who really isn’t? I suppose. (And I could think of about a billion more glamorous personas to assume!) But a misconception that Twitter profiles are fluff comes from someone who has only encountered the portrayal of what social media could be. He has yet to experience this type of networking for himself. It comes from a need to learn more about digital literacies. And if he hasn’t experienced it, he surely isn’t modeling it for his school community.

So, as school leaders who find benefit in this type of networking, we need to do a better job of demonstrating how and why it makes a difference. Many of us share our ideas on our blogs, at conferences, in publications…. and I think we’re really getting somewhere with school administrators as a whole.

I know it is not the only way to network, and I appreciate face-to-face opportunities for learning. But I know the demands of this role become more incredible every day.  And I know that we all experience the strain and stress this job can bring, and that having a network I can turn to is sometimes my saving grace on the rare occasion when I steer towards my wit’s end. They always have answers, and they always provide support.

So what I’m looking for in the comments section below are ways that administrators who are new to social media and professional learning networks can get started. Help their fears subside… help them battle the skepticism and preconceived notions they may have about the tools and the connections made. By sharing one real example of how social media has added to your learning, and/or by listing resources such as Connected Principals where administrators can go to gain a sense of community, or book titles such as Communicating and Connecting with Social Mediawe can help grow our collective.

Please add to the conversation! 

CC licensed image shared by Flickr user heyjudegallery

37 Replies to “Battling skepticism.”

  1. Just one resource that I’ve gained from being on twitter? There’s no possible way…my list goes on and on!! Basically, I couldn’t imagine my life without twitter! Here are a few my posts that talk about it:
    http://principalj.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-1-recommended-resource.html
    http://principalj.blogspot.com/2011/10/expanding-my-pln-on-twitter.html
    http://principalj.blogspot.com/2011/11/meeting-educational-celebrity.html
    http://principalj.blogspot.com/2012/01/web-20-how-do-i-love-you-let-me-count.html

  2. A thought provoking post as always. At our last principals gathering a discussion about opening access to youtube was held. I had naively thought that the debate would not even be close and my students would be able to access YouTube by the end of the week. What I quickly learned was that there are some deeply rooted fears surrounding technology. People are afraid students may briefly see something they shouldn’t, afraid of the comments section and afraid of students publishing without the proper permissions. Principals have dealt with notes being passed in class, name-calling and other more challenging behavior difficulties since the creation of the job. These are seen as opportunities to have conversations with students about choices and the kind of people they want to be. Transferring this kind of approach to technology is met with resistance.
    The bus has to keep moving anyway. Principals have to keep sharing stories of professional and student learning with technology in presentations to the board, in blogs, on twitter and through in person discussions. You are building a Tribe – Keep on.

    1. Fear drives a lot of decision-making among administrators. And why shouldn’t it? We’re the ones who deal with the results of poor choices having been made. But, we can’t let the poor choices of the few impact the potential benefits of using a tool for many others. Plan for and seek to accommodate situations that may arise, focus the conversations on learning, and keep the bus moving. 🙂

  3. We skeptical of things we haven’t tried. If we only judge social media on what the media says we would probably never use it. We never hear how social media has helped educators deepen relationships and enduring understanding about various topics. I have grown so much following and conversing with people on twitter. We have started intergratimg Daily 5 into our literacy blocks thanks to Following PrincipalJ.

    1. I actually find the statement “Twitter is the best PD I ever had” a bit misguiding. For me, Twitter is just the VEHICLE that has allowed me to connect with other educators who in turn have shared resources or engaged in conversations with me that have helped me learn new and interesting things, and to consider perspectives I never before had. Your network is what you make of it. And I think you’re seeing some very real benefits both personally and with your staff/in your school. So thank you for sharing!

  4. What I am dealing with, aside from learning to be efficient with pln’s, is getting past the idea that relations will be less the more we involve social networks. I’m meeting people all the time but for some reason social network relations are less than f2f in some way.

