How and Why to Use Social Media as a School or District Leader

For David Huber, principal of South Side Elementary School in Bristol, Connecticut, Twitter is more than just a social media platform. It’s also a professional learning resource, a tool to communicate with students’ families, and a way showcase student achievements.

I spoke with Huber on the phone, and he shared that he tweets regularly to his 2,400 followers from his handle, @DavidJHuber. Take a look at his account, and you’ll see photos of students and teachers in their classrooms, expressions of gratitude to staff, and relevant information about teaching and leading strategies. On a recent snow day, Huber even held a Facebook Live event where he read a book to students at home, ultimately garnering around 1,400 views.

When it comes to his Twitter presence, Huber says, "I realized that I was able to connect with different folks across the country, across the world, and bring some of that learning to our school and our district—some ideas, some initiatives, some professional readings. So much of my professional learning has come from Twitter, which is now impacting the work that we do here at South Side."

So, why else should principals, superintendents, and other education leaders use social media, and how can they build their digital presence?

Why Social Media?

According to HMH's 4th Annual Educator Confidence Report (ECR)—a survey conducted in collaboration with YouGov—social media can include generic tools like email; mainstream apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest; and apps designed specifically for educators, including Remind, Class Dojo, and others. Here’s how educators surveyed in the ECR said they use social media as part of their day-to-day jobs. 

What Platforms Should I Use?

Different platforms serve different purposes. Twitter can allow you to build a profile with a unique, personalized identity and voice. Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin), assistant superintendent for learning at Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, Massachusetts, says he is most active on Twitter—where he has 48,900 followers. Yet, there’s still room for educators to use other channels including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

For platforms like Facebook, which people often use to interact with friends and family on a more personal level, you may want to post education-related content from your school or district’s account—rather than your own—for privacy and professional reasons.

Amy Fast (@fastcrayon), assistant principal at McMinnville High School in McMinnville, Oregon—who has a Twitter following of more than 53,000—says that while she posts education articles of interest on Facebook, she mostly only uses that platform and Instagram for personal purposes:

I don't believe in compartmentalizing your professional and personal life. I also don't want to inundate my friends and family with education research and/or preach at them all day long. On Twitter, however, people pretty much know what they're getting when they visit my page. It's kind of become my professional diary. 

Here’s how Larkin says he uses Facebook and Instagram: 

Instagram tends to be a mix of personal and professional posts and Facebook is mostly personal posts, although a good number of educators have become Facebook friends. In my current role, I tend to spend more time on the school district's social media accounts than my own.
Ways to Use Social Media as an Education Leader

• Networking: You can use social media channels, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, to develop relationships with other educators who may have undergone similar experiences as school leaders. Larkin joined Twitter in early 2009 after connecting with some educators at a conference, he says. At conferences, you can also interact with other attendees using hashtags (such as #MSC2019 for our annual Model Schools Conference.)

“I was a principal at the time, and I found Twitter to be a great way to escape the feelings of isolation that you sometimes feel as an administrator being the only one in the building in that role,” Larkin says.

• Professional learning and sharing resources: As Eric Sheninger noted in a recent blog post on Shaped, Twitter and LinkedIn in particular can be used to build a professional learning network—to discuss best practices and collaboration, act on your individual learning interests, and engage in conversations. You can also use Pinterest to curate information and exchange resources with other educators.

• Showcase student achievements for families: Huber says he (on Twitter) and his district (on Facebook) sometimes recognize students for their achievements. It’s a no-cost way to act on the positive things children—and even staff—are doing. Huber sometimes even texts students’ families from a district phone to note their recent successes.

• Share updates about your school community: Social media can be a powerful tool to keep families informed about what’s happening in your school district. Is there any important assembly coming up for parents? Will tomorrow be a snow day? You can potentially reach thousands of people on Facebook and Twitter.

• Answer parent questions and hold virtual office hours: While Huber says the initial purpose of his school’s Facebook account was to celebrate the successes of the students and staff, parents may also respond, comment, and post statements. As a result, he has held virtual office hours at night where parents and other caregivers can ask questions and offer feedback. 

• Get ideas for your school buildings: Social media platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can allow school leaders to post images of their school hallways—and view those of others’—to help develop school culture.

• Keep up with and post education news to make a difference: Especially on Twitter and LinkedIn, you can follow accounts that offer education news, insights, and updates to stay attuned to what’s happening in the industry.

Tips for Building Your Online Presence

Here’s what these educators had to say about getting started on creating a personal account on Twitter.

• Demonstrate your passion: “Stop trying to grow a following, and start using your platform to really make a difference in our field,” Amy Fast says. “People can sense when you're in it for yourself and when you're truly passionate about your craft, collaborating with others, and giving back to the profession."

• Post consistently: “If you want to enhance your presence, you need to be consistent about your usage of social media and build a good network,” Larkin says. Finding relevant Twitter chats and hashtags can help you join and follow conversations. Twitter is also valuable if you attend conferences because you can find sessions other educators are enjoying and related resources.

• Connect with others in your industry: Following relevant conversations and conducting searches for users on Twitter will enable you to find other school or district leaders with whom you can communicate and network.