In Education: Community is the Best Line of Defense

Today, for our Guest Contribution, we welcome William Jenkins. William is currently working on expanding and advocating for exploring community management and social selling in the area of Education. He hopes to implement alternative roll out methods to make it easier for great EdTech to get noticed, including the use of Follr Communities. You can visit William’s EduTechStories Blog for more, and we hope you enjoy this special piece William wrote just for Follr Communities.

During a conference, focused on marketing and communication for education, an interesting story was relayed to me.

A school had been deemed to be “failing” by the authorities in the system. The school was subject of a discussion amongst authorities of giving it the status of “Academy”. In the United Kingdom that is a downgrade and indicative of potentially serious problems.

The school community rallied to the schools defense. The initiative had been taken in the 12-18 months, before the consultation was recommended, to create an online community for all of those involved with the school to maintain contact and for parents to be more pro-actively involved with their child’s educational experience.

For more information on EdTech, visit William Jenkins blog EdTechStories.
When the news broke that stakeholders were entering into the consultation before the accusations could erupt, unity broke out.

Parents and students rallied round the staff to offer support. Pointing out all the ways in which the educators were doing some great work, how the efforts of the students were demonstrating results, how parental involvement was helping form school decisions and actions.

The proactive nature of the community, and therefore the strength, was solidly established before there was ever a need, or indication of a potential problem.

The community believed the policy makers were wrong, that the school was doing well and would continue to do so. The school supporters questioned what value changing the status of the school would have, apart from demoralizing everyone who had worked so hard to turn things around.

Any time a school is told that it’s failing this leads to division and recriminations, some examples:

Educators:
Despite the fact that improvements have been made since a “change agent” principal was parachuted in recently. Perhaps the changes are being made against a terrible backdrop of poverty where a multitude of complex socio-economic factors play a role that hampers progress, regardless of the reasons. It is a thankless task: Top head teachers get only weeks to improve schools… or face the proverbial ‘axe’.

Parents:
Some may question Parents attitudes about their children’s behaviour, but may not truly understand the issues. Perhaps they are single parents working multiple jobs without the benefit of time to be more actively involved. Most Parents care greatly, but don’t have additional time or resources to focus on helping support the school beyond their own child’s educational needs. They need to keep a roof over their head. Jay Mathews highlights that in his post “Bad Parents don’t make bad schools.”

Policy makers:
The political classes are distrusted by many school communities, a primary reason being they are perceived as frequently breaking pledges and commitments to a state funded educational system. Then there is an issue with social mobility. As 75% of children from the Middle Classes eventually begin working for the same company that their Parents do, or had, would indicate a certain level of complacency within the community and status quo. It’s an “I’m alright Jack” attitude, not a surprising from the self interested political classes.

So the usual road to go down is one where accusation and counter-accusation as to whose fault the failing results are. However, the story continued in details of how the usual blame game and accusations were thwarted by the establish online community, which was the support structure and the unifying voice of those directly affected by the consultations determinations.

Building an online community was the best, and likely only, line of defense.

This example demonstrates the value of building an online community for education. It permits already busy educators, and equally as busy parents, to carry on conversations outside of the scheduled limitations of meetings and committees. Shifting the focus on sharing good news, seeking assistance, addressing small problems before they can grow out of control.

The point isn’t whether the school’s status was eventually changed, change happens. It is an example of the power of a supportive community, especially in educational systems, that was able to rally round the school, its teachers, staff and students, and make a profound impact on the process.