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School Branding: It Takes a Team

When you are working to brand yourself as an educator and share your story online, you rely on yourself to share the information. You can’t rely on others to share it for you, and how much you share depends entirely on you. Sometimes, you may go a month or more without sharing anything because life happened. It can happen to anyone. However, school branding is a different beast.

Schools often put one person in charge of social media postings, and hope for the best. One person sometimes has to gather images, check media releases, and share stories. They are responsible for checking feedback, comments, and messages sent via social media. Often, they must report anything out of place to administration. This person often has other roles to play in the school, and so social media may fall by the wayside. This leaves schools unable to share many stories, or they are more likely to share simple things, such as announcements and lunch menus.

School branding should not fall solely on one person’s shoulders. School is a community, and it takes many kinds of people to help it function well. School branding should become part of the community effort, even if it’s a small community group alone at first. Having more than one person work to gather stories, to check releases, and to monitor social media pages distributes the tasks among multiple folks, each with a common goal in mind: share the good with the community.

In my district, it is a slow process. I am working to change it, but it definitely takes time. One of my schools, however, is trying a new approach, and this could very well change the frequency with which we share our school’s stories on our Facebook page. Only time will tell, and I will definitely be observing to gather feedback.

Fluvanna Middle School has periods of infrequent sharing on their Facebook page. Administrator Rebecca Smith has taken a different approach. As she completes observations of teachers in the classroom, she snaps pictures of the activity occurring. These images are passed onto myself. I do not know all 800+ students in the school, so I have teamed up with librarian Kate McDaniel to identify students with media release. We tag team together and delete any photographs where a student may not have permission to be photographed. Next, I email the teacher for a description of the activity that was occurring at the time. I usually need just 2-3 sentences to work with- enough to describe the learning taking place. Once I have the description, I schedule the post for Facebook and use our #flucostories hashtag.

As you can see, this involves the work of multiple people, and helps to create a more frequent story of Fluvanna Middle School. The task of sharing stories on social media does not fall to only one person, nor should it. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we are hoping to continue to use this method to gather many classroom stories for our families to view. In the past, our families have expressed the desire to see a variety of stories from more than just the academic classes, and that’s what we’re working toward delivering.

If your school relies solely on just one person to run their social media, it may be time to rethink the strategy. Communities rely on the people within to help them grow and flourish. If your school wants to have their school story prosper and be spread, then reach out and find ways to bring more folks on board. You just might develop an even better school story than before!

Reflections on VSTE 2017

Another VSTE has come and gone, and it was fantastic! This was my 2nd year attending, and it was even better than last year because I had some wonderful connections and people to meet up with. Big shoutout goes to my tech buddy Heidi Trude (@htrude07). She and I love tech conferences, meeting speakers, and bouncing new ideas.

I arrived bright and early on Sunday morning and got checked in. My big task for the day was my Minecraft presentation. I was scheduled to go right at the start, which was fine by me. I was able to get it over with and then focus on other things with the conference.

I had a full room of 30, and I set up my session to play some Minecraft themed music from my YouTube playlist. I also dressed up in my Steve outfit, which many people got a kick out of. My topic was on empowering students through architecture and design. I focused on how this topic empowers first, and then dove into each of my workshops- middle school, rising 1st/2nd grade, and my Cityscapers club. From there I also talked about empowering preschool kids, using my buddy Reed as an example. I got a lot of good questions, and shared all of my workshop resources with folks, which they really appreciated.

The rest of the conference was a whirlwind of fun and learning. Here are some of my favorite key takeaways:

  • Virtual courses and professional development: I listened to a presentation from a district on how they were offering virtual courses for professional development. This allowed them to be flexible for their teachers, and to offer many chances for teachers to find ways to use the tools in the classroom. I want to design a course for next year, and I’m thinking it may be on Google for beginning teachers or something like that. I just need to research and toy with my idea more.
  • Minecraft for Teachers: Minecraft is a game meant to toss the player into it with very little instruction or guidance. While there are teachers who will also embrace this tactic and learn to play the game this way, there are others who are too hesitant and uncertain. I am thinking of potential developing a play and learn series geared specifically to them.
  • Minecraft Challenges: I had forgotten that even though I no longer have access to the old MinecraftEDU, I can still get access to the lessons and world files for the program. I would like to import some of the worlds into Minecraft and redesign them to work for students. This is something that could take awhile, so for now I’ve downloaded a latitude and longitude scavenger hunt world to tinker with.
  • Google Forms and Data Validation: I loved this session because it gave me new ideas for my teachers on how to use forms to get certain answers or to set up puzzles and passcodes for access. For example, a teacher can use data validation to get students to enter a secret code to then be taken to the quiz part of a form.
  • School branding: I loved both the keynote speech and the session done by Eric Sheninger. His work affirms that I’m on the right path with branding, especially with our schools. I took away some new ideas for branding, and have since met with one of the middle school administrators to see how we could do better. We actually have a plan in place, and it will allow us to get more stories and pictures from classrooms without teachers having to do much extra.
  • Photojournaling– I went to this session to learn about the impact photojournaling can have on students, and how it promotes collaboration. The presenter had us do some of the activities in the lesson plan itself, and of course received the lesson and all necessary resources. The best part is that the lesson is written in such as way that it can be applied across disciplines, so teachers can modify as needed.

