Education and Technology Blog
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Keeping your community and district stakeholders informed is a key part of the job and blogging is a great way to get your story out in your own words. Adding a blog to your communications repertoire can be an effective — and fun — way to get your voice out in the school community and connect with parents, students and other educators.
First, you’ll need to decide exactly how you want to blog. Ideally, you will post blog entries directly to your district’s website. That makes it easier for readers to find the blog and can help drive additional traffic to other parts of the site. If that is not an option, WordPress and Blogger are popular, easy-to-use blogging platforms. (Here is a comparison list of other blogging platforms you may want consider.)
Next, you may be tempted to sit down right away and start writing. But before you do, spend some time mapping out a mission for your blog and choose a specific goal or purpose for your writing. Perhaps you want your blog to offer an insider’s view of your schools. Or maybe you want to use it as platform to discuss bigger educational issues. To avoid blogging burnout, choose a topic or focus you are passionate about and one that will afford you plenty of content.
When — and What — to Share
Once you’ve chosen a blogging platform and a mission, start writing! As you become accustomed to blogging, you’ll find that you start to see potential post topics all around you. When you get an idea, jot down a note; create a list of possible future posts so that you will always have ideas ready on the days or weeks when you feel less inspired.
Post regularly. A good goal to start might be once a week. Try to post on a reliable schedule, such as the same day each week, or consider posting regular features on certain days. For example, you might feature an innovative classroom project every Friday or do a tips post for educators every Monday. This will train readers to come back often to read new content.
Here are a few superintendents who are doing it well:
- Dan Gutekanst of the Needham Public Schools
- Brian Kurz of the Community Unit School District #4
- Tamara Uselman of Bismarck Public Schools
Promote, promote, promote. Spending all that time writing is useless if no one is reading. Don’t be afraid to share your writing everywhere you can, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn (click those links to view our guides for those platforms). Write a catchy headline or choose an impactful quote from the post when you share the link to get readers’ attention and make them want to read more.
Encourage others to share it, including the district’s own social media accounts and others in the district office with personal social media accounts. Sharing others’ content is also a good way to build relationships; if you share their content, they’ll probably share yours, too.
The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of Blogging for Superintendents
Do: Be Authentic
Write in an authentic voice. Be yourself! It’s ok to be funny, quirky or enthusiastic in your writing. In fact, it will help readers feel more connected with your words, which means they will be more likely to engage with it, share it, and come back for more.
Don’t: Be too longwinded
Blog readers tend to have a short attention span, so don’t let your posts start to look like white papers. Try to keep your posts to about 700 words or less.
Do: Get Visual
Include a visual element whenever possible. Including a photo makes the content more shareable on sites that give more weight to visual posts, such as Facebook, or on photo-centric sites, such as Pinterest and Instagram. If you don’t have a photo for a post, break the text up in other ways, such as with bullet points or lists.
Don’t: Forget to Write for Your Audience
If you are targeting primarily parents, skip the academic jargon and abbreviations. If you are writing for other educators, include helpful links for more information. Always take a moment to remember for whom the post is intended before you start writing.
Do you have any tips for district leaders considering blogging? Let us know in the comments.
For more tips on sharing your story, check out, How to Share Your District’s Ed-Tech Success Story.
And don’t forget to check out our other Superintendent guides:
Key Takeaways for District Leaders
- Consider how to frame your district’s story
- Get to know your local education reporters, as well as the ed-tech trade press
- Leverage other resources in your district to help spread the word
- Keep it simple, avoid jargon and acronyms
If you don’t share your district’s story with the wider community, someone else will—and it might not be a flattering picture. So, how can you share your ed-tech successes and build support among parents, community members, the media, and others? That was the focus of a recent conference session for school district chief technology officers.
During the annual Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) conference in Washington, D.C., on April 6th, I co-presented with Charlene Blohm, president of public relations firm C. Blohm & Associates, on how to maximize your value as a school district CTO by communicating more effectively with both internal and external stakeholder groups.
Here’s some of the advice I shared about communicating externally with parents, community members, and the press:
Consider How to Frame Your District’s Story
What story are you trying to tell? You’re probably doing many terrific things in your district—but how can you communicate these succinctly and effectively to a wider audience?
To help you develop an elevator speech that concisely summarizes your district’s story, here’s one model that I’ve found works well:
- Start by stating your district’s vision or mission in the first sentence.
- Then, describe how technology supports that vision, using one or two sentences.
- Finally, describe what results you’re seeing (or you hope to see) in a single sentence.
