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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
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.
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.
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)
Whittle-le-Woods C.E. Primary School
I’ve got to be careful what I say today as there’s a Head Teacher going to be posting here shortly and I don’t want to get into trouble for poor sentence structure or rocking (spinning) on my chair.
My observation as we keep our foot down now with 80 likes on the primary Facebook page is that the parents are stepping up. It’s the start of crowd sourcing plain and simple in some cases.
The school asked the question:
How can we increase the number of families engaged with our Facebook community?
The answers came back via the wall.
This last two weeks has seen real impact – even a popcorn maker. Who’d have thought?
A quick update on how we’re getting on, not in our words, but from new parents at our first UK fully Facebook-driven parent and business community primary school.
“We’ve already added the school’s Facebook page to keep up to date ahead of our daughter starting at the school in September (my wife thinks it’s a great way to keep parents informed too!)
When parents who have a child coming to the school in September feel able to tune in to the school even before they’ve bought the uniform that has to be a good thing. Our approach is very different. We know that visiting the school website can often feel just like standing outside the school wall with no real chance to step inside and sample the school ethos.
Contact us if your school would like to be getting this kind of response from your prospective intake’s parents.
Blippit Social is all about levelling the platform between education and the outside world. You could call it business, community or whatever you like.
Here’s the equation:
education + real world = belief & engagement
“It’s not rocket science!” a friend used to say to me.
Belief to me is acceptance by either a learner or a teacher that what they’re experiencing is authentic, valid, proven & valuable.
Engagement to me is a sustained and voluntary interest in a topic because its intrinsic value is understood at a deep enough level to matter and press the ‘what’s in it for me button’.
Following years of watching and working with schools trying to engage parents and the local community through websites, VLE’s, learning platforms and so on it seems time for a change,
“Fish where the fish are!” a local fisherman used to say to me.
Some schools have made a success of their websites by making them part of a learning platform (umbrella term for all systems that support learning & teaching online – broadly). However a good many haven’t. Why?
This is a forever changing landscape in which the ecology is constantly evolving. I hope that the change we are looking to bring about is felt valuable enough at a wider grass-roots level to promote community cohesion and more besides. Let’s level the platform between education & the outside world.
education + real world = belief & engagement
More coming soon on our framework.
Really pleased with the way our first UK school got underway last night at their parent’s evening. With the Head handing out supporting literature to parents on arrival and taking questions as she went we’re sure that the outlook is positive!
As with most social media based activity there’s a take-off time but with a ready community on the school playground at the start and end of each day it should be a bit quicker than normal and not take millions of pounds of marketing!
If you’d like more information on this launch or about parental engagement and Facebook for schools then please just pop your email in the ‘More Please’ box to your right and we’ll get in touch.