Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Oft-Ignored 21st Century Leadership Skill for School Leaders

There is one 21st century leadership skill very few have considered: managing and monitoring a school or school district’s online reputation. Most of the time, administrators are in “reactive” mode when it comes to sudden, unwanted attention to their schools brought about due to some online Web posting to a blog or social media. This often means the damage is  already done way before they were even aware that there was a problem. It is the 21st Century School Leader who uses technology to monitor their school or school district's online reputation.

Authors Andy Beal and Dr. Judy Strauss write in their book Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, “There’s a conversation about you online right this minute and you are probably unaware of its contents.”  This truth extends to schools as well. We have constituents posting and talking about our schools online . In fact, because our constituent groups probably among the highest users of blogs, YouTube, and social media sites, we are perhaps even more likely to have people engaged in “conversations” about us online. That makes monitoring what our students, parents, teachers, community members are saying about us even more important.

While we can’t control what people say about us online, we can monitor it and perhaps proactively address it when it happens. In the book, What Every School Leader Needs to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media, Will Richardson and Karl Fisch write, “Among the myriad duties most school administrators have is reputation management, keeping an ear to the ground to stay apprised of issues that concern their school community and intervening when necessary.” This task can be monumental considering the massive amount of information being published on the Web daily, but here’s 4 suggestions school leaders might use to keep at eye on what is being posted and published about their schools or districts online.
  • Set Up Google Alert for Mentions of Your School or School District: Google Alerts is a simple, free tool from Google that allows you to monitor specific search words and have the results delivered to your email inbox or to your Google Reader. (Here’s help for those wanting to learn how to set up Google Alerts.) With Google Alerts you can monitor Web Content, News Items, Blogs, Video, and Groups at the same time. You simply enter the name of your school or district into the alert, and Google will deliver the results to your email inbox or to your Google Reader. In theory, if someone published an article or blog post that mentions your school or district, you will receive a link to that post and be able to review it yourself.
  • Use Google Search to Capture Key Words Related to Your District and Subscribe to That Search as RSS Feed:  This strategy works in much the same way Google Alerts does, but the difference is you enter your school or school district name into Google Search and subscribe to the results in your RSS Feed reader. You only need to check your reader when new results are delivered. This allows school leaders to monitor using Google's powerful Web indexing to listen for specific mentions of their schools or districts.
  • Conduct a Search in YouTube for Your School or District and Subscribe to That Search in Your RSS Feed Reader: Just like the other tools, this one delivers those search results to your RSS Feed Reader. It is important to be sure to subscribe to variations and other nicknames of your school.  When someone posts a video somehow tied to your school, you will be notified through your RSS Feed. When I used this search, I immediately found a couple of videos created by students at my school. Though they were harmless, and actually quite creative, I am glad to know they're there.
  • Use the Search Tool to search blogs, the public Twitter stream, Facebook, images, and the general buzz about your school or district. This one is new to me. It is basically a search engine that allows to search for words or phrases in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, images, or elsewhere. I searched for a local high school using this tool and got immediate returns in all these categories, including recent Tweets and Facebook posts. You can check out IceRocket for yourself at
As our schools and districts move further into the 21st century, it is imperative that our school leaders develop the skills to manage and monitor their schools and school district’s reputation online.  There was a time when word-to-mouth talk about a school was limited to the local community. But as Beal and Strauss indicate in Radically Transparent, “Word-of-mouth was previously spread among friends and families, but now extends across continents to the masses with a click of a mouse.” Furthermore, “Social media are like word-of-mouth on steroids.” Today, what people are saying about our schools is not limited to local chatter, but extends globally. As 21st century school leaders we must listen to what our constituent groups are saying about us in our community, but also what they are saying about us online too.


  1. Thanks for this post. I did several of the things you mentioned here and have set up a reminder to do some other things on a regular basis. I was surprised by some of the things I found. You are right that, as an administrator, we should be aware of the online activity associated with our school.

  2. I'm glad it was helpful. Monitoring what is being said about schools and districts online is important. I hope to do a follow up post in the near future looking at how to effectively respond when something less than flattering turns up. Thanks for the comment.

  3. This is a really important post for school administrators. I was not familiar with, thanks for mentioning it. Also, your idea for a follow up post is a good one! It is far better to respond effectively and professionally to negative content than to pretend that it doesn't exist.

  4. Thank you. I'm glad you found the post helpful. Monitoring a school or district's online reputation is important and must be done consistently. Thanks for commenting.