In today’s world of learning, with its possibilities for global connection, one-way communication is no longer good enough. When interaction is one-way (e.g., note in the backpack, using online spaces with comments turned off), it develops or increases the sense that the school is out of touch. In connected schools, interaction and engagement rule the roost. When face-to-face interaction is not possible, as is often the case with working families and busy schedules, the best tool for that is social media.
Interactive online platforms, like the ones suggested below, can break down barriers, bring communities together, and improve critical relationships between school authorities and families as described in the six Cs for using social media. Not only is the use of social media good classroom practice, but in places that have quality reviews (an assessment and evaluation system for schools), engaging parents with social media will help schools shine.
Here are six suggestions of resources you can use to get started. Take a look. Pick a couple and you’ll be on your way to becoming a connected school.
1. Website, blog or wiki
Create an online space using tools such as Google Sites, Blogger or Wikispaces to have one central site that the school community can come to as a hub. The site should include the following:
Links to all your other sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest)
Contact information for school staff (e-mail, messaging, online spaces)
Space for school staff to share information
Translation tool (e.g., Google Translate)
Have school staff model career readiness and success with a professional LinkedIn profile that students and families can view and use to get to know their teachers better. Bonus points if these are linked to from the school website, blog or wiki.
Facebook is the new town square. Most of your school community is probably there already. Meet them where they’re at by starting a school Facebook page. This is a terrific vehicle to celebrate success, update the school community, share and coordinate events and mobilize in times of need. In New York City this year, several schools found their Facebook pages to be key when informing and connecting with the school community during Superstorm Sandy, the bus strike and a winter storm. Families and students loved being able to use the page to comment, ask questions and find out information.
Another feature is the Facebook translation tool that makes instant language translations appear with a single click. For example, if you have a parent who is a Spanish speaker reading a Facebook public page and encounter a comment in English, you’ll see a translate button next to it, letting you click to see it translated into a pop-out window in Spanish. The translation is not perfect, but it certainly let’s folks who speak various languages converse with and understand one another.
A Twitter account can provide the school community with a live news feed of what is taking place in the school. Embed the updates on the school’s online space and make sure the school community knows how to use Twitter Fast Follow to get text updates instantly on their phones. If you don’t know how to do that, read this.
For schools that are 1 to 1, allow students to bring their own devices or even those that just have a few laptops available, students can get on board as well by tweeting updates about school happenings and learnings using a designated hashtag.
Pinterest provides a beautiful visual display of that which is important to your school community. You might create a board of your school neighborhood by taking pictures of various places and describing them. Others can share their comments and insights. Share photos of teachers with their teaching philosophy. Send this out at the beginning of the year to families so they can get to know who works at their child’s school. Principal Joe Mazza uses Pinterest to pin resources aligned to the National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs.
6. Live streaming
Connect with the school community by live streaming using tools such as UStream or Google Hangouts. When the school community can’t be at the school physically, they can watch what is going on live via streaming video or later during a recording of the livestream. This can be great for celebrations, ceremonies, morning announcements and more.
It is important to ensure the school community has Internet access. In places where this may be an issue, open your computer lab or library up outside school hours to provide access. Connect with your community centers and libraries to ensure there are opportunities for access. Consider making a map with a schedule and locations where internet access is available.
When we take the time to provide access and put some of these suggestions in place, perhaps the greatest benefit schools will notice is that schools will keep conversations going and bring relationships even deeper than was previously possible. The result, a stronger and more involved community, is a benefit to everyone.
Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997 and is the author of “Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning” and The Innovative Educator blog.