Story Hour Why educators need communicators to help tell their stories

We live in an age that things are happening every single second of every single day. We are missing important things without even realizing they are happening. Something that we have all experienced and have cherished at times and despised at others is going to school. School is a place where you can learn and be fascinated by the world around you. You can dream of whatever you want to be when you grow up. You can meet teachers and friends who will encourage you to reach those dreams and work hard to do it. You can face hurt and heartbreak for reasons that are not good enough to explain. You can celebrate with fellow teammates over hard work and triumph. Unfortunately, at school, you sometimes have to face things that are not so easy to swallow. You have to face tragedy in many forms. You have to say goodbyes when you don’t want to. You have to accept that not everything is going to go smoothly in life and you just have to be okay with that. You have to learn that you can’t be good at everything, and that it’s really hard to accept that. You have to deal with people turning their back on you and teachers not always giving a fair chance. You have to face a lot of things you shouldn’t have to, but that’s just life and that’s just going to school. At the end of those 18 years, you can look back and surely say you’ve learned something, accomplished something or even loved something about the experience.

To make a lot of this possible, school districts need people who are able to do a lot of communicating for the district’s employees, students and community. Communicators have the ability handle crisis when nobody is ever sure what to do when it strikes. Communicators can give light to every corner of the school district, even those areas that get overlooked sometimes. Communicators can give a voice to every single member of the school district, so that everyone is getting the proper attention they deserve. Communicators can bridge the gap between students and teachers, teachers and parents, employees and communicators. Communicators can give faces to people who are working their butts off and deserve that credit. Communicators can put together huge events and let every single person in the community know of something going on. Communicators can approach the world of social media and allow the school to grace its platforms without being cast in a negative light. Communicators can protect the faces and names of members of the district by knowing what to look out for when it comes to questionable decisions.

This project is meant to show my love for the education system and why I would love to be a communicator, but more importantly, the face of a school district one day. My love for children, learning, growing up and attending school has carried over into my college career and I want others to know how important it is for schools to have communicators that can help each area of the education system. In this project, I have photos of various forms of social media the Searcy school district uses and examples of posts they share. I have a video of me presenting survey results on what teachers think about social media in the classroom. I have an interview with Searcy Public Schools Communication Specialist, Betsy Bailey. Lastly, I have graphs for how teachers feel trained to use social media, how teachers feel overall about the use of social media in the classroom and what platforms would be most useful for classroom management, parent interaction and in-class assignments. I am excited to go more in-depth into why communicators are need in our education system.

Below are the ways I believe communicators can be useful in the setting of a school district.

  • Crisis management

o In any business, organization, company or group, there needs to be some form of crisis management. Whether that be a single person who knows how to handle a crisis with the public or an automated messaging system, the public needs to know how your business is doing amidst the crisis happening.

o Crisis occurs everywhere. Unfortunately schools have to deal with disaster. School shootings, natural disasters, scandals within a district, death of a student or teacher and many other unfortunate events that have to be managed. Someone has to respond to the media and all of the questions that come along with the crisis.

o School’s need someone who has been trained to write and speak to media outlets in a way that doesn’t give anymore negative thought to the situation at hand. In events like this, words have to be put together carefully not to give any insinuations or claims to anything else going on. Communications specialists know how to handle crisis and have been prepared to face whatever comes there way.

o The NSPRA (National School Public Relations Association) created a Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual. School leaders know that crisis could strike at any moment and someone needs to be prepared. Not only can the leaders and faculty of a district be prepared by reading this manual, someone who can be the face of a district and be the answer to the media and outside world will give everyone in the situation a little more comfort over what is going on. The manual is based off the experiences of the man who headed the crisis response at the Columbine High School tragedy. It includes tactics and reports from many who have recovered from natural disasters and mini-crises occurring in every school.

o Schools need a proper way and person to deal with crisis to help protect the district’s reputation in the unforgiving public. Schools need to consistently update their crisis response plan.

