As written for NAESP, Principal Magazine, May/June 2018
The Power of the Walkie-Talkie Principal: Why Setting Up a Global PLN Using Voxer® Can Ignite Your Leadership Life
by Rick Jetter, Ph.D. & Rebecca Coda, NBCT
Being a collaborative principal, assistant principal, dean of students, or any other building-based school leader years ago may have looked something like this: You had your in-district colleagues to bounce ideas off of, vent to when something was upsetting, or to provide ideas on how to work through or solve an issue. You may have also had regional out-of-district colleagues whom you befriended, worked alongside on various projects for the common good of centralizing services or for creating budget savings plans, or activating instructional best practices for students beyond your own school yard boundaries. Your leadership perspective was to go outside your comfort zone of your own district, but it might not have had the traction to hit global grand designs. Technology is constantly disrupting the landscape of how we do business, generate ideas, and support one another in one of the greatest professions on earth, but also one of the most challenging professions in the universe.
As we write this article, and as we speak, technology tools are morphing. What once was an application on your smartphone will most likely be available as augmented virtual reality tomorrow. The evolution of these technologies and their real-time connection has leveraged us, as leaders, like no other time in history. We have established incredible personal and professional relationships on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and so many other social-media-driven-collaborative platforms. We engage in Twitter chats, acquire “followers,” and find like-minded school leaders not only in our own backyards, but across the globe. And, for this reason, the principal’s PLN can be globally connected to improve, mentor, enhance, and support other school leaders and colleagues everywhere.
The old saying, “two heads are better than one” had origins in John Heywood’s work back in 1546. From there, the saying “more hands make the load lighter” and other clichés remain not only symbolic to how we can work with one another to conquer or accomplish anything that we want, but speaking with others and truly basking in the power of a PLN is what drives our thirst to do the very best we can for our students. We put away our own vacuums of decision-making and instead enter into a world of faceless social media followers who not only become professional allies in the world of school leadership, but in time, they also become our friends.
The Walkie-Talkie Principal
Enter the mobile application for smartphones, called Voxer® owned by VoxerNet LLC, a San Francisco-based company. Created by Tom Katis and Matt Ranney in 2007—mind you, an app. that is now more than 10 years old!—the benefits of school leaders engaging in this platform has emerged as a primary go-to collaborative tool for educational PLNs all across the world! Katis & Ranney may not have assumed that their application would lend itself to a collaborative goldmine for educators and leaders over a decade after its release into the pop-culture technological mainstream that wasn’t originally intended for educators, at first. With a text feature and walkie-talkie voice activation responses, you can utilize this application as part of your PLN communication tool for various activities. Texting obviously can be activated silently in any environment and the walkie-talkie feature permits users to be up close and personally professional with your new colleagues and friends.
In 2014, Matt Miller, author of Ditch that Textbook and Ditch that Homework, wrote a blog about how to engage in professional development learning by way of the walkie-talkie features of Voxer® with social-media-driven colleagues across all landscapes. No formal article or white paper has been written about the power of utilizing Voxer® for increasing leadership PLN prowess and progress in the field of education for precisely the same reasons why Katis & Ranney did not anticipate that Voxer® would enter into the world of education for PLN growth and learning.
A Variety of Reasons and Experiences
We have used Voxer® during our school-based leadership positions within our careers, our district-wide leadership in central office positions, and even as authors and consultants as we continue to be part of various Voxer® groups across so many leadership ecosystems in K-12 forums. We host our own #PrevailingLeaders Voxer® Group as a result of one of our books being read by others who originally wanted to carry out a Voxer® book study group. We are part of a #Superintendent group, a #P12Leaders group, and an #EduMatch group not to mention so many other incredible forums that have helped us to grow in new and amazing ways by hearing others ideas about how to make educational systems better.
Most groups have just under 50 participants in order to keep up with a reasonable management of the messages it can produce, but some that are currently in existence are as large as 100 or more participants across dozens and dozens of different countries. Most groups were originally identified on Twitter or we connected with PLN members who use Voxer® to connect with others on a 1:1 basis. Sometimes, we simply received invites to be part of a group where others wanted to know what we thought about issues in the field of education or how to work through a local issue or problem.
When the time comes to determine why a Voxer® group should be established, it usually always has to do with one main reason: There is a common belief or cause as to why we should connect with others. The beauty of Voxer® is that it does not hold any prejudice. Many principals are part of superintendents’ groups. Many assistant principals are part of principals’ groups. Many educational authors are part of all of these groups.
The management of Voxer® interactions can be challenging. But, consider how you might already listen to an audio book or your voice mail messages on the drive home from work or when your kids are asleep for the night and you now also want to learn and grow as a leader through your Voxer® PLN members before you fall asleep for the night. If you participate actively or just listen to your PLN members initiate the love and challenges of leadership, it will not only get your wheels turning, it will change your life.
Whether you decide to write a book for the field of education, solve a budget problem, come up with new policy language about the ever-changing landscape of education, or stay connected with your in-district colleagues during a safety drill (rather than using traditional walkie-talkies), Voxer® has collaborative powers that can go beyond your imagination. Here are some real life examples of the things that Voxer® does for us and can do for you:
Roger, one of our PLN members, sent out a Voxer® message asking the question about what to do with an issue regarding students in his district who refused to get proper immunizations due to their own religious beliefs. A group of 42 PLN members out of 55 members responded with text-based photos of sample questionnaires, sample follow up questions, and copies of their own policy manual pages pertaining to this issue. This repository of global problem solving and idea generation was invaluable to not only Roger who sent the original inquiry, but for others to respond to through text or voice application options.
