We often hear about the importance of teachers building relationships and communicating with our students’ and their families, as well as the importance of building a positive classroom environment. Open lines of communication and a positive relationship help to improve student performance and classroom behavior. However, it is not just important for teachers in the building to create these meaningful relationships with students and their families. It is also the job of school leadership and administration to communicate and collaborate with all community stakeholders, including the teachers, the students, the parents, and the community.
However, with all the other responsibilities and paperwork that administrators get bogged down with, how is it possible to build meaningful relationships with the community? Of course there are the “old-fashioned” (but still just as necessary ways) like: attending sporting events, making parent phone calls, talking to and supervising students in the hallway, faculty meetings and e-mails, and having an open door policy. Perhaps there is a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly newsletter that goes out to the parents, students, And while these are all still very important ways to make contact with the community, administrators can do so much more by harnessing the power of technology to further increase communication and involvement with their school’s community.
So, here are some Web 2.0 tools that can be used by administration to build school community and increase communication with stakeholders.
One of my students once said, “Mrs. Lewis – you must be old; no one uses Facebook anymore.” I just laughed and said, “Well, I must be.” So even though Facebook is for “old people,” it is still a great resource to communicate with your stakeholders. Facebook can be used to:
- Post reminders about upcoming school events
- Post announcements about closings, fundraisers, results of sporting events
- Post links to blogs or education memes for parents and teachers (Ex: post a link to reading comprehension strategies)
- Discuss the school vision or school goals
- Allow parents, community members, and alumni to share pictures and posts about their experiences
- Allow your school’s website to run a widget with your Facebook feed
While there are many pros to Facebook, including the ease at which it can be updated and the ease of interacting with the community, there are some cons. The biggest con is making sure that all members of the Facebook page are utilizing it appropriately and that administration is keeping up with the posts and comments. Because the group is open to all stakeholders, administration must be prepared for negative posts or backlash. Have a plan of action on how your team will respond when this happens. Also, you will want to make sure that you respond quickly to Facebook messages or posts, especially those that discuss concerns.
For more details and ideas about how to use Facebook to build a school community, you should read David Harstein’s article “How Schools Can Use Facebook to Build an Online Community”. He shares more in-depth ideas on ways to use Facebook, as well as provides ideas to protect the school and students on social media.
Twitter can be used by administration to build a school community in many ways and is very similar to Facebook, with the exception of the 140 character limit. Again, the administration can make a school account to post updates, important news items, and pictures/statuses about school events. Like Facebook, you can also link your Twitter feed to your school’s website for real-time updates.
Twitter also allows users to create hashtags. By creating a #schoolhashtag, the administration can thread all tweets into a feed. This allows anyone to click on the hashtag and see posts about the school. Teachers can make posts about what is going on in their classrooms, students can make posts about projects and their learning, parents can make posts about their children or teachers. Parents and students can share tweets, by retweeting, with their families and friends.
Like Facebook there is the concern of monitoring posts and making sure they are appropriate. However, on Twitter, since it is not a page you control, you do lose some ability to determine what posts are allowed on your page and you cannot delete certain comments/posts. So again, it is very important that staff remain diligent in monitoring posts and that you have a plan of action for if inappropriate use arises. Another downside to Twitter is that you only have 140 characters to share information.
If you’re interested in more specific details or ideas on how to use Twitter in your school or classroom, check out the article “5 Ways Twitter Strengthens a School’s Learning Community” by Joe Mazza and “5 Ways School Leaders Can Make the Most of Twitter” by Kate Schimel.
LinkedIn is still a social media platform, but you would use it differently from Facebook and Twitter. Many schools are beginning to create group accounts, and LinkedIn is about developing connections and marketing.
You can use linked in to:
- Promote school-wide fundraising initiatives
- Connect with and recruit potential teachers
- Connect with parents and students who work in the professional world (this may also allow you to create partnerships with professionals in your community, which in turn could lead to internship or PBL opportunities for your students)
- Create Showcase Pages for departments and faculty, sports teams, and clubs
- Share “blog” posts about school activities or learning strategies for parents and students (put staff members or students in charge of creating these posts)
The benefit of LinkedIn is you have complete control over your page and its comments, and it can be a great resource for marketing/building a public image. The downside of LinkedIn is that it is not as widely used by parents and students as Facebook and Twitter. However, Forbes Online did recently make a post about how and why high school students should be using LinkedIn (Read it here), so you could always have students create LinkedIn accounts and have your staff teach them and model for them how to build an online portfolio and presence that they can use when applying for colleges and jobs.
For more detail, try reading the article “4 Ways to Use LinkedIn for Your School.”
A podcast is a digital audio file that is uploaded to the internet for download. Podcasts can be made as a part of a series or as stand alone posts. There are many ways school administrators can use podcasts, and I outline a few of them in the video podcast below.
The benefit of podcasts is you can use community members to create them, and allow community members to create series about specific topics or share information. You can also create a feed that allows you to post your school’s podcasts on its webpage.
A wikipage is available to anyone and it allows administrators to easily collaborate and share information. They can also be made public or restricted. Like many of the other Web 2.0 tools, Wikis allow you to take your school community outside the constraints of the school day and school itself. It allows collaboration because users can edit and add to wiki documents. However, you do not have to worry about changes being made because wiki tracks changes and you can determine what final version of the product to use.
Administration can use Wikis to:
- develop and create school newsletters and agendas: community members can add comments or edit at anytime.
- administration can track data or share spreadsheets and data with faculty and staff
- offer professional development and PLN opportunities for teachers
- share calendars and schedules
- share handbooks for students, parents, and teachers – allow faculty input when creating these documents or other new policies and procedures
- teachers can post their lesson plans for review, comment, and collaboration with other teachers
- upload photos of school events and student work
- it also has the capability to create a “bookmarking” page that allows you to link to multiple other sites that students, parents, and faculty can use as resources
If you’re interested in Wikis, check out Wikispaces and their post about using Wikispaces for education.
These are just a few of the Web 2.0 resources available to assist administrators in developing school communities.For more ideas on apps and Web 2.0 tools available to administrators, check out “The 21st Principal’s Big List of Must-Have Tech Knowledge.”
However, as with any initiative, none of these resources will work without stakeholder buy-in. Also, understand that many people are still frightened by the idea of posting information on the web, so you will probably need to offer professional development for your teachers (and maybe even parents and community) on why you are using these resources and how to use them. You also need to make sure that you are modeling how to use these resources appropriately, as well as that the use of these resources aligns with your school vision and the culture you want to create.