Guest post by Nicholas Indeglio
In August of 1997, when I was the Nittany Lion mascot at Pennsylvania State University, I had the opportunity to attend College Spirit Camp at East Tennessee State University run by the Universal Cheerleading Association. The top college mascots in the country assembled to learn from one another and jockey for position at the upcoming 1998 National Championships. For three days, I learned from and shared with Aubie the Tiger from Auburn, Big Al the Elephant from Alabama, and the Wildcat from Kentucky. I furiously scribbled notes in my paper journal and recorded dance moves and skits with an old-school, mini VHS video camera.
When camp ended—and before we went our separate ways—we exchanged mailing addresses so we could write letters to one another. A few of us exchanged our families’ home phone numbers and a couple of us in the “tech savvy” category took a stab at a nascent technology known as email. In short, this group of mascot royalty, who had formed a fast bond and friendship, quickly fell apart because there was no easy way to maintain or grow relationships over thousands of miles.
Fast-forward to the winter of 2017 as I was preparing for my first powerlifting competition. Brian, one of my best friends and training partners, lived forty minutes away and had different work hours from mine. Rickey, a former colleague who was training for a meet at around the same time, was working abroad, in Japan.
Due to amazing advances in technology, we quickly decided that we could still train together and motivate one another. First, we picked one common weekend time to have a live video chat in Google Hangouts. During each of our four main workouts, we agreed to take videos of our heaviest set and share them via group text, so we could offer constructive criticism and encouragement. Finally, we coordinated a group on Voxer and shared audio monologues about our triumphs, failures, ponderings, and anecdotes. When convenient, we would listen to those messages and respond, thus giving us all a chance to hear sincere, fortifying words of encouragement. We found our “race crew.”
All of this technology can empower principals to escape isolation and overcome scheduling challenges to form powerful, collegial cohorts. Many intermediate units and local organizations hold periodic meetings in an attempt to bring principals together. Unfortunately, these meetings are often lightly attended due to the difficulty for principals to be out of the building. But such meetings, which are powerful for problem-solving and camaraderie, can be held virtually, using applications like Skype, Google Hangouts, or a more robust platform like GoToMeeting. Virtual meetings relieve the anxiety of being out of the building and more importantly, can lead to a higher level of focus depending on the technological platform being used. Moreover, information, notes, and anecdotes can be captured easily and shared through selected applications’ recording capabilities.
A powerful application that bridges the gap between groups and creates a more authentic experience for interaction and community is Voxer. The company describes the free product as a “mobile messaging solution for customer-facing teams and distributed workforces” that can function in real-time or any time. I use Voxer with two of my colleagues who are principals in other school districts, one at the elementary level and the other at the high school level. We leave each other audio messages to share anecdotes or articulate questions we’re trying to problem-solve. Sometimes a message that would otherwise have been lost in an email or text becomes the catalyst for a whole line of dialogue and discussion. There’s a special power in hearing someone’s actual voice where true human emotion can be more easily conveyed. The three of us have been able to prevent isolation, offer empathy, and problem-solve situations that occur at almost every school no matter the grade level. Technology has removed the manifold obstacles associated with distance, creating a close-knit community.
What are your experiences in using technology to connect with other school leaders?
Nicholas Indeglio, EdD, is the principal of Downingtown Middle School in Downingtown, PA. He is the 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @DrIndeglio.