There’s a long history in education of producing school-based publications and media artefacts. Schools produce yearbooks, newsletters and a wide variety of classroom materials and resources, as well as a wealth of school photos and videos. Eric Sheninger (2017) argues that this means school leaders are best placed to tell their stories. He goes further in warning colleagues that failing to do so means being at the mercy of media forces and failing to take advantage of the positive public relations platform using free social media tools where we control the content. Leaders need to become storytellers-in-chief and share all of the positives associated with schools to deal with an age of negative rhetoric toward education.
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 to ensure that the right information is continually before the right people at the right time. Nor ones that tell them how they should build a coherent school community with thriving students and motivated teachers… and welcomes parents… and write school reports at the same time!! Those foolish enough to go hunting for the ‘easy fix’ are doomed to live out H. L Mencken’s (1981) observation that there’s a simple solution to every problem and it’s inevitably wrong.
So, what are the main challenges that school leaders face when working with digital communications processes and tools?
- All schools now exist as a physical, geographic and time-bound organisation and have a virtual identity on school websites and social media platforms that never close and whose content can be accessed 24/7.
- There is an expectation that all educational content can be offered in multimodal forms which call on staff and students to understand forms of communication which were once only created by media specialists.
- The audience-focused creative processes of specialist artistic and literary forms now apply across the board to the production of all online content.
- The need for specialist communication skills has been re-contextualised into digital ecosystems in which connectivity and collaboration are key to getting things done.
- Everyone needs to have a basic understanding of coding and digital platforms.
- The need for agile project management systems is 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 but equally that school leaders are, to use a term of IT software development, ‘subject matter experts’ whose pedagogical knowledge is needed more than ever to help parents and the wider school community understand how children, and humans in general, process, evaluate and ethically act on the knowledge and information at hand.