Social media and schools haven’t traditionally gone hand-in-hand.
Wary of privacy concerns and the potential for misuse, schools have tended to shy away from social media. Yet social media is a vital part of how we communicate today, and can be a useful tool for schools to communicate with both parents and students.
Joseph Donzelli, the communications director of Fort Myers school district found that the school’s communication with parents increased when they started using Twitter, and other schools around the country are switching on to social media, using Facebook and Twitter to interact.
What are the ways in which schools can use social media to stay in touch? And which schools are already making the most of it?
Schools and Social Media
Traditional ways of sharing information are dying out, with the majority of people turning away from print in favor of the internet.
This spells good news for schools, for three reasons:
- Social media is much cheaper than producing handouts and newsletters;
- Social media posts stand to be more widely seen;
- Social media is instant and responsive.
By embracing social media, schools can open honest dialogue with parents and the wider community. Social media offers the opportunity for asking questions and fostering a much more two-way relationship between schools and parents.
From meetings or cancelled classes to reminders of lunch menus or fundraising, schools are turning to social media to stimulate conversation with the parents in their local area. Timberview Middle School in Fort Worth, Texas, discovered this when they instigated a weekly twitter chat using their own hashtag (#TMSHawkChat), allowing school staff to meet and interact with people from across the community.
If good policies are implemented, social media can become a positive force for school communications, building good PR and giving schools the chance to engage their local communities and deal with any problems quickly and professionally.
Using Social Media to Stay In Touch
One of the key uses for social media in schools is as a way of keeping parents and students in touch with what is happening in their local school.
Parents no longer have to turn to the local phone tree or a print letter to find out about upcoming events of last-minute school news.
Principal Eric Sheninger of Milford High School in New Jersey knows first-hand how useful social media can be. Once the kind of principle who “blocked everything”, Principal Sheninger quickly became a leading proponent of the use of social media for schools.
As well as keeping parents in touch with happenings at Milford High, Principal Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) used Twitter to form connections in his local community, eventually landing a partnership with a local company that lead to a donation of technology equipment and training.
Milford’s social media presence has even attracted the attention of CBS News, making it something of a way-shower for other schools. The school’s Facebook page is likewise active, keeping parents in the loop. The school also encouraged students on a tour of Holocaust sites to blog about their experiences, attracting attention and comments from around the world.
Facing Social Media
Many schools now have active Facebook pages.
Take for example West Demoines Valley High School, where parents can ask questions, keep up to date with all the latest school achievements, and keep track of school projects.
As more schools use social media to communicate, its value becomes more apparent and encourages other schools to take the plunge. Sycamore Community City Schools in Ohio took the plunge in 2011, after realizing they needed to leverage the power of social media.
After an in-depth study and community wide advertising campaign, the school now has a long-standing and active Facebook page. As well as news and event reminders, recent posts include inspiration quotes and the chance for parents and students alike to get to know members of the school board.
Social Media and the Classroom
As well as engaging parents, social media has the potential to increase student interest and broaden the learning environment.
Social media provides not only a good channel for communications, but a vital opportunity for more introverted students to contribute to class discussions in a safe environment, increasing overall engagement in a subject.
Take the students of Health Sciences Charter School in Buffalo, N.Y., several of whom were struggling to analyze the themes of their most recent reading assignment. Building an online book discussion group on Twitter helped the students to engage with the material, clarify their ideas, and ultimately gain a better grasp on the work.
From offering career education information to students who are nearing the end of their school days to encouraging students to tweet as their favorite character, social media provides not only a valuable communication tool but an interactive education tool, too.
Social media is here to stay.
By embracing it, schools can lead by example to build better connections in their community, and encourage open dialog between students, teachers and parents.