As a principal, you know that communicating with your stakeholders, including faculty, students, parents, and the community, has always been a critical part of your job.
However, gone are the days where you could communicate with parents only through phone calls or via letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service. Today, there are a plethora of platforms, including Twitter, Padlet, Instagram, Facebook, and blogs that enable you to convey important information and share your vision more expeditiously than in the past.
The ability to tie things together, creating cohesive collaboration within the school building, is not easy. When you remind teachers about their significance in the educational process, they usually realize how their passion ties not only to the perpetually swinging pendulum of educational reform, but also to theory and pedagogy. If you utilize social media to its maximum potential (and minimize its pitfalls), it can provide an outstanding platform through which to collaborate and create a clear vision for your school.
Social Media’s Not a Fad—Embrace It
Each platform comes with certain built-in advantages and drawbacks. Consider choosing the best platform based on your leadership style.
Twitter: Most school systems use Twitter as a major platform for communicating with stakeholders. Twitter allows you to share brief policy statements on research-based strategies, explain general expectations, and build positive relationships. For example, as a principal, you may have faculty working through a book study. Instead of discussing the key elements in face-to-face format, you could invite the faculty to join a discussion on Twitter. By posting a question about the contents of the book, faculty are able to state their response in a more organized, quicker format. In addition, you can promote culture by having everyone end with the same handle, such as #WildcatInnovation. With Twitter, you can communicate with teachers, parents, and in some cases, students, to share positive themes and goals for improvement.
Padlet: While Twitter is more about creating a brand or boldly stating theory, pedagogy, or specific expectations, Padlet encourages the development of resources. You can use this platform to state simple but meaningful phrases or even just words, and stakeholders can then post links, videos, or comments supporting or opposing those words, ideas, or phrases. For example, you could pose a question about instructional strategies to faculty and post responses in the form of phrases, specific examples, and video links. As people share, Padlet is populated, collecting responses in a graphic organizer. This electronic bulletin-board style allows for a quick attraction to a theory or concept, which, in turn, encourages the sharing of resources. Both Twitter and Padlet are word- and resource-based, providing effective and meaningful communication while also being respectful of a teacher’s time.
Instagram: This social medium is all about the visuals. Instagram provides a way for a principal to visually introduce a concept to faculty and staff using the power of an image. What does a school or community represent? Why is this significant? When sharing a picture, a school leader can regularly influence what is imagined about the daily expectations in the building. When an Instagram post shares a community project—for instance, graduates walking through the halls, an awards ceremony, an intense athletic moment, or students sharing their talents on the stage—stakeholders are able to make comments that perpetuate positive ideas. Creating a symbol or brand for a school is essential for the sustainability of success.
Facebook: A comfortable platform for many, Facebook continues to be one of the most accessible forms of social media. After all, it’s Facebook that was the first idea-sharing social medium. Many school systems utilize this resource to quickly inform stakeholders. However, of all of the social media options, this one is most apt to encourage stakeholders to share potentially negative feedback about a school’s vision, which is then viewable by the public. While opposing views are welcome, when stated in a negative light, these views can be a detriment to what a principal is advocating.
Monday Memo—The Power of Blogging
When I started as the principal at my high school, I was eager for the faculty to understand who I was, where I was coming from, and what I believed. Thinking back, I was overwhelmed with this during those first few days of preplanning, and I realized after every meeting that I had not truly clarified my expectations or my philosophy about instruction and learning. During one of these disappointing moments, I decided I wanted to create a blog. Because our system moved to communicating solely utilizing Google Docs, I decided to explore producing a Google Blog.
Blogging: This form of social media allowed me to communicate my vision to the faculty while also providing them an opportunity to respond, creating a transparent line of communication. The format is simple. Every Monday (hence, the Monday Memo) I choose a quote to embrace for the week, and I aim to tie it to the overall goals of our school improvement plan. I also embed a “reminder” section in the Monday Memo to highlight some of our operational expectations. I end each blog with the theme that drives the most important point home. Monday Memo is sometimes tied to instruction; other times it addresses current situations impacting our student body, such as student suicide or notable success stories. For me, the blog is an essential communication tool.
This form of social media allowed me to communicate my vision to the faculty while also providing them an opportunity to respond, creating a transparent line of communication.
With hesitation, I sent my first blog on Monday, August 3, 2015. The first week with students was about to begin, and I wanted the faculty to hear from me about my vision for the day, the week, and the year. Below is an excerpt from the first Monday Memo:
“If you’re not a risk taker, you should get out of business.” — Ray Kroc
Beginning Tuesday, the halls of Apalachee High School will be filled with students, and they are all coming to us for different reasons. Some come each day to be academically challenged, while others desire social interaction. Some come each day to have two solid meals, while others are ready to get out on the field or the court. Some come each day because the school is a safer place than home, while others seek belonging in extracurricular clubs and the fine arts. We are tasked with providing all of these services for our students while also meeting the challenges of ever-changing curriculum, new evaluations systems, and a focus on standardized testing correlating with the academic growth of our school. Educators could never be successful in all of these areas unless they are willing to take risks. We have to get out of our comfort zone and try something new. If you did something last year that didn’t make you feel good at the end of the day, such as a lesson or perhaps less time spent getting to know individuals, try something new this year. Flip your classroom, allow students to collaborate, place students in situations that make them think. Risk takers produce change, and risk takers aren’t afraid to fail. We committed to creating an academic environment focused on engagement and critical thinking. In order for this to be successful, it has to be different than it was, and you have to feel supported when you try something new, knowing it might not be perfect the first time. When someone asks a member of our student body about their school, we want them to use words like “innovative” when they describe it.
The blog goes on to share more about making classrooms innovative and provides a “reminder” section for the week. Weekly blogging allows a principal to be transparent about current instructional strategies, disciplinary concerns, and schoolwide initiatives. To view the entire blog entry, titled “Take a Risk,” visit http://ahsmondaymemo.blogspot.com/2015/08/take-risk.html.
Jennifer Martin is the principal of Apalachee High School in Winder, GA.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of periodic columns about the use of social media by principals. Give us your feedback on this column by emailing [email protected].
Sidebar: Make It Work
How you can embrace social media and build a community of educators who demonstrate their passion for education:
- Choose a social media outlet that is best suited to your community of stakeholders. Many times your ideas will go far beyond the faculty and staff and apply to all stakeholders.
- Understand that choosing just one social media outlet is not always the best strategy. For example, your vision might best be communicated in a blog, while immediate notifications may be best addressed by using Twitter.
- Evaluate your ability as a leader. What are your strengths as a communicator? Are you better at stating quick expectations, visualizing your brand, or illustrating your school’s image in an anecdotal format?