Author: lfuinihetten

Learner-centered leaders build mindsets and skillsets!

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 6, we had a conversation about competency-based learning with two leaders and a learner from Regional School Unit 2 (RSU 2) in Maine –  Bill Zima, Superintendent; Mark Tinkham, principal; Bryce Bragdon, learner.

Key Competency

In Episode 2, Allan Cohen describes transformation as a letting go of the past and creation of something entirely new -breaking from what has been done, not just improving it. In RSU 2, the leadership team has provided the space for teachers and learners to thrive in a competency-based system where diplomas are awarded based on proficiency. They’ve done this through a focus on building the mindsets and skillets of all stakeholders.

Bill suggests the role of leadership in this transformation: “My job is to set the right conditions in the right context. As superintendent, I’m trying to set conditions so the principals can work with the teachers to create what needs to happen inside the building.” Learner-centered leaders build mindsets and skillsets in ways that model the expectation for learning in the classroom. Bill later shared the “right conditions” include resources (budget, professional development time and structure) and mindset (supporting innovation and dialog, embracing a rigid philosophy but flexible thought).

Key Takeaways

Teachers and leaders in RSU 2 believe it is important to teach learners how to take advantage of a proficiency-based system. Learners are in contol of the pace of their learning – they can move faster or slower than their classmates. Learners have a tremendous amount of choice and voice. The capstone project was shared as an example of high quality learning in this competency-based system.

In RSU 2, all teachers and leaders are focused on cultivating hope in learners. Agency is defined as “the perceived ability of the individual based upon their capacity to shape their own future.” “Perceived ability” is the mindset. “Based upon their capacity,” is the skillset. RSU 2 believes in building both the mindset and skillset of every learner so they ultimately have the capacity (agency) to do whatever they hope to do. Students feel confident as learners because they have cultivated agency supported by strong mindsets and skillsets.

The biggest challenge for teachers is letting go of control. Teachers are no longer the sages on the stage, but rather facilitators, supporting students to build hope, deep thinking and agency connected to their passions.

RSU 2 supports teachers in shifting to the “letting go” mindset by providing proficiency-based professional development. Strong mentoring for teachers new to RSU 2 is also provided. Professional learning models learning throughout the system.

Another challenge shared by the leaders of RSU2 was shifting the mindset of parents. It’s important to meet parents where they are. Parent groups provide the opportunity to re-induct parents into the mindset. Parents begin to see proficiency-based learning as more constructive than the traditional model.

Connections to Practice

  • Agency is such a keystone in transformation. Who owns the control? Once again, we hear from our friends at RSU 2 that giving up that control to the learner is one of the greatest challenges. We wonder how much agency we are giving to our learners and our principals.
  • Many aspects of our professional development are proficiency-based. Certainly, they reflect the learning beliefs in many ways. Teachers and leaders provide feedback that supports this kind of design for professional learning.
  • From a leadership perspective, we feel we model the kind of learning we want to see in the classroom – active, engaged.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How do we intentionally focus on agency as a key lever of transformation? What happens when learners and leaders resist agency? How do we overcome that?
  • What are our mindsets?  How do we need to help build the mindset for powerful, deep learning experiences in teachers?
  • How often do our teachers confer with individuals or small groups? Or is most of the instruction whole group?
  • While our professional learning models good learning practices, does it provide the opportunity for learners to embrace agency? To what level are they ready to do so?  How does our professional learning build and re-shape mindsets?
  • How do we create the conditions for more agency among our leaders?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in conversations about agency with the leadership team.
  • During monthly principal meetings, participate in walk-throughs where the conversation centers on the learning beliefs and the idea of agency. How does the conversation during the walk-throughs model and highlight the kinds of learning we would like to see in the classroom?
  • Engage in conversations about agency and mindsets with teachers, leaders and learners.

Learner-centered leaders create conditions for learner agency in all stakeholders

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In Episode 7, we had a conversation with Carrie Bakken, Program Coordinator and teacher at Avalon School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Riley Molitor an 11th grader at Avalon. Avalon School is a project-based learning environment.

