As much of a crusader as I am for Twitter as professional development and crucial to the formation of a personal learning network (remember, it’s like Match.com for PD!), I’m even more passionate and strident about how important it is for school communities. Yes, Twitter is just one of many social media applications used by students and adults, but I argue that it and Facebook are at the moment the only two that are used widely enough to have significant value to school communities in the ways that I will address in this post. Google+ is amazing, has tons of potential, and is a topic for another post, but it isn’t where the school community (students, teachers, parents, board members, community members, etc.) currently hangs out in their spare time.
There are two major things to recognize when it comes to leveraging the power of social media in schools: one, that schools are vastly underutilizing social media to tell their stories, and two, that if schools thoughtfully, intentionally use social media WITH students, they are powerfully modelling responsible social networking. This post will focus on the power of leveraging social media to tell the school’s story and to connect with the school community, while in a future post I will look more specifically at using Twitter with students. First, if schools consider their communities of students, teachers, parents, board members, community members and media, the one place that almost all of these stakeholders spend some amount of time is on Facebook. I’ll talk about Facebook in a future post. But for now, I want to focus on Twitter. The first objection to Twitter might be that not many of these stakeholders are on it. I think that if you take a “If you build it, they will come” approach, and make it clear what is on your school Twitter feed that doesn’t exist elsewhere, provide ample opportunities and trainings to learn how to use Twitter, and make it satisfying to people by engaging with them, asking and answering questions, and posting lots and lots of media, it can become a place that people start WANTING to visit because of what they find when they do. This won’t work without a dedicated, consistent effort on the school’s part, however, and that’s where administrators come in.
I believe that most school administrators should have a personal professional Twitter account. A very common response by administrators is that they don’t have time to tweet. This is likely true as it stands now– that’s where the technology director/integrator/person in charge of managing the Twitter account can help by providing scaffolding. Just like with students! If that person schedules ten minutes, even every other day, to help the administrator tweet, it has the potential to flip the switch for that admin to understand the power of engaging with the community on Twitter. Even if the administrator tweets just a few times a week it can be extremely meaningful for the school community.
It is very unlikely, however, that top level administrators will be able to manage the school’s official Twitter account. This job should go to someone who ideally does not have a teaching load (or at least not much of one) and who has a passion for and understanding of Twitter. They should commit to tweeting from the school account at least once (ideally 3-5 times) per day in order for the feed to have momentum and fresh content. They should also commit to responding to messages and mentions whenever possible in order to encourage community members to connect with the school on Twitter. Other ideas for what to tweet include any major announcements that might affect a large part of the school community (school closings, late starts, event cancellations, etc.); upcoming events (include images/video whenever possible); celebrations and achievements; any time the school is in the local media (include links to the media); links to student publications; and anything else that provides a window into the life of the school. This will help the community (especially those who are not actually IN the school building regularly) understand school culture and see it as a community of students and caring adults, instead of as a faceless entity. You never know when this might come in handy, such as at times of referenda, school board voting, local media stories, etc.
Schools have nothing to lose, but so much to gain by creating and effectively using (and promoting) official school Twitter accounts. Notable examples of Twitter accounts from both schools and administrators include: Leyden High Schools (@LeydenPride); Bettendorf High School (@bhspride); Peel School Board (@PeelSchools); elementary school principal Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis); Sunlake High School Principal (@slhsprincipal); and high school principal Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey).
Who am I missing? I am always looking for more schools and tweeting administrators to follow!