Our Story: Reading School District
by Kristin Boyd Edwards | 05.5.16
Kristin Boyd Edwards is the director of communications and community engagement for the Reading School District in Reading, PA.
The Reading School District’s “Why I Teach” project is a district-wide movement encouraging teachers to submit photos in which they display signs explaining why their profession is their passion. By gathering all the images in a single space and sharing them with the community via social media, the project celebrates the art of teaching and offers a powerful glimpse into the hearts of its educators.
I’ve always had a passion for education. That was my mother’s big push — I grew up in a single-parent household and she always said that education is the one thing that nobody can take away from you. So, that’s just been instilled in us from the beginning.
My dream job has always been to work in communications in the Reading School District. My entire family has attended school in the Reading School District. So, we’re a Red Knight family through and through. I know the value of education because these are the teachers who trained me — I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the teachers that I had who believed in me, who pushed me, who always told me that I can do anything I set my mind to.
In our district, social media has been probably the most vital tool for us. The great thing is that there’s no money involved — as an urban district we just don’t have those resources. It’s a big time commitment, but I’ve invested that time.
We have eight channels. It’s a daily grind, 24/7, making sure that I’m pushing out teacher accomplishments. I tell them, “If you’re super proud of your bulletin board this month, please send it to me. If you have a project you’re proud of, let me know.” Again, it just puts a face to teachers and gives them a chance to share the things they’re excited about, whether that’s a student project or something they’ve participated in community-wise.
I saw the “Why I Teach” project, initially, on Twitter. I remember it was a Saturday morning and I was like, “Wow — this could be really great.” I’m always looking for new ways to highlight our teachers. We’re in an urban district, and while we do have a significant amount of challenges, there’s always this misperception about our teachers and about our students. I’m always looking for ways to crack that and show, “No — this is what’s really happening here.”
I looked at the storytelling kit [and] started to think about how I might display the project — that’s where the website came in. I thought about how the project could live there forever, how anybody could go to that website. It seemed like a good way to house the pictures — I knew that this way, I could continually add pictures to each school’s gallery as they came in.
So, I downloaded the kit and I emailed [our administrators] — 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I said, “Listen, I think this could be great. What do you guys think?” Within a half an hour, the entire team had emailed me back saying, “We love it. Great.”
I went through the principal to get the project into the teachers’ hands and really let them have at it. Whatever they wanted to do with their picture was completely up to them — I just asked for their photos by a certain deadline so that I could set up the schedule and that was that.
Every single thought bubble was about having an impact on students, and that’s especially important in a district like ours where we do have high poverty, a large population of English-language learners and resources are limited. Whether it was about wanting to impact the kids who change the world or wanting to help students see their potential — everything was about the kids.
Here, we’re also very focused on deep equity — “Why I Teach” has been a big part of the conversation because it’s not about a person’s race or gender, it’s all about, “I’m here to help your child.”
Our teachers are just phenomenal with some of the things they came up with. One teacher blew up the bubble and wrote “29 reasons why I teach,” then she had each one of her students write their name in the bubble. I just loved that. It was elementary, so their handwriting was all over the place but it totally encapsulated that “why.”
My sister’s [a teacher in the district for 19 years] stuck with me because we have a family motto — something that we’ve always said — which is, “Smile. Sparkle. Shine.” And hers read, “Teachers inspired me, so I want to inspire the young, brilliant minds in our community to smile, sparkle, and shine.”
For us, Facebook was the best because you could see the conversations that it created. Parents were [posting comments] like, “You’re one of the best teachers my kid has ever had.” We had alumni who were surprised some teachers still taught, saying things like, “You were so fabulous, I remember this project from your class.” And then there was the actual staff — commenting back and forth amongst themselves. Or, they were sharing it to their own personal social media websites.
So, just to see those conversations that were started, I think the teachers felt proud — they enjoyed looking at each other’s comments and all the “Why I Teach” signs. You just felt this pride bubbling up. It was like, “Wow” — there wasn’t a negative post in the bunch. Everybody was either complimentary or sharing memories, and I think it actually reminded them of why they really do teach. It was like, “This is why.” It gave them that boost and helped them [connect] with students sometimes 15 years after they’d left the classroom.
Many of the thought bubbles have now been placed throughout the schools. Some schools have really stepped up and [expanded] the project into “Why I Learn.” We’ve had two do that already with upper grade students. Teachers are telling them, “This is why I’m here every day, now you tell me why you’re here every day.” So, it’s kind of evolving [and] students are starting to think, “Yes, education is important,” “This is what I love about this class” or “This is why I want to learn, because I want to be a ‘fill in the blank’ when I grow up.” It’s a constant reminder that we’re all in this together.
Kristin’s tips (and a word of encouragement) for teachers who are new to social media:
- Two years ago I wouldn’t have attempted a project like this on our social media page. But, two years in, I knew that the conversations would be positive. You just have to watch your page — explain what’s not acceptable. And that’s not to say that we delete every negative comment about the district, because that’s not what happens, there’s just a threshold that I have. If it’s a conversation starter, I’ll respond to that person on the page and address it.
- I tell teachers who are jumping into [social media] to start small. I help them set up their accounts and then I tell them, “Show your everyday classroom moments — that’s what people connect with.” Take a picture of your bulletin board, or if you have permission, a student reading their favorite book. Start small, build up and then once you’re more comfortable, move into deeper projects.
- I do wholeheartedly believe that social media offers the world to give a glimpse into the classrooms — to see the teachers and why they’re here. There can be such a negative perception about teachers and why they teach, like it’s all about having summers off and so on, but that’s not what our teachers are here for. That’s not what they’re focused on. This is about breaking the general misperception around teachers. Social media has done that for us. It’s a phenomenal tool to utilize.