Schools, Trains and Change Management

Today I was travelling back by train from a meeting in Manchester. Hot choc in hand I arrived at the platform and found that the train I was to catch had been cancelled.  No worries. Trainline App to hand (I wasn’t alone – another guy also had this) I worked out what I needed in no time. No worries.

In front of me was a chap who looked confused.  He asked another guy what was happening with the trains and he replied to say he had an app that said the next train was due shortly, quick change then onward no worries.  Chap was pleased to help and confused guy glad of the info and he hung around phone app guy in some sort of subconscious thankyou mode.

The platform soon filled with lots of other people.  One threesome couldn’t see their train on the departure board so they went off to seek a train person to ask.  There was shoulder shrugging and frowning in equal measure.

Finally the train arrived, we all piled in for one stop then piled out again at the next station to change.  The app people, including myself, stepped straight onto the connecting train on platform 3 quite confidently.  Elsewhere other voices could be heard asking the same question.

Is this the train for Preston?  Is it?  You think so?  Yeh I’m pretty sure it is.  According to this app it is yes.  Noone seems to know for sure.  You’d think they’d put someone on here to ask wouldn’t you?

Complete strangers reaching out for the right information and reassurance but sadly both were in short supply.  People were resigned to their fate now.  Doors shut and necks continued to crane looking for signs and confirmation that they were headed in the right direction.  Like a slightly smug individual I opened my laptop on a free table and got working.

Why the train story?  For me it illustrates what happens when there’s an enforced change and people have to divert from their usual trajectory.  Some people are in the know and can crack on.  Some people are good at finding out the answers and seek either authority or peers.  Passengers with access to the latest info at the point where it’s needed are able to cope with the change and even become useful to those who are less connected.

When social media is used proactively, responsively and strategically by schools to the benefit of their community it’s magical and empowering and it’s precisely why we do it; we’ve called it ‘improving the parent journey’.

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Head Teacher's Pet (Alpaca my bag now)

Some things are meant for sharing and some things aren’t. When your audience is parents it’s not unnatural to think once or twice about what you might share. However, an Alpaca in the Head’s Office? No brainer. It makes “dog in the playground” seem very pedestrian.

alpaca ma bag

This Alpaca went on tour around the classes with the wonderfully Doolittle-esque Head Teacher Dave McPartlin and in terms of memories for the children you can only imagine them re-telling the day’s events when they saw their families later that day.

alpacainclass

Isn’t it refreshing that in the prevailing climate of risk avoidance and health & safety we have an ‘Ofsedicially’ Outstanding school prepared to take in large South American mountain dwelling creatures in the name of enrichment & probably a few other things too…including fun?

On the face of it it’s slightly bonkers.

Conventional wisdom might say

  • do it, but don’t make too big a fuss as parents might not ‘get it’
  • do it and feature the visit in the next school newsletter at the end of the month
  • do it and pop a photo on the school website

Unconventional wisdom might say, do it then share it on Facebook the same day so that mums and dads might actually believe their children when they get home!  Today that’s exactly what happened. Unconventional wisdom won and the response from parents at Heysham St Peter’s CE Primary was very good.

euronews polar bear

By coincidence in the news two days ago another large furry mammal was spotted in London – specifically a Polar Bear.  Wait.  A massive polar bear in London down in the Tube (and later other places too) with small children? What could possibly go wrong?

For me, social media engagement is about stories and in my talks round and about the place with groups of Heads that’s what I delve in to in more detail.  Whether it’s stories about an Alpaca in the Head Teacher’s office or Polar Bears on the London Underground it doesn’t matter too much. Every person and place has a story to tell so why not share it? You’ll might be surprised at the reaction.

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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.

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