Special Report
School & District Management

How District Leaders Can Make Social Media Work for Them

By Marina Whiteleather — September 26, 2022 3 min read
Two diverse educators with laptops sitting on an oversize cellphone with communication symbols and text bubbles on the phone and in the air around them.
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For school and district leaders, social media can be a powerful platform.

It’s a way to directly connect with your K-12 community where they are, share the good work you’re doing, and even set the record straight about potential misconceptions.

It can also be a scary place, where everything you post is subject to public scrutiny.

To get insight into how education leaders can successfully leverage social media, Education Week spoke with Joe Sanfelippo, the superintendent of the Fall Creek school district in Wisconsin, and Stephanie McConnell, the assistant superintendent of Hawkins Independent school district in Texas.

Joe Sanfelippo

In addition to being a superintendent, Joe Sanfelippo is an adjunct professor who teaches educational leadership and is the author of two books on the topic. He boasts over 66,000 followers on Twitter and over 4,000 followers on Instagram. You might recognize him from one of his popular #1minwalk2work videos where he shares leadership advice on his one-minute commute to school.

Stephanie McConnell

Stephanie McConnell got her start as an award-winning elementary school principal. Pulling from her background, she started the blog Principal Principles to give school leaders advice on how to make lasting positive changes in their schools. She also offers leadership consulting and has co-authored two books. Instagram is her favorite platform to use in her work, and she has over 10,000 followers who engage with her account for inspiration and laughs.

Here are their top three tips for district leaders looking to get started on social media.

Be transparent

Leaders are expected to have a vision of what success looks like and what steps should be taken to reach their goals. Conveying their plans on social media can help get community buy-in and build trust.

Being transparent “helps us be able to communicate exactly where we’re going with our staff and with our community so that there’s no uneasiness,” said McConnell. After all, people can’t see what you don’t show them.

McConnell got her start on social media because she wanted to “communicate our vision, our goals, all those things that all the stakeholders could hear and see.”

When I had to make some really tough decisions, people knew that I wasn’t making those decisions from behind my desk.

Some education leaders still might be hesitant to put themselves out there on social media for fear of potential professional backlash, but Sanfelippo had a different experience. “I actually started social media because I was afraid to lose my job. The reason that people get moved on a lot is that nobody knows what they do so they start making up what they do. So I started documenting my travels everywhere I went.”

“I started utilizing social media to show people, the community that I was invested and that I was staying and that I was going to be there as much as I possibly could.”

Sanfelippo says showcasing his work on social media helped him build social capital. “When I had to make some really tough decisions, people knew that I wasn’t making those decisions from behind my desk.”

Throw out the script

It’s only human to be worried about slipping up, especially if your message is going to be publicly broadcast all over social media. Sometimes, in an effort to minimize the room for error, one can script out too much of what they want to say. According to Sanfelippo, one of the biggest mistakes education leaders make on social media is sounding too rehearsed. “If everything has to be scripted, you can never truly be real with your group.”

One way to inject authenticity into your messaging is by speaking directly to your audience using video.

Both Sanfelippo and McConnell are big fans of sharing self-shot videos of their experiences.

McConnell reassures those nervous about going on camera that your audience is likely not going to be hyperfocused on your missteps the way you might be. “We’re focused on what the person is saying, not how they’re saying anything,” she explained.

You have a message inside you, a story that somebody wants to hear, and I say go for it.

Take control of the narrative

As Sanfelippo sees it, “People are making a judgment no matter what, so I want to make sure they’re judging me for the things I’m actually doing, not the things that they think that I’m doing.”

Utilizing social media to pull the curtain back on your work in your district allows you to focus the conversation on your contributions.

And to those who aren’t convinced they have anything worthwhile to share on social media, McConnell has some words of encouragement. “You have a message inside you, a story that somebody wants to hear, and I say go for it.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2022 edition of Education Week as How District Leaders Can Make Social Media Work for Them

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