Make a travel blog an education experience

Some adventures are so powerful, they should be shared. Does your school district have a robotics team headed to the national championship, a history teacher spending the summer touring Holocaust sites, or a superintendent studying education systems abroad?

Sharing a unique travel or education experience through a blog is one way students, parents and educators can participate in the adventure and use it as a springboard to learning in the classroom. It can also be used to entice your local news media to cover the story.

Recently, my district had the opportunity to try this when my superintendent joined a group of Oregon educators for a two-week education shadow experience in China. Bob was excited about blogging, but being a technology novice, he needed my help formatting and posting the blog text and photos he sent daily from China.

This is Bob’s travel blog. Here are some strategies we used to build and publicize the blog:

1)   Test the technology: Before your blogger begins the trip, make sure the traveler has the tools needed to transmit text and photographs. Can he take and send a cell phone photo? Could there be any government censorship of his communications? Is his cell phone plan set up for international communications?

2)   Provide a pre-trip photography lesson: Encourage your traveler to take and send lots of photos. Remind her of the importance of zooming in for a close-up of her subject. Stress the importance of variety – from street scenes, action shots and home life to tourist attractions and food.

3)   Suggest topics: With the needs of your audiences in mind, send the traveler questions from the community and ideas on what to write about. A copy of the travel itinerary will help the blog poster anticipate what’s next.

4)   Establish a routine: Aim for daily posts, if possible. Be sure to anticipate the time zone and date differences.

5)   Edit text and enhance photos: Travelers are jet-lagged, busy and tired, so take a few minutes to edit their blog posts to focus on high-interest topics. Cropping and lightening is an easy way to boost the quality of photos before posting.

6)   Link to more information: If your traveler blogs about a location, a custom, a food or an art form, link the text to a website on that topic. That way students and other blog readers can easily learn more about it.

7)   Clarify travel funding:  If the travel is grant funded or personally funded, say so. Stating this multiple times will prevent the misperception that district staff are traveling abroad at district expense.

8)   Publicize the blog: Make your community aware of the blog through school and employee newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, list serve news and the website.

Grow professionally, network with social media

Social media as professional development sounds a bit tricky when you first consider it. We talk a lot in the education space about how to enrich teaching and learning with 21st-century tools, including social media ones. Most of the time, we’re talking about students, but these tools don’t have to be used just for students’ benefit. There are plenty of ways we can sharpen our skills and learn something new, all through online peer communities.

Follow, Follow, Follow

Twitter is brimming with a wide variety of personalities and expertise. And there’s plenty to learn, even if you aren’t ready to start tweeting yourself. The best way to begin? Just start following. Find a handful of education pros, PR experts, writers and leaders, and follow their feeds. Not only will you be tuning in to what they have to say, but because of how Twitter is set up, you’ll quickly see their interactions with others. Your circle will widen to include new voices—and new opportunities for learning. The same can be said of blogs and education RSS feeds (Feedly is what I use).

Chat It Up

If you’re ready to utilize Twitter in a more strategic way, keep an eye out for Twitter chats. These events turn Twitter into a chat room for participants. A date and time is designated for the chat, and all who wish to participate use a hashtag on their tweets, for easy indexing. A simple search for the hashtag allows anyone to read along and watch the tweets scroll in real time. A good platform to utilize during these chats is Tweetchat.

Some good education-related chats to check out include #PTChat, #EdChat, #EdTechChat, #SuptChat.

Leave Comments

You can participate in comment dialogue almost anywhere these days. Pinterest posts, online articles, Facebook and blogs all have comment sections that take on lives of their own. Real dialogue can occur—and in the best cases, though not always, it stays respectful and productive. These dialogues are a great way to make connections with like-minded individuals.

Take advantage of distance learning

Webinars, archived presentations and YouTube videos can all be fantastic resources when you want to learn something new or sharpen your skills. It’s amazing how much free, high-quality content is out there for the taking. There’s no need to commit to a full online course (though those are certainly available) to get the benefits of a distance learning scenario.

It can take some sifting through the junk, but there’s a wealth of resources available online for professional development and learning. Social media and 21st-century tools make it easier than ever to broaden your knowledge and networks.

You Shared the Pain, Now Share the Joy

There have been plenty of posts in this blog about the need to be aware of social media traffic as part of brand management:

  • How to monitor
  • How to respond to negative comments and criticism
  • What process to follow

Another aspect, though, of knowing what is being said about your organization online is being able to share the good news. Yes, there are occasions where our audiences actually say good things about us. When that happens, shout a quick “hallelujah” and then retweet, share, post or use whatever means your channels of choice provide, to help spread the word.

Ashley blur Lydia blur 1 Nico blur

And, don’t forget to clip out those images and share them with others in your world who may not be following your accounts or be quite so tech-savvy. My superintendent printed a favorable tweet I sent him and had it framed for his office, shared it with the state director, and sought out the student responsible to thank him for his comment … a lot of goodwill for something less than 140 characters.

