Tag Archives: Branding and Buzz

Social Media for School Leaders

I just returned from the national middle school conference (AMLE12) in Portland, OR.

While there, I attended a wonderful session on Social Media for School Leaders by Howard Johnston and Ron Williamson. Their presentation showed a wonderful balance of the realities of today's viral communication and the school context.

The presentation addressed the role of social media in five areas:

  1. Social Media and Schools
  2. School Safety and Crisis Management
  3. Communication
  4. Productivity
  5. Professional Growth

What they made clear is how important a tool social media is to schools and school leaders, and the enormous opportunity lost when schools shun social media. They raised the following questions suggesting why school leaders might want to pay attention to the potential of social media:

  • Do you communicate with students, families and staff?
  • Do you monitor community views about your school?
  • Do your kids use social media?
  • Do you need to stay on top of cutting-edge educational topics?
  • Do you need to promote good news about your school in the community?

And they recommended a 5-step plan (in part, based on findings from the Pew Internet and American Life Project) related to social media and school safety:

  1. Learn about social media and how it works
  2. Recognize that most teens use it responsibly
  3. Don’t attempt to ban it
  4. Help students, families and staff know about how to manage social media
  5. Focus on responsible student use

Johnston and Williamson provided a great list of resources available to school leaders:


Confirmed: iPads Extend a Teacher’s Impact on Kindergarten Literacy

I’m excited! I’m REALLY excited!

Our “Phase I” research results are in…

iPads in Kindergarten

We (Auburn School Department) took a big risk last May when we started down the path to have the first 1to1 kindergarten learning with iPads initiative. We had confidence it would help us improve our literacy and math proficiency rates. One of our literacy specialists had used her own iPad with students to great success (one of the big reasons we moved forward). But there were also segments of the community that thought we were crazy.

Now we have pretty good evidence it works!

We did something not a lot of districts do: a randomized control trial. We randomly selected half our kindergarten classrooms to get iPads in September. The other half would use traditional methods until December, when they received their iPads. We used our regular kindergarten literacy screening tools (CPAA, Rigby, Observation Survey) for the pre-test and post-test. And across the board, the results were emerging positive for the iPad classrooms, with one area having statistical significance.

These results are a strong indication that the iPad and it’s apps extend the impact our teachers have on our students’ literacy development. We definitely need more research (and will be continuing the study through the year, including comparing this year’s results to past years), but these results should be more than enough evidence to address the community’s question, “How do we know this works?”

And I’m especially excited that we went all the way to the Gold Standard for education research: randomized control trials. That’s the level of research that can open doors to funding and to policy support.

Why do we think we got these results?

We asked our kindergarten teachers that question. Anyone walking by one of the classrooms can certainly see that student engagement and motivation is up when using the iPads. But our kindergarten teachers teased it out further. Because they are engaged, students are practicing longer. They are getting immediate feedback, so they are practicing better. Because we correlate our apps to our curriculum, they are practicing the right stuff. Because we select apps that won’t let students do things just any way, we know the students are practicing the right way. Because they are engaged, teachers are more free to work one on one with the students who need extra support at that moment.

We also believe we got the results we got because we have viewed this as an initiative with many moving parts that we are addressing systemically. A reporter asked me, how do you know how much of these results are the iPad, how much the professional development, and how much the apps. I responded that it is all those things together, on purpose. We are using a systemic approach that recognizes our success is dependent on, among other things, the technology, choosing apps wisely, training and supporting teachers in a breadth of literacy strategies (including applying the iPad), partnering with people and organizations that have expertise and resources they can share with us, and finding data where we can so we can focus on continuous improvement.

And we’re moving forward – with our research, with getting better at math and literacy development in kindergarten, with figuring out how to move this to the first grade.

So. We have what we were looking for:

Confirmation that our vision works.

It’s Your Turn:

What do you think the implications of our research are? What do our findings mean to you?

Entrepreneurial Thinking for Educators

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about entrepreneurial thinking.  Branding and Buzz is one of the “Supporting But Necessary” components to the Lead4Change model, but it is becoming clear to me that educators generally do not think entrepreneurially or about how to market their good work.  It is generally not part of their creative problem solving skill set. (Nor can I think of a single reason why they would have, up to this point. Educators generally haven’t had to live entrepreneurially, so why would they think that way? This isn’t blaming or criticism. It’s just observation.)

Not only am I thinking about how we might fund our innovative programs in schools (when we can barely get core services funded), but I know several groups of wonderful educators who put together conferences that always get the best reviews from participants, and nonetheless are facing greatly declining enrollments. We haven’t seen schools in such financial dire straights in a long time, and it doesn’t look like there will be any more money from the state or the Feds in the near future. And, just as in all perceived survival situations, all the supporting systems get shut down to keep the core systems operating… So it’s not surprising that PD is getting cut way back and conferences and institutes are struggling.  

