The jury is in. Building relationships matters. In fact, it may be the thing that matters most in teaching and learning.  If you want to build relationships, you’ve got to go where the people are. In my neck of the woods, the people are on Facebook , which means so am I, and I am one thumbs-upping gal.

Reading Ambassador

I am the librarian at an elementary school that serves over 400 students in grades K through four. I am also the self-appointed community ambassador for reading and writing. Recently, my husband shared a study with me that showed that the brains of folks who read and write every day are a third healthier in old age  than those who didn’t  (Leslie, 2014). That, coupled with the evidence I’ve gathered in over 20 years of teaching, leads me to take my role as the unofficial literacy ambassador very seriously. I think every community should have an ambassador and social media should be at the heart of their work.  I use Facebook to communicate, collaborate, and celebrate with the wider community.

Wired For Sound

This year, like every year, teachers in my school worked to engage the community in several school-wide literacy activities. For example, the IditaREAD Family Reading Challenge calls on families to read together while racing an Iditarod musher to get to 1, 049 minutes of reading, an equivalent to the miles Iditarod mushers race to Nome, Alaska.  Another example, Books Without Borders, helps students and their families learn about the world by reading diverse stories. I heavily promote participation in both of these events on Facebook. Each day I post a variety of reminders, encouragements, links to materials, and short informational videos. The participation levels are better than I’ve ever seen and community members comment frequently about how helpful the posts are.

Have a peek at the three short videos below.  Notice that they are not perfect! That’s okay. Quick and frequent is better than perfect and rare.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

My cell phone is my best friend. Well, maybe not my best, best friend, but it’s in the top five for sure. I use it to collaborate with parents and the community somewhere around a million times a day. Johnny forgot his homework? I message his mom. Shanquin needs a little help with his spelling words? I message his dad. My class needs more books on owls for a research project? I message the public librarian. I need a petting zoo for a Family Fun Night? I put out a call for volunteers to bring their animals. The community always comes through.

This type of collaboration is simple but it packs a powerful punch. Surveys of stakeholders show that our community feels cared about and confident that the school is doing the right thing. They also show that families are aware of and invested in the literacy lives of their children. That goes a long way.

Celebrate Good Times

My favorite way to use social media is to celebrate! I post pictures all day every day. I take snapshots of the work students are doing, the books they are reading, the projects they’ve completed and upload them to our school Facebook page. I text or message parents pictures of their kids with captions like, “Look who met her goal!”, “Azalea is reading a huge book! She can’t wait to talk to you about it!”, “Wait until Hector tells you the theme for Moby Dick he came up with, it’s BRILLIANT!” Sometimes, I even take short videos of students at work reading, writing, talking, or even playing at recess. These get posted with fun and nurturing comments as well.

Students beam with pride and parents comment on the posts in droves, proud of their babies and encouraged by how responsive our school is.  

Nominate Yourself Ambassador!

Every school needs an ambassador for literacy. Getting information out to collaborate with the community and celebrate school successes is more important than ever. It doesn’t have to be a formal role. Post often. Share good news. Be informal. Have fun! In a time when public education is increasingly maligned and public trust is dwindling, sharing our good news on social media  is a must.  

Facebook is the main vehicle I use but it’s important to chat with your community to find out what works best. If everyone is using Twitter, you use Twitter. All on Instagram? That’s where you go too.  What probably doesn’t work is a webpage, people just don’t go to bookmarked sites like they once did. The digital world changes fast and teachers have to keep up.

For more ideas and information, check out my webinar on Engaging the Community in Reading through the Ed Collaborative.

CYB – Cover Your Bases

Not ready for social media? Try making positive phone calls, they are like money in the relationship bank.

If you’re looking for a great read that can help you use social media as a leverage to build community, try Your School Rocks! By Ryan McClain.

Before you launch a social media blitz, check on your school/district policy. At my school, we ask parents to sign a permission slip. I keep a note on my ipad that lists students that are on the “no photo” list and make sure I don’t post their pictures. It’s that simple.

Whatever platform you choose to use, focusing school communities on literacy with social media will make a difference. I promise.  Smiley face emoji. Thumbs up!

Leslie, I. (2015). Curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a teacher-librarian, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, consults for local school districts, and writes for We Teach We Learn.

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