Monday, November 28, 2016

We've Gotten Ourselves Into This Mess, It's About Time We Get Ourselves Out

I've intentionally given myself a few days before I commented on Donald Trump's selection of a new Secretary of Education.  Many people, especially those associated with public schools, were very concerned when he met with Michelle Rhee before Thanksgiving to presumably discuss the position.  What many of us in education did not expect is that he would actually bypass Rhee, and select Betsy Devos, a staunch supporter of vouchers and school choice, and someone, if you were to question their experience as an educator, you would actually struggle to come up with what question to ask.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we as public schools got ourselves into this mess.  For years, we were the only show in town.  Play by our rules and if you didn't like it you could pay tuition somewhere else.  If not, too bad.  There was virtually no competition, thus no real reason to go out of our way to promote the positive things happening in our schools or to have acceptable customer service.  Then that all changed.  Charter schools, vouchers, and open enrollment brought a capitalistic mentality into education, a real life survival of the fittest. 

Here's the thing.  It's up to us to get ourselves out of this mess, and I hate to break it to you, but it is not going to be a quick fix.  I am not just talking about public schools either.  Charters schools have been branded by many as a waste of taxpayer money with little to show in terms of student growth.  I'm talking to you too.  Your school doesn't fit the stereotype of being a bad school?  THEN IT IS TIME TO CHANGE THE NARRATIVE. We need to change our actions as well as our stories.  We cannot neglect customer service in our schools.  It is actually an easy thing to correct.  We need to improve what we are doing instructionally.  Finally, we need to change the perception of our schools by sharing the positive stories.  Not bragging about our school.  Brag about the accomplishments of your students and staff.  It is time to share those stories.

Our President-elect, Donald Trump said the following when talking about school choice:
"Their parents will choose the finest school.  They will attend that school."
Is that your school?  Is your school the best choice available?  Many people aren't sure.  It's time to change the narrative and let them know.



Ryan McLane is a principal in Ohio and the co-author of Your School Rocks...So Tell People.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Barge and Jet Ski of Education

Our district was fortunate enough to have Matt Miller, author of Ditch that Textbook, come and talk to and work with our teachers today.  Any time I attend a conference or PD day like this, it is my goal to come away with one thing.  If I can come away with one thing that is going to have a positive impact on kids, it made the day or training worth attending. 

Matt shared many things, some of which I did not know existed (Gone Google Story Builder).  Earlier in his address, he talked about how change in education was like a barge that needs to change direction.  Once a barge gets going, it is very difficult and very time consuming to change its course.  I would say that is a perfect analogy for education as a whole.

But it was something he closed his keynote address with that really stuck with me.  He said the best part of teaching is that your classroom is like a jet ski.  Just as a jet ski can turn on a dime, so can you, whether you are a teacher or a principal.

I fall into this trap all too often.  I see the many things that are wrong with education as a whole and become frustrated when the "barge" takes too long to change course.  I needed to be reminded of this:

Control what I can control.

As educators, we still have a great amount of control over what happens in our classroom.  If we want to personalize and engage students in an innovative way, we can begin working on that tomorrow.  As a building principal I cannot lose sight of this.  I have a great deal of control over what happens in our school regardless of how slow a state or federal agency is.  I have the ability to share the great and innovative things that our kids get to experience in our school thanks to our staff members who are willing to be innovative and to take risks.  We share photos and videos on Facebook, we do a weekly video newsletter, we engage and inspire our kids on Instagram, all in addition to engaging them with learning experiences in school.  It is easy to become frustrated with education as a whole but we need to remember that we still have a great deal of control, and we are much more like a jet ski, than we are the barge when it comes to education.  

Ryan McLane is a principal in Ohio and co-author of Your School Rocks...So Tell People.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Teach Like A PIRATE Day 2016...Yes You Read That Correctly

Teach Like a PIRATE Day is a day in which we put educational author Dave Burgess' question to the test -- if kids didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?  Our kids come to school, attend homeroom for attendance, and when the bell rings, they run to any class that is of interest to them.  Yes, you read all of that correctly.

