Producing school-based publications have a long history in education. Schools produce yearbooks, newsletters and a wide variety of classroom materials and resources, as well as a wealth of school photos and videos.
School leaders should tell their own school stories, according to Eric Sheninger (2017). He goes further in warning colleagues that failing to do so means being at the mercy of media forces. Leaders need to become storytellers-in-chief and share all of the positives associated with schools.
The effort in school leaders and teachers writing
Unfortunately, achieving Sheninger’s vision of school media control takes effort. There are no killer apps that give school leaders ways of using digital communications. There are no magic formulae to ensure that the right information is continually before the right people at the right time.
Nor ones that tell principals how they should build a coherent school community with thriving students and motivated teachers… and ones that welcome parents… and writes school reports at the same time!! H. L Mencken’s (1981) observation that there’s a simple solution to every problem and it’s inevitably wrong comes to mind.
Writing skills working alongside digital communications
So, what are the main challenges that school leaders face when working with digital communications?
- All schools now exist in two modes. They are physical, geographic and time-bound organisations They also have a virtual identity on school websites and social media platforms.
- There is an expectation that all educational materials are in multimodal forms. This calls on staff and students to understand the creation of texts, images, video and sound.
- Writing online is an audience-focused creative process. The skills of specialist artists (e.g. of authors, filmmakers, sound engineers and graphic designers) now apply across the board to the production of all online content.
- Today, writers are expected to understand that communication skills exist within digital ecosystems. The key thing to getting this done is connectivity and collaboration.
- Everyone needs to have a basic understanding of coding and digital platforms.
- Lastly, team managers need new way to manage projects. Agile project management systems are needed to put in place productive workflows which can be customised to deal with team-based decision-making and evaluation.
Each of these challenges deserves a book devoted to their implications. However, for now, let’s just say that they highlight how the social purpose of schools is to model the effective communication of ideas, language and story with or without the internet.
There’s no doubt that new ways of managing digital communication are required. At the same time, school leaders are, to use a term of IT software development, ‘subject matter experts’. They are the key to helping parents and the wider school community understand how children process, evaluate and ethically act on the knowledge and information spinning around them.