    1. I understand your perspective. This is all about balance. No one is saying you should transform your networks so you only interact with people online. There are very real, human, personal interactions and relationships that occur among colleagues who have only met via social media, but those relationships, like all others, require investment, time, and commitment. That being said, I encounter admin who give networking w/social media a try, but after a short while conclude that it isn’t meaningful for them. The reasons why? They do little to reach out and connect with others, therefore the return is not powerful. The time and efforts invested up front definitely pay off in the long run!

  5. The fear of the unknown leads people to consider the worst possible scenario. Any change from the norm can be scary, especially if you don’t fully understand all of the positive implications of the change. I remember education before the internet and all the concerns people had about using email and allowing kids access to it. Once it became common place those concerns were put to rest. The uneasiness people have will eventually subside as well. Social media is a powerful tool, and one that has brought me a wealth of information instantly. I watch as many of my peers slowly join in and find how powerful it can be. Sometimes time and positive experiences is what people need.

    1. You’re right… experiences make the difference. Allowing others the freedom to experience learning in this new way is important.

  6. Lyn, for me the greatest challenge is balance. I have not yet been able to make f-2-f connections with most of the other administrators I connect with in Twitter. I gain much from these interactions. However, I’m also fortunate to have 20 colleague elementary principals in my own District and I work hard to connect with them too. All of that is in addition to being all there for my students, teachers and parents. Oh yeah, I need to also be all there for my family. It just amounts to a lot to balance. I think keeping balance is probably the most common challenge for most administrators.

    1. Jason, you are absolutely right, this is all about balance. My concern is when administrators write off social networking as ineffective when they have not yet taken the time to learn more about it and/or try it themselves. You are very fortunate to have a strong, local network, and you have made it a point to engage with your online community as well. There are days when I simply don’t get to Twitter, and that’s okay. My unread Reader feeds are 1000+. And that’s okay. We do what we can, constantly exposing ourselves to the best ideas and resources and working to become more efficient communicators and collaborators! It’s important we model this process for our communities. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Hey Lyn,

    A great post. I hear your frustration and I have experienced my share of it too, believe me. I don’t know how to convince those who are willing to close their minds and make (irrational) judgments based on rumour or conjecture.

    There will be stay at “homes” who never budge. I don’t know how they could possibly consider themselves “leaders”, but they will, sadly, always exist.

    Aside from the “stay at homes”, those who are reluctant but more open may need to know that they can start as lurkers and consumers. Your wonderful post about your own journey is a great resource. The other angle I have tried is to demonstrate what social media can do for the school community (school accounts first). I dunno. Some days I feel all out of ideas, quite frankly.

    I wonder if this is a question of a larger nature? I wonder if we need to re-examine the basic core requirements for becoming a school leader. If I was in a position to, that is where I would start. Right at the selection process itself. What do you think?

    Shannon

    1. Thanks, Shannon… I totally agree with you. Education of new school leaders is a huge piece. In every principal learning session, grad course, and with every new principal I’ve spoken to, leadership in this area is vastly lacking. If the leaders of the leaders aren’t adept with this type of learning, how can we expect new administrators to be fluent as well? People like Scott McLeod are seeking to make an impact in this area… I think the “louder” we get as a collective, the more we can support those new to this line of thinking. Thanks for all you do!

  8. Twitter can give anyone the whole world at their fingertips. Mentioning that you meet with county principals to gain knowledge shows the request to grow, but they should realize they limit their growth by not opening up to other resources. And if you join twitter you don’t have to dive in head first, slowly step & use it at your own pace.
    My .02

  9. I definitely can relate to your post. As I visit schools doing professional development dealing with social media, I am sometimes amazed at the lack of knowledge admins have about this subject. They are so busy with administrivia (routine tasks) that they seem to have no time for much else. It’s the old axiom of “too much on my plate.” No time to establish a PLN or learn about the benefits of Twitter and blogging. The question I ask is: Are you overworked or under organized? Activities need to be prioritized towards what is best for the students. Mundane tasks or leading a forward thinking, vibrant learning community. Lead, follow or get out of the way.
    As long as we keep pushing for what we know works, eventually the wall will come down and the plate will be better organized.

