Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The principalship: 6 ways smartphones have changed the landscape

Guest post by John Falino. Cross posted at ON PRINCIPAL
John FalinoAs noted in the “The Principalship: What’s Most Important?” (Post: 9/13), the nature of the Principalship has changed dramatically in a very short period of time. As the demands continue to increase due to the CCSS, standardized exams, and new teacher evaluation systems, perhaps the greatest “game changer” for Principals is the high level of accessibility and connectedness that is now possible due to technology and social media. In fact, a whole new skill set is now required for Principals as the position has quickly become a 24/7 endeavor. Though there is plenty of room for debate on whether this level of access is necessary (or healthy!), the bottom line is that Principals need to be prepared for anything at all hours. There is no such thing as an “off” switch.
While many technological innovations have undoubtedly transformed the position in a relatively short period of time, perhaps there is none greater than the advent of the Smartphone. Since making the switch a little over a year ago to the iPhone, my ability to stay connected to the school community has reached new heights. In fact, this small device is in many ways the mobile “hub” of the school as information on all aspects of building operations comes my way both day and night. It is singularly the most powerful device that a Principal can have.
Here’s why…

  • Direct Emails: It seems silly and obvious to start with this one in the year 2013. However, I am still blown away by the number of school leaders who shut their desktop computer off on a Friday afternoon and come back to over a hundred emails when they return on Monday morning. Essentially, if you are a Principal and are not receiving emails to your phone, you are stuck somewhere in the 1990s (maybe earlier). If this is you, stop reading and go speak with your IT person immediately to get your email linked to your phone. On average, I receive 100 emails a day and respond to most as I am moving throughout the building. By accessing emails in this fashion, I can give immediate attention to an issue, concern, or complaint instead of letting it sit and fester for hours or days. People are always appreciative for the immediate response and most situations are quickly diffused as a result.
  • Attendance Alerts, Timesheets, & Other Approvals:  In addition to daily emails, I also receive alerts when staff members call in sick and can approve requests for personal and vacation days right from my iPhone. Similarly, approving teacher timesheets and professional development requests can also be done in a quick and easy manner.
  • Direct Messages via Twitter: As noted in “Is Twitter Trending or Trendy?” (8/5/13), Twitter is a superb resource for professional development, building a PLN, and engaging students. While a user friendly app is available on all Smartphones, the direct message feature provides parents and community members with an additional way to communicate or share ideas. I typically get at least one direct message a day via Twitter that I can respond to immediately since it comes up as an alert to my phone.
  • Facebook: The iPhone allows users to fully maintain and update a school’s Facebook page while tracking usage and views through a user friendly “Facebook Pages Manager” app. I regularly use the camera feature to post pictures of various school events and also provide community members with “live” Facebook updates at different sporting events. The app also provides alerts whenever there is a direct message, a “like,” or a comment. This feature is especially important for ongoing monitoring of potentially inappropriate comments that are posted to the page. With the iPhone, I am able to see and delete the comment in an instant. For more on the benefits of using Facebook, check out “Do you like Facebook?” (7/26/13).
  • Building Security & Management: One of the most useful apps on my iPhone is “Milestone Mobile.” This app allows our entire security team to view all of the video cameras that we have set up throughout our school and around the perimeter of our campus. The app is also web-based so it is not uncommon for me to check out what is happening around the school when I am away from the building. Just the other day I watched a smooth end-of-day dismissal via the app while attending a meeting an hour away from school.
  • Google Drive: This powerful “cloud-based” platform has single-handedly changed the way that we think about word processing and collaboration. I regularly access the Google Drive app on my phone to take notes during classroom observations, to “collaborate” with colleagues throughout the day, and to write blog posts such as this one. Alerts are sent whenever a document is shared and all documents can be accessed and edited at any time in any place via my iPhone. Gone are the days of emailing documents to myself or searching at the bottom of my desk drawer for a flash drive.
Concluding thoughts…
By no means do I see myself as a “high tech” person. Far from it, actually. However, the uses discussed above are now considered basic requirements for any 21st century school leader and only serve to enhance the aspects of the Principalship that are truly most important 
(Post: 9/13). Furthermore, there are hundreds of additional apps that school leaders use each day AND there are all types of Smartphones that people prefer over the iPhone (Android anyone?). But while the type of phone and/or specific uses may differ to a degree, the idea of leading without one is as ancient as the “no cellphone zone” signs that still pervade too many schools. Please feel free to comment, share your ideas, and add to the list!
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