65. Managing and Implementing Social Media Mindfully As School Leaders with Stephanie Borges Folarin
In a world where social media is essential for school communication, Stephanie Borges Folarin, Head of School at Wye River Upper School in Centreville MD, shares her secrets to managing it mindfully. On this week’s episode of The Mindful School Marketing Podcast, find out how Stephanie navigates the challenges that come with social media and the concept of mindfulness and its application in social media communication. We also cover learning how to effectively tailor social media content to cater to various generations and the necessity and benefits of establishing a comprehensive social media policy for schools.
About Stephanie Borges Folarin:
Stephanie is the Head of School at Wye River Upper School. This 8th -12th-grade school is located in Centerville, Maryland. Wye River Upper School is committed to affecting lifelong change in the lives of our students, many of whom have struggled in traditional settings.
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[00:00:40] Aubrey: And I’m Aubrey Bursch. Today we’re joined by Stephanie Borges Fallarin. Stephanie is the head of school at Wye River Upper School. This 8th through 12th grade school is located in Centerville, Maryland. Y River Upper School is committed to affecting lifelong change in the student lives of students, many of whom struggled in traditional settings.
[00:00:58] Welcome, Stephanie. We are so happy to have you with us today.
[00:01:02] Stephanie: Yeah, I’m so happy to be here.
[00:01:04] Aubrey: Yes,
[00:01:05] Tara: I already feel your great energy. Thanks so much. We’re so excited that we’re here where we met you at the National Small Schools Conference and we were thrilled to reconnect here. Can you just tell us in our audience a little bit more about yourself beyond what Aubrey just shared?
[00:01:18] Stephanie: Sure. So like Aubrey said, I am the head of school here at Y River Upper School. It’s a fantastic school dedicated to supporting students with learning differences reach their full potential. So our profile here are usually high functioning autistic students, students who have ADHD, uh, students who may be dyslexic, students who may have high anxiety.
[00:01:41] So We create a supportive environment for them to just thrive. And they may be college bound. They may be career bound. Doesn’t matter. Our goal is to make them productive citizens when they graduate. So not only am I ahead of school, I’m also a mom of two little amazing princesses. They’re six and three.
[00:01:58] Uh, and they really run my household. So I pretend to be the boss at work and they are definitely the bosses at home. them and my husband, but I pretend to boss them around, too. I
[00:02:08] Aubrey: love it. And it sounds like you bring all that energy into the school. I mean, your students must adore you.
[00:02:14] Stephanie: Yeah, I don’t know about that.
[00:02:16] So I wake up this way. And when I walk in, we have P. E. First period. I wear them out. So they’re not prepared. for this morning energy. Um, but they get this all day. So some of the parents of students with 88, they’re like, yes, they’ve met some competition and I will wear them out. Uh, so if you’re a morning person, this energy is amazing.
[00:02:37] If you are not, this energy can be wearing. So just depends. Well, I’m a morning person.
[00:02:43] Aubrey: So I love that kind
[00:02:44] Stephanie: of energy.
[00:02:47] Aubrey: Um, I’m so excited. You’re here to talk with us today because for many reasons, um, I love that you’re coming from a school with such a great mission and focus. And also, and we had the pleasure of talking to you at the national small schools conference.
[00:03:00] Um, and that was so much fun. Um, and everyone who attended your session just walked away saying, Oh my gosh, it was. And so your session, they’re really focused on social media. So that’s something we really wanted to dive in with you today after having such a great discussion with you at the conference.
[00:03:17] Um, so tell us a little bit more about like, so you really kind of focused, uh, on social media for your school. School, especially after Covid or since Covid. Yeah. And, um, when you were speaking and leading that workshop, you know, you were, what were you telling people about how you use social media now for your school in terms of communication, collaboration and networking, um, with your staff?
[00:03:40] We’d love to hear more, and I know our audience would as well.
[00:03:43] Stephanie: Well, there are a few levels to the conference, um, conversation. So, first, I wanted the group to really think about social media pre COVID, during COVID, and after COVID. So, pre COVID, from my understanding of my surrou the schools around me and what we were doing at Y River, is we’re using social media here and there.
[00:04:06] We put up a few pictures, we talk about a few events, but it wasn’t like the main way we were sending out information. Pre COVID during COVID. It was like the only way we were sending out information because we were kind of forcing our community to bond in a way that we’ve never had to have them bond before we couldn’t get together.
