Public Schools and Social Media

school busMany years ago I spent four years of my life teaching first grade. It was a fun time and I enjoyed the many relationships that I formed with my coworkers, students and their parents. Since then, I have continued to have a strong interest in our public education system.

One area that our schools seem to lag behind in is connecting to parents and the community. Sure, they have websites and newsletters, but both of these are one-way forms of communication. You can’t engage your community that well using either of these tools (though they can be effective in the right situation). True engagement requires a two-way channel and I have started to wonder why school districts are not using social media to engage parents.

Here in Utah, we have a district that recently banned teachers and students from being friends on facebook. There are good arguments on both side of this debate. I have not made up my mind either way at this point, but this discussion got me thinking about another issue: could school districts use social media to better engage parents?

Our public schools are suffering. Budgets are being hit. Staff members are being laid off. Politicians are using schools as a convenient diversion, focusing attention away from other critical issues. And public scrutiny is higher than it has ever been. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a district made concerted effort to open up to the public and then engage them in conversations that matter.

Think of it as a a facebook for districts and parents. Parents and key district personnel could register for accounts. Both sides of the community could start conversations, offer ideas, share teaching tips, and make suggestions about key issues. The school district could use the site provide timely updates to parents and ask for their suggestions about issues that need immediate response. Polls could also be implemented to measure support for future initiatives.

Just think of the benefits of such a network. The district could:

  • Tell its story (without having to depend on the media to cover a story or to do so fairly)
  • Provide a level of transparency that rarely occurs in such organizations
  • Respond quickly to questions, complaints or misinformation
  • Gather opinions from those that matter most
  • Build relationships with parents

There’s one other wildly important benefit that would come over time. After the district has developed these relationships and has earned the trust of its online community, the district could use the site to organize parent support. I don’t have know what the legal ramifications would be; however, it seems that a district should be able to defend itself when attacked, whether that be by special interest groups, radical school boards, politicians or even rival districts.

Do you know of any school districts that are currently doing this? As a parent, would you like to be able to engage your child’s school district on this type of platform? Are there districts out there that would be interested in building their own social network? Does anyone know of any school districts that are using facebook or twitter to engage parents?

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