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Over this last couple of months in particular, the levels of engagement between parents and the schools we support have rocketed via Facebook. We began to get a clear indication on our social barometer that things have been heating up along with the weather since June and let’s just be clear; heating up in a good way.
It seems everyone has a to-do list of biblical length at this time of year. When you’re able to interact with parents via Facebook at the relative drop of a hat it takes a high level of emotional intelligence from a Head to weigh up the landscape before updating on something that may wobble end of term families – you know, the straw that may break the camel’s back?
So when things REALLY heat up after a parent shares a lovely letter that school has sent home with SATS results (yes that letter inspired by Kimberly Hurd) it’s a real test of any school’s steel to keep control of the message and not let the meaning become skewed in the glare of the attention that comes with going viral.
Barrowford School have been in a hurricane force media mash up this week that has been full of firsts. I’m pretty sure that Rachel and Amy haven’t probably had any professional media training to help them deal with ‘live’ news interviews via satellite, telephone interviews with radio celeb DJ’s like Vaness Feltz & R4’s Woman’s hour; yet unsurprisingly they excelled even when ITV tried to begin to plant a negative seed.
As the media amplified the story it circled the globe reaching arguably millions of people who almost without exception were inspired and invigorated by the letter.
However there are always, and this is a scientific name, nutters. These people come from a dark place and share a lens on the world that you probably wouldn’t wish on anyone. It seems that it’s their job to de-rail and distract from the core message. It’s now, when these people surface with ill formed views, that the school gets the opportunity to see
- it’s own parental community demonstrate their emotional intelligence as a collective
- whether it’s (brand) values have been shared and accepted by the parent community
For Barrowford School, in my opinion, they had no need to worry about their parental community who have been nurtured for a number of years by the school’s “rounded and grounded” approach to, well, pretty much everything! After all it was a member of their community who inadvertently triggered the viral spread of the letter on Facebook. So, when a couple of people came along who hadn’t reckoned on the core beliefs of the school community being quite so solid it was really quite special to see those people neutralised in pretty short order by that same community while showing real composure, I think, stemming from their belief and faith in the school.
Barrowford were the second school we ever worked with on how to harness Facebook and I’m glad to say we still do to this day. I wouldn’t have missed this week for the world as I’m sure the world wouldn’t have missed their story for anything else either – not even a cabinet re-shuffle seeing Mr Gove exit stage door right.
By coincidence this week I had the pleasure of seeing published my ’10 top tips’ for schools using social media for parental engagement via The Guardian which I wrote last week alongside another article taking in a wider view of the topic by Lucy Ward.
Going live since September have been a great mix of schools who are each harnessing Facebook for their own reasons. You’d be forgiven for thinking that to use the world’s biggest social media platform your school would have to be at the frontier for innovation or at the very least have maverick-like leadership. Not true. Far from it.
The Heads I’ve worked with all know the value of parental engagement. From new-to-the-school through to very well established Heads it really doesn’t matter and for them it’s just a matter of how to get traction.
Where a school ‘is’ in Ofsted’s eyes is proving not to be a factor in whether a Head chooses to use engage with parents or not using social media. For example you might think that a school with a notice to improve has better things to be doing? Surely it’s inviting trouble from disgruntled parents but in our experience it appears not.
Safeguarding: key features of outstanding practice
In speaking with Children Safeguarding Boards about their priorities it feels like safeguarding has begun to usurp e-safety in many people’s minds. The tide is turning on the ‘everything social is bad’ camp and that’s why we say ‘harnessing Facebook for good’. Experience shows that parents want to be active participants in safeguarding and actively be included and party to the school’s success having invested their most precious things into the school – their children. This video (made by year 3) was a direct result of children and parents being together in a joint ‘talk’ about how to keep safe.
(Firefox may not show the video below – switch to any other browser to view)
From the Ofsted Safeguarding in schools – report summary:
“Ofsted does not require schools to build walls around play areas; it does not expect schools to seek Criminal Records Bureau checks on casual visitors to schools, including parents; it does not judge a school to be inadequate because of minor administrative errors, or because an inspector’s ID was not checked.”
“a curriculum that is flexible, relevant and engages pupils’ interest; that is used to promote safeguarding, not least through teaching pupils how to stay safe, how to protect themselves from harm and how to take responsibility for their own and others’ safety”
Keeping children safe is everyone’s job and we believe that for children to be safer social citizens they need better equipped parents who can actively & passively learn via school as an excellent role model.
