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November 2015 AASA News

Posted on October 28, 2015



5 ways school leaders can make the most of Twitter

Many administrators are still struggling to get a handle on the social media platform

Ask any teacher and you’re likely to hear about the persistent presence of social media in their students’ lives, for better or worse. But ask about their school leaders and you’re far more likely to get a shrug of the shoulders. The force that has transformed the way teenagers interact with each other has far less sway over the people heading up those students’ schools.But Scott McLeod, a former teacher and currently the Director of Learning, Teaching, and Innovation for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Iowa, says that shouldn’t be the case. School administrators, he says, can use the tool both to communicate with members of the community and to further their own professional development.“Their parents and their communities are in Twitter and other social media spaces,” he said. “Those old newsletters home just aren’t cutting it. School leaders have got to go where the people are.”Typically, he says, administrators’ Twitter voyage follows a familiar progression. At first, they join Twitter at the urging of a friend or staff member and their account languishes, unused. Then they start to use it for basic announcements of rallies, parent-teacher conferences, and the like. What happens next is the eye-opening moment: The administrator realizes they can follow a whole cohort of people, locally, nationally, and internationally.

“Now all of the sudden, these people are feeding him or her useful resources,” McLeod said. He calls it the “global lurker” stage, when a principal or district administrator realizes they can get the equivalent of leadership manuals, in short 140-character bursts, whenever they feel like it.

But he says the next step is actually the most important. That’s when the principal or administrator realizes they can ask a question, leave a comment, or start a conversation. “Then they’re in a true professional learning network and that network has expanded beyond their local boundaries,” McLeod said.

Without Twitter and other social media sites, that kind of interaction would not be possible. So how can administrators make the most of it?

Use Twitter to unlock the classroom door

For a lot of parents and community members, the actual work that goes on in schools remains a bit of a mystery. McLeod says that district leaders should focus first on clearing up the mystery by sharing pictures, videos, and Tweets that tell parents what’s going on in their students’ classroom. It can help build trust and rapport, which pays off down the road.

“When something bad happens, they trust you because you’ve been open and transparent,” he said.

Put students in charge

Some schools have experimented with student-led social media teams, a practice McLeod thinks should expand. Administrators can pick a group of engaged and responsible students to go out and take videos and pictures of school activities to tweet out. It takes the burden off of administrators and gives students a sense of ownership and responsibility. Plus, there’s a bonus for students: They can put social media expertise on their resume and actually be able to back it up.

Don’t start from scratch

For schools just starting out, there are plenty of resources to get off the ground. If figuring out what to Tweet is intimidating, McLeod recommends looking at what other schools are doing. He worked with a group of schools last year and gave them weekly challenges like “Take a 60-second video of a student explaining their math homework.”

The list of those challenges, and what other schools have done, can be found here. McLeod also recommends figuring out where your school community already interacts.

Seek out professional networks and conversations

Most education issues have their own hashtag, like #edtech. But a lot of states have designated education chats. For example, the Iowa education community gets together every Sunday for 50 minutes to discuss a pressing issue.

Many of those hashtags have been collected here, but it’s worth checking around to see where in-state peers are. Those conversations can be an opportunity for administrators to have their voices heard on key policy issues.

Clue parents in to the conversations

When you’re having major conversations on Twitter about issues your community might be interested in, let them know. McLeod says it can help parents understand where you’re coming from and stay informed about the latest developments. In Iowa, for example, McLeod says he’d love to see more parents join in the active #iaedfuture chat.

“It would be really great if a lot of parents were following #iaedfuture conversations and resources,” he said. “They would get different narratives around what’s happening around education and reform than what’s coming through the traditional media.”


Districts ditch finals to cut testing time
Eliminating district exams may spread further with the growing opt-out movement, an expert says

Maryland’s largest district dropped final exams for many high school students this fall, with more of the state’s schools following suit to cut back on time students spend preparing for and taking tests.

Administrators at Montgomery County Public Schools examined testing practices for its 157,000 students. They found that a high school student may take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, PSAT, SAT, PARCC and Maryland state standardized tests along with two-hour final exams—all within one year.

And the final exam schedule—a week of two tests per day in January and June—led to a loss of instruction time, says Board of Education President Patricia O’Neill.

“There was a lot of conversation this spring about the amount of time kids spend testing,” O’Neill says. “Whatever districts can do to reduce anything you’re layering on should be done.”

