Facebook and whānau

August 2014

 

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RACHEL BOYD, deputy principal of Waiuku Primary School, discusses the relevance of social media for engaging with a school’s community and its role in transforming home-school partnerships.

 

WhanauThere’s no denying that social media is here to stay. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, the list goes on! But do social media have a place in our schools? Could utilising tools like Facebook and Twitter be the key to unlocking the hallowed home-school partnership?

We are charged to build trusting and learning focused relationships with students and whānau, yet our students spend just over 15 per cent of their week with us at school. Building relationships with our whānau and community is important for the wellbeing and culture of our school. When the community engages with the school in a partnership, there are benefits for all.

At Waiuku Primary School, we dipped our toes into social media in October 2010 by beginning our Facebook page trial. We worked with a keen, core group of parents, many of whom were from our PTA, and learned from their feedback and suggestions. We knew Facebook was used prolifically among our community and wanted to meet them where they resided already online. Our focus was to bring the information to them, rather than have them seek it out on an ad hoc basis. Our school had the frustration most schools experience – the newsletter and school website were becoming redundant and ineffective. They were not informing and engaging our community.

A school Facebook page has provided a great two-way and one-to-many communication avenue for our school. We currently have 356 ‘likes’. The page has allowed for borderless boundaries of distance and time. We are able to publicise school events, celebrate achievement, direct traffic/audience to our class blogs, as well as canvas and get community views and ideas. Responsive engagement with whānau is enabled, in an online format that is easy to access and already part of their daily life.

Twitter was less successful, due to this not being a popular social media tool with our school community. However, we have utilised Twitter to power our daily text messages to whānau. These mainly morning-scheduled messages are quick 140-character (or less) summaries of the day ahead and are great as reminders of school events. The power behind this system is that almost all of our community owns a cell phone. This has proved transformative to ensure families are ‘on board’ and knowledgeable of events and happenings around the school.

As whānau digital confidence has grown and our online presence has become just part of ‘how we do things around here’, the Facebook page is becoming more popular. This has hugely assisted the school to build relationships with our community online. Parents and caregivers are beginning to post regularly to the page, send private messages with questions to us as a school, and are becoming more involved in commenting on our featured posts, articles and photos.

Recently, the enrolment of a prospective student was arranged entirely via Facebook private message interactions (with paperwork dropped off at school after hours). As a school, we currently still have a purpose and need for our current school website and newsletter. However, all are linked to each other. Most importantly, we grow from feedback given to us by our whānau and have been able to tailor our social media use to our unique community. Every school may be different and require different tools depending on circumstances. Accessing social media has transformed home-school partnerships and made school information and engagement a lot more accessible to many of our whānau.

Every school’s demographics will differ with regard to access to technology/internet in the home. Some communities may be readier than others to embrace this move to ‘the online’. While our community are largely connected and using Facebook regularly, many still prefer a printed weekly newsletter each week. Our approach has therefore been to allow our whānau a choice in how they engage with the school. The ‘Connect with us’ campaign arose from this idea. We wanted to ensure we provided multiple avenues for communication with our community, all of which deliver similar messages. In this way, whānau can choose how they engage with us, through a variety of online and face-to-face channels. Daily texts to the community (via Twitter) keep whānau informed of the schoolwide things happening. Teachers and whānau regularly send emails to communicate and the school website continues to be a port of call, mainly for prospective families looking to learn about the school.

Our school’s digital presence is importantly underpinned by whānau-signed online publication agreements (for student images and work), as well as student and whānau-signed responsible use agreements. These are an important piece of the puzzle when utilising online tools to engage with the community. To be successful, engaging with the community using social media requires a team approach. Multiple administrators are needed to manage a school’s Facebook page effectively and shared information (e.g. username/passwords) to other services used such as Twitter. This way action can be taken promptly if trouble or difficultly arises. In the four years the school has been using a Facebook page, there has been a total of five minor ‘incidents’. These were able to be deleted within 10 minutes of posting and later followed up. The Facebook Pages app is invaluable here, used on a smart phone for the active monitoring of the site.

Many schools may have a Facebook page or utilise other social media tools; the challenge is to keep it alive, vibrant and current with regular updates. As we connect with our communities in different contexts and media, this is what will drive their engagement and willingness to participate.

Whatever a school does, it needs to be matched to its unique community to ensure a successful home-school partnership.

Waiuku Primary Facebook page: www.facebook.com/waiukuprimaryschool

 

Others to check out are:

Waimari School, Christchurch: www.facebook.com/waimairi

Plateau School, Upper Hutt: www.facebook.com/plateauschool

Links to other schools with Facebook pages can be found here: www.diigo.com/user/rachelboyd/school_FB


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