Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Get Admin Connected - Help them find "The Switch"!

I’m fatter than I was when I was in university.  Yup, not much doubt about that.  I was in pretty good shape back in those days.  I could run 10 kilometers in right around 40 minutes.  I could bench press 275 pounds.  I could dunk a basketball (at least if someone alley-ooped it for me).  I had the makings of a flat stomach.  I could drive a golf ball 280-290 yards.  I probably was better looking (but 2 times 0 is still zero, so whatever).  Can you hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” in the background?

Now, I run a couple of times per week, and my knees hurt.  40 minute 10km run—ha, not quite, maybe break 48 minutes and throw up after.  My shoulder would pop right out of it’s socket en route to my decapitation if I tried to bench 275.  290 of the tee needs a big tail wind and a severe elevation change for me now.  As for the stomach part, well, I guess I could wear pants with a 30 inch waist, but a 36 is much more comfortable and doesn’t disgust family and friends nearly as much.  Why am I telling you this?  It will provide illustration for “the switch” that is inside each and everyone of us.  I will get back to that.

On Sunday, I got the opportunity to spy on one of the Educon sessions in Philadelphia that was put on by George Couros and Patrick Larkin.  The talk centered on the question of “How to get more administrators connected”—in this case, to social media and Web 2.0 tools.  Of course, not being at the conference, I had to rely on the online AV feed, the chat, and the back chat that was taking place on the #educon thread on Twitter.  The session was fascinating and invigorating:  there were multiple perspectives—teachers, administrators, parents, even representatives from tertiary education.  There was plenty of emotion, numerous bits of gentle finger-pointing, examples of accepting blame, and a general bearing of souls.

As a result of this session, I wanted to support George and Patrick.  They are two of the many crusaders that are out there trying to push people into uncharted waters.  And they need help.

So I thought that I would jot down my Top 5 ways PLUS ONE to get administrators connected.  I am only one person, (I fully recognize and accept that) but I represent the voice of a busy high school principal with (two children under the age of three) who did not utilize anything more than email and Powerpoint just a short four months ago.  For some reason, I now am considered by some (probably more wrongly than rightly) to being a technological leader in my school and school district.  So, here goes—this is how I think we can encourage administrators like me to get connected.

But there is one qualifier: I believe the first five thoughts here really do make a difference, and I mean that sincerely. And if they don’t work at first, perseverance says try, try again, and DON'T give up.  But as compelling as these strategies might be, as convincing as you may think you are, and as often as you are going to try (and please do keep trying), the sixth one is the kicker.

1.     Create a sense of urgency:  As someone new to social media and getting connected and, I needed to feel this urgency.  If you like fatty food, going to the doctor going and finding out your cholesterol is too high, that your gall bladder is malfunctioning, or some other critical issue allows you to play the movie forward and see what things might look like if you don’t make some changes.  Maybe this analogy is too rudimentary and crude, but there needed to be some sort of initial, armpit sweat-generating moment for me to want to embark on the social media journey.  For me, it came from two speakers, Will Richardson (@willrich45) who gave a keynote in Chicago in October, and Tony Wagner's Keynote made me think completely differently with respect to the skills that children will need in the future

2.     Show them the potential for improving the capacity of their organization:  Every school-based and district-based administrator wants to have an organization that is brimming with capacity.  Distributed leadership is incredibly important, and (hopefully) all administrators recognize that having an school or district filled with people who will lead the charge in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and technology is a rich district indeed.  Show them this video—it makes so much sense in terms of developing capacity.  Check out this TED Talk, a talk that we all need to watch.

3.     Show them something cool:  I posted this on my blog a while ago when I stole it directly from George Couros (@gcouros—a must follow).  It demonstrates the power of a PLN through Twitter, Screenr and Google Docs.  It is very cool, and in your own context, I know you can come up with something even cooler.

4.     Pester them with your support:  Nothing glamorous or Web 2.0 here. Administrators need to be worn down a bit.  Invite them to your school or classroom.  Show them what you are doing with social media, with blogs, wikis.  Even better, have your students pester them, have your students demonstrate what social media does.  If a Grade 6 student can use social media, for the love of mercy, I think an administrator with a few letters behind his name can do it to, can't they?

