We’ve just celebrated a cool anniversary in my school district. A couple of years ago, the leaders here decided that it was time to embrace social media as a broad tool in education. A communications tool. A teaching tool. A learning tool. We had an established Facebook page, and a few teachers dabbling on their own time. (Because, of course our school district filters didn’t allow them on Facebook or Twitter. I had double-secret-probation-extra-special filter settings to manage our district page at work.)
But two years ago, my superintendent decided that locking down social media was no longer the best option. No, the ostrich pose wasn’t going to serve our students well (at all). With the help of a nearby consultant with a hefty corporate social media pedigree and personal passion for local schools, we wrote policy and guidelines, we set up a few procedures to keep the internal lines of communication open, we provided training to our employees. And we reconfigured our network filters to allow adult users the privileges to access social media at work. Crazy, I know.
In the time since, I’ve been asked to share our story with different groups and in a few trade magazines. (I’m also writing a book on this subject, which is why my blog has been so sad over the past few months. But this whole book nonsense is another post for another day.) When I’m asked to share our social media story what always surprises me is, really, how simple our work has been.
Without a doubt, social media can inspire enormous fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of school districts, non-profits, public agencies and — especially — the boards that govern these groups.
We read the stories and see the reports on television about people making really bad decisions on the social media stage. In education, we see teachers and administrators who lose their jobs, kids who jeopardize their future goals, and parents who go a little (and sometimes a lot) crazy.
But the simple lesson that we’ve learned — over and again — in the past two years is that social media is no different than the other issues that we manage every day. We serve kids lunch every day because our food and nutrition services workers have been trained in safe kitchen skills and food safety. We transport kids on buses every day because our drivers follow specific vehicle, traffic and safety procedures. At the end of the day, our work is embedded with basic risk management. Social media programs included.
We believe that social media offers a huge reward. We can engage with parents in a content-rich, real-time exchange. We can create legitimate relevance and rigor for our students as they learn. (Show me the student who won’t bring their A game if told his or her work will be on a public stage.) We can encourage our staff to seek professional development through the enormous opportunities on Twitter. And now, we can serve as encouragers and guides to other districts and organizations, still wrestling with fear of the unknown, or unsure about the process of embracing social media.
Our story here means a lot of things to me. But I hope the most important take-away to you is this: Jump in (or wade in, or dip your toe in) and see for yourself — the water’s great!