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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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When I started my career as a school administrator, the closest thing we had to public relations and communications was the biweekly school newsletter that we cranked out in MS Word. Photocopied newsletters stuffed into backpacks on a Friday afternoon seemed to do the job of communicating with parents. For teachers, memos were placed in cubbyholes in the staff room.

As technology progressed and the schools where I worked got larger, new options became available. The need to better communicate and engage our students, staff, parents, and prospective families became even more essential. Here are a few ways that we at The International School (TIS) have engaged with our community.

School Website

Schools are busy places, and parents need a trusted place to find the right information. But information is not enough -- gone are the days of the website being just a digital brochure. Now it needs to facilitate two-way communication. We just updated our website this year to include these key features:

  1. It must be mobile friendly. It must work on phones and tablets as well as desktops. No exceptions.
  2. It must be easy to update, preferably automatically. For example, the information we add into our Google calendar automatically updates on our website. For static pages, make sure the content stays current.
  3. Link your other social media initiatives on your website. Parents should be able to easily find your official Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles from your webpage. Then use your webpage to share the content from those profiles.
  4. The hardest but most important part is that your site must provide a sense of your school's culture. People visiting your school website should feel like they are visiting your campus.

Facebook

Peter Sutton told me in a workshop that "if you are not telling your school's story on Facebook, someone else is." He was right. When I checked, I found that a student had already set up a Facebook page with our name.

Use Facebook to celebrate the great things happening at the school!

  • Promote sports, arts, and cultural events.
  • Post blog articles, news items, and announcements.
  • Publish fundraising goals.
  • Share educational memes.

Should you use Facebook ads? We found good success in promoting our posts. For a minimal cost, it places them into the top of the timelines for your friends and their friends.

Be sure to monitor your posts. Which posts have more views and likes than others? While it isn't a popularity contest, you want to keep track of whether you are actually reaching your audience. Have more than one person as admin, but don't bring in too many people. Make sure they answer comments and direct messages. What happens when you get a bad comment? If it is inappropriate, we delete it. If it challenges or disagrees with us, we use it as an opportunity to educate and inform both the poster and the public. We will follow this with a private message inviting them to come in and discuss the issue. We also fully support Facebook's requirement that users be 13 or older.

Use the Facebook "Insights" tab to learn more about what's been happening with your page. The graphs show the likes, comments, shares, and other useful metrics for planning and strategy.

Twitter

Our teachers use Twitter to celebrate what they are doing in their classrooms, ask questions, share resources, and document their learning. It's had a profound effect on our staff. By creating a school hashtag, we are able to thread all of our school-based tweets. I used to think I needed some kind of official Twitter authorization to create a hashtag. You don't. Just make a memorable one that describes your school, and start using it. Twitter use by our staff grew slowly at first. Then we compiled all of the tweets onto our internal digital daily bulletin using our #TISMacao hashtag, and it allowed non-Twitter users to see all of the posts. Twitter use is growing rapidly now! See this blog article for more details. Also, see how staff members Zack Palmer, Louise Phinney, and Nick Chignall are using Twitter.

We are just starting to explore engaging our parents and local community with Twitter, as well as reaching out to a global audience.

LinkedIn

At this point, we use LinkedIn to recruit potential teachers and reach the working members of our TIS families. We follow the major employers in our area and develop our networks within the business community. In addition to posting about major school events, we also share articles related to leadership, corporate social responsibility, and team building. We use it to announce our corporate fundraising, sponsorships, and partnerships. We post much differently on LinkedIn than we do on Facebook.

YouTube

I can guarantee that there are already many videos of your school and students on YouTube. Once again, if you are not telling your story, someone else is. Since you may not be able to police the other videos, you should have an official YouTube channel. Check us out on YouTube!

WeChat

A popular platform in Asia, WeChat is the medium TIS uses to connect with our Chinese-speaking families.

Blogs

Remember that old newsletter? We don't have it anymore. At first, we switched to a digital PDF version, but then we got rid of that as well. Now our news is a blog, constantly updated -- we post articles and announcements as they are written. Every teacher has his or her own blog. Administrators have blogs, as we try to lead by example. Our next step is to engage further through integrating our blogs with social media.