Here’s an example: “In the X School District, our mission is to graduate students who are independent thinkers, creative problem solvers, and effective communicators, so they are ready for 21st-century success. To meet this challenge, we have given every student in grades 4-12 a digital device, and we’ve redesigned our curriculum so that it is project-based and grounded in an authentic context. Since we’ve taken these steps, we have seen a 20% increase in math proficiency and a 32% rise in ELA proficiency on our state end-of-year exams.”
You can use this model to help introduce your main district story—but also to describe each individual component or success within that larger story. This is the same basic format (challenge, solution, results) that many case studies follow. If you’re pitching a story to a publication, you can use this summary as your pitch, and if you’re writing a full-length article, you can use this paragraph as your lead and then unpack each of these elements with further details in the main body of the story.
Get to Know Your Local Education Reporters, as Well as the Ed-Tech Trade Press
As circulation falls and advertising revenue dries up, newspapers are struggling to find additional revenue sources—and reporting staffs are having to do more with less. While that might not be good for our democracy, it creates an opportunity for you to help share your ed-tech successes, as local newspapers are hungry for content.
Get to know the reporters who cover your local education beat, and use the model I’ve described above to pitch them story ideas about what you’re doing successfully in your district. Make yourself available as a source for any local education-related stories they might be doing, and you could do the same for reporters who cover technology trends, too.
The same situation holds true for the national ed-tech trade publications you might already be reading, such as eSchool News, THE Journal, Tech & Learning, District Administration, Scholastic Administrator, EdSurge, and Ed-Tech Digest. These publications are hungry for content as well, and they’re always looking for articles bylined by educators and administrators in the field—which offers a great opportunity for you to showcase your successes to a national audience. (And this, in turn, can boost your credibility within your district, making it easier to gain buy-in and support for your ed-tech vision.)
Look for the editorial contacts for these publications on their websites. Introduce yourself and volunteer to serve as a source for any stories they might be working on. Become familiar with their editorial calendars as well; if you know a publication is planning a feature on mobile learning, and you have some experience with this topic, you might pitch your own district’s story for this feature.
Leverage Other District Resources
If you have a communications department in your district, leverage the expertise of these professionals to help you tell your district’s ed-tech stories. They can help you share your stories by developing story pitches and/or ghostwriting articles for you under your byline, but they might not be familiar with the ed-tech trade press. That’s where it helps to collaborate, as you can help them understand what’s going on in your district and what media outlets they can share these stories with.
If you don’t have a communications department who can help you, consider working with your ed-tech vendors instead. They are always looking for happy customers to serve as subjects of case studies, and their public relations teams can help you pitch stories or ghostwrite articles under your byline to showcase your successes with their products. (Just make sure you’re aware of your district’s policies regarding product endorsements, so you don’t violate any district policies.)
Keep it Simple
Know your audience. Avoid education jargon, acronyms, and so on. When writing, use an informal, conversational tone. The average newspaper article is written at a sixth-grade reading level. And even articles for most ed-tech trade publications don’t get too technical, because they are intended to be read by superintendents and school board members in addition to CTOs.
For other tips on telling your district’s story, check out our superintendent’s guide to social media series.
By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
School districts are always looking to get the most for their dollar when it comes to technology purchases. Purchasing cooperatives are a great resource. I have used purchasing cooperatives many times but I have added my own twist. I will explain what I do later in this post. I will begin by explaining how purchasing cooperatives work.
What is a Purchasing Cooperative?
Purchasing cooperatives are procurement arrangements through which public schools can purchase technology equipment and services at a brokered discount. Generally, purchasing cooperatives consist of a variety of categories of products and services. Vetted vendors are included under specific categories and specific contracts.
Purchasing cooperatives can be found at the national, state, and regional levels. One place where a school district can find purchasing contracts is with the United States General Services Administration. In Texas, school districts can take advantage of the contracts found through the Texas Department of Information Resources. Also in Texas, several of the twenty Educational Service Centers provide purchasing cooperatives.
Benefits of Purchasing Cooperatives
One of the benefits of using purchasing cooperatives is that school districts are relieved from having to conduct a full request for proposal (RFP) in order to procure a product or service. Anyone involved in an RFP can attest to the heavy investment of time in developing, publicizing, receiving, and analyzing proposals from multiple vendors. In most cases, a single RFP can take several weeks to complete.
Not Always the Lowest Price
An assumption that is often made about purchasing cooperatives is that these cooperatives provide the lowest pricing. In theory, purchasing cooperatives can achieve discounted pricing through the power of bulk purchasing. I have often found that this is not always the case. I actually had a conversation with a vendor this week that participates in several purchasing cooperatives. The vendor confirmed that my summation was correct.
