Sunday, July 12, 2009

Leadership Day 2009

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"Many of our school leaders (principals, superintendents, central office administrators) need help when it comes to digital technologies. A lot of help, to be honest. " Those are the words of Scott McLeod.

In an attempt to improve the situation, McLeod has invited bloggers around the country to step up to the plate with their suggestions, and for all of us to do so today. The initiative is being called Leadership Day 2009, and you can read about it here.

As my contribution, I want to revisit a post from this past April. In the post, I speak in favor of administrators embracing the blog as a means of communication. At this point, blogs may no longer be "cutting edge." Lots of people have blogs and write about blogs. So what makes different? What makes my voice one that I thinks needs to be heard?

The answers to those questions lie in longevity and variety of experiences. Like the exercise program which begins as a New Year's resolution and fizzles by mid-January, blogs which begin with enthusiasm and are abandoned when life gets busy are common.

Next month, this blog will celebrate its 5th birthday. Rather than fizzling, it is gaining steam. During that time, I changed jobs (principalship to central office), written a book, served on numerous committees where I took on far more projects that many think practical, retired, began my own consulting business, and just recently sent the manuscript for a second book to the publisher. All the while, there was time for this blog. Perhaps that fact lends credence to the statements that blogs are not time consuming. Instead, the blog is the most efficient way I know to communicate a fairly detailed message to a group who cares to read it.

Enough about why I think my thoughts are significant. Here are my thoughts, a reprise from April. As we approach mid-July principals around the country are contemplating ideas which will make this year the best of all. Could a blog be one of them?

Focused or Fragmented?
Fragmentation is a real and growing problem in today's society. We know that to produce anything of quality, we must focus and maintain that focus for a period of time. Today's society, however, is moving in the opposite direction at warp speed. Phones on our desks, phones in our pockets and purses, and e-mails break our focus and do so regardless of where we are. We ignore the important matter at hand and turn our attention to the interruption because there is a slight chance that it might be important, or at least that it might be interesting.

I conducted a hands-on blogging workshop at the NAESP earlier in April. During the session, one of the participants identified a great use for blogging in his school that goes straight to the heart of solving a problem at his school.

This principal had been using e-mail as his way of communicating with faculty and staff at his school. E-mail provides a quick way to get the message from our brains to the Inbox of the recipient whenever a thought crosses our minds. To that extent, e-mail works great. To fully understand the problem, we must look at it from the viewpoint of the recipient, especially if we are responsible for communicating to the same group of people on a regular basis.

To the recipient, our communication comes in fragments spread across time. Whether or not what we send in our e-mails is actually acted upon the way we intended is largely dependent upon the maturity of the organizational system of the recipient.

You may need to read that last sentence another time or two to let it sink in.

The recipient may or may not make a thoughtful decision about what the message of the e-mail means to him/her, what needs to be done about it, and enter the "what needs to be done" part in the "signature tool" right then and there. If the personal organizational system lacks maturity, those e-mail messages will simply sit in a jumbled mess, and massive amounts of details will slip through the cracks.

There is a better way. It is a solution that will help the disorganized person. It is also a solution that will comes as a favor to the organized person.

What if a teacher received a once-per-week concise communication that contained everything they needed to know? What if all we asked our teachers to do was check a blog once a week and to set aside a few minutes one time a week to look at what had been carefully constructed and record in the signature tool what needed to be done about each item? Would that represent a time-saver for teachers? You bet.

The principal in the blogging workshop realized that he could replace his series of e-mails with one post to his faculty. All of his previous communication would also be right there in neat posts one after the other in reverse chronological order, not scattered all over someone's e-mail Inbox.

As a first-year principal, the best thing I did was institute the "Friday Memo," that one-page well-thought-out document that gave teachers everything they needed to know for the next week. Announcements, instructional tips, calendar events, birthdays, inspiration, commendation...it was all there.

When e-mail became available in our school system, we were the first ones to use it and we used it well. E-mail, however, did not replace the Friday Memo. We used e-mail for things that e-mail was good at doing, and we used the Friday Memo for "batching" communication, giving teachers more time to teach.

The Friday Memo was eventually replaced, and it was replaced with a blog. The idea was simple...one post a week containing everything the faculty needed to know. But now, we could include links to other sites teachers needed to visit. Now, we could post pictures. Now, all of the communication from previous weeks was automatically stored for future reference.

If you would like to see an example of a principal who understands the value of the blog as a communication tool with faculty, take a look at what first-year middle school principal Kerry Palmer is doing at Trinity Presbyterian School (Montgomery, AL). He "gets it," and our profession is desperate for leaders who understand how to help teachers cope with the time crunch.

Using one blog post to replace a dozen blanket e-mail messages takes some organization on the part of the principal. That is the subject for the post which followed this one back in April. I invite you to browse the archives for that and other posts. Most all relate relate to organization and time management. Many relate to using technology to make the journey easier. Happy reading!



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