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Building a connected, transparent learning community

4 min read


“When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold. This is neither good nor bad; it is just the truth. Our impact is significant; our focus becomes the school’s focus.”

As I’ve begun building my own connected learning community at Knapp Elementary School, these words by distinguished principal, speaker and author Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) run truer than ever for me. Thanks to Twitter, I now consider Todd a friend and colleague.

For a learning community to be a “connected” one, the school leader must explicitly role model professional development and transparent collaboration while engaging regularly in a Personal Learning Network, or PLN. Overall in using social media in education, there is still a great deal of fear in use, mainly because what you put out there is “public.” I would push back on those upper administrators, school boards and lawyers who maintain this fear and ask them the following questions.

Are the students benefiting or suffering due to the fear you or your school system hold for social media? What is your school about? What are your daily hopes and dreams for your students? How can families at home partner with your school team to support the goals you’ve identified as most important?

By moving past initial fears and harnessing social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, school leaders have a daily opportunity to keep the focus on the the teaching and learning, and all those that contribute to a school’s sense of awesomeness. For me, it took Eric Sheninger’s “Scholastic Administrator” video and article to relinquish my fears and become inspired to utilize these tools for my own learning community.

I feel very strongly that the 21st century school leader must model how to be transparent and collaborative in his actions on a daily basis. I’ve found that social media for two-way communication between home and school is a fantastic tool, but it MUST be used to complement face-to-face practices. Technology tools are just “tools” unless you also make a daily investment in human interactions to build lasting relationships. The following are some ways that school leaders can begin to build a connected and transparent learning community.

  • Lose the fear. Commit to transparency. Have confidence that you’re doing everything within your power to provide for your students, staff, parents and community. Why keep that a secret? Celebrate it. Focus on developing a school culture that screams innovation, collaboration and a commitment to life-long learning. Get connected yourself. Sign up for Twitter. Watch the conversations happen. Arne Duncan declared this month Connected Educators Month. If you follow the hashtag #ce12, you’ll be exposed to a plethora of resources to help build your social media capacity. Take it slow. Follow other connected educators and schools. You don’t have to worry about missing the best tweets because the best ones always come back around.
  • Adopt a connected educator mentor. Just tweet: “Looking for someone to show me the ropes on Twitter and how to be a connected educator.” There are thousands of selfless educators who will help you at the drop of a hat. Kids win when educators around the world are collaborating on how to best meet their needs and the needs of their families. Attend an #EdCamp. See what shared learning looks like in person. It’s much different than the traditional conference – hence the “un-conference” tag. I really needed this experience to see social media’s impact on our field in it’s fullest form. Plus, you get to meet the people you connected with on a daily basis! Relationships matter. It’s free!
  • Participate in hashtag chats like #edchat (Tuesdays at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern), #ptchat (Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern), #satchat (Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m. Eastern), and others. Follow Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1 who provides us a full run-down on all of the free, transparent and collaborative professional development out there. Embed it into daily school practices. Use Twitter in PLC meetings. Reference a resource you found on Twitter. Talk about it’s impact. Share how you are learning and the excitement it brings for educators, parents and students. Share all of this at your next leadership meeting. “Tweet it Forward.”

For applicable school-based social media examples, check out my #140edu Conference talk — Home & School 2.0: Envisioning a Connected Learning Community.

Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) is lead learner at Knapp Elementary School in suburban Philadelphia. He is also a doctoral learner at the University of Pennsylvania studying social media’s impact on home-school partnerships. Participate in a weekly #PTchat (Parent-Teacher Chat) that he hosts on Wednesdays at 9 pm. Eastern. He writes a blog aimed to share innovative family engagement ideas for schools called eFACE Today.