Friday, June 16, 2017
Social Media and The Principal: Twitter #KNOWmoore
In my initial posts i'm going to start with a series of discussions about social media, starting first with Twitter. One of the biggest drivers for our growth in school culture 2016-17 was centering our social media presence around #KNOWmoore. I believe as school leaders we have no choice but to embrace social media. We are well past the days of ignoring it, and I believe far beyond the idea of having only a minuscule presence. It's here, it's our reality, and we can adapt and embrace it for the betterment of our schools, or get left behind.
At our school we have reaped many rewards from our use of social media. We use it as a tool to increase the positive in our building, to celebrate, and build our culture. I firmly believe that a school's culture is what determines their eventual success by any metric- graduation rates, standardized tests, alumni returning, preparing students for their future self; whatever measure we want to use, it all begins in a healthy, positive, infectious school culture. Face it folks: if a student doesn't want to be in your school, a parent doesn't trust your school, and staff members dread coming the work, no initiative or program is going to make your kids "achieve".
One of the best platforms I've found to showcase the school's message, as well as network with other educators is Twitter. While limiting your ideas to 144 characters can at times be daunting, I've found that it is an excellent vehicle to get the mission and the news of the school out in the community.
We've used social media as a means of communication of the run of the mill events and announcements, and also direct transparency with our stakeholders. We've had students and parents use their twitter account to ask direct questions, sometimes even touchy ones and we navigate it, and every time the outcome has ended with at least some comment from the stakeholder of thank you, or I appreciate the school's timeliness. That customer service builds a bank account for when something doesn't go right, your school isn't raked over the coals. Stakeholders will support you in the tough times when they know you're engaged with them and transparent.
I think one of the most common fears of utilizing social media on a regular basis in education is what happens if a student or parent responds to a post in an inappropriate manner? This has happened to me from time to time, but in truth it's not a big deal. If it's criticism, listen and reflect. We are all worthy of criticism and fresh eyes can give insight. If it's negativity, don't engage. Fueling negativity just perpetuates it. If it's ugly, well that is what the block or delete button is for. I have found that the benefit of meeting your students in a space they are comfortable in (such as Twitter) far outweighs the potential negative aspects. You will be amazed at the interaction, ideas, and even downright humor your students and school community will bring to the table when you are willing to engage with them on social media. As a principal, I find it to be one of my most powerful tools.
In the 2016-17 school-year we centered much of our public image work around #KNOWmoore. This hashtag became the rallying cry for the bulk of our school culture work this year, and for the upcoming years. I am a firm believer in the 'brand' of the school, the symbols and traditions that makes a school unique, and gives students, staff, and the community a sense of the school. Great schools are known for their brand, and people talk about them well into their adult years as being a positive part of their life. One of the primary roles of the Principal is to be the steward of this brand, to build it, nurture it, and showcase it to the community at large. In later posts i'll speak directly to building our brand, but for this one i'll center on what we started with. For us in 2016-17, our brand started with two things: a new logo, and #KNOWmoore
The idea behind it was simple. The previous year our school had been beset with negative press. Culture was at a low, and morale wasn't good. Being the new Principal on the block my primary task was to work to turn our culture around, and part of that is changing our perception in the media. Don't take this as blaming the media, as it wasn't their fault. They report on the news as it is made. If all that reaches them is negative, then that's what they will report. My position is that we, as school leaders often do not promote or push forward the good news of our school to the extent we should. A bad news story about a school spreads quickly (if it bleeds, it leads) but I will contend that a saavy school leader can paint the image of their school simply by making a concerted effort to showcase what is already there. Everyday in every school in America there are great things happening. Kids are learning, teachers are teaching, and principals are leading great learning environments. There is so much good news going on that needs to be shared. We often get too busy to put it out there. I believe that promoting the image of the school and celebrating our students is at the top of our list as school leaders. Our students deserve their moments to shine, and the world needs more positive news.
To that end we wanted the city of Louisville to 'know' more about our school, and collectively centered all of our social media work around hashtag #KNOWmoore. The intent was simple: show the city more about our school by promoting anything good and positive in the building. At first, it was clunky. A few early adopters bought in. We were fortunate to have a pair of educators that really understood the power of social media and they hit the ground running. They did an awesome job of getting the ball rolling and training staff on how to use the tool, promoting it through their actions first and foremost. To our staff's credit several got on board at the jump. More adopted as the year progressed, and our presence grew. As the year went on, I knew we had something special when students started to use it.
