It all started with brownies, specifically the question of whether an ACMA counselor, Jill, and I would consider baking brownies for an event and letting students judge them. Sure, we agreed, both always game for a little adventure and unlikely to say “no” when students ask us to play.
What if we filmed it? We asked. You know, like The Great British Bake Off. Here at ACMA we have a robust film department, and it took all of about five seconds to coax three intrepid filmmakers into shooting the contest on a non-student day.
“The Great Brownie Bake Off” we called it. Good. Clean. Fun.
About the same time, our yearbook staff, a creative collection of students, came up with the idea of promoting their social media presence by inviting a series of ACMA folks to “take over” their Snapchat and Instagram ACMA Yearbook accounts. Wild as it sounds, I got the nod for a day. …the same day as The Great Brownie Bake Off!
As the principal a large part of my job is communication. I once worked with a superintendent who liked to say that the principal was the “chief communication officer” of the school. It’s a role I take seriously, putting a priority on parent coffees, keeping our Facebook page up to date, and even tweeting a bit. But those are (mostly) parent communications. The kids? They live elsewhere online, in ranges (mostly) not conquered by those over thirty. My marvelous yearbook students had given me a one day pass into that online student world, something to be appreciated, even embraced with a spirit of play.
My “takeover” took place on a day when students didn’t have classes, an overcast Friday at the end of the quarter set aside for teachers to grade. The brownies would take part of the day and I’d need to figure out a few other fun posts I could share with the kids about what life was like when they weren’t on campus.
Earlier in the week a student had shown me how to post to both Snapchat and Instagram, and left me with the advice: “We like video.” So, early on Friday morning I started with an announcement of my “takeover” and the hope that today would be fun and end with them buying a yearbook.
I visited classrooms to find teachers grading, sharing pictures of our Spanish teacher at her desk, a senior English teacher and his student teacher grading stacks of essays, and then a clip of an amazing math teacher answering another teacher’s grading question with his fart gun. When in doubt, go for the middle school laugh.
Brownies followed, with a series of posts celebrating the playful contest that started it all, and I realized just how hard it is to capture life on social media at the same time it’s being lived. That our kids do this every day astounds me, and maybe makes me a little nervous too.
When I blog or tweet, or even when we celebrate our school’s story on Facebook or our website, a built in time delay takes the urgency off putting something online. This delay slows us down and gives us the opportunity to think about things like merit and message (and spelling). Instagram and Snapchat, at least in my unskilled thumbs, felt hurried and immediate. This, I thought as I hurried to post between melting chocolate and stirring flour, is my students’ reality.
To live this awareness felt different than reading about it. I’ve done book groups on teens and social media, talked with countless kids about the importance of their digital lives, and engaged in meaningful conversation with teachers, parents, and students about the promise and peril of a phone in every hand, but living the reality of feeling the pressure to post something right now was a healthy thing for me to experience as a principal. I’m not sure I liked it, but I believe it made me a more thoughtful educator.
Returning to school, brownies in hand, I took up my tour of campus once again. Along the way I found lots more grading (sensible on a grading day) as well as an art teacher setting up a student display case, my assistant principal setting out rubber coyotes to scare off the migrating geese, and a science teacher’s youngster discovering joy in a pottery wheel. Even on a “day off” ACMA can’t help but inspire young artists.
I ended with a post about what a principal does when students aren’t on campus, remembering my tutor’s advice that students love video, and recording the opening of the Prologue from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
O for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention
My kingdom for a stage …or an Instagram account that kids follow!”
Shakespeare’s Prologue got it right when he trumpeted the value of clear communication and embraced his role as “cipher to this great accompt.” Schools, like history, are collections of stories, and if we don’t embrace the opportunity to tell our own someone else will.
Telling these stories on Twitter or in this blog is comfortable to me. I feel like I know what I’m doing more often than not, and the feedback I get from my audience lets me know when I’m able to communicate something that matters. Snapchat and Instagram are still unfamiliar to me, even though they’re a natural part of the world my students live in. If I really want to connect and communicate with my kids, if I really want to tell the story of my school, our school, then I’m wise not to neglect these in favor of the familiar.
My “takeover” taught me more than just how to use a couple of types of social media (though I still don’t know filters, stories, and a thousand other possibilities about them); it reminded me of the value of seeing the world, even on the online world, of my students from a different point of view. It reinforced the importance of breaking out of my own comfort zone and trying something different, and doing so publicly and with an optimistic mindset.
Will I use Snapchat or Instagram in the future? Truth be told, not as often as I’ll go back to my more established social media venues, but they don’t scare me, and I do see how partnering with students to use these and other tools can help me be a better cipher to this great accompt. As the chief communication officer for my school, that’s as sweet as a good brownie.