While traditional newsletters can be overlooked and lost in bottomless bookbags, blogs are timely, accessible, and fun. Principals who use them say that blogs are simple to set up and easily updated. An activity that occurs during the school day can be shared within minutes in text, images, sound, and video. Keeping parents informed through blogging is also better for the environment and costs little but a small investment of time. Included: Advice for beginners from an experienced principal/blogger.
"Blogs are a free and easy way to connect with the world," observes Principal Pattie Thomas. "As I scroll through the posts, I notice most are promoting academics and attendance or recognizing good behavior. But sometimes I am touched by something that has happened at the school, such as when a child or teacher shares a story. I don't have to look for an avenue in which to share that because our blog has become the platform. The blog serves as a special place to allow others to see our school as we do each day."
Thomas became a blogger, the creator of a blog (online journal), while serving as a school improvement specialist with the Talladega City (Alabama) School District. She was searching for a way to reach out to teachers and promote the school system, and her co-worker and curriculum director, Dr. Frank Buck, created two blogs, TeachTalladega and a community blog about Talladega City Schools. Those blogs became a one-stop shopping place for district information and cool things for teachers and an easy way to campaign for the schools. Staff in every school received the same information in a timely fashion.
When Thomas became principal of R. L. Young Elementary School in January 2008, she wanted to set up the same type of effective venue to convey happenings at the school. A teacher had started a blog for the school with two posts. Thomas teamed up with her to create the school's current blog.
"I post at least a couple of times a week, depending on what is happening in the school," Thomas told Education World. "The great thing about our blog is that we include students, teachers, and the administration as contributors. Our target audiences are the parents and community. I like our blog to convey what is right with schools today."
A glance at the school blog reveals entries that celebrate the school's recent 80th birthday, pat members of the school community on the back for a job well done, and recognize other successes. Thomas finds it easy to maintain the blog. She added a counter and can now analyze data to see how often the blog is visited and from where those hits come. Thomas feels that more than 34,000 hits since December 2007 indicates strong interest in the school's blog. It is a good return on her investment of time, she adds.
During inclement weather, many parents check the school blog before they listen to the radio. Thomas is especially gratified when high school students who attended the school post comments; she appreciates the blog as a means of remaining connected with alumni. She also likes that she can write blog posts days and weeks in advance and schedule them to go live whenever she wants.
"Our blog serves as an archive of the school year. It can be accessed forever unless someone manually removes it," added Thomas. "When I have a report to do about events at the school or have to check on what was done last year, I can quickly gain that information by reviewing the past posts."
Principal Roger W. Nunkester, Jr., admits that, like Thomas, he keeps a close eye on the number of visitors who peruse his blog. Every morning, he checks to see how may people read the blog the day before.
"It's exhilarating to see the number go up," Nunkester reports. "I know that when my visitor count is down, I need to get moving on making another great post."
Students at Southern Columbia Area Middle School in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, can expect to find several new posts to the blog each week. Nunkester started it at the suggestion of a fellow middle school principal. With the assistance of a technology specialist, Nunk News was established in just an hour.
My goal is twofold: to keep parents and students updated on things going on in the middle school and to use my blog as a springboard to talk about issues, concerns, or problems and situations, explained Nunkester. "I also want to get feedback from parents and students via the comment part of my posts."
Nunkester's students and their parents are savvy users of the Internet who will more quickly turn to it for information than they will go through a packet of paper or a newsletter. His blog features student accomplishments and actions that demonstrate great character. He has embedded videos into the blog in which he speaks about bullying, good character, motivation, and the school's motto, "Step up and do the right thing." Those posts receive especially positive feedback. For that reason, he recommends using pictures and video in posts when appropriate. Parents and students love to see pictures of themselves.
"I add music to my blog. I try to make it something pertinent to kids and parents," Nunkester shared. "I try to post often. Once you get a good readership, they like to come back and see new things."
Nunkester has received nothing but positive comments about the blog. Teachers, staff, students, and parents enjoy reading it, and he enjoys creating it for them.
"I have posted advice on studying, sleep for middle schoolers, and ways to help students do better in school," he stated. "I also am able to post a few things that relate to me as a person -- my favorite football team, my coaching, how to save money on gas, and more. Students and parents like to read about the principal, their pal."
"I am a father who doesn't even read my own son's school newsletters, so how can I pretend that hard copy monthly updates are the way to go? I can't," says Rob Ackerman. "It's a different world, and school leaders need to get on board."
Through his own observations, Ackerman came to realize that the monthly newsletter was antiquated and that his school community needed and expected more timely updates. In his blog, the principal of Lt. Job Lane School in Bedford, Massachusetts, gives readers an overview of school activities and a sense of who he is as an administrator and a person.
Recent entries by Ackerman highlight the diversity of the student population, a fifth grade classroom's town meeting for social studies, a class connecting with students in Alabama through Skype, and the benefits of scheduling lunch after recess.
"I post several times a week," Ackerman reported. "I find that parents add comments when the topic, such as cursive writing, is controversial."
One of the best aspects of the blog for Ackerman is its immediacy. He can take a photo of a school event and post it on the blog with an entry just a few minutes later.
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Article by Gary Hopkins
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