Monday, August 12, 2019

Tweet, Snap and Gram Your Way To Better School Communications

My oldest daughter, Reaghan, is getting ready to be a 5th grader while my youngest, Chesney, will be a 1st grader this year. Heading back to school with them is one of the busiest times of year. There are lots of meetings, papers to read and fill out, and new things to learn about her school. As a parent, I rely heavily upon the communication efforts of the district and their school. Classes haven’t even started yet and they're getting many phone calls, letters from the school and the district and lots of other information.

We still have 2 weeks to go!

This is a great time of year for any school or district to look at how they are communicating; evaluate methods used, analyze effectiveness and longevity of communications, and assess audience reached. The ultimate purpose of these communications is to not only share information but to promote engagement within the school, the district, and the community.

Traditionally, schools and districts have used things like the notes home, weekly packets, phone calls and/or emails to communicate throughout the year. While many of these still are valuable and have their place there are new and not-so-new social media mediums that could be used to deepen the engagement with the community or do something entirely different. These mediums can be a quick and easy way to not only share timely information but moreover tell the wonderful stories that exist in your buildings.

Here are some ideas to build community, improve School:Home Communications and have a little fun with social media.

Twitter: You might not think that 280 characters provides adequate space to convey one’s message but Twitter can be a powerful medium to engage with parents and the community. In 280 characters one can share a powerful idea, reminders of upcoming events, and notes of encouragement. Twitter is continuing to grow as a popular place for parents and community members. Hashtags can also be powerful to increase a district’s or school’s reach. Today, many schools and districts are creating and using hashtags on Twitter as a means to unify conversations. Those hashtags can be used by parents, students and the community to share as well.

Ideas for Twitter:

  • Share a daily quote or message of encouragement. 
  • Post links to resources or sites for parent engagement or curriculum resources. 
  • Promote the use of the school or district hashtag to encourage parents, students and the community to share stories, pictures and video from their point of view. 
  • Share links to any of the other ideas below. 

Instagram: Pictures can better help us tell a story or capture what’s happening in your building. Parents and the community like to see their students in the classroom or athletes on the field. Instagram has made it easy for anyone to become a professional photographer and the sharing of those images simple. Using Instagrm in schools or to tell the district’s story can be another way to get parents and the community involved providing a window into the school and showcasing the learning and accomplishments that take place.

Ideas for Instagram:

  • Share a student of the day or images of what’s happening in the classroom. 
  • Images from athletic events, clubs, or concerts highlight the student involvement in the district.
  • Images or video to help parents better understand curriculum, standards, or where to go for help. 
  • Give students a voice and let them take over the account once a week or month and let them decide on the story they want to tell through images. 

Snapchat/Instagram Stories: You might not think that Snapchat or Instagram Stories have a place in the classroom or school but they can be very exciting and an easy way to broaden your audience. The premise for both is the same. You add images and short videos to your story. They stay a part of your story for 24 hours and after that they are gone.

Ideas For Using Stories:

  • A Day In The Life of A Student or Staff Member
  • A Day In The Class. What are different classes in your building like on a typical day?
  • Share images and video from a specific event like a Career Fair or assembly. 
  • Create a story around the big game, concert or arts event. 

Periscope/Facebook Live/IGTV: Video can be a great way to engage the community when the community can’t get to the school. In the past, broadcasting videos and events from within the school was a difficult process that used expensive equipment and needed a high level of expertise. No longer! The phone you carry or the tablet you’re using to read this post can all be used to help you broadcast video in real-time.

Periscope, Facebook Live and IGTV are three easy ways to do this, no special equipment needed. With Periscope, videos are archived  and can be  shared via a link, posted to your Twitter account or published to platforms like YouTube. Facebook Live requires the use of a Facebook account but the video is instantly archived and shared in your News Feed. IGTV is an app you download and the videos go straight to your Instagram feed. All services include ways for commenting and sharing as the video as it’s being broadcast live.

Ideas For Using Live Video:

  • Broadcast Back-To-School Meetings or other meetings throughout the school year for parents and community members who can’t attend. 
  • Weekly message from the Supt. or other leadership team members about what’s happening in the district. 
  • Broadcast sporting events or have students provide commentary from events. 
  • Doing a science fair, geography fair or other student celebration of work? Broadcast it and have students provide the commentary. 

Finally Use Your Website: I know this post is supposed to be about innovative ways to improve School:Home Communications but let’s be real. The school website is still a vital and valuable tool to communicate to your parents and the community. Many still visit your school website to find information, contact numbers, and resources for helping their student at home.

