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Are You a 21st Century Communicator?

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As school and district leaders prepare for the 2015-16 school year, one of the most important things they can do is create a comprehensive communication plan that utilizes various social media tools to keep stakeholders in the loop. Taking advantage of all of the technological tools that can connect your school community with what is happening is a no-brainer at this point. Allowing an ongoing flow of information from school to the community is a wonderful way to build positive energy about all of the news and accomplishments of students and staff.

The creation of a 21st century communication plan is the perfect  way for school and district leaders to model the type of communication that they expect to see from other educators with whom they work. We are well past the point of this type of communication being optional for school leaders. Bill Ferriter, a friend and educator from North Carolina, summed up the matter perfectly in a recent blog post titled Note to Principals: You Can't Keep Ignoring Social Spaces:

"If you believe that communicating effectively with the people that you serve matters, then you simply CAN'T keep ignoring the tools that the people you serve are using for communication."

In other words, school and district leaders need to meet their stakeholders where they are. Mailing out newsletters and posting press releases in the newspaper may still work for some families, but there are better ways to get the word out that will reach more families and also save you time. These modern methods of communication allow for two-way conversations between schools and stakeholders that could never occur through newsletters and press releases. In Burlington Public Schools, we share news and updates on our district Facebook Page, our district Twitter account, and our district Instagram account. Our superintendent started the first blog in the district when he arrived seven years ago and his modeling has led to the creation of nearly 200 blogs from educators across our school district. Due to the amazing amounts of information and learning being shared daily on these blogs, we created a daily post series on our Burlington Public Schools Blog that highlights a post from a teacher or student. We got this idea from George Couros who started the 184 Days of Learning Blog in his district in Edmonton, Canada. 

Another great way to ensure a regular flow of information is to start school and district hashtags on Twitter where people can both share and receive information and ask questions. In Burlington, our two most widely used hashtags are #BHSChat for Burlington High School and #BPSChat for the entire Burlington Public School District. If you are interested in investigating this for your school or district then check out this great handout that Bill Ferriter created to help school leaders get started. 

Once you decide on which tools you will use to get out information in your school or district be sure to let people know your plan. Here's a look at how our high school principal does this. You may want to send out a newsletter or postcards with information on new methods that you will use to communicate. It is also important to review these with parents at open houses and parent nights and offer on-site tutorials for those who may be new to the use of using social media tools. While one of the ultimate goals is to move away from the time and energy needed to put out mailings and paper newsletters, it is important to make sure that you are not cutting off parents who do not have access to online information. The creation of a brief survey at the beginning of the year that all students need to return is a great way to get the feedback you need on making the digital transition for communication.

If you are looking for more ideas on how you can make sure that you are a 21st century communicator, check out the Digital Principal Award Winners from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. These school leaders model these skills daily and they are happy to share their work to help others move forward.

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