The stakes for school improvement have never been so high. Teaching and learning are the most important focus of any school; however, this focus can quickly diminish if parents are not engaged. Your parents and community are the most untapped resource for improving school culture. When parents feel informed and empowered, they are more invested in the academic growth of their student. Engagement leads to support, and support leads to academic success.
Email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and blogs are excellent tools to communicate with parents and to increase transparency of schools. Choosing a social media outlet appropriate for the school community will help to make this effort successful. Posting information to more than one social media outlet is equally important. So, it’s important that you know your community and their preferences, and model use of those platforms and approaches.
Communication with Purpose
Engaging parents is not about sharing events or reiterating the school calendar, because these things are usually clearly available on a school website. Engagement is more about empowerment. What you choose to share on social media should elicit a response. Naturally, you want that response to promote the positive aspects of your school. Follow these suggestions for making social media connections with parents meaningful:
- Ask for an opinion about how a situation was handled.
- Share specific comments about a lesson, and ask parents how they might have responded if they had been a student in that setting.
- Present a behavior concern, such as being tardy to school, and ask parents to suggest ways to improve this behavior.
- Promote teaching strategies and explain how to incorporate these at home, which will help support students with extending learning.
I previously shared my Monday Memo approach in this column. This is my preferred way to reach out to parents. I link my blog to our school website, inviting parents to read and respond. In this way, parents feel informed, learn about the expectations of both teachers and students, and gain insight about the school’s culture. Modeling this type of communication encourages teachers to increase their use of social media to engage parents as well.
Below is an excerpt from a blog entry that parents responded to positively. Whenever there is a change in leadership or a change in a procedure, it is important for parents to understand and be given an opportunity to respond:
“Sometimes in the waves of change we find our true direction.” — Anonymous
Change is a powerful force, and people fear it for good reason. In many instances, the experiences we have with change have not been positive. Personally, a change in family dynamic or a change in health can put us at rock bottom. Professionally, a change in leadership or daily procedure can make us feel unsure about the future of an organization or the potential for us to succeed within that organization. My life, and I’m sure your life, has been filled with change for various reasons. Moving from Rhode Island to Georgia was an enormous change. Deciding to move from middle school teacher to high school teacher impacted me on many levels, and the differences were vast. Making the choice to pursue leadership in the field of education required action and risk. Adding two children to a marriage while purchasing a home and recognizing the careers of both myself and my husband is change enough to cause many things to fall apart. We all experience change, and we all make a choice about our response to change. I have moments in my life when I mentally quit and escape for a day or two to have an adult tantrum. But the bottom line, I have found, is that change represents an opportunity. Whenever we are faced with something new and potentially uncomfortable, embracing it for the opportunity it represents is the one way we can remain positive and the one way we can find ourselves experiencing something otherwise not available. It’s also the one way we avoid falling into a pit of negativity and self-doubt.
Our students are experiencing change at a faster rate than any other generation. From one social media post or text to the next, relationships change, self-image is shattered, and drug transactions occur. They walk into your classroom and need assistance with learning how to refocus. They need assistance with learning how to filter out the noise keeping them from learning how to make connections from your classroom to the real world. In addition, they need your help with understanding the power of change and the opportunities that exist for them. Think about what our high school students are faced with during their four short years with us. They are tasked with enjoying social opportunities while making post-secondary decisions as they balance first heartbreaks and potentially unstable home lives. Teachers have such an incredible role. We build relationships with people every day, and we influence the ease of those around us. Be the teacher modeling waves of change as opportunities. Model the true direction we are aiming for as an AHS faculty and staff. Be the parent who is involved and voices their opinions about our school, making it clear to our students we are a team. Once our true direction is firm, it will be evident, and our students will start walking in that direction as well. They will realize very quickly what behaviors and efforts are needed to be a part of that team.
I am grateful for the change I am experiencing as the principal of such a wonderful school. Each day presents an opportunity, and each day I am more satisfied.
Jennifer Martin is the principal of Apalachee High School in Winder, GA.
Making It Work
Follow these steps to create a blog for faculty and shareholders:
- Choose a social media platform based on your community’s preference. Survey your parents to find out what they prefer as a social media platform. Some communities prefer Facebook, while others prefer Twitter or blogging.
- Engage with the intent to empower. Parents are not looking to simply be informed; they want to take part in transforming a school.
- Encourage your faculty to increase its social media presence. School leaders need to model smart social media practices.