I confess. As a parent, I was one who signed up for school site council and then didn’t participate. I would find parent surveys at the bottom of my children’s backpacks long after they were due or I would just forget to send them back. I had the best intentions and I was certainly pleased to be asked, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t afford to take the time off work. I had class on the night meetings were scheduled, or it would just slip my mind. Years later, as an administrator, I struggle to find the right mix of stakeholder involvement activities so all parents and community members have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to the discussion. Fortunately, I have many more tools at my disposal than school leaders in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Telephone calls and mail just don’t produce the turnout I need to meet mandated parent involvement. I do use them and email also, but my Twitter feed is quickly becoming the go-to tool that lets my school community know what is happening on our campuses. I use my tweets to remind parents and partners about meetings and I post links to current information. I tweet pictures and links to short videos to keep my feed fun and engaging. My tweets remind my school community that we are hard at work teaching and learning; and having fun too. Using Twitter engages reluctant technology users, makes students think you’re cool, and provides anytime-anywhere communication.
Remember the ten page survey sent to all parents, the cost of mailing it, and then getting only a handful back? I still have my paper survey, and I hand it out to anyone who prefers it, but I also create the survey in Google Forms and send out the link by email, Twitter, and on note cards. Staff and students promote it too. Google Form responses populate to a Google spreadsheet. and a summary of responses with charts is available underneath the form tab. I began using Google Forms this year to prepare for an upcoming WASC visit and to gather community input for our LCAP. My response rate has increased from 32 responses last year to 237 so far this year. I also saved a small fortune on mailing and paying someone to tabulate the results—enough to pay for several teachers to attend the CUE conference this spring.
The last new tech tool in my community involvement tool belt is Google Hangouts. With Google Hangouts, I can have a meeting at a physical location, but other participants can join us remotely. Our school has classrooms at 14 different geographical locations and using Google Hangouts means that staff, students, and parents from separate sites can meet in a virtual space, share documents and work together. One EL student shared with me that she liked the Hangout because normally she would be too shy to speak in a meeting, but in this format she felt comfortable contributing. Busy parents and community members can join from work. It has taken some practice to learn how to use Hangouts for these meetings, and we are still getting better at developing the procedures that make our collaboration smoother. Lessons learned include being patient as everyone learns to sign on, having someone on the phone to assist those having technical difficulties, keeping our mics muted except for the person who is speaking, having a moderator recognizing the next speaker, using the chat section to record comments and questions, and developing procedures for taking and recording votes. Despite this learning curve, we still have more participation from a diverse set of participants and we are not paying staff for time and mileage to travel to a meeting.
Accomplishing multiple goals
As a site leader these tools serve more than one purpose. First, I use these tools to facilitate and document meaningful engagement of parents, students, and other stakeholders, including those representing the subgroups for developing our LCAP. Second, it gives me an opportunity to lead and promote the use of technology in our school. Third, it’s always fun to try new things!