We set no limits on what to showcase, and encouraged our staff to embrace twitter. When asked "What do we tweet about?" The answer was: anything positive. If a student makes a 25 on the ACT, tweet it. If a student makes a 19, and that's 9 better than last time, shoot out a tweet with them smiling because they showed great growth. Show off the 6th graders when they paint their bricks for doing the right thing, show off the 8th graders working a science lab, show off the JROTC when they march in the veterans day parade... show off everything AWESOME that are students do. The multiplier effect works, and the flywheel was evident. As our positive stories grew, so did the culture in our building.
We had to encourage and make sure we did our best to give everyone a chance to be seen and heard. Show off the athletes, the band, the chess team, kids having fun at a ballgame, whatever you want to show off as long as it shows our community the good things our kids are capable of on a daily basis. We rotated the banner header for twitter with teams or special groups of students when they did something big, and kept them up there for a week or so until the next group stepped up. We had our high ACT students on the banner, sports teams, our HOSA chapter, and kids who performed in front of 5,000 people. We showed off anything we could. When students started commenting on that, and asking staff how they could get up there, that's what we wanted to hear.
What we found was that they not only appreciated it (pretty obvious, right?) but it became infectious for many students. When they started to embrace it, I knew we were making strides in the growth of our culture. One of the best moments of our year was when our Archery team started signing their score sheets with #KNOWmoore.
We went from a handful of twitter accounts (the school, athletics, and a teacher here and there) to over seventy twitter accounts showcasing the various activities, teachers, sports, teams, grades, and classes of our school. We had new teachers embracing twitter, and teachers with thirty plus years in the profession. It's a simple tool to use, and at the cost of only a little time we are able to showcase the great things going on in our building. I'm not saying that it will change a school overnight, but I will happily say it was the single most important part of building our culture this year.
A secondary effect from my view as the Principal was the ability to reach my students with positive ideas, quotes, or things that I believe should be in front of them. I'm big on motivation, focusing on goals, and also promoting equity and value to our students. Twitter gives me an easy platform to push ideas out to students and for them to engage back with me. While this can be time consuming, and time is a premium, I will contend that there is no time better spent for a Principal than when they can interact directly with the students of their building, especially in a school like ours with over 2,000 students. No student ever complained about being able to engage with, share ideas with, or bring grievance to their principal. The net positive of being able to engage directly in real time far outweighs the negative.
By the end of the school year we estimate we pushed out well over 5,000 positive tweets/ stories about our students. This cluster-bombing of social media positivity had some impact:
1. Our local news coverage was extremely positive, and the negative was far outweighed by the positive. We aren't perfect, but our perceptions began to shift when we showed off that our students can be pretty close to perfect.
2. Our school community was more informed. We used Twitter as one of our vehicles to push out our weekly Community news to parents and stakeholders (one platform of many). Not everyone is going to use Twitter, but it's inclusion in a variety of social media platforms to communicate your school's message is invaluable.
3. Our parents went out of their way to thank us for seeing so much going on. Especially some parents and guardians whose students weren't often recognized, but now had a moment to shine. Twitter gave teachers an opportunity to showcase individual kids for even the smallest things, and we all know the power of a student seeing their success shown off.
4. Our Kentucky TELL Survey Results (a culture metric) had astronomical gains, double digit in forty plus questions, and we increased on 72 of 73 questions on the survey. While this is not attributed solely to Twitter, the positivity generated from this vehicle is part of what fueled our growth.
5. Our alumni thanked us and became more engaged seeing our daily successes, and as a result became more involved both physically and financially. We saw an uptick of significant engagement from Alumni on social media posts, especially on twitter. 'Liking' and re-tweeting our stories to their personal networks, which helped to further spread our message of positive student success.
6. Our district noticed our work, and we were able to showcase it in a variety of ways and gain positive recognition for our school. We were able to present our ideas at a couple of events, and our social media presence became very well know among our peers. This creates buzz among teachers and in a district where teachers can transfer to other buildings- this increases the odds we will have quality folks wanting to come work with us when we have openings. We saw an increase from six folks on the transfer in list, to over forty.
I truly believe that our students felt safer, more involved, and more valued as a result of this concerted effort by our school. Students like it when staff notices them doing good things. They want to be praised and affirmed that they are making good choices. I say this for the typical student we all think of, to the hardcore tough student that we wrack our brains over. Every kid wants to be noticed and valued. Twitter served as an easy vehicle to do some real work in this area. We were also able to do this for relatively nothing more than some time and effort.
In the next post on Twitter i'll discuss the Personal Learning Network and the growth of the Instructional toolkit using Twitter.
Some snaps from #KNOWmoore this year.
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