Key Competency

Avalon School develops learner agency in both learners and teachers. Carrie said, “All students have these really incredible gifts in some areas, and things they are working on in others. Everybody is on their own plan.”  Learners are encouraged to learn about themselves as learners, and then design the work they want to complete throughout their education. While learners complete this work, teachers are learning alongside them.

Key Takeaways

Avalon engages learners in the teaching and learning process from start to finish. At Avalon, all of the work is tailored to the students’ interests by the students, demonstrating a commitment to learner agency. Students examine standards and determine how they will meet them. For example, students might design a project, take a class, or read a book. In our conversation, Riley shared some of the projects she developed. “Everybody’s experience is unique at Avalon,.” she shared.  Learners identify the standards, set goals for the standards, and evaluate their work. In addition, learners write a reflective narrative about their work and the process they engaged in to complete it. Through the completion of these projects, Riley learned about herself as a learner. She learned she is more of a “doing” learner.

Sometimes the learners are actually harder when assessing themselves than when the teachers lead the assessment process. Riley identified that self-assessment can be “kind of difficult”.  While some of the components of the assessment are what we might typically expect (on time, readable, proper grammar, etc), others require more thought and consideration about what the student has completed and how he/she has completed it. Learners also reflect on the question, “How will this impact your next project?”

Different from many other learning environments, Avalon is run collaboratively. There is no principal, and teachers’ roles evolve over time. The teachers are operating with agency and autonomy as they are both leaders and learners. Learners also have the autonomy to create programs, clubs, and internships. Through Avalon Congress, the learners develop rules for the school and operate as the legislative branch; the teachers are the executive branch; and the peer mediators are the judicial branch. The community shares the leadership across the organization.

Other competencies learner-centered learners need: (1) ability to collaborate with learners and teachers;, (2) curiosity, (3) being able to ask for and accept help, (4) manage time and distraction; (5) talk to community members and network outside the Avalon School.

It is expected teachers will  learn from the school’s learners. For example, Carrie indicated as a history teacher, she learned how to put together a computer! It is important that teachers be comfortable with not knowing everything, and be willing to ask questions. Teacher retention at Avalon is 95%. Carrie attributes this to the fact that teachers always have the opportunity to learn something new!  

Avalon is aware that it needs to fit into the framework for meeting the expectations of higher education, and students do receive a transcript. Additionally, learners are graded and complete state-mandated standardized tests.  

Connections to Practice

  • Every person in the organization is a learner in the learner-centered environment.  Teachers model this through their daily interactions with learners.
  • This conversation shows that learners need to be involved in planning, implementing, and assessing their learning. Reflecting on the process of completing the work is as important as doing the work!
  • A learner-centered environment creates relationships within and across the organization. In addition, learners need to develop the knowledge and skills to connect with community members. Through an advisory model, the Avalon teachers loop and advise learners for the years in which they attend the school. Working with the same learners each year helps teachers develop strong relationships with the learners and their families?  
  • Teachers need to be empowered to create experiences for learners and differentiate.  Providing autonomy to teachers keeps teachers fresh and motivated to learn.
  • Leadership needs to be shared between leaders, teachers, and learners. Creating structures for these opportunities develops a stronger learning community.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • Do our teachers and leaders model the way as learners?
  • What opportunities do our students have to network outside of school? Are they developing the skills to communicate and collaborate with community members?
  • How do our students tailor projects to their passions?
  • How do we engage student voice to the level of the Avalon Congress?
  • How do we develop more agency in our teachers?  What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do our teachers need to develop?

Next Steps for Us

  • Look at aspects of the organization through the lens of learner agency. And ask the questions outlined above.
  • Identify strategies for engaging learner voice.
  • Develop action plans to increase opportunities for real-world projects connected to learner passions.

Learner-centered Leaders have a Clear Understanding of Learner Agency

Episode 5

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D


In episode 5, we had a conversation on learner agency, real-world projects, community, impact, leadership and much more with leaders and learners from Iowa BIG. We spoke with Trace Pickering, Executive Director and co-creator of Iowa BIG, Shawn Cornally, lead teacher and co-creator at Iowa BIG, and Jemar Lee, a junior at the time of the podcast recording.

