With ORION’s 2014 THINK conference scheduled for April 15, 2014, we asked Toronto District School Board Principal Greg MacLeod to update us on how last year’s conference has impacted him. This was his response.
Last year, being at ORION’s 2013 THINK conference caused me to consider some questions about my school and the role of social media in schools. For instance, as Principal, how could I use social media to improve student engagement? I put my questions out there not because I was sure I knew how to answer them, but because I thought they were important enough to make them public. A year later, these are my reflections on what we have done and where we want to go next.
A Principal Tweets
My first step was to re-engage in social media. I had a school twitter account but I had neglected it because I didn’t know why I would use it. I started becoming more active on twitter. My original question was if we used social media to present a positive image of the school, would people’s perception of the school become more positive and consequently have an impact on student achievement? My twitter posts focused on sharing the good work students were doing in the school. As I started to get a few followers and feedback, I also started to see the power of short, informal communication with parents.
Starting right after the THINK conference, I started tweeting more frequently. That was my first lesson of twitter: post often! Parent communication in schools has traditionally been made up of a newsletter, or, for more tech savvy schools, a web page. The issue with each of these is keeping it fresh and current and getting people to actually read it. What I found with Twitter is that the ease of creating short messages, usually with a picture, made it easy for me to take a minute and share a message. For the same reason, it made it more likely people would read it. For example, posting a picture of our lost and found items received a huge reaction and helped clear those items out!
By communicating and posting the images of the good work happening, I was starting to document our success in the school for parents and students to see.
Breaking Down Walls
Technology has begun bringing down walls, making learning more visible to all in the school as well as in the community. As a school, we embrace inquiry-based learning and regularly use technology to support it.
For example, Ms. Kranjec’s grade 2/3 class had an opportunity to participate in a distance-learning project through the National Gallery in Ottawa. This pilot program allowed the students to learn about some amazing artwork in the Gallery’s collection. The interactive program, delivered via webinar, had our students discussing a range of paintings, photographs and sculptures while exploring cross-curricular subjects, such as social studies and science. They did the ‘Seeing Stories in Art’ tour, which used questioning strategies to develop students’ visual literacy and critical thinking skills. Cape Dorset Freezer was one piece of artwork that elicited a great deal of responses.
Gary Goodacre, the Manager of Youth and School Programs at the National Gallery of Canada, was impressed with the class responses. And, of course, it was amazing that they could communicate with him via webinar. They were able to invite people to be part of their learning – even people 500 km away!
People Actually Care
After increasing our social media use, parents and others started to notice. Local media started engaging us and we were featured in the Globe and Mail. Social media was starting to have an impact on the perception people had of the school. Students and teachers became used to having visitors in the school, touring to see what we were doing to engage students in their learning. I noticed a sharp increase in teachers starting their own class websites and blogs. We have some amazing teaching and learning going on in the school, but for the first time we were opening it up for others to see and be engaged in the learning with us. A side benefit of this was that it started making our values clear, and it opened this up for all to see, including how we viewed ourselves.
While I had never thought of perception data before the THINK conference, I now find myself an active participant in monitoring how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves. It reminds me of the observer effect. Could it be that now that we are giving serious attention to how we are perceived, we are more actively engaged in shaping that perception? Since we want to be perceived as a progressive, engaging and effective school, are we now looking for ways to be innovative? Are we open to examining our practice? In other words, is the act of monitoring actually leading us to be the change we want to see?
The insights I gained at the THINK conference has had a positive impact at our school, and anything we can do to have a positive impact on students is worth doing. That’s why I’m attending the 2014 THINK conference too – hope to see you there!