Leadership in a networked environment

Communication.

It’s something that most people don’t usually think about and when they do they believe they’re pretty good at since, well, it’s how the world moves. In the f2f world, spoken communication is only one way we get a message. The body language of the person,  tone of voice, inflections, speed of speech and other contexts impact what is being said and what is being received/interpretted. It’s something that I work on continuously in  my role as principal and educational leader. How people perceive I am listening to them has a huge impact on the relationship that develops. Especially with students, their need to have you listen BEFORE you speak has a huge impact on how the situation will develop. Speaking is only a small part of communicating. This is one area that needs to be addressed in our educational systems.

As a leader in my school and within my division, I have worked on body language and listening skills so that people know I am listening to what they have to say. It was a director with whom I worked who very bluntly pointed out that, although I listened, I didn’t have the greatest listening posture. It didn’t matter that I was paying attention or that I did listen to what was being said, my posture was sending out another signal. From then on, I have worked on conveying the message that I am interested in the person that is speaking and what they have to say. Of course, I sometimes slip but at least I know when that is happening. Good communication requires that one’s effort in listening matches that of the speaking. Often, we are wording a response or thinking of a rebuttle or reviewing our grocery list instead of focusing on what they other person is saying.

This all changes in a world where we are more and more networked with less f2f communication. Even within my own school, the use of email and electronic calendars has reduced the need for people to meet f2f.  With students, I’ve been using more and more web2.0 technology which means that communication with them sometimes takes the form of conversations via network and not f2f. In fact, during the NECC and BLC conventions, both of which I was unable to attend, I was able to skype into a few sessions and read about them on a number of blogs. I didn’t get the f2f version and, I believe, lost much of message because of not being able to see what was happening. The whole way we communicate changes when we eliminate the ability for others to see our facial expressions, posture and hear our inflections. We must rely on the word on a page to deliver our message.

Discussions on communication have been cropping up lately in a number of places. In Greg Farr’s post about change one can sense the passion that Greg has for doing this. His turns of phrase and the intensity with which he proclaims his desires for next year come across as he explains his vision and where he wants to go. In another great set of posts,Kim at  G-Town Talks focuses on her move from being a principal to an assistant-superintendent. Her posts deal with how she feels about the new position and the reaction of her community and her own self-discussions. Again, you can sense her struggle as she decides to move on to this new position.  Greg Mosses has been discussing the changes he is going through as he moves into an assistant principal position and his dealing with distance learning. Greg highlights his apprehension and insights within his new environment. Christian Long of ThinkLab has decided that, with his move back to the classroom, he will switch his blogging site for this new stage of his career. His post on this decision and the comments that ensued are a great example of how the connections within the new social environment are impacting educators on a variety of levels. Christian also has a great post on the use of Twitter and his decision to not look at it for the classroom. I’m with him on that one. Although I do enjoy twittering away a few moments now and then, just because it’s cool doesn’t mean we have to use it. Dean Shareski has another post about RSS and how many of us who are using the web2.0 tools would like to see particular people blog as we tend to get most of our information via this format.

With all this happening, I began to think about being a leader and how my leading will evolve as people, teachers especially, begin to use social networks to a greater extent. How will sites like Facebook and MySpace or sites within closed environments impact how we interact as professionals? How will our role as leaders evolve within this new social network? What impact will the social networks have on teachers and, in turn, principals as they navigate these new networks? How do leaders ensure that information and communication doesn’t get lost or misinterpreted through these various networks of communication?

Three factors that I notice impact the manner in which communication just doesn’t work in a networked environment. As a leader and someone who uses network communication a great deal, this has become as important as the body language during f2f meetings. The first one that writers should be aware of is that some things just don’t transfer well to this type of communication, satire and irony being two that I find don’t make the transfer. It’s not that one can’t use the two, but it is hard to tell how one is suppose to read the comments. Some writers tend to use it but don’t get it when it is directed towards them. I would forgo using either unless you can take as well as give.

 A second factor in this type of communication is how you word your posts and comments. It seems that there are some people who make it their quest to constantly be the the opposing side/devil’s advocate. Although this is okay some of the time, using it too much can cause communication problems. It’s good to have an opposite view but, as in f2f, too much negativity isn’t good. You don’t have to agree with all that is written but be aware of how you give voice to your disagreement. Remember, you are not there to explain your words. 

A final factor is the type of language one uses. Trying to demonstrate your language knowledge through the vocabulary you use may seem like a way to show your stuff but it will turn many a reader away.  This doesn’t mean you dumb down things but, instead, use language that won’t leave people going “Huh?”

Communication.

In education it is becoming more important as we struggle to stay abreast of the latest technology and remain focused on the student and their needs. Greg Farr’s post is one of the best step-by-step looks at how he, as a leader in his school, is planning on focusing on specifics and bring direction at a time when there is so much going on in education. I appreciated Greg’s open and honest reflections and his explanations. I especially like that he outlined how he was hoping to communicate with his staff. As a leader we really need to focus on this. As teachers, we must realize that there are multiple modes of communication available and we should be striving to use the best one for what it is we are doing with our students. We also need to reexamine how we want students to communicate with us. I know that I will be exploring this in my upcoming class. The paper hand in assignment just doesn’t seem to fit in a class called Communication Production Technology.

Communication – it’s not as easy as it sounds.

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One response

  1. I’ve tagged you in the 8 random facts meme (sorry)

    http://2coach.wordpress.com/2007/08/04/8-random-facts-meme/

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