Key Competency

The thread that travelled through the entire conversation was that of learner agency. In fact, Trace describes its importance this way: “Learner agency is that secret ingredient, that secret sauce that unlocks the other four elements – competency, personalization, open-walled and socially-embedded.” Learner-centered leaders have a clear understanding of learner agency and the role it plays in shifting the paradigm from school-centered to learner-centered. Notice the “learner-centeredness” in these words used to describe learning at Iowa BIG: passion-driven projects, learning adapts to the learner, not driven by time, relentless about giving ownership to learners.

Key Takeaways

At the center of learning at Iowa BIG are projects tied to learner passions. Iowa BIG has strong connections to the community, and students have a pool of projects to pull from – more project opportunities than can actually be adopted by learners. (The school is located in an entrepreneurial/co-working space in Cedar Rapids, IA.) Jemar spoke of several projects connected to his passions of literature, US history, architecture and education.

Failures are not uncommon and expected as learners are learning. When encountering failure, learners pick themselves up, pivot and learn how to be better next time. If a project isn’t working for a learner (if it’s not a “Saturday project” – Would you get up and care about this project on a Saturday morning?), the learner will work with the advisor to find one that is more closely connected to a passion.

Why is learner agency so important? We paraphrase Shawn: Currently, students in school believe in their ability to act on their ideas 0% of the time and our ideas 100% of the time. Learners are being robbed of their agency in order to receive our content knowledge, much of which is useless to them. This needs to be reversed. The first step? Identify learner passions and interests.

Learners come to Iowa BIG with different ideas of agency. Some learners know they have it, and school hasn’t previously honored it. There are also learners who actively dislike or are afraid of agency. “It’s a really awkward feeling to have agency,” Shawn shared. Mentors at Iowa BIG struggle with students who are afraid of owning their own agency. There are several ways, systemically, that the school creates a culture of learner agency: (1) get rid of classical structures that “control” (i.e. grades, schedules, testing, traditional curriculum and standards); (2) alter language to minimize control structures – teacher becomes mentor; class becomes meeting time; lecture becomes seminar; (3) develop strong staff/student relationships and engage in 1:1 conversations with students about interests, passions, and projects; (4) create conditions for staff to experience agency so they know how to create conditions for learners to experience it.

The above are examples of how leaders at Iowa BIG are challenging assumptions about schools, rejecting those they can, and giving the freedom to those in the system to reimagine new assumptions. Some powerful questions learner-centered leaders ask: (1) What parts of the old system have merit? (2) What can they look like in a new learner-centered paradigm? (3) How do we rebuild meaningful structures around learner agency? These questions have a “design thinking” flavor to them. How would leaders, mentors and learners respond to these questions?

The toughest thing to let go of in a learner-centered environment is the belief the written curriculum is the only way learners achieve competency. “It’s arbitrary,” said Shawn. There is no one way that learners come to an understanding. Shawn shared, “Competency-based is not about focusing more on the standards. By not talking about standards, you unleash agency. All we care about is that they become passionate about a project.”

How does this work? Mentors have the standards in mind. When they see a connection to a learner’s project, proficiency is documented. Once learners understand how agency works, they are introduced to the appropriate standards. At the conclusion of every project, the mentor and learner hold a “wake” where standards are back-mapped. After standards are backmapped, students are allocated credit towards their transcript.

Regarding college transcripts: These leaders believe this is largely a made-up barrier. They have spoken with some regional colleges who want self-actualized learners. The question focused on at Iowa BIG: How can we help learners develop a resume that represents their deeper learning?

Other competencies learner-centered leaders need: (1) Embrace a complex/adaptive perspective driven by a vision for learning. Practice. Refine. Adjust. (2) The default answer is “yes.” Leaders create the conditions for mentors and learners to exercise the power they already have. (3) Recognize that each learner has a purpose.

