Recently, I was invited to participate in a webinar titled, Using social media to enhance school-community relations. The webinar was spearheaded by Dr. Scott McLeod, professor at the University of Kentucky and the author of the phenomenal blog Dangerously Irrelevant, and his colleague Dr. Wayne Lewis. The primary audience consisted of 18 preservice administrator students at the University of Kentucky. Contributing to the discussion was Dan Cox, principal of Hoover Middle School in Waterloo, Iowa and doctoral student at Iowa State University as well as the renown Burlington High School principal of Burlington, Massachusetts and 2012 NASSP National Digital Principal Award Winner, Patrick Larkin.
Dan Cox began the discussion by sharing his dissertation results from a study centered around how school principals and superintendents use social media to communicate with parents, students, staff, and community members. The following are four emerging themes from twelve qualitative interviews with school principals across the nation.
Social media tools allow for greater interactions between school principals and their stakeholders.
No longer is newsletters, calendar of events, e-mails and other one-way communication enough for schools. Great school communities inspire great conversations. Dr. Scott McLeod states that robust ecosystems of multiple communication channels are better than more limited analog-only print/phone channels. In other words, there is a need for two-way, real-time communication allowing for engaging conversations with parents. However, being cognizant of your cliental and providing a menu of communication tools is key. As principals, we must ensure that groups of parents do not get left behind. Patrick Larkin remarked, “Everything I blog also shows up on Facebook, Twitter, School Website, and Google Plus – it’s not hard to have things post simultaneously.” Remember, a hardcopy is still necessary for some families.
Social media tools provide stronger connections to local stakeholders,to fellow educators, and to the world.
The most important thing about communication is to hear what isn’t being said. Patrick Larkin emphasized the importance of being transparent and engaging in open and honest dialogue. “Basically my newsletter is my blog,” he commented. Connecting through social media allows opportunities for stakeholders to have a voice and speak about the issues and concerns they may have. As leaders, it is important to respond to feedback in a timely and appropriate but honest manner.
Mr. Larkin pointed out two powerful advantages of social media. (1) Positive Public Relations – Principals should take advantage of social media by sharing and promoting all the amazing things happening within their school with the world. (2) Learn From One Another – If principals would begin to share all their great initiatives and success stories, schools could begin to learn from one another.
Social media use can have a significant impact on a school principal’s personal and professional growth.
I have often said that the five people who influence me the most and on a daily basis…… I have never met. At no other time in my career have I had immediate access to experts with only one click of a button. A 140 character tweet at times has caused me to think differently even more so than a 140 page book. Every thing I read has been produced within 24 hours. After one year of engaging in Twitter, I feel as if I have received a whole new education.
It is important to diversify your PLN. Put people around you who cause you to think differently. People who are straightforward and willing to connect in uncomfortable conversations. Those who say what they mean and mean what they say. Look for educators who take time to comment and to grow your knowledge.
Social media use is an expectation; it’s no longer optional.
Principals must move beyond communication to “community building and collaboration” using social media the way it was designed. Not taking advantage of this type of technology is education malpractice. It is simply irresponsible of any principal in this day and age. Patrick Larkin suggests that principals take the leading role in modeling collaboration so that students will have the “know how” to set-up their own learning network built around their personal interests by the time they graduate and move on to college or careers.
As principals, the time is now to unleash our leadership skills and take advantage of social media. Leaders such as Patrick Larkin, Lyn Hilt, Eric Sheninger, Dr. Jusin Tarte, Ron McAllister, Chris Wejr, Jeff Delp, and Jessica Johnson are leading the way by modeling, sharing, and collaborating both internally and externally. How do I know this? Because of social media!
A special thanks to Dan Cox for his permission to share his extensive study.