Connecting to Improve

by Jason Bengs

Dan Butler reminded attendees in his session “From the Ground Up: Connecting to Build a Culture of Improvement” that our goal everyday should be to “Make it better.”  No matter how good or bad the situation in your school, there is always room to improve.  He focused on enhancing student achievement, enhancing public relations, and fostering a culture of improvement.  This can all be accomplished using data centers, instructional coaches, and social media.  

Dan utilized data centers to increase vertical alignment, make goals visible to all stakeholders, and promote continuous improvement.  His building data center included information about reading, math, and behavior.  This was placed in a location visible to all visitors to his campus and updated monthly.  These results were shared with stakeholders in a variety of formats.  

Dan said when deciding how to share information with parents, you have to go where they are.  In other words, find out how your parents prefer to get their information. Dan related his failure using Twitter as a tool to communicate with parents, and blamed his lack of success on the fact that the parents of his students were not using Twitter. He soon realized that more of his parents were on Facebook and created pages for his schools.

Dan stated that whatever was sent out using social media also went home on paper to cover all the basis of communication his patrons might use.  Never eliminate a communication tool if it has the potential to involve more parents in the learning of their students.  

Above all, Dan reminds us to ask ourselves, "What is your purpose for connecting?"  He provided these as some possible reasons for connecting using social media:

  • Celebrate the good/Control the message: There is a message out there about your school.  Why not control what is said by celebrating all the great things happening at your school?
  • Family engagement: The more parents are involved in the learning process, the greater the chance of student success.
  • Increase student achievement: Share the overall progress of your students and let stakeholders know what you are doing to demonstrate progress in your school.
  • Tell the story of your school: Think of it as an autobiography.  Which parts of your story do you want others to know? Do you want them to only see the negative or should they get the positive, too?

Dan shared links to several resources for the tools he uses often.  They can be found in the slides from his presentation that he has shared publicly.  

Dan spent the rest of his time looking at some of the tools in more depth.  Some of the tools he emphasized were Voxer, Google Apps, Twitter, Remind, Facebook and the school website.  He uses these tools to communicate with various parts of his school community on a daily basis.  He used Voxer for internal communication with his administration team, teacher teams, and to share positive comments with teachers.  He never suggests using a tool like Voxer for negative or critical comments because those should always be handled through face to face communication.  

The biggest advantage he ascribed to most of the other tools is that they allow you to control the message that is being shared about your school.  You can be transparent about what is happening at your school and really highlight the positive aspects of what you are doing on a continual basis.  Much of what they share is created as a Google Document and shared through Twitter, Remind, Facebook and the school website.  He also provides a paper copy of each item for parents.  This meets his goal of meeting your people where they are.

No matter what tool or tools you are using remember these three keys from his presentation:

  • Define your purpose
  • Meet your people where they are
  • Foster a growth mindset toward connectivity/improvement

Those three items are critical to successful communication and connectivity with your school community.

—Jason Bengs, principal of Southwest Elementary in Clinton, Oklahoma.

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