I was recently a guest on Lead the Way, a podcast for school leaders hosted by Bill Ziegler, and we got to talking about how I challenged my staff at Cedar Crest Middle School (CCMS) to begin telling the story of our school on social media at the start of the 2017–18 school year. But my own path down the road of social media technology isn’t very typical for a Digital Principal of the Year. It actually started with a single tweet.

I only got engaged with social media three summers ago, but I fell in love with it. I tried it, embraced it, and then decided to take some risks by going out on a limb to use it at school. I work in a great school with great people, amazing students, awesome faculty, and incredible family support. Social media was a great way to engage all of them in what we’re trying to do to build our community and our culture.

At the 2017 National Principals Conference in Philadelphia, our whole team attended sessions on social media and branding our school. We came back to school with a mission, and CCMS knocked it out of the park. We probably improved our communication with families, students, and each other tenfold. Some teams jumped onto Facebook and Instagram, but we used Twitter as the main vessel of communicating with parents and families and seeking their engagement in what we were doing. We wanted to give them a window on what was happening during the school day—things happening in the classrooms and in the community— to brand our school and our message so people could see what was happening at CCMS.

We started promoting #FalconFridays and talking about school spirit. We wear our school colors, blue and grey, every single Friday—no exceptions. We spotlighted our outreach program #FalconsCARE, which connects students and teachers with similar interests to community projects. We put all these positive things out there, and then I picked up Wakelet and started putting out a weekly collection for families who weren’t on Twitter. We broadcasted all the learning that was happening in our school, all the activities, and all the creativity to the community.

Last summer, I started using Instagram and discovered that it was the perfect way to communicate with our students. Students don’t live on Twitter; they spend their time on Instagram. Instagram opened a whole new world for our social media communications and started connecting our students to our school. Our teachers have now started branching out to Instagram as well, and our students have definitely picked up on it! We have to know where our stakeholders spend their time—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other platforms—and spend our time reaching them where they are.

But it all started with that first tweet. Digital leaders have to be willing to put themselves out there and take the risk of trying new things. It’s big and scary—I agonized over that tweet, those first 140 characters, and whether or not I was going to hit the “tweet” button. But once I did, the rest was magical.

Mariah Rackley was named one of the NASSP 2018 Digital Principals of the Year. Mariah is completing her 18th year at Cedar Crest Middle School and her 10th as the building principal. Mariah’s professional interests include leadership, student agency, personalized learning, innovation, creativity, and motivation theory. Follow her on Twitter @MrsRackleyCCMS or on Instagram @mrsrackleyccms


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