Our teachers create "experiences" based on their content areas and we compile them in a guidebook which we hand out to the kids a few days before the big day.  One student was walking to homeroom with his guidebook and he said to me, "Mr. McLane, this might be the only time a teacher has given me a piece of paper that I was told to bring back to school that I actually brought back to school."

We had a drone, singing, black light science, the Amazing Race in which kids ran around our campus solving math problems (find the circumference of this bicycle tire) and 25 other amazing experiences that the kids could choose from.  They didn't just choose, they were virtually running to the next class.  Yes, you read that correctly again.

I had a parent contact me last night, TLAP Day Eve, to tell me her high school daughter was jealous of her two younger brothers, because they got to experience TLAP Day and she didn't when she was in 6th grade.  I found out this morning that the high school was on a 2-hour delay schedule today and she had pleaded with her mom to allow her to come to school early, spending the first two hours at our building participating in the amazing activities and then go to the high school two hours later.  High school kid.  Chance to sleep in.  Last week of school.  Wanted to come to school early.  Yes you read that correctly.

In an era in which there are so many experts who have so many opinions on what is wrong with our schools and how they can be fixed, we constantly overlook the simplest of things.  Do the kids want to be there?  It is a simple thing to overlook, but a major mistake if we do.  At our school, we don't try to make school awesome once a year, we strive to do it 180 days a year.

Ryan McLane is the principal at Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, Ohio and co-author of the educational book, Your School Rocks...So Tell People.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Social Media...The Tool.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to talk to college students, young educators, and those who have been in the game much longer than me.  I enjoy doing this because it always gives me an opportunity to learn something and I often self-reflect based on the questions I am asked.  And here is what really hit me lately.  It's not about Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram.

Now you may be thinking, wait a second, you just wrote a book on using social media, is he jumping ship?  Not at all.  The point that may be getting missed, and perhaps I've done a poor job emphasizing this point, is the "why" of social media.

You see, we use all of those tools I mentioned in our school.  We use them on a regular basis.  But we do not use them because they are cool, or neat, or different.  We use them because they are effective ways to communicate with our students' families and our community.  Social media is the tool, and right now it has been the most effective and efficient tool in making sure the message and communication we are trying to establish, not only happens, but is mutually beneficial.

Back in the day, email and school websites were all the rage.  Gary Vaynerchuk, a social media expert, talks about how when email first came out, everyone opened every piece of email they ever received.  And they read it.  Things have changed.  Think about the number of unread emails in your inbox (mine is higher than I'd like to admit).  It is no longer the most effective method of communication.  I also hate to break this news to you, but your school website is not the first place people are going to when they are looking for information about an upcoming school event.

Here's my point.  If all of a sudden people went back to opening and reading every single piece of email, guess what I'd be using to communicate with our families?  You got it.  I don't love social media because it is social media.  I love it because it is the greatest vehicle we currently have to engage our communities.  Right now that is Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube (sorry Twitter).  And when that changes to something more efficient and impactful, I'll be moving right along and adapt.  But don't forget why you are doing this in the first place. You are trying to build relationships, keep your families informed, and have opportunities for two-way communication.  That's the point that can't get lost.
Ryan McLane is the principal at Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, Ohio and co-author of the educational book, Your School Rocks...So Tell People.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

So You Have A Facebook Page...Now What?

So you have finally taken the plunge and created a Facebook page for your school or district.  Now what? Here are a few simple steps to get the most out of your school's social media tool.

CREATE COMPELLING CONTENT
If you are a school leader, this should not be that difficult.  If it is, there is your problem, start there. Social media is good, but it is not THAT good.  If you do not have great things happening in your schools, you really don't have anything to share.  However, I find that hard to believe.  There are so many stories happening in your school each and every day just waiting to be shared.  Share those stories on your school's Facebook page.

TYPES OF CONTENT
From my experiences, here are the four most common types of Facebook posts in order of highest user engagement (meaning they like, share, or comment) to the least engaging content.