Providing Data and Research
John, another PLN member of ours, asked about discipline policies for student suspensions related to drug use on school grounds. His PLN on Voxer® provided a series of data across the nation on what they would do in a similar situation. While state-wide policies might differ from one PLN member to another, the essence of looking at best practice for discipline matters was noted as the most helpful for John and his PLN.
Offering Unique Expertise
Matt and Tom, two educational consultants, asked a group of school principals about what they were currently reading in order to gather ideas on what books to consider using for book studies in the schools that they were collaborating with. We have learned that our PLN members love recommending books that they have read which would acutely help with any topical issue in education. Your Voxer® PLN can act as a book study or vast library of experts who have read relevant research and books on almost anything that you desire to know more about. Gathering knowledge of both resources, such as this, and the expertise of others is a positive outcome of engaging in a PLN-based Voxer® group.
Carolyn, a 3rd year principal, was having trouble with a few teachers at her school. She felt like they were ganging up on her and trying to get her board members to not renew her contract. Her PLN Voxer® group helped her through this hard time by coming up with ways to handle her intense situations. While you might wonder about how comfortable you might be participating in a PLN that doesn’t really know you, we have not found one instance of career risk because we decide how actively involved we will get in our social media PLNs. As stated earlier, you can simply listen to gain incredible insights into big ideas or information from colleagues all over the world or you can become an active agent and use Voxer to its utmost collaborative power. You control what you listen to, when you listen to it, and how candid you become. Starting off cautiously slow is fine. Take the time to get to know your PLN so comfortability eases any potential anxiety.
Letting You Vent
Like we said, take your time on your comfort level. But, once you feel secure, you can use your PLN Voxer® Group to help you get through those tough days. Amy, an assistant principal in one of our Voxer® groups, just needed to vent about how her principal was treating her poorly each day. The group let her vent, supported her feelings, but then offered solutions that will last a lifetime for Amy. That was all that she needed when her mom and sister weren’t around to chat with her on one particular night that she was feeling incredibly down. And, remember, you don’t have to name names; you just have to speak from the heart. Your PLN does care and they will support you even in your darkest days on the job.
Voxer® is not the end all/be all in a technological, social media driven, collaborative PLN tools for school leaders. Sometimes, phoning a friend can be just as powerful. But, where can you assemble a supportive army of incredible thinkers, mentors, problem solvers, and leaders just like you who are driven to be the best that they can be?
Voxer® is a tool that has withstood the test of time. We believe that it will be around for another decade because we all need allies and like-minded PLN members beyond those who are within our local boundaries. It is with global wisdom, experience, and universal passion that we can connect with others in order to continue to be the best leaders that we can be and Voxer® will help you to connect in amazing ways. That is the power of a PLN. And, that is the power of using technology to secure and mobilize your PLN whenever you need them.
For more information on other Voxer® groups that are currently set up for educators and school leaders, feel free to reach out to us via Voxer® at @drjetter and @rcoda1847.
Rick Jetter, Ph.D. is a National Education Consultant, Author, Speaker, and Co-Founder of Pushing Boundaries, LLC. Rebecca Coda, NBCT is the Director of K-6 Curriculum and Instruction in the Cabot Public Schools.
10 Steps for Getting started with Voxer:
Building a Bridge between Twitter & Voxer
1. Most Voxer groups stem from Twitter content feeds or can be found via Twitter.
2. Customize your search. Type “Voxer” into the Twitter search bar. There, you will find some ideas on whom to connect with or inquire about Voxer groups. Some groups are long-term and some are short term, such as book study Voxer groups or slow chat Voxer forums where you can learn almost anything at your leisure—when YOU are able to tune in to Voxer.
3. Some long-standing Voxer groups that currently exist for school leaders and other educators are:
Principals in Action
Dads as Principals
4. When you search some of these keywords, you can easily find out who moderates or is the lead administrator involved with the many Voxer groups that are out there. If you cannot find that information, send a tweet out and use hashtags relevant to the theme or topic of your search. Almost always, someone will respond and point you in the right direction.
5. Keep a close eye on @TheEdSquad and @Eduvoxers as they compile up-to-date master lists of all known Voxer groups for educators.
6. If you are interested in book study Voxer groups, you can search the title of the book to see if there is any Voxer action already going on OR you can inquire with the author to see what is happening with their particular book. If a book study Voxer group doesn’t exist, let the author know that you would love to even set one up for them, yourself! This is a great way to connect with other educators and authors!
7. Check out any Twitter chat hashtags in your region or state for educational social media forums. Often, educational Twitter chat moderators for each state also have their own Voxer group, such as #MEMSPA—a group of amazing leaders in Michigan.
8. The more you connect on social media, the more you discover new groups that use Voxer as a tool to bring others together. It is also important to think about connecting with Voxer groups even if you do not hold a particular position or title in the field of education. We belong to iSupt (a group of superintendents across the nation) and we are not superintendents. But, boy do we learn a lot from this Voxer group!
9. Consider creating your own Voxer group for your school, school district, or region. Use social media to gather followers and script out a few ideas of topics that you are passionate about. You will soon see other like-minded professionals gravitate towards your topics—especially if they are positive and constructive ideas that can help others to collaborate with more amazing educators and leaders.
10. Last, but not least, your learning and growth all depends on how active and involved you are. Don’t let social media overwhelm you. If you search in the right places or come up with ideas that contribute to our profession, you will meet so many amazing people. Social media relationships, like other relationships, also take time to grow and nurture. And most of all . . . have fun meeting and learning new things!