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Region principals encourage connection, literacy through social media 'Read Alouds'

Region principals encourage connection, literacy through social media 'Read Alouds'


Each video starts with a greeting.

“Comment 'Hi' when you're on so that we can say 'Hello' back to you.”

At 7:45 p.m. every Monday, Jane Ball Elementary School Principal Ryan Eckart says hello to his followers — fellow educators, students and their parents — tuning in to catch the latest installment of the Hanover educators' weekly Read Alouds.

Eckart is one of a growing number of elementary school educators harnessing social media for a positive, personal and educational experience. He started his weekly videos broadcasting from the Jane Ball Elementary School Facebook page at the start of last school year after seeing a similar video on Facebook.

Eckart makes his videos personal, offering greetings to each viewer who comments on the Facebook page and asking his students to recommend titles for the next week's book reading.

"We had Facebook pages for a while in the school district, but we hadn't had a ton of interaction," Eckart said. "We tried it a couple times, and it really went off with a lot of praise. Kids were talking about it at school."

Erica Robinson, principal of Hess Elementary School in Hammond, kicked off her "Make It a Good Night Monday" videos last spring after then-school media specialist Terri Childers brought her the idea as the Hess leadership team was exploring ways to build the school's social media presence.

"Some of our kids might not have someone at home to read to them, so I think this is a good platform to provide at least one story a week," Robinson said.

Each Read Aloud series has its own style. Some readers prefer to broadcast from their homes. Others invite on special guests or explore an educational theme. But, they all try to maintain at least one aspect of consistency: the date and time of every video.

"I really try to plan my days around Monday at 7 p.m.," Robinson said. That's when she puts on Hess' regular Facebook videos.

Usually, books are chosen based on their relevance to reading comprehension levels — most viewers are elementary age or younger — their illustrations, which need to be easily picked up over video, and their ability to be read within a five- to 10-minute window of time.

Readers said they don’t want their young audience to lose interest. And, they seem to have struck a chord. Each week, the Read Aloud videos bring in hundreds of views — some viewers livestreaming and commenting; others saving, sharing and waiting to watch later.

"Every Monday my kids are over the moon excited to gather around the laptop in their pajamas and watch their amazing principal read them a story," said Jane Ball parent Megan Thompson, whose four sons, ages 4 to 9, watch Eckart every week. "It's a family affair. It's awesome."

Jennifer Griffin, principal of Miller Elementary School in the Merrillville Community School Corp., began streaming from the Miller School PTO Facebook page at 6 p.m. every Tuesday near the end of last school year.

Griffin has taken her videos to the Merrillville library and McDonald's, making community resources known to her students who may be in search of their own public wifi or nearby businesses friendly to students looking for a place to study.

She's also invited an author to guest read with her and has arranged book giveaways for her loyal student viewers.

"We always try to send out a question about the story," Griffin said. "We're trying to get the kids to translate what they're learning in the classroom into their own reading comprehension outside of school."

The three Region principals all shared a similar value of literacy brought from the videos, but say their Read Alouds expand beyond just reading; they’re about building relationships.

"It lightens the spirit of what a principal or administrator — what that concept would've been from long ago," Robinson said. "I hope they can learn through the experience, the power of a community."

Eckart also aims to break the community mindset of the traditional school principal through his videos. The Jane Ball principal often shoots his videos at home from his daughter's bedroom, sometimes with one or more of his daughters at his side, to provide a window into his life beyond school walls.

He said he hopes to use his social media as a conduit to keep advancing time together as a family, both in his own home and among those who tune in.

"Families just don't spend as much time together," Eckart said. "If this is 10 minutes every week your whole family can spend together, that's fantastic because, hopefully, you're going to talk about the book or come to school the next day with a book you want to read."

Gallery: Celebrating Region teachers


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