Student Voice, Social Media & Modeling: How My School is Making it Happen For Kids!

I remember my first foray into social media as a young adult.  I think it was AOL, which would be a fairly primitive social media in this day and age.  It’s amazing to think of how much social media has changed, especially with the advent of portable devices.  Over the course of my lifetime thus far, I’ve seen communication go beyond anything I would have ever expected.  I can only imagine what our students will experience during their lifetime. As a result of these reflections, and my current work in education, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of social media and students.

Image result for social media
Shared via https://www.rivaliq.com

I’ve always been a student focused educator, making decisions for students first and foremost, but over the last several years, I’ve really wanted to make sure that our students were engaged and that they have a voice in our school.  I think that this has particularly been important to me because of the period of educational change we’ve been living in.  Large scale focuses on accountability, public showcasing of school rankings, pressure on teachers to “perform”. It has just seemed like a great time to continue to place an emphasis on students and their learning, not on all of the other distractions we’ve been faced with in our profession. In particular, I wanted to be sure that students in our school were sharing out the positive things that take place for them every single day.  How else would a student have a voice, and where else could they share out what they are doing where it could potentially be seen by the world?  Of course, Twitter immediately came to mind!

So, about a year ago, I decided to try something which has been somewhat slow to catch on, but no worries; I’m persistent and I’m reflective.  I think constantly about how I can support my school, my students and my staff. So when I thought of creating a “Student Twitter Center”, I wasn’t fully sure of how it would work exactly, but nonetheless, I was willing to give it a try.  

The first thing I did was create the center outside of our school’s cafeteria, complete with some simple directions, some “tweet sheets” and a “tweet box”.  I then made sure to share the idea with staff, and then lastly, we shared it at one of our all school assemblies, modeling for students and showing them just how a tweet was created, how it was tweeted, and what Twitter was all about.  I’m fortunate in the fact that my staff places a lot of trust in me, and I’m enthusiastic enough that students are interested, or so I think, in what I share with them.

In any case, our Twitter center had a relatively slow start, receiving very few tweets.  I have to admit, I did find it a bit disappointing for several reasons.  First and foremost, I was a bit disappointed in the fact that students were not sharing the great things that they are doing every single day.  Seriously, we have great things happening in our school!  Secondly, I was disappointed because I wanted to capitalize on modeling for them how social media is used in a positive way.  There is no large scale digital citizenship lesson or framework attached to the Student Twitter Center, although I am not afraid to capitalize on a teachable moment with it, that is not the focus.  Appropriate use is woven in and modeled, with teachers being able to share out our school Twitter account and tweets with students.  Lastly, I’ve wanted to harness the power of social media for the benefit of my school.  I recently read, and have echoed, “If you aren’t telling your school’s story, who is?”.  Social media is one of the very best platforms that you can use to publicly share out the work of your school.  I dare say that any school administrators would be somewhat foolish to not capitalize on some form of social media to broadcast and share their school events, student learning, and all the positive things that take place in public education every day.

With that all in mind, I’ve come back again this fall with our Student Twitter Center, trying to think creatively on how we can give students voice, model appropriate use of social media, and publicize the great things happening in our school.

A colleague (Edward Cosentino, @PrincipalECos) shared with me this summer at the annual NAESP conference that he knows not all parents are on Twitter, so what he does is use Storify to capture tweets on Twitter and then emails that out to parents.  This helps keep them all informed, even if they don’t use that social media platform. You can check it out at the link below!

https://storify.com/TomMartellone/fiske-school-twitter-news-october-2016

Thanks to Ed, some creative thinking, and along with some slight incentivizing, we’ve got some movement going with our Twitter center. I made another attempt to share out with students at our all school assembly this past month how a tweet is made and what Twitter can do.  The students (482 of them) all got to see the live tweet get made and sent out to the world.  I then told them that we would pick one tweet per day, and read that on our morning announcements, along with picking one per month, which would result in the recipient being able to have lunch with me.  We provided Tweet Sheets to teachers and then waited!  

I’ve been amazed….we’ve gotten close to 100 tweets from students ranging from first to fifth grade over the past week.  It is so great to have them share what they are learning and doing in class.  It is also great to be able to model appropriate use of social media with them and show the world what we’re doing at Fiske School.  We share out their tweets with their initials and their grade.  When we publish the activity through Storify, parents can see their student’s tweets if they aren’t on Twitter. For those that follow our school Twitter feed (@FiskeSchool), they can view them live!

I know social media will continue to change for our students, and who knows what it will look like in the future.  There could be vast changes in the next year for all I know.  But, here is what I am sure of…Image result for social media future

Students can always learn, whether through social media or personal interactions, how to treat others and be good citizens.  We are always role models for students, and we owe it to those that we lead and work with to be exemplars of best practice and to have a mindset of putting kids first. Finally, we owe it to our profession and to our school communities to showcase the amazing work educators do every single day!  We can all spread the positives that take place!

Remember, if you aren’t telling your school’s story, someone else is!

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