The Case for eFACE

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Also posted at Parent Involvement Matters

Just as teachers differentiate for a variety of learning styles in the classroom, schools must also differentiate communication efforts for true home-school partnerships. We must keep in mind that, like our students, today’s parents are also evolving in the tools they use each day as Moms and Dads. Technology, and social media specifically, has arrived.
Social Media Statistics
Per Twitter, 3.7 million Super Bowl related tweets were sent on Superbowl Sunday. With 460,000 new sign-ups happening each day, Twitter is the fastest growing social media in the world. Facebook is still the social media of choice, but Twitter is gaining ground on it quickly. Youtube, LinkedIn, blogs and wikis are also very popular social media being used by today for personal and professional reasons. The most telling statistic: The most popular age group of today’s Twitter users is 18-35; the age of most parents I currently and will be working with to build home-school partnerships at my elementary school.

Identifying Roadblocks

The number of schools truly harnessing social media to connect families is relatively low, but growing. Some school examples to check out are Eric Sheninger’s New Milford High School, Patrick Larkin’s Burlington High School and Lyn Hilt’s Brecknock Elementary to name a few. For the rest of us who are moving at a slower pace for one reason or another, here are some questions to think about that relate to your own organization:

Questions to ponder

•   What policies and beliefs stand in the way of schools truly harnessing this power? Are these policies written to prevent problems or encourage innovation?
•   What factors influence the level of “access” for your school and your families?
•   Shouldn’t schools be the ones to set the digital responsibility bar for students, parents and other educators to follow?
•   Instead of being fearful SM use, how about being confident that we as educators are role modeling effective and appropriate use.  

Adding the “e” to FACE

Simply put, “eFACE” or electronic Family And Community Engagement is using technology tools to bridge home and school while creating and maintaining partnerships. For true partnerships, this communication needs to have plenty of two-way options, not just one-way sharing.
Use technology to support your comprehensive plan and open doors providing access to conversations already happening in virtual spaces. Technology should not be the answer to home-school partnership challenges. In an increasing digital age, it’s even more important to take the extra time necessary to maintain face to face communication with eye contact, respect, tone and empathy as the ideal relationship-builder whenever possible.

Questions to ponder

•   Do you have a comprehensive family engagement plan in your school or district. *If your answer is no, adding technology tools will not improve your practice in this area.
•   What ways does your setting currently use technology to share information with parents?
•   How often does your setting employ electronic tools that act as two-way communication tools? 

Moving forward

The research is clear. Family engagement is good for kids. Technology should not cause change in what family engagement researchers like Joyce Epstein have taught us. Face to face two-way communications should continue to be at the root of our efforts. Growing and fine-tuning these efforts along the way is vital. Whether the feedback comes while using technology or not shouldn’t be the focus, but not offering that as a mode of communication limits those parents who are most comfortable
Schools can no longer afford to exclude eFACE components including social media tools in their family partnership goals.
The questions are raised throughout this blog because true home-school partnerships are about responding to your own learning community, digging deeper from within, not simply replicating what has worked well in other places. I encourage you to answer the questions posed after each section according to your own setting to empower your own reflection. 
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