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How Social Media is Changing School Business

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Technology is impacting international diplomacy.  Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the U.S. Department of State is embracing 21st Century Statecraft, which it defines as “The complementing of traditional foreign policy tools with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft that fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world.”  In Secretary Clinton’s own words,

“We’re working to leverage the power and potential in what I call 21st century statecraft. Part of our approach is to embrace new tools, like using cell phones for mobile banking or to monitor elections. But we’re also reaching to the people behind these tools, the innovators and entrepreneurs themselves.”

Interestingly, the Secretary’s comments reflect changes that we also see in local politics and leadership for school districts.  Like many school districts, Carlsbad Unified is facing significant financial challenges due to ongoing revenue reductions.  As a result, our district has been forced to make difficult decisions regarding layoffs, the elimination of programs, bargaining concessions with employee groups, and other expenditure reductions.  Each of these decisions at a local level is inherently political. In the process, our school board faces genuine and legitimate pressure from numerous constituents, all of  whom have strong feelings about protecting services that they feel have the strongest impact on students, families, and the community.

If international policy is now shaped by “using social media and the Internet in combination with more traditional … tools,” what does this imply for leaders at the local level?  First and foremost, I believe that educational leaders must recognize that the impact of social media is a significant factor in shaping perceptions and beliefs.  2011 research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that 65% of adults are now active on social networking sites.  In addition, the research found that even controlling for demographic factors such as age and education, social network users “were more likely to be politically involved than similar Americans.”

Once we as school leaders recognize this reality, the first step is to become engaged in the social networks as a contributor.  In our district, we have been using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Blogger as platforms to share good news and to help us respond in crisis situations.  More recently, I started a blog to share business services updates, most of which focus on our current financial challenges.  Information posted to the blog is then fed into our district website, shared through the district Facebook page, and linked in a Twitter update.  These multiple avenues allow others to re-tweet, share the Facebook update, subscribe to the blog, or embed elements in their own websites.

The “viral” effect has been amazing.  Here is a screenshot of data from some uploads to the blog.  Given that we have around 11,000 students in our district, the number of times these documents have been viewed shows that there is a high level of interest from the community in these topics.

The benefits of getting accurate, timely information out to the community are tremendous in terms of ensuring a common base of knowledge.  While our challenges are still monumental, and virtually every possible option for cutting expenses remains controversial, I believe that our process of seeking financial balance would be significantly more difficult if we were not using these social media outlets to help with communications.

My strong opinion, based on these recent experiences, is that school leaders at every level should be determining the best ways to leverage social media and social networks to enhance communications and effectiveness.  If we don’t make a presence in this virtual arena, our absence will indicate a lack of engagement and diminish the relevance of our efforts.  If we truly want schools that prepare students for success in this digital age, we as leaders need to model the way.

For leaders interested in learning more about using social media in schools, I recommend the following resources:

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