New School Year? Why Not Start a School Blog?

I always loved the excitement that comes with this time of year. Getting ready for a new school year always presented new possibilities and projects. In the past few years, I really enjoyed setting up a new year of blogs – one for staff and one for the school community.

What I have found over the past few years is that as a school leader, one must do a very good job at telling the school’s story using every form of social media that works.

In my last school, I found that blogging weekly to the school community worked very well. I started using a school blog when I started at St. Anthony School. Communication here was a big challenge, especially in a community where English was not the first language at home for many families.

I chose to blog because it was the only format that could be translated into different languages using the handy translation tool. I also felt that the days of the paper newsletter were over and that the community had to move to a more flexible form of communication.

I love to blog and I had used a staff blog as a way of communicating with staff members for several years. The school blog was an attempt to introduce the great communication tool to parents and the wider community.

One of the wonderful surprises that occurred with the new school blog was the amazing staff participation in the creation of the weekly blog.

an excerpt from the kindergarten entry from one of our school blogs

Generally, almost all teachers contributed something for the upcoming school blog post. As time went on, many added photos from activities that had taken place during the week before.

This was terrific for the parents and I think really encouraged wide readership of the school blog. From a principal’s perspective, this was wonderful as I received a weekly rundown of what each teacher was planning for their students.

The blog was certainly an act of love, and it did take most of my Sunday to put it together. I really believe that it was well worth the time, especially when students asked me to make sure that photos from their class be included in the blog!

I used Edublogs both for the school and staff blogs. For around $8.00 a month, I subscribed to their ‘pro’ service which allowed me to access their excellent help desk. This was money really well spent as my questions on some of the technical fine points of blogging were always answered within hours of my initial query.

So, if you are looking for a good project for the upcoming school year, why not take up blogging for your school or for your classroom. The work you put into it is really worth the effort. You will be opening up your world to the parents you serve.

Good luck, any questions? Please let me know, very happy to help!

Next post – how to put together a staff blog.

Stifling Dissent Through Blocking?

Should politicians block citizens they don’t happen to agree with, or who are clearly partisan, from following them on social media such as Twitter and Facebook?

That’s a question being asked in Canada and the United States. The answer is simple: No.

Globe and MailPoliticians are wrong to block people on social media

Today the Globe and Mail came out with a great editorial on the ethics of blocking. This has become an issue of some concern as legitimate dissent has been stifled on politician’s social media feeds when people have been blocked on Twitter or Facebook.

The comments were really interesting too. One reader commented that they had actually been blocked by Elizabeth May when they were a Green Party supporter. The reader subsequently left the party and never voted for May again.

I was blocked by Elizabeth May some years ago when I actually held a Green Party membership.

I did not renew and did not vote for the Green party in the subsequent election.

Globe and Mail, August 7, 2017 Comment

Good for that reader -there are consequences for stifling dissent.

As a principal of a Catholic School in Ottawa, I did block people on Twitter – it was the wrong decision.

I blocked someone on the Catholic Right who was very critical of the Catholic School System. I had had enough of right-wing commentators so I blocked them from my Twitter account. I did this out of frustration and anger and while they were effectively silenced from my feed, my action showed my lack of tolerance for an opinion that was different from my own. It was certainly a weak decision.

Once I retired, I began to write a series of articles that were critical of my former employers. The Catholic Board in Ottawa is a public entity, supported entirely by the tax payers of Ontario. I have come to believe that we no longer need separate schools in our province and that we could do a better job for students if we had a single, strong system that caters to all students in the province.

This opinion was not popular with many of my former colleagues, and to their credit, many voiced their opinion on Facebook. I did not block them – they have the right to express their dissent.

To my surprise, a senior member of the school board blocked me on Twitter. This action was no doubt due to the series of articles that I had written.

How is this right? A superintendent is a public official, their salaries are paid out of the public purse. As public officials do they have the right to stifle legitimate dissent by blocking people on social media?

I would extend what the Globe has written to all public officials,

No MP, or even a cabinet minister, will be criticized for blocking anyone who posts hateful messages or engages in harassment.

But barring that, it’s wrong for elected officials to choose which Canadians can see what they think, and which ones can’t.

In an age where public comment is seen by the highest authorities as ‘fake news’, we need to have even greater respect for public opinion, not just those who happen to agree with a particular mindset.

The Importance of Being Civil to Others Part II

Last week my post The Importance of Being Civil to Others was featured on Voice.ed Radio.  A great discussion and thanks to Doug Peterson and Steven Hurley for featuring this post. I think, and they agreed, the discussion needs to go further. In the original post, I mentioned specific situations where we are no longer as civil as we should be, especially in the field of education. I wasn’t writing as much about civility in general society where I agree with Steven, society in Canada is very civil and I appreciate my daily dealings with people.

People can be very civil when you do not upset the status quo when you do civility becomes strained.

I have to admit I like to push the envelope and write about controversial topics like Catholic Education in Ontario and the inability of school boards to bring about significant change. These are topics that need to be written about. At no time do I ever focus on individuals or write in any way that can be seen as disrespectful.

