Retiring Albemarle schools superintendent building thriving online community for educators
In her first tweet, Pam Moran told her followers that she was “... thinking about simplicity, creativity and [pre-K]-12 education.”
Those are topics the Albemarle County Public Schools superintendent has not stopped thinking, or tweeting, about in the nine years since.
“[Social media] has changed the game, well beyond public education,” said Moran, who recently announced she will retire next summer. “It has changed the whole world, in terms of how communication occurs. ... It has allowed people to connect with each other and share ideas, expertise and resources.”
Under the handle @pammoran, Moran has tweeted about 103,000 times, including retweets and replies to other users. She has averaged more than 32 tweets per day since she joined the social network on Jan. 3, 2009.
By way of comparison, notable Twitter user President Donald Trump has tweeted about 36,000 times since creating his @realDonaldTrump account in March 2009.
Moran has gained more than 18,300 followers on Twitter, many of whom are fellow educators from across the United States and the world.
But Moran most frequently engages with people working for her own school division. Her list of Albemarle school employees on Twitter, “#ACPS tweets,” now includes nearly 600 accounts.
When Moran became superintendent in January 2006, Twitter’s public launch was still some six months away. She said a teacher introduced her to the social network a few years later, and showed her that it was becoming a global platform for discussing education issues and practices.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, my gosh. There are people coming into the school system virtually and having an influence on the work we do, and I’m not even aware of it,’” Moran said.
As Twitter expanded its capability to host images and videos, Moran increasingly used her tweets and those of others to showcase project-based and personalized learning in the county schools.
“It’s become an almost viral form of PR media for what is going well across our school system,” she said.
“Twitter is a really good way to highlight productive learning,” said Anna Balazs, a library media specialist at Cale Elementary. “Dr. Moran picked up on that really quickly.”
Balazs said she follows the Twitter hashtag “#acpslibs” to find ideas for teaching in school libraries. She said tweets from Baker-Butler Elementary librarian Anita Mays inspired her to add “maker tubs” with Tinkertoys, marble runs and other building toys to Cale’s library.
“I think the maker education movement scared a lot of us at first; it seemed like there were so many lessons, materials and guidance for us to follow,” Balazs said. “Twitter gives you an instant visual that shows you how something is implemented. It’s short and sweet, and it feels attainable.”
Moran recently retweeted some of Balazs’ photos of Cale students using the maker tubs.
“You always get a little thrill when you have been retweeted by the superintendent,” Balazs said. “You have that wonderful validation that tells you, ‘I’m on the right path.’”
“If you don’t get retweeted, it tells you that it might be time for some introspection,” she added. “It’s a good barometer for whether your lessons are stale, or have already been done.”
Science teacher Chris Stanek joined Twitter in August 2016, as he was starting his first year at Monticello High School. Stanek advises Monticello’s student-run Beekeeping Club, which Moran has featured in multiple tweets.
“As a teacher, knowing that the leadership of the school system supports something that not everyone is comfortable with — like bees — makes you feel better,” Stanek said. “And it helps other people see the benefit of it, as well.”
“Without [Moran’s] leadership, I don’t think there would be such a strong countywide Twitter community,” he said. “There is no way she would have a relationship with so many teachers without Twitter.”
Most of Albemarle County’s 2,500 teachers and classified staff still aren’t using Twitter, or haven’t made their accounts visible to Moran.
“Getting [educators] to see the value in Twitter — that it will help them write lessons, and help children learn — can be a hard sell,” Balazs said. “Teachers are super busy; there is so much else they have to do.”
Moran said teachers can set a positive example for students by incorporating social media into their daily routine.
“Our kids have to learn how to be on the playground that we call social media, and how to learn how to use those tools responsibly,” Moran said. “If we as educators do not put ourselves in a position to understand those tools by using them ourselves, it puts us at a disadvantage in helping our young people.”
When Moran steps down next summer, she will be succeeded by current Deputy Superintendent Matt Haas.
Haas has tweeted nearly 4,000 times under the handle @mshaas68, but fewer than 40 of those tweets are from 2017. Haas said he would continue to tweet and blog about education as superintendent.
“Although we tend to dwell on the downsides of social media, it has changed the world in a lot of positive ways,” Haas said. “Twitter is an egalitarian communication network that demonstrates the power of ideas. A great idea can come from anywhere and turn into action.”
Anne Straume, a multi-age teacher at Meriwether Lewis Elementary, said she hopes Haas follows Moran’s lead in engaging with Albemarle educators on Twitter.
“Twitter is a great way for a superintendent to get to know the people working in their school division,” Straume said. “I think it helps to create a more cohesive county school system.”
“[Haas] has some daunting digital shoes to fill,” Balazs said. “But I think he is well aware of the direction we’re going in.”