Some colleagues have asked how I am using social media to engage our parents at W. Erskine Johnston. Then this evening I had a quick back and forth with Lorna Costantini on twitter, who was looking for an Ontario principal who uses social media to engage the community. I thought it might be helpful to write it up my experiences here as a reference for anyone who wishes to know the how and why of using social media to engage your community.
Step 1: Set up a school blog:
A school blog is a must these days. With a plethora of FREE blogging platforms available, there need be no extra cost (check out Blogger, WordPress and Edublogs for starters). While it does take a bit of time to get the blog set up, a basic school blog can be set up in less than an hour. Learning how to post, embed media files and link to other web content takes some fiddling around at first, but for the best instructional videos, head over to youtube and you will find exactly what you are looking for in a matter of seconds.
I started my blogging experience using Edublogs, which provides educators with basic free accounts. This is the platform that we have subscribed to for our teachers to create classroom blogs. You can see a few examples here: Full Day Kindergarten (Junior) , Grade 1 , Grade 3 , Grade 4 French Immersion , Grade 7 , Grade 8.
As a sidebar, we do not mandate that teachers maintain class blogs. I offered a few workshops last year and invited any interested teachers to attend. Several attended and then several more, etc…. We now have 21 class blogs, which means we have over 90 % of the classrooms in the school represented. Why has it caught on? Teachers have several different reasons for blogging. Some like that it saves them time and work when they are able to post assignments and resources on the blog. If a student misplaces anything, it is all available for download. Some staff appreciate sharing their teaching and learning from the blogs their colleagues maintain. Some teachers thrive off the positive feedback from parents who appreciate the blogs.
While our teachers are using Edublogs, I moved the school blog to a self-hosted wordpress blog about 2 years ago. We have an easy to remember URL – wejps.net. I have devoted some time to customizing the appearance of the blog in an effort to brand us as a truly cutting-edge school. Our home page includes links to the classroom blogs, as well as our twitter account and a “like” box for our facebook page. The final key feature is our “subscribe via email” box which allows parents and students who wish to receive notifications when a new post is published to get an email. We currently have approximately 140 subscribers to our blog.
Parents stop me in the hall all the time to express their appreciation for the blog. They also leave comments, sometimes asking for further information or clarification, sometimes providing feedback for us to consider. The following is an example of a kind comment left by one of our parents:
Step 2: Setting up a school twitter account.
The next natural step was to set up a twitter account for the school. I chose — you guessed it — @wejps as our twitter identification. I created the following three short videos to show how to set up a twitter account:
The twitter account allows us to post quick and timely snippets of information. For instance, if one of our ski buses was late returning from the hill or if the student transportation was cancelled because of inclement weather, I send out a tweet.
Step 3: A facebook page
I didn’t set up a facebook page right away. I was not as familiar with facebook back then and didn’t understand the potential for connecting with students and parents. When I did set up the account (http://facebook.com/WEJPS) , it became quite popular very quickly. Our blog has approximately 130 followers who subsribe. It is also the platform with the highest growth over the past little while and I anticipate that it will be the “go-to” place for most of our parents and students in the future. To learn how to set up your own facebook page for your school, here is a great guide.
Step 4: Linking it all together
If I were to update each of these individually, I would not be saving myself any time at all and I would have given up long ago. I use twitterfeed to link all the accounts up so that, except when I want to tweet a short and timely alert, I only update the blog. It then publishes to twitter and our facebook page. Twitterfeed offers a quick set up guide on their site and it takes less than 10 minutes to link up. This is a huge time-saver for me, which is essential. I refuse to make more work for myself, don’t you?
Step 5: A Youtube Channel
The most recent addition to our W. Erskine Johnston PS digital footprint is our Youtube Channel , which I set up in the fall. I have posted a video of our band performing at the Remembrance Day ceremony and plan to add more content throughout the year.
Enjoy the performance!
If you are using social media to engage your community, please take a moment to let me know in the comments.