Principals Turn to Social Media for Professional Learning

Platforms allow school leaders to ask questions, customize learning, and build professional networks—all on their own time.

This article is part of a series focusing on the learning continuum, brought to you with support from The Wallace Foundation.

December, 2016, Volume 40, Issue 4

With all the work that goes into managing a school, professional learning and networking can seem like an afterthought. But for many principals, social media has provided a lifeline for keeping abreast of trends in the field and getting help in real time, from real-life principals around the country. And participating in a professional learning network though social media can bring customized professional learning and support to busy individuals—all on their schedules.

Finding a professional network online was a “gamechanger” for Liz Garden, principal of Florence Roche Elementary in Groton, Mass.

“All of a sudden my professional development was taken to a whole new level,” she says. “There are so many principals across the country that I’m connected with, working in this job, in the moment, going through the exact same things that I’ve been going through.”

Knowing that her previous school year had a rough start, Garden got advice on establishing staff relationships at the beginning of the school year from her professional learning network on Voxer. Her teachers are still commenting on some of the details she implemented, based on suggestions from online colleagues, she says.

Twitter is the go-to app for Jennifer Nauman, principal of Shields Elementary School in Lewes, Del., whenever she has time to focus—whether that be at 5 a.m., midnight, or on weekends.

“Twitter is a 24/7 way to access ideas, research, blogs, and articles on any educational topic that you are interested in or need support in,” she says. “Moreover, it is the best way to make connections with like-minded educators all over the world. Learning from people who also want to learn is invaluable.”

Julie Bloss, principal of Grove Early Childhood Center in Grove, Okla., rarely has a chance to leave her campus during the school day, so the bulk of her professional learning takes place on social media—she is a member of two Voxer groups and often joins education Twitter chats (her favorite is #ECEChat for early childhood educators), and she also uses Periscope to follow educators whose work she admires.

“By using those tools you really can meet this schedule outside of the school day,” she says.

How to Get Started and Find a Network
Voxer and Twitter are most common for principals and the easiest places to begin. Voxer Is a free Walkie-Talkie app for Apple and Android smartphones that allows users to join more than 50 education-related groups. After downloading the app, here is a list of education groups to join.

Twitter has become the dominant social media channel in the U.S. Nearly every sector of education now hosts chats on a regular basis, there are many state and regional principals’ chats, and a list of hundreds of education-related chats by date can be found on this calendar.

Often, online chats can transition to in-person meetings and phone calls—several principals say they have met up with online colleagues at NAESP conferences and events.

In a recent #NAESPChat, principals discussed using social media to find mentors as they were starting their careers.

If there is a downside to social media, it’s knowing when to turn off the computer or put down the phone. Several principals said that they schedule or set a specific time for social media—most Twitter chats last 30 minutes to one hour, for instance. And Bloss’ solution is to set the alarm on her phone to remind her of events—and also remind her when it’s time for family.

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