Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our School Has Gone Facebook Because of Twitter

Let me begin by saying I vowed to never have a Facebook page.  So many "bullying" issues I have dealt with as an administrator have been the result of something posted on someone's Facebook page.  I fought the good fight for several years, and finally caved, sort of, over Thanksgiving Break.

I had created a Twitter account for our school shortly after I became Principal at Utica Junior High School in 2011.  My experience with using Twitter goes back to my time as a wrestling coach.  Twitter was a quick way to inform fans of how we were doing at all-day tournaments.  It was also a quick way of notifying parents of when the bus was returning back to the school after one of those tournaments so that they could be there when we returned to pick-up their child.  I used it in a similar fashion as a principal to inform parents of important events, when report cards were coming home, early dismissals, and the like. It was more recently that I discovered how powerful and useful Twitter was that led me to change my stance on Facebook (and the power of Twitter for educators will be a future post).

I was participating in a Tweet Chat with some educators from Virginia.  They Tweet about various topics each week under the hashtag #vachat.  The fine people from Rhode Island have also been very helpful to me #edchatri.  The topic that particular evening was "Family Engagement."  Dr. Travis Burns, the principal at Page Middle School in Virginia asked me why I did not use Facebook?  My initial thought was, why would I want to do that?  Another participant in the Tweet Chat was Joe Mazza, Principal at Knapp Elementary in Pennsylvania and he basically gave me my answer.  He said that parents are busy, so we as schools must change our approach and meet them where they are. Facebook is one of the places where they are.

Dr. Burns gave me the link to his school's Facebook page and a couple of suggestions:

  • celebrate success
  • do not post student last names
  • do not post any facial pictures of any students
  • Set it up as a "like" page as opposed to a "friend" page which would give me more control.
  • keep posts positive = no issues
He assured me he has had zero issues with school Facebook.  I had no problems with his suggestions.  I know that some schools do post names and facial pictures, but that was not something I wanted to get into.

Why in the world would I want to do this?  The main reason was I wanted parents and community members to know about all of the positive things that were going on in our school.  We have some great things happening, and it seems like no one knows about them.  If I am lucky, the local newspaper will come by once a year to do a positive piece, but amazing things are happening more than one time a year.  Our district has also experienced a significant amount of negativity in our two recent tax levy renewal elections, one of which went down by a 70% - 30% margin.  I was not looking to change the election results, but at the same time, I wanted everyone to know great things were happening in our school.

So over Thanksgiving Break, Facebook came to Utica Junior High School, and I could not have been more pleased with the results.  I have had more parents in the past month tell me, "I did not know such and such was happening until I saw it on Facebook."

Some of the successes I have celebrated include:

  • a teacher receiving a $500 grant to purchase books for her Language Arts class
  • link to our new digital newspaper
  • photo of editors working on the newspaper
  • photo of the scoreboard of one of our basketball victories

Our unofficial school motto has become:  something great happens daily.  I try to post one unique photo or something positive daily.  If I cannot find one thing that is happening that is worth sharing, then I have bigger issues.  As a principal, I asked myself, if I do not promote the positives of my school, then who will?  With the assistance of some fellow educators via Twitter, I have become a proponent of using social media for the good it can provide. So far, our school's Facebook page has been a positive experience.