Using a Facebook Page to reach out to Parents

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  

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7 thoughts on “Using a Facebook Page to reach out to Parents”

    • Good point Ciarán – however, you’d be surprised how many people do tag photographs of their kids on the web. You don’t necessarily have to have a Facebook account to be tagged!

      • True again! I hadn’t even thought of that.

        However, I would echo the security concerns that were mentioned to you. Anyone can ‘like’ your page and receive its updates. Even without doing so, a lot of information about the school’s activities can be gleaned from the page. I doubt I have to explain how that might put your pupils’ safety at risk.

        You may find that a Facebook Group might be more appropriate for certain types of communication (to which you can restrict access and hide from public view).

        Fan Pages, like the one you have, are best suited to publicising messages you want the whole world to see, beyond your chosen audience.

        • I had a good think about this Ciaran because it is a point that’s been raised before. I am under the impression that our school web site is as public as our Facebook page. Therefore, nothing that we put up on our Facebook page would be any less secure than what we would put up on our equally public “normal” web site.

          The only insecure thing would be the possibility of someone random posting something inappropriate on our Facebook page. However, our AUP covers this and this user would be banned. I endevour to check our Facebook page at least once a day so anything inappropriate would be dealt with within 24 hours.

  1. We have a very successful facebook page for our school (Le Cheile etns), in operation for about 18 months. Like our website, it’s maintained and updated by the PTA, with content provided by school, the Board of Management, some from ET national office, our Fundraising Committee and the Catholic Association within school. It’s a bit more dynamic than the website, and we’ve had great feedback. It was a great medium for getting updates about weather disruptions etc and a large proportion of our community are fb friends (208 and counting).
    We don’t allow any advertising of anything that’s not school related i.e. the sale of our calendars is publicised, but a parent’s ballet class can’t be. We also don’t publish photos of the children on facebook, unless the photo has already appeared in print.
    We should probably review our AUP and make our expectations of users more explicit, but thankfully, we have had no problems whatsoever thus far.
    On a technical note, I must pursue the RSS feed and plug it into the website for better updates. Now, where’s my to-do list!

    • Hi Elaine – that’s brilliant to hear of another school using Facebook and even better to hear that it’s doing so well! It must be an Educate Together thing as I have heard of 4 ET schools using Facebook but no other type of school. Perhaps there are some out there. I’d love to hear some feedback on it – both positive and negative.

  2. Hi Simon, great read and I think what you are doing is a fantastic way to use social networking. There are obvious security concerns but when handled responsibly and ensuring that there is a trust relationship being built are the two best steps in my opinion. On another note, I got news today from Google that the Postini service, which allows “schoolwide” administration of students accounts, will continue to be free in the new year! There was plans to charge for the service but it’s a good tool and a must have for Google Apps admin teachers around the country to protect their student googlers 😉


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