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Engaging Parents @School

Wednesday, March 2, 2016  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

Parents of infants and preschoolers typically receive a daily or weekly report from their childcare centers. They know exactly what their children did all day, what they ate, and when they slept. They also have a daily chitchat with the teacher when they drop off and pick up their children. When the children reach Pre-K or Kindergarten, the game changes – there is curbside drop-off and pick-up, and parents don’t enter the classroom nearly as often. Children, especially as they near middle school, become less enthusiastic reporters about their own activities. So what is a parent to do to find out about their children’s day? Many schools have found social media to be the answer to informing and engaging parents and others about the goings-on during the school day.


At Trinity School in Atlanta, teachers use Twitter very deliberately throughout the day, frequently posting photos, videos, and chatter about their classroom activities, all with the hashtag #TrinityLearns. “We want to integrate our work, and also communicate and celebrate what each other are doing,” said Jill Gough, director of teaching and learning. “Teachers feel empowered and they love to talk about what is being learned.”

Twitter also provides a new way for teachers to document what they are doing for their own portfolios as well as for their professional digital footprint. They may not always be able to travel to someone else’s classroom but they can virtually visit via Twitter.

The frequent updates have been a boon to parents as well. “We have trained parents to go through the Twitter feed while they are waiting in the carpool pickup line,” Gough said. “Parents ask a better question, and it changes the conversation in the car on the way home.”

Instead of asking a child, “How was your day?”, parents can ask them about the Pre-K Olympics, drawing a human skeleton, the PE activity in the amphitheater, a specific book from storytime, and a host of other events, all of which they saw on Twitter.

Jeff Walrich, director of athletics at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, OH, and a presenter at the 2016 SAIS Athletic Directors Conference, also has “trained” parents to utilize his Twitter feed @CoachWalrich for the quickest sports-related updates. With a game delay or cancellation, speed is a top priority in informing the school community.

Before the start of each sports season, Walrich holds a meeting with parents and students to outline a variety of policies, including the use of social media. In addition to Walrich’s AD Twitter feed, each team has its own account that is updated by a coach. While they don’t post while they are actively coaching, Walrich, his staff, and others post play-by-play from varsity games. They post scores by quarter or final scores from JV games.

The school’s strategy is to engage people but not take away from the live performance. “Some tweets are a little cryptic on purpose,” Walrich said. “We want people to feel like they want to be here. And we don’t want to intrude on a coach or a team, but we want to show what it means to be a Gilmour Academy Lancer.”

Sometimes a tweet may include a photo from inside a huddle. A snapshot of a scoreboard can provide an update without having to type a lot of information. The school accounts also post infographics, animated GIFs, recaps, and articles or links about sports or sports-related issues. And they will repost some information using the ICYMI (in case you missed it) tag.

Walrich and his colleagues are very careful to keep remarks on social media peaceful, even leading up to a big game. “We don’t want to enrage our competitors,” he said. “We stay positive and pretty neutral.”

There is no doubt that Twitter and other social media platforms have been game-changers for how people communicate. Taking advantage of the speed and accessibility of Twitter can make for better school sports fans, and more informed parents interacting with their children. 

 


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