Connections to Practice

  • This conversation shows that the process of change is not perfect. There are challenges along the way, nothing is perfect, and agency requires a lot of work.
  • Learner agency applies to everyone across the entire organization, not just learners in the classroom but leaders and mentors as well.
  • Focus on learner agency can be a high-leverage point for changing to a learner-centered school environment.
  • Leadership needs to be collaborative. When challenges arise, we need to support each other and view ideas from multiple perspectives.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How are we creating the conditions to embrace ownership of learning – for older and younger learners alike? How do we identify passions and interests in our learners, mentors and leaders?
  • What command/control structures are squashing agency (in learners, leaders and mentors)? (i.e. grades, schedules, testing, curriculum and standards)
  • How are we as leaders creating space for learner agency for principals and mentors?
  • How does the notion of language changes fit into the context of our organization?
  • How would leaders, mentors and learners respond to these questions? (1) What parts of the old system have merit? (2) What can they look like in a new learner-centered paradigm? (3) How do we rebuild meaningful structures around learner agency?
  • What is the relationship of agency and trust? Without accountability systems will people feel the system has no expectation and fall into a routine of producing low effort? If so, what does this say about culture? Is agency more work? How do leaders demand a high level of agency?
  • How are we moving our mentors to let go of the notion that the written curriculum (or even the textbook) is the one and only way to achieve competency?
  • Are our students doing “Saturday” projects? If not, are they able to “join another team?”
  • How are we helping students develop “more than a transcript?”
  • If we want learning to be more social and more open-walled, what mechanisms do we need to put in place to generate a pool of real-world, community-based projects?

Next Steps for Us

  • Look at aspects of the organization through the lens of learner agency. And ask the above questions.
  • Develop a dialog around changing vocabulary in the organization.
  • Focus on creating the conditions for agency in school leaders for 2017-18.
  • Develop action plans to increase opportunities for real-world projects connected to learner passions


How do you frame transformation?

This post is the first in a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

In the first two episodes of Shift Your Paradigm, our guests (Kelly Young, Allan Cohen and Anya Smith) helped lay the foundation for future conversations by helping answer the questions: What is learner-centered? and What is learner-centered leadership?

One of my takeaways from the conversation was the importance of language and the words we use to describe our practice. In Episode 2, Allen helped clarify the idea of “transformation.” Allan piqued my curiosity and challenged my own thinking when he described transformation as a kind of change where the form of something is altered. Transformation occurs when we let go of the past and create something entirely new. It’s about breaking from what has been done, not just improving it. (Go ahead, read those last two sentences a few times and think deeply about how they resonate with your current thinking about change in education.)

You may be thinking about some of these questions: How are we transforming education? How is the paradigm shift from school-centered to learner-centered leveraged to bring about transformation in education? What is the evidence of a transformation? What are the learners (young and old) saying about the learning? The “how” of the paradigm shift and the transformation of education is what we will be focusing on starting in Episode 3.

Once we’ve shifted our mindset, there is the actual work of transformation. And it is challenging! Leadership up and down the organization is critical, and we explored this topic in Episode 2 with Anya and Allan. Formal leaders working to transform learning first have to manage the dominance of the existing school-centered paradigm. Leaders can begin to cause something new to happen by introducing the new learner-centered lens into the culture of the school or district. Initially, they may sound crazy to those speaking the language of the dominant school-centered paradigm, and may not initially be heard because it’s disruptive to the dominant paradigm. Allan offered some valuable advice: listen more than you speak. Find the best opportunities to share the new paradigm. Then ask the question, “What are your concerns? What are you curious about?” The shift – and subsequent transformation – requires time, careful conversation and listening, not speeches.

In Episode 1 Kelly offers this advice to leaders embarking on the transformation journey and the paradigm shift : (1) be a learner; (2) approach it as a mindset shift; (3) listen and find your own answers relevant to your own community; do not try to replicate what others are doing. “There is no one way to be!” What will you need to rethink in your context? What will you need to let go of? And in Episode 2, Anya reminds us that our greatest untapped resource in this work is our learners. How do we see everyone in the organization as a learner and a leader?

Ready for the work of transformation – breaking from what has been done and creating something entirely new? If you haven’t listened to Episode 1 and Episode 2, head on over to or iTunes and join us on the journey! Come back soon for Episodes 3 and 4 where we begin uncovering the “how” of transformation in specific contexts, speaking to leaders and a learner from Alamo Heights Independent School District in Alamo Heights, TX.

What is your vision for learning? What does it let go of from the past? What does it create that is entirely new?