[00:04:24] So everything we posted online was that more that much more important. So not only to share what we’re doing online in our classes, but also to maintain the culture and the spirit of the school post COVID. The expectation of sharing that much information is still there. Even though we want people in the building, we’re still offering options for them to come to events via Zoom, for them to have conferences via Google Meet, for them to get together via Microsoft Teams, right?
[00:04:54] So there’s all these online. avenues to engage. And in my opinion, it’s taking away personal engagement. And so what I had our group talk about was how they’re feeling about just social media in general, pre, during and post COVID, but also how do you, Teach your community, your teachers, your parents, uh, and your students, how to engage in social media in a safe way.
[00:05:19] And what do you put in your handbook about social media? Because people are sharing so much more online than they ever did before because of COVID that hasn’t stopped. So what do you do when you’re trying to lead a school or when you’re trying to lead a division, or when you’re trying to teach kids how to interact online, do you need to have a policy for every single thing?
[00:05:39] In my opinion, Yes. Partly being ahead of school and having to deal with everything. Yes. Have a policy. So you have something to lean on, but also have something fluid, like monthly conversations about social media so that you know what the kids know, because I swear they are always ahead of me. And I think I’m on top of stuff, but they just know so much more.
[00:05:58] There’s more apps coming out. There’s, there’s stuff that’s popping up on sites that I don’t even know exist. So just having an open conversation with the students, cause we have high school students about what’s interesting, what’s new, what’s weird, what’s changed. Right. And they’ll mention things because they don’t realize that Twitter is now owned by someone else.
[00:06:17] Right. So they’re like, it’s just changed. And I’m like, Ooh, tell me how, and I’m writing my notes and then I do my research. Right. So the best researchers on social media are the ones using it. Way more than I’m using it. So that other generation that younger generation tells us so much. So using that to inform any policies we have as a school is really, really important, but also making sure that we’re pulling people back in physically to our community.
[00:06:43] through our social media. So not giving everything away, kind of dancing a little bit and then inviting them to the dance, right? That’s what we’re doing on social media now. So that’s the change. So we talked about that in our group and all my stuff is really interactive. So we’re up and we’re moving around and we’re looking at timelines.
[00:06:59] We’re looking at research and it’s just like a fun way to do really serious work.
[00:07:04] Tara: So interesting. I mean, I think the idea of having policies is something that, you know, is, is I’m sure of a huge challenge because it is changing so much. And I think, you know, the concept of social media in this context, right?
[00:07:18] We’ve talked to social media experts on this show about using social media to engage with your community and how, and how, what kind of messages to put out there and how to market your school and social media. But this idea of how it relates to your staff. And your relationship with them and their relationship with their students is super interesting.
[00:07:39] Um, and so I wanted to, like, how does that intersect with your social media as a marketing tool?
[00:07:47] Stephanie: Oh, great question. So what I first like to think about and talk about with my staff and any conference I’m in, who are you having write your social media? And why? Right? So if you have a boomer writing on your blog post, right, you’re going to get this depth of information.
[00:08:04] Now, this is all stereotypical, but in my opinion, it’s true. You’re going to get this depth and wealth of information, these great metaphors on education. It’s just going to be beautiful, right? Because that’s the age where they just wrote these prose that are epic. So usually our blog posts, I have my older staff writing those because it’s just flowy and beautiful.
[00:08:26] All the facts are in there, but just flowery language. It’s just engaging, right? Usually, I have my millennials really looking at Facebook. Facebook, you could put a little bit more text on there, right? Not too much, just a little. Really describing the pictures or describing the event, because they’re going to do that in a very concise way, that’s also engaging.
[00:08:43] Now, anyone younger than a millennial, I’m going to have do some Twitter posts because we can get 40 characters. No problem. That’s it. That’s all I’m giving you. It’s going to be good to go. So when we’re thinking about who’s participating in writing social media, I’m thinking multi generationally and, and cause of stereotypes really work and the way they were taught to write in various generations.
[00:09:06] Plays to our audience. So I have older parents just happens to be right now. My kids are in high school, but their parents are much older. Their parents are actually the age of my parents right now, right? Um, so the information that they want to get is usually in print. And so I’m collecting ideas from everyone in the community, but really the editing of that and the first draft goes to my older community because they’re, they have a sensibility, the same sensibility as the group that’s going to receive this information.
