Highest Common Denominator

Parent involvement nights, a focus on writing across the curriculum, and a culture of acceptance are just a few components of what makes my school such a great one to work at. My staff is also willing to consider new practices if they have the potential to enhance the learning experience. One topic we have often discussed is the role of social media in schools today. We have taken it slow, but I think we are starting to reach a point where we may be ready to collectively take the Web 2.0 leap.

One area of specific interest is our weekly classroom newsletters. Teachers are diligent about sending home a summary of the learning that occurred during the week to parents. Families refer to them often at PTO meetings and in informal conversations. No surprise that the classroom newsletters were listed as one of the best pieces of our school communication efforts.

Even so, we have looked at ways to make these newsletters more accessible to all families. A few teachers have tried Facebook. Other classrooms are currently piloting blogs. Whatever the tool, an obstacle to our efforts is the fact that some of our families still don’t have access to the Internet at home. Our poverty level and lack of technology training in the community could be part of the reason.

At the same time, what about the families that prefer to use social media for communication? And does poverty always limit a person’s access to the Internet? In the book Why Social Media Matters by Carnes and Porterfield, several statistics are cited about parents’ use of social media today. I shared some of this data with fellow principals Curt Rees, Jessica Johnson and Jay Posick at an administrator conference recently via Prezi.

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75% of parents ages 18-29 use social media.

8% of adults under 30 read a print newspaper.

90% of families with incomes between $30,000-$49,000 own a cell phone.

I suspect these percentages will continue to rise as parents model these technology behaviors for their kids. So while a print newsletter is fulfilling the important need of parent communication, we may still not be communicating with all parents. For example, what if a teacher had a blog that they posted with their students, and then printed off a copy for families who prefer paper? You are still honoring parent preference for communication. At the same time you are appealing to the highest common denominator with regard to what could be a more effective way to communicate.

Other benefits of a classroom blog include posting audio, images and video of student work, responding to comments from families to support two-way communication, giving parents an easier way to share their child’s learning with out-of-town relatives, and just being relevant in today’s Web 2.0 world.

Do you have a classroom blog? What have you found to be effective in promoting this type of tool as a way to communicate with families? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

3 thoughts on “Highest Common Denominator”

  1. I have several teachers who are using blogs as their primary way of communicating with parents, and I have gotten great feedback from parents. The comments that I hear most frequently are that they love being in such close touch with what their children are doing (even grandparents who live far away can still follow their grandchildren via the blog). They can easily discuss what happened at school with their young learners, because there are pics and info there to use as discussion starters. The other comment that I hear frequently is that it’s a common place to go and find the info that they are looking for. They don’t have to dig through a stack of papers that may or may not be there. We’ve had great luck with blogs!

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  2. Great article, Matt and I couldn’t agree more. My own kids’ schools have only started to embrace social media but the effects and increased levels of involvement are already apparent.
    I would love for you to take a look at Schooltree.org…we’re a free online parent engagement tool / social media network just for schools. We’ve just launched and I’d love your feedback to help us make it into everything schools need it to be: http://bit.ly/UrgSQ0
    Over 150,000 schools have community web pages set up and waiting to be taken advantage of, including Howe Elementary. I’m trying not to go on and on, but I’m really excited about the role of social media in parent engagement!

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