“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.
Just wrote a much longer comment that got swallowed by your spam filter! Wish I had longer to rewrite it, but I have a baby crying in the next room.
Most importantly, thanks for the kind words. I hope you know that I learn at least as much from you as you learn from me. Definitely glad that we’ve crossed intellectual paths.
Second, I’m completely jazzed that you are opening your Facebook page up for public comments again!
You’re right: Two-way communication has become a basic expectation in today’s world.
Heck, when I have ANY kind of customer service issue, the first thing I do is send a Tweet to the company—and I EXPECT them to Tweet back.
But as much as schools like to talk about having “open lines of communication” with stakeholders, we rarely get past broadcasting.
We want to share messages—but sharing messages isn’t “communication.”
As uncomfortable as your early efforts will be—and there will no doubt be hicccups—you’ll be rewarded with a TON of transparent conversations…and transparent conversations lead to real relationships.
Can’t wait to hear how things go.
Rock right on,
Thanks again for challenging my thinking on this as well as many other issues!
PS… if this does not go well, I will blame you, Bill. Haha.
“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.”
This is a very important quote from A. Mac. Social media can create a global classroom for children, parents and teachers. This can lead to greater understanding and tolerance.
Ross Mannell (teacher)
Chris, your idea sound good but what would you suggest teachers do if they work in districts that have a no Facebook policy?
Thanks for asking such a key question, Michael. We used to have a no Facebook policy in our district and actually some schools still do. Our district gives schools the autonomy to make decisions that best suit their school (to a certain extent) which I am very thankful for. For districts that ban social media… It all starts with conversations and dialogue. how long do they plan on banning? Wll they ban Google+ now too? At what point do we stop trying to police and start teaching? I would start with this book along with examples from other districts who are embracing social media. It might be a long road but we have to think that at some point… The realization will occur. As each school and district is different, I am not sure there is one strategy that works… But starting with key dialogue around the use of social media is where we must start. I have asked in our district if we can try different things at our school and then report back to head office on it’s effectiveness. It has worked in some cases but not in others. Sorry if I don’t have a clearer answer – there are some ideas proposed in the book that might be worth checking out.
Totally think it is a great thing to do to connect your school with Facebook. A parent said to me, “you need to go where people are”, and Facebook is that place.
With that being said, I am wondering if your discussion board is totally open or is it moderated? I think that having something that is totally open and anyone can comment and write something that is inappropriate could set things back. I could see Starbucks or corporations doing that, but schools having a totally open site? I am not convinced. This does not mean everyone that writes has to agree with you, because I think that conversation is important, but I am not referring to that.
For example, imagine last year with the awards discussion? Some of the comments that were posted on those articles were not appropriate for students to see and in fact, teach them the opposite of what we are trying to do (positive digital footprint).
What do you think? When you open this up, you are allowing anyone to comment and “represent” your school. I do not think that it would be something that would happen often, but how often does it need to?
Great points buddy…. Every time a discussion or comment is posted, I receive notification on my phone and/or computer (yes, even my “rotary” blackberry has this function ;-)). If the post is inappropriate, I will moderate and then contact the person. The problem that I have noticed ( the debate on awards is a good example) is that the conversations ARE happening on Facebook and I do not hear about them until it is often too late to respond. It is my hope that the discussions can happen (moderated) so that the school has a voice in the dialogue too. I am still nervous about this but I think with effort from me… We can make this work. The question I have is: what is the alternative? The answer that I see is that the alternative is to NOT be a part of the conversation which I believe could have far greater negative impact.
So I definitely will be moderating… But hopefully through more transparency, we can build trust in people so the conversations can help us move forward as a school. Thanks to you, too, for modeling transparency as an educational leader.
Once again you have hit a home run with your post and once again you have created one more to do item on my back to school list.
I have batted the Facebook idea around in my head for awhile now. My struggle with jumping ahead has always been around the comments or wall posts. I have always felt like I needed to approve comments prior to them being posted, but doing so might stifle some of the authentic thoughts that would be posted. On the other hand I didn’t want to set students or staff up should someone in the community post negative things that everyone can read. I know those conversations happen away from school, but I didn’t want them to take place in an open forum for everyone to see. Keep us posted on how things go.
In the meantime I guess I need to get a Facebook account set-up and start learning! 🙂
Get on it buddy! I look forward to hearing about it. Blog away!
