By keeping up with current technology, CPS is working to communicate with students and families in the ways that work best for them.
At Bateman Elementary School, parents have told administrators that they prefer to receive school information through Facebook or texting.
“Parents tell us that when news comes home in their child’s backpack, it may sit for days,” said Bateman principal Patrick Baccelieri. “But if it comes through social media, they’ll have it immediately, because everyone is always looking at their phones.”
A recent addition to the social media bandwagon, Bateman has found that these digital tools make communicating with its 1,000 families a much simpler process.
“Putting all of our information out on paper wasted a lot of valuable staff time and resources, and it was less current,” said Principal Baccelieri. “Now we’re able to send everything in real time.”
While Bateman seems to have embraced the concept, other schools have been more apprehensive about expanding social media.
“It was slow to catch on here,” said KC Boyd, the librarian and media specialist at Phillips Academy High School. “Some of our staff and parents were hesitant. But they’re beginning to see that social media is an effective way of communicating with our kids.”
Boyd has conducted several technology trainings for her colleagues and spends a good deal of time talking to students about developing strong digital citizenship.
“Students need to understand that their Twitter handles and what they post on Facebook can affect them later in life,” she said. “We spend a lot of time talking to them about using social media in a responsible way, especially when it comes to school.”
Similarly, students at Taft High School spend nearly a full quarter of their required introductory computer class discussing these kinds of issues.
“This class used to be about teaching students to type,” said Trent Eaton, the computer teacher and webmaster at Taft. “Now it’s about online safety, digital citizenship, and how to evaluate what you see on the Internet for accuracy. And because the kids come into the class with so much prior knowledge, the curriculum is constantly evolving.”
Taft places a heavy emphasis on social media, posting all school announcements and events to Facebook and Twitter. And like a number of other CPS schools, they use a website service host called Education Networks (a Chicago Board of Education vendor) to maximize their communications.
“When I post an announcement to our website, I can choose to have it automatically added to our Twitter feed,” said Eaton. “Combine that with Twitter’s feature that can automatically post tweets as updates to our Facebook page, and we get three outlets with one communication.”
Taft also subscribes to a feature called Twitter Fast Follow, which allows people who do not subscribe to Twitter to receive the updates as text messages on their phones.
“Some members of our school community aren’t quite ready for their own Twitter account, but they like getting our updates as texts,” said Eaton. “I know a lot of people follow us this way, because when I make a typo in a post, my phone blows up with texts.”
Because social media is a mainstream tool in today’s world, CPS has created an online toolkit aimed at providing schools with guidance, support and inspiration at how best to use it in an academic setting. Schools can access this resource at www.cps.edu/socialmediatoolkit.
“In order to take students where we want them to go, we need to meet them where they are,” said KC Boyd of Phillips. “Social media is the heartbeat of our students’ culture, so it is our responsibility to embrace it and teach them how to use it well.”