Involving parents in their child’s learning has incredible benefits on speeding the child’s progress and keeping them on track in terms of their learning objectives and behaviour.
Headteacher below shares her experience with using Facebook to engage parents. She describes it as ‘the most effective and beneficial way of engaging with parents and improving a school’ . She also shares tips on how to use facebook for that purpose effectively.
Headteacher Christina Zanelli Tyler explains why she has embraced the social media platform as a way of connecting with families
I have always had a healthy cynicism regarding Facebook. As a headteacher, I was particularly concerned with the way it could be used to vent frustrations (or worse) about a school and its staff. I saw it as a scary, seemingly lawless place to reside professionally.
It is quite a turnaround, then, that I now consider it to be the most effective and powerful way a school can engage with parents.
I initially stumbled across the idea of using Facebook to connect with parents when I was investigating messaging services that could put us in touch with parents quickly for reminders, changes to timetables or emergencies. They were all so expensive. I could not justify the cost of at least £500 a year to inform parents about a non-uniform day or a club being cancelled.
More than a bulletin board
As the hunt for a solution was going on, an apprentice joined our school; it turned out they knew everything that there was to know about social media. Between the two of us, we suddenly realised that a Facebook page might be the best way to reach our community of parents and carers.
Initially, the idea was that this would be a static page used only for communicating information – a bulletin board, basically. However, we ended up getting to work on creating a much more interactive social media presence, with Facebook at the centre.
So we now have two Facebook pages. First, a community page, which people can only like rather than be friends with and which has a similar purpose to our website (it gives information but its interactivity is very limited). And second, the page that we use much more interactively, which, perhaps controversially, is a personal page for me.
Parents immediately connected with the community page. It was clear from their feedback, and our page traffic and engagement, that we were communicating in a way they were comfortable with and that was convenient for them.
We started with simple updates, but quickly found almost all our parents were engaging and realised we could use the platform in a more comprehensive way. Staff started to experiment with putting up other posts – photographs of work, activities in classes, children playing. Again, this had a positive reaction. Parents of our youngest pupils, in particular, really enjoyed seeing their children “in real time” and any parent (hopefully) is proud of their child’s work being displayed.
We are now at the point where it is unthinkable that a school trip could happen without full Facebook coverage: parents wait for photos to appear when their children are out of school and likes start coming in within seconds of posting.
On our annual ice skating trip, parents eagerly await the video of just how bad we all are (and confirmation of the fact that the children are all safe). Performances of our school choir singing in the community at Christmas are a firm favourite, generating many shares. On a recent residential trip, we updated several times throughout the day, which was incredibly popular with parents as they all wanted to know that their children were safe and happy.
As for my personal page, this is actually an official school page, even though it is in my name. I was initially reluctant to put my name to it, but we found that we could not get the connectivity we wanted from a community page, and Facebook does not allow you to create a profile page unless you are a real person. If we wanted a page with more interactivity, I had to bite the bullet and put my profile picture where my mouth was.
This page is where we get the most traffic and where, arguably, the most gains have been made. We were clear from the start that this is a school page, not my personal profile, and parents understand that. But we also let them know that this page is a direct link to me and the other staff.
Because parents are Facebook friends with me, this enables us to tag them in posts that pertain directly to their children, and it enables them to tag us in posts. We have found that parents tag us for a variety of reasons – when their children achieve something out of school, when they are on holiday, or, sometimes, when they spot a competition or event that we may wish to become involved in.
This is where the true beauty of Facebook lies – it makes us a partnership. We find out about all the important little things, such as lost teeth, fabulous birthday cakes or a new baby in the family, and parents feel they have a constant window into their child’s school life.
There is another benefit, too: because most of our parents are friends with us on Facebook, it also stops them complaining about us as we can see all their posts. And when they do occasionally complain, we can resolve the issue immediately.
On that last point, the messenger function has been an unexpected bonus. Allowing parents to message us privately was not the reason we went on Facebook, but the tool has become invaluable. Parents message regularly: sometimes they have a query about their child but can’t make it into school; sometimes they want to complain; some of our more vulnerable parents simply want to reach out for help in a way that they don’t find threatening.
We answer every message – at times, it will be to arrange a time to meet in person, at other times, it will simply be to send a virtual hug. Most of the time, we are able to answer the question and stop the parent from worrying.
Problems nipped in the bud
Parents appreciate that, within reason, they can message us at any time of day or night, or during the holidays, and they will get a response. Although this sounds rather time-consuming, it saves so much time in the long run; most issues are able to be nipped in the bud.
Very quickly, we also discovered that parents use the page as a way of communicating with each other – they ask about lost coats or party invitations – and 99 per cent of the time, these issues are resolved almost instantly without any intervention from a staff member. Parents post open questions on our page such as “Is it non-uniform day tomorrow?” and, often, another parent answers before we do. Parents who work and are rarely in the playground particularly appreciate this, because it means that they remain connected.
Lastly, our school community has grown larger through Facebook. We are now connected with so many local people and businesses, as well as ex-pupils – and even a few minor celebrities.
This diversity of friends is fabulous because it places us at the heart of our community – and if we put an appeal out on Facebook (recently, for example, for plants) we have a tremendous response because of the number of people we reach.
Of course we have had odd issues with Facebook – an occasional provocative comment that we have deleted, and the occasional child who cannot appear online, but these issues have been genuinely tiny in comparison with the benefits (you can avoid most of them by following the tips in the box, below).
Facebook is firmly part of our school life. There are so many warnings and fears about social media but, for me, it has been the most effective and beneficial way of engaging with parents and improving a school that I’ve used in my career.
Here are my top tips for using Facebook:
- Tell parents exactly why you are doing it
Explain that you have control of your page and, in many respects, it is no different from your school website.
- Ensure that your governors are also fully on board
Explain clearly that even though a page may be personal to you, it still represents the school.
- Put new posts up regularly
Post several times a day, so that parents really feel as though they know what is going on and that it is not another version of your website that largely remains static. Parents now wait for photos to appear when their children are out of school, and likes start coming in within seconds of posting.
- Use it proactively to target parents who find face-to-face contact difficult
Parents message us regularly: sometimes they have a query about their child but can’t make it into school; sometimes they want to complain; some of our more vulnerable parents simply want to reach out for help in a way that they don’t find threatening.
- Allow all your staff to contribute and share the workload
All our teaching staff have iPads and, with the Facebook app, it takes seconds to post something new. Children like to contribute, too. Staff can answer messages themselves, or refer any that require delicate handling to me.
- Take time to read the newsfeed daily
This allows you to find out more about the families of your pupils (it is amazing what people put in status updates). The more you know about children’s lives, the better you can support and educate them.
- Be prepared for endearments
Lastly (and I say this with a broad smile), be prepared to be called “hun”, “babe”, “love”, and to get lots of messages with kisses at the end.
Read Original articles: //www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/status-update-facebook-perfect-parental-engagement