There is so much good news to share in our schools. Staying positive, current and connected is an important function of messaging in a digital environment. If we are not promoting the positive happening every day in our schools, then who will?
By Susan Denton
In this busy digital world, the question for schools and districts is, “How do we keep track of all the social media trends to get our message out to the community, our families and school staff?” We know our students are quite proficient at connecting online, so why shouldn’t we as educators be as well?
These digital natives get their news, information and social connections through the “interweb.” So when it comes to connecting with families and staff, our school and district make every effort to communicate through many digital media pathways. Through the years, it has become commonplace to get quick updates through Twitter, Facebook and our webpages. We want to make our school as accessible as possible to our community and families.
Our district is one of low socio-economics, homeless and foster youth, as well as many students with disabilities. Despite their financial situation and lack of resources, we have found that our families typically always have access to a cell phone. Our goal is to meet families where they are. We inform parents of the various ways we share important information, school updates on events and other pertinent topics through digital sources.
Too often the community hears from news or social media the misdeeds or missteps associated with schools. But as educators, we know that there is so much good news to share. If we are not promoting the positive happening every day in our schools, then who will? Digital communication is so very cost-effective, as there is typically no cost required to share celebrations, updates, coming events and news. Share what is happening with your school, your students, your teachers, and share often.
Keeping families connected
Following are the various resources we use on a regular basis to communicate with families and staff. For Families we utilize a variety of techniques, with the hopes that through the information options, they will stay updated and feel connected to the school. We include how to connect in all home/school communications, including newsletters and fliers.
With all of the following suggestions, be sure to check with your superintendent and board policies regarding social media use in your schools.
Student Information System (SIS): We regularly use our messaging system with pre-scheduled recorded messages for minimum days, special events and holidays. I have found that by voice recording our messages, we have a better chance of fewer hang-ups. Families like to hear from the principal, and students will often say, “You called my house!” Our district uses the Infinite Campus SIS (www.infinitecampus.com).
School webpages: When families and the community want to know about a school or district, they usually begin with a Google search. It is important that your webpages stay up-to-date. Find someone in your school who can be the webpage guru to keep your site accurate and current. We are migrating to SchoolBlocks (www.schoolblocks.com) this year and are excited to create pages that will encourage our parents to connect and engage. Google Sites (https://sites.google.com) also has great templates for your site or teachers to use to share and communicate.
Twitter: We use Twitter (twitter.com) for on-the-go posts and texts. You can follow our school at @StandardElem. This is a quick and easy way to share pictures and updates. We use a few apps to help create visually stimulating posts, including Photogrid (https://photo-grid.en.softonic.com/web-apps) and AdobeSpark (https://spark.adobe.com). We also convert the PDF versions of school newsletters and fliers into JPEGs to upload on Twitter. If parents do not have a Twitter account, we encourage them to sign up for the Twitter text messages option (https://support.twitter.com/articles/20169920).
Facebook and Instagram (PTA driven): Our small but busy PTA makes sure to duplicate and promote all of the school events on their social media pages. Facebook (www.facebook.com) can be one of a school’s greatest assets in sharing celebrations and events with the community. We also know it can be a sounding board for the disgruntled. Our goal is to use the “power of positive.” We share with parents how to connect and post using our hashtags when they attend school events. We have also implemented the monitoring feature, where we have oversight on the posts for both of these platforms (www.instagram.com).
School sign: Though this may not seem like much, many of our community are without vehicles and walk by our school regularly. We use a digital marquee to advertise events and encourage them to follow our social media accounts. It is in a highly visible location that updates on a weekly basis.
Digital media for staff
Both classified and certificated staff are rapidly and regularly using digital media for work and life. Our goal is to lighten the paper load and get everyone on the same digital page. The district provides regular training for staff through the district and our ed tech mentors (staff-on-stipends), as well as through a technology and learning district conference at the beginning of the school year. Staff is also encouraged to attend technology training conferences and workshops throughout the year.
Google Classroom: Our district became a Google Apps for Education district almost five years ago. In that time, we have equipped every student, K-8, and nearly every teacher with a Chromebook. To encourage staff to use Google Classroom (https://classroom.google.com/h) with their classes, we have a “classroom” for our entire staff. Each staff member joins as a student, and administration serves as the teacher. This has worked great to post the weekly bulletin, hyperlinked documents to staff meetings and professional developments, and to share staff “shout-outs” for praises and celebrations. It is also a great place to share encouragement and words of inspiration.
Group texts and emails: While this may be an obvious choice, we find that there remain educators who do not group text or email to share information. We also find that many staff require reminders to check their email daily and frequently. Email remains the primary source of communication on our campus.
Remind App: As a school leader, I created a group in the Remind App (www.remind.com) to communicate quickly and for emergencies. Every teacher and classified staff is encouraged to join the group. We have had to use this for lockdowns, loss of power or water issues, and even school precautionary evacuations. Rather than trying to gather a group text in the midst of a crisis, this app allows us to push information out quickly. Recipients can reply, but this message goes only to the sender, not the entire group. It has been a very efficient and cost-effective way to communicate and get to-the-minute updates to staff in crisis situations.
With the ever-growing options in digital and social media, we will continue to learn and use new resources to reach out to families to build the home/school relationship. Parents will continue to be encouraged to get involved and stay current in the academic lives of their students. Our job as schools and districts is to streamline those pathways of communication, and continue to share our message of academic progress, student growth and success. Stay positive, stay current and stay connected.
Susan Denton is principal of Standard Elementary School, a TK-5 campus in Standard School District in Bakersfield, Calif.