“Instead of worrying about the message your school is sending on social media platforms, consider the message your school is sending by NOT engaging with social media at all.” M. Peacock via Ferriter, Ramsden, Sheninger.

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine who has a strong online presence, Kye Grace (@kyegrace), and he encouraged me to use social media for educational purposes – both to connect with other educators as well as communicate to and with parents of students at our school.  I started blogging and created both a personal Twitter account and a professional account (my personal account eventually lost out to my professional account – thus the formal @MrWejr).

He also gave me an idea to create a Facebook Fan Page for the school.  He said that it would be a great way to communicate and share the great things happening at the school as well as a way to post interesting links, images, and videos.  At the time, Facebook in school was a bit of a frustration for many teachers and administrators so I pushed that aside for about a month to think about it.  A colleague and I were discussing Facebook and he mentioned that parents at his school had created their own Facebook Page for the school and were leaving some negatively toned comments on topics such as head lice and behaviour.   At that point I  decided to take (at the time) a risk and I created our “Parent Info For Kent Elementary” Facebook Page.

Parents immediately loved it.  I could post information and great things happening in classrooms at the school from my phone as the day progressed.  Some school and district staff were a bit concerned as to the conversations that would happen in the public domain (without their knowledge).  After some dialogue, thoughts and an experience with a post that would be better discussed in person, I disabled the Discussion Board.  I completely managed the messages on the page; only I could post while others could comment but I was extremely careful and moderated each comment.

Things have gone extremely well with our Facebook Page – parents love it.  We have grandparents and other relatives, former students, and community members (businesses, reporters, etc) that “Like” the page and therefore get constant updates on their Facebook Page.  It is THE best way to showcase the great things that are happening at our school.

I just finished reading “Essentials for Principals: Communicating & Connecting With Social Media” by Bill Ferriter (a brilliant and key member of my PLN and a teacher from North Carolina, @plugusin on Twitter), Jason Ramsden (a chief tech officer at a school in North Carolina and @raventech on Twitter) and Eric Sheninger (a high school principal in New Jersey and @NMHS_Principal on Twitter).  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK FOR ANY EDUCATOR CONSIDERING USING SOCIAL MEDIA AT THEIR SCHOOL.  The authors challenged me to be more transparent and increase the use of social media by stating,

While establishing strong lines of communication within the schoolhouse has always been essential for maintaining focus and for building momentum toward shared objectives, communication beyond the schoolhouse has become more important than ever.  Faced with shrinking budgets and constant scrutiny in today’s accountability culture, public relations has quickly become a new priority for principals.  After all, informed communities tend to care more about their schools. (p.5)

…Principals who take the time to respond honestly to teachers, students, parents, and community leaders in the digital forums they have already embraced will soon find that they are building communities of enthusiastic supporters who feel connected to one another and to their local schools for the first time. (p.10)

…We have to be willing to open ourselves to criticism and to interact directly with important stakeholders in order to be taken seriously. (p.10)

Following the reading of this book, I opened our Facebook Page for others to post as well as added the Discussion Board.  We may end up with some controversial topics on there but my feeling is that these conversations are already happening and I would rather the school be a PART of this important dialogue.  I will still continue to moderate and encourage face to face dialogue to happen in the schools.

We need to break free of the communication that we have used in the past and move to one that encourages dialogue and two-way communication between parents, educators, students, and community members.  Through social media, we will get a better picture of what we are doing well and what we need to do better as a school.

If your district bans social media tools, it is far overdue to have this critical conversation around its use because, as the authors of the aforementioned book quote A. Mac, “in just a few years if you haven’t adopted social media in a significant way you risk shutting out the best and most powerful communications channel we’ve ever known.”  Not only is it important for educators to connect with others via social media, I believe schools NEED to connect with ALL interested stakeholders with a school Facebook Page.

Obviuosly there are some precautions to take when using social media as a communication tool for a school.  For more info on this as well as Twitter and other social media tools, order the the book “Communicating and Connecting With Social Media”; there are some great handouts, letters, and useful resources to overcome these hurdles.

Thank you to Bill, Eric and Jason for challenging and leading our thinking around the use of social media in schools.