To Lead is to be Connected

In today’s digital world, the nature of leadership is changing. To be a leader is to be a learner and perhaps, the most vulnerable learner in the school. Being a connected Catholic school leader today involves taking risks in order to maximize influence in their schools, communities and beyond. For school leaders, it’s no longer a question of “are you connected?” but rather “just how connected are you?”

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Connected leaders need to be engaged in active learning. This could be as simple as building a PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter and connecting with other leaders in various systems and sharing in their learning experiences. It could also mean attending professional learning opportunities provided by the school board. “The Tech-Enabled Administrator” was a professional learning series that has been offered in our board since 2014 where school leaders lead professional learning sessions for other school leaders. An administrator sharing their learning with other administrators is a powerful strategy. It’s one thing to read about the importance of leveraging social media at school in a professional resource but it is quite another to see how system leaders have raised the profile of their schools through Twitter and have maximized websites and blogging tools to improve communication and engagement with parents. In leading our own professional learning opportunities, school leaders share insights and considerations that only occur to other leaders, as well as navigate some of the challenges that were experienced along the way. The best resource that connected leaders have is other connected leaders who are taking risks on a daily basis and reflecting on those decisions and the various technologies and applications they used.

A connected leader asks “big picture” questions:Man Hand writing See The Big Picture

  1. What goals do we want to achieve in our schools?

This is not solely about curriculum expectations. Leaders should be looking to the new pedagogies and defining the core and transferable skill sets and competencies that all students should possess, regardless of their pathway. Administrators need to be “in the know” in terms of what the demands of this century are and what the implications are in the classroom. This means being actively engaged with current research or even community partners who can more clearly define what they are looking for in prospective employees, based on the changing needs of the economy.

  1. What digital tools and resources are available for teachers to use to help students reach those goals? How do administrators support teachers? 

For example this might involve:

  • directing staff to teachers at other schools
  • working directly with central staff to facilitate PD opportunities in the school for both staff and students
  • referring staff to online learning opportunities
  • leveraging PA Days for hands on, meaningful learning opportunities (e.g. carousel model)
  1. What training is needed for teachers and students so that these digital tools and resources are used effectively?

One of the most effective strategies is to look to the existing school leadership and identifying partners from within;

  • Who is ALREADY doing this work?
  • What are their ideas about seeing this on a larger scale?
  • What has worked for them?
  • What were the challenges and how were they overcome?
  • How can they participate in this process in a meaningful way?

This is an affirmation of an administrator’s awareness of the strengths of the staff. Conversations with “allies” are critical in terms of collecting data. It also shows staff that you believe in the value of their contribution, that you are willing to invest time in them.

  1. How will we measure the efficacy of these digital tools in supporting and improving teaching and learning?

The very notion of “accountability” makes people nervous, especially in schools when much of what we do CANNOT be quantified or measured, like collaboration, innovation and engagement. Leaders need to co-construct success criteria with staff. For example, we can examine and analyze school data related to learning skills, we can examine attendance in Applied and College courses when discussing levels of engagement, or teacher inquiry projects can be implemented to determine if self-directed learning is a strategy that students are embracing.

To be more connected, administrators can:

  • be a life-long learner: read books and participate in/lead book studies, start your own blog and reflect, sit in on workshops given by teachers as a participant and not as an observer
  • join a PLN: seek out a mentor, find out what other leaders are learning and doing, offer in-school PD for staff and share the responsibility for facilitation
  • be a model: embed technology and apps in your day to day practice and duties to show staff that technology is as much a means of increased productivity as it can be a means of engagement
  • tinker with established practices: flip staff meetings and use the time to discuss to focus on bigger issues that consume more time, all the while leveraging a digital tool to facilitate and record discussion (e.g. Today’s Meet)
  • be humble: share your own struggles with your staff, check in with teachers from time to time to learn about what is and isn’t working and attempt to problem-solve collaboratively

A connected leader understands that it’s not the devices or hardware or applications that make the difference, rather, it is the collaborative spaces that are created in the midst of learning about leveraging technology which is where the greatest influence can be croplampderived.  At the beginning of the school year a member of my staff called me a “digital Santa Claus” because of the digital space I had developed (the hub) which lessened the amount of photocopied memos and put pertinent information at teachers’ fingertips. From the onset, I was open with my staff in that this idea came about from my Twitter PLN group, where a principal had shared the digital space he created for his staff. With feedback and input from various teachers at my school, I went on to develop the student hub as a replacement for the traditional handbook. Being new to the school this year, those conversations were of greater value to me than this tool will ever be because of the physical connections made with teachers on staff and not just the convenience and efficiency that tools such as these afford.  Being connected is not just about being plugged into a device or app. Human connections are even more important in order to establish priorities that are meaningful for all our students.

Christine Cosentino, Vice Principal -York Catholic District School Board

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