In other words, there is a growing need for educators to think entrepreneurially.

I’ll concentrate in this post on the notion of entrepreneurial thinking when trying to put together professional development opportunities for others, since a version of these thoughts was originally a response to a friend’s inquiry about how to improve registrations and attendance for a summer institute she was helping to put together.

So, what are the the important pieces?

Entrepreneurial thinking has to move beyond us simply thinking about why things should be funded.  I think teachers readily recognize that initiatives or conference are worthwhile because they leverage strategies such as being quality work, involve partnerships, or utilize social media in productive ways.  These points aren’t wrong.  They are great reasons for educators to get involved in those professional opportunities.  But I think these points come up short when resources (funding) are scarce.

I fully believe that “doing quality work” is an important (critical!) component of living entrepreneurially. But it is clearly not sufficient. I doubt we have too many folks leaving the the wonderful conferences they attend feeling that it wasn’t an awesome and professionally valuable experience. I doubt we have too many educators who aren’t drawn to the well-known names on the program. But if “doing quality work” were sufficient, we wouldn’t be struggling with registration… (And clearly if we did crappy work, it wouldn’t matter what else we did, we’d still struggle with getting folks to register.)

I put strategies such as partnering with others and leveraging social networks in the “doing quality work” category. Although they are critical to making sure that the conference goes well for the participants, they aren’t critical pieces to the challenge of getting people to register in the first place. Certainly they play a supporting role, just not a critical role. For example, Apple helped us with logistical support for our iPads in primary grades conference. Were we a success because of that? Certainly it contributed (HEAVILY) to the quality of experience that participants had during the conference, but it didn’t contribute to getting folks to sign up in the first place. (But I feel differently about a different Apple contribution described below.)

So, what then needs to be in place beyond “doing good work”? That’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Having our iPad in Primary Grades Education conference do so well and go so well at least has given me a real experience to dissect… So what did we have that other conferences that don’t fill might not? Here are some of my initial thoughts…

1) We had something THEY wanted (not something we wanted FOR them), and we promised to show them how they could get it, too. iPads in Ed are REALLY hot right now, and tech in primary grades is controversial enough for folks who want to try it to wonder how others are doing it… Therefore, also “right place, right time” is a piece of this.

2) We were bold, perhaps to the point of being odatious. We claimed openly and publicly and in the press that we were going to be the first 1to1 kindergarten iPad initiative (maybe we were, but maybe not), and we were going to offer a national conference where others could learn about our success. (Odatiousness: where do we get off leading a national conference on an initiative we’ve been working on for less than 6 months!?!)

3) Building on the idea that others wanted to know how we were doing this, we built some sense of urgency by publicizing that we only had 100 slots (hurry now before they are all gone!). The irony is that we were also limited by how much room we had. If we wanted to do this conference locally, then our limited options for venue limited how much space we had…

4) We could easily market directly to our targeted customer base. Apple reps let their primary grades customers know about the conference (This is the “other” Apple contribution mentioned above), and we’re a member of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, and we let the other member districts know (one of those MCCL member districts brought 13 people! They were the largest team attending.). Other avenues helped (press releases, ACTEM list serve, etc.) but weren’t where we got the bulk of our attendees.

So, “doing good work” is one piece of creating a good event for folks, but I think it is good marketing that gets them there in the first place (especially when PD is disappearing for survival…). In fact, I think we need to separate our thinking about (A) how do we make a good experience for participants and (B) how do we get people to register. When resources are rich (A) is probably sufficient for (B), but when resources are scarce, (A) doesn’t cut it alone.

So when I think about working on (B) in our Institute, I think #s 3 & 4 are just good, standard marketing, and not probably the factors that greatly impacted our enrollment. I think 1 and 2 are the biggies.

Granted, we were pretty lucky that we moved when we did and we had a history with not just Apple but our Apple contacts (Jim Moulton & Tara Maker), and we were lucky that both our former and current Superintendents’ style were bold and odatious.

So the question is, do you have to wait until fortuitous circumstances provide you with the right stuff THEY need (right place, right time) and bold/odatious partners, or can these be engineered? And, of course, I believe these can be engineered. That doesn’t mean that it will be easy, just that with cleaver and different thinking it can be done.  I’m thinking about these issues again, now, as we begin to plan our second iPad conference.

So I  recommend (for my own team’s work and for my colleagues working to organize other opportunities), first, focusing on what is it that you have that they want. I think this kind of thinking requires two things: first that you suspend thinking about what you want for them and instead think empathetically from their perspective, and second that you reengineer what you want for them into the thing they want. Thats not to say that “what you want for them” is off base. It just means that it isn’t all that helpful to marketing…

Next, focus on being bold and odatious.

And remember. Marketing isn’t sharing information. Marking is making them want what you are offering.

It’s Your Turn:

What about a conference or institute would make you (or your principal, or your district) be willing to have you register and attend when funding is tight?