The best advice comes from those living it. With that in mind, K-12 Dive has launched a new feature that each month asks a group of superintendents, principals or other administrators for their insights and best practices on the top challenges facing public schools.
For this month’s question, we asked four school and district leaders: “How do you approach sharing news about student successes on social media?”
Editor’s note: The following responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Principal of Alternative Education Programs at Austin Public Schools in Minnesota
Working with teens and tweens, it’s essential to find ways to relate and communicate well as a school leader. In the past few years, I have tried to highlight positive student achievements, activities and acknowledgments as a way to engage and relate with this age group.
Some ideas I have tried have included video segments like “Questions for Mrs. Cabeen,” shoutouts, and posts about recent achievements. We have also livestreamed activities and events for families who might otherwise not get to see their scholars and celebrate their achievements in sports, clubs and extracurricular activities.
Is it intimidating to enter the world of social media? Yes. Do I mess it up? Sometimes. Has it been beneficial in building relationships with students and families? Absolutely.
Principal of Fulton Middle School in Missouri
We share student successes on social media much like most other schools, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. However, we are working to normalize sharing the day-to-day learning of students as well.
One of our school collective commitments is to share the story of our school with our stakeholders. Our staff members (and at times students) share how their students are living the mission of our school throughout the day.
These pictures and explanations are shared primarily on our Facebook page, as this is the medium most of our families prefer.
Superintendent of Talladega City Schools in Alabama
If parent involvement is the focus, then we must go to where the parents spend their time: social media. As a superintendent, I utilize social media to provide information to our families that we serve. We post everything from school closures and open vacancies, to teacher shoutouts and student accomplishments, to athletic events.
Not only do our parents live on social media, but our students do as well. By actively sharing their accomplishments on social media, it gives the students an opportunity to share and engage with positive celebrations of their personal success.
Gov. Kay Ivey proclaimed November as “Thank A Teacher Month” in Alabama. My school district honored a teacher each and every day on our school district social media page. The campaign had over 5,500 likes, 2,000 comments and 300 shares. Those are all positive statistics to show what a great tool social media can be. Our teachers were thrilled to receive the positive support from our community.
People will always believe the narratives. They will believe what they hear about a school, or what a school tells them about the school. As educators, we must tell our story. We must share our success stories along with our stories of struggle that we overcome. We must be transparent and take our parents and communities we serve along with us on the journey.
Principal of Newton North High School in Massachusetts
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, we needed to keep the positive and spirited energy of Newton North High School that we cherished so much, as well as highlight the excellent work that was happening within our virtual school. With those goals in mind, @NorthLearns was created on Instagram.
Instagram was the right platform for this initiative because the photo and video focus allowed our community to see and experience the joy and energy of our school. When the public perception of schools was so negative, @NorthLearns was a vital place to promote the excellent learning and instruction happening in our school. This communication tool became such a powerful and positive strategy that we continue to use it as well as expand its reach.
Our Instagram handle was slow to develop, but we used several strategies to build awareness and energy behind @NorthLearns. We regularly shared recent posts in our newsletters with a message encouraging families to follow. Additionally, when we communicated to families about our opt-out media and photography policy, we also informed them about our social media presence.
However, the best messengers of our Instagram story were our students. We promote the handle with students during the opening days of school. At this point, when I ask students if it is OK to take their photo, they quickly respond with excitement, “Is this going on Instagram?” As students gained excitement, many more of their family members joined. Furthermore, many students remained followers even after they graduated.
Three years later, our Instagram handle is now a place for students, parents, staff, and alumni to connect and participate in the Newton North Tiger spirit. A congratulations message from a parent or an alum in the comments section after a big sports win or the many likes we get for a post about a student project are a great energizer for our school, staff and students.
While I post student videos and photos on @NorthLearns, I keep my personal social media platforms separate. I may describe the exciting experiences of student learning in our school on my personal accounts, but photos and videos of our students stay off my personal posts. Rather, I’m able to use my personal accounts to write and learn about student learning, as well as collaborate with other educators to innovate on new ideas to enhance student learning. That’s the power of social media!