[00:09:37] We regularly take polls and we regularly. Gauge the interest of people who are looking on their our I. G. Page. We asked the kids. What do you think about this picture? And I it’s not that good. Or why don’t you take one and then we’ll post yours and we’ll post ours and we’ll see who gets the most likes like just engaging the entire community in our social media and really paying attention to the people who need to learn more about our school versus the people who just want to know what’s happening with their kid.
[00:10:04] We’re really mindful of who’s writing in which or who is telling the story in a printed version. So really thinking about who your audience is, not just for your digital market, but also for anything you’re going to print because that’s expensive. So we want to make sure that we’re mindful. Are we printing it because we’ve done it forever?
[00:10:26] Are we printing it because it’s really going to be impactful? These people are going to put it on their dining room table. Whereas I am 41. Nothing’s going on my dining room table. It’s just not gonna happen. Not in my life. Um, and anyone younger than me, maybe a piece of art is going there or maybe nothing, right?
[00:10:42] So we’re trying to be really mindful of how people are using our printed material versus how people are accessing our online material too. Wow. I love this.
[00:10:53] Aubrey: I was like, no one could see me doing this, but I was like nodding. I’m like, oh yes,
[00:10:57] Stephanie: blah, like the
[00:10:58] Aubrey: long flowery language. I totally get that. And I love how you identify the strengths of each of those people.
[00:11:05] Like It’s like everything’s valuable, right? But here’s the proper channels like that. They can get the most out of it. So I just follow up question to this. Cause as you’re talking, I’m like, this is brilliant. So brilliant. Like why have someone go outside their comfort zone in writing in a way they’re not familiar with when you can just identify someone who can do it naturally.
[00:11:23] That’s right. I am curious. So how does one, this is like a two part question, like, how does one identify and get the buy in of someone who can do this sort of thing? And then how do you monitor all this? Like, you know, when we’re thinking about like cohesiveness of messaging and like what we’re putting out there.
[00:11:42] So if you could give any tips to that, that would be great. Cause I’m all in, I’m like, this is a brilliant plan.
[00:11:48] Stephanie: So here’s what we do at Y River. So we have a master Excel documents. Um, and we kind of write out themes for each month, and then we write a list of people we want to write so everyone doesn’t write every year.
[00:12:01] And then by the theme, we decide is this really going to engage a lot of people? If so, should it go? In multiple places should be on the app should be in print should be on the website. We kind of work through that. So over the summer, we’re creating a master list of who could write to our social media, who could write in our printed material.
[00:12:22] Those may be people internally. They may be friends of our school. They may be community members who we really just want. Other people to read because we enjoy them, right? So we’re creating this master list. After we have the master list of themes and topics, we’re thinking about which area can it be online, can it be in print, right?
[00:12:41] Once we have that, then we think about the people who can really write to this. And then we, we engage each person and ask them, uh, we would love for you to write on this theme in Twitter, the month of X, right? And you can do it. You can have your students do it. You can edit it. Whatever the case may be, before anything is published or printed, we have our director of communications and enrollment read through everything.
[00:13:04] So it’s the same voice throughout. So we do a lot of that. If we come across something that’s so beautifully written, we don’t want to edit it, but it’s not quite our voice as a school. We give that, we put a byline on so everybody understands this person wrote this. Isn’t this amazing? All right, so we do a lot of that.
[00:13:21] Everybody is involved in social media, kind of like technology or diversity work. Someone is overseeing it, but everybody is responsible for it. We take the same role with all of our communications. Everybody’s writing. One person’s involved in that final editing. And of course I read everything and I edit as well, but that’s my enrollment and communications director.
[00:13:42] That’s what she looks at. That’s what she looks for. And it’s also helpful to make sure the same message is everywhere. This is what we do. This is what we do well and on all platforms. So it’s, it’s work in the summer, but totally worth it throughout. Yeah,
[00:13:57] Tara: we always recommend that it’s not easy to do.
[00:14:01] That’s a big commitment and takes discipline to do that. And it sounds like you have a good team working on it. I’m curious if you’ve explored AI at all for. Any of your social media posts. We
[00:14:11] Stephanie: haven’t yet. But here’s the thing. We’re gonna because I think it’s so it’s so interesting and scary in a high school, right?
[00:14:19] We don’t want to shy away from AI, but we also don’t want to take away from our personal creativity. And the more we’re learning about it. The more interested we are in it and the more we’re creating policy around AI, not just in the classroom, but in anything we send out to the community and kind of figuring out what that looks like for us.
