I had the privilege of working with a large group of colleagues from schools around the country at a conference this week. Our topic is close to my heart – Parental Engagement – the sub-theme was of course the role and potential of technology.
As we shared ideas, tips and some challenges, we talked about plans, policies, implementation, and of course monitoring impact. It was clear to me that despite how it feels sometimes, our Leaders and school Governors are pretty adept at keeping on top of things, well versed in checking changes in legislation, guidance and of course have a programme of regular review of policies.
Yet, as things move on from a new initiative or drive, it is easy to get lost in the detail of making changes, to become beguiled by technology, be swayed by the enthusiast or the anxious, and difficult just to hold back and take stock, checking the map and direction before we drive on. Hence on this occasion, we took a different focus. As we discussed the potential of technologies we kept a close eye on how we consider our strategies and – bearing in mind it is nearly 4 years since the Online Reporting expectations were made clear (June 2008) – we took time to take stock of our strategy for parental engagement and technology and within that to consider some initial areas to think about.
So, if you have already embarked upon a strategy to use technology as a medium, device or even a Trojan Horse to improve parental engagement, what might you look at to check your route and next steps? You might want to think about these questions a starter for 10:
Do you actually have a strategy?
- If you do, can you map where you want to be and where you are starting from
- Are you looking at the way you record and manage information; your overall parental engagement approaches; the role, interest and views of staff and finally, the potential of technology
- Have you prioritised and considered where you are content, how great you want to be in some areas and what is right for your school
- How would you judge success and impact? Would it be in terms of cost, reach, time savings, positive feedback, better attendance, more activity with parents, a drain on resources, technical concerns or a combination
Have you thought about roles?
…of the leadership team, of cross-school groups, of your IT team, of your administration and support teams and taken into account their ideas and interests
How well do you use your web-site to publish information?
- Does it showcase and feel like your school?
- When did you last look at your website?
- When did you last ask parents and learners what they want and expect?
- Is the basic (contact) information there?
- Does it show critical and timely information?
- Can visitors search and leave messages?
Do you just publish on your website or do you broadcast too?
Including showcasing the work of your learners, using simple video techniques to welcome visitors, making your site more interactive, using curriculum related activities to exemplify what your learners do and of course a bit of Show and Tell to the world.
Could push and pull technologies work for you and your parents?
Many more schools are using e-mail as a standard or default form of communication (efficient, cost effective, consistent) but are you making the best of it, do you have contingences for homes without access or if the technology fails? Are you happy to receive e-mails as well as send them (and how do you record, manage and ensure responses). Simple e-newsletters are really effective, as is the embedding of links and references – just a click away. Add to that blogs (from teachers, pupils and parents) and mundane things can come to life.
Technologies are constantly changing, are some new ideas right for your school?
- Social media sites are increasingly being used by schools in innovative ways; there are some great examples that help bridge the gap between the formality of school and the social approaches beyond the gates
- Twitter has now reached 10 million users in the UK, have a look at it and see how schools are using it for news, alerts and sharing positive news
- How interactive is your use of calendars and diaries – an parents see live calendars and add details to their own calendars and diaries
What is your approach to mobile technologies and online services?
There are particularly exciting examples of schools using automated texting to contact parents and receive responses, to share good news in a timely way. Do your parents like the idea of electronic payments for trips and can it help reduce some burden for you? Pleasingly the commercial offerings are very well tuned to the needs of schools. Perhaps it is worth finding out more.
And what about using social media sites?
An increasing number of schools are using Facebook (other sites are available…) to supplement their online presence, carefully managing content, posting and purpose, another example of bridging the gap. Would that work for you?
and there’s more…
I said it was a starter for 10. However, as we worked through our ideas we went well beyond 10 and you will have noticed I have not even touched on curriculum access, prior notice of learning topics, MIS reporting, reports, learning platforms, uploading material from home, technical and security issues. The above list (other than the first two) are not even prioritised, but they proved to be a great set of questions and challenges to help staff in schools think again about how they can support and improve parental engagement with technology.
At IET Associates, we passionately believe that technology can change the dynamics between home and school, we feel that EVERY school should be assessing how technology is used and what will work for them and their parents.
If you want help to think through your strategies; assess how your school can get more from your investment; review your short and long plans; know more about what other schools are doing or dig deeper into particular areas, we would be happy to help. Simply get in touch with me at moc.setaicossateinull@ekim.