Michael Smith doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Smith, the first-year superintendent of the Tuscola school district, has built his site, “PrincipalsPage.com,” into one of the most popular education administration blogs online today. Not that you would know it. He consistently turns down — or makes fun of – attempts to give him awards or recognize his work.
“It was a running joke for awhile that no one reads this drivel,” he said during an interview in the Tuscola board of education room. “I’ve always thought that people read it because I don’t care if people read it. I have no advertisers, I’m not trying to get blog awards, I don’t care how many subscribers I have.”
I happened upon Smith’s blog via Twitter, where he has built a network of 4,636 followers, and I contacted him almost immediately. To see a public school district superintendent not only using social media — but being tremendously successful at building a huge following — was a revelation. And the fact that he did while superintendent of a small, Central Illinois rural school district with 300 total students? Well, knock me over with a feather.
Smith started the site as a collection of documents that he found useful as an administrator, but started the blog to bring people back again and again. At first, he wrote the blog without his name attached. But then it started to take off, so he decided to ask to have the “right to blog” included in his contract. There wasn’t much resistance.
When he first showed it to that district’s board of education, all seven of them said, “What’s a blog?”
Smith knows there are boundaries. He never writes anything that could identify a certain child. He doesn’t use any names. Once in a while he’ll talk about serious topics, such as his thoughts on teacher tenure (dislikes). But mostly, he infuses it with his wry sense of humor — a daily take on the yin and yang of being a school administrator.
“I only blog about stuff that I would talk about in the hallway,” he said.
Most of all, Smith digs technology. He wants it to be part of the district’s fabric. He recognizes that the children in his district will never know life without their every moment being documented online. Not only is he OK with that — he has embraced it.
He often writes about his 10-year old daughter, whom he has affectionately nicknamed the “Evil Spawn.” Smith and the Evil Spawn will be housed in the same building this year, one of the fringe benefits of living in the same district where dad is the superintendent.
“At first she got annoyed, but now she doesn’t think about it,” said Smith, a 43-year-old native of St. Elmo. “She’s never known a time where there wasn’t a laptop sitting in front of her, or an iPad.”
I asked him his opinion on why there aren’t more education administrators getting involved in social media — blogging, in particular. Part of it, he thinks, is that education is an “older” profession and has been slower to adapt.
“I think a lot of them are afraid they’ll say something inappropriate,” he said. “I never think about that. I try to amuse myself, and I never write one if it’s hard. The easier it comes out the more well-received it is.”
Of course I’m biased as someone who is heavily involved in digital media, but I think we need more administrators like Smith — administrators who are active participants in the technological culture that has enveloped our lives and certainly those of our children.
“We hope to turn this into a cutting-edge technology district,” he said. “We hope to take them down that path.”
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com. You can reach her at laura@chambanamoms(dot)com.