[00:14:38] And we’re asking our neighbors and we’re just kind of figuring that out because robots don’t work here. So we want to make sure that we have that personal touch and part of being a part of why River works. Upper school in this community is having that family feel so I is wonderful. Uh, and it can feel warm.
[00:14:58] Uh, and sometimes you can’t tell whether or not it’s a person or the computer. But right now we really want to strengthen our writing muscles. So we’re not using it just yet. I won’t say we won’t ever, but right now we want the whole community to just practice. It’s great for our kids to kind of figure out what language they’re using and what is the impact of their language.
[00:15:18] And the best way to teach them is to teach ourselves and practice on ourselves and show ourselves as examples. So right now we’re not doing AI, but we may, we may in the future. I love it. You’ve
[00:15:28] Aubrey: got a plan, right? And it’s a plan that works, right? I think
[00:15:31] Stephanie: so. Working so far.
[00:15:34] Aubrey: That’s fantastic. Now I’m curious because I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of social media, right?
[00:15:41] Lessons that maybe, uh, you learn the hard way through social media, anything like you might have done differently or would recommend to schools, um, as they’re planning out the upcoming school
[00:15:51] Stephanie: year. Well, the reason we, we talk about policy so much here and the reason why I talked about it so much in my conference is because here’s what happens.
[00:16:01] And it’s happened to us a few times. We post something, a parent may not like that post or it didn’t really describe their experience. And so they write back on social media. Then we had a teacher write back to the parent in a way that we wouldn’t necessarily have done. And then we have to decide, do we delete the whole thing?
[00:16:19] Do we turn off comments? Like, are we censoring? Are we doing too much? Because we had no policy. We didn’t have conversations about writing back because during COVID. We wanted everybody involved because there was so much happening, right? So what led us to wanting to talk about policy and writing policy are the, the odd experiences on social media.
[00:16:40] Like if someone gets an award and we miss a picture of a kid, and so you have 10 pictures, but that 11th one was of that parent’s kid. We’re going to hear about it. And then you have to. Do another post or it’s just it can become a mess when you’re trying to do a lot and you don’t have a policy. If there aren’t checks and balances for every area of your school, there’s going to be an issue.
[00:17:01] And we miss some things and we immediately go in and we talk about policy. And that might be over the top for some people. But again, it works for us because there’s so much happening. If we have a checklist, And we have people going back to look and we’re all monitoring social media and we’re all talking regularly about what’s happening in the school.
[00:17:19] It becomes second nature just to take a look, to wonder or not, should we add comments to this or should we just put the picture up? Right? Having everybody weigh in on that quickly because now we have a system. smoother because you never know what’s going to happen on social media. And we’ll always have people who don’t know about our school, ask the question and that’s great.
[00:17:39] I’m like, Ooh, that’s legit. Let’s add it to the frequently asked questions on the website, right? So we’re growing, but there’s also moments that can be pitfalls that we’re trying to avoid. So having those policies and making sure everybody is checking and monitoring really, really helps. I love that.
[00:17:55] Tara: I love tying it back to where you started about policies.
[00:17:58] And also it’s a good transition to my next question, which is about mindfulness, because we talk about mindfulness on this podcast and how it applies to small school leaders. So how do you define mindfulness, Stephanie? And how do you apply it to your job or specifically to your policies for social media?
[00:18:16] It sounds like that’s a very mindful decision that
[00:18:18] Stephanie: you’ve made. Oh, yeah. So we’re we’re big on mindfulness here as well, based on the profile of our students and the stress of the job. Um, we’re really thoughtful here. We do a lot of listening first before we do anything. And we have almost everyone at the table.
[00:18:34] And I know that’s really hard. That’s a small school. It’s a little bit easier. Um, and part of the mindfulness that we’re regularly involved in is being critical friends. in a respectful, calm, compassionate way. And so we’ll meet at the table if we’re admin, teachers, students, depending on what the topic is.
[00:18:55] And we talk through everything and we do it in a non judgmental way. And in high school, they need that. The world is very judgy. We don’t want to be judgy here. Teachers, they get it all the time. They get it from parents who don’t quite understand. And so they may ask a question that’s, not intended to be insulting, but it may be insulting teachers who think they’re communicating enough and they’re not communicating enough for one parent.
[00:19:17] They need a little bit more. So part of what we’re doing here is sharing what it is to properly communicate with the person in front of you. And that is very different depending on who you’re with. So we’re really mindful about what we do and how we do it. And we may mess up and we’re really intentional about apologizing clearly, specifically to whomever we may have offended, whomever we may have left out of the important conversation.
