Andrea Stringer is a teacher in Sydney, Australia, who has just received the The Keith Tronc Award for the most outstanding teacher from the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. In this interview, she shares the story of how she learned about and became an active member of a Twitter network focused on education. Stringer’s engagement on Twitter led to her becoming a leader in the weekly #SatChatOC conversations, and to her discovery that the topic of women in education leadership is one that is on the minds of teachers, school leaders, and researchers around the world. In this conversation, Stringer shares what she has learned as well as some of her evolving thoughts on what she would like to see happen next. As she shares, her experiences so far have taught her that there are many women in education who are interested in taking on leadership roles, however mentoring relationships that might help them achieve their goals are lacking.
On discovering Twitter as a platform for professional development
A few years ago, I was teaching in a school and met a practicum student. I wasn’t her supervisor but she had release time so she came into my classroom. She said, “I would like to stay connected and learn from you. I said, “Facebook?” She said, “No, Facebook is not what we use. At university we all use Twitter.”
So, I tried Twitter but I didn’t understand it. I just didn’t ‘get it’.
Then, at my current school, the Principal, Dr Briony Scott, said on the first day, “If you’re not on Twitter you’re missing out on some wonderful professional development.” So I tried Twitter again. Now, some may say I’m addicted to Twitter, but I say I’m addicted to learning because I can connect directly with education gurus, like Alma Harris, and receive advice, information and research 24/7. Twitter makes more educators accessible and flattens the hierarchy.
It all began when I was on Twitter late Saturday nights and lurked (viewed but not interacted) on #SatChat, a Twitter chat for educators on Saturdays. After a few months, I began to interact and Brad Curry messaged me and said, “Would you like to do #SatChat for Oceanic countries? We’ve got someone in Singapore, someone in Jakarta, and we’d like you to represent Australia.”
I said, “That’s really nice of you but no, I don’t think I’m ‘techy’ enough. I’m new to Twitter but thank you.” I was very humbled he asked me. And you know, he just ignored me!
So, I got included in the emails with all of these wonderful educators and that’s how #SatChatOC got started. At that point, we focused more on topics than on guests. Then one person said to me, “Oh, I’d love to see Stephen Heppel at the conference but it’s not in the school budget. I wondered how we could create more equity in education.” So, I messaged Stephen and asked him to come on #SatChatOC. He got up at two o’clock in the morning (UK time) with the flu and was available to answer questions and create discussions about learning spaces. That’s the type of people I love to connect with. They don’t do it for money, or fame, but just because they want to work with teachers and help improve student outcomes.
Since then, David Price agreed to participate in #SatChatOC. I explained to him that I was trying to think of whom to ask next. He suggested Yong Zhao, and I said, “Oh, how will I make that happen?” After a simple email, he also said yes. Andy Hargreaves, Alma Harris, they all said yes. So, #SatChatOC is a collaborative effort with these generous educators, willing to connect and share.
I think some people talk about Twitter as an echo chamber. The educators in my Professional Learning Network (PLN) are usually in agreement, but I also say to follow those people who challenge your thinking, because otherwise you’ll never grow as an educator.
On thinking about women in education leadership
What happened then was I noticed there were people strongly suggesting that there weren’t many female presenters at educational conferences. I messaged Alma Harris and asked her “Do you notice that there aren’t many female presenters in the education industry?” After she agreed, I said I’d love to do a #SatChatOC and get the conversation moving forward and connect those women interested in leadership. You can go on Twitter and complain or you can bring an issue to the forefront and hopefully problem solve with the assistance of many intelligent, passionate people. Then Alma contacted many women from around the world. It was really amazing! She included me in the emails, and so I created a Google Doc and everybody put in their name, Twitter handle, and their focus. Now there’s a database that anyone can add to. I read some of the Tweets related to the topic. “Oh, it looks like they’re all academics.” Another person said, “No, it looks like there’s principals and teachers, all levels of education…” It was interesting to see how people reacted.
To me it was about connecting and supporting, but what became really obvious is that there are a lot of female educators who want to be leaders but don’t have mentors, or valuable connections. Even on a global level. But with the technology, I’m thinking what can we do to support and develop that?
On using new technology for professional development
I attended Harvard and completed the Improving School: The Art of Leadership course, and the week before I went to schools and visited people in New York and Philadelphia. Dr. Joe Mazza from the University of Pennsylvania interviewed me and we did a podcast. I learned how scenarios are created and leaders discuss these scenarios on Voxer. They probably speak every day. It’s not a long drawn out conversation but really quick responses usually limited to 2-3 minutes. Somebody might throw out a question like what if this happened, what would you do? And you can get many responses and perspectives. Voxer takes connecting to another level. It becomes more personal and private, unlike Twitter, which is more public. I recently asked one of my Voxer groups, “If you could have any presenter at a conference, who you found innovative and engaging, who would it be?” I’m finding that people’s choices are changing, and that PD is evolving. We’re not always looking outside for people with expertise or those who’ve authored books. The school and classroom silos are slowly dissipating. Technology allows us to connect, learn and interact with other educators and students from around the world.
What’s next for women in education leadership?
I had a wonderful principal in my first few years of teaching. Her question to me was “What do you want to do, and where do you want to be in a few years?” She then responded with, “Well, how can I help make this happen for you?” When I look back, I think about how amazing that statement was. It wasn’t about what I could bring or do for the school but it was about her wanting to help me. From that point on, we had a different relationship because I felt very supported professionally and personally. I believe that women need more mentors. In Sydney, Dr. Nicole Archard and Dr Briony Scott have created the Renaissance Women’s Network Meeting. As Dr Archard explained to me, the purpose of the network is to provide women in education with the opportunity to connect and support each other as they navigate their educational careers.
I’ve written about four male educators who are mentors to me. I never asked them formally to be my mentors, they just became that for me. I wonder if we could have a more formal mentoring program so that women could provide the option of being a mentor. I think the #SatChatOC Twitter conversation that focused on women in educational leadership was a good starting point for a larger conversation on this topic. I am very humbled to be included with this group of amazing women.
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