Three Social Networking Tools Built for Your Classrooms

Tactics
Facebook is fine, but education-specific social tools help schools and districts connect to their communities without facing the pitfalls of the wider web
By: 
Luvelle Brown, Ed.D., Chris Kennedy & Jessica Meacham

According to the Pew Research Center, 75% of parents use social media. In the same way that teachers strive to “meet students where they are,” smart districts are connecting with parents where they are: on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While these and other consumer platforms can be efficient community-builders, some tech-savvy leaders are taking the next step and building their own social networks using education-specific tools.

The Learning Counsel reached out to two superintendents and a teacher to find out which school-focused social networks they are using and how they are using them to connect with parents in their communities.

Luvelle Brown, Ed.D, superintendent

I connect with the Ithaca City School District community via Twitter and Facebook, but one of our Board of Education's priorities is to increase two-way dialogue with our community, so for the past four years I have also been using two tools from K12 Insight. Let's Talk! is an always-on question-and-answer portal, and Engage has helped me create, send, and analyze multiple community surveys. We utilize these tools to help us initiate and respond to various topics related to our school community, including budget, teaching and learning, and technology implementations.

These tools provide a secure and safe (potentially anonymous) way to share feedback. We are also able to track data and share that information with our community. For example, our annual community perception survey has guided many strategic initiatives as we've learned how many students feel engaged with school and how families feel about two-way dialogue with our school district.

In our students’ lives, social media is everywhere. Keeping up with the ever-changing social networks, blocking students from inappropriate sites, and other fast-paced changes is challenging. We have focused our efforts on teaching digital citizenship. With the correct understanding of how to contribute appropriately and effectively, our students will be prepared to utilize and thrive using any emerging digital tools.

Chris Kennedy, superintendent

“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.” This quote resonates with many teachers and administrators. Given the user experience around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.

When I first heard people talking about another new e-portfolio system – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation. Really? Don’t we already use several in the district? But this is different, I was told – it just works.

Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes.  Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic. It has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology. All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools. But this one feels different.

I have seen the power of the tool with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district. This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8.  I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years. And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way this experience truly engages me as a parent in the communication of student learning is different.

I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair. Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools. And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools.

I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world. The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.

Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.

Jessica Meacham, teacher

I’m a 1st-grade teacher in Southern Door County School District. Not long ago, I put a question out there to my followers on Facebook about parent engagement apps. Bloomz and several others were recommended. I researched and created a comparison guide and came to the conclusion that Bloomz was the most comprehensive one out there, and the right one for me. It has a social media-like interface and offers a comprehensive set of tools. I use it daily for parent updates and class news through text and photos. I also use it for volunteer and donation requests. I used it for scheduling parent-teacher conferences both times we had conferences this year, and it was amazing how effortless it was compared to my previous method.

Bloomz has improved and streamlined my communication with my parents. I’ve stopped updating my classroom blog, creating and printing paper newsletters, and mass texting or emailing parents. Bloomz has options that replace all of these methods of communication. Increasing parent engagement has never been easier!

Engaged parents are key to student success. Many parents may think that school is the same as when they were in school, but it’s not. Times have changed, even for the younger parents that I have in my classroom. It’s good for them to know about the changes and what school is like now. Parents now have a way to not only respond to the teacher by simply liking and/or commenting on posts, but also to actively engage through donations and volunteering. Open communication keeps everyone on the same page and, a mobile app that also integrates messaging and email reduces the possibility of parents possibly not getting the message.

I love that, instead of asking “How was your day?” and hearing “good” or “fine,” parents have a springboard for at-home communication with their child about what’s happening at school.

Authors:

Luvelle Brown, Ed. D. is Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District in upstate New York.

Chris Kennedy is the Superintendent of Schools at the West Vancouver School District in British Columbia. He has taught secondary school and been both an elementary and secondary school principal. You can follow Chris on Twitter @chrkennedy.

Jessica Meacham is a 1st-grade teacher in Southern Door County School District.

 

Other Community-Building Tools/Apps for Schools:

Planet HS is a student-life community for schools, focused on extracurricular activities, with easy-to-use features that are contextualized to meet schools’ needs.

Kahoot! allows teachers and students to create, play, and share learning games for free. Users can connect and play in real time with others in more than 180 countries.

Edmodo is the granddaddy of them all. With nearly 65 million members, this K-12 social learning network is dedicated to connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential.

Recent Articles

News Clip

Human interaction, SEL key to curbing cyberbullying | Mass. public schools violated law by denying Catholic, Jewish schools aid for special education | High school grads earn $20/hour, free college through apprenticeships | The Incredible Shrinking Higher Ed Industry

Video

At the Learning Counsel’s Digital Transition Discussion events, there’s a lot to take in. At our one-day events, one of the highlights is the Panel Discussions where area professionals discuss key experiences.