During a recent dinner with a dozen high school principals at a professional meeting, the conversation turned to social media and some of the issues surrounding them. Actually, no one used the term social media; rather, they referred to texting, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of others that are commonly used by their students and some of their teachers. When we asked if they knew the term social media and what it meant, a few ventured a guess, but the guesses were either names of some of the more popular systems, such as Facebook and Twitter, or system types, such as blogs or mobile apps (or applications) for smart phones. Many of the principals used the more popular applications, usually coached by a student or one of their own children, and took some pride in showing the group how they could check their email or find their way home from the restaurant with their personal global positioning system (GPS). Some said social media had changed the way they did their banking, communicated with their own children, or even programmed their digital VCR to record their favorite college games. When we asked if social media would have a significant impact on their schools, everyone agreed wholeheartedly. One veteran principal said, “People communicate in ways I barely understand, let alone know how to use. Sometimes I feel like I’m absolutely left out of what is going on in my building. But I know it’s the future and I have to get on board.” Another principal added, “This stuff is just exploding! I know it’s inevitable, and I know we can’t really control it, so we need to figure out how to use it in positive ways and help our students use it responsibly for learning.” The senior
principal in the group got a laugh when she said, “I just got a cell phone a couple of years ago because the district gave me one and required me to use it. It took me a year to figure out that I had texting and how to find the messages. When I finally found them, I had about 500! How do you have time to respond to all of this?” Several principals conveyed their excitement about the future of these technologies. One said, “This is a revolution in the way people communicate. It can also revolutionize the way we lead and the way our schools work. Not only is it inevitable, it may be the best thing that has happened for schools in a long time.” Just about everyone at the table agreed, and the discussion turned to ways that they could help integrate this powerful new set of tools into their own school settings. This group of well-educated, experienced, and successful principals is typical of many school leaders: They’re not really sure what social media is, but all of them agree that it would have a dramatic impact on them and their schools. For some, the jury is still out on whether that impact will be positive or negative, but everyone knows that things are different and that schools that embrace this new digital reality are likely to reap great rewards in student learning, community support, and effective leadership. Schools have often been slow to embrace new technologies, and even slower to shed them once they are obsolete. One wag noted that, “It took twenty years to bring the overhead projector from the bowling alley to the classroom, and now the classroom is just about the only place you can still find an overhead projector.” There is one very important difference between new technologies and those that schools have adopted, however slowly, in the past. Today, the customers-students and their parents-are bringing the technology to the schools. Schools are no longer in charge of adoption, acquisition, access, and training. The students are leading the way, and some adults are struggling to keep up. In fact, many educators lag far behind their students and other community members in both their awareness of and ability to use new digital technologies.