We are headed in this direction. You may recall last year my idea to start our school Facebook page got shot down by our tech dept. Our supt. is interested, but there has been no movement in this area. My parent-teacher organization leader feels strongly that this would be a great way to develop the partnership between home and school. She has a great handle on “where the parents are” and she is going to work with her organization to develop a page for our school that is maintained by the PTO. She will update it with school events, important info, etc. At the start, it will be maintained as an information-only board. We decided not to open it up for comments at this point, but may look to do so in the future. That being said, I think it’s important to be clear on the page about how parents can best contact those of us at the school if they have questions or concerns about anything posted! Be sure to share your page with us! I will be looking to learn from your experience with opening up your comments!
Having parents involved in this is key. Prior to opening up the posts, I thought about offering the PAC president admin rights so she could post information as well. Now she can – anybody can. I will need to send information out to parents and staff about the intended purpose of opening the page up to make it clear for all users that the best way is still face to face. This is NOT to replace but to lead to more communication.
We have had a Facebook page for about 8 months for our elem schools. So far it has been very well-received. If parents are on Facebook once the kids are asleep, why would schools continue to send antiquated hard copy monthly newsletters that no one reads?
Checked it out and looks great… thanks for sharing, Rob!
Fantastic post and thank you so much for the thoughts on our book. I created the Facebook page for New Milford HS back in April 2010 and it has been totally open since it’s inception. Just like you mentioned in your comments, I have instantaneous moderation control as an email is delivered to me as soon as someone posts to the wall. In a little over a year I have only had to remove 2 comments that I perceived as inappropriate. During the school year the FB page has become not only a hub of information, but also a beacon of pride. It just wouldn’t be the same without the conversation that comes from an open page. What I have found is that a school that models professional use using any social media tool (in this case FB) will positively influence it’s stakeholders and dramatically decease the chance of inappropriate thoughts. Just my ten cents 🙂 Here is a link to my school’s FB page http://www.facebook.com/pages/New-Milford-High-School/114382501908040
Thanks to you, too, Eric for challenging me in the areas of ed tech and leadership. Like I said to Bill, if this goes south I will blame you too… hahaha. Actually, I think this will be great for dialogue at our school and I look forward to seeing it develop. Thanks again for modeling and pushing us!
I concur…fantastic post. My school has a FB page but it is basically a billboard without any interaction….hardly dynamic. Fortunately, my head of school is receptive to new ideas in the social media world and eager to expand our digital footprint. We are discussing using Twitter to engage the students before school to discuss the all-school reading book. Now I need to go order the book!
I definitely think that having a Facebook that is not interactive is a move in the right direction. Often if we move too far too fast, we get things shut down. I hope you can open it up to let the conversations occur. By checking out a few other pages that are open, it does not seem like too many critical conversations happen on FB but it does look like people are asking questions about things that many others would like answers to as well.
Great post, Chris! I am definitely going to order the book and share it with my colleagues. I also appreciate the comments by other readers. It is so helpful to gather different perspectives.
I will tell my school’s Facebook story in case it helps anyone else. We are an independent Quaker school, pre-K through 8, in a suburban area in Bucks County, PA.
Around two years ago we started a closed Facebook group. Parents, alums, teachers, but not current students (we end in 8th grade) could request to join the group. In order to do so, they had to ‘friend’ our marketing associate, as she managed the group. We never topped 100 members and due to the fact that group updates don’t appear in news feeds, the page was not dynamic and didn’t lead to much conversation. Though I wasn’t an administrator at school at the time, I believe the decision to make a closed group was an attempt to control the conversation and control access to the information.
My favorite part of your post, Chris, is when you wrote, “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.” This is so true.
This past spring I pushed for an open Facebook page. I was able to convince my colleagues pretty easily, as many local independent high schools have public Facebook pages. You can see our page at http://www.facebook.com/newtownfriends The page is set to allow comments by anyone, but not posting of videos/photos except by me or one of the other 3 admins on the account. The page has been well received by current and former parents, grandparents, alums of all ages, teachers and current students who have FB accounts. Like Chris, we have a few local reporters/news agencies who have liked our page as well, and this has led to some great press. For example, we are doing a used shoe drive in conjunction with International Peace Day this fall, and the local Patch team saw it on Facebook (and Twitter) and has already contacted me for follow up coverage.
