My staff and I are having some good conversations about the how and why for becoming more connected online with our families. Questions such as “Why should we?”, “What are the benefits for students?”, and “Is it one more thing added to my plate?” are all items we have tried to address.
More specifically, the biggest question seems to be, “Why should we share student learning online when it seems like no one is reading it?” We don’t lack for data that supports why we should start engaging with our families and community through tools such as social media. Consider the following research cited by Meg Carnes and Kitty Portersfield in their book Why Social Media Matters (Solution Tree, 2012):
75% of parents ages 18-29 use social media.
8% of adults under 30 read a print newspaper.
90% of families with incomes of $30,000 to $49,000 have a cell phone.
This information seems to support our efforts in creating classroom and student blogs, as well as sharing student work via digital portfolios. Yet it still seems like we are sometimes speaking into a vacuum. Families do not comment on our posts. We have had very few (if any) requests from parents to gain access to their child’s gallery of writing housed online.
Despite these initial concerns, we have already seen benefits to becoming more connected educators. One thing I have stressed with staff is we are trailblazers. Not every school is doing this. Many families are unfamiliar with the tools we are trying with students. I have encouraged teachers to stick with it, because eventually they will come. Even posting their printed classroom newsletters on a classroom blog is a step in the right direction. Right now we save them on an internal drive, but it seems like they would be better placed online so parents can access 24/7. I have modeled this same practice by adding our school’s Twitter and school blog feeds to our district website.
There is also the engagement factor. When teachers have told students that their work will be shared online, their interest and efforts have piqued. All of a sudden, they realized that their potential audience just got a whole lot bigger. This subsequently sets an additional purpose for their learning activities, even if it is nothing more flashy than word work or summarizing a text they just read. Documenting these evidence-based practices over time also shows the students that these daily literacy activities are very important toward becoming better readers and writers. Growth can be seen more easily and authentically when their visual and audible learning products stand side-by-side in curation tools such as Dropbox and Evernote
FInally, there is definitely a need for parent education. It is obvious to me that families have the digital tools. They use smart phones frequently while waiting for their children to be dismissed at the end of the day. With that, we have a technology night planned for parents in the next couple of weeks. My role will be to show everyone how the devices they hold in their hands can access a wealth of information about their kids as well as learning resources in general. All of the tools we are trying out have a mobile application to access them. The idea that a parent can check their child’s grades, attendance and learning progress while waiting in the lobby should be a novel one.
A great resource for digital parent outreach is Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) and the #ptchat he moderates on Twitter. You can check out the multitude of ways his school has connected with families in the latest edition of Principal magazine. In your school, what ways have you become more connected with your families online? Please share in the comments.