Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Engaging Our School Community through Social Media

99% of our students are from military-impacted families, and transitions and deployments are challenges they face as we seek to engage them as integral members of our school community.  Our parents are supportive of the school, and school-wide events such as our recent Student-led Conferences,  musical performances, or Book Fairs are well-attended.  However, results from our annual School Community Council Survey indicated that communication was a major concern of parents so we made a concerted effort to improve home-school communication.

We started by changing our school website.  Initially, it was a lot of work and planning, but today, we pride ourselves on our website which includes lots of information and resources for parents to access as well as updates about upcoming school events.  New parents often share that they requested housing in our geographical area after finding out they were coming to Hawaii and checking out our school webpage.  Additionally, most of our teachers created a class webpage, and this also helped to bridge the gap between home and school.

Because social media is such an important part of our parents' lives, we decided to use Facebook as a means of communication. Our Hale Kula Eagles Facebook page has grown to several hundred members, and upcoming events are shared and photos are posted to keep members updated. Facebook allows families who have left us to find out what's happening at our school, and in turn, we can find out how our former students are doing at their new school.  Facebook has been a wonderful way to keep in touch!  We also publish Hale Kula Highlights at least once weekly, and the blog is sent directly to the email of those who've subscribed.  Parents and staff share that they appreciate these weekly reminders of upcoming events and activities.

Our School Community Council is required to hold School Community meetings at least twice per year to get feedback regarding our Academic Plan.  This has been a major challenge for us.  In the past, we held meetings in the mornings, or just before school ended for the day, or in the evening, and each time, very few parents attended or participated in the discussions.  We even paired these meetings with a student performance, but parents weren't interested in giving feedback to us on how to improve teaching and learning at Hale Kula. After all, they were there to watch/videotape their children's performance.  

After much discussion, we decided to try something different this year.  We decided to host a virtual School Community meeting using Facebook as the venue.  Since parents were familiar with the US Army Garrison Hawaii Facebook Town Hall meetings, we thought we might get better participation than if we held a meeting at school.  Here's the invitation which was posted:

  • We are hosting a virtual School Community Meeting (following the format of the USAG Town Hall meeting). The purpose is to get input and suggestions on how we can craft our Academic Plan for SY2013-2014 to best reflect the needs of our school while following the Department of Education's Strategic Plan and the District mandates.

    Any posts or comments should be respectful. We will remove any comments or questions which are perceived as inappropriate or disrespectful.

    We will respond to all questions, but depending on the number of questions/comments we receive, we will prioritize our responses according to those with the greatest impact on our school community.

    Thank you for joining this event!

Frankly, we did not know what to expect, but a virtual meeting would allow anyone to join from their computer or mobile device wherever they happened to be at the time.  We agreed to ask questions to get feedback rather than having parents post random comments or concerns.  Our focus would be on getting input from parents on issues such as attendance, improving achievement in reading and math, keeping our students safe at school, and improving parent engagement and communication.

I am still amazed at the number of comments and posts we received during our virtual School Community Meeting!  The participation was nonstop with nearly 200 responses, suggestions, comments, and lots of great ideas in just over one hour!  Our challenge now is to take those ideas and to see how we might be able to implement them to improve student achievement as well as to address issues of traffic, safety, communication, and student well-being.

Think about it.  Would we be able to get that kind of feedback if we held a face-to-face meeting?  Absolutely not!  People who might have been reluctant to speak up in a public meeting were able to share concerns or ask questions in a virtual venue.  We could hear from anyone who had something to contribute, and everyone was respectful with their comments.  We cannot guarantee that everyone's suggestions will be implemented, but we will at least consider them.

Everyone's time is so valuable, and finding ways to accommodate the needs of our families is important.  I am so grateful that our School Community Council took this leap and decided to host a virtual meeting.  Perhaps other schools will be willing to give it a try!  

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