I was lucky to have scored an invitation to the ASCD Leader to Leader Conference. ASCD is a premier education organization that engages a membership of about 150,000 educators internationally. This particular conference concentrates on the leadership of ASCD. It is a great effort by this organization to bring together its leadership as well as invite, introduce, promote and revere new leadership along with tried-and-true leaders. This is a great way for any organization to transfer power from the old guard to the new.
My invitation was somewhat of a mystery to me. I am not a leader within the organization or interested in becoming one. It is not that it is a position that I would not be honored to hold, but my career has taken me down another path. I am a blogger, and one of my platforms is ASCD EDge, one of several websites that ASCD uses to expose members to blog posts, discussions, media and events of education. My assumption is that my invitation was linked to my blogging, which is a gutsy thing for any organization to do. It opens the inner workings of the organization to the scrutiny of someone who can expose its blemishes to the world. It is a true acceptance of transparency.
In my role at this conference, I found myself at times an observer and other times a participant. What was obvious to me as an observer is that many tools of technology have changed the definitions by which the organization tries to govern itself — a dilemma not foreign to the system of education. The most obvious of these definitions is that of “connectedness.” In terms that leaders of this group understand, they are connected by e-mail, websites, cellphones and state-of-the-art conferences. Compared with 20th-century methods of connectedness, these newer methods should be taking the leaders to a higher level — and they do, but they don’t meet the expected goal.
What was obvious to me in all of the leadership discussions is that the leaders were viewing connectedness as a static position that they had reached. They expected that after they created websites and organized conferences, they could get the message out to more members than ever before. All of that is probably true, but the real question is whether they are reaching everyone possible and necessary to be relevant. We can’t use standards of the 20th century to determine success in the 21st. Developing technology will continually move the mark forward. Our definitions will continue to evolve as technology changes the methods and intensity of things we do. Our goals become moving targets, and if we don’t adjust our sights, we can never hit those goals.
My view of the missing piece to the puzzle for this group and many others is the integration of social media and the ability to strategize their use to maximize communication, involvement and creation by members to advance goals of the group. This can also apply to education. Educators can use social media to connect, communicate and create with other educators to advance their goals.
Of course, the obvious stumbling blocks are large and multiple. First, we need to convince people that social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn are serious and effective for professional connections, as well as learning. Second, we need to teach the basics of these tools so people can use them. Third, we need to apply strategies to use these tools effectively to maximize their potential for ongoing, continuous connectedness. Again, all of these obstacles are not limited to organizations such as ASCD and its members; they also apply to educators and education.
We cannot continue to act using definitions from the past to address today’s goals. Technology is rapidly and continuously changing what we do and how we do it. Being truly connected is the only way we can maintain relevance. Education has traditionally been a conservative institution, with change coming slowly. That is no longer an option for educators. Technology is the game changer. If we are not moving forward, we are falling behind. If our leaders and professional organizations are not staying relevant, the revolution many of us are hoping for in education might arrive too late to help.
This is what I had to offer ASCD as a result of my participation in its forward-thinking conference for leadership. Additionally, I hope we can apply some of these lessons to an education system that needs leadership to define itself in relevant terms to effect change. I am tired of having educators and education being defined by businesspeople, politicians and tax reformers. We are the education experts, and we can define ourselves in relevant terms.
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.