After all those sessions, I was on information overload, and still am. I am slowly working through bits of it as I complete my daily work. I feel that I can be a better teacher and ITRT once I’ve started applying more of what I’ve learned.

I also made new connections and reconnected with folks from last year. It was good to see so many familiar faces. I tweeted up a storm, which should be no surprise if you know me well. I can go back later to check out those tweets and discover new ideas.

VSTE definitely helped me recharge my batteries. I felt on top of the world as I left Roanoke on Tuesday afternoon. I am ready to work on making more changes to my work, and improving myself.

This will be my last VSTE for awhile. I am going to skip next year (unless my district decides to send us) because I want to save up for ISTE 2019. It’s going to be in Philadelphia, and very doable in my case. I just need to make sure I have the money ready to roll. I know my district won’t be able to fund something so pricey, but I am very determined to experience this amazing conference at least once in my career!

Social Media & Feedback

The school year is winding down here in Fluvanna County. Our students only have a 1/2 day to attend tomorrow, and they are out for the summer. Staff have 3 days next week, and I have more beyond that. My mind is wrapping things up for this year, and beginning to make plans for next year. I have received my contract for next year, and am happy to be returning to the district. I have plans to improve on what I’ve done, and am working with leaders in the school board office to try and make some of it happen.

As many of you know, social media was a focus of mine this year. In fact, I’m going to be presenting on it at the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. I believe that social media branding is very important for schools to take part in, and that more schools need to tell their stories. Alas, not everyone feels as though it is a necessary task when added to the other bits and pieces of work for school, but it does pay off and parents do take notice.

Because I am presenting, and because I want to make improvements next year, I needed to turn to our main viewership base- families of the students. I needed to get their feedback on their thoughts about social media, and I needed it to be honest so that improvements could be made. I know our first year really pushing it didn’t go well in some areas, while it excelled in others. Reading over the responses so far, I see many parents who agree with the observations that I have made.

However, first years never go as planned, and are usually meant to be ways to work out the kinks and problems for the next year. If professional development is my main passion, then school social media branding is my second one.

When it came time to develop my survey for parent feedback, I considered the following:

  • It needed to be anonymous
  • There needed to be a separate survey link for each school
  • It needed to be quick and easy
  • It needed to ask the few burning questions on school media

The anonymous part is pretty obvious, but I stated it anyway. The reason a separate link was needed for each school was so that parents with students in multiple schools could separate their comments based on the school’s page, and give feedback regarding both schools if they wished. Quick and easy was a point because no one wants to spend forever doing a survey on anything. Rating scales were key to making it quick. Finally, it needed to ask my target questions and get written feedback from parents. That way I might gather some specific topics or points to address when preparing for the next year.

Here are the questions that were decided on for each survey:

  1. Think back over the school year. What types of posts do you recall seeing on [School]’s Facebook page?
  2. How often do you feel [School] utilized their Facebook page?
  3. How satisfied are you with the frequency that [School] posted to their Facebook page?
  4. How did adding school stories, identified with #flucostories on the Facebook page, impact your overall view of the school?
  5. How satisfied are you with the frequency that #flucostories appeared on the Facebook page?
  6. How satisfied are you with the types of #flucostories that appeared on the Facebook page? (clubs, classroom activities, sports, events, etc.)
  7. Please provide any suggestions you have to help [School] improve the Facebook page for next school year.

With the exception of Question 7, all questions were based on a 1-5 rating scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. The survey was designed in Google Forms, and handed off to each school. If your school uses social media and wants to get feedback from families, feel free to borrow the questions I’ve listed above.

I am looking forward to analyzing the data and determining the weakest areas for each school. I am also looking forward to (hopefully!) developing a more uniform plan for the district, instead of going on a school by school basis.

Mindset Switch: Schools & Branding

Social media has brought many positives and negatives to the face of education. However, today we’re going to focus on just one: branding. When you think of branding, you often think of a business. A business uses their brand to sell a product. They make money, and in turn, continue to build their brand in hopes of selling more products. Social media has made branding easier than ever in terms of reaching many people in one fell swoop. Whether Facebook, Twitter, or something else, various platforms exist to help brands make their image memorable and trustworthy. Gone are the days of buying a product only based on the advertisements alone. What kind of company does the business promote itself to be? How does the business assist communities? How does it interact on social media? How does it use social media to combat negativity about the brand itself?