5.     Show them examples of other Admin that are doing it:  There are SO many to list, but it’s pretty tough to get a better example than senior administrator Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver.  There are hundreds of principals out there as well, but Chris is pushing this aspect of the Superintendency to a new level.  As well, here is a list of administrators in British Columbia, and a list of Canadian Educators on Twitter just as an example, and here are a few more from cybraryman1 (thanks to @TheHomeworkDog and @sram_socrates)

But there is one more point to consider after looking at this list (PS. I am positive that others will come up with much better lists than this), and it is absolutely key.  Isaac Newton said:

"If I have seen further than others, it has been because I am standing on the shoulders of giants" 

Yes, we need to get to know giants. We need to seek them out. We need to stand on their shoulders.  But we also have to have the intrinsic motivation to climb up on their shoulders.  Alfie Kohn would agree. Something needs to flick that internal switch—it is a switch exists in every one of us.  The hard part is, your switch truly lies out of the reach of every last person on this planet, save for one.  YOU.

What made me want to get a Twitter account?  ME.  What made me want to start a blog? ME.  What made me want to work with our school improvement leader to create a dynamic School Improvement Plan template?  ME. What makes me want to get up early on a Sunday morning to watch a conference on getting administrators connected to social media and Web 2.0 tools?  ME.  What is going to make me try to run 10 km in 40 minutes? ME.  Bench 275?  Well, let’s not get crazy here.

The point is, we cannot make the excuse that “someone isn’t giving me the tools”, “if only I had a Principal who showed me the way”, or “my Superintendent isn’t connected, how can they expect me to be?”, or “I wish my staff would get online”.  Bollocks.  Garbage.  I won’t accept any of these.  Because at the end of it all, the reason I do something is when I can find that switch inside of myself and turn it on.

But the thing that we all have to remember about #1 through #5 is that they make that switch inside reachable.  Urgency, developing capacity, coolness, and supportive pestering make the switch inside of reluctant administrators like me and others believe that the switch can be turned on, and there will be people around to encourage us if we should ever think about turning it off.  They make us see value in the work that is going to go into turning that switch on, keeping it on, and encouraging others to find their internal switch.

And once they’ve found it, be there to encourage and support them, and keep showing them cool things that remind them of the urgency there is to adopt getting connected so their schools or districts BURST with capacity.

So my #6 is simply this:

5. Use #1-5 to help people find their switch.

And speaking of which, it’s time for me to go for a run.


  1. Cale - I'm not sure where to start...ok...awesome post! I think you are right on when you say we just need to go out and do it! Regardless if you are a teacher, administrator, or tech coordinator, we need to show and embrace how social media is changing education. We must always remember that tech is merely a tool, but a very powerful tool that becomes even more powerful when wielded by a excellent educator.

    The head principal at my high school has been extremely supportive (he now has Twitter and a blog @mrgrimshaw), but I think we got to him just by showing him the potential. We became our own cheerleaders of sorts. We started to share our classroom experiences, and most importantly the positive effects social media was having on classroom learning.

    Great post and thanks for sharing!

  2. Cale,
    These are all great suggestions.

    As a former NYC principal, I would also like to hear your suggestions on how to support administrators to get over the 'fear' factor?

    In the age of being under the microscope, a misstep of a principal in NYC can land you on the front page of our many daily newspapers.

    How do we support principals in using social media to be a safe place to be a reflective practitioner?

    How do we convince them that social media can encourage growth of their own profesisonal learning community when our accountability metrics oftentimes pins us against each other?

    I came to Twitter and blogging AFTER leaving the principal position..I want to help those still in it use it to their advantage.


  3. Hey Justin!

    I follow your Principal--that is great that he is hooked up. I too have a supportive person on staff that I work with constantly on this, and you are right, we are like nerdy cheerleaders for eachother, but it certainly helps.

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Cale,

    Really enjoyed your examples of what made you connect to social media -- you made the decision. I think back of my journey two years ago. As academic director, we were introducing the importance of 21st century skills and technology integration. Administrators were saying the words but no way were we modeling these practices at the district & building level. So I found someone who created an on-line class just for me so I could experience the use of web 2.0 tools and how best to integrate into my work. I remember our tech staff using words like RSS, PLN, Netvibes, Diigo, Second Life, voice thread, screencasts, twitter...I had no clue but I made the decision to learn through my PLN and share with teachers in our district. I forward tweets to administrators. I feel administrators in general are slow to connect to this exciting world of learning because they are choosing not to turn on their switch. I did share something cool -- Angela Maeirs - What the Heck are 21st Century Skills reform symposium session. Small steps...Thanks again for your witty post.

  5. Great post! I have been Pestering the admin and tech director in my district for over a year and I'm not stopping until they join me!

  6. All i have to tell is to congratulate you hugely for bringing up this complex issue to public discussion and controlling it so exceptionally well. Good work worthy at least one more return to your blog!
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