Social Media and Two-Way Communication

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.


  1. Hi Shawn,

    This is a clear and compelling post that really captures the essence of why school leaders would want to be active in their use of social media. In an era where the role and purpose of public schools is subject to so much scrutiny it is important that we highlight the work that we do through as many avenues as possible.

    In using the platform of social media for ‘community building and collaboration’ we set an example and an expectation that (I hope) will help redefine our role as school leaders and impact changes in classroom practice as well. Are you seeing a shift in teacher practice as a result of your leadership in this area?


    April 22, 2012
  2. Shawn Blankenship said:

    Thanks for commenting Brian. You are absolutely right about highlighting the work that your school is doing. As Patrick Larkin mentioned in the webinar, it only takes one negative thing to happen and the media is all over it. However, if the school leader has worked hard to promote and establish a strong reputation for the school, it can take the sting out of any small blunders. School leaders who are leading the way in this idea in my eyes would be Eric Sheninger and New Milford High School and Patrick Larkin and Burlington High School. These schools are household names among connected educators.

    As to your question, yes I am experiencing a tremendous shift. Although my school is small, 40% of my teachers have developed their own individual blog this year, 50% now have a Twitter account and participate in weekly chats, and we talk about Tom Whitby, Bill Ferriter, Lyn Hilt, Eric Sheninger, Dr. Justin Tarte, Steve Anderson, Angela Maiers, Joe Bower, Will Richardson, and many many more connected educators as if they teach next door. I believe the school leader should be the lead learner within any school, and I now have to work hard to stay on top! Professionalism has increased, innovative and engaging lessons have increased, and collegial conversations throughout the building have increased significantly. It is fun to come to work everyday and think, learn, and grow with my staff!

    Thanks again for commenting.

    April 22, 2012
  3. Shawn,

    I think you have touched on something that is both a real opportunity and a frightening prospect for a lot of educators, principal or otherwise. We want our leaders to be linked in to our clients, and social media is clearly the pathway for that linkage now and in the future. It will not replace face-to-face interaction, but will provide a bi-lateral path that has not existed in the past. The problem is that inviting comment, well, it invites comment. And so many of our leaders feel threatened by that.

    Getting comfortable with this is not just for the tech-savvy. On my blog (and a book in process) I am focusing on how each of us…teacher, student, administrator, parent…is a part of a vast neural network that I am calling the “cognitasphere”. We are part of it, like it or not, and embracing it is far better than trying to keep the inevitable at bay!

    April 22, 2012
  4. Shawn Blankenship said:

    Thanks Grant for bringing up a great point. School leaders should involve teachers, parents, students, and community members in the establishment of policy and procedures to guide social media use without trying to control content, but instead, protecting the school, district, and its stakeholders. School leaders must evaluate the school’s use of social media and examining frequently whether social media is being used in the manner it was intended. Welcoming feedback, both positive and negative, can be rather tricky, but engaging in open, sincere, and honest dialogue and genuinely establishing a strong relationship may just be worth it!

    Thanks again for commenting and I look forward to reading your book!

    April 23, 2012
  5. uksuperiorpapers said:

    I think it is the teacher and parents who should make education relevant to students. Technology should become an inclusive tool. Where all are able to have access to hardware and applicationsif needed.Laptops, iPads, and netbook computers — paid for with the help of state dollars — are becoming an increasingly common sight in classrooms.

    May 18, 2012
  6. (quote)”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.”(unquote)

    The nouveau 21st Century Innovator’s comments reveal the corruptive influence of the instant gratification obsessed, attention challenged, and dumbed-down pop culture driven segment of society that wants to hijack the education profession with pedagogically and morally bankrupt values. For what purpose? To create more carbon copies of their superficial selves who lack the nerve to be judgmental or suspicious of such blatant manipulation. The collectivists among us have become useful idiots for Madison Avenue/corporate America’s desire to promote crass materialism at most any cost. “Going along to get along,” as Ayn Rand once aptly wrote. There is no practical purpose to own more than a very few of the trendy gadgets created by Silicon Valley on the market each year costing hundreds of dollars (and, to add insult, go obsolete within months) other than to be sucked into that “keeping up with the Joneses” trap. In the broader sense, it also feeds into the present one world/socialist goal envisioned by the academic elite and certain parts of our political leadership.

