I work at a school where a current divisional goal is urging better communication with parents. Email. Blog. Photos. School website. Email. Newsletters. Calling. Reporting. Conferencing. Email. Sound familiar?
As an educator I have to fulfil the obligations of my contract and adhere to the philosophy of the Administration who currently employ me. But I’m also a parent. I’m a parent who wants to know what my kids are doing and how they are doing. But I want it fast. I want school news in the same instantaneous fashion I get all my news because my life is hectic and I don’t have time to read a massive email, check 6 different teachers’ blogs, or read 300 word comments about an assignment.
As educators, we know that for all the emails we send, and meetings we attend, and report cards we write, and blog entries we type, we are NOT focusing on students! We are not planning for them. We are not assessing them. And we are not differentiating instruction for them!
I feel that my private life has moved in to a new realm of connectedness. I can tweet, blog, or WhatsApp a query, a thought, or a reminder to my community. This new form of connectedness is fast and efficient giving me more time to eat dinner with my family, take the dog on a walk, or earn my COETAIL.
As an educator-parent, I represent 2 stakeholder groups in the communication and connected equation. So I am gonna take my thoughts and this platform and declare my perspective to the educational world!
Attention. Attention. Administrators of the World. We need to make a shift in our thinking about communication. If our job in the classroom is to connect with students and meet then where they are then we need to be doing the same thing for their parents!
At the Learning2 Africa conference in Ethiopia, I attended an extended workshop with Jeff Utecht. As he scurried around with urgent passion, he talked about how everything has gone social! On his blog, The Thinking Stick, he’s written numerous posts about social networking. Utecht says, “We are quickly getting to a point where if you are not going to connect with people via social networks then you are not getting out information in a very efficient way.” So when he shared a story about a first grade classroom using Facebook to share their learning with parents– I. Was. In!
I came home from Learning 2.014 and created a Facebook page for my classroom (since my 7 and 8 year olds were not old enough to have their own account) and invited their parents to become part of our secret group. During the day, we take photos, share our learning, or ask questions to engage parents in our learning. Starting with 22 “friends,” our secret group is now up to 39. Grandparents, cousins, other teachers, and my own school’s communication department have been invited or asked for inclusion to our connected community!
Every morning students log on and post messages like, “Today is a very very cool day because I got to show Ryder my 7 Pokemon cards” or “Science is cool.” I can post videos of our learning in class (like the day when the kids created and marched around school in a 6 x 3 array) or of us while we’re at an excursion in the community.On the weekends, our group gets posts and photos of the students having fun with family and friends.
I was (and still am) so enthusiastic about the power this simple tool has in making my life easier. In addition, it is allowing me to be more connected to all stakeholders.
Unfortunately, this plan does not meet with my school’s intended goals. So… I am still required to write the weekly blog update about curriculum and student learning (which averages about 800 words a week); I still update my school’s classroom calendar to reflect important events; I continue to update my class’ Flickr page so the Flickr widget on my blog has current photos of student learning; and I still complain because all of that takes me about 90 minutes a week while our Facebook status updates take minutes and are usually done by students!
In an article for the Huffington Post, Eric Sheninger says simply, “If school leaders don’t get it, it’s not going to happen!.” Sheninger encourages educators and schools to update their connectedness. He suggests using free social media and PLNs for entire school communities. By doing this, Sheninger says, we’ll “create schools that work better for kids.” But I think if we shift our mindset as Sheninger suggests, we will create a better environment for educators and parents too!
The digital divide between educators and their students is widening. The more we fear the changes, the greater that divide will become. Let’s not create a chasm by isolating the parents, caregivers, and community as well.
In this day and age, people don’t have time to go to 12 different places to stay on top of their work/home/persona/professional/parental lives. They need their lives to be streamlined. So let’s meet them where they are. If they’re on Facebook–let’s go there. If they’re on Twitter–we should be too! Where ever they are–we NEED to be!