“The challenge here is not to do social media better. The challenge is to do our organizations better.” Notter and Grant
I had a meeting with a very talented teacher named Jennifer Hollman the other day at a very small school named Keephills. The total population of students at the school is 47; the student population for the entire school division is almost 10,000.
I recognized her but had to ask myself if I had ever met her in person. We have talked a lot online and I have read and shared a lot of work, knew what she had taught (Science – she loves Bill Nye), and had connected with her a lot, but I could not for the life of me remember if I had met her face-to-face. Although I was quite embarrassed that I wasn’t sure about meeting her in person, what was pretty amazing was how much I knew about her teaching and what she had done with her students. This is something that wasn’t possible in my world a few years ago, and now I am learning a ton about teachers that I may have never met. Yes, they do need to be sharing their work through social media, but I am glad that I am able to connect and learn with them, and get to know more about many of our teachers who are willing to share their great work.
Would I prefer to get to know each teacher and student in our division in a deep way in a face-t0-face setting? Absolutely. Is it possible? Not really.
What I love about the work that is happening in Parkland School Division, is that I am getting to know so many teachers through the connection of social media. I watched today as two teachers who had never met in person, were elated to finally connect in a session that was delivered at our central office that they both happened to be attending. Social media isn’t the only way to build relationships, but it sure can help if used effectively.
Yet I see some organizations and leaders continuously tweet in one direction. Sharing articles from the “big thinkers” and “learning from Finland”, yet not connecting with their own staff. Are we missing a huge opportunity to connect? It sometimes seems that you tweet your stuff only, that you can quickly become “spam” to your own organization? Is it not imperative that we share and connect with the people that are at least using our school or division hashtag?
Larger school districts and their ability to “change” and be “innovative” have come into question lately. I get that the bigger you are, the tougher it is to connect with many educators, yet those relationships are just as important in a giant school/district as they would be in a smaller school? Doesn’t social media give us a new way to learn more about those people on the “front lines” than ever before? Yes, smaller schools and districts can maybe spend more time with the face-to-face conversations, but I would doubt that educators in larger districts would value the relationships with central office any less. Dean Shareski talks about larger districts and what could be taken as a “lack of trust” due to the size of the “machine:
“If you’re reading this and you’re from a large school or district and yet you’re happy with the freedom teachers have to make change and innovation, feel free to comment and help others see that it’s possible. For the most part, I’m stumped as to how the red tape can be removed. To me it comes down to trust, autonomy and leadership. There are some great leaders in larger jurisdictions that are humble enough to recognize they don’t have all the answers. That’s what often leads to trust and autonomy. However, leaders need other leaders and too often it just doesn’t trickle down.”
You cannot build trust with your community if you have never had any type of conversation with them.
Take a look at Elisa Carlson’s twitter feed. She is a central office administrator in the largest school district in British Columbia, yet often shares the work of her own teachers, and connects with them often. I have seen in person with Elisa, how her connection online has enhanced her relationships offline. She is taking advantage of this opportunity as she should. Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of West Vancouver schools constantly supports and shares the work of his school district. I remember a point in my career that I couldn’t haven’t even imagined a superintendent talking to me, let alone sharing my work openly with others.
The “big guy”, should always try act like the little one. Connect with people. Take advantage of the free tools that you can utilize to hear voice in real time, not when you plan a stakeholder session that once or twice a year. A simple acknowledgement here and there can go a LONG way in building a stronger and more trusting community.
As I think about how big schools and districts can be, we have to less “automation” and more “personalization”. Technology can either dehumanize or humanize; it depends how we use it. The “social” is really the most important part of “social media” and we need to take advantage to not only share what we are learning, but to build connections in new ways.
As I think about the constant development of technology in our society, I am reminded of this quote:
“We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.” Charlie Chaplin
If used correctly, that “machinery” can bring us more “humanity” than ever.