How to Get Rid of Facebook Reviews

At first, when people used Facebook’s review feature on our district page, it was harmless. They gave us a nice review, or they used it to announce a PTA meeting. No big deal. There weren’t many star reviews.

But then we had a few snow days. People started accusing us of hating children and not caring about their safety. The star reviews decreased when people disagreed with our snow-day decisions. That was unpleasant, but we understood that Facebook is an opportunity for two-way communications.

Then someone posted an inappropriate, personal rant that violated our policies, and it really became a problem. You cannot delete a review, and flagging the post did not work. I looked for a way to get rid of the reviews entirely, but I could not find it anywhere in the settings.

Finally, after extensive Googling, I found it in the least intuitive place. You go to “edit page,” then to “edit settings.” Click on “page info,” and then click on “address.” Under the map, there is a check box that says “show map, check-ins and star ratings on the page.” You have to uncheck this box.

So the downside is that your patrons can’t check in on Facebook at your site, but for us, this was a small price to pay.

NEWSFLASH: Social Media is Changing The Way We Do Things

If you didn’t know already, social media is changing the way we do things in our daily lives. It’s not only changed how we communicate in our personal lives but also how we communicate in our jobs. Communication is much more face-paced. Users want information at their fingertips. They want to know what is happening in our schools today, not two weeks ago.

In honor of spring break (at least in our district), I wanted to share something lighthearted and fun. In a recent article for PR Daily, John Kultgen compares the then and now of changes in technology to show where we have been and where we are now. He identifies nine items that social media has made obsolete:

  1. The White Pages
  2. Disposable Cameras
  3. Walkie-Talkies
  4. The “Art” of Collage
  5. Camcorders
  6. Diaries
  7. The Yellow Pages

Think about it.  When was the last time you used one of these in a their traditional format? I certainly can’t remember when I did. If you haven’t used these formats in a while, your audience probably hasn’t either. If you needed an argument for why social media is important, there you go.

Connecting with Students and Families Using Video

How many of you have seen the Rainbow Loom®? If you haven’t, it is a plastic toy used to weave small, colorful rubber bands into bracelets and charms.

My wife and I have three children – our oldest is nine. She is a loomer. She and her friends spend hours making bracelets, rings and shapes. I am amazed by their designs.

(Just for clarification, in no way am I endorsing or advertising for Rainbow Loom®; I am using it as an example.) 

A few months ago, I asked her where she gets all of her ideas and she simply answered, “YouTube.”

Search for Rainbow Loom® on YouTube and you will get 553,000 results. Many of the videos have more than a million views. The tutorials provide step-by-step methods for making anything with the toy.

Without knowing it, my fourth grader is using videos and social media as a way to learn and follow instructions. Most importantly, it is for something positive and meaningful.

Just as my daughter finds videos useful for her hobby, we find videos useful in my district. Like many school districts around the country, we have worked hard to harness the power of video. Our department has gone from receiving requests from our schools for flyers and brochures, to requests to produce videos and slide shows.

On a regular basis we share videos with our staff and community from our superintendent, about school safety, student attendance and other events.

Recently, we have been working with some of our schools to promote behavioral expectations. We have found this to be a meaningful and lighthearted method to reach our students. Much like my daughter, many of these digital natives prefer and expect to receive the information this way.

I hope you enjoy the video below produced by our department. Because YouTube is blocked on our student computers, we use SchoolTube to post most videos. We uploaded this video recently and have not shared it with families yet, so there are not very many views. Just so you know, these are our students, teachers and bus drivers – there are no paid actors in this video.

Share Your Social Media Knowledge

Many of us have seen an explosion in the use of social media by school administrators in the past couple of years, particularly on Twitter. But some school superintendents and building principals remain either skeptical or simply too busy to take on social media in a direct way. You know who you are.

The major social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn – are no longer a playground reserved just for the communications and instructional technology staff. The superintendents and building principals who have decided that they wanted to join in on the fun have come around to understand the platforms, and to participate themselves.

As a school public relations professional, you might find (as I do) that you’ve become the social media teacher, and your superintendents and building principals have become your students. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past several years that a district administrator has asked me, “So what’s this social media thing, anyway?”

To answer that question, you might want to consider some of the following tips:

  • Conduct a social media workshop for members of your district’s cabinet, or explain how your district is using social media at a Board of Education meeting.
  • Offer to do a social media workshop for your PTA – usually an eager, social media-deprived audience. I’ve presented for the past two years, for example, at the annual Westchester/East Putnam Parent Teacher Association’s conference on social media. As you might expect, the audience has grown.
  • Develop a social media toolkit page on your school district website. To see how this is done well, visit the Chicago Public Schools’ Social Media Toolkit page here. Chicago has developed a toolkit of resources that includes how-to videos, documents and links to other sites, meant primarily for school principals who want to use social media to connect with their communities.

You might be surprised at the reception you’ll get by sharing your social media knowledge.