Due to the success of the school-wide page, this June our admin team decided to move towards grade level Facebook pages for Pre-K through 5th, and a division page for our middle school. These pages will be public, so anyone will be able to ‘like’ them and see them. I wrote about this decision and what I hope comes out of it a few days ago on my new blog, http://www.teachertweep.blogspot.com. I haven’t linked up our roll out packet yet, but am happy to share if anyone is interested. I must add that Erin and Devin Schoening’s work was a great starting point!
Wow, fantastic addition to this conversation Kristen! Grade level pages… wow again! I, too, prefer the page over the group so we don’t have to deal with requests and invites, etc. If people want to access it, there it is. Thanks for the brilliant comment and story!
I do social media at the district level, so here’s a take from that angle:
If your district has banned social media, you should look for an intelligent opportunity to request a discussion. Make a list of nearby schools and districts that have Facebook pages, to show that it won’t be an instant disaster. (I made a PowerPoint presentation with screenshots of about 50 other districts’ Facebook pages.) Sometimes as a teacher, it helps to find an ally who can do the requesting for you — an agreeable principal, or maybe someone in your technology or communications departments.
If you can’t make any headway, encourage PTA or booster club Facebook pages. They’re outside of the jurisdiction of the district. Often, that will help schools realize that it’s not a dangerous thing and also help them realize that they’re going to miss a chance to control the situation if they don’t jump in immediately.
A commenter questioned the idea of having things totally open. The reality is that you have no choice with Facebook pages — you can’t stop anyone who likes the page from replying to your posts; if you ban them, they can just make a new FB account and keep it up.
The reality, however, is that I have heard of a problem like this exactly once, and I’m closely watching district Facebook presences for an entire state. It helps that people use their real names on Facebook, so they don’t get -too- crazy.
The brave new Internet-enabled world is drastically changing the way organizational communications work. Cuts at traditional news sources means that schools just can’t get coverage for good stories; if you want to get your good news out, your parents and students are listening for it on social media, moreso than they are interested in your website or a mailed newsletter. (I’d say you need to try to concurrently do an email newsletter.) Schools and districts have been using Facebook responsibly without disaster for more than two years now — we’re past the point of concern about worst-case scenarios. It’s time to implement.
Well said, Dave… this is a blog post in itself! Far too often, it is that single mistake or off-moment that causes organizations to react and ban things like YouTube, Facebook, etc.
You are right… even prior to opening it up, people could still comment on posts. Some actually posted information by commenting on posts. So, now that you say this, we really have not done anything that much different! Huh… never even realized that until now! Thanks for enlightening me 🙂
Thanks again for added such insight and experience to this post.
Chris, your post really has me thinking here, and that’s a good thing. Over the year, I’ve actually done a lot of thinking about a school Facebook page. I’ve seen what George did with his school, and why he made the move to Facebook, I saw what schools in the Toronto District School Board are doing with Facebook, and I even saw some interesting blog posts on using Facebook in the classroom. Currently Facebook is blocked in our Board. I’ll admit that I have HUGE reservations about using it. Don’t get me wrong: I love using social media to connect with others, and I think that if used properly, there’s big benefit to using all of these tools. I only hear the Facebook horror stories though, and that scares me. I also have sat through Social Media Nights and heard others discuss the problems with Facebook, and that worries me too. I know that there are lots of filtering options, but I feel wrong saying let’s start a Facebook Page for the school, but be wary of having your children use Facebook. I don’t even have my own Facebook Page for the same fears that I’ve mentioned here.
All that being said, I know that parents use Facebook. I know that I have a class, personal, and school Twitter page, but I also know that it’s no where near as popular as a Facebook Page might be. I’m not even sure if Facebook is an option for our school or our Board, but I want to find out more before I even talk to my administrators about this. Here are some questions that I have (that I hope you might be able to answer to):
1) What filters (if any) do you use?
2) How did you answer any parental or teacher concerns with regards to using Facebook?
3) Do you “friend” the parents on this page or don’t you? If not, who do you “friend” as part of this Facebook account?
4) What kind of content do you share on this page (i.e., videos, photographs, newsletters, etc.)?
5) What would you suggest that we consider before starting a Facebook page?
Sorry for all of the questions, but any help is much appreciated! Thanks for getting me thinking!