Connect with Lynn on Twitterand on the TLTalkRadio podcast!

Learner-centered Leaders Engage the Voice of the Learner

This post is part of a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.

Lynn Fuini-Hetten and Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D

In episodes 3 and 4, we had the opportunity to learn about learner-centered environments and leadership at Alamo Heights Independent School District in Alamo Heights, TX. We spoke with superintendent, Dr. Kevin Brown, and assistant superintendent, Dr. Frank Alfaro in Episode 3. In Episode 4, we spoke with Erick Castillon, a graduate of Alamo.

Key Competency

It was clear from our conversation with Kevin and Frank that learner-centered leaders engage the voice of the learner. We learned how Alamo Heights has created their Profile of a Learner and how students were involved extensively in this process. Learner-centered leaders treat learners as individuals, then design coursework that lays out a path to success aligned with the Profile. We heard this in Erick’s story.

Key Takeaways

Kevin and Frank spoke extensively on how they have focused on engagement. For quite a few years they have worked with the Schlecty Center to deepen their values around engagement. In order to design compelling learning environments where learners want to do the work, it’s important to understand the learners as individuals. This is done through learner panels and focus groups. Practicing close listening, qualitative data is gathered and used to design and redesign learning environments based on the individual needs and interests of learners.

This leadership stance goes beyond the classroom. Kevin and Frank shared that while initially the learner profile was focused on the classroom and listening to learners, they soon realized it applied to everyone in the organization. All stakeholders are valued as learners, engaged as learners and listened to as learners. This reminds us of an important component of design thinking – empathizing with the user. Design thinking is an important framework through which to deepen our understanding of learner-centered environments and leadership.

Along with gaining a deep understanding of stakeholders (learners) comes a flat organizational hierarchy. While there are formal titles, everyone is an individual with talents and strengths that can be tapped into when designing solutions to complex challenges. Everyone is a learner in the organization. Differences are valued as strengths.

Leaders in a learner-centered environment shape the conversations of the organization. At Alamo Heights, the conversation is focused on learning and the things they care about as communicated in the Profile of a Learner. Conversations around compliance occur (i.e. state accountability mechanisms), but they are overshadowed by conversations about learning and experiences for children.

Learner-centered leaders, through engaging stakeholders, have to learn to give up control to others. Building relationships requires vulnerability and an openness to letting ideas come from within the organization – this reinforces a culture of agency. Learner-centered leaders do not have all the answers.

At the classroom level, Erick’s story provides an example of engaged learning. Erick was successful in the rocketry program because it connected to his interests. He also shared that working on real-world projects was motivating, especially when he was expected to do most of the work of learning with support from his teacher as needed. The teacher provided the “what” for learning, but Erick was in control of the “how.” The classroom was a motivating and compelling environment for Erick because he needed to learn how to learn. That has served him well in two internships at NASA and in engineering coursework at the college level.

Time is used differently by learner-centered leaders. Kevin shared that leaders need to “get out where the game is being played.” This is a shift from traditional leadership paradigms where leaders spend much of the day in the office, behind a desk. Learner-centered leaders also make time to think and have enriching dialog around a vision for learning and how to translate that vision to reality. This often involves creating prototypes, gathering data and creating the next prototype rooted in the vision.

Connections to Our Practice

  • Listening to stakeholders – We seek out formative and summative feedback from a variety of stakeholders in the form of focus groups, surveys, conversations in professional learning sessions, coffee and conversation meeting, etc.
  • Our Profile of a Graduate has helped anchor our conversations around learning more frequently than before. Evidence of this is in the work with Leading #YourSalisbury.
  • Our organizational hierarchy in Salisbury is flat. As Kevin and Frank were describing what this looks like in Alamo Heights, we were making connections to what ours looks like.
  • We have also minimized the conversation outside of learning. While we complete tasks of compliance, we and our board do not hold them as the highest need. Those things that are valued most are indicated in our Profile of a Graduate.
  • We use our time differently than school-centered leaders. We are frequently out of the office and in our schools. We also engage each other in enriching dialog around vision and how to best translate that into reality. We are also learners – connecting with like-minded colleagues through state/national organizations, reading and producting two podcasts.

