Monday, June 1, 2015

Cultivating Young Leaders and Embracing Social Media

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."
 ~Steve Jobs~

Several years ago my collegue and friend Jane Hutchison and I developed a workshop for pre-service teachers called "What to Expect as a First Year Teacher." Shortly after developing it, we began providing the experience for pre-service teachers at Rider University. Creating an awareness from an insiders perspective about what to expect as a first year classroom teacher is something we have become quite passionate about. Usually the students are very engaged and our interactions over the years have been mutually beneficial.

One evening last spring after finishing our presentation with some discussion about the value of using Twitter and becoming a connected educator, we were approached by Sylwia Denko who was a senior there at the time. She recommended the reading of a book to us about social media and its value in education. She also told us that she was attending a job fair on campus the following day and had several interviews lined up. She then proceeded to ask Jane and I for some advice.  I am not sure exactly what the advice that we gave was but I remember how poised and confident she was throughout that first conversation.

Shortly thereafter, Jane and I began following Sylwia on Twitter and ironically enough we were surprised to learn that one of those interviews had taken place in Robbinsville where we are currently employed. Eventually we would be thrilled to learn that she had in fact been hired as a third grade teacher.  Over the course of the summer and getting to know Sylwia through various hashtag chat interactions it became clear that she possessed a great deal of energy and an impressive skill set.  There was no doubt that she was going to be an excellent addition to our district and the children placed in her charge were in store for a special year.

 Using Twitter as a tool, it has been easy to follow the success of Sylwia's first year as a classroom teacher. Not only is she active on professional hashtag chats but she has created a Twitter page for her classroom.  She has used this forum to celebrate the success of her students on a daily basis and in in the process updates her parent community about the daily undertakings of their children.  Sylwia's collegues have also gained from her passion for social media. She has shared her knowledge with those previously unaware of Twitter's potential and even encouraged her peers to establish a PLN (Professional Learning Network) of their own.

Recently our district took advantage of Sylwia's talents, as our K-8 Curriculum supervisor Kimberly Reynolds -Tew recruited her to lead two professional development experiences for our staff. Each experience would focus on how to use Twitter to grow as a professional and potentially transform classrooms.  Jane and I were enthusiastic to support Sylwia's efforts and were in attendance at the second workshop at Robbinsville High School. The  session that we attended included staff members and various administrators throughout the district.  All who attended came away with a much better understanding of how to effectively use Twitter as an instructional tool by the time the workshop had ended.

There was an undeniable energy in the room as people asked relevant questions and looked to embrace this opportunity to become connected educators. Suzanne Guidry our assistant principal, established a school account and has been enthusiastically Tweeting about events in our school since the conclusion of the workshop. This account celebrates staff and student achievement and I look forward to watching it evolve over the coming months and the new school year.

In order for school districts to move forward they must consistently find ways to empower members of their staff to provide both formal and informal leadership. When cultivating young leaders they gain the opportunity to install enduring innovative programs that will provide new growth and energy within their professional community. As a result, all stakeholders, especially the students, reap the benefits from the utilization of these "cutting edge" programs.

The leadership demonstrated by Sylwia Denko as a result of her passion for and knowledge of social media, will undoubtedly have an enduring, positive impact upon our professional learning community in Robbinsville. I look forward to observing her influence continuing to take root as she grows as a valuable educational leader within our district.

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