Feature                                                      Pages 33-37


Social Media in Eudora


A small district in Kansas saw not a recipe for disaster but a formula for securing large-district opportunities


It doesn’t take long to find vivid examples of social media gone wrong, and some of these cautionary tales play out on a school district stage.

So when school systems, such as ours in northeast Kansas, first embrace social media, a range of reactions is sure to follow from educators, school board members and parents. Many will express legitimate fears: What if a teacher does something inappropriate? What if a parent’s comment encourages a nasty rumor? What if students do something to compromise their safety or long-term reputation? What if detractors use it as a place to attack us publicly?

But fears shouldn’t be the only basis on which to consider using social media. School district leaders also should be asking:

  • How do we make learning relevant for students whose lives revolve around digital devices?
  • Where do our students learn to be responsible digital citizens?
  • When they’re online, do our teachers and staff know how to protect themselves as professionals?
  • Do we take advantage of free and interesting online exchanges as teaching tools?
  • How can we quickly and regularly engage with our parents and patrons in a way that builds support for our schools?

Amy DeLaRosa, elementary school principal in Eudora, Kan., talks to 5th-grade teacher Kyle Stadalman about a video his class created and shared on YouTube and Facebook.

Districtwide Integration
Without a doubt, social media is a game changer in K-12 education, representing a rare cultural shift that quickly and profoundly affects the needs of students, the duties and responsibilities of professionals, and the expectations of parents and patrons.

In the 1,650-student Eudora Schools, located just west of Kansas City, Kan., it requires careful planning to fully leverage social media’s advantages and opportunities. Although we’ve had a school district Facebook page in place since early 2010, we only moved toward integrating the use of social media across the district some 18 months later. At the time, we collaborated with a highly regarded social media consultant who happens to work a few miles from our district.

From the start, we knew that collaboration was essential in any major change. What began in conversations among a few district administrators quickly reached meeting agendas with principals and directors. These discussions identified and acknowledged the dangers — both real and perceived — but maintained a forward momentum.

With building and district administrators on board, our next step was to assemble groups of “champions” in each of Eudora’s three schools — key teachers and staff already using social media for their jobs (on their own time, off the district’s network) or who had requested the chance to do so on the job. These champions became the first ones trained in the possibilities of social media, as well as best practices they could use and share with colleagues.

Not unlike the administrative stakeholders, teachers raised their own concerns. These ranged from the need to adjust the district’s Internet filters to addressing the widely varying levels of skill, experience and comfort among their colleagues.

“The initial barrier was the uncertainty of everything,” admits Ryan Jacobs, a 7th-grade social studies teacher who serves as a social media champion at Eudora Middle School. “Once the technology and filter issues were worked out and the district had established a track record of support for teachers on these sites, teachers have been more willing to try it.”

Professional support for teachers included in-service training as our new policies, guidelines and procedures were adopted. Encouragement and guidance now take place on an ongoing basis, as more teachers adopt social media tools and encounter questions ranging from privacy settings to concerns from parents.

“I was worried at first about parents being able to post things on my Facebook page that I didn’t approve first,” says Niki Rheuport, a 5th-grade teacher and social media champion at Eudora Elementary. “I probably would never have used social media for my class without the encouragement of my district, but it’s become a great part of my classroom community.”

Trusting Teachers
Individual support begins when a teacher or coach completes a short online form that includes basic information about the Facebook page or group, blog, YouTube channel or Twitter account being set up. This notice of intent alerts the principal and social media champions in the teacher’s school, as well as the district’s communications director. A link to the account or site is then added to the social media directory on the district website.

Once a social media presence goes live, the teacher or coach is responsible for maintaining and monitoring the site on a daily basis. However, every account must include administrative privileges for at least one supervisor or designated district administrator. This doesn’t mean hands-on involvement or screening — just an additional layer of support to the teacher if unforeseen circumstances should arise with the site’s upkeep. It also serves as an administrative safeguard against inappropriate use.

“We trust our teachers to be professional when they communicate in the classroom and with parents, and social media is no different,” said elementary principal Amy DeLaRosa, who also administers a dynamic Facebook page for her school. “If I become aware of a concern, I follow up and look into it, but the vast majority of the time, I’m just here to encourage them and help them work through any issues that come up.”

The elementary school Facebook page, launched last July, is just one example of the rich content about Eudora’s schools that is now shared quickly and easily across the community — and beyond. Fifth-grade students interact over reading assignments on a teacher’s blog. First-grade parents see photos from their child’s day in their Facebook feed. Parents view videos reviewing their middle schoolers’ social studies lessons. Fans of our sports teams follow game updates on Twitter. High school students learning video techniques have a stage as large as the World Wide Web to share their work and receive feedback.


Eudora’s Best Practices in Social Media

A Neophyte’s View: The ‘Risk Management’ of Social Media

Additional Social Media Resources

Lastly, content highlights of all the classroom and school-based accounts make their way to our district’s Facebook page and original presence in social media. But regardless of the source or the platform, parents and patrons relish the chance to engage with the schools through updates, photos, videos and information shared across our classroom and school accounts.

Given what she’s experienced at Eudora Elementary after several years as a school leader in a much smaller district in southwest Kansas, DeLaRosa says she can’t imagine schools without social media. “In a small town with no newspaper,” she says, “Facebook is a huge resource for us to get information to families and create a connected, welcoming school community.”

Immediate Interaction
The two-way communication that happens in social media — whether blog posts, comments on Facebook pages, tweets or direct messages — is one of the principal things that makes school leaders nervous. DeLaRosa, however, finds this exchange to be powerful.

“When a parent posts a comment or sends us a Facebook message,” she says, “we have an immediate opportunity for interaction, even if the person is expressing frustration or disappointment. It can be uncomfortable, but that moment is a valuable opportunity to respond in a way that keeps our focus on working together to solve problems.”

Our district and school Facebook pages are governed by community guidelines, providing page administrators guidance when deciding to remove or reply to difficult posts. We review security practices regularly, just as privacy settings — and parents’ expectations — change. Across all social media, district administrators and teachers are quick to move confidential, complex or ongoing issues that pop up on Facebook to private phone conversations, messages or in-person meetings.

In the past two years, the intentional use of social media across the Eudora district has provided new and useful opportunities to teachers, parents, students and patrons. Teachers believe their communication with parents never has been so open, supportive and responsive. Students say they are motivated to work harder when they know their work is going to be posted for parents — or the world — to see.

Social media hasn’t changed what we do. We still work hard to make content relevant, to teach students to be responsible and respectful citizens, to support our teachers’ professional growth, and to build partnerships with parents and trust with community members. But our use of social media has changed a great deal of how we do these things, decidedly for the better.

Kristin Magette is director of communications in the Eudora Schools in Eudora, Kan. E-mail: kristinmagette@eudoraschools.org. Twitter: @kmagette


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