Questions Based on Our Context

  • How do we define enagagement? How do we use the engagement of learners to fuel change? How are our teachers, learners and students engaged?
  • How do we use feedback from stakeholders to redesign the map for change or redesign the next iteration?
  • Would a better understanding of the design thinking process deepen our understanding of the learner-centered paradigm?
  • What would it be like if we had more classrooms focused on real-world, authentic projects such as those described in these podcasts?
  • What if our leaders were more engaged in enriching dialog around learning? How can we better foster that?

Next Steps for Us

  • Engage in personal learning around engagement and design thinking.
  • Develop further opportunities to more deeply engage stakeholders in this work.
  • Determine how PBL can fuel our transformation and bring vision to reality.
  • Find formal and informal opportunities to engage our leaders (and all stakeholders) in conversations around learning (i.e. collaborative classroom walkthroughs, classroom spotlight segment on SFN-TV, community programs around the Profile of a Graduate on SFN-TV).

Episode 001: What is learner-centered? Interview with Kelly Young, Executive Director, Education Reimagined

We are very excited to be partnering with Education Reimagined on this work and are pleased to kick off this podcast series with someone certainly expert in the learner-centered paradigm, Education Reimagined’s Executive Director, Kelly Young. In this episode, we lay the ground work for this podcast series by focusing the conversation on what learner-centered means and what learner-centered leadership might look like.

For each episode we leave you with a couple of questions to think about with the idea of provoking conversation. Leave your responses in the show notes! This episode’s questions:

  1. How would you explain learner-centered to a colleague?
  2. What is one practice you would like to re-examine as you make the shift to a learner-centered environment?


Providing Feedback throught the ACT Framework

unknownAt #NCE17 this week, I was able to attend a session Improving Leadership Performance – 5 Tips to Maximize Your Leaders’ Potential faciliated by Mark  Reardon, a former administrator and Lead Education Consultant for Quantum Learning.

Mark spent time through the session helping us understand a formula for efficacy which includes consistency, confidence, competence, and effort.  As leaders, we have the greatest impact on our supervisees’ competence. We hire individuals with the knowledge, dispositions, and skills which best meet our organization’s culture. We provide professional learning opportunities. We engage in conversations about our practice. Most importantly, we provide feedback.  There is much research about feedback being “timely, specific, and actionable.” But, Mark shared a specific tool to help us as leaders give meaningful feedback to our colleagues.

My biggest takeaway from the session was the ACT framework for feedback.  When providing feedback, Mark encouraged us to identify the action, include the characteristics, and highlight our target (or goal).

For example…

Action – I noticed you… or You___…

Characteristics – You displayed empathy when… or You thought carefully when…

Target – This helps us further our goal of… or This will help us to …

So, for example, let’s say a principal evaluates a teacher. In the post-conference evaluation form, the principal articulated clear commendations and recommendations based on the narrative of the observation.

As a leader, I could provide specific feedback along the lines of …

“John, I noticed on your evaluation of Ms. Smith, you provided clear recommendations for improving student engagement. You thought critically about her instructional practice and personal philosphy and made targeted recommendations which she can use to grow professionally. Improving instruction and student engagement helps us meet our goal of increasing student achievement.”  Imagine the power this has over “Good job on that evaluation!”

What other strategies do you have for providing specific feedback in order to improve competence of our leaders?

Using Social Media to Tell Your Story – A Panel at #NCE17

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-10-07-30-amAt #NCE17 this week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion (Using Social Media to Tell Your Story) for Superintendents and school leaders across the country. Here are a few of the ideas I shared.

Start with the why. Take the time to establish your goals with social media use.  Why do you want to use it? Who will be using it?  What benefits will using social media afford your organization?

Identify and mitigate the barriers. What are your operational challenges? What are your mindset challenges?  Each context will have different challenges; here are a few we navigated.

Create your accounts on the platforms which best serve your constituents. Who is your audience? What tools does your audience already access? Who will have administrative rights to post on your organization’s behalf?  In Salisbury, we use multiple venues, and multiple people have access.  Our Director of Athletics and Activities is our most active poster!    Most of our social media use is through Facebook and Twitter. If families don’t have accounts, they can view our streams on our website –

Ensure you have the appropriate policies.  Consult with your experts and board to create (and/or update) board policies and guidelines (Acceptable Use, Social Media for Students, Social Media for Employees, etc.)  View our policy here.

