Sunday, August 24, 2014

Become the Storyteller-in-Chief

The new school year has begun for many educators across the country with others soon to follow after Labor Day.  With the new year comes a renewed focus on a variety of initiatives that are aimed at enhancing learning and improving student achievement. Administrators and teachers alike will work to establish a shared vision and subsequent plan of action for meaningful change that will hopefully lead to cultural transformation. Schedules will be finalized, lessons developed, assessments graded, observations completed, meetings attended, and this basic routine in some slightly altered format will continue throughout the year.  During this time of excitement and euphoria comes the eventual focus on mandates and directives ushered in from the state level. This is quite often the most deflating part of the new year as the real reason for education is temporarily masked by a misguided emphasis on elements that do not equate to real learning.   Regardless of a school’s or district’s particular cycle of activities and response to mandates, one thing will remain the same – students, staff, and administrators will experience success.

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In the face of adversity, right off the bat, the seeds for innovation will be planted and students will begin to create amazing artifacts of learning to demonstrate conceptual mastery.  Teachers will develop authentic learning activities that allow students to construct new knowledge while applying diverse skill sets that the global job market demands.  They will also create differentiated assessments in order to provide students with valuable feedback as to the progress being made towards defined learning goals and outcomes. Administrators will conduct countless observations and walk-throughs while spearheading larger change initiatives to improve achievement and school culture.  

Here is the problem though. The mainstream media rarely shares the impactful work in schools that are actually making a difference in the lives of students.  Countless innovative practices that showcase student learning are never covered by the news. Specific achievements of staff and students might at best get a small sound bite in a local newspaper.  As a principal nothing frustrated me more than watching the media latch on to any negative education story and run with it while ignoring so much amazing work taking place in schools each day.  If you do not tell your story someone else will.  More often then not, I would say nine out of ten times, when someone else tells your story it is not the one that you want to be told.  My call to action this school year to all educators is to become the storyteller-in-chief.  

This is not a relatively hard thing to do. Social media allows us to take sole control of our public relations and tell our school stories consistently, accurately, and transparently. Educators are making a difference every day and these success stories resonate with local, national, and even international stakeholders.  Telling stories of student successes and staff accomplishments help to combat and drown out the negative rhetoric that has become rampant in the education profession. It does not have to be a time sap either. So much time and energy get put into traditional newsletters and websites even though the impact is fairly minimal.  Here are some quick ways to harness the power of social media in your respective role to take control of your public relations and become the storyteller-in-chief:

  1. Blogs – By far a blog is your most powerful public relations tool. In my opinion, there is no better medium to share innovative strategies, ideas, and success stories related to learning and accomplishments.  A blog is the 21st Century newsletter that gives that function as a two-way engagement tool with the added benefit of adding multimedia content to make your story really pop. Give Google Blogger of Wordpress a try this year to capture the greatness in your classroom, school, or district.
  2. Pictures – There might be no better way to capture and share student work, facility enhancements, and accomplishments.  Instagram was my go-to tool of choice. During classroom observations, I would regularly snap a photo of a student project.  On other occasions, I would take photos of plaques representing school-wide achievement.  Once a picture was taken I could then easily share it across other major social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook.  This process takes literally seconds.
  3. Video – Creating a YouTube channel for your classroom and/or school allows you to capture your story with more detail.  Tools like Periscope and Ustream allow you to share live events such as concerts, athletic contests, art shows, etc.
  4. Twitter – The microblogging platform allows any educators to share their story in 140 characters or less.  These tweets can be a dynamic combination of text, pictures, videos, and links to websites.  By creating a unique hashtag for your school, a threaded conversation can be shared with stakeholders or easily discovered during a search.  You can also use established hashtags to increase exposure of your stories.
  5. Facebook – This social media tool really become our storytelling hub at New Milford High School.  All of the tools above can be integrated or shared on a Facebook page.  
Educators work extremely hard.  We now have the means and tools to tell the real story of what takes places inside and outside the walls of our schools.  Take the time to integrate at least one new strategy that enhances your public relations by meeting your stakeholders where they are.  By becoming the storyteller-in-chief you will not only build a greater appreciation for your amazing work but also catch the eye of the mainstream media who will then look to you for positive story ideas. Never underestimate the power of your stories.

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  1. Eric thank you for always pushing us. I am so excited this year to tell our school's story. New staff members are joining Twitter each day and we are really excited about telling our school's story. This is new to our county and new to our school but everyone has been so willing to take this on and that in itself is awesome! Our hashtag is #SHESBEES because our school is Sandy Hill Elementary School. Watch for us on Twitter as we tell our story. It's going to be fun!

  2. Excellent post, Eric! Your suggestions are great for any school or district trying to overcome anonymity, adverse reporting by the media, or a rampant rumor mill circulating false negative perceptions.