Schools can no longer be autonomous organizations that operate behind closed doors. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a magnifying glass on schools that sees administrative directives held to account by a wide spectrum of diverse stakeholders that includes everyone from student family’s and community members to divisional administration and governmental departments. As the leader of their building it is one of the principal’s primary objectives to communicate school information clearly and concisely with all stakeholders (Farrell, 1999, Parents & Community chapter, para. 7) (Ferriter, Ramsden, & Sheninger, 2011, p. 20) (Waxman, Boriack, Lee, & MacNeil, 2013, p. 191). One indicator of a principal’s managerial effectiveness relates to their ability to select the most appropriate platform(s) to best meet their communication needs (Hines, Edmonson, & Moore, 2008, p. 278). With 25 million social media users in Canada, representing 67% of the population, social media is quickly becoming one of the leading platforms for school administrators to communicate with their clientele(We Are Social, 2020, p. 40). Due to the rising participation in social media and call for transparency by school administrators, it is essential that principals utilize technological tools like social media to communicate about their building, enabling a diverse range of stakeholders to receive information in a timely fashion and see into the world of the school.
The Dalai Lama is quoted as stating, “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity” (Student Affairs Berkley, 2017, para. 1). A school’s stakeholders, whether they be student family’s, school employees, community members, or governing organizations, have interrelated goals that can all directly benefit from increased communication that provides more information about what is happening within the school (Farrell, 1999, Parents & Community chapter, para. 3). With social media use in Canada rising 3.8% from 2019-2020 the quickest way for a principal to inform the most amount of stakeholders in one click of a mouse is through social media (We Are Social, 2020, p. 40). Additionally, maintaining an online presence can provide an authentic model of the digital literacy skills that are becoming necessary for students, and all stakeholders, to develop (Johnson, Riel, & Froese-Germain, 2016, p. 9).
The importance of transparency through communication
Transparent communication is a conscious skill that is vital to the health of the school community. In fact, communication has been argued to be the most important job a principal can participate in throughout their day (Ferriter, Ramsden, & Sheninger, 2011, p. 20). In 1999, Farrell stated that, “The school should aim to improve its links with parents and the community through clear communications and making systematic and full use of the community” (Parents & Community chapter, para. 19). This sentiment is echoed by Ferriter who identified that, “With transparency being more important now than at any time ever, it is important that we use every means necessary to get out our message as schools leaders and get the feedback necessary to get our stakeholders invested.” (2011, para. 7). While it can be easy for an administrator to default to only sharing information surrounding school schedules, events, and successes, a deeper sense of authenticity is required to build trust through transparent communication. This includes sharing personal feelings during times of uncertainty, sharing news of what is known about various topics affecting the school and being open about what is being kept confidential, and clarifying that if information changes that updates will be provided (Student Affairs Berkley, 2017, para. 3). It is important for administrators to recognize that a fear of negativity cannot warrant opting out of communication and in fact, negative feedback provides opportunities to change stakeholders’ perceptions (Reuban, 2017, p. 7). With the importance of transparency through communication identified, a principal should then ask themselves what platform(s) should they be utilizing to communicate.
Why should you use social media?
As of 2020, 35.32 million users, representing 94% of the population, had access to the internet in Canada (We Are Social, 2020, p. 24). Of the 25 million using social media, the average user spends one hour 49 minutes each day interacting with their platform(s) of choice (We Are Social, 2020, p. 42). The network of school stakeholders can span across multiple geographical locations, be represented across generations, and follow a variety of different schedules. Despite the communication concerns that arise from these logistics, social media can provide an effective means of targeting the masses in a timely fashion. In fact, 83% of Canada’s internet users have access through some type of mobile device; meaning that a principal’s communication can most likely reach them at any time as opposed to relying on a fixed location (We Are Social, 2020, p. 25). As opposed to more traditional communication methods such as phone calls or television announcements that rely on stakeholders being available at a particular time, tools such as social media are popular with stakeholders because they can be accessed and interacted with at any time; gone are the days of playing “telephone tag” (Hines, Edmonson, & Moore, 2008, p. 283). In Canada, the top four social media platforms are currently YouTube, Facebook (and its associated Facebook Messenger), Instagram, and Twitter (We Are Social, 2020, p. 43). Tools such as “HootSuite” and “If This Then That” can easily allow principals to post the same message automatically across various platforms; broadening their audience with minimal time requirements on their side. With such prominent statistics, Reuban was inclined to state that participation in social media is no longer an option (2017, p. 11).
The case for Digital Literacy
Defining the important and essential role of ICT education within the vast curricular network of public education has been the focus of recent initiatives undertaken by provincial and territorial governments within Canada. As of 2015, 11 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have established ICT curricular policies that range from infusion and dispersal amongst pre-existing curriculums to structured cross-curricular models and specifically assessed benchmarks (Hoechsmann & DeWaard, 2015, pp. 15-17). Regardless of the format in which an ICT curriculum is organized, one of the best ways to model the digital literacy and citizenship skills required by students is for principals and other educators to get involved online (Jackson, 2011, para. 18). In a 2016 study of Canadian teachers, it was identified that the top five digital literacy skills related to social media that students should know are: (1) how to stay safe online, (2) appropriate online behaviour, (3) dealing with cyberbullying, (4) understanding online privacy issues and settings, and (5) verifying the authenticity of online information (Johnson, Riel, & Froese-Germain, 2016, p. 9). It is time for educators to not only “talk the talk” but to also “walk the walk” when it comes to applying the digital literacy skills we expect from our students. Furthermore, modelling appropriate use and keeping up to date with new technology programs and tools allows for principals to more effectively support their teaching staff in their technological development as well (Waxman, Boriack, Lee, & MacNeil, 2013, p. 193).
In conclusion, it is necessary that principals utilize social media platforms to effectively practice transparent communication with their diverse range of stakeholders. All principals have several different stakeholder groups that can include everyone from student families and community members to divisional administration and governing agencies and it is their responsibility to create and deliver information in ways that not only allow their message to be accessed but to also establish trust (Ferriter, Ramsden, & Sheninger, 2011, p. 20). As identified by Reuban, social media is no longer a spectator sport and principals need to recognize this and jump on the bandwagon to reach their stakeholders through mediums they are using daily (2017, p. 11). As leaders within their building, a principals’ use of social media can provide an effective and appropriate model to both students as well as other teaching staff. Like it or not, a school’s stakeholders are already creating a story about the school on social media and principals need to get online so that they can be involved in the narrative.
By Kirsten Thompson
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