It’s always a thrill to put be able to collaborate with a new school and see them go ‘live’. A short while ago Ghyllside Primary School in Cumbria, who were already on Facebook, took the step to increase the scale of their engagement with parents.
Aside from the beautiful location and meetings with school in the snowiest of times it’s been a real pleasure to work with such a high energy school. The secret is as usual, communication, communication and a bit more communication!
It’s a bit of a distance from here to Cumbria but with time well used face-to-face plus email our green credentials remain pretty much intact I”m very pleased to say.
When you’re underway with SocialSchoolMedia these are some extras that you might want to supplement your school’s e-safety/acceptable use policies with. Feel free to borrow anything that might be useful.
The school uses Facebook to engage with its parental community on an informal and day-to-day basis. A high percentage of parents are already on Facebook and for the school to be on there too with its own Page, not profile, makes the work of the school easier to access, value, engage with and show the added value of the experiences provided.
In getting closer to parents there are certain considerations that the school has catered for. The school policy regarding children’s photographs applies to Facebook and in addition to this the school has opted to use a system & service that offers additional safety advice and measures.
To deter casual browsers and to promote engagement with the parent community who have the vested interest, the extra tabs on the school’s Facebook page are protected where needed with a ‘school gate’ facility which covers up the contents of the tabs. A person must click ‘like’ to open school gate and in doing so be seen as part of the community allowing their profile to be viewed by the school page administrators.
If a person not known to the school or otherwise joins and the school is unhappy or uncertain about the risk associated with them they can be blocked from visiting the page with immediate effect.
To publish photographs in a controlled way, without receiving individual comments or being tagged, a special separate photo gallery facility is provided which is not run by Facebook. Viewers are prevented from posting comments below photographs of school activity and therefore from inadvertently identifying children which could undermine the school policy.
Images are made more difficult to access because the usual ability to ‘right click’ and ‘save as’ has been disabled. The school understands that it is impossible to fully secure any photograph when published anywhere on the web.
Parents need educating with regard to online safety for their own benefit as well as their children’s. To this end the school provides a media area on the Facebook page that contains e-safety videos and offers support to parents for whom these raise questions.
The Facebook wall is monitored by the school for interaction and it is the schools position that the Wall is not the area for communications regarding individual children. It would not be desirable for parents to use a social tool in this way either.
The Facebook wall is configured to not allow posting of photographs or videos by parents. It has a profanity filter set to ‘high’ in place though there is no reason to expect issues from inappropriate content from parents; these are precautionary measures only.
The school will also publish audio recordings via Facebook to open up the learning environment to parents without exposing the children to risk.
Other common sense advice pertinent for high schools, where older children are of age to officially engage with social media such as Facebook, is widely available.
We’ve been in a ‘few’ schools over the years and it’s obvious but I’ll say it anyway: Every single one, unsurprisingly, wants to be the very best that it can be for the children and families in their community regardless of size, budget, town, borough, county, country or continent.
So who is best placed to advise a school on, for example, how best to reach targets or how to sustainably communicate better with parents? And what does ‘better’ mean anyway?
Sustainability is the ‘biggie’ and schools rightly look to themselves first and then trusted partners second more often than not. Blippit Social a unique service to schools where we help heads reflect, focus and distill down what it is they want to see arising out of their social media engagement with parents. We call it ‘harnessing Facebook for good’.
Whether it’s a village school of 40 children, a hospital school with a fluctuating intake or a high school with 1500+ students it’s always different but we’re now seeing patterns of use, adoption and development having done it for a while now.
- the biggest monsters are in people’s heads
- parent’s want schools to succeed
- management and monitoring works (part of what we provide)
- many people don’t know what they don’t know – talk helps
- fishing where the parents are brings people together as a community
If you get the chance to go to Kazakhstan – go. It was my privilege to go out there on a fact finder trip to a group of new schools that are full of the keenest teachers & students you’re likely to see anywhere.
I’d love to share some photos of the schools but for obvious reasons I can’t. Needless to say, small classes, 3 languages of English, Kazakh & Russian in subjects including science pretty intense. Can you imagine understanding photosynthesis in your third language? Can you imagine teaching English as your third language? Incredible but it was there.
