AND FINALLY SUSAN YOUNG
Pathways to parents The value of social media became clear for one head teacher during a blizzard issued a local red warning in January that the head realised how embedded social media had become. During the weekend after the first snow day, David sat in his conservatory with his iPad and blogged that he was planning to visit the school early to check its chances of opening on Monday. The post got more than 1,270 hits – in a 208-pupil school. “I thought that was a huge amount of traffic and it was a real indication to me that we underestimate the power
First headship He began to get to grips with social media six years ago when his nephew moved to the US and suggested that they stay in contact via Facebook. The social networking site allowed him to stay in touch with his nephew and some former pupils, but it wasn’t until he moved from a village where he knew everyone to his first headship at Gelli Primary, in Petrie in the Rhondda valley, that he found a professional use for this new tool. Musing on how best to build relationships with this new group of people, particularly those who were harder to engage, he noticed that many parents had abandoned their landlines for smartphones, so he started looking for ways to use mobile technology. The school now boasts a website, blogs, a Twitter feed [@gellipri] and an emergency text system. By 2010, even the Estyn inspector praised the use of technology. “The report said we used it well to enhance our public relations, and had positive results with parents,” says David. “That gives you a bit of a boost.” But it wasn’t until the Met Office
of social media in providing up-to-date information,” he says. Social media allowed the school to text parents before 7.45am confirming whether the school was open or closed. It also kept children connected to school: on the first snow day, the blog encouraged the pupils to have fun, as well as suggesting activities such as measuring its depth. When David judged that it was safe to reopen the school, he posted photographs on his blog to show parents that pathways had been cleared through the snow.
He knows parents are reading the blog, too, because after three of the emergency text messages bounced, he used it to ask who had got new mobiles for Christmas, reminding parents that the office needed up-todate numbers. Just days later, the changes had been made.
Keeping in touch with parents Gelli is still exploring the possibilities. Next time the valley is under a foot of snow, the school’s virtual learning environment will include some work for the children to do at home. There is also a plan for children to use Twitter to tell parents what they’re doing in the classroom. “Then when they come to parents’ evenings they will have more idea of what happens,” says David. Another idea under development is to provide some sort of contact in the case of homework difficulties. “Sometimes kids can’t do their homework, parents have expectations and the kids get anxious. Perhaps we can get messages on Twitter, and we could either help or say not to worry about it until the morning. There are underlying wellbeing issues here. “I’d also like to make the links between home and school more accessible, in ways that are not intrusive but which bring benefits for the kids.” David has big dreams, and would love to find a way for all his pupils to have iPads for learning and homework. But it is the potential of the new which really excites him: “Six years ago I discovered this, now we’re here,” he says. “What’s going to happen in six years time with better technology?” • Tell me about your school – I’d love to share your stories with LF readers. Email email@example.com or tweet @susanyoung_
Social media often get a bad press among school leaders. But for Welsh head teacher David Jones, discovering Facebook was the first step on a journey that has transformed his relationship with local parents. When a major blizzard swept into Wales this winter, David used texts, Twitter and blogs to keep everyone informed. He was able to give plenty of warning of school closures – and to post photographs of playground conditions once classes resumed. “I’ve got a very good, supportive relationship with parents,” he says. “A lot of it comes from using this kind of communication to break down barriers.”
50 LEADERSHIP FOCUS ● MARCH/APRIL 2013
50 And finally.indd 50
Leadership Focus March/April 2013