Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
That quote, from The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, struck a chord with me as I dove in to my summer reading and reflected on my experiences as a first-year principal. I thought about how my team and I worked to rebrand our school and transform our culture. Although there were a lot of factors that contributed to the positive transformation, I realize that digital leadership was one key factor.
Because we live in a technology-driven world with social media accessible at the tap and swipe of a smartphone, I thought, why not use it to promote and rebrand my school? Using social media as a tool was not something I considered until I became an administrator. In fact, when I went into education, I didn’t think about the benefits of social media and using it to enhance my classroom or school culture. I was wary of Facebook with all the ads, people hacking into personal accounts, and, oftentimes, long rants about random topics. With Twitter, I was somewhat ignorant to its purpose, thinking it was meaningless pontificating, and, as a result, I was ignorant about its benefits as well. I suppose part of me was afraid of taking the risk of putting myself out there.
Social Media as a Tool
What I have learned as a first-year principal is that if you want to effect change and see innovation, you must lead by example and be willing to take risks yourself. Couros states in his book, “Innovation is not reserved for the few; it is something we will all need to embrace if we are to move forward.” After several conversations with my boss and mentor, Mike Havens, (@HavensmMike) about school culture, I decided to take the plunge, about midyear, into the Twittersphere, and I never looked back. One main reason that sparked this innovative risk was when I Googled my school and searched under “Images,” the first, most-glaring images that populated were photographs of police officers near my school. The news story attached to those images was about a tragic homicide-suicide that occurred before my assignment there as principal. As the new principal, that wasn’t the legacy or digital footprint I wanted to leave behind for my school.
To reverse this negative public image, I created a school Twitter account to show that we were more than a front-page news story. I began to highlight and promote all the events, celebrations, awards assemblies, student competitions, and community partners who supported my school on Twitter. Whenever I tweeted about an event, I always made sure I included #teamBCSD. One of the many things that I appreciate about my district is that teamwork and collaboration are the fulcrum of the success of our organization: hence the hashtag. Soon, parents began to take note and read my tweets and appreciated that I highlighted their children as well. I had other teachers and administrators who I rarely interacted with tell me they had seen or heard of all the wonderful changes that had taken place at my school.
Expanding Your Professional Learning Network
Another innovative risk I took with tweeting was initiating a districtwide book club with a colleague and friend of mine, Abe Rivera (@riveraab). I read a book that was recommended to me called Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker, and I wanted to share its great takeaways on decision making as a leader with others. We decided to use Twitter as the medium and platform to share this new knowledge. Twitter is also an excellent resource to expand your professional growth, share and develop great ideas, and expand your professional learning network (PLN). Soon, a Twitter chat evolved from this book study, and we expanded our PLN within the district and beyond. We networked with administrators from Texas, TED-Ed speakers from Oregon, and educational thought leaders from Southern California.
As I reflect on the past year, I am glad I took the risk of using social media as a tool for continuous professional growth and learning and digital leadership. Now, I look forward to the new school year with a new vision in mind. I continue to ask: what kind of digital footprint do I want to leave behind?
Lemuel Kwon currently serves as a K–5 principal for Casa Loma Elementary in the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD). She has served in various capacities for BCSD: as a teacher, academic coach, dean of students, and vice principal. She enjoys working with and learning alongside her staff, the best staff in BCSD! You can follow her on twitter @LKwon80.