An Interview with Dr. Pam Moran, Superintendent

…Albermarle County Superintendent Dr. Pam Moran shares how she became a connected educator, how she fits connectivity into her day, what she sees on the road ahead, and more…

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What do you see as the main benefits of being a Connected Educator?

I believe that being a connected educator is a prerequisite for being an effective educator and educational leader today.  Mainstream media do not capture the full range of where educators need to be in today’s society in understanding how the world is changing around them.  If you are limiting yourself to mainstream media, you will miss a whole other very important world that’s developing.

Pascal Finette of the Mozilla Foundation gave a TEDx talk recently.  He notes, “The rising culture of participation combined with technology and power of networks will instigate the most fundamental change in human history.”  We are at that turning point.

Your access to this culture of participation and your ability to prepare students for it are limited when you are not connected outside of the walls of your school, district, state, and nation.

Q: How did you get started using social media?

Paula White, a teacher in Albemarle, has been an active user of technologies for decades. A few years ago, Paula told me, “You really need to get into this Twitter thing.”  I wasn’t too sure about that but Paula helped me sign up.  She gave me a list of people to follow, and taught me how to use TweetDeck® to group the twitter stream into categories.  Before I began to use Twitter, I watched the feed for a while and found it to be pretty fascinating.

Subsequently, we hosted a district conference with some prominent national speakers and Paula set up a group of local educators to tweet during the conference using a hashtag (#).  People started following us. I found a growing group of followers on my account as well.  That is when it started to make sense to me that Twitter was about cross-pollination of people and ideas.  We now have a district account and followers from around the world.

One of my colleagues set up a blog called Edurati Review, to which I’ve contributed from the perspective of a district leader.  Though that blog no longer exists, this led me to do more blogging.

We have developed a K-12 digital presence for the district in social media which includes Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook and it’s now part of our district’s digital identity.

Q: Tell us about a time when your virtual connections made a real difference in your professional or personal life.

This happened in the past year in one of our history classrooms in Albemarle County, which Thomas Jefferson called home. A student teacher was a connected educator herself with family in Egypt.  She linked the class where she was student teaching with a family member, a 30-year-old historian and Egyptologist, who was participating in the democracy protests in Egypt in 2012.

I sat in on a class where the students were connecting with him through Skype, and watched as they heard him describe his early optimism and exhilaration about what he and his fellow protesters might accomplish.  He then talked about the doubts forming in his mind as weeks became months, and he began to wonder if they would accomplish what they set out to do.

As the class was debriefing after the conversation, one student said, “We have spent our whole lives studying the American Revolution.  I wonder, did they have the same doubts at any point in our Revolution?”  History had become real for this young man and for many in his class.  Their understanding of revolution became real in a way that it wouldn’t have been possible had they not had that contact with Egypt during its period of contemporary upheaval.

How do you model and/or foster being a connected educator for your colleagues?  How do you encourage them to get connected as well?

It is important to support access with policy and action.  The first thought for many leaders is that kids and teachers can get in trouble with social media.  But I had kids and teachers getting in trouble with paper and pencil 12 years ago.  Our job as educators is to make sure we deal with the behavior.  I don’t try to discipline the tool. I also see many wonderful examples in which connectivity has positive impact on what students can do as they search, connect, communicate and learn.

Another approach I take is to model by participating in the learning facilitated by social media. At every level in our district, from elementary to high school, teachers are using social media. A few weeks ago, I was in a first-grade class where students were working in groups on Airbooks on the floor.  They were blogging about the problem of birds crashing into their classroom windows, and how they created silhouettes on the windows to prevent that.  I logged into the blog and started commenting.  It was very exciting for the students – highly motivating to take their work out of the classroom and to respond and interact. It takes a connected educator, a principal, or a superintendent to take down the barriers that hold kids back from these benefits.

To foster this activity, we now give credit for teacher using social media tools to engage in virtual professional development.  Our teachers who participate on line are saying it is more powerful than traditional PD.

How do you fit being a connected educator in the virtual world with the rest of your daily commitments?

I do not want social media to distract from my job, I want it to be part of my job, and it is, every day.  For example, we had a consultant working with us on using learning walks to facilitate our learning and development across the system. During a session with him the other day, as I listened to what he’s saying and occasionally tweeting out what he’s saying about our learning walks.  A school counselor who was not in the session saw a tweet about the need by teachers for validation, and she tweets a question. I relayed her question to our consultant and tweeted his reply back to the counselor.  We extended the reach and impact of our session by using social media, and received input from a colleague who would otherwise have had access to the work we were doing.

When using social media in my work, I ask myself, “How is it relevant to people in Albemarle County?  How is it relevant to parents following me, or to what I see as important to what we are doing?” I regularly tweet out examples of student work or pictures of students, making sure to protect identity and privacy per our district policies.  This gives people a view into my work, and to the work of our district as a whole.  It’s a part of our work, not apart from it.

What do you say to educators who say they don’t have time to be more connected?

It is not a question of time but of professional responsibility.  Being a connected educator is not an optional pastime.  A large part of that responsibility is teaching students how to properly use and benefit from social media and how to be a good digital citizen.  If we are to do that effectively, we need to be acquainted with the social media environment in a hands-on way.   (Ed note: during a CEM event, Dr. Moran pointed out that she often tells administrators their schools are being shaped by social media whether they participate or not—so it’s better to engage than turn a blind eye)

What developments do you foresee in connected education within the next five years?

We have just touched the tip of the iceberg where social media become social learning media. I wish I could have another 30 years to see how this will play out. Being able to stream out and find audiences will become more of an expectation of how we work in education.  We see glimpses: student performances streamed out from school so that distant family members can see them; students reading aloud and streaming out, getting comments back from teachers as distant as Australia; students asking on Twitter if a straw is a simple machine, and getting responses back from an astronaut and physicists in Nottingham, England. We will move from dabbling and playing to using social media as an essential part of our work.  It will continue to connect students with distant expertise, develop authentic audiences for our students and allow educators to engage in virtual professional learning and development.

I can see a future where there may not actually be 10,000 individual, disconnected schools in a state.  It may be more like one school and we will all function as connected communities within it, an ecosystem of learning.

Know a connected educator like Pam who has been helpful to you?  Consider giving them a CEM badge to thank them for their help (it’s easy).  More details at CEM badges.

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..."I do not want social media to distract from my job, I want it to be part of my job, and it is...I can see a future where there may not actually be 10,000 schools in a state. It may be more like one..."

About Dr. Pam Moran, Superintendent

Dr. Pamela Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. Albermarle County PS has more than 1,100 teachers educating 13,000 students in 26 schools.  You can read her Albemarle Superintendent’s blog, and occasional posts to the Connected Superintendents blogA Space for Learning is Dr. Moran’s personal blog, recently cited by WordPress as an exemplar of the elements of good blogging.

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