'Is social media and effective means for schools to engage with students and their families?'
An introduction of your central topic of research, that is, your identified change with digital technology in education.
At the beginning of term 2 I started in a new role as the principal of a small Catholic school in Carterton. Through the application process I spent a lot of time researching the school, some of which was done through the school website. Here I noticed no evidence of social media being utilized by the school; there was no Facebook page or Twitter feed. One class had a blog on the Blogger format, but there were very few posts.
In the school that I was leaving I had spent the last three years trialing and implementing social media programmes; Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. With Facebook and Twitter there had been a lot of buy in from the wider school community; Twitter was used for class blogs and cell phone alerts for important and urgent information. Facebook was used for day to day information and updates, more or less a what's happening page. Google Plus was used briefly for the same purpose as Facebook, but I eventually removed the page due to the fact that there was no buy in from parents.
I saw a real opportunity for introducing a change in mindset at my new school. Previously the only communication between school and home was the newsletter and occasional parent / teacher interviews and discussions. I felt that parents would be hungry for access to information about their children and the school in general, and that the more immediate the access, the better. Social media provides an avenue for sharing the latest information, so I set up Twitter feeds and a Facebook page within the first week of my arrival. I also set up an online Mandarin programme for the senior class on Google Plus. Additionally, I completely revamped the school website using the Google Sites platform.
To date the use of Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, for varying purposes, has led to widespread engagement with parents and students. However, we are still at the learning phase, so there will need to be a focus on continually updating content and looking for more innovative ways of using the programmes.
A description of the ecology which identifies the relationships between your change and the wider ecosystem
Students at school have previously had limited access to social media. Generally, the parent community is such that would adhere to 13+ restrictions set by Facebook and Google. There is certainly a readiness for change with digital technology, which has been demonstrated by student use of Google Plus for an online Mandarin language programme.
Teachers have had little input into the Facebook page, and at this stage appear indifferent to it; they haven't yet liked the page, and don't interact through comments to posts. They have supported using Twitter for their class blogs, with posts being done on a fairly regular basis. Professional development has taken place through staff meetings, and implementation of learned skills is a part of the appraisal process.
As the principal I have run professional development sessions in all staff meetings. I have also modeled expectations through engaging with parents and students on Facebook and through the class Twitter feed for the new entrant class that I teach once a week. I have also modeled the use of Google Plus through an online programme that I have planned and run in the senior class since the beginning of the term. The board of trustees has used school funds (which are limited in a decile 6 U2 Catholic school) to purchase iPads for each teacher, doing so to ensure that teachers have access to a key resource for effectively using Twitter for class blogs.
The parents have quickly embraced Facebook and the cell phone aspect of Twitter. For a relatively small community the number of 'likes' on the Facebook page is high. Feedback on the use of both Facebook and Twitter has been very positive. A next step with be to run a parents evening on the wider uses of Twitter to engage with class pages.
At this stage there is no professional ICT learning community / organisation the the school is part of as part of a local cluster. Additionally, I am not aware of any Ministry of Education guidelines around the use of social media in schools.
As the school principal, along with the board of trustees, we have been clear on working within commercial organisation guidelines around the use of social media programmes in regards to age restrictions. Doing so significantly restricted how the Google Plus online Mandarin programme ran, but we saw this as a necessity in regards to modeling correct practice to students and parents.