  • Video - Doesn't have to be long.  We had the Columbus Zoo come to our school, and a 6 second clip of an animal jumping from a rope was watched over 7000 times.  This is video uploaded directly to Facebook, not a link to YouTube.  A link to YouTube is a website link (read below).  Our weekly video newsletter is uploaded to Facebook and then separately to YouTube.
  • Photo - A simple photograph of students engaged in learning will engage your audience.  Have 11 students qualify for the state science fair? Even better.
  • Website link - Even if this is a link to something on your school's website, your families are more likely to see it on your Facebook page than on your school website.
  • Plain text - This is usually the least engaging type of content.  If you need to share some important information about an upcoming event, you are better off including a photo.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Okay. I am going to let you in on a secret here.  Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what content shows up on your fans' Facebook News Feed.  Wait, do you mean that all of my content is not showing up on all of my fans' News Feeds every time I post something?  Bingo!  Based on the user's previous engagement with your content, the algorithm will determine if it will show up on their News Feed.  The more you provide engaging content, the more fans you will reach. 

USE IT
You would be amazed, or maybe not, how many schools have created a Facebook page and then rarely use it. Ideally, you should be sharing at least one piece of content each day.  A photo with a brief caption is considered content.  I see schools that have a Facebook page that have not posted in months.  You are not building a great relationship with your school's fans by doing this.  Can't do a post per day?  No worries.  Even if you are posting content three times per week, you are giving you audience a glimpse into the positive things that are happening in your schools.  Isn't that one of the main reasons you created a school Facebook page in the first place?

Ryan is the principal of Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, Ohio and the co-author of Your School Rock...So Tell People!




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Schools Face A Perception Problem



When you read about education in the news, it is usually about something negative.  It's unfortunate, but it's not just education.  Watch the evening news and it is predominantly negative information.  Here's the thing.  I often hear that society loves to hear about negativity, but I don't completely buy that.  People LOVE a great story.  We just have to tell it.

Part of the reason schools have a perception problem has nothing to do with the bad things that are happening there.  They just get lumped in with the few newsworthy schools that do have bad things happening.  But we can change that.  More importantly, YOU can change that.

Do your families and community know about the great things happening in your schools?  Are you using story telling tools that engage them?

Just this past weekend, students in our school district competed in the Central Ohio District Science Fair.  I was there and when I noticed two of the first three "sponsored" awards went to students from our school district, I shared that information on our school's Facebook account.  No photo, no video, just these simple statements:

  • "The Big Walnut kids are cleaning house in the awards at the Central OH District Science Fair."
    • 51 "likes" and reached 336 people in 24 hours.
  • "BWI qualifies 12 to the state science fair."
    • 57 "likes" and reached 730 people in under 24 hours
Did 336 people and 730 people actually see these two "stories?" Potentially, but probably not.  However, I can assure you more that 51 and 57 people saw each of these two posts.  In those two posts, 51 and 57 people respectively enjoyed that "story" so much that they took action.  They hit the "like" button, essentially sharing the good news with their friends.  This is the positive power in social media.  It wasn't just parents who saw these stories.  Aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas saw it as well.

If your schools are currently using social media to engage your community, share the great things happening in your schools, not just information or the next upcoming meeting.  Share the stories.  If your school is not currently using social media, talk with your decision makers before you start.  You can change the perception.

Ryan McLane is the principal of Big Walnut Intermediate School in Sunbury, Ohio and the co-author of Your School Rock...So Tell People.  You can order it on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Don't Just Be A Firehose





When Eric and I wrote Your School Rocks...So Tell People, it wasn't just about trying to hustle some books. We have witnessed a tremendous positive impact on our schools by using different social media platforms and we wanted to share those strategies with anyone who was interested. Now that the book is out and in the hands of educators, we want to continue to provide ongoing tips that will make your use of social media that much more effective.  The one point I want to really hammer home is this:  do not be a firehose.

Often times, when we talk about communicating as a school, it happens to be one-way communication.  I don't think we do it on purpose and we do it with the best of intentions.  We want our community to be informed. Just as much as our communities appreciate being informed, they also want something else.  They want to be heard.

As you are using the various forms of social media to share all of the great things that are happening in your classrooms and schools, don't forget to listen.  Two-way communication does not have to happen in the comment section of Facebook.  If it is appropriate, then go for it.   If it is not, pick up the phone and have a discussion.  But don't just use social media to disseminate information.  Use it to build relationships and have meaningful conversations.  That is what is going to benefit your school