Friday, November 9, 2012

Where is Your School’s Online Conversation?

 Using a hashtag and crowdsourced blog to engage your school community.

Entering my first year as principal, especially at a school going 1:1, I was excited to start down the path of social media to share all the great things going on at Leyden.  I’m not going to discuss why we all should be using social media because that has been done very well already in posts like this from Eric Sheninger.  Instead I want to focus more on the choices we are making at Leyden in how we are approaching social media.

The most common use of social media by schools seems to be a school led push of information most often through Facebook and/or Twitter.  We are doing this as well, but this is really using the internet as it was understood circa 2000, not the web that we all live on now.  The real power of the web now is not just an amplification of the same push of publicity we always did as schools, but actually engaging your community and beyond in a conversation that anyone can take part in.

Yesterday when I read a post from George Couros titled “Denying our World”, what we are doing here at Leyden was really affirmed.  As leaders in schools that advocate the power of technology in the classroom having the potential to be transformational, shouldn’t we also look for ways to truly transform our own practices?  So instead of just replacing your newsletter with a Facebook page or mass emails with Twitter blasts, (these are both good ideas), build a conversation online with your school community.  This is the true power of the web, it is a social connector and allows for true participation and ownership by all.  When we look back on this era in our history I believe only then we will understand the power of the web as one of the greatest equalizers of opportunity in our society, only behind education in my opinion.

So if this is the case, we should encourage and build a culture of participation in a conversation and celebration of our schools online.  I know some people are concerned about this, there is the possibility someone hijacks the conversation and uses it negatively.  If you are concerned about this you should be, it is already happening.  The story of your school is being told on Twitter and on Facebook pages you are just not participating.  This is why I believe if we launch the conversation, invite participation, and build a positive culture around the conversation we can have a tremendous impact on not only our school culture, but our students’ understanding of what it means to build their digital footprint.

At Leyden we have started down this path in two ways, the first is by starting a school hashtag.  This idea is still young, and I am still the one posting more often than anyone else.  But then there are bursts of pride and celebration of our school that I would have never seen before if it were not for this hashtag.  Here are a few examples:
(Created by our Graphic Design class)

Please see this Storify for more great examples of sharing to #leydenpride.

Again, we have just started down the road of building this positive conversation online, but I could not be more proud of our students and how they have taken ownership of this hashtag and understood its purpose.

So, in case I don’t mention him enough, George Couros had another huge influence on what we do here by way of project #learn365.  This idea that George has extended from Megan Howard and others at edu180atl is all about building a community focused on sharing and learning together.  Every Day of school, today will be post #63, a member of our learning community shares a reflection or experience via our Leyden Learn365 blog.  When I first considered taking this on I was a bit concerned about making sure we had a post every single day.  I talked to a few teachers who were really supportive and have really been the leaders of involving a variety of students and teachers.  Still, I was fully prepared to write my own post once or twice a week as needed to fill in on days we didn’t get a submission.  I’m proud to say I have only posted twice, and not once since day 11!  Even more impressive than our consistency has been the depth of reflection and variety of perspectives shared.  It is so great to see the same sorts of reflections from George, Megan, Patrick Larkin, and Kathleen Melton’s schools.  

I strongly believe that once we embrace what the true power of the web is we can really see our students and teachers owning the culture and owning our school’s story.  

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