These are topics that seem to bring the knives out.

Several times, mainly on Facebook, I have been called naive and simplistic and people have expressed ‘surprise’ about my posts, especially regarding Catholic Education in Ontario. On Twitter, I have actually been blocked by a member of the senior administration from my former Catholic board.

The blocking might not mean that much, but to me, it is a sign of incivility. Usually, I block the Twitter accounts of trolls and those who do not follow the rules set out by Twitter for inappropriate content.

I never block people who I disagree with, I usually try to engage in positive conversation and if this is not possible, I simply unfollow them. Blocking someone you don’t agree with is cowardly behaviour and I would say lacks civility.

On Facebook, when the conversations threaten to get out of control I simply delete the entire conversation. Sadly, this seems to be the only way to stop people who quickly lose the ability to be polite on-line. The worst offenders tend to be Catholic educators, which I find troubling.

I hope this clarifies my position. Again, thank goodness for my very supportive on-line PLN – all are wonderful and always civil!

The Principal’s Role in Digital Transformation- Four Tools You Should Be Using – Blog post # 5

 

 

5209796269

This is a position I have been in before.  A large part of my role as an administrator has been to encourage the development of new teaching techniques based on digital technology and at the same time, work hard at making the learning at school more visible through the use of social media.

The move to digital transformation however does not last.  Generally, the tools that we use especially to communicate with parents are not always picked up by the next person to fill the role of school administrator.

There is a systemic problem here.  Administrators are not trained in the use of technology or social media.  Many are still hesitant to use Facebook or Twitter and fewer still blog to or text their parent communities.

Part of the problem is that many administrators did not teach at a time where the use of digital media was becoming more prevalent in the classroom.  There is also very little time spent on forming administrators as digital leaders in their schools. Many administrators are still deeply suspicious of social media.

To me, there are several basic tools that all administrators need to be using.  All of these tools have been around for years and do not require a huge amount of technical expertise to use.

Facebook: Many administrators seem to have grown up at a time where Facebook simply was not trusted by educators.  What they don’t realize is that most of our parents grew up with Facebook and still use it as a way to communicate with friends and family.  Facebook is easily the best tool to let parents into the school to see what is going on every day.  Administrators need to use Facebook to open up their schools to their parents – they deserve to know what is going on.

3-st-anthony-school-clipular

Twitter: Twitter needs to be used as a way to quickly communicate with parents and administrators should also be using it daily to keep up with the most recent trends in education.  We have a responsibility to stay well-informed and that means developing a good list of people in the education field that are then followed on a regular basis.

Remind:  downloadThis may seem like overkill, but parents choose their own way to communicate with their school.  You need to use a variety of tools so that parents can choose how they want to hear from you.  You don’t need to use Remind, but you need some form of text communication with parents.  Remind is very easy to set up and parents are the ones who decide if they want to receive your text messages.  Remind is now set up to allow parents to respond to your texts – all in a way that preserves the privacy of the user.

Blogging – you need to blog!  The day of the tired out monthly newsletter is gone, thank goodness!  Having said that, this does not release the administrator from communicating with parents on a regular basis on what is happening and what is coming up at school.  At my last school we used Edublogs to send a weekly post to parents on what was planned for the upcoming week.  All the teachers contributed to the blog with a rundown of their plans for their class.  The blog was the very best tool we had.  Parents and teachers read it every week to keep up to date with all academic, sports and social news coming from the school.  It was an invaluable tool and one that really should be used by all administrators.

A portion of the school blog - produced every week. You can find the whole blog here http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/
A portion of the school blog – produced every week. You can find the whole blog here http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

There are many other tools that can be used to engage your parent community and new ones are being created every day.  My main point is that this is part of the administrator’s job in 2017.  I don’t know how we can ask our teachers and our students to become adept at using digital technology when our own principals lage so far behind.

There is hope.  If you are an administrator –  challenge yourself – start learning today!

Making Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media

These are the notes from a recent webinar that I did.  I wanted to make sure people were able to get the links we discussed during the session.  My first webinar – a very interesting experience!

We started with a prezi that I have used and modified for a few years.  It covers a whole host of communication tools, but every time I ask people what they are most interested in it turns out to be blogging.  Today seemed to be the same.

The importance of blogging with your parent community

I use a variety of blogs for a variety of purposes:

The SAN Script – daily to keep in touch with staff and put out information of interest. http://stanthonycatholic.edublogs.org/

St. Anthony Connects: A weekly blog to the parent community http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

Both these blogs are Edublogs – http://edublogs.org/ easily my favorite type of blog. It is a WordPress blog with an incredible help desk. I pay around $7.00 a month for each blog and it is money well spent. The assistance from their technical staff is excellent and that is the most important factor for me. There are also lots of great extra features like more templates, special fonts, print friendly button, contact us box and many additional features. When you get a pro subscription you also have at least 50 other blogs you can set up.

Teach Talk – https://paulmcguire1.wordpress.com/ and Principal Musings http://principalmusingsoneducation.blogspot.ca/ that I use to write about various topics in education.