Build capacity for sharing.  If you are using Twitter, offer workshops for parents, teachers, and leaders so they can learn to use the tool.  Talk about your why and uncover mindsets about social media use. When we had a snow delay a couple of years ago, Randy Ziegenfuss and I conducted an impromptu Twitter workshop for our leaders who reported on time.   Recently, Ross Cooper helped our admin team set up IFTTT accounts so our leaders could share to multiple venues at one time.  Leaders offered a parent workshop on Twitter during a building open house. How can you create opportunities for formal and informal learning for your stakeholders?

Model the Way

As a district leader, I know I need to model the way as a lead learner.   As leaders, we need to help others understand what these ideas look like in practice and why the work is valuable. My goal is to tweet a photo from one of our schools every day.  I also check the district hashtag every day and retweet some of the postings. I co-host a podcast  (TLTalkRadio,org) with my superintendent, Randy Ziegenfuss. As a district, we use a blog ( to promote ideas and current events. How can you model the way in your organization?

Publicize your tools.  We need to ensure our stakeholders know how to access the tools which were selected.  Create a social media card and share it in school offices.  Visit open houses, PTO meetings, etc. to promote the use of social media.

Each panel member shared her ideas, and then there were several questions asked of the panel.  One of those questions was, “What were your lessons learned?”  As I thought about this question, I reflected on one key lesson we learned.  When we first started using Twitter, we used two hashtags (#stsdfalcons and #stsdlearns). Soon, we have teachers and leaders asking why we had a different hashtag for academics and activities.  As a result, we rebranded ourselves with one hashtag – #YourSalisbury!

What lessons have you learned along your journey of telling your district’s story?

3 Ways to Get More out of Conferences

logo_headerThis week, teachers and leaders from Salisbury Township School District attended PETE&C, Pennsylvania’s  Education and Technology Conference, in Hershey, PA. Professional conferences can be valuable learning experiences, and they often require a significant investment of human and/or financial resources? How can you make this human and financial investment meaningful for your district?

  1. Before the conference – Prepare! 
    1. Build the team who will attend.  Hopefully, your team will include some veteran attendees as well as first-timers.  Additionally, if possible bring a team which is comprised of teachers, building and district leaders, and even relevant support staff.  In the past, we have brought members of our tech support staff to this conference.  Conferences can be a great venue for learning together!
    2. Plan and provide all “operational” details.What are the details teachers/leaders need to know? Are there hotel reservations or reimbursement details they need?  What information can you provide ahead of time in order to avoid confusion later? For example, I provide a list of district-led presentations, information about limits/reimbursements for meals, etc.
  2. During the conference – Engage! 
    1. Embed opportunities to develop your relationships and connect with each other.
      So what does this look like?  Maybe there is a central meeting place in a lobby where teachers can meet and share informally.  Perhaps it is possible to schedule a lunch where everyone can meet and debrief their learning.
    2. Support your teachers/leaders who are presenting. Take the time to participate in presentations which your teachers/leaders are facilitating.  Share their work through a quick tweet with the conference hashtag.  Celebrate your presenters!  Provide positive feedback and offer to have a reflective conversation about their presentation. (I like to send a handwritten follow up note to our presenters. Hand-written notes can go a long way!)
    3. Attend Keynotes together. This is easier said than done… Sometimes seating can be an issue. Plan ahead and meet in the same spot each day or ask the early-birds to save a row for your team.
  3. After the conference – Empower!
    1. Provide opportunities to share your learning and build capacity.
      How can others in your district benefit from this team’s attendance?  Can you provide opportunities to share during faculty  meetings, morning meetings, Summer Academy sessions department meetings, etc.?  As a leader, how do you model the way?
    2. Allocate resources to support attendees’ learning. Hopefully, attendees will return from the conference motivated and eager to implement what they learned. How can you allocate some financial and human resources to encourage this risk-taking?  Sometimes a small investment can result in additional intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation.

What other strategies do you have to make the most of professional conferences?