Better Connecting With Students
By GLENN M. MALEYKO
/School Administrator, August 2019
WE LIVE IN an era of instant communication driven by e-mail, text messages and social media. To be an effective superintendent, you must be well-versed in using all of these tools as part of your overall communication plan.
For me, the natural progression from a blog (which I still use after 10 years since my time as a principal) to further connect with the community was to add social media. That step required an understanding of where the various audiences can be found. I connect with students via Twitter and Instagram, parents via Facebook and LinkedIn, and the community using a combination of electronic media. The use of social media helps me to stay in sync with our school community and, most importantly, to build a genuine relationship with our students.
My entry into the social media arena began as a simple icebreaker exercise to start the commencement speeches at our district’s five high schools during my first year as superintendent. I started by taking a selfie with the graduates. This went over well. When the next school year started, students were asking to get a “selfie with the super.” Now, as I travel the district visiting schools and attending events, students feel comfortable approaching me and asking to take a photo with the superintendent and our district’s vision sign that declares “Students First: Inspire, Educate, Celebrate.” They always ask me to post it to Instagram and to tag them. I have used social media to connect a diverse audience around a common topic, Dearborn Public Schools. It’s a great way to stay connected and show that as a superintendent I am down to earth and want to relate to our students.
One of the best places to go for advice on social media protocol and trends is directly to the experts: the students. Each month I bring together a group of high school students to learn what is going on in the school district in their eyes. More importantly, the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council members share concerns about the Dearborn Public Schools and provide me with valuable lessons on when not to respond to comments or posts. They also keep me up to date on the latest social media platforms.
The greatest asset from this personal relationship with students is the support they show for the district in their social media postings. They do this not out of obligation but because they are informed and feel they are part of the process and see this as contributing to the success of their schools.
When it comes to increasing your following on social media accounts, you need to take advantage of situations that naturally create attention. I’ve had success when engaging students in some positive, but light-hearted dialogue whenever the weather forecast calls for cold and snow. My Instagram following is now just under 4,900 and Twitter is at 1,800. My entire following on social media platforms exceeds 10,000. That outreach is even greater when used in coordination with our official school district social media and the district website.
Our district approach to social media is to distribute positive, proactive messages about new developments and to promote our accomplishments. We do not engage in negative dialogue. We stay away from no-win scenarios, but we will provide clarifying facts or contact information if someone wants to continue a discussion in a one-on-one setting.
Of course, a superintendent can choose to stay off social media, but you run the risk of letting someone else tell your story, someone who may not want to tell a truthful story.
Although our actions on social media have resulted in a great deal of success, I have not lost sight of the most important aspect of communication: building personal relationships. I spend a tremendous amount of time in schools talking with students, listening to staff and making connections with parents. Accessibility and visibility are at the heart of my personality and who I am as Dearborn’s superintendent.
We have embraced these tools as methods of communication to grow and fortify the bonds created through personal meetings and interaction.