UKEdMag: Break Down the Walls of your Classroom by @hengehall

Why are we prepared to accept poor quality communication between school and parents? It’s time schools ditched the traditional methods and embraced the technology of today to break down the barriers between home and school.

The article originally appeared in the February edition of UKEdMagazine,which is freely available on Issuu

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It continues to surprise me that the vast majority of communication from schools to parents still comprises of a badly photocopied letter thrust into the hand of a child desperate to exit the classroom at the earliest possible opportunity. From this point the letter embarks on a perilous journey (you need the theme from Mission Impossible in you head for the next few sentences). The first hurdle is immediate – will it get from hand to bag, or be cast aside on the table. If it does reach the temporary sanctuary of the bag, it then risks being crushed, torn, soaked or, worst of all, neglected. How many parents actually check the child’s bags every evening? If it does, by some minor miracle reach the parent, there is the very real possibility that it could be lost in the pile of junk mail and never be seen again. And for all this, the school has forked out time and money to print and photocopy the letter.

At least, however, the conventional letter is an attempt to communicate with the home – how much goes on in our classrooms that parents would love to know about, which is lost almost as soon as the moment has passed?

It is time for schools to embrace the technology which drives our everyday lives. Many schools are beginning to contact parents using SMS. This is a start, everyone has a mobile phone, but numbers change frequently and a flat text can only get across so much. They are also relatively expensive, and usually only office staff are authorised to send them.

For more spontaneous, instant communication nothing can beat Twitter. Many schools are using one central Twitter account, but I am urging schools to go further. All classes should have their own Twitter account so teachers can capture the moment and share it on the spot. One of the best buzzes I’ve had when teaching was when Jamie Oliver retweeted one of our single tweet recipes to his 3.5 million followers – how else could you reach an audience like that? I’ve also interacted with Directors at Virgin Galactic during a space project, David Walliams and several other authors. If one of your children has a question about a book they’re reading, get them to tweet the author. Before you know it, you’ll have a truly global classroom.

You don’t need to stop there; encourage your subject leaders to set up curriculum accounts, which are great for CPD and sharing of ideas.

Twitter is also a great platform to give other media a wider audience. Do you have a class blog? If not, why not? For the vast majority of children most of their written communication will be online, so we have a responsibility to make sure we are teaching them how to do this responsibly, and blogging is a safe, controlled way to do this. When your children produce great work on the blog, use twitter to share the link with your followers, instantly widening your audience. You get the twin benefits of an audience for your writers, and the opportunity to easily share work with parents.

So embrace the 21st Century and teach your children skills they will use for the rest of their life. Abandon the photocopier, get your class blogging and use twitter as widely as you can across your whole school – you’ll find the benefits are enormous.

Ben Hall @hengehall is a Computing Teacher and Subject Leader at a large urban primary school in the North West of England. He has led the development of twitter and blogs at his school, helping raise attainment in writing. If he’s not teaching you’ll usually find him on his bike.

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