People Can’t Support What They Don’t Know

By Michael Berry, Educator & Leader

I’ve spent the last nine years of my career learning from school communities as a building principal. In my very first job as a principal I learned a great deal about the power of communication. I received feedback that parents and the community didn’t really feel like they knew me, that they wanted to hear more of my thinking, sharing about the school, etc. This was in the infancy of social media at the time. I really grappled with that feedback, trying to figure out how to do that in a way that didn’t feel like self promotion and wasn’t the weekly newsletter. That’s when I first signed up for a Twitter account….and the rest is searchable history.

I learned a really important lesson in those first couple of years about the power of communication and connection. It really is all about relationships!

Most educators have attended a conference or workshop where the person in the front spun a tale about the power of Twitter. They likely made up an account on the spot, may have even tweeted a word or two, but then it may have fallen off the radar. Now and then it comes back up and we promise to get back into it. Believe me when I say, it really is important. Now, educators are faced with feeling like it’s a have to, and there have been many posts about this concept saying that educators can no longer disregard social media.

I saw a quote recently that said something like “Twitter won’t make you a better educator, but the people you meet there will,” and that couldn’t be more true. From my early days on Twitter I established relationships with educators across the globe that I not only consider my mentors in education but truly good friends (I considered @tonysinanis a close friend well before I ever met him in person)!

When I say that Twitter has been the source of the best professional development I’ve ever had I’m not exaggerating in the least. I’ve visited educators, called them with random questions, emailed or direct messaged people everywhere to ask them to share their wisdom. It made me a better person and a better educator in so many ways because I totally understood the overarching principle of communication and connections, and the value they hold in getting ANYTHING done in education and life.

From my start on Twitter, I began to pay more attention to school communication “habits” and traditions. Take the standard weekly photocopied newsletter, for example. I’m not trying to put this down, as it is still a superior method of communication in many schools and communities; however, at the time it was the only show in town and took HOURS to produce. When we think about what we want our educational leaders doing I’m pretty sure searching for that dare to be great clip art for the top of the newsletter isn’t on the list, yet the pressure to produce this weekly digest was (and is) incredible.

So much happens in a school every day, every hour, every minute that summing it up for a one or two pager isn’t conducive to true and/or great communication. I took the challenge of transitioning from the weekly newsletter to new and different methods, recognizing that what I was really doing was introducing new habits to an entire learning community!

We created a blog, with almost daily updates and insights.

Then came the school Twitter account, where I could share instantaneously the awesomeness of our school.

Followed by the Facebook page (which was a HUGE hit).

Then we tossed Instagram in there (we had hundreds of followers from our school community within a week)

And with each new habit introduced to our learning community several amazing things happened, completely by momentum and administration modeling:

  • Educators in our schools felt better about sharing and started professional accounts (blogs, Twitter and Instagram).
  • Because educators felt supported to enter the space, they did and started making incredible connections globally (Authors, educators, bloggers, edtech innovators, etc.).
  • Parents felt MORE included in daily life of the school and supported initiatives and efforts AND they didn’t have to wait till the Friday folder came home!
  • The newsletter slowly faded as the end all be all of communication from the school, and administrators and educators got that time back to be with scholars
  • WE, I say that because it’s not just one person anymore, began to model appropriate use of social media for our students AND for our communities.
  • Teachers in each of our schools started connecting and sharing with teachers in our other district schools.
  • Parents started sharing our posts with pride and encouraging other parents to connect.
  • We didn’t decrease face-to-face communication, in fact, we found that it was enhanced because awareness was so improved. Our conversations become more interactive vs. reactive.

And now I’m the director of communication for our entire district and we’re still employing the same techniques to improve our communication.

So why should you engage social media?

  1. I hear from educators all the time about the need to teach students digital citizenship and how important it is. My follow up question is always “are you on social media?” If they say no we have a lively conversation about this concept: Modeling appropriate and amazing use is the number one way that we can educate students on digital citizenship.They are watching…seriously.
  2. It WILL make you a better educator. It will…if you use it to connect and learn. Many associate social media negative posts and interactions. Guess what, those things existed before social media and are possible offline, just like fake news isn’t new…Benjamin Franklin dealt with it too!
  3. By not being engaged in it you are perpetuating exactly what you don’t want to see. And the all time best reason is this:

People can’t support what they don’t know.

That goes for your parents, your community members, your school board, your educators, your staff…everyone. Sharing what’s going on is how to move forward as an organization, as a leader, as an educator.

Oh, and it’s a lot of fun.

My name is Michael Berry and I’m currently the Director of Curriculum, Communication, and Innovation in MMMUSD-CESU schools of Vermont. I’m always eager to learn and have a hard time not reading educational blogs and articles around the clock. I live in central Vermont with my wife, two daughters, two dogs and two very grumpy cats. I can be found on Twitter…often…very often…a lot…at @MichaelBerryEDU.

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