Rise of the connected superintendent
By Joe Mazza

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Educators are increasingly leveraging social media to support their work in teaching, learning and leadership. As we head into the 2013-14 school year, it is not uncommon to find school superintendents using Facebook, Twitter, blogs, texting and other digital communications to model, by example, connected teaching, learning and leadership.

Today's "connected superintendent" has begun using Twitter and other social media tools to learn, share, encourage and build relationships among all stakeholders in a way that complements their face-to-face efforts. You might find social media intimidating, but it is easier than you think — and the rewards are many.

I've found that Twitter is the place where connectivity comes alive for many of today's educational leaders, and it is a great starting point for superintendents looking to dive into social media. With more than 250 superintendents currently on Twitter, this tool can connect you to a learning community of other superintendents facing the same kinds of challenges that you are — while also connecting with your stakeholders. Here are five steps to getting started.

1. Sign up free for Twitter

Go to Twitter.com and follow the instructions on creating a new account. It will ask you to "follow" up to five Twitter accounts. Here are a few superintendents I have learned a great deal from over the past three years. They are constantly sharing, learning and putting in just as much as they take from social media spaces.

2. Watch the professional conversations

In the search bar at the top of the main page, enter #suptchat. This is the official connected superintendent chat hashtag used at the end of tweets relating directly to the role of school superintendent. Other examples include: Think of these hashtags (beginning with the "#" sign) as television channels on Twitter. Each one stands for something different, and you can find great human resources and conversations across all of them.

3. Participate in an educational Twitter chat

You don't have to participate in the conversation immediately. You can initially "lurk" or listen until you get the hang of it. When you're ready to take part, check out this resource of more than 100 educational hashtags and what times these professional conversations occur.

4. Follow 25 others

To start on Twitter, find 25 people to follow who, in your opinion, are "tweeting" great resources or perspectives. By developing a personal learning network (PLN), you will build important relationships with others around the world doing similar work. You will lean on each other for the variety of challenges that come your way each day in the field.

5. Put it on the table

Begin to have conversations with those in your organization about what you are seeing, learning and sharing. Have conversations around policy, professional development and connectivity. Identify key players/trailblazers in your school district who might already be using these tools to better themselves and their learning communities, and then connect with them.

Examples of how connected superintendents are leveraging social media:
  • Transparently engaging district stakeholders (students, teachers, families, taxpayers, board members, educators around the world) in topics and discussions relevant to what is happening in, or affecting, the district in a timely fashion.
  • Tackling issues head-on when they arise, informing taxpayers about what mandates are using local taxpayer efforts, or enhancing organizational focus and priorities
  • Recognizing the efforts of teachers, parents, students, community members, board members and administrators
  • Branding: No longer are school and district leaders waiting for the local newspaper to tell their story. By harnessing social media, the overall vision, accomplishments and feedback loop is being shared transparently on a daily basis.
  • Role-modeling digital citizenship and social media netiquette for students, parents, teachers and other administrators.
A superintendent's district/community can also gain a deeper understanding of the superintendent, his/her leadership, and what he/she sees as important in leading the organization and serving its students. By connecting in multiple ways, superintendents can build the relationships necessary to support and nurture a truly connected community of learners.

By taking an "edu-risk" and getting out there technologically, you also set an innovative and professional example for the rest of your learning community that learning something new and applying it to provide a better education for all students is a core value of your leadership.

Dr. Joe Mazza is an innovation coach at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education (@PennGSE) and a K-6 Pennsylvania principal. You can follow him on Twitter @Joe_Mazza.