The superintendent’s guide to building strong networks

Connections and collaboration are the keys to leadership success
Brian Creasman is superintendent of Fleming County Schools in Kentucky

As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” That’s the philosophy of ConnectED Leaders: Network and Amplify Your Superintendency (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Brian Creasman, superintendent of Fleming County Schools in Kentucky, co-authored the book with Bernadine Futrell, director of leadership services for the American Association of School Administrators, and Trish Rubin, who writes DA’s Marketing Matters column.

The creation and growth of personal leadership networks is important for districts to thrive both regionally and nationally. Whether that happens through social media, phone calls, or what the authors call “human-to-human” interactions, connecting with other leaders is the best way to find help, get advice and share ideas.

“We are trying to encourage and help superintendents by saying, ‘If you’re not comfortable with social media, here are some ideas and some steps to do that,’” Creasman says.

The book is more than a guide on how to build a network; it is filled with real-world examples.
We all hear about professional learning networks, but you never hear about professional leadership networks.
We really set out to define professional leadership networks, and the best way to do that is to give real examples of what’s occurring in the world of education leaders.

There are so many examples that it would seem that everyone’s already doing this. But superintendents are still siloed.
Right. They’re very isolated, and you really see this in rural America. There’s one superintendent who is covering three school districts in the Northwest. There are superintendents in Alaska whose districts are the size of South Carolina. It’s just that remote. They could be the only leader in a 200- or 300-mile radius. That’s why we say: Although we live in a connected world, leaders are still not connected in the way they should be.

So much of the networking philosophy hinges on social media, but not long ago, school leaders frowned on it. There’s definitely an evolution going on there.
There is. We looked at the top superintendents nationwide to see exactly what they’re doing, and I’ll tell you that Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho does social media extremely well. Follow him on Twitter and see the work he’s doing in Florida. We encourage superintendents to go outside their region and outside their state, and form relationships not only through social media, but also through phone conversations and virtual meetings. You’ll get a very different viewpoint of the superintendency.

I follow many superintendents and educators on Twitter, and it’s surprising how many of them are on it but don’t actually use it.
That’s right. You can’t just get a Twitter account and sit idle for 30 days. The more you post, the larger your network grows, and that’s what we’re trying to convey. The more you interact and engage with various social media platforms, the more your network grows organically.

When you look at the feeds from superintendents who are connected, and who are on Twitter or other social media platforms, you’ll notice similarities. Chances are we’ve had conversations on the phone, via email or texting, or through a Facebook message or a Twitter private message.

We’re communicating in the background, and it shows in how similar our postings are. And that’s nationwide. I’m connected, and I periodically talk to superintendents all over the nation. If you follow us, you’ll see we’re saying the same things. We’re borrowing ideas from each other, but that takes work.

Branding is another component of networking, which co-author Trish Rubin covers. How does that help build the network?
You’ve got to have a strong presence on social media. Your brand and your district’s brand have got to be out there. By that, you grow your brand through other networks. You open new doors by the brand you sell. Many superintendents don’t focus on their brand, and they don’t focus on growing their network. They isolate themselves by accident or on purpose by just calling the superintendent in a neighboring school district. It doesn’t really help the branding of your district when only your neighboring districts know your brand.

We can’t isolate ourselves in education. We need to be forming relationships with other CEOs in other industries.

You need to have a global national brand for your district in today’s society. It helps to show you as a superintendent—the CEO of a district. The larger your brand, the more of a voice you have on statewide and national issues, and that’s what we’re really trying to do. You’ve got to be not only a local leader, but also a national and global leader for students right now if we expect them to be globally competitive. We need to be at the table when we talk about state, national and global education issues so that our kids can be competitive.

So your network is not just other superintendents; it branches out into other areas such as associations or government organizations—anyone that can help you becomes part of your network and increases your ability to grow your brand.
Right. There’s a classic example from Ted Fujimoto, president of Landmark Consulting Group, who wrote a powerful chapter in the book. Even though he’s involved in education, he’s also involved in the movie industry and in a lot of financial areas, and that’s really what we wanted to bring out.

That’s why we invited Ted to write a chapter—not necessarily about education, but about things that as superintendents, we need to be looking at globally. We can’t be isolated in education. We need to be forming relationships with other CEOs in other industries. We need to be part of infrastructure committees at the state level. Sure, your local chamber of commerce is important, but get on committees at the state level and the national level, and form those networks with those key industry drivers and leaders. We can’t emphasize it enough: Diversify your network.

What’s your own social media mix?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Why those four? Instagram is where students are. LinkedIn is where education professionals are and usually where other leaders are. I use Twitter because that’s where a lot of superintendents are, and Facebook because that’s where parents are. I’m trying to hit all four, and I cater my postings to the platform.

Read: Building your school brand

Some are similar across the board, but with parents, I’m posting more about their kids. If we’ve got a student who’s done something, I’m posting a lot on Facebook. I’m trying to sell our message on Twitter. On LinkedIn, I’m trying to form partnerships. And on Instagram, I’m trying to keep students informed.

So there are similarities, but you’ve got to diversify your message as well.

The book includes a chapter that lists each platform, what it is, what it means, and why you should care. It’s very helpful for anyone who’s going to dive into social media.
Judy Wilson wrote that chapter, and she’s really an expert in that area. She and Trish do a lot of training on branding and social media, and they work with aspiring administrators in New York and across the nation.

I always say that if Trish Rubin and Judy Wilson are not in your digital Rolodex, they need to be. They’re both highly connected experts in a growing segment of education that educators are behind on. Other industries have their brand, but in education, we are just entering the infancy of this.

When we set out to write this book, we looked for the competition—what other books are out there. We had to decide what angle we were taking on the subject. Surprisingly, this is the first book that really focuses on superintendency and networks as well as the professional leadership network.

And that’s not just necessarily for education, but for corporate America as well. You could easily take this book and hand it to a CEO at JPMorgan Chase, and it’s relevant. Even though it’s through the lens of education and the superintendency, it is applicable to any industry. That’s why it is so fascinating that we are bringing an idea about networks to education as well as to the business world, and there are no other books out there that really have this focus.

Tim Goral is senior editor.

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