building brands

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!

My First Edcamp Experience

Early this morning I made the short trek to Yorktown, VA for EdcampEVA (Eastern Virginia). I had been looking forward to this event since early February. Edcamps are something I had been told to attend, that I would love them, and find them a great place to be. My buddy Derek Oldfield is an experienced veteran, so he always kept encouraging me to attend. EdcampEVA was the first edcamp that wasn’t too far from me and it was on a date that I was available. I signed up and bought the t-shirt, too. (Because, really, what better way to commemorate my first edcamp?)

Having heard such great things about edcamps, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Since edcamps are organized by different groups, I figured that every edcamp had its own unique flavor infused into the model that all edcamps used. After today, I’m pretty sure that is a sound theory.

If you haven’t heard of edcamps, imagine this: a place where passionate educators join together on a weekend to learn from each other. Upon arrival and check-in, the schedule is still blank; as an attendee you’ll help make the schedule for the day. There are no set presenters for each session that does end up on the final board; instead, groups of people get together to talk and discuss and ask questions. Once you’re in a session, if you don’t like it, or are trying hit multiple sessions in one time slot, you’re encouraged to use the Two Feet Rule- don’t like it or feel like you’re not getting something out of the session, then use your feet and go somewhere else.

After I checked in this morning, I chose a random open table, and settled in to complete my tasks. Well, wait. First I needed a bathroom break and had to change into the new edcamp shirt I’d received. Then I began filling out my post-it note ideas for the session board and putting my name on my tickets to enter drawings for great prizes from edcampEVA’s sponsors. There was some pretty cool sticker swag on the table, and in my folder I’d received I found a 60 gold trial for Nearpod and a license for Chromville. I added some sticker swag to my folder. During that time I gained 3 new tablemates and we got to know each other and ate breakfast.

During this time, announcements were made, and the schedule was created for the day. After all of the sessions were posted, I knew I wanted to go to the following sessions: social media, technology integration, professional development, and Minecraft/Sphero. We were dismissed and off our two feet took us to Session 1.

Session 1 was Social Media for me, so it was a chance to see what other schools were doing with social media, and share things my schools had been doing as well. Not only did we talk about becoming connected educators, but we also talked about school social media- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo. Someone also brought up social media releases for students, so we focused on that for a bit as well. Before I knew it, an announcement was being made that session 1 was over, and that it was time for session 2.

Session 2 was Technology Integration. We were seated within a circle, and folks took turns sharing some tools that they had found helpful in their classrooms. We had some folks that didn’t have very much technology in their classrooms, and I realized that Fluvanna County is very lucky to have the Chromebook carts that we do, even though most teachers share a cart between 2 or 3 teachers… the teachers that I learned from today were lucky to have a few carts to share in their entire school. Most of the tools I was already familiar with, but a new one I learned about was Dotsmashing. I plan to explore this more and do a write up on it in the future because it seems like a great addition to the tools I already use. I was honestly surprised I had never heard of it before today.

In no time at all session 2 was over and it was time for lunch. I ended up returning to my same table as in the morning, and my tablemates also joined us. Lunch for us was from Texas Roadhouse and Domino’s. They gave away some prizes as well and reminded us about the afternoon sessions, and the Smackdown/Prize giveaway. Then it was off to the races once again!

Session 3 was professional development. We had a mix of people in our session from teachers to those who give PD to teachers. I did learn that there are districts that don’t seem to require their ITRTs, or whatever they label them. Other districts also have trouble getting PD opportunities approved, or they use systems to receive their certification points, and the system rejects it. Some were interested in what I did in my district to give PD, but we all seemed to agree that outside of technology giving PD, there often were very little opportunities provided in district for PD in specific areas. It was definitely thought provoking to hear input from the other side.

Finally session 4 was up. This one was a combined session on Sphero and Minecraft. Some teachers had brought their Sphero and talked about ways that they used it in their classroom, and some others chimed in. Then we moved on to Minecraft. I ended up speaking more than I wanted to because most people were there because they didn’t know how to use it in the classroom, or much about it beyond what they’ve seen of their kids playing it. I ended up being the one to take the notes for the session so I tried to add in some helpful pointers to at least help teachers get pointed in the right direction.

