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Cool Tools for Back to School

By Carrie Jackson

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Family and community engagement is an important component of student and school success. When we as school leaders engage our communities, we develop trusting relationships that support student, staff member, and family learning. Home and school supports work hand in hand. Digital and social media tools open doors and create opportunities to connect with families and communities in ways that we have never before known.

Sometimes school leaders are hesitant to embrace digital and social tools for fear of negative interactions or because they think using those tools will add yet another task to their lengthy list of things to do. Following are three simple things you can easily integrate into your work to engage families and the learning community early in your school year. If you are new to digital and social tools, choose just one tool and see how well your community responds. I think you will be impressed with the difference you can make with your outreach effort.

Start a School Leader’s Blog

It is difficult for busy families to connect with school administrators, especially in a large school. Despite our efforts to be visible, attend events, and interact regularly, too often part of the community feels only a superficial connection with administrators.

Blogging gives you a vehicle for sharing your vision, ideas, and values in as much narrative detail as you see fit. Whether you blog once a week or once a month, you give readers valuable insight into why you do what you do and why you love it. School leaders are the chief storytellers for their learning communities. Use the blog to tell your story in a positive way. Leverage your posts to keep your community focused on your shared vision and goals. For an example, see my blog at http://carriebjackson.wordpress.com.

Hold a Campus Tweet-Along

You can start tweeting by yourself or you can involve members of your staff who have embraced Twitter. Select a hashtag (ours is #TMSHawkChat) and use your usual communication methods to ensure that your community knows to look for the hashtag on Twitter. Then choose a day and hold an official campus tweet-along, during which you tweet photos of great things going on at school. Include the hashtag in your tweets so that everyone can follow along during the day.

Parents and families love getting to see kids engaged in meaningful work, having fun, and interacting positively. A campus tweet-along is one easy way to pull down the walls of the school building and invite the community in to see what a day at your school is like. Include some photos of your staff members interacting with one another and showing their personalities so that your students’ families can get to know the people who work with their kids every day.

If you have already mastered Twitter, consider integrating Instagram into your tweet-along. Students tend to view Instagram as a more relevant tool than Twitter or Facebook, so with it you have the opportunity to engage kids and let them take a little extra pride in their school.

Start a Twitter Chat

Hashtag chats have become widely popular in the education world, and if you have not yet engaged in a chat on Twitter, I encourage you to do so. You will be impressed with how much you can learn from colleagues all over the world.

You will never reap the rewards of digital family engagement if you make excuses not to try. Step up and make great things happen.

A school and community Twitter chat gives staff members, older students, families, community members, and others from around the world opportunities to engage in community- wide interaction and learning from wherever they are. Timberview Middle School hosts #TMSHawkChat every Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. (CT). We choose a topic and prepare questions to guide the discussion. I usually moderate the chat, but teachers, the assistant principal, and a Timberview parent have also hosted sessions. It’s a great way to connect with one another and, in effect, have a home-and-school meeting every week.

Before you hold your first Twitter chat, take time to teach people in your community how to use Twitter. Hold training sessions or create a video tutorial to help your families, staff members, and students understand how to participate. Work collaboratively to choose a time and topic for your first chat and promote it heavily through your usual information channels.

Just Start

 I have experienced the most success with digital tools by learning and integrating one at a time. Choose one idea that you think will provide the greatest benefit for your community. Establish your own account and spend a little time learning what the resource (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, and the like) can do. Once you have a feel for the tool, put it to work in your community. Although you may experience ebbs and flows, it will catch on and you will see the benefits. You will never reap the rewards of digital family engagement if you make excuses not to try. Step up and make great things happen. 

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Carrie Jackson is the principal of Timberview Middle School in Keller ISD, Fort Worth, TX, and a 2013 NASSP Digital Principal. Read her blog at http://carriebjackson.wordpress.com and follow @jackson_carrie on Twitter.