When people first jump into social media, specifically Twitter, there seems to be this inclination from administration to start a Twitter handle (ie @sampleschool) so that they can communicate what is happening in their school community. This is a great idea and nice way to give an audience quick snippets of the day, but this is also limiting in the view of what we can actually do with the medium.
The way I compare the “handle” (@sampleschool) versus the hashtag (#sampleschool) is that one is about communicating, and the other one is about building community.
For example, a school might share events, things happening in classrooms, news, etc., to a hashtag, but the view of the organization is limited to the view of one or sometimes a few. Yet encouraging others to use a hashtag says, “your voice matters in our journey and we want you to share it”. I have been proud of the #psd70 hashtag (from Parkland School Division) that started with only a couple of educators in the district using it relentlessly, until now it has so many voices sharing a variance of samples from what is happening throughout the community. Burlington Schools in Massachusetts uses #bpschat, but I remember the days when Patrick Larkin was the only one using the hashtag. He wasn’t trying to control the message; he was trying to get others involved. Communication versus community.
This is not to say that communication isn’t important and that we shouldn’t try to reach people on the mediums in which they use. It is saying that we can (and should) do more.
One school in West Fargo is using the #legacyK5 hashtag to share their story from many perspectives, which also builds community. Leyden School students use #leydenpride to share the great stuff that is happening from the viewpoint of students, and I bet if you asked principal Jason Markey about this, it has been a great way to build community.
A challenge I have been giving schools is to encourage their community to use a hashtag for the rest of the year. Share things they are learning, things happening in the classroom, and compile them into something like Storify to make your newsletter with many different perspectives and viewpoints. Educators can share what they are learning at conferences by tweeting back to their school hashtag. There are a million ways that this can be used, and what I have encouraged these same schools is to start off their next school year with a poster in the front of their school encouraging the entire community to see and share to said hashtag.
What impact would that have?