How to Make the Most of Every District Dollar
So here is where my twist comes in. And honestly, this process can be used for any product or service, whether technology oriented or not.
I begin by creating specifications of the equipment or service that I intend to purchase. I then select five or so vendors from an accepted purchasing cooperative in order to get around having to carry out a full blown RFP. If I am looking for a specific brand name on equipment, I will reach out to vendors that maintain an official partnership with the manufacturer. I then provide each vendor a copy of the specifications and let them know that I am taking in competitive quotes. I establish a deadline by which proposals are to be received in order to be considered. Once the proposals are received, I verify that each proposal meets my specifications and compare prices. I have found that this process provides me with the most discounted pricing.
Using this process has allowed me to make the most cost effective technology equipment purchases while saving a significant amount of time in the procurement process. Needless to say, this is one of the best options that I have used over the years.
The investment of energy and time in following this process isn’t all that much. The payoff is worth it. After all, any money saved, is a definite plus for any public school district.
Looking for more tips? Check out Four Services That Can Help with Ed-Tech Purchasing.
Key Takeaways for District Leaders
- Common Sense Media’s education division has teamed up with more than 40 school systems to launch the Privacy Evaluation Initiative.
- The initiative is “wide open to further participation” by other school systems.
- Even districts that don’t take part themselves can benefit from the program.
- The Privacy Evaluation Initiative comes as data privacy awareness has grown among K-12 leaders.
If you’re worried about the data privacy and information security practices of the technologies used in your schools, a new initiative from Common Sense Media can help you evaluate these practices.
Common Sense Media’s education division has teamed up with more than 40 school systems to launch the Privacy Evaluation Initiative, which will evaluate the basic data privacy and information security practices in the educational software applications used by the participating districts.
“We will be evaluating the terms of service and privacy policies of applications, not companies,” said Bill Fitzgerald, director of the Privacy Evaluation Initiative. “What we are explicitly not doing is saying, ‘This app is OK to use in every situation.’ We want to make it easier for people to make an informed decision.”
The initiative is “wide open to further participation” by other school systems, Fitzgerald said, and there is no charge for the service. The program is supported with funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Even districts that don’t take part themselves can benefit from the program. While the full data set will be available only to participating districts, “the evaluation summaries will be publicly available,” he said. EdTech companies will get the data sets for their particular applications.
What’s more, Common Sense Media is releasing its frameworks for evaluating data privacy and security, so other districts can use these frameworks to conduct similar evaluations of their own EdTech products.
“We want everybody to be able to replicate our work,” Fitzgerald said. “By creating a set of tools that will allow people to do that, we hope to demystify what privacy is and what security is.”
The first of these frameworks is a 100-page Information Security Primer, which covers basic security testing procedures. It’s available now on the initiative’s website.
Within a few weeks, Common Sense Media also will release the question set it’s using to evaluate the data privacy policies of educational software applications.
The Privacy Evaluation Initiative comes as data privacy awareness has grown among K-12 leaders. Last year, the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association introduced the Student Privacy Pledge, in which EdTech companies promise to use student data only for educational purposes. Nearly 250 companies have signed the pledge, including SunGard K-12.
“I’m really excited about what we’re doing,” Fitzgerald said. “We are doing everything we can to approach this in an objective and neutral way. The primary goal is to build a framework that helps people make an informed decision faster, but a secondary goal is to help more people have an informed conversation about data privacy and security.”
As you continue to develop or re-evaluate your professional social media plan, an obvious medium that should not be overlooked is Facebook.
Pew Research Center stats from 2014 show that 71 percent of online adults use Facebook, which is much higher than the percentage of those using Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Pinterest. That means the potential for reaching and connecting with a larger audience, particularly parents and students, is much higher.
A Facebook page is relatively easy to set up; in fact, you may already have a personal account. However, before you start using your personal Facebook profile to connect with the community in a professional capacity, consider whether it may be more appropriate to set up a separate account for this purpose. This will allow you to keep your personal family photos and interactions private while also creating another opportunity to professionally connect and engage.
You have two options when setting up a professional Facebook profile:
- You might create a second profile for yourself that identifies you as a superintendent and allows community members to friend you. For your profile picture, use the same professional headshot you would use on your district’s website, and choose a school-related picture for your timeline photo. This will indicate to potential friends that it is a professional account.
(See how Superintendent John Perales of the San Benito High School District does it.)
- Or you can opt to create a Facebook page for yourself as a public figure. Community members can like the page to follow your updates and interact with you, rather than requesting to be friends.
(See how Superintendent Cindy Marten of the San Diego Unified School District
When — and What — to Share
In order to use Facebook most effectively, content should be shared often but not too often and should feature a variety of formats, including pictures and videos of school events, shared links from other pages or websites, and simple text announcements.