This year, high schoolers who take AP, IB, PARCC or state tests will not take a final exam. In 2016-17, no student will take a final. They will be replaced with end-of-marking period assessments given during regular class periods, and may take the form of projects, labs or essays.

At press time, administrators had asked for staff and community suggestions on changing report cards, as the tests formerly counted for 25 percent of a student’s final grade.

Though some parents argue high school final exams prepare students for college, O’Neill notes that several universities including Harvard are phasing out such tests as well.

“Administrators need to look at how they can recapture time in the classroom,” O’Neill says. “You need to examine how the logistics of what you do, and the practices imposed on local schools that add stress and not value to the learning process.”

A growing trend

Montgomery County is not alone: In September, Anne Arundel County Public Schools proposed a plan to replace end-of-semester high school exams with quarterly tests. Louden County Public Schools in Virginia also recently dropped midterm and final exams as part of a districtwide move to project-based learning.

Eliminating district exams will likely spread further with the growing opt-out movement, says Deborah Stipek, a professor and former dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.

“We tend to put an emphasis on final tests at the end, when if we really want to promote better learning, we need to emphasize engaging students so they learn and understand as they go, so we can improve instruction,” Stipek says. “By the end-of-the-semester test, it’s too late.”

Rural Parents Believe in the Promise of Education, But Are Less Confident on the Delivery


new poll from Education Post reveals that not only are rural schools unique in their geographic and community characteristics, but also in the views held by parents who send their kids to those schools. Seventy-three percent of rural parents polled believe that schools and teachers have the potential to overcome challenges of poverty and other social factors—a larger proportion than both urban and suburban parents. But a deeper look at their perceptions reveals that rural parents have less confidence that their schools actually deliver on that promise.

Rural parents are decidedly more negative on the public school system.

Sixty-one percent of rural parents polled feel the U.S. public education system is headed down the wrong track. This nearly two-thirds majority compares with 52 percent of suburban parents and only 38 percent of urban parents. And though they are more bullish on their own community schools—a trend reflected generally among Americans in countless polls—they are markedly less enthusiastic than their urban or suburban counterparts.

That said, rural parents are more likely to believe that all children have access to the same quality schools (57% agreed with that notion).

But more negative views on how well schools actually perform suggest that “same quality” might not equate to “good quality.” Rural parents are less likely to believe that their children’s schools are preparing them well for life after high school, particularly when asked specifically about preparation for the workforce and in terms of general skills needed for adulthood.

Rural parents indicate they have fewer good options for schools, but also view charter schools less favorably.

Nearly half of rural parents indicate they have access to only one or no good schools for their children. This compares to over two-thirds of urban and suburban parents who report having at least a few good options. But at the same time, rural parents are much less supportive of an expanding charter sector, the most common public school choice option. Rural parents view opening more charter schools as a low priority, are less likely to believe charter schools provide good options for low-income families, and are more likely to believe that charter schools divert resources from traditional public schools.


The lack of options for rural parents reflects the reality of many rural communities where sparse populations mean that a critical mass of students needed to support multiple schools just doesn’t exist. And the relative scarcity of charter schools in rural settings may also color perceptions. There are simply few rural charters to highlight at all, much less highly successful ones. And where district schools play a central role in the social fabric and economy of rural places, this lack of positive experience may exacerbate perceptions of charters as unwelcome interlopers.

Rural parents attribute success in school to students, but believe that schools are ultimately responsible for preventing failure.

More than urban and suburban parents, rural parents credit students themselves (versus families) when they are successful in school. At the same time, more rural parents believe that schools bear the responsibility for ensuring that low income students don’t fall behind. These attitudes contrast with the perceptions of urban parents, who were less likely to cite schools as primarily responsible for ensuring that low-income kids keep up and more often looked to families to play that role.

And only about 1 in 3 rural parents thinks standardized tests are fair or that they have a positive effect on the school system.

In contrast, the majority of urban parents view testing positively. So again, rural parents’ stronger views that education institutions serve as the safety net for at-risk students diverge from feelings about the structures in place (test-based accountability) to help ensure that the safety net works.

While rural schools face many of the same challenges as schools everywhere—lagging or stagnant achievement, poverty, poor post-secondary participation—education policy tends toward solutions built on an urban framework that may not translate well to rural communities.