  • Informing the community and locals

o A lot of school districts have a column in the local newspaper to write about a student, faculty member, event or summary of what’s been going on in the school that week. This is extremely interesting and important because there are so many community members that love the school district in their area and the members of the district aren’t aware of it.

o Having a communicator write and give a spotlight on a student and their story or accomplishment let’s community members know of the awesome things going on in student’s lives.

o Doing the same for a faculty member not only gives a face and voice to that faculty member, it helps students, parents and the community see that faculty member as someone who is more than just a teacher, coach or administrator. It sheds a tiny amount of light into the life of that faculty member and not only does that faculty member appreciate that, people can build relationships upon that information.

o There are some events going on in districts that have a lot of meaning that not everyone knows about. At my high school, we had a coin drive among the four grades at the high school to raise money for a senior who had been diagnosed with cancer her last semester. This turned into a huge event because not only did we know and love this student, it was purely a competition between the four classes. We ended up raising $8,000 in coins and that is incredible. A story needed to be written about that to let community members know of this fantastic event. The girl who received the money could have responded in that story to share how she felt, her friends could have responded to let everyone know what was put into the event and the school could share how much money they were able to give this student in need. It’s important to give credit where it is due, but it’s also important to recognize goodness and compassion to people in need.

o When nothing is going on within a district, which doesn’t happen often, the story could be about some cool things that have happened in the district’s classrooms that week. There are cool things happening everyday within a district, but being able to share these cool things with parents and the community is really fun. It’s like having an audience.

  • Building bridges between the school and parents

o Parents love to know what their kids are up to. They take their kids to school and don’t see them until eight hours later five days a week. There is so much that can go on in eight hours that parents would love to know about. Being able to photograph fun activities or important events and share that with parents would not only be a wonderful way to document a school’s happenings, it would also make the hearts of parents smile. You could share these photos on social media, in a monthly newsletter, at the end of the year in a yearbook or just around a school building.

o Another way educators could connect with parents aside from face-face interaction is through e-mail or social media. Building relationships with your student’s parents not only builds trust, it helps them know that as an educator, you care about the welfare and education of each and every student in the classroom.

  • Organization and Publications

o Communicators can make sure no events in the entire district overlap with each other. Communicators can create a calendar for the entire district.

  • Running Social Media

o Communicators can run social media accounts for the district and for individual schools in the district. This is a wonderful way to connect with students, parents and the community. Students and parents are more than likely on social media and being able to connect with them let’s them know that you care and are willing to acknowledge their social media presence. This makes a student extremely willing to engage in classroom activities involving social media as well. Social media can also give community updates on sporting events, organizational events, extra-curricular events, fundraisers and what’s happening everyday in a school. It can be a useful and wonderful tool to implement within a school district.

  • Having a Website

o A school’s website needs to be easy to use and informational for anyone accessing it. Information including a district’s calendar, contact information for the district and each employee, photos, videos, links and anything else that is resourceful for students, parents and teachers needs to be included in the website. A school needs to have a good brand to represent them and this needs to be all over the website.

  • Resource for teachers

o Some people just need help as far as communicating goes. Plan and simple. In the education world, you’re communicating every single day. Having a professional communicator accessible is wonderful and encouraging for the teachers in a district. They can ask for help with their own classroom social media accounts. They can ask for their own classroom website. They can ask to be coached in how to communicate something to their students or parents. Communicators can help teachers with things teachers may not know how to do. Just like how communicators would probably need help teaching a room full of students.

  • Creator

o Sometimes schools just need someone who can make their district look good. I say this in a way that means their website, social media accounts and overall branding with flyers, advertisement and merchandise need to look nice and put together. People don’t want to see things thrown together, they want to see something that is nice and looks like there has been work put into it. Communicators are trained to use several design programs because you never know when you’re going to need to design a flyer, brand or t-shirt. Having a communicator in a school district gives that district the ability to ask the communicator to put something together before the end of the day and they can do it.