Parents, students and community members will most often connect with you for access to up-to-date information on important announcements, such as school closings or event cancellations. But you can also use Facebook as another outlet for spreading the good news of your district.
As a K-12 superintendent, you can use your professional
Facebook profile or page to:
Search for the professional accounts and public pages of other community leaders and organizations. “Friend” or “like” them, follow along with their updates and interact by commenting and sharing their content to build a professional rapport.
Make Important Announcements
Announce snow days or remind students and parents about upcoming events and changes to the regular school schedule, such as teacher in-service days or holiday breaks. You can also share announcements about important school board meetings and hearings.
Your schools are dynamic centers of learning and fun — your Facebook page should reflect that. Post pictures from the school play, the art show, the football game, and the field trip. There is something happening each and every day that is worth photographing and sharing so your community can get a feel for the rich and varied experiences available to students.
Facebook is the home of the humble-brag, where people try to nonchalantly publicize their accomplishments. If your students win a local academic competition or a group of teachers volunteer for a community outreach project or an administrator wins an award, show it off! Sharing the news is a great way to show support for your students and staff and to give them recognition for their hard work.
When you want or need input on an issue, pose the question to your Facebook followers. This shows your community members that you care about their opinions and gives you another opportunity to collect suggestions or solutions you hadn’t previously considered.
The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of Facebook for Superintendents
Do: Get Social
Interact often with your district’s Facebook page. Comment on photos from events you attended and share good news or important announcements from the district page to your own friends and followers. Don’t forget to comment on other user’s posts as well. This shows that you’re part of the community conversation and not just using Facebook as a bullhorn.
Don’t: Get Aggressive
Don’t use Facebook to address or respond to politically charged issues in an aggressive or defensive way. Keep it professional and refer any abrasive commenters to websites they can visit or people they can call for more information or to discuss their concerns, and leave it at that.
Do: Get Active
Post consistently to your page, which means multiple times a week, and include a visual element whenever possible.
Don’t: Overdue It
Avoid posting too many times in one day or too many times within a small timeframe. Instead, utilize Facebook’s scheduling option to space out content and to post at the times you find you get the most engagement from your followers. Public figure pages allow for more robust scheduling options.
In addition, your district should have its own public Facebook page. You can either manage this yourself or choose someone in your district office with social media experience to oversee day-to-day page management.
Here are a few examples of districts that are doing it right:
- The School District of Upper Dublin
- Hilliard City Schools
- Salt Lake City School District
- Rockford Public Schools
- Richland School District
Do you have anything to add? How do you or your district staff use Facebook to connect to your community? Let us know in the comments.
Just a few years ago, social media was the playground of the internet. But today, social media is so prevalent in our daily lives that it has become the main tool for many education professionals to network, connect, and communicate.
LinkedIn is a particularly useful tool for superintendents who want to stay connected with former, current, and potential future colleagues, as well as network with other professionals in the field and stay up-to-date on current topics and issues.
You can use LinkedIn to connect with other professionals in your district and other districts, business partners, community leaders, involved parents, and educators you meet at conferences. Their profiles may be a window into the topics and issues they care most about, as well as their areas of expertise, which can lead to further conversations and partnerships.
Connect with the LinkedIn pages for any professional organizations of interest to help you stay informed of the latest educational news and trends, as well membership information, and conference news. Also search for superintendent or education administrator groups, which can be a great place for on-going dialogue with others in the field.
Here are a couple of suggested groups to get you started:
- AASA — The School Superintendents Association Group. With more than 21,000 members, this group bills itself as, “a vehicle for school system leaders to connect with each other.”
- School Superintendents Group. This group has nearly 9,400 members and aims to be a place for superintendents to collaborate and discuss the issues of the day.
- The National Education Association Group. This group brings more than 14,100 education employees of all levels and positions together in one place.
Trying to fill a key position within your district? Be proactive and search LinkedIn for your ideal candidates. Furthermore, if you already have a list of qualified candidates who have applied, visit their LinkedIn pages for a deeper look at their experience, communication style and skill level.
When — and What — to Share
First and foremost, you should use LinkedIn to showcase your own experience, skills, organization or volunteer involvement and any honors or awards you’ve earned during your years in the education field. LinkedIn is so much more than just an online resume; you can go much more in-depth with recommendations from former or current colleagues and visual portfolios of your work.
You can also use LinkedIn to share the story of your district. Using the “Share an Update” function, send out announcements, links to news articles about your schools or feature stories from your own website.