Branding doesn’t apply only to businesses anymore. It can also be applied to schools. It seems odd at first, as schools aren’t looking to sell any kind of product. If the school is in any kind of business, it’s the business of educating future generations. So why brand a school? Many reasons, actually. Branding schools and social media make something possible that wasn’t before. Social media branding can transform how the community and other stakeholders view the school, for better or for worse.

Stop a minute and think: How do those in the community view your school? What stories are shared by others about your school on social media currently. How do both of these affect the culture of your school.

Now think about the barriers that can stand in the way of branding your school:

“I don’t have time to do just one more thing.”

“It’s just one more thing for my teachers.”

“We already share announcements. Why do more?”

“It doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

“Nothing bad has happened at our school.”

“We have good test scores. What more do they want?”

There are probably other barriers that are rolling about in your head right about now. Choosing to believe these barriers and not do anything about them places the school within a fixed mindset- just because social media is around doesn’t mean it affects my school. Oh, but it does, just as these barriers do.

The barrier of not enough time is common no matter what the topic or task is. The truth is, when something truly matters to us, we make time for it. We find a way to fit it into our schedule and make it work. School branding is no different. There will be time spent up front learning to use social media tools to share school information, but once it’s learned, the task flows more smoothly. If the administration has this mindset, they can help spread it to the teachers as well.

If your school is already using social media to share announcements, that’s great! You’re off to good start. Getting digital versions of school announcements to families is one way to share information. However, is that the only thing your school wants to be known for in their story? Announcements are a necessary part of school, but they don’t have to be the only thing, especially if you still implement paper versions of announcements. All you’ve done is take the offline skill and make it an online one.

Let’s combine the next two barriers- It doesn’t make that much of a difference and Nothing bad has happened at our school. The latter is a dangerous thought to have about anything. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. And when it does, it’s when it’s least expected. Once a negative event hits, then anyone will be looking to find out the dirt on your school, and chances are, they aren’t looking for positive stories. If the only stories about your school available online are negative, then there’s a good chance that reporters, community members, and other stakeholders will stack those against you. Posting positive stories about your school does make a difference, especially in this case. These positive stories can help to combat the negativity currently facing your school.

And that brings us to the final barrier- We have good test scores. What more do they want? If a test score doesn’t define a student, then why should it define a school? Schools are doing activities and hosting events all of the time. The only problem is that often others in the school don’t even know these things are going on! If you, as a teacher, put in the time and effort to organize, coordinate, and execute the activity, shouldn’t you want to share it with others to showcase that hard work? Indeed we should, and it’s our families and community members that would love to see the school and teachers brag on the things students have the opportunities to participate in. In many cases, these activities set the school apart from similar ones in surrounding districts.

In order for a school or district to begin sharing their story on social media, the above barriers need to be taken for what they really are- excuses. Gone are the days of trying to escape up and coming social media, disregarding those who are into it and shunning platforms. Gone are the days of only sending home weekly or monthly newsletters to families. Why not meet them where they already are? Why not tell your school’s story? If you don’t, someone else will, and chances are, it won’t be positive.

Building Our District Brand

Last Friday I had a meeting with what is now known as the Social Media/Website team. This particular team consists of the technology heads, the ITRTs, the superintendent, and some other folks at the central office. Our goal is to change how Fluvanna County is perceived via social media, and how we connect with the parents and the community. Part of our job is to revamp the school website, and the other part is to build our brand via social media.

It’s no surprise that I believe in being a connected educator, so I was happy to create a short document that detailed why our district should build our brand via Twitter and Facebook, as well as how we could go about doing so. I also included links that showcased the surrounding districts and their use of social media. For me, it was pretty eye opening to see that Fluvanna County was already on the right track- social media accounts exist for all schools on both Twitter and Facebook. They aren’t as active as they could be, and there are some changes that could be made as to what is posted, but they exist and are up to date for the most part.

My ideas for implementing new changes were as follows:

  • Connect the Twitter and Facebook accounts for each school, as well as the district ones together so that whenever something is posted to Twitter or Facebook, it is automatically posted to the other account.
  • Move away from one-sided communication by answering questions that can be answered, and avoiding the ones (drama or such) that cannot be.
  • Multiple trained people to administrate the accounts so that more than one person can do updates.
  • Train all staff who are keeping the accounts current on the types of things that can be posted, and how to do so. Make sure educators know how to share more than just the announcements found on paper or via phone calls.
  • Learn how to use hashtags in posts to group similar topics. This includes making a cheat sheet for use.

I am lucky that my new superintendent is very much on board with the power of social media and branding. She wants me to head up my solutions, and work on getting things started. I’m very excited because my previous district was not using social media at all. I have already seen what a difference it makes being in a district that does.

This week I present to all principals why our district needs to build our brand and share our story. It is to be a brief overview, and then next week I am to go over the whole plan again at another meeting because all administration will be in attendance.

I am hoping to be able make changes in the district, and really put Fluvanna on the map. I would also love to find other districts to connect with to see what they are doing with their own social media. If this is your district, please get in touch and let me know!