Death Knell of the School Newsletter?

The school newsletter has always been a big deal for at least two people in school, typically the Head plus the poor soul who inherited the MS Publisher Template from the last incumbent.

‘Knowing’ glances often shoot across the table during conversations about the school newsletter and website.  Given the information requirements for school websites this is hardly surprising.  (Clerk to Governors is a must read.)

In my experience here are the most common 5 approaches where tech touches school communications specifically for the newsletter. Some of these are done in tandem.

“We send the newsletter to parents every week on Friday…

  1. on paper with pictures
  2. as an SMS message linking to the website
  3. as a PDF email attachment
  4. via a Facebook update with a scanned image of the newsletter
  5. via Twitter to parents with a link to the newsletters page on the website

…so why do parents still tell us they don’t know what’s going on?”

brian blessed

If Brian Blessed read the school newsletter out loud on a Friday standing in the playground parents would still not know fully what was going on in school.  Why?

Is school boring?

Generally no.  However what’s considered to be news and how these exciting things are shared might be giving the feeling of ‘old news’.

Is it to do with timing?

Yes without doubt.

People are used to ‘on demand’ consumption of media.  Most homes if you’re lucky will save a paper newsletter to read later when they’ve nothing else to do – that’ll be never.  They may though get a calendar out and add dates to it from the newsletter to remind them when it’s non-uniform or sports day or parents evening.  They are less likely to read a scanned newsletter on a timeline and add dates from there remembering the detail while switching views.

Tweeting or Facebooking on a Friday will land better but, still, what is it that’s making you do it on a Friday?  Our data shows that this is not the day to do it.  What time on a Friday is best if you decide to still pick Friday? 3.30?  You need to know when people are being receptive to receiving your ‘stuff’.

Is it to do with the format?

Yes without doubt. About 50% of people reading this post will have stopped already because there are too many words, not enough pictures, maybe they’re just tired, know all this already or someone has just un-paused the Blackpool stage of Strictly.

SMS messages are definitely a ‘read later’ thing once the parents get used to seeing the school sender name and they know that there’s just a link to a long newsletter awaiting.

There are some schools who have gone to extremes.  I know of one school where parents have been given an iPad to get them to use Twitter and receive school Tweets!

Many more schools use Facebook now and report greater reach, engagement and impact. Some however seem to lean to far towards ‘operational’ updates – don’t forget this, don’t park there & nits.   Even on Facebook it’s hard to break old habits and to forget that it’s ‘social’ not broadcast media where the relationship is ‘the thing’.  These messages sit like uneasily in Facebook.

Even in Facebook there are improvements now to make sure parents get your updates over and above others but how many parents know about these?

Horses For Courses
Horses for courses

Teachers and business managers are experts in their business not in design.  Too much effort has historically been spent by schools on making design choices at a micro level. Now, simple is best.  Look at the format of Tweets, FB Updates & websites.  Clear, simple, brief and fuss free from conflicting font styles and colours. Why use 200 words when 25 will do? Let the system you’re using style your message in a way with which parents are familiar already.

Is it to do with content?

Yes. People today are spoilt!  They’re used to personalised this that and the other – even Coke and Nutella let you put your name on their label.  There’s very little ownership over a school newsletter even though it’s a clear sense of transparency and honesty that excites/engages parents.

On Facebook (our favourite horse in the race) personalisation is king.  These are the their updates,  their school, their victory in the cup, their great decision to send their child there.

So how about scanning/saving a newsletter and sharing it as an image update on Facebook?  That’s canny but I don’t think it’s transformative.  How about disaggregating the newsletter into bitesized chunks and drip feeding them as updates at optimal times across the week instead?

With technology it’s often been the case that people do just what they did before except a bit faster/easier without reflecting on how else it could be measurably better.  It’s maybe an indication of the times in which people work – less time to reflect, ticking off the list of jobs and so on.

If you’re in charge of the school website too, as part of the school comms strategy, you’ll have even more to think about. Our approach is to blend web with social to avoid doubling of effort.  Much of a school’s attention is on tending their social ‘garden’ while the website is given a lick of paint each year to meet the necessary requirements. Who really is the audience for your school website anyway?  Ofsted.   We’d like to imagine many others too but sadly it’s holidays and snow closures that make your site stats spike.

Does all this mean the end of the school newsletter as we know it?  Yes – in any useful form I’d says it does but it’ll be a while before parents realise if you announce it in the newsletter.