This is from Blogger a great blogging tool to start with

The main importance of blogging is keeping in contact with your community. Better than a monthly newsletter you can put it out as often as you want. Parents can subscribe to the blog or you can send out the link.  With our community, the blog can be translated into several different languages, a really valuable asset in a community with a high immigrant base.

The community blog does things that a monthly newsletter simply cannot do including

  • Schedule for the week
  • Photographs – from the past week
  • Teacher notes – for the upcoming week – a really important feature!!
  • Teacher links to newsletters and blogs
  • Translatable into many other languages
  • You can embed videos for personal messages using apps like Touchcast

Here is a recent Touchcast I put out on the blog as well as our facebook and Twitter Page – just another way to get your message out there!

Social media apps -Twitter,Facebook,Flickr, Instagram

 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/StAnthonyOCSB

We have 265 followers following 402 – the Twitter Page is one great tool that we use daily to post photos and updates on what is going on at our school.  We also link our Google Calendar up to Twitter so events get posted twice.

 

Facebook: We have over 100 likes on our Facebook Page and it is a great way to make the school experience more real for parents.  We post videos, pictures announcements and interesting information for parents on the page.  The most important thing to remember for Twitter and Facebook – post interesting material often.  Focusing on the students is one of the best ways to engage your parents.

https://www.facebook.com/St.AnthonySchoolOttawa

Facebook also will give you some really useful statistics on your audience reach.  We reach as many as 120 people with some of our posts!

 

 

Instagram – slide 7  

https://instagram.com/stanthonyocsb/

This is a great way to get the perfect moment to the parents.  Parents can sign up to follow Instagram and the photos will show up right in their inbox.  The photos are also posted directly to Twitter.

  

Challenges of connecting to hard-to-reach parent communities

How do we engage? By making students the center of the story.  We make short videos of sporting events and post them to Twitter and Facebook.  The kids love them so my hope is the students will lead their parents to our sites.  Here is a short one made using iMovie.

Finally, in the dying minutes of the webinar we started to address hard to reach communities.  We had the opportunity to hear Joe Mazza @Joe_Massa a few times this week.  He brought up all sorts of good ideas on how we can engage communities.  I have included a Storify here that encompasses some of the main points in his presentation.

Storify of Tweets: https://storify.com/mcguirp/ocsb-forum-with-joe-mazza

We finished on a great question – how to you ensure the safety of the student?

We address this by obtaining informed consent from the parent. We are careful never to publish the names of students and we do our best not to take pictures of students where parents are uncomfortable with social media.

Here is a sample of a letter we have used – we would love to see other examples of letters schools use.

Technology SAMR Model for Administrators – Part 2: Community Interaction The Edutopia Series

 

I am continuing to comment on this really interesting series by Josh Work on Edutopia.  The posts read like a social media 101 for administrators!  We all should be able to measure our progress in social media using the SAMR model.  Josh is looking at specific areas that we have responsibility for and he relates each area to the SAMR model.

How do you measure up in key areas like staff presentations, community interaction, file management, classroom evaluations and staff input (Technology SAMR Model for Administrators).

The second post focuses on community interaction which to me is a key responsibility for all administrators.

It is no longer acceptable to accept the notion that parents will just naturally show up at your school.  Parents are much more discerning now, they check out your web page, your Facebook Page (do you have one?) and any other social media tools you are using.  It may a while, but your school will establish an online presence that will attract parents to your school.  I really believe that this is a key factor now that parents consider when choosing a school.

I have read lots of posts from administrators who work hard to make the learning visible to all parents in the community.  My model is Eric Sheninger, the author of Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  There is so much to recommend in this book – I think all administrators need to read this book if they want to stay relevant in a time of rapid change.  One thing I have learned from Sheninger and other authors is that we need to make learning visible to our parent community.  We need to use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and any other tool that allows parents to see what is happening daily in the school.

Using these tools has an interesting impact on students, teachers and parents.  Everyone talks about the learning that goes on in the school.  Parents in our community really like Remind 101 and Facebook, the kids love Instagram.  Our role as administrators is to publish using a variety of tools so that our community can access more information on what is happening every day.

I like how Josh Work has applied the SAMR model to community outreach.  I really think we all need to be way past the substitution stage at this point.  Writing a conventional newsletter then e-mailing it out is simply not good enough.  In Canada, with the Federal CASL legislation, it is now actually illegal to send out unsolicited e-mails.

I love his idea about using QR Codes and especially Aurasma to highlight student work.  These are two communication tools that I will have to try in September!

My September plan at my new school will also include setting up a new Edublog for the parent community along with another for staff.  I will continue to use Facebook and Twitter along with a brand new Google Site as our school web site – thanks to our school board – AMAZING!  I will also continue to use Flickr to store all our school photos and of course Instagram to send daily photos to the school community.  I will not produce a monthly newsletter – this is simply not worth the time when there are so many just in time communication tools available.

As an administrator, what communication tools will you be using this year?  Where would you put yourself on the SAMR model?  Where do you want to be by the end of the year?

Looking forward to Part III.