About five years ago, I had the chance to coauthor a book with Eric Sheninger and Jason Ramsden on the different ways that schools can use social media to communicate and connect with the diverse stakeholders that they serve. During the planning for that book, Eric kept saying something that has stuck with me ever since: If you aren’t telling the story of your school, someone else will.
That’s true, isn’t it?
The fact of the matter is that the stories of schools are told all the time — by reporters, by community critics, by radio broadcasters, and by satisfied (or unsatisfied) parents standing on the sidelines of sporting events or sitting along the decks of a thousand community pools. Sometimes those stories are accurate. Other times, they paint an incomplete picture of events that have drawn attention.
My current school is a pretty good example of the importance of telling your own story.
Here’s why: Seven years ago, we were converted from a traditional school calendar to a year-round calendar because our district was working to create capacity at a time of rapid population growth in our county. The change was pretty darn unpopular at the time and it left our community divided. Compounding matters, for the past three years, our county has had open discussions every April about changing us back to a traditional calendar.
The result: Some prospective parents shy away from sending their kids to our building because they aren’t completely sure what our school calendar will be from year to year.
That’s been weighing on my mind a lot lately simply because I know full well that there are GREAT things happening in our school.
Our teachers are passionate, funny people that are genuinely interested in helping to develop the kids in their classrooms as both students and as people. We’ve got an award winning band, show choir, athletics teams, academic teams, Science Olympiad teams and robotics teams. We prioritize questioning in our classrooms because we know that asking good questions is worth WAY more than finding the right answers. Long story short: Our school REALLY IS worth investing in, but no one really knows that because calendar instability is the primary story told about us.
So I made a decision a few weeks back to start a #WhySalem social media project. Here are the current details:
As often as I can, I create a short social media post highlighting something super cool about our building. Here’s a few examples:
— Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) April 19, 2017
— Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) April 20, 2017
I tag each post #WhySalem. My thinking is that over time, we’ll have an easy to search and easy to share collection of really good examples of the untold stories of our school. Maybe those stories will be shared on our school’s website. Maybe they will be seen and spotlighted by local media looking for content. Maybe they will be seen and shared by other parents who follow us in social spaces. Either way, a common hashtag makes categorizing content possible.
I’m using video clips as much as possible in my #WhySalem posts. I think video creates a stronger connection than simple text posts and/or pictures. I want people to see me and hear me and know that I’m a real person who is genuinely enthusiastic about the work that we are doing in our building.
My video clips are short — less than 90 seconds — and they are not edited at all. Let’s be honest: Anything longer than 90 seconds is asking for too much attention from social media users in today’s day and age. What’s more, I’m not trying to bury viewers in information. I’m trying to get them interested enough in our building to come and find more information. Finally, short, unedited videos are easy to make — and “easy to make” is a priority if I’m going to be able to sustain this project.
I’m going to try to get students to make #WhySalem posts: I haven’t started doing this yet because I have to double check our photo/video permission lists before using kids in any of my videos — but I think having students in videos will bring even more personality and genuine energy to the project.
I’m going to try to get my peers to make #WhySalem posts: The fact of the matter is that I don’t even know all of the cool things that are happening in my building! My view of what’s worth spotlighting is limited by the grade level that I teach, the colleagues that I know in different spaces of our building, and the time that I have to interact beyond my own room. That’s why I’ve got to find peers in other places who are willing to make regular posts. They will have different stories to share about our building — and that matters.
I need to clearly articulate the purpose for #WhySalem posts to everyone that I work with: Our school already has a presence in social spaces through our primary hashtag — #SalemProud. But there’s a difference in purpose for each tag in my mind. #WhySalem posts should be aimed at potential parents and should highlight something that makes our school unique as compared to our peers. #SalemProud posts are currently aimed at current parents. They are more general celebrations in nature. Keeping the streams separate is important if #WhySalem is going to succeed at changing the perceptions of parents who are considering our school for their kid.
I need to start cross-posting #WhySalem content to other social spaces. Right now, all of my posts are going to Twitter because that’s the social space that I’m most active in. The problem is that Twitter is probably NOT the social space that potential parents — the audience I’m trying to reach — is most active in. Chances are that our school could gain a bigger audience if our #WhySalem content was being shared in Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. I’ve got to figure out who controls those accounts in our building and get them to start reposting #WhySalem content everywhere.
So whaddya’ think of all of this?
Have you got any additional suggestions for me? Does this seem like a project that you could replicate in your buildings, too? Are you actively telling the story of your own school?
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