Meeting students where they are is a modern mantra for learning. When it comes to communications, “meeting parents and families where they are” is the new rallying cry.
The past two years have increased the urgency for many administrators to stay connected with families who have become more involved in their children’s education during the pandemic. Many leaders also say tackling COVID’s numerous challenges and uncertainties provided new opportunities to connect and collaborate with their counterparts in districts across the country. Some, such as Superintendent Scott Rocco of Hamilton Township School District in New Jersey, have leaned even further into the digital tools they had come to rely on long before lockdown.
Rocco, who has been on Twitter for at least 10 years, uses the social media platform to stay connected with both his local school community and his K-12 colleagues around the world. Very few educators learned marketing in their preparation programs but providing clear and concise information to students, families, and other community members is now a must, he says. “Twitter is a great way to talk to your community about things that are going well in your district,” Rocco says. “It gives them a window into what’s happening.”
A presence on Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform can help educators and their districts grow their following and spread their messages further and with more impact. Those messages can cut across generation gaps, as just about everyone looks for information on their smartphones nowadays, he says. “We’ve shown the community that our content has value,” Rocco says. “But it’s not just a tweet, it needs to be a tweet with information and pictures or visuals and videos.”
Rocco also is a creator of #satchat, which, since 2012, has given educators from around the world a place to discuss pressing K-12 topics on Twitter every Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time. Recent discussions have covered community engagement, creating lifelong readers, classroom engagement, and building student organizations. Within his district, Hamilton Township is launching a social media elective where students can learn about ethical communication and what’s appropriate for individuals and institutions to post.
And for administrators who want to begin using social media, he recommends first taking a look at what other educators are posting and then following like-minded school leaders. “It’s worth connecting with other educators, collaborating and learning from them,” Rocco says. “You can find value in this professionally.”
Inviting parents into academics
Principal Edgardo Castro created academic parent-teacher teams about three years ago to boost community engagement at Lincoln Elementary School, part of Gallup-McKinley County Schools in New Mexico. He also wanted to increase the level of learning taking place at home. The teams, which meet multiple times during the school year, use test data to identify the skills students are struggling with most, such as fluency in the younger grades. Parents learn reading and math games they can play with their children to better harness those skills, says Castro, who was named the 2021 New Mexico principal of the year by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Castro is now using prizes and other incentives to reach his goal of having 70% to 80% of parents participate. “It has been very ideal for providing support at home for every family and every student,” he says. The teams have also been instrumental in embedding a social-emotional learning program across the school’s curriculum, which prioritizes healthy interpersonal relationships, teamwork, and collaboration. SEL has improved attendance and decreased behavioral problems, and is now helping educators identify the mental health issues the pandemic has inflicted on students.
“We were also able to do deep dives into what students really need emotionally, right now,” Castro says. “That is just crucial as move into a post-pandemic school year.”
Where our stakeholders are
Superintendent Georgeanne Warnock’s goal has been to build a culture of communication by making the exchange of information as smooth and engaging as possible for staff, students, parents, and other stakeholders at Terrell ISD near Dallas. “This means communicating with them where they are,” Warnock says. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok are where our stakeholders are—maybe not all of them, but most of them.”
Not so long ago, Warnock, like many administrators, would have shared a student success story by submitting a 500-word press release to the local newspaper and hoping it would be included in an upcoming edition. “But now a few sentences and a great photo or video posted to social media channels has a much larger impact,” she says. “Our stakeholders receive district news and celebrations instantly and have the ability to engage with and share what we are doing from their phones.”