A child returns from school, walks through the door, and takes off their backpack, and their caregiver asks, “How was your day at school?” The child thinks for a second and then responds, “Fine.” That’s the end of the conversation.
We’ve all seen, heard of, or participated in this interaction. But how can we improve the dialogue?
One approach is to hone communications between caregivers, educators, and administrators about the exciting work going on at school. Transparency leads to trust and is built through storytelling, which fosters a sense of community and positions schools to enact meaningful change.
To do so, school leaders can collaborate with caregivers and other community members to co-construct a school narrative through consistent (daily, weekly) broadcasts about meaningful projects, events, or lessons happening at school.
The following strategies offer action steps.
Social Media Posts by School Leaders
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok—many schools already use social media channels to tell their story. But taking a fresh look at your content through the lens of diversification can help establish a consistent, engaging narrative. Do your posts alternate between photos, videos, and text? Are you spotlighting performances, athletics, creative lessons, and other events? Is your team posting consistently, and about a wide range of topics? What content is getting the most engagement, and what patterns do you notice?
Posting at a minimum of five to seven times per week creates dependable messaging that students, caregivers, and prospective families can turn to as they gain deeper understandings of your school’s identity, values, and projects. And by sharing what’s going on in the moment—meaning snapshots taken by students or teachers, or even a look at your own routine as school leader—moves beyond marketing-driven photo shoots to show the authenticity of “a day in the life” in your school building. (Plus, daily visits to classrooms for social media content simultaneously provide rich opportunities to build relationships with faculty and students.)
Inevitably, social media can breed criticism. When posting school content, you might edit your profile preferences to remove commenting capabilities, allowing readers only to “like” a post. This will prevent many keyboard warriors from arming themselves for battle and ensure that school social channels remain safe spaces.
Newsletters and School Media Clubs
Whether a monthly newsletter from the principal, a weekly YouTube video created by your school’s broadcasting company, or a student-led newspaper, opportunities to share school happenings, not only with existing school members but also with your local community at large, widens awareness of the work you are doing.
You might find a faculty member interested in advising a media club and provide them with the resources necessary to launch a cohort of student writers and editors who can assist in the creation of news content: Interviewing stakeholders, writing articles that reflect the events and experiences happening at your school, and making connections with community members amplify youth voices, teach literacy and communication skills, and help ensure that your school’s narrative is true to the student experience. What do your students most appreciate about their school community? What about their learnings do they want to share with others? What advice do they have for prospective students?
As a school leader, you can glean a lot about what is working in your school community, and what might be improved, through conversations with students about your school’s story.
Connect with Local Newspapers
Reach out to local news editors and pitch stories about the amazing things happening in your school. Tell editors about a successful fundraiser or impactful guest speaker; ask students to share quotes for potential stories; or invite student writers to pitch, too.
Regional newspapers are created to spotlight what’s happening in the community, and they may even have education-specific sections. Tapping into these opportunities to share your school’s narrative with members of the community you serve takes learning beyond school walls and facilitates new relationships.
Engage Local Leaders and Community Groups
As a partner in the community, connecting with local political leaders, educational advocates, and community groups or nonprofit organizations can create new opportunities for collaboration, experiential learning, and funding or grant opportunities.
Sharing your story in organizational newsletters or magazines can further spread your narrative, highlighting students’ and teachers’ stories or the stories of any collaborative projects you conduct with community members. Leverage these relationships by providing spaces for monthly meetings, and form a partnership that both you and the community group can benefit from.
Submit to Educational Journals
Extracting replicable and innovative strategies from the work going on in your school positions you to share your story as a thought leader in the field of education through education journal articles that shed light on the techniques, approaches, and philosophies your faculty employs in their work with young people.
Making this process accessible by running workshops on the writing and submission process, or demonstrating that process through your own writing, encourages the community to document and share new knowledge with colleagues in the education space. Many journals have “calls for submission” aligned to specific topics, so looking at current calls together can allow you and your teachers to determine best-fit publication opportunities aligned thematically with your work.
Form a Team
The above strategies cannot be accomplished by one person, especially when everyone in the school community is strapped for time. But by forming a team, engaging the community, and creating collaborative, realistic goals, you can make your school storytelling fun while distributing the workload.
Defining your school narrative presents opportunities to model appropriate digital citizenship and engage students in communication and leadership—real-world skills that they can carry far beyond their time in your building. And conversations about best practices, especially in an age of much contention in cyberspace, open learning opportunities regarding responsible civil discourse for all involved.