Use LinkedIn to lead the conversation. You can post your own thought leadership columns or blog posts directly to your LinkedIn profile as a way to position yourself as a leader or innovator on the topics you are most passionate about, as well as to start a dialogue and encourage feedback and collaboration.
Consider creating a company LinkedIn page for your district to provide basic demographics and informational updates, such as open positions for which you are hiring or important upcoming events.
The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of LinkedIn for Superintendents
Do: Get Visual
Make your profile shine with some visual elements that show you working directly with students, speaking at conferences or attending school events. Post photos with each job or position you’ve held to take your profile from bland to personalized. (See how Deputy Superintendent Bill Glass of Danbury Public Schools in Connecticut does it.)
Don’t: Be Generic
Even if the tools make it easy, avoid connecting with people in an impersonal way. Generic messages to your connections will not show you have a genuine interest in long-term networking and collaboration. If you want to strike up a conversation with a professional contact on LinkedIn, check out the person’s profile first and see what interests, skills, or experience you have in common so you can best personalize your message.
Do: Get Involved
Interact with the news, stories, and links posted by connections in your feed to strike up a conversation, get informed, and stay visible. You never know who might notice.
Don’t: Make it Personal
This isn’t Facebook, so pictures of your own children or jokes you might tell to friends and family aren’t appropriate in this space. It’s ok to show some personality, but keep that personality on the same professional level you would use in the district office.
Use the summary section at the top of your profile to provide a brief (2-3 sentence) overview of your career and your individual interests and skills. Think of the summary as a way to introduce yourself to your new connections.
What other tips and tricks have you learned for using LinkedIn as an educational leader? Are there any groups that you love? Share them in the comments.
Looking for more social media info for superintendents? Check out the Superintendent’s Guide to Twitter!
Finding, evaluating, and buying the right technologies can be hard for K-12 leaders—but a number of new services promise to help.
During the 2016 South by Southwest Education (SXSWedu) conference in Austin, Texas, a session called “Begging for Disruption: Ed-Tech Procurement” highlighted four new services that aim to simplify Ed-Tech purchasing.
Here’s how each of these services might make the process easier for K-12 administrators:
- The Technology for Education Consortium (TEC), a nonprofit organization that just launched in February, hopes to bring more transparency to the buying process. School systems can join TEC free of charge. As members, they can benefit from the collective wisdom and buying experiences of other consortium members—including the discounts they’ve negotiated with Ed-Tech vendors and problems they’ve encountered with implementation. Members of the consortium reportedly include six of the nation’s 10 largest school systems so far, representing more than 9 million students altogether.
- Noodle Markets is an online marketplace of vendors, products, and services. Users can compare products, read third-party product reviews, and create requests for proposals that vendors can respond to. Registration is free for educators and administrators, while vendors pay a fee for the ability to peruse and respond to RFPs filed through the system.
- EdTech Concierge is a service that matches schools with “a short list of possible solutions to their needs,” said Senior Product Manager Leonard Medlock. K-12 leaders schedule a phone call to identify their needs, and then Ed-Tech Concierge assembles a list of options, discusses these with the client, and makes introductions to the companies whose products best fill the bill.
- LearnTrials is a platform that helps K-12 leaders run Ed-Tech pilots and quickly determine the efficacy of the software they’re evaluating. CEO Karl Rectanus described LearnTrials as “an Ed-Tech ecosystem” that provides visibility for school district CIOs into how software is used in their district.
“We can run a rigorous analysis of an Ed-Tech pilot in up to two days,” he said—a process that typically takes large school systems several months to complete. The platform also aggregates user feedback, so school district leaders can pass this information along to the vendor easily—resulting in better implementation.
SunGard® K-12 has been presented with a Bronze Stevie® Award in the Innovation in Customer Service (Computer Industries) category. The award is in recognition of our Community Connections sessions. Introduced last year, these targeted professional development sessions proactively enhance customer satisfaction, reduce support cases, and build relationships. Congratulations to SunGard K-12 staff and customers for making this initiative such a success!
The Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service are the world’s top sales awards, business development awards, contact center awards, and customer service awards. The Stevie Awards organizes several of the world’s leading business awards shows including the prestigious American Business AwardsSM and International Business AwardsSM.
The awards were presented to honorees during a gala banquet on Friday, March 4 at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. More than 500 executives from the U.S.A. and several other nations attended. More than 2,100 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry were evaluated in this year’s competition.
Congratulations to our hard working development teams for being named Cool Tools Finalists by edTech Digest!
Finalist for the District Data Solution category
Finalist for Special Needs Solution category
Credit also goes to our customers for providing feedback that helps us shape and evolve these solutions to meet their needs and make them “Cool Tools.” Thank you!