As a school leader, there is a seemingly infinite list of responsibilities—and opportunities—to grow your school leadership practice. Creating an online social media community with your staff can complement your leadership style, maximize your ability to lead efficiently, and help you define why and how social media can help promote your school.

Once you establish a purpose for engaging your staff with social media or for adding an additional social media platform to your repertoire, the next thing to consider is whether an open (globally accessible) or closed (accessible only by those to whom you give permission) social media community makes the most sense.

Open vs. Closed Social Media Communities

Both types of social media communities can impact the engagement and professional growth of your staff. Both may contribute to genuine social interaction, authentic use of technology, and the ability to model best practices. Which community is best for your school? Begin the assessment by asking these two questions:

  • Will you be sharing student or other confidential information in your community?
  • Will you require access to a broader community for solutions or promotion of your school story?

Many open communities have the ability to also create closed communities within them. For example, if you are one of the 1.5 billion active Facebook account users, you likely are a part of at least one private, secret, or closed group. These groups require owners of the group to accept a request to be included, thus controlling participants and access to shared information.

Share Your Story

“One team, one dream” has always been part of my leadership motto in bringing the school community together on behalf of our students. Create a social media community around a shared hashtag to brand your school message and leverage the power of a team approach.

We use our hashtag #SPAinspires to tell the story of how our staff and students inspire success at Sarah Pyle Academy through personalization on Twitter. Our consolidated efforts around our hashtag allow our story to be told and followed by all stakeholders. One of my fellow 2018 Digital Principals of the Year, Mariah Rackley, uses Instagram, Twitter, and Wakelet to build Cedar Crest Middle School pride in their Lebanon, PA, community. Administration and staff alike post pictures and stories with the hashtags #WeAreCedarCrest and #FalconPride during each Falcon Friday, creating a palpable culture of school pride that has spread to every stakeholder group. Using a social media platform to carry out your collaborative school vision activates the power within your team and shares the narrative burden.

OPEN: Twitter, Instagram, Wakelet, Facebook. Share your school’s narrative and branding agenda with your school team using a social media community. Creating a unique hashtag and intentionally spreading the word about what your team is doing creates shared ownership. You will be surprised how contagious telling your school’s story becomes. Soon, everyone will be following your hashtag.

CLOSED: Google+, Facebook, Snapchat. Create your story with your staff in a safe, private community until you are ready to share it with the world in an open community. Refine your vision as you add to it and create your narrative, all the while engaging and activating your staff voice, choice, and talents. Invite your school stakeholders, and encourage everyone to participate.

Grow Your Staff

Ever wonder how you can truly develop all your teachers to their maximum professional potential at the same time while sparking their interest? Leveraging social media to do just that has become increasingly attractive. I am extremely grateful to be in a school that personalizes education for our students as well as our staff. We have used a number of different social media vehicles, starting in the Open Education Resources (OER) Commons and evolving into the Master Teacher Project and Twitter chats. My team identifies content-specific lessons that interest them in the OER, and then they evaluate and test lessons as potential options for personalization opportunities for our students. We contribute our lessons learned and feedback to the Commons via our school common media account, which serves to grow the commons and our own instructional practice. In the Master Teacher Project, teachers investigate specific strategies based on real-time need and view artifacts from master teachers who have utilized that strategy.

Most recently, we have integrated Twitter chats during professional development days to increase collaboration around relevant issues and grow our professional learning network (PLN). This requires quite a bit of planning; however, the reach of our collaborative efforts is worth the prep time.

OPEN: Open Education Resource (OER) Commons, Twitter, Google+: Build your content network in the OER from lessons and build your PLN in Twitter. Host a school-, district-, or statewide Twitter chat around a topic or relevant issue during the upcoming winter professional development sessions. Be sure to follow those who participate and grow your PLN.

CLOSED: Master Teacher Project, Padlet: Gather new strategies from Master Teacher Project, and create a Padlet for your school, grade, or program to track and reflect on the strategies you try.

Increase Engagement and Cultivate Gratitude

I have learned that leveraging a closed social media community works well in tandem with traditional meetings and professional development. We have used several free communities and found Slack ( team messaging to be the most versatile. Using a collaborative social media tool allows for differentiation, increased collaboration with a unique voice (GIF, BitMoji, thumbs up), and increased engagement among the entire team (especially when they are not physically in the room). This tool has also given integrity to our vision. We use this social media community as we post our interactive shared agendas, and we promote a positive outlook by posting “What is right in our SPA World” in direct messages, pictures, and boards. Onboarding new staff, sharing between committees, and handling project management can all be accessed within this closed social media community.

Brian McCann, a 2018 Digital Principal of the Year and principal of Joseph Case High School in Swansea, MA, stepped outside his own comfort zone to incorporate Facebook in his #PositiveSignThursday campaign, recognizing that others in the community engaged more with Facebook than other media outlets. Building your school’s positive culture by modeling an intentional gratitude practice via social media is a perfect example of aligning the power of technology with your intentional purpose.

OPEN: Facebook, Instagram, Edmodo: November is a time for taking pause and giving thanks, and it’s the perfect time to integrate a new social media strategy for initiating a gratitude challenge.

CLOSED: Slack, Voxer: Voxer can provide an opportunity for everyone to have a voice in sharing their ideas in the way they communicate best. They can share in video, written format, or GIF. Voxer is an audio app that can be used to send and receive text, audio, and video with walkie talkie-like features. What a great way to keep the gratitude flowing by sending an inspirational Voxer message to your team each morning!

Whether this is your first year at a new school or the 10th year leading your team, social media communities give you the power to leverage technology to work smarter, reach further, and collaborate more with your staff. Engage your staff in a new social media community collaboration, and growth is sure to follow.

Kristina MacBury is the principal of Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, DE, a 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year, and co-founder and CEO of Educate4hope, an educational leadership consulting firm.

Sidebar: Making It Work

Steps for Success

Use these tips for connecting with your staff on social media:

  • Be clear on your goal. Are you building a culture of gratitude, giving staff voice, or building a schoolwide professional learning network? Once you have determined your objective(s), then you can select the social media platform that makes the most sense.
  • Lead by example. Set the tone by commenting and retweeting teachers’ posts, and always offer a contribution to “What is right in your world?”
  • Be consistent. Start strong and continue strong. Any community, including those on social media, grows only when tended to regularly.

Twitter Talk

Want to chat with Kristina MacBury? Tweet her @MacBuryKristina.