When I first was named an NASSP Digital Principal of the Year in 2013, social media was relatively new to us, and the principals and schools who had embraced it as a tool were few and far between. For many of us, sharing our story publicly on social media was scary. Some feared scrutiny, some feared backlash, and others saw social media only as a place to tell people what flavor of cereal they were eating on a given morning. Principals on the cutting edge of social media integration sought to champion digital tools and convince others to try them. Our focus then was the “how” of social media and awareness of the tools that were newly at our fingertips.
Our view of social media tools has evolved over the years, and many school leaders now use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even Snapchat to share with the world all the great things going on in their schools. Now that most of these tools have been freely available to all of us for well over a decade, we are learning to be more sophisticated and intentional in the ways we leverage them.
As an outgoing state coordinator for the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, I have seen social media used as a powerful tool to advocate for our profession. We see celebrities and politicians speak out for their causes on social media all the time. While we, as school leaders, may not want to be quite as opinionated and unfettered as some famous folks, there is a place for education advocacy on social media. Here are just a few ways we can advocate for education using social tools:
- Follow @NASSP on Twitter for great content on current educational issues. Interact with NASSP’s Twitter account by retweeting key messages already drafted for school leaders. For example, NASSP has recently engaged in advocacy to combat the vaping crisis among our young people. NASSP’s tweets about the association’s efforts on vaping in schools are informative and easy to share; additionally, they support the work our school leaders are doing at home. When it comes to other issues, a quick scan of the NASSP account shows our national association’s efforts to inform legislation regarding issues of equity for students, gun violence, and mental health in schools. These tweets are great because they provide concise information and links to relevant content, and they require only a simple retweet to reach many more people.
- Use hashtags to help share your message. Our NASSP Advocacy team initiated #PrincipalsAdvocate to share ideas and advocate for the things that matter to our students. Use the hashtag so that NASSP staff can see your tweets and share them or use it to find other like-minded school leaders and join them in sharing ideas, needs, and examples of how schools address important issues. The #PrinLeaderChat hashtag brings in hundreds of school leaders every Sunday night to discuss current topics in education and leadership. In a quick, 30-minute chat, principals from all over the world share key innovations and great strategies that have actually worked for them in their schools. 2016 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year Winston Sakurai of Hawaii spearheads this weekly opportunity for school leaders to connect and share.
- Find key policymakers on social media, and reach out to them. Look for your local influencers as well as members of Congress who serve your community. Not only are you a school leader, you are also a voter. Make sure elected officials understand your perspective on key educational issues. Each spring, NASSP invites principals from all 50 states to spend three days in Washington, D.C., to learn about advocacy. The annual NASSP Advocacy Conference provides training in communication, connection, and ways to inform policymakers about the impact of legislation on our schools and our students. As Advocacy Conference attendees walk Capitol Hill on Hill Day, they take photos with key legislators and their aides while they share the issues they have discussed together. During the conference, attendees learn how important it is to tag members of Congress and their staffs on Twitter and other social media sites. What a powerful way to engage our elected officials in the conversations that most impact our students!
- Work with your school district’s leadership to craft a unified message. Most superintendents and school district leaders are keenly interested in advocating for education. Work collaboratively so that all the leaders in your district (including you) actively share the same message. In the Northwest Independent School District (ISD) outside the Dallas–Ft. Worth metroplex, superintendent Ryder Warren and our board of trustees work collaboratively with school leaders, students, and the community to develop a set of legislative priorities. Once our district defines those priorities, Warren ensures Northwest ISD school leaders are well informed and equipped to share the message. We work intentionally, and our unity brings greater influence for the good of our students.
- Build your social media community. It is great to put your message out on social media, but if you want the message to spread, you need people to see and share what you are saying. You need to find the right followers in order to make that happen. I am not suggesting you chase after followers for the sake of having followers; rather, actively connect with other educators who want to increase their influence and voice. When we engage with others and build a network focused on the best for our schools and our students, we get great results.
We as school leaders have come a long way with our voice and advocacy over the past decade. We have found new social media tools, and we have become even more skilled at using them to share the stories of our schools, the needs of our kids, and the things we must do to help our students and our communities. The fear of the unknown is no longer a valid excuse to shy away from free and available social media tools. More and more people are engaging regularly with social media, and our audience is huge.
I challenge us all—myself included—to make 2020 the year we take our professional advocacy to new heights with the intentional use of social media to tell our stories. As one of our very first NASSP Digital Principals of the Year Eric Sheninger said in the very first digital principal panel interview session at the NASSP Ignite 2012 conference, “If we don’t tell our story, somebody else will.”
Carrie Jackson is principal at Northwest High School in Justin, TX. She is a 2013 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and has served as an assistant state coordinator, state coordinator, president-elect, president, and now immediate past president/state coordinator of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals.