The latest issue of School Administrator, published by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), has this cartoon on its editorial page:
Ugh — I feel your pain. The advent of social media (and, yes, if you’re reading this blog then you’re using social media) makes it possible for anyone to get published. The medium has little to no filter, allowing you to say anything you want, limited only by your conscience. And, given the anonymity of the internet, conscience is often in short supply.
A prominent superintendent once told me that he sometimes scrolls down to the bottom of the web page with news about school districts to see what people are saying and finds it most sobering. It can ruin your day if you take that stuff seriously. Honestly, the headline could read, “Superintendent Saves Child from Burning Building,” and a handful of citizens will still write the most vicious things about the superintendent.
But it’s not all bad news. My experience working with superintendents and leadership teams in nearly 300 school districts shows that there are only a few disgruntled bloggers with a small cadre of like-minded followers. You can’t be held hostage to the rants of a few trolls who are incapable of seeing anything good in you.
However, you’re not off the hook, either.
You need a strategy to deal with this brave new world. While new technology presents new challenges, if you rise to meet them, new opportunities will open. When it became possible for us to buy our own plane tickets on Expedia and Kayak, the travel agents of a different era had a choice — specialize in more valuable services or die. I know many travel agents whose businesses are thriving in niche areas.
They recognized the new lay of the land, aligned themselves with that new reality and are thriving today.
Absent that adjustment, you’re a fossil. And I don’t mean just you, the superintendent. I mean public education as we know it. Yes, public education needs reform. And that reform is under way. But, we all know that some of what’s being passed off as reform is nothing but greed.
Just connect the dots.
“What dots?” you ask. You’ve probably heard that some states passed laws mandating prison times for even small crimes. Well, the year before that happened, these same states passed laws privatizing prisons. Connect the dots.
The same thing is happening in public education.
If you don’t have a proactive strategy, you’re one tweet or blog post away from a fiasco. Although I haven’t seen the data (this is merely anecdotal), something tells me there are more superintendents burning out, taking early retirement or being terminated due to issues that have nothing to do with teaching and learning than those whose careers are ending because of their failure to address the core issues of education.
Far too many times, superintendents are beleaguered by a small group of disgruntled citizens using their blogs as a megaphone. However, the seeds of overcoming this challenge are found in the very technology that empowers bloggers.
And it’s more than chasing after and refuting every blog post.
It requires you to start your own narrative of your vision, opportunities and challenges. It requires you to leverage technology to build trusting relationships with the silent majority who are often unaware of what’s going on in the district.
Done right, this effort immunizes the silent majority from the mischief of a few. There is an art and science to handling this problem, and it’s imperative that every school leader institute a system to deal with it.
Because blogs are not a fad. And they’re not going away.