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School leaders who master social media reap huge benefits

By Team ISTE
February 25, 2016
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It’s an exchange that frustrates parents worldwide:

“What did you learn at school today?”


This stalled conversation is being phased out in many forward-thinking school districts, where parents get daily updates from educators on their phones, tablets and laptops. The critical tool for this shift is social media – two words that can be very uncomfortable for many school administrators.

While the perils are well documented, many progressive schools are taking a fresh approach to social media. It’s gone from taboo to trending.

We’ve come a long way from the not-too-distant past when educators were forbidden to use Facebook or Twitter at work or to “friend” students and parents.

From kindergarten tweeters to high school job seekers and blogging district administrators, the doors are being blown off.

One critical element is savvy leadership.

Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent for learning at Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, was named one of three national Digital Principal Award winners by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The first time he asked permission to create a blog for his school, he got the same warning most students hear in the classroom: Just don’t do it.

His next boss not only supported the idea, he had his own blog.

What a difference a leader makes. That opened the door, and Larkin never looked back. He now has 39,000 Twitter followers. The district Twitter account has 1,400 followers. 

More than 100 blogs connect Burlington Schools to each other, the communities they serve and the education family.

So how does an education leader master social media and incorporate it into modern learning and teaching?

Here are a few of Larkin’s discoveries:

Tell your own story. With social media, schools don’t have to wait for TV cameras to broadcast their successes. What Johnny learned in school today can be sent directly to parents and the community as a whole. Sure, not everything is going to positive, but it is better than sitting back and waiting for other people to tell your story.

Do as I do. When administrators use social media themselves they model etiquette and skill for their students, teachers and parents. They should be instructional leaders for their schools.

Follow the money. Use social media to advocate for the resources you need to accomplish your school’s goals.

The entire community benefits. One of the first things families — or even entire companies — who are looking for a place to relocate search for is information about schools. By having a positive digital footprint, your school can be a shining example of what your community has to offer.

Gain the competitive advantage. Students skilled at social media can set themselves apart in the brutal world of college entrance. It’s expected that most applicants will have good essays, impressive references and excellent grades. Many schools also are checking their social media profiles. Students trained to create a dynamic social media presence will have an edge.  

Get a job. Many students work while in school or seek out internships. A good social media profile on LinkedIn has proven effective in helping them land that good job.


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