More superintendents blogging to keep in touch

When a quick Google search yields nearly 400,000 entries, it’s time to recognize that superintendent blogs are no longer a novelty.
From tiny Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District in New York to behemoths like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, top leaders are using blogs to "talk" to parents, employees, and other key constituents.

After reading several and cruising dozens more, the net effect makes me realize our public schools are in very good hands.

Whether written by the superintendent or ghost-written by a communications person or staff member, most blogs set the right tone, offering insight and wisdom in a more conversational tone than traditional "letters from the superintendent."

While it’s tempting to get long-winded, many blogs are short and sweet, featuring weekly–if not daily–entries.

Frank Morgan, superintendent of Kershaw County School District in Camden, S.C., blogs daily–typically to say congrats and thanks to staff members and students, or encourage parents to participate in forums and other district events.

Other superintendents take a more in-depth approach, posting well-researched and insightful blogs on more complex topics. 

Tackling tough issues from cyber bullying to the controversial new vaccination for HPV, Debra Kaplan, superintendent of Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District, writes with insight and warmth.

Often tapping news items for inspiration, Kaplan uses her blog to help parents and community members get to know her or to raise awareness about important issues facing the school district.

Quoting new research on the importance of sleep and her struggle in getting adequate rest, for example, Kaplan reminded parents that sleep impacts academic learning for students, too.

Local media outlets and the New York Times have taken note, using the blog as fodder for news stories.

"I’d rather write more in-depth and get a good topic, than do one every week just to get something out there," says Kaplan, who started the blog as way to introduce herself to the community.

"I think it has really helped me as a new superintendent, to let the community get to know me," says Kaplan. "You can’t be everywhere, see everyone, and know everyone. A blog is kind of a personal touch."

Parents and community members have responded well, according to Kaplan. "You get a lot of nice feedback from people, who eMail you to let you know what they’re thinking about," says Kaplan, noting this helps her keep abreast of community issues and concerns.

Kaplan only writes about topics she feels passionate about–a trait shared by other top bloggers, according to Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book.

"Good blogs have a viewpoint and a voice," writes Weil in "Top 7 Tips to Write an Effective Business Blog," a free PDF available through her web site. "They reveal something about the way the blogger thinks–as well as what he or she thinks about."

In addition to focusing on topics that you feel passionate about and sharing your personal viewpoint, Weil also recommends concentrating on writing shorter and more frequent entries.

Like Morgan and Kaplan, Weil urges bloggers to use an informal, "Dear Mom" approach when writing.

Weil also recommends keeping entries short and linking to other articles to keep things fresh. "The fact that you noticed the article and have an opinion about it is what counts," she says.

Subheads, bullets, one-sentence paragraphs, and other graphic organizers can help readers skim the contents quickly, according to Weil–an important consideration, given the notoriously short attention span of most web surfers.

Keep readers in mind when writing headlines, she urges. Clever blog titles that don’t clearly convey the subject matter might lose, rather than attract, online readers.

By crafting titles with care and including specifics, key words, brand names, and experts, bloggers will increase clarity for their readers and the likelihood of search-engine pickup, according to Weil.

Just because blogs represent a form of new media doesn’t mean educators can ignore grammar and spelling.

An educator who can’t spell, can’t seem to handle simple declarative statements, or can’t manage the right subject-verb agreement is going to send the wrong message, which is why Weil and other experts recommend never serving as the lone proofreader on this and other critical communications.

Because regular postings help build readership and search-engine success, Weil also recommends posting at least weekly.

"The more you post, the more content you are creating," writes Weil. "Since each new post or entry is its own web page, you are increasing the chances that search engines will find your blog. I can’t emphasize frequency and consistency strongly enough."

Given the interest among parents, employees, and other stakeholders in what school leaders have to say in most communities, less frequent blogs might work for some districts.

"This year I haven’t had as much time to [blog], and people really seem to miss it," says Kaplan, who usually takes about two hours to get her all her thoughts on paper once she has a topic in mind. "Finding topics that are interesting, valuable, and that I’m personally interested in is what takes me the most time. About once a month is all I can manage."


"Top 7 Tips to Write an Effective Business Blog"

Kershaw County School District Blog

"School Ties" (Debra Kaplan’s blog)

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