[00:19:42] We’re really aware of feelings here where we’re tapped into our empathy. And that’s what I love. And one of the themes that we have here is caring and kindness. And we’re really, really aware of that. And in education, sometimes that gets lost for a grade, sometimes that gets lost for a donor, or a building, or whatever the case may be.
[00:20:00] And so, we’re always really, really aware of feelings here. Uh, while we’re doing our work, we’re doing our work in a way that contributes positively to the community. So, we’re, we’re really, really aware of that.
[00:20:14] Aubrey: What an amazing, like, culture you’re building there, right? Through that mindfulness practice of, of listening and, um, being reflective and, and figuring out how we want to address each situation.
[00:20:26] Yeah. Uh, that sounds like a really good philosophy and, and In culture, you’re building the right your school. Um, I’m excited to transition us to probably one of my favorite parts of the segment, which is the rapid fire questions and questions. We always ask our guests. I do have to ask you. Are you ready?
[00:20:44] Stephanie for your rapid fire
[00:20:46] Stephanie: question? All right. I’d be
[00:20:49] Aubrey: super surprised if you weren’t. Um,
[00:20:51] Stephanie: okay. I’ll kick off. You’re learning me so well. I
[00:20:54] Aubrey: know. Oh, okay. So I’m going to kick off
[00:20:56] Stephanie: the first one. Okay. If you could
[00:20:58] Aubrey: put one book as mandatory reading in high school curriculum, what would it
[00:21:02] Stephanie: be? Oh, that’s easy.
[00:21:04] It would be my husband’s book. A Particular Kind of Black Man by Topé Follarin, published in 2019, is already on a lot of high school lists. It’s a fantastic book. And I am a critic, but I’m trying not to be biased. It’s fantastic. So I highly
[00:21:20] Tara: recommend. Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. I can’t wait. We have a great Goodreads list and it’s going to go right on there.
[00:21:25] So thank you. I’m going to look
[00:21:26] Aubrey: that up right away. Summer reading list now. Yeah. Great. Awesome. Wait, look at that.
[00:21:33] Tara: Awesome. All right. Next question. What is one app you couldn’t live without?
[00:21:37] Stephanie: Probably Duolingo. I’m really enjoying it. What are you learning? You thought I would say Twitter, but I’m not saying Twitter or IG.
[00:21:45] Good, good, good. Duolingo, and I’m working on my Spanish.
[00:21:48] Tara: Okay. I did that too. Yes. I’m taking a break from it, but yeah, it’s fun.
[00:21:53] Aubrey: Oh, well, I need to download, re download that because everything, everything. Yeah, I would that that high school and college Spanish just completely left my brain in the real world.
[00:22:05] So. Going to go back to that. Thanks for a reminder. Um, what are you reading right
[00:22:09] Stephanie: now? I’m reading Trust by Hernan Diaz from my book group and It’s different. It’s not a book that I would have picked because I don’t really like talking about capital, but I really enjoy it because it’s about relationships, building wealth, kind of figuring out what reality actually is.
[00:22:28] It’s pretty good. Yeah.
[00:22:29] Tara: Awesome. We have a lot of people recommending, uh, um, financial literacy books on this program, especially when it comes to those, that high school reading list. Uh, so that’s great. Okay. Last question. What is one great piece of advice that you’d like to leave us with?
[00:22:46] Stephanie: Trust your gut.
[00:22:48] That’s what I would say. We do a lot of group hiring here. Um, actually we do all group hiring since I came. Uh, and the goal of that is having everyone involved and accountable for the person we’re bringing on the team. So if there’s even one person on the team, Who doesn’t feel right in their gut, no matter how great the candidate is.
[00:23:06] We don’t bring them in. So trusting our gut and we have a beautiful community here that we created together. So I would say trust your gut and your intuition and any decision you make and you will be successful. Wonderful.
[00:23:20] Tara: Thank you. Stephanie, it has been great to have you on this program and to share some really, really, really helpful information that I think, especially like the idea of policies and putting in your handbook, like all that stuff is great.
[00:23:32] Um, where can people find you online?
[00:23:34] Stephanie: We are at whyriverupperschool. org. So come on over, click over, read our stuff, send questions, come visit. If you’re ever on the Eastern shore, we’d love to have
[00:23:45] Tara: Great. Thank you so much. Thank you for
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