branding

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!

Connected Educator Goals

This year, my goals as a connected educator are to focus on building my brand, making new connections, and introducing others to the power of Twitter. I feel that I am more capable of doing these this year because I’ve been able to see what a difference being a connected educator could do for me. Now I want to show others what a difference it can make for them as well.

Last year, my main focus was simply on becoming better at being connected, whether that was with Twitter or blogging. Twitter was the easier of the two, as I was known to let my blog slack off into oblivion. With Twitter, I had a set time I would participate in edchats, though I wouldn’t always post much else at first. Once I got into a routine, I did much better. Slowly I made more contacts through the #wvedchat group, and then I later added the #minecraftedu one (formerly known as #minecrafted). As the school year moved forward, I was having a much easier time keeping track, and even learned to help moderate a few #wvedchat sessions. Edchats seem overwhelming at first, but they aren’t if you’ve got the right people to help you get settled in!

Blogging was a whole other story. In general, I have blogged during many different times in my life. I used to keep a LiveJournal that I posted to and updated. I believe I got it around 2003, and I kept up with it for over ten years until I decided I didn’t want to update anymore. Education-wise, I kept one in grad school for a little bit, as we had to for a class, but then I let that one go. It still exists, but it’s not a very good effort. My current blog, Ready, Set, Go Tech!, was started on Tumblr in March of 2015. I updated it somewhat regularly until September of that year. I then let it fall to the wayside.

It wasn’t until January that I decided I needed to keep up with my blog. I had been exposed to quite a few different articles, as well as colleagues about telling one’s personal story because no one else would. It was during that time that my position as a technology integration specialist was cut due to the budget, so for me it became even more crucial to tell my side of things. I began using my blog more effectively. I not only told my job hunt story, but also shared Twitter transcripts, edtech information and resources, as well as my own opinion on topics occurring in the educational world.

Fast forward to the present, and now I try my hardest to keep to a posting schedule for my blog. I want it to be updated regularly so that it others are able to read new content at least once a week. I know others may post less, but for me, this encourages me to think and write about what matters most to me. I made Thursday the day that I would post a new update. Tuesday evenings became the time to post my Twitter transcripts, but only because both of the edchats I participate in occur that evening. I post randomly at other times, but I am very consistent with my set days.

Being connected as an educator, both on Twitter and as a blogger, allows me to constantly reflect on my work at any time. I am able to talk to educators weekly about issues or technology or any other educational topic. I am able to reflect on the things I have done during the weeks and months of work, as well as what I’ve accomplished outside of school. I can go back to any of my posts for inspiration or reference.

My story is woven into all of my social media work as an educator. No one else would tell my story but me. Sure, I had some articles in the newspaper about my work, but those only tell one part of what I do. Articles are a once in a blue moon thing; when I take control of telling my story, it’s constant. Suddenly, there’s all kinds of documentation about who I am and what I do as an educator. That’s the way it should be for everyone.

Thus, I feel it’s part of my duty this year to make one of my goals focused on showing others what being connected can do for them. The best way to do that is to keep doing what I have been doing, and to share my own progress with them. I’ve been working on taking my conference presentation and developing it into a professional development session for the district. I’m going to see about getting educators on board. Thankfully, I developed it in Google Classroom, which means educators don’t have to come to a physical PD session if they are unavailable.

As for myself, I plan to keep up with my Twitter and blog connections. I plan to explore at least one new edchat this year and hopefully add it to my repertoire. I plan to make sure I am keeping to my blogging schedule. Finally, I’ll keep sharing my story. After all, who else will?