  10. Dear Lyn,
    I am a reformed social media skeptic, now coming close to my one year anniversary on twitter. As I first lurked, than shared links, then engaged in some conversation, and finally developed relationships my confidence grew. Last spring I was out with my fifteen year old daughter and told her we needed to get home as I had a skype meeting with a principal I met on twitter. “What?” she laughingly said. “You are speaking to somebody you met online. He says he’s a principal. How do you know he’s a principal.” She was making fun of my former misunderstanding of social media and I laughed right along with her, recognizing how little I had understood of the potential for collaboration. The principal with whom I was skyping was Akevy Greenblatt, @akevy613 now one of my go-to colleagues for many educational questions I have and thoughts I want to reflect upon. Intereactions with him, with you, and with so many others has enriched my professional practice enormously. I would recommend patience with educators reluctant to try to use social media for professional learning. Encouragement and support go a long way. They certainly did for me!
    Shira Leibowitz

  11. The shift in learning that the various forms of social media has encouraged is quite challenging for some educators (and parents) to accept. For teachers who are, in Eleanor Newman’s words, trailblazers and pioneers, the exploration and use of tools like Twitter seems like a natural progression on a journey of lifelong learning. However, for others it is met with fear and trepidation, a natural reaction to change. I have found Twitter to be a powerful tool to help me learn; I agree that it is not the best PD ever, but it does open opportunities for learning and growth that otherwise would have been closed to me. When confronted by teachers question the use social media for learning, I ask them whether or not they collaborate with colleagues in the school and district, if they have spen time in the class of other teachers when they share information. We share Iinformation (tests, quizzes, lessons) all the time because we exercise some professional judgement. Using social media as a professional learning tool is no different; we need to learn how to use it, we need to learn how exercise our professional judgement, we need to accept that our learning environment has changed.

  12. Lyn,
    Another great post!
    Yes I am fairly new to Twitter. This summer will be two years. I never imagined myself on twitter let alone blogging and starting a Chat for Jewish educators. I think people need to “dip their toe in the water” and try it. Take it slow and at first just lurk follow the #edchat and #cpchat streams using TweetDeck or Hootsuite. Follow some blogs and then once the water is right jump in.
    One thing that I have personally found is that Twitter is a very safe environment and people want to hear what you have to say. Otherwise how do explain an Orthodox Rabbi from Memphis TN. with over 2200 followers.
    Shira, thanks for the shout out. I have grown a lot from being connected with you and the other members of my PLN.
    My only regret is that I have only met a handful of my amazing PLN in person.

    Lyn, Thanks again for sharing and for being an inspiration to me.

    Akevy

  13. Twitter is full of real people leading to real opportunities. Just this past December I went to the SLATE tech conference here in Wisconsin. I attended some great sessions and also led a session on how to use Twitter as a tool for professional development. After the end of a great day of learning, I head to the Tweet-up and chat with some great people–some I know IRL and some only through Twitter. After saying hi to several Wisconsinites, I see that Scott McLeod (that day’s keynote) is among us. I say hi (Dr. McLeod is an extremely nice guy) and we chat for a bit about education and technology. Part of my conversation with him was my desire to start a doctoral program in the near future. A week later I get an email from Dr. McLeod telling me to check out the brand new U Kentucky CASTLE doc program. A few emails and phone call later, I’m ready to apply and hope to start the program this fall. These are real people, real good smart helpful people.

