Facebook: My story as a Primary Head

As a primary school headteacher, I have always been conscious of improving home-school communications. As a working Mum, I am all too familiar with the ‘What have you done today?’ ‘Nothing!’ conversation’ while struggling with guilty mother syndrome of missing special events and occasions in school. So when approached to discuss the concept of a ‘Social School’ with John Bidder at Blippit Social I was intrigued and my mind began to work.

An initial mind mapping session with John channelled my thinking and enabled me to explore the possibilities that lay ahead. On the mind map was the all too familiar ‘Facebook’ logo which I have got to admit did get the warning bells tinkling. Facebook conversations within the school setting tended to be negative ones centred around the tricky world of e-safety. However, chatting with John opened my eyes to the possibility that it could also be used as a powerful tool if well-planned and supported.

I wanted:-

  • To be able to give informal snippets of school life quickly
  • To point parents in the direction of things to read and watch
  • To access parents at any time of the day
  • To provide links to school for absent parents
  • To provide real experiences of school life that parents sometimes have to miss
  • To provide a forum for discussion between school, parents and community

John listened to my wish list and came back with a skeleton model for a Facebook page which looked really exciting. The social environment was tailor-made to suit our requirements yet had the potential to change as we wished.

I was keen to learn as we went along so made the decision to go ‘live’ very quickly. We have now provided a space where parents can engage with school informally, where parents can receive information, reminders, updates and tasters of school life at their fingertips.

One of the most powerful tools is the ‘Whittle Boo’ tab where we quickly upload sound files of school life e.g. tasters from music events, reports of sports events and visits. To do this, I use Audioboo – a simple tool which needed no time to prepare. I simply press record on my Iphone and by pressing ‘publish’ I immediately send content to our Facebook page and Audioboo. Parents have loved having the opportunity to hear their children mid-enthusiasm which is sometimes lost between the journey home, tea, bath and bed!

Quick and timely reminders e.g. Don’t forget it’s non uniform day tomorrow have been appreciated by the busy, working parent who has not yet found the newsletter buried at the bottom of the school bag.

It has also helped to send out messages about what our school is all about. We are a family oriented, friendly school and I think this is evident to others through our Facebook page. New places for our school have just been allocated to parents and we have had a few families this year who have been offered a place with us which was not their first choice! Not a good start! However, it was great to hear that they had logged on to the Facebook page and loved the tone of it. They then went on to visit the school in a much more positive frame of mind and are now happy with their allocated place. As a school, we don’t often have the chance to reach parents before they came to us yet our Facebook page could.

We are in the very early stages of being a ‘Social School’ yet already aware of its massive potential. I have been able to share snippets of video material for parents, plea for help with the Summer Fair, share songs from our school Choir, spread our celebrations at Sporting events, upload pictures, provide parents with access to ICT equipment via The Whittle Shop and let our parents know our Year 6 children have arrived safely at their residential trip. [UPDATE: 07/12 We’re now using Blippit Social’s Facebook app to manage our page]

Most recently John connected us up with University of Salford Business School and after meeting Dr Aleksej Heinze and Dr Gordon Fletcher there’s going to be some really exciting collaboration coming up for the school.

I have valued the ICT expertise of John to ensure it was tailor-made for us and was as safe as possible, I’ve had a few ideas that I want to get out there but would not have actually done it without the technical ‘know how’ and the fear of crossing the lines of internet safety. I have also found the tools I use to be simple and immediate which is crucial in our busy working days. As I mentioned, we are in the first steps of a journey with this project but I feel there is so much more potential in being a ‘Social School’.

[UPDATE: Clare is now Head at Salesbury Primary School Sept 2014] Clare Berryman (@whittleprimary)

Headteacher

Whittle-le-Woods C.E. Primary School

5 Replies to “Facebook: My story as a Primary Head”

  1. This is really interesting Clare, thanks for sharing. It seems to me the key to engaging any group of people online is to go where they are, rather than try to force them into checking somewhere they don’t go regularly. So many parents and staff are active on facebook, it seems a great place to do this. It is a shame that the logo makes so many alarm bells ring in the minds of teachers across the UK- as it is potentially so powerful. I am very interested to read how you have done this safely and inspired to look at this for our parents. Thanks!

    1. I think that’s a key to its success – as much as a ‘one-stop shop’ as possible! I think once people are familiar with the format of Facebook as a social page, it is very easy to use the same format for other means. From our point of view, it is so quick and easy to upload a quick comment that can be cascaded to all our community. We are now learning to balance content, our website is now much more about general information about the school – policies, procedures, prospectus etc. while our Facebook page is the trigger for our day to day business. John will be the best person to talk to regarding the set-up ensuring safety. We are going to roll out some hands-on briefings for parents that are still a little reluctant or are not familiar with layout.

  2. Great to hear about another school exploring social media. Love the concept of the quick audio bites. We started our page as an attempt to better communicate with our families in a new school. Cannot believe how quickly it has grown and how parents find it indispensible – and expect ongoing updates and prompt replies -to the extent that maintaining it can become quite an after hours chore. Have you found that an issue? Would also be interested to know how you cope with negative comments as part of discussions

    1. Yes – the audio bites are great and manageable as it is quick and easy. It hasn’t become another job to do! We are keeping the tone quite informal so it is very different from other information parents receive from school. Haven’t had any issues meeting parental demand yet but will post on here should I meet anything tricky so we can share tactics. On the whole, parents comments are responses to postings rather than queries to be dealt with which was really our intention at the planning stage. Word of mouth between parents is positive and as we update information for different audiences, a wider group of parents are joining us. Gradually, more staff are also getting on board too which ensures a steady drip of input. A few parents have expressed the wish for some hands-on sessions to address queries, help set-up etc so that is our next job!

      1. The hands on sessions will be really interesting – to me one positive thing is that these sessions weren’t ‘offered’ by us in a ‘here these will be good for you before we start’ way. People decided that ‘they’ wanted to know more and that has to be better doesn’t it?

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