So the disconnect between what rural parents believe about what schools can and should do and feelings about whether the current system actually does those things in their communities is not all that surprising. The challenge for policymakers is identifying the levers that work best for rural schools to deliver on the faith rural communities place in them.


Jennifer Schiess is an associate partner with Bellwether Education Partners.
How Administrators Can Design the Best Learning Experiences for Teachers
At the recent U.S. Education Learning Forum, Bill Gates talked about an exciting shift in ed policy, which puts a strong focus on what happens inside the classroom. The focus not only elevates understanding and admiration for the invaluable role of effective teachers, but aims to support all teachers in moving up the learning line.In order to do this, professional learning must reflect the kind of learning we want to see for our students. We are moving toward true learning cultures, which are personalized, relevant, and empowering. To that end, the antiquated ideas around teacher training and development will fade out, and a new era of professional learning experiences that support and push educators can come out into the sun.

In order to support teachers’ growth along the learning line, it’s important for administrators to consider four things when designing learning experiences for teachers.

Set a vision to speak to people’s passion

My work with schools and leaders always begins with a clear vision for the kind of equitable teaching and learning we want to see in all classrooms.

Back when I worked for Highline Public Schools in Seattle, Washington as the Learning Technology Manager, the school principals and I always set aside time to review and interact with Highline Public Schools’ vision of blended learning before planning PD.

By starting with this vision, our collaborative time together and any decisions and action steps we design have a clear goal. Because our work feels urgent and time is a precious commodity, it is tempting to jump straight into specifics or details. However, I think it’s vital to take time to reconnect with our values around the power of education and our commitment to access and equity for all students. We are primed to tackle the challenging work because we remember why it matters so much to us in the first place. It also means we can let go of the multitude of small details we’re juggling for long enough to really ensure that anything we pick back up is directly in service of the big goals.

Provide whole learning experiences (rather than trainings)

In the days of PD “trainings,” educators would say that they couldn’t do something because they hadn’t been trained. But here’s the big issue: education is much too complex to assume that if input X [a training] has been delivered, output Y will be met.

This is problematic, because shifting to a true learning culture means that everyone is responsible for their learning and has their own agency. It’s what we want to see in our classrooms, where we bristle against a student who doesn’t take responsibility for their learning. Our system must mirror the same expectations for adults–specifically, by providing learning experiences.

Take a look at this diagram below.

Recently, I met with a regional team, and we created a chart of professional learning experiences for our districts. The chart was designed to expand thinking around PD to encompass more than just an initial experience using a digital tool. By focusing on the experience, rather than mere “seat time” or training, we saw that different opportunities had power to inspire different growth–all of which is much more powerful than a training.

Focus on instructional practices, led by the right practitioners

Learning experiences need to be lead by the right practitioners. Every school has expert teacher-leaders who can share their great instructional moves which give power to the tools and resources (digital and otherwise) that they are using.

Take, for example, the sessions at Hazel Valley Elementary School were focused on instructional practices and pulled in various tools. Initially, the 90-minute professional collaboration time was conceived as training on specific online programs. But we realized there was greater power in focusing on the instructional moves teachers were making, and as a team, the principal, an instructional coach, and I designed an afternoon of learning at her school.

We examined our document on “best practices for using digital tools,” and then identified teacher-leaders in the school who employed these practices on a regular basis. We created breakout sessions where teachers had choice in what they attended and were supported by the experts in their own school. The exit ticket at the end of the day (filled out by grade level teams to reflect on their learning for the afternoon) revealed that teachers felt energized by this work, because each team had chosen to work on an instructional practice that aligned directly with the school’s annual action plan.

Empower teachers to be innovative and take risks with their learning

We, administrators, can create more of those challenges in our systems, and teachers can create more of those for themselves by developing PLCs, staying involved in the national conversation via Twitter, and reading up on the latest news on EdSurge. So empower them! In fact, Valerie Lewis has several great recommendations for how to encourage your teachers.

Starting with vision allows professional development work to be messy. Learning isn’t linear, and it isn’t easy. It’s strongest when it involves challenge, is collaborative, and is supported and celebrated along the way. Teachers are going to create strong learning environments for their students when they are involved in similar environments themselves–and it’s up to you to support them, administrators.

Ellen Dorr is currently the Director of Instructional Technology for Renton School District in Seattle, WA.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Washington). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.