Cloud computing is already transforming the way we communicate. Online tools such as Google Apps has helped businesses and schools to improve collaboration and communication without having to download any software. My school uses Google Apps for all our policies, records and communication. We also use an app called Aladdin, which is built on Google Apps, to do our day to day administration work.
I wanted a way to branch out to parents. While our school web site provides lots of up to date news, whether we care to admit it or not, it is not the first place our parents log into when they load up their Internet browser.
The latest statistics say that one in fourteen people all over the world have a Facebook account. In fact, the statistics continue with the fact that almost everyone with an account logs into Facebook at least once per day. In my school, I believe half the families have a Facebook account and I felt I could tap into this in order to improve our communication with parents.
I have been in my current job as principal of my school for just over two years and one of the things I’ve been conscious of is the main reason why conflict occurs is due to lack of communication. I have strived to ensure that communication is a key element of my vision. Where there is an opportunity to improve it, I will investigate it. Last year I was in contact with my colleagues in Letterkenny Educate Together about a matter and I was looking for their web site. Whilst I didn’t find one, I did come across a Facebook page, which seems to be run by a group of parents. I loved the fact that it gave a medium for parents to communicate with the school.
I decided to tap into this and created a Facebook page for our school. I made myself, the chairperson of the school and the secretary administrators so they could update the page with news and answer any comments. I set up an application called RSS Graffiti, which updates our Facebook page every time someone adds an article to our school web site. We then advertised the page within the school and waited to see what happened.
The success was almost instant. Over 50 Facebook users signed up to the page within a couple of weeks. Within a few months we had over 100 fans.
The greatest surprise for me was the amount of parents and grandparents who interacted with the site. Every time somebody posted an update on the Facebook page, several fans would click the “like” button. On a less regular basis, some people would add their comments to status updates usually to give kudos.
It was really only when I was giving a talk at a conference and I mentioned briefly that I was using Facebook that the word “security” came up.
How could we control what was posted on the Facebook page? What would happen if somebody posted something inappropriate? How could we control who looked at the page?
I didn’t have an answer immediately but spent a bit of time thinking about it. My initial reaction was to remove the page. There was no way to control the content on the page. However, the more I thought about it, I realised that having a Facebook page could work but I needed to update our school’s Internet Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP).
Like our school web site, there are a number of rules about posting to it. Children cannot be photographed on their own or identified by name. The images used must be under a certain size to ensure they can’t be manipulated. All videos must not identify a child’s name or details. If a parent wishes their child to be taken down from the web site, they are fully entitled to this.
It was the same for Facebook. Our AUP advised parents not to “tag” photos of their children for their own protection. Similarly they should not add comments that could identify their children. We also needed to make sure that comments added to our Facebook page were appropriate. For example, we asked parents not to advertise products on the page. We also asked them to be respectful of the school (as well as other schools and businesses). Essentially we asked them not to write anything that they wouldn’t say face to face. Finally, we asked parents not to ask to “friend” staff members. This was to ensure the staff’s private lives remained as private as possible.
So how did we control this? The simple answer is we didn’t. We’re working it on a trust level. Our AUP states that if the rules are breached then the user is banned from the Facebook page. After several months, everybody is on board and playing nice!
Apart from displaying updated articles from our school web site, we’ve been using our Facebook page for lots of different reasons. Some parents are using it to arrange Communion classes. Another parent organised guitar lessons after school. Some parents have asked us questions about school openings and other similar queries.
We’ve used it most recently to update parents on the school’s situation with regards to the snow sweeping across the country. Every few hours, I update the parents using Facebook on my phone. This has gone down really well and we’re happy to see good feedback from it.
We’ve also used it to promote school events such as fundraisers, carol singing and more. We are now using it to update parents on school closures for planning days or staff meetings. I get a great thrill when parents answer queries or comment on a status update.
From informal chats with parents in the school, I think using Facebook has gone down really well. Combined with RSS feeds, email subscriptions, our web site and old-fashioned notes in schoolbags, communication is the least of our problems in the school.
Last Update: August 9, 2017