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Principal uses TikTok to connect, celebrate his school

I am a proud school principal. I love my job and for years I have showcased my passion for school and education on various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

I recently ventured into the world of TikTok. Within a year, I gained an audience with nearly 35,000 followers! For this more seasoned social media-experienced school principal, I was rather surprised by the overall positive reception I received on what was then known as an app more suited for the younger generation. 

Because never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that my lip-syncing skills, for which I won a contest in sixth grade (which just happened to be “Fat” by Weird Al), would be used on a certain social media platform some 35 years later. Or that my first career in television at a local NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan would prepare me for the rigors of the principalship. I also never envisioned that my love for all things pop culture would eventually allow me to relate so many famous television and movie quotes to everyday educational situations through a video camera that fits in my pocket. 

But there are no wasted experiences in life. They’re only wasted if you refuse to discover ways to implement those hard-earned lessons of the past into your present experiences. My experiences helped me to positively promote my school through a variety of social media channels.

When I transitioned out of the classroom I made a promise to myself that I was NEVER going to be a “normal” principal. I wanted to lead a school being true to myself and what I valued most in a principal such as being a servant leader, focused on positive relationships with all stakeholders, and having a lot of fun along the way. 

After attending an educational conference several years ago with keynote speaker, George Couros,  the author of The Innovator’s Mindset, I decided to ramp up my digital footprint and put out enough positive content about my school and leadership style into the world as to drown out all of the negative messages the public was exposed to regarding education. I soon learned that social media afforded me a lot of control over my school’s messaging. This was especially true with COVID and how this unknown virus was impacting our school system and the difficult decisions having to be made. A positive, proactive response was absolutely necessary.

So that’s what I did. I used the challenges of the pandemic -- which I view as opportunities -- to create videos that provide encouragement through humor. Like when we had to create a we had to create a contingency plan for opening safely (my top viewed clip!). Or when I was bringing plexiglass to classrooms before the start of the new school year and did this parody of Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.” Or when my team and I were discussing the excellent results of our students i-Ready assessments.

These clips also help me relate more closely to my students. They see what I post regarding my struggles and observations about being a school principal. It helps me seem more real to them. Authenticity matters -- even for students!

Growing a social media presence

Want to branch out and create -- or grow -- your social media presence? Here are three steps to help you get started.

  1. Define who you are. I suggest you start by simply listing the three main characteristics that define you as an individual. It did not take long for me to determine that I am a father, husband and school principal. I set my focus on consistently posting content around these three main traits that define me on social media. 
  2. Create authentic content. Now that you have your three main characteristics defined, the content you create is automatically genuine and relatable. With your authenticity at the forefront, you are in a position to take some risks. For example, while I knew I could lip-sync, I added singing to my repertoire (a huge risk for me!). Also, I worked to understand the authentic audience on each platform and customized content based on that audience. LinkedIn is different from Instagram and Twitter is different from Facebook, but every once in a while, you will create content that works well on all platforms. And when that happens, strategically time the posting of the content so as not to “flood” all platforms at the same time, but to create more of a steady stream.
  3. Engage positively with your audience. As you produce more and more content, you will attract friends and followers who share many of those same three characteristics you have defined for yourself and are courageously putting out there into the world. Engage with those followers by liking and commenting on their content. Acknowledge the risks they may be taking. And, follow back! Your community will expand, your influence will grow, and you will be exposed to the great ideas and inspiration of others to keep your own leadership skills honed with the latest best practices.

It is so important to model what a healthy social media use looks like for our students who are still trying to figure it all out. I truly believe that we can either ignore the fact that our students interact within these platforms, or we can be positive role models and meet them where they are.

Nick Holtvluwer is the principal of Mammoth Heights Elementary in Parker, CO.

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