Thanks for the great questions Aviva! I would definitely encourage you to have the conversation at your school around using Facebook as a way to showcase your school as well as communicate with (rather than to) parents in a public manner.
Here are my responses to your questions:
1. We do not have any filters other than each comment, post comes through me. I do not allow others to post photos and videos (as they do not know which students we have permission to show).
2. I have not had a single parent concern so far. I do not post images, names of students that I do not have permission. There was a teacher concern at the start but it was mostly a lack of understanding about how it was to be used. Once I explained the moderation process and that I was still to encourage F2F then I think they thought they would wait and see how it went. So far, so good! The staff at our school is often willing to let me try my kooky ideas… or at least hear me out. 😉
3. There are a few parents that have “friended” me. With a FB Page, there is no need to friend anyone. You just need to “like” the page and it will then come to your newsfeed when something is updated.
4. I share mostly news about cool things that are happening or that have happened. If I see something great, I often take a picture or video and post it there (keep in mind that I am well aware of who I cannot put on there). I also post links to videos and blogs that I think might be of interest to our families.
5. I would make sure that the purpose of the page is very clear and the role of who is to moderate is clear. I would get a FB account to understand the ins and outs of the program (you don’t have to put much info on there). Maybe start with a class page for you to show the effectiveness of it… like you have done with Twitter, Voicethread, etc. I
Feel free to ask any more questions as I am sure there are many others with the same ones!
Thanks for all of the answers, Chris! This helps a lot. I’m definitely going to explore this further. I may be in touch with a few more questions too.:)
Thanks for a great post and for all the other people who have added great comments and thoughts. I’m in Australia and I am a mum who has worked in the office of my local school. I have also been around the social media scene more so Facebook for some time, creating pages etc.
I have spoken to my school and they have agreed for me to create a Facebook Page for them. As all teachers aren’t allowed internet I’m offering a monthly service to the school and I’m going to do all the posting and monitoring on the wall for the school.
I’m thinking about putting a powerpoint together for teachers and parents on Facebook and wondering if you have any suggestions that I could use or add giving you credit of course.
I would like to put together something generic that all schools could use to educate on how Facebook can be such an excellent tool. I’m looking at creating a facebook ap that will make things easier for parents to access as well such as school terms, tuckshop roster Etc. If you have anything you would like to see please let me know.
Thanks again for a great post. Julia
Hi Julia –
I made a Glogster poster for my teachers to use. Some of them like to learn this way. You can view it at: http://nfsteacher.edu.glogster.com/glog-6000-6008/
Included in the Glog is a link to a Prezi about Facebook and first graders made by Devin Schoening which might be helpful to you and your teachers.
You can view the roll out packet I made for parents and teachers at: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B9HRCO9BGtcfYzExNjQwYjMtZDZlNC00MjZjLTg2ZjAtZTBhYjIwZDc0ZjBj&hl=en_US
Again, I must thank Erin and Devin Schoening for their work, as it really helped to get me going in this direction.
Great topic. Our school has recently implemented a FaceBook page at the request of our parents. Many felt it was the best way to communicate information. Our concern was that we were going to be communicating to parents in many ways already, (Parent Portal, Newsletters, Web Page) and this would split attention again.
After tossing the idea around we decided to go for it; and the response has been good. We don’t have a great number of followers, but have found the page to useful to communicate quickly to those that do follow. The page has not used for conversations, but more for posting information to parents.
We have had it for about 5 weeks, and so far so good.
Our FB page has strongly been embraced by our community as well! It is an efficient way to make announcements, post pictures, and get quick feedback. Parents are allowed to tag their own children if they wish and ask one another questions. Sometimes they respond quicker than I can!
I have just set up a facebook page for my school. Chris, I saw your article in Adminfo and thought this would work great for our school community too. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. My only concern is the posting of pictures of kids online. We do have a form that we give parents at the beginning of the year allowing us to take photos etc, was this sufficent for you or did you go further then this by sending something else home? Here is my page:
Awesome Silke! Yes, that is the form we use… the media release for newspapers and internet at the start of the year. It has worked for us. As always, let me know if you have any questions!
Fantastic! Thanks so much for adding your positive experience to this post. We have had the same experience and, as parents become more comfortable commenting, we will see more growth that benefits students.