Innovator | Feature

Connected Teaching, Learning and Leadership

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Joe Mazza is the director of connected teaching, learning and leadership at North Penn School District in Lansdale, PA. Here, he talks about how he uses social media to stay connected to his fellow educators as well as students and parents.

Tools for Transparency
I designed my job description. I had really enjoyed being a principal, but wanted to press more on what I learned in my Ed.D. dissertation: using social media to connect home and school. Much of what I’m now doing is working across 18 buildings, 2,500 teachers and 100 administrators to build capacity for using social media tools to be more transparent in our approach. The idea is not only to provide for current teachers’ professional development, but to let the community see a new way of teaching, learning and leadership on a daily basis. I’ve been working with schools on things such as embedding Twitter feeds on teacher websites. Sounds simple, but not a lot of teachers are doing that, and unless your parents are tweeting, how are they seeing everything you’re sharing on social media on a daily basis? So it’s creating more opportunities for the general unconnected learner audience to take advantage of that connected work, which in turn will create an appetite for “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that” types of conversations.

Do as They Do
I’m a big believer that principals, superintendents and other leaders are dealmakers or deal-breakers in terms of this connected teaching, learning and leadership. If they get it ­­– can visualize how this works and how it takes the organization to a new level – they’re more likely to model those tools and experiences, and that will take some pressure off of teachers to have to be trailblazers in their schools. It’s up to all of us to model digital citizenship, to show kids what lifelong learning means, what it means to be a curious, inquisitive person who’s always trying to find more information and to connect and collaborate, even from 10,000 miles away.

Making Connections
I have a Twitter account and I share different chat topics that relate to our school and organizational goals each day there. I use the hashtag #ff to suggest innovative teachers that people in the district should be following. I blog, sharing stories about where I am in the district and what the teacher I’m with is working on. I identify best practices in family and community engagement, as well as digital citizenship and where we can be more innovative in our policies. We’re planning a 1-to-1 BYOD rollout next year, so I’m going out to other districts, seeing what people are doing and leveraging human experience and expertise.

Casting a Wider Network
The biggest positive I’ve seen in my four years of being on Twitter as a connected leader are the relationships. I know so many people on just about every continent who can help me with just about anything. With a personal learning network, we can call on individuals or hashtag groups for help, and it doesn’t cost money. These are people you develop a relationship with because you’ve helped them with something, and it’s about paying it forward online. A network for principals used to be the other six principals who worked with you in your district. You’d see them every couple of weeks at a meeting, that was your network. Now, your network consists of thousands of people. If we can re-create for our schools the culture of the personal learning network that you see every day on social media, all of our schools will get exponentially better. It’s that culture where you can tweet something to your network and within minutes have more resources than you know what to do with.

Passing the Screen Test
The best thing about these social media tools is that your principals and teachers are exposed to passionate educators. I want to send my child to a school where people are passionate, are always trying to be better. To me, the definition of an innovator is someone who constantly has two screens up: The screen on the left is what he’s using to do a good job on that day, and the screen on the right is looking at what we can do tomorrow, next week, next year, to improve.

About the Author

Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.

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