The Greatest Stories Never Told (And Why It’s Time to Share Yours)
We often hear negative stories in the media about what happens in our schools, stories that sometimes make those of us in education cringe. But the reality is, these stories do not represent our reality. They do not show the magic that happens in our classrooms, the achievements of our learners, or the compassion that we feel or that we model for our learners.
Now more than ever, it is crucial for us to share our stories. This blog post will talk about how schools and districts can get connected and use a variety of digital tools and social networks to share their stories with the community and the world at large, which can ultimately change these narratives in our community and even national conversations.
Getting Connected Magnifies Your Message
Before the internet, when you thought of sharing our stories, you probably thought of newsletters. The traditional classroom is an isolated one that relies on print media and face-to-face interactions to share what’s happening in our schools or organizations. With this more traditional approach, it was a hit or miss in terms of our reach, and usually the immediate community was as far as it would go.
With the help of digital tools, the connected classroom has the potential to have a global reach. In addition, unlike the traditional classroom, the connected classroom allows teachers and schools to share more frequently and provide real time updates to what’s happening within the school. Though the greatest advantage of going digital is having a direct hand in what news reaches parents and the surrounding community.
Stories Connect People
Getting connected is taking the conversations you would have offline with colleagues, parents, and members of the community and taking those conversations online via the internet. I know that for some the internet is a scary place, and the idea of sharing your classroom to the unknown is unnerving. I get it.
But by utilizing the power of the internet to share and engage your community, you will discover how you will be able to be more effective in communicating with stakeholders, more responsive in disseminating information, and more successful in highlighting the learning and special events that happen in your classroom or organization.
Things to Consider Before Sharing Your Stories
Before you go about what to share, think about your why. I am not proposing that you or your teachers signup for every social media platform and start posting a bunch of random stuff. Doing that will get you nowhere very fast.
My one piece of advice is to determine what makes your classroom or school a special place to be for your students. That’s all you need to know.
You aren’t creating a branding campaign or manufacturing a public image. Sharing your story is simply giving the world a peek into the amazing things you are already doing. As Gary Vee says, “Don’t create; Document.”
Make Sure to Get Permissions
Before you start posting pictures and videos on social media platforms, it is advised to check for permissions first. Make sure your school, classroom, or organization has some form of an Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP), which outlines guidelines for both students and professionals in terms of technology usage.
Also, a media release form, like this one from Houston Independent School District, is recommended to ensure that parents and guardians grant permission for students to have their picture used for media and technology purposes. This will come in handy when it comes time to use social media platforms.
Finally, check with the terms of policy with social media platforms, especially if you intend to use these with students.
Ways to Showcase Your Classroom
With the plethora of digital and social media tools at our fingertips, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The most popular ways schools are sharing their stories are through blogging, videos, podcasts, and social media. Because most educators are familiar with blogging (sites such as Blogger, WordPress, Edublogs, and Weebly), I'm going to instead focus on video, audio, and social networking, as well as provide examples from schools.
Video content is king and can be an essential tool in showcasing your story. Videos touch people differently than print, and with so many people walking around with smartphones, videos are an effective visual that attracts more viewers than print on the internet. Some examples of showcasing through videos include highlighting student projects.
An alternative to shooting and editing video is live streaming. Live streaming brings people into your school or classroom in real-time. Teachers can stream a lesson or presentation and administrators or district leadership can stream school events. This is great for parents or other family members who can’t make it to a school play or to an award ceremony or to graduation.
Podcasts are a cool way to get your school involved in becoming creators of content. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a podcast as, “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet.” In its most basic form, a podcast is an audio recording that can be easily accessed online.
Podcasts can be used to document student learning, to provide a space for students to employ real-world skills, or as a way to interview teachers about the amazing things they are doing in their classroom. Other podcast ideas may include schools creating a radio show where they can address. These kinds of interviews are ones that can be featured online for parents and community members to enjoy.
Getting started with making podcasts is as simple as getting a laptop or a tablet and a microphone. You want to play around with a few applications and figure out which application you will use to record (Android or iOS) your podcasts.
You are also going to need a place to warehouse your recordings, such as YouTube, SoundCloud, or a website. One word of advice is to select an application or site that is not blocked by your school district and that is easily accessible for your intended audience.
Don’t get bogged down by the thought of which microphone is best or which application is better. You can always upgrade your equipment later. You can always switch to another application in the future. Before you fall into paralysis by analysis, just jump in and get started.
Expanding Your Reach via Social Media
After you publish that write up or picture of your students on your blog, upload that awesome video to YouTube, or put your podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes, you are ready to take your stories to social media.
Perhaps the most effective way to share your story globally is via social media. In education, the most commonly used platforms are Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They allow users to share in real-time, which creates immediate access to what’s happening in your school or organization.
A pro tip is to utilize sites such as If This, Then That (IFTTT). This site allows users to post to several social media accounts from one account. So instead of logging into Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to post a picture of the school spelling bee, using IFTTT, you would post the picture on Instagram and the picture would then be posted to Twitter and Facebook.
As most educators are familiar with Facebook, this section will outline how to utilize Twitter and Instagram as well as provide examples of how schools and classrooms are taking advantage of what these tools have to offer.
Twitter, with its 140 character limit (and soon to be 280), is a microblogging social network that can be used as an interactive website. Through Twitter, everyday classroom activities or reminders for school-wide events, fundraisers, awards shows, and even holidays can be posted as tweets. An advantage of Twitter is that images, video, or links to a document can also be attached to a tweet.
An example of this can be seen through Thames Elementary’s REACH Program in Hattiesburg, MS, who regularly tweets about creative class projects. If you visit their Twitter page, you will get a glimpse of the day-to-day creations with video production, makerspaces, and even Show and Tell.
Instagram is an easy to use option to share updates and school information. What makes Instagram stand out from other platforms is its simplistic visual nature. If you want to share a flyer for example, you will have to upload it as an image and not a document. But the power in Instagram is sharing pictures of classroom activities, school events, or catching a quick moment of something or someone on the campus.
One example of a school that is utilizing Instagram is NR Burger Middle School in Hattiesburg, MS. The school’s Instagram feed is an active one that constantly features many student and faculty recognitions along with partnerships with the community and local businesses.
Final Thoughts: Own Your Story
Who owns your story? Is it the politician, the news reporter, or the person chatting in the mall? Nowadays, schools have access to any number of tools. With these tools, schools can shape their narrative and take ownership of their stories.
What’s more, teachers and schools can engage their parents in conversations that can’t be had with a letter home or print newsletter. The more we tell our stories, the more we will see how these narratives have a positive impact on school culture and the communities we serve.