Plenty of ICT resources too and internet throughout. Interestingly the web at home for all staff and children was commonplace too. These were not perhaps typical Kazakh families but still a surprise when you go armed with preconceptions.
What about social networking? I asked the students.
Do you use Facebook?
The students laughed politely. No they don’t use it. None of them do. Shock. What they actually use is a virtual clone of Facebook for Russian speaking people and they don’t go anywhere near Facebook at all. Apparently a Russian student came up with their platform and the parallels are quite similar to our American friend. I could kick myself now because I don’t recall the name of the system. Let me know if you know please and put me out of my misery?
Bottom line? Travel still broadens the mind. It’s a pain in the neck logistically but the experience is pure gold every time so if you get the chance just do it.
A Head we know has a ‘leaky roof’ photo graph that appears in the local newspaper whenever ANY article features their school.
Can you imagine what that must do for their public persona? We’ve all got dreadful pics buried away or better still deleted but when you’re a Head and the press have a photo of you, well, why pay someone to go out and take another one where you’re smiling?
A story reached us a wee while ago of a parent who was unhappy that their child was going to be attending a particular school that wasn’t her number one choice. She didn’t hold the Head in particularly high regard because of ‘something she’d heard’ and the bucket photo that featured regularly in the press certainly did help matters.
The parent rang the school to let them know she wasn’t happy and so the rainy face day Head invited her in. Now, between the meeting date and that phone call the prospective parent found the school on Facebook. She ‘Liked’ the page and began to tune in to what what was going on, what was on offer and more importantly what the head was saying during the week.
School photograph day arrived and being a thoughtful Head, who knew the value of a good photo, she light heartedly updated the parents via Facebook to remind mums not to let the dads do the hair today because its photo day (smiley face etc).
This soft communication meant a lot to the prospective parent. So much in fact that this pivotal update meant she turned up for the school meeting with a smile and change of heart. Combined with all the other good things going on in Facebook she felt satisfied that her child was actually going to be part of a rather good community.
Incredible how much of an impact soft communication can have sometimes.
Transparency and a sense of ‘access all areas’ you might say also did this. We’d say that controlling their own press also had a big part to play too. Why not harness social media for good and give your parents something better to look at than ads and rainy day photos?
We’ve been talking to more people this week who ask what the social school logo is about on Facebook pages we’ve created and the answer is very simple. A Social School is one that takes to heart the philosophy of parental engagement by reaching out using social media. Simple as that.
“How do you know if you’re ready to be a social school?” is often the next question. We answer simply in the style of the late Steve Jobs who, when asked how he’d know when submitted iPhone apps ‘crossed the line’ and not get approved to go on the App store, he pretty much said “We’ll just know.”
It’s the same for you. It’s a gut thing that we find people, particularly Heads, just have. The list of ‘why they can’t’ shrinks to be replaced with a list of ‘why we should’.
So there you go. You just know!
The BETT Show at Olympia this year was really great for us. Lots of friends from all the years we’ve spent in the ICT ‘industry’ as a customer and now as a supplier. Brilliant and loved seeing both sides. The people we talked to ranged from Spanish Colleges through to Heads and leadership teams from UK primary, secondary, public & private sectors who all face the same challenge. They all had the same question:
“Do you do Facebook in schools?”
I heard that people don’t think the learning platform is dead quite recently too? Seems to me that this depends on how broad your definition is of these things and while there are lots of schools still with single BECTA spec platform systems out there, there are other people doing it differently.
My own view is that the learning platform in its original incarnation is deader than a dodo. The opportunities are much greater now to do this differently and the bloated beast of a learning platform that some schools still have will never be a place for parents to come into as well. Just my view.
Many years ago (before Facebook had captivated the masses) I don’t think I was along in buying into the dream that parents would log in to a VLE or suchlike and by osmosis we’d reach them with ‘great stuff’ and stimulate interaction and engagement but that was just a dream. The change management was too great and the costs – well don’t even go there.
Now it seems very simple to me. Go where your ‘customers’ are and if that’s Facebook you’ll want to be making your way down there soon. Yes – it’s their turf as much as it’s yours and yes you’ll feel like someone in fancy-dress at a formal dinner for a while but long term you’ll be glad you made the move.