The last event of the afternoon was the Smackdown, where participants shared some of the best things they learned. After that, there was the prize giveaway. Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything, but that’s all right! Two of my tablemates did though and they both won things they had really wanted.

Overall, I enjoyed my first edcamp immensely, and I would definitely go again. There are 2 in VA that are over a 2 hour drive away coming up next month, and I’m not sure if I want to do a drive that far for a 1 day event. I may or may not choose to attend one of them. If not, I’ll keep an eye out for future camps nearby. If you’re interested in seeing if there’s an edcamp coming up near you, check out this link. It lists all of the official edcamps and links to their webpages.

Building Our District Brand: Creating Hashtags

I’ve been talking to some of our educators in the district who use Twitter and decided we needed some hashtags just for us. Our high school students had to create a hashtag for the high school students, but it’s not really utilized. I wanted the educators in the district to have their own hashtag, and later on I would try to get them using it more.

A couple days later I thought about the things I had been sharing via my own Twitter platform and how I planned to share more stories about the schools I am with via their Facebook and Twitter pages. I wanted some way to chronicle these together without it being too long. It didn’t take long before one popped into mind.

Our district does have the advantage of having a unique mascot, the Flying Flucos. It’s pretty easy to create hashtags or usernames that involve “flucos”. And for those who aren’t from the district, do you know what a Fluco is?

Here are our new hashtags:

#flucoed- This one’s just for educators to use to connect in Fluvanna County. Other districts and areas have them so that educators in that space can easily address each other, so we have followed suit. I’m hoping to get it moving and being utilized more often, but that’s also going to involve getting more people on board with Tweetdeck. Projects, projects…

#flucostories- This is my favorite of the two. It’s my way of getting our stories out there and labeled under one hashtag, no matter what type of social media is being used. I’m asking my fellow Fluco Twitter educators to start using this when they share stories from their classrooms. Since I now have access to Facebook and Twitter for the middle and high school, I’m also using this tag when I share posts on there. I’m hoping it’ll catch on, especially once I pass it on to the other schools who run social media as well.

Building Our District Brand: An Update

I posted in September about how I was working to help our district build its brand. Since then I have presented to administration teams about the process, as well as our school board members. It isn’t an easy undertaking, and it’s been harder than I thought. However, I’m still working through the process to get it done. I know our district can do great things once we’ve really got all of our social media on board.

One of my first goals after all of my presentations was to create a master list of social media accounts within each of the schools. I wanted not only the links, but also who maintained each account. I wanted the school media accounts, as well as any clubs, groups, or activities. It took a couple of emails, but I believe I have nearly every social media account used for school in the district.

Once I had that list, it was time to begin meeting with the different maintainers to talk about how we could improve the current social media, as well as take any suggestions that they had. I had also been asked to review the proper ways to post on social media so that the school, group, or club was properly representing the school district. Getting time to meet with folks has actually proven to be the difficult part. I have been able to meet with 2 groups so far. It would have been more, but I had to take a sick day at the beginning of this week and that canceled my meetings with 2 other groups. I still haven’t heard back from all of my school groups yet, and so I’ll send out a follow-up email next week in order to get that taken care of.

Our biggest goal is to improve the stories that the school shares. Since the district was already using social media, it became more about how do we fix it so that it’s even better? I have already looked at how each school uses social media and we were missing the stories that gave us glimpses inside the school and classroom. Most of the time the social media tended to be events based on the calendar, and that was a good start, but it was time to go further.

That’s why we decided to do more stories that focused on the students and the classrooms. I wanted parents and community stakeholders to actually be able to see what was going on inside the school and what kind of work/projects that the students are working on or have completed. I feel like that will help our parents feel more connected to their child’s school and bring more positivity to our district brand.

Hopefully the next time I do an update on our district brand that I will be finished working with the individual schools.