THE 2010 PRINCIPALS’ PARTNERSHIP POLL Executive Summary Prepared by:
Ronald Williamson, Ed.D. Professor, Leadership and Counseling Eastern Michigan University
During registration for The Principals’ Partnership 2010 Summer Institute principals were asked to respond to an open-ended question about social media, one of today’s most pressing issues for school leaders. What are your most immediate leadership needs in managing social media applications in your school? The question prompted a variety of responses from the 306 principals and ranged from “not a need” to a “need to encourage faculty to use social media for instruction.” The responses fell into three categories - - • legal implications about use and abuse of social media as well as the appropriate response from school leaders, • policy implications about establishing guidelines for the use of social media and for an acceptable use policy, and • educational implications including how to use social media to enhance the curricular and instructional program and how to provide school personnel with the knowledge and skills to successfully use social media. Educational Considerations The growing use of social media has legal and policy implications but the need cited most often by principals was for help integrating social media into the curriculum. “How to promote the use of this technology in a rigorous, engaging and yet safe and responsible way,” was the need described by a Colorado principal. Even more prevalent than the need for teachers to use social media, was the need for training and professional development about social media. Many principals recognized that adults aren’t as familiar, or comfortable, with social media as students and want their teachers to learn about the ways that social media can be used to improve instruction. Professional development was a clearly identified need. Another Colorado principal described the need as “helping the staff understand how to use a variety of media as instructional tools, tools for learning.” There was also recognition that social media can be an effective communication tool and many principals are interested in learning about how they can use social media to communicate with families, community and alumni. One principal from California summarized the need as “how to use [social media] as a tool of communication, to gather community support and secure alumni . . . support.”
Table 1 Most Frequently Mentioned Educational Issues Integration of social media into curriculum and instruction Training school personnel on use of social media Increasing teacher use of social media in instruction Educating students on responsible use of social media Understanding the ways that social media can improve communication with families and community Over and over again principals asked for assistance in working with their teachers to learn about social media and how it can be used to improve student achievement. An Iowa principal summarized the need as, “how to assist and lead teachers in their professional development to use these applications in meaningful ways.” Legal Considerations Many principals want clear guidelines about how to proceed when there is a need to discipline students for the inappropriate use of social media. Since students frequently use social media off campus to communicate with others, principals want to know what the legal guidance is for when and how they can discipline students for acts such as cyberbullying or sexting. One Texas principal described this issue as, “understanding the disciplinary issues related to the use of social media…basically, if it affects the campus how can we deal with it?” At the same time principals recognized that there is a need to work with students and their families on the safe and appropriate use of social media. Most principals recognized that students will continue to have access to cell phones and other digital devices and that schools have a responsibility to “educate” students on acceptable use. Few principals sought to ban cell phones or other social media. They recognize that while there are risks associated with their use by students, there is also tremendous potential to improve the educational experience. “The answer is not to throw them out and tell students not to use them” said an Iowa principal. A Utah principal summarized the need as, “how to use the technology that students have in a positive way for classroom instruction.”
Table 2 Most Frequently Mentioned Legal Issues Disciplining students for inappropriate use during school hours Cyberbullying and Sexting Training for students and families on safe and appropriate use of social media Clear legal guidelines about how schools can respond to the inappropriate use of social media Policy Considerations Along with the need for clear guidance about the legal implications of use of social media, principals also recognized the need for school and district policies about their use. The need for an “Acceptable Use Policy” was cited frequently and principals would like examples of guidelines that might be used in their school. Table 3 Most Frequently Mentioned Policy Issues Need for an “Acceptable Use Policy” Assuring infrastructure (band width) for use of social media Access to current technology in a time of budget constraints Sample guidelines for safe use Principals were also concerned about district policy and resources to support the use of technology. Increased use of social media and other digital applications in classrooms requires sufficient bandwidth to accommodate that use. The prospect of stable or reduced funding for schools has many principals concerned about their district’s commitment to use of social media, and other technology, in classrooms. Summary The 2010 Principals’ Partnership poll surveyed 306 high school principals about their most immediate leadership needs in managing social media in their school. The most frequent response asked for assistance in the use of social media to improve the educational experience of students. This included training for teachers and other school personnel on how to integrate social media into their classrooms and how to use it to improve achievement. Principals were also aware of the inappropriate uses of social media and want clear guidance about legal parameters for disciplining students for things like cyberbullying. Finally, principals seek assistance in developing appropriate school policies that support the appropriate use of social media and are provide clarity about the consequences of inappropriate use.
During the past year there has been heightened interest in the use of social media. In response The Principals’ Partnership developed a set of Research Briefs addressing many of the issues raised in this report. The briefs are available at the following sites: Social Media: An Introduction – http://www.principalspartnership.com/SocialMedia.pdf Cyberbullying - http://www.principalspartnership.com/Cyberbullying.pdf Innovative Uses of Social Media http://www.principalspartnership.com/InnovativeUsesSocialMedia.pdf Developing an Acceptable Use Policy for Social Media – Coming Soon Using iPods for Instruction - http://www.principalspartnership.com/iPods.pdf
Ron Williamson is Professor of Leadership and Counseling at Eastern Michigan University and the author of The Principalship from A to Z, Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way, and Scheduling to Improve Student Learning. His blog Effective Principals, Effective Schools is available at http://effectiveprincipals.blogspot.com. Ron also edits the Research Briefs available on The Principals’ Partnership website.