The other day Bill Ferriter told me that he was working on an article for ASCD and asked if I would answer a few questions. Of course I obliged as we are working on a book together for Solution Tree Press and I have come to know and greatly respect him as a member of my PLN. He is the author of The Tempered Radical. If you have never read his blog I highly suggest you do! My answers to Bill's questions provide a snapshot of my social media in education journey. They also provide some great tips for administrators willing and eager to take the plunge.
What made you interested in using social media to reach out to your school community? Was it something that you decided to do on your own? Was it something that your community asked you to do?
In early March of 2009, I was reading my local newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, and came across an article on Twitter. Now I had heard of this social network before, but only viewed it as a means for celebrities and other people to send meaningless messages about things they were doing. As I read the article I learned more about Twitter and its capabilities. Suddenly the light bulb went off in my head that I could utilize this to greatly enhance school communications. Best of all was the fact that this service was free and stakeholders could receive information on school events, news, student accomplishments, and innovations in the classroom on their mobile devices. So I created an account (@NMHS_Principal) and off I went, experimenting and learning on my own. For me, Twitter opened the door to the world of social media. About 6 months later my community did confront me in a positive fashion about Twitter. At a PTO meeting a parent basically told me that the educational information I was sending out on Twitter was great, but 6-7 tweets or more a day was way too much. This conversation led to the creation of a Twitter account exclusively for New Milford High School (@NewMilfordHS). My students took notice of my affinity for Twitter and during a meeting with members of student government they opened up to me about their thoughts on social media. In a nutshell, they conveyed that Facebook was a more appropriate medium to reach them and disseminate the same information that I was sending out on Twitter. After this meeting in late March of 2010, I created a Facebook page for New Milford High School. I became so fascinated with social media as a communications and public relations tool that it eventually led to the creation of a blog, something that I swore I was never going to do because I was not the least bit confident in my writing ability. Low and behold though, not only do I now like to write, but I love being able to share the great things going on at my school in more detail than Twitter and Facebook allow.
How successful have your efforts to reach out to stakeholders in social media spaces been? Do you think that you're reaching people better now than when you relied on traditional communication tools? How do you know? Can you give a tangible example of something you've done with social media spaces that you wouldn't have been able to do without them?
My efforts to reach stakeholders using social media has not only been successful, but has also exceeded my expectations. The New Milford community now has consistent access to school information. Unlike traditional forms of communication such as snail mail and press releases, I can now provide updates in real time as they happen. Since society as a whole is actively using social media in their homes and through their mobile devices, it only makes sense now to connect with my community through these means. Not only have I reached stakeholders in New Milford, NJ, but also those that have a vested interest in education from all over the world. I know it has been effective and successful through the amount of followers, fans, and feedback that I have received from countless community members, students, staff, and educators. One thing that I was never able to do before, that I can do now, is share examples of student work (i.e. art) and other accomplishments instantaneously such as videos and pictures.
Were/are your efforts supported at the district level? Did you feel you were taking any risks by using social media tools to reach out to your stakeholders? What did you do to minimize those risks?
My efforts have been enthusiastically supported and embraced at the District level. Initially, I felt, and was reminded by many, that I needed to be careful about using social media in an educational setting. What turned out to be a risk in the beginning has translated into a great reward. To minimize risks, everything I share with social media is professional and related to either the field of education or my school. A media waiver that includes all forms of social media is given to students at the beginning of the year to take home and have their parents sign.
What steps would you recommend a principal new to social media take in order to move forward responsibly and safely? Should they dive right in? Check with their supervisors? Are there any obvious pitfalls to avoid?
The first step is to lurk and learn. Watch what other principals are doing with social media to get a good idea of information and content being shared with stakeholders. Begin to establish a vision and some goals as to what you want to accomplish using social media. I do not suggest diving right in. As you become more comfortable, begin to gradually share information relating to your school, students, staff, and the education profession. As with any new endeavor communicate with the appropriate supervisors to elicit their support. Finally, keep it professional. Avoid sharing personal information.