  14. I am a teacher, not a principal, but enjoyed this post. I feel like some type of evangelist for Twitter…
    …with my colleagues, “no, no, really! It is the best source for educational news and commentary ever! Even better than the Diigo list!”
    …with students, “Seriously, you want to go into politics but you haven’t been following #SOPA or #NDAA? Man, get an account!”
    …with administrators, and that disappoints me. If we are being pushed toward technology, we need to trust our leaders are on the cutting edge.

    I see intense need to network partly to marshal resources to meet the challenges coming in accountability and partly to meet allies in a battle to maintain public education. Twitter provides me with both nightly.

    I want to establish teacher leader’s network in my locale… one that has quarterly face-to-face meetings, but one that also has a social media aspect. Should it be Ning? The English Companion Ning (http://englishcompanion.ning.com/) is wildly successful. Should it be Twitter?
    I don’t know… but it better be something.

    1. Cody,
      Great thoughts. I appreciate you pointing out the need for administrators to be leaders in using social networking. Twitter is amazing at providing professional resources and collaboration. I can’t imagine what I would be doing/not doing without this resource. Kudos to you.

  15. Hi Lyn

    I appreciate how you’ve captured the essence of the challenge we face in adapting our existing systems to incorporate these brave new tools, and share your ‘irritation’.

    In communicating with students about poor choices I often use this statement:
    “I understand why you made that decision, I just can’t accept it.” I feel this captures my reflections on this whole topic. Our current reality in schools is (generally) fairly controlled, blocked and filtered; and that makes us almost unique in the world we now live in.

    I’m reading David Weinberger’s book Too Big to Know ~ http://www.toobigtoknow.com/ ~ right now and he makes some key points about our actual reality; that networks have redefined the meaning of knowledge~ where authority, credentials and paper texts used to moderate and filter knowledge as a scarcity, now networks (using the web) are now used to moderate, filter and distribute knowledge in a matter that is linked and therefore, infinite. Think of how our twitter feeds and blogs are layered and interconnected; through links and relationships- here we are having a juicy dialogue and we may never meet f2f.

    I understand the reluctance that many have towards this reality, but that doesn’t mean it is not the reality~ denial is not just a river in Egypt:). Among the many reasons for using these tools to connect that I share with colleagues-
    -it expands my scope of what is knowable and can be considered
    -it lays the foundation for what I will face as a public school leader in the next decade: very soon the students who live fully networked lives will be the parents of our students, I plan on NOT being left behind, with no network of to support me.

    I’m glad that you are part of my network:)

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  17. As a teacher, I read blogs like this to be inspired by administrators who are learners, who are risk-takers, who are fearlessly searching out what’s on the horizon that will improve education. I’d follow someone like this a long way.

    Maybe it’s good to be skeptical but lead on anyway.
    Maybe it’s good to be cautious, but why not assume the risks and test it out for the people you lead so we can benefit from your experience.
    Maybe some will pose as a principal, but I’d imagine it wouldn’t be long before they’d become disinterested in the conversation or would be “found” out by those who truly are involved in administration.

    I hope you’ll continue to work on this connected leadership for administrators. It’s going to make all the difference in transforming our schools.

    1. Thanks, Marsha, for sharing essential components of inspired administrators. I’d agree with your thoughts on pushing forward past the discomfort, in order to make learning real for kids. You continue to inspire me daily!

  18. I’m a school counselor who has been blogging for about a year now. My morning routine, which now includes checking my favorite teacher blogs over morning coffee, not only keeps me up on trends and resources but also connects me to the authentic challenges and celebrations that teachers are having in their classrooms. This has been a gift because it allows me to peripherally have a pulse on my teachers and their class families. My 2nd stop in the morning if time permits is Pinterest, where more and more counseling and teaching ideas are being pinned and shared. There’s SO much power in collaborating, piggybacking, and springboarding. All of this creativity has sparked a path in my right brain and I’m happier and more productive at work than I’ve been in a very long time. For books, I’m plowing through Networking Is A Contact Sport by Wisconsin author Joe Sweeney. I’m also reading Mindset by Carol Dweck and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Barbara, and for sharing the resources you’re referencing to support your learning! I’d love to share the boards you’re using on Pinterest with my counselor!

