Role of Social Media in School Leadership

Editors Note: brings together a variety of voices from leaders in the region on important educational issues of the day. This “Leading Thoughts” post brings the views of leaders Tyler Sherwood, Laurie McLellen, Howard Stribbell and James MacDonald

Administrators Must Lead By Example With Social Media

Tyler Sherwood, Head of School,  Chatsworth International School | @TSherwood

As the leader of the school, the principal (or head of school) needs to be involved in the social media platforms of choice for their school. Part of the role of the principal is relationship building and, whether some principals like it or not, our school’s relationship building has moved (in part) into the realm of
social media over the past few years. By leaving the social media experience up to their marketing departments or other leadership persons in the school, today’s school principal misses out on an incredible opportunity to connect with members of their community (and beyond) that they normally might not be able to. I think that the majority of school heads are aware of this opportunity now, see its importance, and most are becoming more involved (speaking mainly from an international school perspective).

BY LEAVING THE SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCE UP TO THEIR MARKETING DEPARTMENTS OR OTHER LEADERSHIP PERSONS IN THE SCHOOL, TODAY’S SCHOOL PRINCIPAL MISSES OUT ON AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY TO CONNECT WITH MEMBERS OF THEIR COMMUNITY

In terms of social media involvement on a personal/professional level, school principals are really limiting themselves today if they are not reaching out to their colleagues around the world. Part of the ‘turn-off’ for some who are still on the fence, I think, is that they hear from others what they ‘have to’ be a part of – ‘you have to be a part of Twitter’, for example. I think the key for school heads is to try out as many platforms as they can, professionally and personally, and then see which fits their mode of communication and sharing best. Some heads will feel more comfortable sharing and commenting within Facebook or LinkedIn (perhaps the visual aspect of it is more appealing), while others are more comfortable in the text-heavy world of Twitter. I still find great value in the email groups that I participate in and often find this is my best source for advice on topics rather than putting out a question to the entire world on Twitter. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to professional connections in social media, in my experience. I think the best advice we can give reluctant heads is to use what feels most comfortable and start there, being open to other ideas. Once the ball gets rolling it doesn’t stop.

Is Social Media a Force for Greater Social Connectedness?

Laurie McLellan, Director, Nanjing International School, China @LaurieMclellan1

There are some unstoppable forces that seem to ignore age or gender on the human side, and speed of internet or firewalls on the technology front. The aforementioned force also ignores the brand of computer, phone, laptop or tablet. Social media is that force and has profoundly challenged norms and broken down more taboos than one would have thought possible 25 years ago when the world was emerging from the Cold War, a conflict that defined our globe. Here we are living in a time when social media has become a part of the daily life of people across generations, and has become a link for multigenerational families and friendship groups. Far from being a barrier to authentic communication, social media has seen more people feeling connected to more people, thus creating relationships that are forcing us to consider what we mean by ‘community’. Isolation could be a thing of the past for people with mobility limitations, for older people living alone and for those living in remote locations.

IN CHINA, WHERE THERE ARE TWO GENERATIONS OF YOUNGER PEOPLE WITHOUT BROTHERS AND SISTERS, SOCIAL MEDIA IS A WAY OF STAY CONNECTED AND BECOME MORE CONNECTED.

In China, where there are two generations of younger people without brothers and sisters, social media is a way of stay connected and become more connected. China is the world’s largest social media hub, it is staggering to see the way people use WeChat, Weibo and QQ. Neither the Chinese government’s attempts to control content nor the prospect of dealing with potential language barriers when viewing popular media either from other Asian nations, North America or Europe seems to impact the strength, breadth and depth of the social media force. For some young Chinese they only see the opportunities, either to develop their foreign language skills or to use the increasingly accurate translation software that is available. Ask yourselves this question – how is social media impacting the social aspect of 21st century life? Almost forty years since the first Star Wars movie, the force is definitely with us.

Who Is Responsible to Tell Your School’s Story?