Using social media to engage and communicate with parents

If you’re a Head Teacher, SLT member of Governor then you may want to read this blog post from Head Teacher Rachel Orr.

Her first-hand experiences of impact and reach are insightful with something for everyone to think about.

Read about this well nurtured Social MediORR savvy school community as they continue to ‘normalise ‘ the use of social media for parental engagement.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter.

 

Blippit Social on BBC Breakfast talking social media and schools

This week I went on to BBC Breakfast’s famous red couch for Blippit Social. I was lucky enough to be invited on to the programme to comment and advise on the use of social media by schools and attitudes of parents to the subject more widely.

The Inflame Game

The context for the piece was the question of whether or not a primary head teacher of a school had done the right thing by sending home a letter essentially telling them not to let their children go on Facebook, they were too young etc.

When Bill Turnbull (my mum’s favourite presenter second only to Michael Palin) asked whether the school had done the right thing I essentially said yesfor that school it was the right thing. Saying anything else would have been wrong and only inflamed the story.  Not knowing or understanding the school’s context and history only the Head himself could say, on reflection, anything else.  Every school is different and that includes it’s community; having worked with as many schools as we have over the years there’s no doubt about that. We do know now that done right, even Ofsted inspectors see huge value in our parental engagement approach.

_40__BBC_Breakfast

Viewers’ comments on the  BBC Breakfast programme Facebook thread on the day show that there is no one single view when it comes down to it.  Parents do share the same essential views on safety but not necessarily the same view on what should be done and how to ensure it. Check the comments out to see what I mean.

It’s pointless to make it into a blame game

It’s a fruitless route to play the blame game in my opinion.  We’re all old and wise enough to know

  • It’s not Mark Zuckerberg’s fault
  • it’s not the parent’s fault
  • it’s not the children’s fault
  • it’s certainly not the Head Teachers’ fault

It’s just where we’re at in our evolution;  ‘learning’ how to use tools for which there are no real rules; only arbitrary age limits and everyone’s common sense.

The End Game?

What options are there then for young people, parents, teachers and companies on the best use of social media platforms linked to education?

  • raise age limits for access?
  • increase reporting tools to expedite action?
  • boycott social platforms?
  • boycott technology like phones, tablets etc?
  • enforce tough technology filters for home access?
  • enforce and introduce new legislation?
  • or support, educate and make users part of the solution?

And finally.  Of course being a very British thing to do I landed lots of stick for being spotted on the TV so if you can’t beat them, join them.

You may remember me...

The morning after the Positive Head Teachers' CPD Event

I like this photo a lot. Head Teachers talking about social media parental engagement with Head Teachers and other school leaders at our Bippit Positive Head Teachers’ Event yesterday at the beautiful Brockholes Nature Reserve.

Yesterday schools from all over the north west come along to talk about the day-to-day challenges & successes of parental engagement.  It’s safe to say I think that noone went back to school with questions unanswered because we’d also invited some experienced Head Teacher colleagues along to share what they’d learned over the last 4 years with us.

Themes talked about included

  • Ofsted
  • e-safeguarding
  • educating & supporting parents
  • nurturing & harnessing school values through parents
  • time management
  • tips & tricks
  • what works better than something else
  • data on trends for engagement
  • data on topics of discussion
  • data on peak times for engagement
  • data on community demographics & much more

New! Blippit Social Reports

We introduced our new social reporting service for schools which goes beyond what regular Facebook Insights offer.  This for me personally is ‘where it’s at’ for us and our schools when you need to prove your worth, demonstrate how school is managing to keep the focus of relationship with parents on track  or the value of the activity to yourself or other powers that be. (Here’s an earlier article on just a small part of what we do.)

The event was filmed in lovely HD and we’ll be sharing the footage with delegates, speakers and other specially selected channels soon.  We’ll be doing more of this due to demands on the day and from those who simply couldn’t make it.

BIG THANKS to

  • Acer Education UK for sponsoring the Chromebook prize which was won by a delegate from a school in Wigan
  • InVentry & Virtue Technologies for supporting the event with their visitor management system
  • our NW Head Teachers, Lancs County Council & Brockholes Education Team speakers for sharing their respective knowledge & experience with others too.

Want to know what Ofsted thought of one school's Facebook work?

Listen (SHORT VERSION)

Jenny Haunch is the Head Teacher at transformed Washacre Primary School in Bolton which was in an Ofsted Category up until very recently this year.  For the rest of the story just press play and feel free to share this post.
More here on Safeguarding And Download the Ofsted SMSC Guidance (November 2014)here.