Incredible tools exist today that allow schools to build a stronger partnership with their community. When we opened Camarena Elementary in July 2013 I was eager to utilize these tools to connect with our families, believing that vibrant two way communication would be critical to growing and developing a healthy school culture. Though I didn't have a strategy at the outset, in retrospective there were several key steps that I took along the way to build our social media presence.
Step 1 Wordpress Blog.
Six months before opening our school we created our school website and invited parents to connect and engage with us as we crafted our plan for opening day. This proved to be an excellent way to communicate with our constituents before we had a physical building to call our own. After our first school year we have received over 1,000 comments and questions via the school website. The ease of posting and connecting on the Wordpress platform made for a simple way to stay connected. Here's a screenshot of our first post:
Step 2 Expose staff to power of social tools.
At our opening staff meeting last June, I asked the teachers to work together and post a picture on Twitter of a learning space around campus. This gave our teachers a chance to play with this tool. There was no concrete requirement that teachers actively join Twitter, but there was an expectation that they explore and experiment with various forms of social media. The result was that we had about a dozen teachers who became consistent users of Twitter for professional learning. Some started initially then pulled back because of the addicting nature of Twitter, however they saw the power of this resource for professional learning. Here is one of those tweets from our first day:
Step 3 Create and broadcast a hashtag.
We decided the #camlearns hashtag would be our coordinating tagline. This made it easy for us to share ideas and follow the thinking of one another. One teacher also created a Twitter list of Camarena teachers which was another way for us to follow the professional conversation and learning among peers.
Step 4 Combine #camlearns hashtag through Instagram and Wordpress via IFTTT.
People love to see their kids working at school. For parents who can't attend school regularly, we wanted to open the doors of our classrooms so that parents could connect with their kids. First, I created a photo blog on Wordpess, then used IFTTT to create a menu that connected every Instragram post using the #camlearns tag to simultaneously post to the Wordpress site. Initially I was the only person who made posts, but as the year continued we saw more and more staff and parents postings. For teacher appreciation day we posted pictures of teachers around campus and encouraged parents and students to take selfies with their teacher and post to twitter or instagram using the #camlearns hashtag and gradually we started to get more traction from the community. At our final event of the year, a 5K color run, several families and staff contributed to the hashtag and community blog.
Step 5 Student Curated Twitter Account
Finally, I had started a school twitter account that was slow picking up followers so the last quarter of the year, I assigned a student to curate the account one week at a time. (with parent permission). We had students from 1st grade to 6th sharing what they were learning and thinking about during the school day and started to gain some followers and retweets of our school Twitter account. The kids caught on fast:
All of these attempts have slowly grown our social media life with our entire community. I can't encourage you enough to jump in at some point by starting with your purpose. What are you hoping to gain by investing your time in social media? For me, the primary purpose is to connect our families and community with the daily work of students - to open a window to the hard work and accomplishments of students fall day long. This helps break down the traditional isolation of the classroom. Also, I want to tell our story of Camarena Elementary from the point of view of students, staff, and parents. In this way we take control of the narrative that is told about Camarena Elementary. Feel free to share your social media journey as well so we can add some new and fresh ideas to our plans for 2014-15