Increase the duration of a viewer’s stay by blending educational news with posts that share a story. Posting pictures, video and news stories that capture what it’s like to be a student or a staff member in your school or district can be a great way to let the community to know what’s happening there. Your website becomes less about the static information that’s posted there and more about the stories. And remember, many of the tools we’ve listed here can be embedded on your site. So you can put your Twitter feed or Instagram feed right there where everyone can see.

Ideas For Your Website:

  • Post the morning announcements via a video or if you’re using YouTube Live you can embed the video archive. 
  • Recognize a Student/Staff/Volunteer Of The Week. Give them a short questionnaire that you can post the responses to. 
  • Have a contest where you post baby pictures of students/staff have in the comments have folks guess who they are building school culture and community.
  • For high schools, run stories in the Fall of where staff members went to college to get Juniors and Seniors thinking about where to apply

The key takeaway with any of these is that communications are ever changing. There is this dynamic ebb and flow of communication with stakeholders that needs to always be considered. What works for one may not work for another. Therefore it is vital to keep evaluating the methods and tools used and measure their effectiveness. Analyzing metrics and surveying parents and the community can give you valuable insight into how effective you are engaging and perhaps also, provide a new path to take when it comes to improving your School:Home Communications.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Discovering The Learning (And Magic) Of #DisneyYouthPrograms

Ever since I was a little kid I have enjoyed anything Disney. Even with my own daughters I have enjoyed seeing their faces light up when they walk down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom and they see Cinderella's Castle, even though they've seen it several times. We've visited all the parks and done a cruise. So when the team at Disney Youth Programs reached out to me to come down and check out all they have to offer I jumped at the opportunity.

For 3 days in late July I was able to discover the awesomeness that is Disney Youth Programs, something I didn't even know existed! Along with a handful of other educators we got a behind-the-scenes tour of a few of the Disney YES programs and learned how they tie what students are learning in the classroom to the rides and experiences at Disney Parks.

Take for example Space Mountain. One of the most popular attractions at The Magic Kingdom, many don't think about the physics and math involved in making a roller coaster work indoors. Before the park opened for the day we had the incredible opportunity to ride it both with the lights on and then again with the lights off. During the program students are first challenged to hypothesize how high the ride is, the average speed, height of the tallest drop and more. They then take a ride with the lights on to make a second guess. Then once more with the lights off to see if the darkness manipulates their perception. Students also get the chance to experiment with different tracks to determine how much energy is needed to power a coaster to accomplish different maneuvers like loops, dips and more. Students discuss the physics and work as teams to problem solve.
Learning How Disney YES
Programs Support STEAM.

In another program we were able to experience we examined how light and sound are used to trick the brain into seeing what really isn't there. Using Haunted Mansion as a backdrop we rode the ride and discussed what we saw and how Disney uses different effects to create illusions like the floating head, or ghostly dance party. Then in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we went under the ride as it was running (with regular park guests mind you) to see how the dance party scene is created. Students discuss a light manipulation called Pepper's Ghost that has been around for over 125 years.

Prepping for our big performance!
We also learned what it was like to be a Disney performer by heading over to the Saratoga Springs Concert Hall to work with one of the most incredible performers I've ever encountered. Steve took us through a scene in Mary Poppins where we learned a song, some choreography and acted. After just an hour I had a deeper respect for the talent it takes to do one of those, let alone 3 in an entire performance. We also heard from the Disney Arts program on how they give student bands and choral groups from across the globe an opportunity to showcase their talents on a Disney stage.

Disney Youth Programs couple the magic of Disney with STEAM, the arts, animation, photography and more at Disney World and Disneyland. The programs are designed for groups of 10 or more and students spend the early part the morning (usually before the parks even open) participating for 3 hours and then have the rest of the day to be a kid in a Disney park. Many groups do 2 or more programs in a visit so they can experience all there is to offer. Programs can be combined and come in all age ranges from Upper Elementary through College. (Though the average group is a Middle School or High School Group.)

Prices vary but do include tickets to the park and the Disney folks can work with groups on special pricing and funding sources. (I know, it can be expensive but they do have lots of suggestions on grants and out of the box thinking on funding sources.)

The programs are aligned to national standards and the team works with groups on specific goals and how to extend the learning in the parks beyond the program. They have loads of resources before, during and after the visit so it is certainly comprehensive.

I was so impressed at the quality of the content and how they used the park, rides and more to connect students to the content they were learning in the classroom. The program is run by educators and all the program leaders are experts in their curriculum area. That makes all the difference.

So if you are looking for an incredible and memorable experience for your students that also gets them connecting to the content they are learning, the performance they are doing and more, check out Disney Youth Programs!

This post is part of a Sponsored opportunity I received from Disney.