  19. So I’m way late to this conversation, Pal, but thanks for the plug to CCWSM.

    More importantly, thanks for serving as a leader and a voice on the role that social media should play in the learning of administrators. As a guy who has chosen to stay in the classroom and has grown WAY frustrated with the slow pace of change in teaching and learning environments, I’m convinced that the only way we’ll see things change in a meaningful way is when principals start to see their own learning changed — and that can only happen when they hear folks like you and the Connected Principals Nation over and over again.

    I owe you one.

    So do our kids.

    Hope to see you at #educon,
    Bill

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, as always, Bill. Your support means the world to me. I had a blast with you last weekend. Even though you bullied me into karaoke. 🙂 Looking forward to continued inspiration from you and your tireless efforts with kids, colleagues, and leaders.

      1. “I’m convinced that the only way we’ll see things change in a meaningful way is when principals start to see their own learning changed” – a brilliant quote. Thank you. I’ll be passing these words of wisdom through my twitter and fb posts.

  20. Lyn- Thanks for voicing your anxiety here. I feel it too when I go into work. I was the first on my principals team to attempt to harness Twitter after becoming inspired by @NMHS_Principal up in New Jersey. I have been trying to drum up further interest by hosting trainings for teachers and parents, but principals are slower to try the tool.

    (6 months ago) Once I played around a bit on Twitter I could see how immediately it could have a major impact on kids, teachers, parents and my school as a whole. I didn’t plan on doing much “tweeting” bc I didn’t really think I had much to say that was original, but with my grad school readings and conversations happening there and at work, retweets turned into blog posts. Twitter literally forced me to begin writing a blog (eface.blogspot.com) which now allows me the reflection I need to unpack various issues as they arise around using technology to support home-school partnerships.

    I don’t but the whole “Twitter imposing as someone else” idea- it’s not Facebook or used for entertainment purposes for educators-but for PD, lifelong learning and PLN building. Another principal, who has recently begun using Twitter, just approached our director with me to put an admin Twitter training on the agenda for late February. She agreed! We plan to use Kathy Schrock, Steven Anderson, Eric Sheninger and of course the talented Lyn Hilt to help get them inspired and going.

    If you’re an educator and you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing out on a tool that can make your job more efficient and force you to become the reflective practitioner and collaborator your students, staff and parents deserve. It’s all about the hashtag, and the ones I focus my learning on are #ptchat, #cpchat, #edchat, #edtech and #elemchat.

    Thanks for always helping me think deeper.

    1. Joe, great chatting with you yesterday. There’s definitely a level of frustration encountered when you have discovered power in connecting, yet those who work with you in your physical spaces are oblivious. Part of me thinks that administrators are just so completely overwhelmed that the thought of engaging with yet another tool in a different way seems laughable. The role of the principal, as you know, is pretty much a role that 3-4 different people should be performing. And then I think- isn’t that even more of a reason for a principal to connect with others, to develop a network of support and encouragement, to share ideas, to streamline work flow, to communicate more efficiently and effectively? Those of us who connect and manage to stay connected have pushed through the discomfort in order to make it work for us. Keep sharing and caring!

  21. Lyn,

    I’m approaching my 2-month Twitter anniversary, and I can’t imagine where I was at the end of 2011 without it. After thirteen years, I finally feel energized about my career choice again. As you said, it’s not Twitter per se, but the resources one finds on there. Since I’ve joined, I’ve written books on Storybird (thanks to you!), made a Prezi, attended (and presented at) an EdCamp, made a LiveBinder of teacher resources I’ve found on Twitter, talked a teacher into filming themselves and putting it online, started a tech help video series for my teachers… oh, and have become a Twittervangelist, too.

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