    May 20, 2012
  7. I want a principal that talks to me in person or on the phone where I can hear a voice, not via channels where all I get are characters typed on the screen or some crappy low resolution picture. This is the society we have permitted to be created– cold, impersonal, detached, and far too precocupied with nonsense to offer the necessary human touch that made traditional communications so worthwhile. Everything that’s faster and more efficient is NOT necessarily better. In fact, we’ve just made communications worse, as in their being trivialized and made more disposable. One cannot truly communicate effectively in 140 characters. Only attention challenged individuals trying to do too many things at once (yes, I consider mutlitasking a joke) think it’s OK. Trying to see how much you can cram into your 24 hour day is not the path to success. Trying to see how much information you can cram into your head in 24 hours is not a measure of your effectiveness as a teacher. It only means you have become an automaton to digest and spit out as much information or data as possible. Garbage in, garbage out.

    This is not the world we should envision for kids. If you think so, you shouldn’t be in the education profession. You should be in the world of the “Madmen” and the adjunct hustlers of corporate America who see all people and things as opportunities to be exploited for profit. Silicon Valley is making billions from tax payer subsidies paid to public schools for junk that will be obsolete in 3-5 years. With all their alleged brilliance, you would think they could build machines that could last a lifetime. But no, greed must supersede common sense and practicality. Meanwhile, schools are drained of money and teachers continue to be underpaid.

    It begins with the sick idea that education is a business. Believe me, there are many who believe that. Unfortunately, they are in positions of power and influence.

    It’s a shame that so many people in the education business behave like lemmings when it comes to causes. Many of the same people who complain about the restrictive and damaging nature of NCLB are the first to jump the 21st Century Innovation bandwagon. They’ve simply traded one farce for another so they can impress their peers or their administrators, because as we know, image is more important than substance in today’s superficial world.

    May 20, 2012
    • Mr. Hauck,

      While I share your passion for education, I do not share your one-sided view of this topic.
      I think that the best thing about living in this day and age is the fact that you can “have it your way.”

      What I agree with you on:

      I believe that you should have access to a Principal that you can talk to on the phone or in person if the situation warrants. Personally, that is why there is a link to my Google Voice number on my blog. I want people to be able to reach me if they need to. As far as the garbage in-garbage out scenario goes, I agree with the fact that we need to help students discern what is and what isn’t garbage and to have a balanced approach to how and where they get and share information.

      I also believe that we need to teach students to see the bigger picture and how media can be used for exploitation and profit. But I also want to teach students how social media can be used for positive outcomes. In regards to the powerful people “portraying education as a business,” I could not agree more. This frightens me a great deal as I think the shallow statements made by many of these powerful people are swallowed hook, line, and sinker by too many people.

      What I disagree with you on is that all of the people utilizing Twitter and other social media tools “are behaving like lemmings when it comes to causes.” I am not sure how you can discuss the fears of business taking over education and then slam people for complaining about NCLB, a legislation that costs our country millions of dollars each year due to the fact that we are shoveling endless sums of money into the vaults of companies who make the tests that chart our progress. And then there is the money going to the textbook companies…

      Finally, the most important thing we need to teach our students is how to agree respectfully because I think the biggest problem we have in our country is the lack of respect shown to others who may have a viewpoint that differs from others. I believe that our students will do themselves a disservice if they weave their counter-points with insulting personal-attacks and a condescending tone.

      But hey, that is just my opinion and I thank you for sharing yours.

      May 20, 2012
      • Patrick: I’ve been a bit misquoted and/or misinterpreted so allow me to clarify a few things … I wrote that people in the education “business” act like lemmings. I never wrote that people who use social media are lemmings, but I can see how you can infer that. As for causes, please note that I declared both NCLB and 21st century innovation as farcical. However, I have far far less of a problem with the industries that create standardized assessments and print textbooks, because 1) they operate under the radar and 2) they are NOT common consumer items. They are created and marketed exclusively for the education profession. They have no connection to the dumbed-down pop culture represented on TV, in movies, in music, etc. iFads and the like are marketed to the common consumer demo, so that, in my estimation, devalues its purpose in the classroom. Yes, they were adapted for classroom use, but their primary market is rooted in the consumer driven pop culture influenced realm of FAST, EASY, and FUN. I personally despise that lifestyle choice/attitude as I consider it a very poor choice for classroom application. Schools and their classrooms should rise above dumbed-down consumer culture and its lowest common denominator trappings.

        May 21, 2012
  8. AVJester said:

    Hi Mr. Blankenship,

    I appreciate your thoughts on the importance of social media as a two way communication tool. Social networking allows genuine conversation/discussion to occur on a diverse and global stage. You have offered effective ways to embd social networking in daily routines. It is incumbent upon school leaders to set examples/expectations for using social media as a communication/instructional tool/practice.

    June 15, 2012
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    December 8, 2012

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