I have discussed what all communicators can do for a district and how I very passionately believe school districts need a communicator. But I am not naïve to the dangers that come along with approaching social media in a school district. I believe that with the right people and proper training, communicators can keep students, teachers and classrooms safe while online. Having multiple sets of eyes watching what’s going on on social media can keep an issue from beginning or getting out of control.

I also understand that not any of this can happen overnight. School systems are already slowly adapting to having a communications specialist. I am from a small town that is rapidly growing into a bigger town and I believe the district needs a communicator. This project is a way for me to go home and show my school why they can use a communicator to assist them in everything they want to do. I love learning, I love education and I love using my skills and talents to help people do what I love. That’s what communication is about.

These photos are the various forms of social media that Searcy Public Schools use and how they use it with sharing photos, videos and events. Their website home page is also represented along with the live updates they send to parents with their mobile app. The school calendar that goes home every year and their newsletter that is sent home each month is also represented in the photos.

This is an audio clip of an interview I had with Betsy Bailey, the communications specialist for Searcy Public Schools. I asked her a lot of questions about what she does, how she trains her staff, how she fell into the position, etc. She also told me about how her mother created this position before her and how social media has blown up between now and then. She really encouraged me and helped me understand that these communications positions in school districts can be created because they are so needed.

This graph represents how the faculty and student teachers of Harding University's College of Education felt about the overall use of social media in the classroom. 75% of the respondents felt that social media could be useful in the classroom and 25% of respondents did not feel it could be useful. One fourth of the respondents did not feel like it could be useful and that is incredible to me because of how evident social media is today. I want to use these results to help every teacher know how positive social media can be if it is used properly and in the right setting.

This graph represents what social media platforms faculty members and student teachers of Harding University's College of Education found useful when it comes to parent interaction within the classroom. 69% of my respondents found Facebook to be useful with parent interaction, 53% of my respondents found Twitter to be useful, 36% of my respondents found Instagram to be useful, 3% of my respondents found Snapchat to be useful and 25% of my respondents found none of the social media platforms to be useful. I find it incredible that 69% of respondents found Facebook to be useful and that excites me. I would love to help teachers use Facebook for good with parent interaction.

This graph represents what social media platforms faculty and student teachers from Harding University's College of Education found useful for classroom management. 33% of my respondents found Facebook useful, 33% of my respondents found Twitter useful, 22% of my respondents found Instagram useful, 14% of my respondents found Snapchat useful, 42% of my respondents found that none of the platforms were useful and 6% of my respondents chose not to respond. These results shocked me. When I started this research, I though classroom management would be the easiest to use social media with. 42% of my respondents said no social media platform would be useful. I hope to use these results to help teachers know that social media can be very useful.

This graph represents what social media platforms faculty and student teachers from Harding University's College of Education find useful for in-class assignments. 50% of my respondents found Facebook to be useful, 61% of my respondents found Twitter, 50% of my respondents found Instagram to be useful, 14% of my respondents found Snapchat to be useful and 28% of my respondents found that none of the social media platforms would be useful. Twitter can be an incredibly useful tool for in-class assignments. I hope to help the 28% of respondents see ways that they can utilize Twitter into their classroom.

This graph represents how the faculty and student teachers from Harding University's College of Education feel about their training in the use of social media in the classroom. 60% of my respondents felt properly trained to use social media in the classroom, 37% of my respondents don't feel properly trained to use social media in the classroom and 3% chose not to respond. Because I surveyed student teachers, they are closer to my age and I am assuming they were a big percentage of the 60% that felt trained to use it. Student teachers this semester are my age and probably feel like they know how to use social media pretty well. However I am interested to see if they know how to separate their personal accounts from classroom accounts. I also believe 37% is a huge number not to feel properly trained and I want to step in and assist educators on how to navigate social media in their classrooms. I want to help bridge the gap between teachers, students, parents and fellow educators in the realm of social media. I want to work to make social media more of a positive platform instead of a negative platform in the world of education.

This video is a presentation I gave about using social media in the classroom. It gives some insight into a survey I conducted and explains why I am so passionate about communications in the education system and how I want to use my skills and talents to help educators help their students.

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