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A Neophyte’s View:

The ‘Risk Management’

of Social Media

 

BY DON GROSDIDIER

Grosdidier
Kristin Magette, director of communications in Eudora, Kan., keeps Superintendent Don Grosdidier abreast of the district’s latest statistics on Facebook engagement.

When it comes to social media, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn — all the time. I do not personally use Facebook, Twitter or other social media, and I never gave them much thought (outside of what I heard in the news or from friends and co-workers).

But a few years ago, I was beginning to hear from teacher leaders in our small northeast Kansas district where I am in my sixth year as superintendent. Some wanted more access to social media on our network for their professional use. Others expressed concerns about the lack of guidance for teachers — particularly the youngest staff, fresh out of college — to protect them from the risks of a rapidly evolving digital world.

It became clear it was time for our district to encourage the smart use of social media in our schools and to ready ourselves to take advantage of what social media offers. For me, this new horizon meant getting comfortable operating in unfamiliar territory. But when I considered the great possibilities — free, real-time and content-rich connectivity between our small town and virtually any place in the world — the path was obvious. And as superintendent, I realized this work boiled down to risk management.

Sharing Our Expectations
Much of what we do every day in school systems carries inherent risks. But this doesn’t stop us from running school bus routes, sending 1st graders out to recess, having cooks prepare meals over hot stoves or allowing teenagers to drive to campus. And just as districts take measures to minimize risks in these situations, they can maximize positive outcomes with social media if they rely on three things: policies, procedures and professional development.

Every day in our schools, we teach students expectations, so it only makes sense we would teach our employees what we expect from them on social media. We developed specific guidelines for our staff handbook, as well as procedures for employees to follow if they want to take advantage of social media in their work. Our board adopted policy language to support these guidelines and procedures.

We also made a concerted effort to provide professional development to all staff. In-service presentations were a starting place, but training continues through the work of social media champions in each school — teachers with just enough additional training and knowledge to encourage and support their colleagues who want to use social media in their instruction. And during new-teacher induction each fall, we ensure our newest faculty members understand the opportunities, the risks and, ultimately, our expectations of them.

I often hear questions about whether we can trust our teachers on social media without close monitoring, and I have to admit these questions surprise me. We don’t sit in our teachers’ classrooms every day. We don’t listen in on our employees’ conversations with parents by sitting near them at ball games or eavesdropping on phone calls. If concerns are brought to our attention, we follow up. Otherwise, we respect our teachers as professionals and trust them to make good decisions — and this new variety of communication is no different.

My Biggest Concern
The development of social media use in our district over the past two years has been tremendous. Although teachers are allowed to adopt at their own pace, we have dozens of teachers raving about the ways social media has enriched their teaching and their communication with parents.

One of my biggest concerns when we began this journey was how we would handle the potential for negative comments. To date, negative posts have been extremely rare and have only shown up on the district page or a school page — never within a classroom page or group. And despite a few difficult moments on our district Facebook page, the support we receive is overwhelming. Our Facebook community, with its 1,600-plus fans, has grown into a place of celebration and connection. And it has become a key avenue for sharing everything from a photo of the middle school spelling bee to the district’s teachers of the year to information about a school lockdown or bullying prevention.

Looking back, I’m proud to see how we’ve managed the risks of embracing social media in our schools through intentional development of policies, procedures and professional development. In return, we’ve gained improved parent communication, deeply enriched student learning, increased community engagement and powerful professional networking for teachers.

While I may not be the one out there on Facebook or Twitter, I do know a good risk-reward proposition when I see one. And I’m confident we’ve found one in social media.

Don Grosdidier is the superintendent of the Eudora Schools in Eudora, Kan. E-mail: dongrosdidier@eudoraschools.org

 

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