Guest post by Jared C. Wastler

As an educational leader, I strongly believe that we must not lead from afar—we must engage and connect with our staff, students, community, and colleagues. Think of a leader whom you admire. It is rare that you would describe such an individual saying, “he talked a good game but never really followed through.”

Jimmy Casas, Principal at Bettendorf High School in Iowa, likes to say, “you get what you model.” For us to be effective educational leaders, we must walk our talk; we must demonstrate the behaviors—both professional and personal—that we desire in our staff, students, and community.

In any learning experience, there is a great educator who opened the door for us to take a risk, stretch our learning, and support us as we grow. For me, the “educator” that opened the door for me is a collection of colleagues I first met through social media.

It all began in 2011 when I stumbled upon a YouTube video of Eric Sheninger. At the time, Eric was principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey. More importantly, Eric was a Twitter evangelist. In his video he spoke of the power of 140 characters in opening doors for his own learning and the power of connection in enhancing the learning experience for his students. So, I took a dive into the social media world and found a nurturing group of colleagues focused on two things: helping others grow and improving our schools.

TMF_0074My connected journey continued as I engaged with educators across the country, gleaning any morsel of information that made me better for my students. I encountered Dwight Carter, who encouraged me to rethink the way we view and create meaningful learning spaces. I encountered Brad Currie, who encouraged me to continue building connections beyond my comfort zone. I encountered Glenn Robbins, who encouraged me to see the power of flipping learning for educators. The list goes on and on, but one thing stays consistent: I am a better educator for my school and my students because of connection.

In the past several years I have seen many people try to singularly define the term “connected leadership.” I do not believe it can be so easily defined. Connected leadership is more than a singular definition—it is a mindset.

Connected leaders are keenly aware of the power of reaching out to colleagues for assistance and advice. Connected leaders are able to translate the conversations they have online into action at the school level. Connected leaders see open-source reflection as a way to further learning for all. Connected leaders understand the importance of connection in a lonely profession.

Think about your own school. Odds are if I told you that when you walk into the school tomorrow, you will see teachers seeking new learning experiences, students connecting beyond the school walls, and a virtual open door to the community, you would be pleased. This is connected leadership in action! If we want our students to connect, innovate, and be empowered, then we must model our own learning in a similar fashion.

Taking the jump to connection can be daunting, but it will forever improve the work you do for your students.

How are you connecting and leading outside the walls of your school community? Tell me in the comments below!

Jared Wastler is currently the principal of Dover Area High School in Dover. He was the 2014 Maryland Assistant Principal of the Year, is a member of the NASSP Professional Development Faculty, and moderates #APChat on Twitter each Sunday. Follow him on Twitter @jcwastler.

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