Twitter's Parallel Posts for Bilingual Access
By Devin Vodicka
/School Administrator, August 2017
I have been a strong advocate for the use of social media for professional purposes for many years, predating my five-year tenure as a superintendent that started in 2012. In the early days, I experimented with various options and made mistakes that informed the evolution of my practice.
Fortunately, the benefits always surpassed the challenges, and I continued to be inspired to find ways to use these emerging tools to develop relationships and advance the efforts of our organization.
One significant lesson I learned quite early was that access to social media varied extensively. Access to personal devices, internet service and familiarity with the various platforms are all contributors to that variability.
As a school leader in a culturally diverse community in San Diego County, Calif., I worked with a substantial population of our students and families whose primary language was Spanish. In my meetings with parents, our Spanish speakers expressed a desire to access information (frequently through their mobile devices), but they found it difficult due to the language barrier.
Naively, my initial response was to steer these parents to tools such as Google Translate. At the time, that was not a practical solution for those using cell phones.
After experimenting with different approaches, I found that running a parallel Twitter account in Spanish was the best way to ensure our families were connected to the latest information about their children’s schools. At first, I tried cramming both English and Spanish versions into the 140-character limit. That was a miserable failure. Posting English and Spanish versions on one Facebook page or blogging platform was equally unproductive.
After this personal experimentation, I found that the speed and simplicity of Twitter, coupled with embedded feeds on district website home pages to ensure broad distribution of the information, lent itself to parallel feeds. It resulted in highly favorable feedback from our families and from the district’s wider community.
While it helps to be bilingual to implement this model for communication, I relied on the assistance of our school district translators to accelerate the pace of the parallel posts. This makes it a model that can be replicated by education leaders who do not have dual-language proficiency.
From the perspective of a superintendent, I was keenly aware that my communications were seen through various lenses, and I deliberately ensured the English and Spanish feeds were parallel and identical in content. This is an important condition. You want to mitigate any risk of providing differentiated information to important groups within the community.
Ultimately, the test of any approach with social media is to find out how it impacts the advancement of organizational goals such as improving student achievement and increasing levels of parent satisfaction. By those metrics, we saw consistent improvements in Vista. Certainly, these were attributable to many factors, but they were, at least in part, due to our determined efforts to improve communication and connectedness in the community.
Strategic use of social media plays a role in the toolkit of any modern superintendent, and I advise all school system leaders to listen to their community and adapt their approach to meet the specific needs of their children, parents and partners.
former superintendent in Vista, Calif., is chief impact officer at AltSchool in San Francisco, Calif. E-mail: email@example.com
. Twitter: @dvodicka