Jan 20 2015

Is Facebook the New School Web Page?

The popular social media site has revolutionized how some schools communicate with students and parents.

Why use Facebook for school-to-home communication?

Your news feed may be littered with advertisements that are personalized to your perceived tastes in an all-too-creepy way. Facebook updates its privacy policies with as much frequency as NFL teams change their coaches. There is also the increased potential for misunderstandings when the wrong word or phrase is posted. Educators can avoid these issues by using only paper, email and a web page to share school news and student learning.

Mark Zuckerberg might beg to disagree. Recently profiled by Lev Grossman in Time magazine, the Facebook founder talked about how widely his company’s communication tool is used. The king of social media boasts a participation rate of 1.35 billion users.

Consider these other statistics:

  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the second-most populous in the world (behind China).
  • 85 percent of the worldwide population lives within range of a cell tower.
  • Facebook has plans for using drones and satellites to provide the other 15 percent with Internet access.

With this in mind, have the benefits of using social media to connect classrooms with families finally outweighed any negatives? Many educators, including those in my own school and district, believe so. They have found that the advantages include utilizing a private online space to easily share student learning, tapping into a medium that has an audience and taking advantage of a mobile platform.

Consider a Teacher’s Perspective

Sherry Marzofka, a kindergarten teacher at Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin, was our first staff member to try out Facebook as a parent-communication tool. A regular user for personal reasons, Sherry saw the potential that this social media platform could have for the classroom. Using a mobile device, she can take photos and videos of student work and classroom experiences and then upload this media directly to her classroom account. Parents can check their feeds from home or work and get an insider’s view of what their children are learning that day.

Here are the steps Sherry took to set up a classroom account and ensure student privacy and safety:

  • Created the site using professional email to keep it separate from a personal account
  • Obtained parent permission to post student images and worked with a school-approved form
  • Got the word out about the classroom Facebook page through newsletters and in person
  • Provided a link or feed of the Facebook page on the classroom web page

If parents choose to not allow their children’s images to be posted online, Sherry will annotate any pictures with those children in it by blurring their faces before posting.

The success Sherry has experienced with parent communication using this platform has prompted her to invest classroom dollars into a wireless digital camera. It will allow her to capture better footage and utilize advanced image features that a tablet may not have. In addition, Sherry can also curate this media as artifacts to support her professional learning goals.

Learning a District’s Perspective

The benefits that teachers have found with using Facebook to communicate with families have also been realized at the district level. Recently, the Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools created a Facebook page to deliver announcements and showcase school learning. For example, second-graders at Washington Elementary were featured for creating a rain forest mural after reading Jan Brett’s book The Umbrella.

Colleen Dickmann, superintendent for Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools, sees clear advantages to using Facebook for school-to-home communication. “Using social media allows us, as a school district, to tell our story in the manner we want it told. We can publish stories that otherwise might not make it into the local media’s hands.”

In addition to having more say in what is shared with the local community, Dickmann recognizes the benefits that parents experience from this forum. “We are, I believe, more closely linked with families. For example, I don’t believe that parents are rushing home from work to view our web page, but they might be going to their Facebook page, and it’s possible that we will have a presence there.”

Understanding a Parent’s Perspective

This article would be lacking if we did not look at the point of view of parents, who are on the other end of this communication initiative.

Heidi Walter, a parent and an education consultant from Oregon, Wis., also finds many benefits in having her children’s teachers posting learning on a classroom Facebook page. “I am very interested in getting information about their performance and happenings at school so I can be as supportive and engaged as possible. Often, when asked to tell me about their day, my children respond with the same answer, ‘It was fine.’” Hey, parents: Sound familiar?

Not only is the classroom communicating with parents, but so is the school, notes Heidi. “Facebook posts from the PTA, school district, teachers and principal are all delivered in one source that I can quickly skim and scan to stay updated and informed.” This streamlining of news and happenings is highly valued by busy parents.

Weighing The Pros and Cons of Online Communication

While reaching out to families and the community via Facebook has many benefits, there are also drawbacks. For example, not all information is conducive to sharing on social media; detailed newsletters and official forms are better left to paper and envelopes. As a parent of two elementary students myself, I like having that paper copy of the newsletter at the dinner table. It can help me prompt conversation at a time when digital connections are not welcomed.

Another challenge with social media is the fact that not every parent is going to want to connect with the classroom, regardless of how much a teacher might promote it. Sherry Marzofka has experienced this firsthand.

“Last year I had greater participation.” But she also recognizes that 100 percent participation is not the goal. “Those that have connected really enjoy it.”

Taking this approach to how we communicate with home — using multiple forums, recognizing parents’ preferences and ensuring student safety — honors more alternatives for all stakeholders interested in discovering how our students are doing in school.


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