The Current Logo

Principals, meet Facebook

Written by Melissa Shields
July 24, 2011

Undeniably, social networking has become an integral part of students’ lives. As a school district technology director, I am often asked for social media guidance from school leaders. Like other school districts around the country, we have had students and teachers do some questionable things using social media. In speaking with principals about these issues, I discovered that many had never visited social media websites and in turn, knew very little about them, other than what they read or heard in the media. To overcome this disconnect, I gently nudged my district’s administrators into the social media arena so they could later have informed conversations with students, parents, and teachers when social media issues presented themselves.

I must first admit that I am an avid fan of Facebook, Twitter, and now, Google+. I have three Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts, and two Google+ pages, which represent both my personal and professional interests. I was a late bloomer to social media, but once I discovered its transformative and connective power, I was hooked. Having said that, I do not expect every educator to manage multiple social media accounts to prove that he or she has embraced social media. However, I do expect 21st Century educators to understand what these tools (and they are indeed tools) can mean to them, as well as their students.

For this initiative, I narrowed my focus to social media exposure for administrators, to be followed with our teachers. I have found it to be counterproductive to begin an initiative with teachers if their principals are not on board. To start off, I simply asked each administrator to “follow” ECBOE on Twitter and join the ECBOE Group on Facebook. If they choose to become “Tweeters,” they were to tweet at least once a week for four weeks, as well as respond to other tweets. If they joined the Facebook group, they were to post a discussion question or respond to a currently posted question (at least four times).

To get the ball rolling, I posted a series of discussion questions on our private ECBOE Facebook group page. These posts were in direct response to the ENGAGE (Empowering Next Generation with Authentic Global Experiences) initiative we were implementing at the time. A Wordle cloud of each post has been included to provide a snapshot of their responses. As you know, the more a word is used, the larger it will appear in a Wordle cloud. I find it interesting that the word “student” was the most common theme in all four blogs. I presented these images, along with the respective discussion questions, at one of our board meetings to update our stakeholders about the ENGAGE initiative.

#1: What do you find are your weaknesses in regard to your role as a 21st Century school leader? What are your strengths?

Wordle: What are you doing to encourage 21 C learning?

#2: What are you doing as the instructional leader to encourage 21st Century teaching and/or learning at your school?

Wordle: InstructionalLeader

#3:What 21st Century technologies and/or Web 2.0 tools would like to see more of in your classrooms this year? Why?

Wordle: Tools Wish LIst

#4: Name a technology, lesson, or Web 2.0 tool that you feel has made a significant impact at your school in preparing students with the “3 R’s” (Relevance, Readiness, and Rigor)?

Wordle: What tool has made the most impact?

After completing the social media blogs with the district administrators, I encouraged them to further explore Facebook and Twitter for both professional and personal pursuits. I also shared social bookmarking websites, such as Diigo and Delicious, with them so they could better manage and share their favorite websites. I published many of their Facebook and Twitter ENGAGE responses on our district’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. These posts stimulated some very interesting conversations, especially from parents and students. In retrospect, I think it was a really good thing to post our administrators’ epiphanies, successes, and concerns for the stakeholders to see. Sure, the posts demonstrated their commitment to 21st Century education, but more than that, they allowed viewers to see them as real people who genuinely care about what happens in their schools.

I was pleased when several of our schools created Facebook pages, with feeds embedded on their websites, much like the district website: Many teachers have since followed suit. I began to receive a lot of questions about what educators should or should not do when using social media. In response to these concerns, we developed what we call “Social Media Guidelines for Educators,” which are unique to our district: These guidelines were created on a Google Doc, which was shared with all administrators, board members, and school technology coordinators. Everyone was asked to contribute and revise, and within a few weeks, we had a final draft. In a nutshell, the guidelines encourage teachers to be smart about what they post and use “professional” social media accounts to converse with students and parents (if they choose to utilize social media) as opposed to their personal accounts. These guidelines are not mandates or board policy, but simply recommendations to help teachers make wise decisions when connecting with social media.

Facebook is currently blocked in my district, but I have shared some ways teachers can utilize social media in their classroom activities. Most recently, I met with teachers and shared some really interesting Facebook-like websites called Edmodo, Collaborize, and My Fake Wall. Edmodo and Collaborize allow students and teachers to connect with one another safely and easily in a social media venue, without the security concerns that Facebook and MySpace present. With My Fake Wall, students can create fake Facebook-looking pages for historical or literary characters. One of the teachers who attended, Rachael Couch, conducted Fake Wall activities the very next week with her language arts students, and the sites were incredible. It was amazing how deeply the students connected with the characters they portrayed.

Great Gatsby Fake Walls (10th grade)

Our Town Fake Walls (10th grade)

In summary, it is critical that school leaders and teachers are educated about social media, as well as experience them, to fully understand their potential impact on students, both negative and positive. Since this “administrator social media exercise,” I have had much fewer social media crises, and many of our schools’ principals are now avid users of social media themselves. My current focus is to provide “appropriate online behavior” training for our students, when using all web-based tools, including social media. Social media is not going away, and it is incumbent upon us as educators to arm our students with tools they need to become lifelong, successful digital citizens.

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