Howard Stribbell, Head of School, The International School of Macao | @HowardStribbell

Sure, we have websites, brochures and probably a school video, but if you aren’t telling it on social media then someone else is telling it! Social media is an essential and powerful tool for building the culture and communication of your school. Social media isn’t something trendy that is just going to pass nor is it the minefield that is best avoided. Ignoring social media would be like a school not having a website!

YOUR SCHOOL IS ALREADY BEING TALKED ABOUT ON FACEBOOK – IS IT THE STORY THAT YOU WANT SHARED?

All of the great things that are going on your classrooms, labs, playing fields and hallways deserve to be shared with a wider audience. Your school is already being talked about on Facebook – is it the story that you want shared? Facebook allows you to post short stories and photos that speak to the culture and ethos of your school. Twitter allows you and your teachers to send out mini-messages that demonstrate the great teaching and learning going on. I don’t advocate allowing just anyone to post to Twitter on the school’s behalf nor should you get into a comment argument on Facebook. Rather, your Facebook page should be managed deliberately. For Twitter, create a school hashtag (we use #TISMacao) to thread all of the school related posts together. We now publish our Twitter stream (from approved posters) inside the school so that these messages are shared throughout our community. It allows us to celebrate the great learning that is going on everyday.

A couple of years ago, digital media allowed us to replace our traditional paper based school newsletter with a blog where articles, events and announcements were published as necessary and not just once every 2 weeks or once a month. Starting next year, we are moving to a multi-blog, multi-author platform for communication. It will take all of the blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, Google calendar events and curate them into a dynamic electronic magazine for our community enabling us to share more of our learning with an even wider audience. Readers will be able to share, repost, and comment in a much more interactive manner. Check us out: tis.edu.mo/news/

Being in the Now

James MacDonald, Head of School, NIST School, Thailand | @JMacDonaldSan

If you ask students about social media, though they probably won’t be able to provide a sharp definition of the term, if they’re older than 10, then they undoubtedly know what you’re talking about. In fact, if you bother to define social media for them, then they’ll likely look at you quizzically. For them, no definition is needed; social media isthat pervasive in their world. While adults remember a time before social media, students simply cannot. Today, it’s not so much a question of ‘what is social media’ but ‘what media isn’t social’. For schools, what that means remains to be seen.

AS WITH ANY CHANGE, HOWEVER, WE MUST NOT DRIFT INTO REACTION MODE, BUT INSTEAD PROACTIVELY DESIGN AND CREATE OUR FUTURE

I’ve heard reports that some school administrators seek to hire only people less than 35 years old in order to better ensure that teachers are comfortable with social media and this century’s technology. Yet, I have my reservations about this approach. Any teacher’s goal is student learning, social media and technology do not have a monopoly in that domain. At the same time, we can be sure that schools, workplaces, and our social lives will be more affected, not less, by social media in the future. In turn, this expectation has major implications for schools and educators.

Technical advances in communications are nothing new. In fact, a century ago, telegraph lines and Morse code were all the rage. Unlike these bygone technologies, social media plays a far more direct role in the lives of students than ever imagined for Morse code. How many teachers have found student engagement increase when teaching lessons and methods integrate aspects of technology and social media? I also suspect that many school communities in times of crisis have been pleasantly surprised at the power of social media to reach out to parents and broadcast information to the whole community. At the same time, I’d wager that most teachers have at least heard exasperated colleagues’ proposals to ban social media from classrooms because they distract students from lessons. Plus, how often have today’s school counsellors had to resolve incidents involving inappropriate behavior among students via social media?

As with any change, however, we must not drift into reaction mode, but instead proactively design and create our future. Change such as those ushered in by social media are exactly why it is such an exciting time to be an educator. But I have little doubt that our continued relevance as educators will depend upon how we respond to the challenges and opportunities that social media bring us, or else we will end up looking like an educational equivalent version of the global map of telegraph lines.


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