The coronavirus presents endless challenges to the educational community. As schools struggle with the sudden changes and uncertainty, bright spots are in high demand. We chat with Michael Nagler, one of four finalists for 2020 National Superintendent of the Year and head of the five Apple distinguished schools that comprise his district, about how he launched a viral virtual spirit week and helped make his community #mineolaproud (opens in new tab).
Who: Michael P. Nagler, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools at Mineola Public Schools
Where: Mineola, NY
Project: Virtual Spirit Week
We have been a 1:1 district for many years, so our students, parents and staff are all adept at digitized curriculum and using the iPad as a tool for learning. So when the coronavirus changes set in, implementing distance learning wasn't a 'heavy lift' for us. We used programs already in place for assignments and communication and spun up Webex very quickly to help us achieve 'live' instruction.
The one area we needed to amp up was keeping that school spirit that makes our district the special place it is. We decided to implement a "Virtual Spirit Week" to keep students, parents, staff and even alumni connected while they practiced social distancing and isolation. We circulated a PDF of the week’s “events.” Participants upload photos and messages for each themed day, using a districtwide hashtag. We were very surprised to see the first day of spirit week go viral and hit the top trends on Twitter. I am very #MineolaProud of our teachers and students and the ability to adapt quickly to learning and implementing the program.
I also would note that while I believe we are doing an exceptional job at distance learning—this is NOT school. Children (and adults) need the social and emotional interactions and daily life lessons in addition to academics.
Tips to Replicate
Social media is a powerful branding tool for any school/district. If you haven’t already establish a hashtag, (#MineolaProud)—that would be the first task. Once established, whoever tweets needs to add the hashtag in the tweet so it can all be collated on the same page.
Twenty years = a lot of spirit wear! #MineolaProud pic.twitter.com/TKDxpU7DSFMarch 22, 2020
We have found it is a great way to motivate the community, especially since schools are closed and we are searching for a sense of normalcy. Not only have our students and their parents joined in the fun, but due to the hashtag trending it gained the notice of alumni who jumped in to show the pride didn't leave at the graduation ceremony. It was heartening for our current students to feel part of a bigger community and for our staff to see that their former students still felt a connection and appreciation for Mineola.
Building momentum to scale social media can be slow, so tapping into establish parent organizations to help scale is critical. It also helps the support and interest grow in an organic way when it comes from the ground and organizations already with their own foothold in the community.
Expect the Unexpected
It was a bit of a shock to see our little hashtag hit the top trends on Twitter. When something “goes viral” it tends to be very unexpected. It should be viewed as a fun, silly activity that helps unify a community toward a common goal.
What Not to Do
Don’t force the issue. If it it is going to be authentic, there shouldn't be mandatory participation or negative repercussions for those who aren't comfortable joining in. Stick to the mantra, build it and they will come…