Schools and social media
By Kate Hilpern
Like it or loathe it, social media is becoming a growing part of school life. And no, we’re not talking about pupils grabbing time between lessons to check their Snapchat or Instagram. We mean schools themselves using social media channels to improve everything from their teaching methods to their communications and networking. For some schools, social media is transforming their classroom environment, not to mention links with the community, and as such is having a dramatic impact on children’s lives.
Improving community outreach is one of our favourite consequences of schools becoming more digitally savvy. Increasingly, if a school wants to find a relevant organisation to team up with or shout about community partnerships they’re already involved in, social media is the way to go. Schools get to cast their charitable nets wider, often finding out about relevant grassroots causes they wouldn’t have known about otherwise; pupils and teachers get to show off their good works; parents get to find out more about schools’ wider community roles; and organisations get to build more beneficial relationships with schools. Everyone’s a winner, especially if more good deeds get achieved for society as a result.
For some schools, social media is enabling them to hook up with schools in foreign countries. Using the internet to improve cross-cultural communication can be a fantastic way for young people to gain a greater understanding of people’s lives in other parts of the world. And for teachers too, global connections can help them discover new ways of working.
Teachers are using social media in the classroom too. We’ve all seen them – the Facebook posts by teachers, asking you to share widely so that pupils can see how quickly posts can go viral. Teachers also use such examples as a way of making maths more meaningful.
Then there’s parent communication – probably the most common way of all for schools to use the likes of Twitter and Facebook, with Long Meadow School in Milton Keynes and Chepstow School in London among the star players. Parents increasingly tell us it can make all the difference to them feeling part of everyday school life. ‘Our school is brilliant – I can check their social media feeds to see how a sports match is going, get an update on a school trip or find out daily reminders – all in real time,’ one parent told us. Another voiced, ‘Our school uses Twitter to share student success – posting about stand-out achievements or activities, for example. It’s a really engaging way of celebrating what’s going on in the school and creating a sense of community.’
Social media can enable teachers to keep abreast of trends and online tools that they might find useful in the classroom or staff room. The sharing of ideas and opinions with other teachers and schools is also popular – Twitter chats like #UKEdChat or #BettChat are often hosted by an influential person on a specific topic to bring together teachers into a conversation.
Some teachers also take advantage of social networking features to create a private social network focused around course curriculum. In some circumstances, this enables students to be set, and upload, assignments and send messages, not only assisting with their learning but preparing them to use other social media channels in a more responsible manner in the future – not to mention saving the need to print anything off. In special circumstances, for example when a child has to miss school, social media can foster communication between individual teachers and the student so they feel less isolated.
Teacher blogs are a growing part of our educational world, with the likes of TeacherToolkit, ICTEvangelist and The Secret Teacher all widely promoted on social media, where some great debate takes place around the latest posts. At James Allen’s Girls’ School, a selective girls’ school in London, headteacher Sally-Anne Huang uses her blog to discuss topical issues such as Brexit, #MeToo and other issues that are relevant to our pupils and their families. She even started a campaign on Twitter #headteachersreallife to encourage more transparency around difficulties faced by headteachers. The campaign has already gained coverage in the Evening Standard.
With over three billion people now using social media, many of them swiping through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram many times a day, it’s no wonder schools are getting in on the act – it’s a simple way for schools to get multiple audiences on board quickly and effectively.