Social Media

A Vote for Voxer's Professional Benefits
By MICHAEL LUBELFELD/School Administrator, September 2017

WITH SO MANY social media applications now available for communication, the superintendent should never feel lonely. One that’s gaining use in school leadership circles is the “walkie talkie” app Voxer. It’s a powerful tool for communication, professional growth, leadership development and relationship building.

Voxer uses patented technology permitting synchronous, live conversations, one on one and for groups of people at the same time. It also has texting and asynchronous talking capabilities. One can leave an audio message and others may listen and respond later. The collection of verbal contributions forms a library of leadership support and advice.

Multiple Uses
As a busy school leader, I need to get messages out quickly, efficiently and directly to individuals or groups of leaders with whom I work. I have a Voxer contact for each member of my district leadership team and a group for a broader team. From serious (a bus accident) to celebratory (a principal’s new baby), we have been using Voxer in my 3,000-student district to communicate verbally, with images and text, for the past four years.

The six principals and eight assistant principals in Deerfield use Voxer to communicate with lunch supervisors, nurses, frontline administrative staff and each other. They have found the tool indispensable for supervising large groups of students — every principal has a district-issued smartphone with Voxer. That means no one need worry about forgetting the two-way radio for outdoor supervision duty. They also use the tool for ongoing professional conversation, as the live and asynchronous functionality can keep the thinking going on a subject at hand.

With such wide use, the verb “vox” has replaced “call” or “text” in our leadership community. Voxer is a free app (the Pro version has an annual cost of $30). It works on Wi-Fi or cell service, and it’s quite reliable. Hearing someone’s voice allows the brain to interpret feelings better than words alone convey in text messages or e-mails. The group communication feature is excellent for distributing important messages with the same intonation.

Networking Benefits
As a superintendent, I’m involved in multimember professional Voxer groups. One is known as #iSupt: A Think Tank for School Supts, a 400-member group of superintendents, central-office supervisors and professional association leaders. This group was set up by Joe Mazza, affiliated with a midcareer doctoral program at University of Pennsylvania, to connect leaders nationwide.

On the #iSupt group, “superfriends” ask practical questions of practice and suggest strategies and solutions. Talk about real-time professional growth: We share relevant leadership books and conduct leadership team book studies. We discuss effective school board/superintendent relations and push each other’s learning on personalized learning, summer school and other issues.

Other Voxer groups in which I am active include AASA Digital Consortium, AASA National Superintendent Certification, Illinois Superintendents and the 2016 Illinois Aspiring Superintendents.

The bonds solidified through Voxer’s 2016 Illinois Aspiring Superintendent group helped a virtual group establish an in-person group, as well. Now more than a year after it was created, this Voxer group continues to thrive as a virtual professional learning net-work and a professional learning community. Nick Polyak, a fellow Chicago-area superintendent, and I facilitate the Aspiring Superintendent Academy through the Illinois Association of School Administrators. Our inaugural 2016 group of 40 leaders joined Voxer as part of our PLN preparation.

From congratulations on promotions (eight have been appointed to superintendencies) to sharing real-time challenges about organizational leadership, the Voxer group’s members communicate several times a week.

Voxer is another example of a practical social media tool that helps those of us in leadership unlearn the notion that the superintendency is lonely. Quite to the contrary, tools such as Voxer make the post part of a supportive, diverse and connected group of leaders.

MICHAEL LUBELFELD is superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools District 109 in Deerfield, Ill. E-mail: Twitter: @mikelubelfeld