Overall, our move toward digital engagement has been successful. Our community is much more connected. Our parents stay informed through our website and Facebook. Our teachers interact and share through Twitter, and we continue to seek new ways to engage our community through the tools that are available to us.

How about you? What ways are you engaging your school community? Which issues concern you about social media?

Students reading blog posts and comments.

Was this useful? (2)

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jacob Robertson's picture

Social media is quickly becoming one of the main forms of communication in schools. So, I think it's smart for schools to go ahead and incorporate it in as one of the ways they connect with parents and the community. Many schools around the country have already taken steps to create social media policies and guidelines for their students, parents, staff, and community members. After reading up on many of the different successful and unsuccessful ways that schools have tried to include social media, there are a few different things to think about for each school as they try to connect with parents and the community via social media. They need to examine their schools culture, organize a social media team, conduct some research, first draft a rough draft and then always accept feedback, make sure administrators and school board members see the draft before sending it out, introduce the social media concept to the school community before launching it, and always review the social media accounts periodically. I think each of these 7 items are very helpful keys to successfully integrating social media in with your schools community.

(2)
Shirley Blythe's picture
Shirley Blythe
Teacher, Parent and Techie

Exactly what Jacob said and having better outreach to everyone will bring a closer community.

Sara Carter's picture

Yes, yes and yes!
As you said, "Tell your story or someone else will."

Too often schools misunderstand social media in the old ways of one-sided publishing. They see themselves as the information gatekeepers: parroting announcements, repeating information. It just doesn't work any more.
What most schools need to understand is that social media is just that...it is participatory. Some social media sources are far more reliable, informative and interesting than official school media.

(1)
Howard Stribbell's picture
Howard Stribbell
Head of School at The International School of Macao (TIS)

Jacob, thank you for your comments. You are correct that more and more schools are seeing the value of social media. While aspects of a social media implementation are linear and need to be top-down (such as the sm policies), I have found that SM needs to be allowed to grow organically as well. For the first few years, there were very few of my school team on Twitter. We educated and shared with other staff but we never made it a requirement. We allowed people to use it at their own pace. There were times where I wanted to speed it up but to be successful, people have to have the time to play and experiment.

Howard Stribbell's picture
Howard Stribbell
Head of School at The International School of Macao (TIS)

Sara, you are bang-on! Social media must be participatory! But that is easier said than done. Having social media will not automatically create participation and engagement. We must back up our social media with real world relationships and openness. The engaged dialogue does not rest solely with the official school media, it is embodied by the conversations that occur within the school community including teachers, staff, parents and students.

(2)
Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

Great post, Howard! And yes...social media should be a 2-way, which means engaging staff, parents and students (when appropriate). The sharing that can lead to additional learning and stronger relationships is awesome. I think it is important to note that it can never replace the face to face relationship - simply be, in addition to.

Blogging is the one thing I wish we could get more of our teachers into...(as much as I like the options out there) I would love to get rid of our eNewsletter. Hopefully in time!

(2)
Brittany S's picture

Things have changed in a lot of aspects but I can say that I still send a weekly newsletter home each week for my students. Last year I posted it online and had very few parents check it because they either forgot or did not have internet access. I will say that this year it has been beneficial to me to send a hard copy home in the students' folders because most of the time it is being read. Also in relation to our school administration we use a lot of google docs to formulate meetings and our weekly updates instead of via email like we have done in the past. Things have changed just in the short length of time that I have been teaching.

(1)
Howard Stribbell's picture
Howard Stribbell
Head of School at The International School of Macao (TIS)

Good points Brittany and Gwen. It is hard to know which is most effective for engaging parents - hard copies, soft copies (such as eNewsletters) or social media. We use blogs for most announcements and promote them through social media.

A couple of years ago, we tried to ban all paper reminders from being printed and going home. But it just wasn't effective. Parents were not engaged and not informed.

I believe each context is unique and that it is a process. Things do not change overnight. Status quo isn't good enough but evolution does not occur instantly either.

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