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Ed-tech administrators offer advice to help others build personal learning networks

administrators-connectedEd-tech leaders gathered for a Connected Educator Month webinar to explore what it means to be a connected administrator; how connected administrators empower teachers, students, and parents; and how a few simple actions can lead to a more connected and positive school culture.

Moderated by Tom Daccord, director of EdTechTeacher, a professional learning organization, panelists included:
Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey
Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent for learning in the Burlington Public Schools (Mass.)
Carl Hooker, director for instructional technology in the Eanes Independent School District (Texas)

Below are the panelists’ responses to a number of tech-centric questions.

What does it mean to be a connected administrator?

Being a connected administrator means developing a person learning network (PLN) and using colleagues’ experiences to inform school leadership decisions, the panelists said.

(Next page: Valuable answers to important questions)

“The ability to connect with people around the country who have done similar work enabled Burlington High School to do its own one-to-one initiative as effectively as possible,” Larkin said. “We’re all working on similar things, whether that’s Common Core, building our infrastructure, or going one-to-one. There’s no reason for us to have to do all this work alone. Honestly, the best type of professional development you can get is to build your PLN.”

Being as connected as possible can only serve to help position today’s students, who, experts say, will hold jobs that don’t yet exist in today’s workforce.

“We can’t do business the same way and prepare our kids for what they’re facing,” Larkin said. “There’s so much strength to being connected, and I have a whole school district that has benefited.”

A connected administrator leverages “the ability to learn from anyone, at any time, from anywhere, for free,” said Eric Sheninger. “It’s so important for us to be able to model lifelong learning for our constituents and stakeholders in our districts, but also to be able to acquire resources, strategies, and ideas in a timely fashion.”

Administrators have an endless number of things to do each day, but it’s important to make time to self-improve, he added.

Connected administrators model “knowledge, camaraderie, a collaborative spirit, and a willingness to engage in conversations about professional practice,” he added.

“My question is, ‘Why would you not be connected, if you’re an administrator?’” said Carl Hooker. “Ego gets in the way sometimes—we want to have the best solution and have control, but if you just let go a little bit and let other people help, it’s amazing how things can go.”

What are the best ways for school administrators to get connected? What are the best strategies to use once connected?

“There’s some difficulty in pinpointing the best way,” Sheninger said. “That’s the beauty in being a connected administrator. You need to find the way that works best for you. Every tool does the same thing—it’s a catalyst for connection…so my advice is to pick a tool that works for you. Build your own PLN with tools that are going to best help you.”

Once an administrator chooses a tool, be it Twitter, Google+, or another tool, he or she should lurk for a bit to observe conversations and learn about what others are doing. Once comfortable, he or she should begin to participate in the conversation and engage with other administrators and educators.

“It’s not so much about the tools—tools get you started, but it’s the people you connect with who are really the power behind connectivity and these PLNs,” he said.

“It’s more than just the tools,” Hooker said. “Any administrator who has gotten to where they are has done so because they’ve been able to connect with people. They have the tools within them; it’s just a matter of finding what fits.”

“The most important thing is to build your network and start organizing it,” Larkin said. “Whatever it is that you’re interested in, start to build that network. Once you make those connections and start to categorize people, then you can find different ways to connect.”

How do you explain the benefits of being connected to other administrators? What do you recommend or suggest to those who express hesitation or skepticism when it comes to getting connected?

“[Focus on] who our clients are,” Hooker said. “Our clients are students, parents, and teachers, and how are we connecting with them? Model that behavior, what you’re trying to get kids and teachers to do. It’s hard, but it’s worth the risk.”

Lack of time, and simply being afraid to jump into social media, are two big excuses, Larkin said.

“Honestly, in my mind, our job as school leaders is to communicate with our stakeholders. These tools allow you to do better than you have before,” he said. “We are our own PR agencies at this point. For the people who are afraid, all we can do is point to concrete examples of how [social media and PLNs] can be used well.”

“I was that administrator who believed that social media had absolutely no place in education and no place in my professional life,” Sheninger said. I felt [I didn’t] have the time…Time is the most-used excuse, in education, to not move forward.”

Sheninger said his mindset changed when he read an article about Twitter, which made him realize that he could use the free tool to better communicate with all of his stakeholders.

“I realized I had not been educated on how these tools could become essential leadership elements,” he said. “Being connected, professionally, is probably the most beneficial tool at my fingertips—and it literally is at my fingertips.”

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