The American Press Institute is making a number of recommendations to newspapers to create successful new models, and their number one suggestion is:

BECOME PART OF THE SOCIAL WEB. Newspaper executives should take it as a personal and professional challenge to participate in social media: Share photos and video online. Follow industry experts on Twitter. Create a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. This is extremely valuable market research. Learn all you can.

Now, I know I’m a dreamer, but there’s an interview with an editor that follows that quote that’s making me think what it would be like if some type of American Education Institute made the same recommendation to principals and superintendents. I’ve changed the words a bit to make me feel really giddy, but imagine an exchange between a reporter and a school leader that included this:

Reporter: What have you learned from actually participating in the social Web that you wouldn’t have been able to pick up from colleagues describing the experience?

Principal: I describe the social Web as a cocktail party filled with interesting people. You can move from group to group, engaging on different topics, listening quietly when you want to, talking at others. The neat thing is that, like real cocktail parties, you can meet new people, hear great stories, learn valuable things and have a few laughs. You can come and go as you please, and the cocktail party is always going on…but it is more than that. You can follow education experts on Twitter, etc., and learn from their links and their conversation. You can converse with people much smarter than you — well, I can, at least — and they’ll respond, helping me. You don’t need to know them, you don’t need a fancy title, you don’t need an introduction. You simply need to ask a question. How cool is that? And, as a result, you establish yourself as a person. A real person. I hope that the people who connect with me on social networks see me as more than a name on a office door. I engage with them. I show some personality, to the extent that I have one. I listen to what others are saying and let them know that I am learning from THEM.

Reporter: How has what you’ve learned helped you improve your school?

Principal: Three ways that I can think of right now. First, social networking is a way to get feedback. Ask a question about policy, about a course, about an idea, people will respond. For instance, I asked a question about the future direction of our arts program on Twitter, sending people to my blog, and got some great responses. And I think it helped that I have established a presence as an active player who engages with others. So, when I ask for help, people offer it. Second, it’s a tip service. The Twitter grapevine is faster than many of the traditional streams of information. Sorry, it just is. Third, the conversations and the links about issues of education, learning and teaching help me think through ideas that I should be thinking through but normally may overlook. It’s more, too, than following the thought leaders. It’s following the thinking of people in the trenches working through the same things they’re working through. Lots of inspiration out there.

Reporter: What have you stopped doing that you used to spend time on before you began blogging, tweeting, etc.?

Principal: I’ve always considered this question — or the implied objection to social networking behind this question — as bogus. Educators are supposed to be thinking about learning. We’re supposed to be thinking about the future. We’re supposed to experiment and try new things. We’re also supposed to talk to our parents and engage with the community. So, this is part of the job, period. Any educator who says they don’t have time to do these kinds of things is working on the wrong things. The real answer? My day has probably gotten longer, but this is important stuff.

Reporter: Advice for other educators thinking about making social networks a part of their personal learning?

Principal: Assume nothing, because, most likely, all of your assumptions will be wrong. Social media is easy. If you find it’s not easy, I assure you most of your students can help you. That’s what I do. Make no judgments about any service until you’ve tried it yourself. Find people you know and follow them. Find people you don’t know but who live near you or who do what you do and follow them. Jump in. Give it longer than a weekend before you decide if it’s good or bad. Be yourself and be engaging.

Wake me up when it happens.

(Photo “Apple Martini” by Smaku.)