Social Media for Schools: The Hashtag Prevails

I noticed something quite different when my fourth-grader returned to school this fall. An energetic, new principal was high-fiving all of the kids upon their entering the school doors each morning (sometimes even an occasional parent).Something had shifted. Things were a buzz. The first piece of business was teaching the kids the school song, which had been dormant for quite some time. Then it was on to the school motto challenge. In a K-4 school, each classroom was invited to submit their best ideas for a motto.

My fourth-grader, who had originally thought these exercises erred on the side of too kiddie-like, immediately perked up when I told him that Ms. W’s class, a kindergarten class, had won a pizza party and the honor of creating the school motto: Hale Today, The World Tomorrow. A motto that’s been conveniently shortened to the hashtag #HaleToday to share conversations about our school.

When I reached out to Ryan Fitzgerald (@principalfitz5), our school principal, I learned more about his background and experience with social media in a Wisconsin school district. Principal Fitzgerald is an advocate for social media in the schools and connected me to other advocates including Andrea Gribble (@andrea4edu), social media in schools consultant; and Joe SanFelippo (@JoeSanfelippofc), superintendent, Fall Creek, WI.

I talked with all three of them to inform my own views as a social media expert and parent for my presentation to the Minnesota Independent Schools Forum (@MISF_Office) during their annual leadership conference 9.29-30.

My presentation Social Media for Schools (or for MISF, Stop Mailing It In: The Death of the Postcard and Other One-way Communications) centers around four topics:

It’s Where Parents Are

It’s All About Two-Way Communications

It’s Sharing Too Much

It’s Challenging

Sound a little assumptive and negative? Perhaps. But I would love to see schools move past the hesitancies, fear of the unknown and be open to learning about social media’s value. By addressing the road blocks like ineffective communications (postcards and other one-way printed material), technology constraints, privacy concerns and limited resources, we are free to think about how social media could better communicate our school’s values in authentic, credible and engaging ways.

It’s Where Parents Are

Parents are definitely on Facebook (71% of adults are; 63% of them check it daily ) so it’s definitely worth having a page. And having a Twitter and YouTube account, depending on the age range of your school, is also worth considering because that’s where your students are.Returning to my kids’ school story… I am happy to have a hashtag, #HaleToday, to be able to share all of the content I post about activities we participate in from Art Adventures to Walk and Bike to School Week. Over the past three years that I’ve been an avid Instagrammer (@JenGilhoi) I’ve used over 10 variations on posts related to the awesome stuff going on at our school including #HaleMPLS #HaleFieldSchool #HaleSchoolMPS, etc. The options are endless, therefore there was no main hashtag to connect all of the conversations going on. So as a school, at least have a hashtag so we can share in the awesomeness together.

It’s All About Two-Way Communications

To address communications, it's critical to take a big-picture look at the myriad of ways we communicate within our schools systems. From one-way communications in print (postcards and flyers) to electronic communications (email and enewsletters) to two-way communications that are in-person and on social media channels.

Here is the graphic I use to convey the main options and their value:In the course of conversation, we ask: What’s most ineffective? Can we stop doing that? And what are we already doing that with little to no additional effort could be shared on more channels with more audiences?The goals for our communications are to be authentic, relevant, timely and engaged in order to ensure action on parents’ part and build supported, open and connected conversations.

It’s Sharing Too Much

Privacy concerns could halt any school’s progress on the social media front. It takes a concerted effort from leadership to set policies that work for the school and enforce them in an educational way. Both Ryan and Joe anecdotally shared their experience with me in handling the outliers and the very minimal issues that have surfaced in their years of experience. They seem to always turn it into an opportunity to have a conversation and educate.

It’s Challenging

Leadership and teachers' roles, responsibilities and resources are stretched way too thin in many cases. So why would you want to add social media? And if you do go that route, how do you layer on social media channels as yet another task? Success stories for social media in schools begin with leadership that is on board with the value it can bring. They also have dedicated a person or persons, internal or external, like a consultant, to manage the policies and processes. Being intentional, not haphazard, is important.

An Approach That Works

After addressing some of the roadblocks to social media in schools, the approach that works looks something like this:





Get Started on Social

Social Media is an authentic, credible and immediate way to reach and engage with an audience of leadership, teachers, parents, students and the community. For more great examples from the experts follow Ryan, Joe and Andrea on Twitter (handles above), see Joe’s school website, Andrea’s website and recent blog about Best Performing Facebook Page Posts. Insightful! See my full presentation on LinkedIn Slideshare here: MISF Presentation on Social Media.

Cheers to Engaging Conversations!- - Jennifer