Continuing our discussion series on Social Media in schools, we spoke with the head teacher of Royal High School, Bath, Ms Rebecca Dougall, to find out how her school has embraced new technology. Her advice, for teachers and parents – jump in and try it out!
What methods of communication do you use with parents?
Our weekly newsletter now goes out to parents via email, in order to save printing costs, and be more environmentally friendly. We also have a portal on our website, where parents can access recent reports and newsletters. The acceptance of email as a method of communication is high, and the usage of the online portal is growing. We still send out a regular print newsletter to alumni, as some of them are not online.
Which Social Media channels does your school use to reach out to parents and pupils?
We use Twitter and Facebook.
The great advantage with Twitter is the integration on our website – parents can check the website for updates, eg for snow closure of school. This info is posted on our Twitter account and automatically posted on our website. It can be slightly challenging for parents who don’t use Twitter, to accept and embrace our usage of the site.
For non-users it can seem a confusing and frightening online space.
When one considers how many news articles are written about bullying and abuse on Twitter, this initial reluctance is totally understandable. In this way, we can act as a bridge of understanding between young people who wish to use Social Media, and their parents who reject it. We can show them that Social Media can be a fantastic learning resource, and a way to strengthen the school community.
Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with our alumni. We’ve seen an increase in communication with those who have left school in the past few years, as they follow our Facebook page for updates.
What is the balance of Social Media outreach, with regard to current parents and prospective parents?
Obviously, it is in our interest to promote our school, but you know the most powerful marketing for us is satisfied parents. We give parents a window into the daily operations of the school, which many of them are happy to pass on to their friends. Giving the parents a glimpse of the fun and learning that goes on in the school is a great way to build the community, without compromising our integrity. We can present the school in a honest and unfiltered way.
How do you decide which info to share, and what protocols do you have in place?
We have a protocol for our Twitter accounts, eg I don’t follow any students from my Twitter account. We have several accounts, including various departments, and even our school tower has it’s own Twitter account! Everyone who posts on these accounts is aware of the protocol and restrictions, eg some parents don’t give permission for their child’s photo to be shared. This becomes less of a problem as the children get older, and start using Social Media themselves, but we continue to check with the girls, to ensure they are happy with us sharing their photo online.
We are very careful to limit the postings to information about the school, and news that would be of interest to pupils, parents and alumni. Personal opinions, particularly on religion or politics, are off limits.
It is important to find the right balance – voicing off on party political matters is not acceptable, but sharing articles or views on current cultural issues is fine, as is revealing something of one’s “private life”. The girls are used to seeing my walking my dog, so I might tweet a cute pic. I’m also keen for the girls to be avid readers, and might recommend a book that I enjoyed. One of my interests is providing girls with positive role models, so I would share articles and information on this topic.
We provide training for all of our staff on the usage of Social Media, and this is updated yearly to include newest information.
How does the inclusion of Social Media in day-to-day school life affect the way you engage with your pupils on this issue?
I believe that there is no point in teaching usage of Social Media as a stand-alone lesson in PSHE. Our pupils see that our online activities run throughout our school community. They see their headteacher as an avid (some might say obsessive!) Twitter user, and so this embeds awareness of technology.
It also prevents young people from feeling that Social Media belongs to teens – if they see it as a communication tool that adults use, then they feel they are joining the digital community, and that they must be mature in their usage of it. We see it as showing children that this technology doesn’t exist in a dark corner of the internet, and they need to be accountable for the messages that they post.
We start formal lessons on use of Social Media in Year 6/7. A staff member has CEOP training, so can talk to the girls about the dangers of Social Media, how to report anything that they feel worried about, and how to use each site safely.
In addition, a career consultant comes to the school to speak to our senior girls, and her lessons include awareness of reputation management. This makes the girls think about what they post online, and just how big their digital footprint is.
Does your Social Media policy affect the school policy on smartphone usage?
No, not really. While we are aware that our girls walk around the school with an incredibly powerful resource in their pocket, at present we do not allow usage of mobile technology during school hours. We also block Facebook during school hours. I anticipate a change in the future – that using a smartphone in class will become second nature, just as using a calculator replaced the slide rule, but not quite yet. Phones used during class are confiscated, and we are rather strict about this. We are working towards using technology such as iPads in school, but we are very much aware that it is a dangerous assumption to think that all children will have access to specific (expensive) products.
What advice do you have for parents?
My advice to parents on dealing with their children’s online life, is the same as in their real life – be interested! Be open, ask questions, and keep the communication flowing.
Much as many parents might like it to disappear, Social Media is a genie that is not going back into the bottle! We will see it becoming more and more prevalent in the coming years, and it is important that we teach kids how to use it responsibly.
Rebecca Dougall is Head Teacher of the Royal High School, an independent day and boarding school for girls aged 3 – 18 years, in Bath, England. Rebecca is an avid Twitter user, and welcomes further discussion via @HeadRHSBath