As a continuation of my previous post, Parent Engagement vs. Involvement and Why it is Necessary, I wanted to expand on the premise of engaging parents using social media and digital tools. To differentiate between the two terms, factoring in the power of today’s read/write web I did a little brainstorming one day on the white board in the 21st Century Fluencies (@HWDSB21CF) office of @HWDSB.

Engagement vs. Involvement

In this particular instance I was differentiating between our Corporate information vehicle (school websites) as a medium of information vs. teacher websites where classroom teaching and learning can be made visible to parents with built-in opportunities for interaction. Involvement is a passive exercise and usually involves the conveyance of information that can be consumed by an audience (in this case parents). Schools, therefore, create newsletters, in the traditional understanding of the word = paper) advertising upcoming events, report card deliveries, and interview nights. At times, calls for participation in fund-rasing activities could occur perhaps resulting in a purchase of a needed resource or opportunity for enrichment (i.e. field trip). Here, information is delivered and consumed – it is one way, static, read only. In literature terms (i.e. character development), this type of media is flat, static, and offers no feedback from its audienceit does not elicit a conversation. In fact, there is no way for this type of involvement to allow or facilitate conversation. School websites are a wonderful way to deliver information in a timely paperless, and always available fashion – they do are not, however, harness the power of the web unless read/write capability is turned on. Unless commenting and co-publishing is enabled, websites are a 1.0 read-only medium and controlled by its webmaster.

So let’s switch to the engagement column. In this instance, as mentioned, I was comparing and contrasting a vehicle for school information (with commenting turned off) with a blogging platform built on WordPress / Buddypress – The Commons (a private interactive space with an internal social networking layer – blogs, however, can be made public like Aviva’s below). Here, teachers could have websites that they used to both provide information, activities, lessons, and assessment tools to students and their parents BUT also provide a valuable window to learning by making their classrooms open, transparent, and visible through the window of a screen (computer, smartphone, or the like). That’s how I look at screens – windows – portals – a looking glass if you will. As the parent of a six year old I can empathize with parents who wonder what is happening daily in the classrooms of their children (I will, however, share with you tremendous example in a moment).

So, blogs, by their very ability to display other websites via embed codes (as in this post with embedded tweets, images, and YouTube videos), virtual posters (i.e. Glogster), presentations (i.e. Prezis), audio tracks (podcasts), and video clips (i.e. YouTube, Vimeo) can be easily shared AND commented on, thus opening up and eliciting a conversation that allows true engagement to occur. These sites can be interactive, dynamic and round. Student, teachers, and parents don’t just have to read – they can produce and become prosumers in the true sense of the word. Engagement is reciprocity, interaction, and relational. It eliminates barriers of expertise and provides opportunies for all expertise to be shared in a collaborative, interactive, and public space. We are not hiding learning – learning is open, visible, transparent and available for conversation, explanation, and elaboration.

In short, Parent Engagement is Parent Involvement 2.0 – it is read / write, collaborative, and accessible. It does not, however, replace personal interaction or face-to-face moments. It includes those, too, in a blended fashion. It is a blend of traditional face-to-face and online. It is differentiated – in exactly the same definition as that we apply to our learning environments for parents. As I tweeted out, and included in my last post…

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Knowing your parents and community is a key part of the engagement process – you need to implement what works for your parents in your particular diverse community. What works in one will not necessarily work in another so what is provided here is merely one strategy that could be implemented along with many others. To be engaged through technology, access is a must. So, it goes without saying that text messaging, email, Twitter, or the like will not be an effective tool for parents that do not have access to these types of devices. Be sure to consider this when implementing a 2.0 engagement strategy with your community. Poll your parents and see who wants to participate and who may need communications in traditional fashions (i.e. hard paper copies).

@Joe_Mazza  actively engages his parents through social media and Web 2.0 tools but, when I asked him about those that do not have devices, he assured that hard copies are made available as well. No one should be excluded when considering these strategies.

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Twitter an an engagement tool

Twitter provides an amazing opportunity to connect and to keep parents informed of school, and classroom activities as they happen. Weekly or monthly newsletters contain news that is old, outdated, and sometimes immediately irrelevant (i.e. mentions a past event or one coming up in the future). By means of Twitter, information, consultations, questions, and calls for suggestion can be made immediately and elicit response in a timely fashion by computer, phone, or tablet. The yield of this type of tool is immediate when compared to a newsletter of paper form AND it’s free. When compared with the large expense of paper photocopying and distribution (even more if we’re talking mailing) is effectively reduced or eliminated altogether.

Here is an article about how Twitter is used as a communication / engagement tool for parents –Tweets help inform parents (

Here is one example from @KGrahamHWDSB, acting principal of Saltfleet Secondary School in Hamilton, who has posted information on a School Council meetings for his school #Saltfleet. He, too, is starting down this path and will be exciting to watch his journey.

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@Joe_Mazza, a principal in Philadelphia, also uses Twitter to engage with his parents and communities @KnappElementary. Here is a great example indicating that parents will receive hands-on training with a particular tool. By learning how to use these resources in an interactive way, parents will be provided with some tools to take home to work with their children in their learning.

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@Joe_Mazza talked about he walks around during the school day and tries to tweet (sometimes up to 5-7 times) during the day from the hallways, from classrooms, and events – keeping followers (parents and the community) up to date in a timely fashion. Those parents with a smartphone or tablet on their person would get immediate notification and could comment back on the same.

Think how powerful this would be if a parent could get a tweet from their child’s classroom showing them what they are doing right now and offer opportunity for that parent to comment back to the child. For me, that’s brilliant! Here is a page on Twitter in regards to @KnappElementary in Philadelphia – – they have conducted townhalls via Twitter!

Superintendents can also celebrate learning and student engagement as can be seen in this tweet from Superintendent Pat Rocco of @HWDSB (@Pat_Rocco)

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These real, relevant, and timely messages allow all stakeholders to be informed in a timely fashion and to engage in return by replying, retweeting, or direct messaging.

Another neat part of engaging in this way is that your followers get to know you beyond your professional attire. It is no longer that old hierarchical top down approach but you are opening yourself up for conversation, sharing what you are reading, watching, and listening to and giving your followers that personal touch that relationships are built on. I can not celebrate this type of tool enough.

I love this post by George Couros (@gcouros ) An Open Letter to School Administrators about using Web 2.0 tools and social networking to engage parents.

School Blogs and Websites

I never cease to be amazed by the tireless passion for student learning and parent engagement by Aviva Dunsiger (@Grade1). Her passion for using social media and Web 2.0 tools in her classroom are to be commended. Aviva, a Grade 1/2 teacher in Ancaster, posted the following on her blog dated June 9, 2010 – Building the Home-School Connection

I manage a Grade 1 Website and multiple blogs that inform parents what’s happening in the classroom, and I send out weekly e-mails updating them on important classroom and school events. I also call all of my parents on a regular basis (usually every week or every other week) to inform them about important updates for the following week and share some “good news” stories too. I’ve built a strong relationship with these parents, and the information that parents share with me, helps me build an even stronger relationship with the students.

For Aviva, parent engagement is a blend – online and face-to-face. Her blog makes her teaching and the learning environment she creates transparent and visible for all parents. When I asked her to write a post for how she informs the community of her online presence she agreed to write the following Again, the premise is being open and transparent – engage parents in learning and conversation. Give them opportunities to see learning, to talk about learning, and to express what learning looks like because they see it happening with you as their guide.

To me, this is what engagement is all about.

Always remember….

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Check this out – a LIVE Web 2.0 Home and School Meeting from @Joe_Mazza – so cool!

I have more examples to illustrate in future posts.