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8 tips for navigating social media in schools

Social media can enhance student and community engagement

Many districts hesitate to integrate social media into district policies because administrators fear cyberbullying, class distractions or other negative consequences. But administrators embracing the new tech tools say social media enhances student and community engagement.

Michael Roe, principal of Poly High School in California’s Riverside USD, and Luvelle Brown, superintendent of Ithaca City School District in New York, each brought strong social media efforts to their district to provide instructional leadership for the new technologies.

Both administrators take advantage of free sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and YouTube to reach thousands of stakeholders.

Below are their tips for administrators looking to improve communications and celebrate district successes.

1. Over-communicate your social media philosophy to students, staff, parents and community members.

Once a month Roe sends parents information about effective social media uses, and about how the school is purposefully using tools like Facebook and Twitter to share school success stories and news.

2. Trust your students, and put them in charge.

Poly High School partnered with Harvard University’s Making Caring Common program team last year to create a social justice council of 30 students. The group meets frequently to track new social networks that classmates might use for negative purposes.

“We have a rapid response team of students out there looking for new apps that could potentially promote bullying or other undesirable behavior,” Roe says. “It’s a proactive response, so when the app comes out, we’re already on the front end ensuring students stay away from it.”

3. Encourage teachers to use social media in class to enhance learning.

For example, some Poly teachers had students design a Facebook page for a historical figure and post responses to current events from that person’s perspective.

4. Post to social media sites regularly.

Administrators or school communications staff members should tweet, retweet and post on all platforms often, Brown says.

“Otherwise, it can become stale.” Ithaca posts student-produced news shows on its YouTube channel. You can find time for this by snapping a photo during an event or a classroom visit and posting it to Instagram, where it can be instantly shared to other social networks, Roe adds.

Administrators should also share examples of students working on classroom projects that fulfill the district’s mission of engaging and empowering.

5. Update people during a crisis.

Ithaca’s high school went into lockdown on the first day of the 2014-15 school year when opened BB gun packaging was found on campus. Phone lines also were down, but the district updated the community via Twitter.

“It settles a lot of anxiety,” Roe says. “A lot of schools send out an automated phone call to parents without much information. Now you are able to message out and say ‘We’re working with the police, everyone is accounted for, we’ll keep you in the loop.’”

6. Explore controversial topics and engage in two-way conversations.

Tight budgets in Ithaca City School District led the town to increase property taxes for school funding in 2014, which had never been done by a small city in the state.

Brown used Twitter to chat about the budget with community members using #ICSDBOE. Administrators answered questions and explained the new measure.

They also used YouTube to circulate PSAs about what they hoped to accomplish with the budget, and brought community members in to debate the measure before it was passed.

7. Become a news source for the community.

Many administrators use social media to share celebratory stories about students and staff. Ithaca Public Schools has also used its pages to disseminate facts and perspective.

“There have been stories that have gone viral that were inaccurate, and we’ve been able to clear those up using our networks,” Brown says. “It takes time for a newspaper to print, but we can get stories out immediately.”

8. Share many pictures and images to showcase student work—but be careful with pictures of students.

Ithaca issues a media release form at the beginning of the year, and keeps track of which students are not allowed to be featured in photos. You can share photos of the backs of students’ heads to be safe, Brown advises.

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