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#HeroesOfHomeLearning: Campbell College - Engaging parents in the learning conversation

We’re delighted to congratulate Campbell College for winning the #HeroesOfHomeLearning Award for Engaging Parents in the Learning Conversation.

They won from a shortlist of 3 entries picked by our judge Brian Taylor, Assistant Principal at Bangkok Patana. He shared that: ‘When a school campus is closed the learning continues, just the location is much closer to home. As such, the locus of technical support for students also shifts. As partners in the learning journey, parents need a swift and simple method to seek support. I like how Campbell College Belfast used Firefly pages to support parents which, as a result, would positively impact student learning.

We interviewed Darren Walker, Head of Digital Learning at Campbell College to discover how they built their parent help section and what components they included.


What challenges did you face with parent engagement during the lockdown period?

It is a bit of a cliché, but whether you work or study at Campbell College you are very aware that you are part of a much broader family. We therefore already understood the importance of an involved and supportive parental body, so from the outset we knew we had to find a way to continue and build upon this sense of community through Firefly. As a result, one of our first decisions was to appoint a Community team to explore how this might be achieved online. 

We had also well-established structures in place to support parental engagement through Firefly, the College website and Parent mail. In fact, we had made a concerted effort to increase the number of parents using the Firefly app during the Christmas term, and had encouraged staff to make greater use of the Markbook and provide Task Feedback – two decisions which in hindsight proved very timely.   

However, it was also clear to us that if our online school was to prove successful, we would need to depend on our parental partnership like never before. It can be difficult enough to motivate a teenage boy when he is sitting in front of you in the classroom, so we knew that we would be reliant on parental support and encouragement to keep their sons engaged and completing tasks when they were alone at home with only a computer. Our parents didn’t disappoint and, like many other schools in the country, we are indebted to the volunteer army of parents who kept their children learning during Lockdown.


Please tell us a bit more about the parent help section? 

We already had a Parental Help section on Firefly so our first step was to redesign the pages to address the questions that parents might ask and the range of problems we thought they would encounter when the school moved online. 

The menu included a Technical section with links to Firefly’s Parental Help pages and advice on using Zoom, and a Home Learning Support section which included our online learning expectations and links to online safety resources. The final section was called Independent Learning and it directed parents towards a treasure trove of free online learning resources that had been collated by the College’s librarian which parents could use to support their children’s learning. 

We also streamlined the College website to ensure that parents could quickly and easily access help information from a variety of sources and redesigned our Firefly homepage to highlight the key features of our new online school such as the new Campbell Community section. 

We were also able to control the visibility of individual pages on the menu to ensure that parents, students and staff were directed towards the information that was most relevant to them. 

New Dashboard for CCB Online


How does it work? 

We tried to be proactive in our approach, sending regular updates to parents through Parent Mail and adapting the information on Firefly to meet the needs of home learners. Of course, it was impossible to predict every possible question or situation, so if parents needed to contact the school directly they were able to click on a red ‘Help’ button on Firefly which was hyperlinked to a Help Desk ticketing system powered by Spiceworks. 

The various Helpdesks were operated by groups of staff with a range of expertise. We chose this approach as we were very aware that College staff also had to juggle work and home responsibilities such as childcare, so the Helpdesk system meant that we could share the responsibility for providing support to parents, enabling questions and concerns to be answered in a timely manner.

Parent Help Section


What impact has it had?

I think the greatest testimony to the proactive approach we took is that we were not inundated with parental queries in the first few weeks. This also meant that the Digital Leadership team could focus their energy on the continued development of our student support systems and online provision, and growing the new Community section we had created on Firefly.

One of our most helpful parental engagements during Lockdown was through a survey we asked them to complete after 4 weeks of online teaching. The responses confirmed that our virtual school was working as intended, and helped us to further hone our online practice and plan for future staff training. However, perhaps the greatest value of the survey came through the motivational effect of the overwhelming number of positive messages of support and encouragement. 

One parent wrote “We like browsing the CCB Online website & feeling 'connected' to school.” Another said, “You should be very proud of all your efforts on Firefly, the weekly meetings and online challenges to provide pastoral care and the communications sent to parents. Well done to all CCB staff. Many thanks.” The responses were circulated amongst the staff and helped create a ‘virtuous circle’, resulting in even greater feats of online learning than had gone before. As one colleague told me, “I have never felt the support of parents more keenly.”    


How will you want to apply this model of parent engagement in the future?

With the uncertainty ahead, parents will continue to need help and advice so the Help system will continue in its present form with the addition of phone support as Lockdown is lifted and administrative staff are able to return to the College. 

The creation of a new Community section on Firefly was a key element of our plan to keep pupils and parents engaged with the College during Lockdown. It became a central hub for all of our community building activities such as the Headmaster’s assemblies, Housemaster Challenges and even the Campbell College Countryfile series. 

It quickly became the most popular page on our Firefly site with over 3000 visits per month, and the many positive comments we received from parents showed that they appreciated being more included in these wider aspects of daily College life. The challenge is how to make them more accessible to parents once school returns to normal. 

The new Community section of Campbell’s Firefly site 


Finally, Lockdown saw many firsts – our first virtual Year 8 Induction, our first virtual Parent Forum and our first virtual Speech Day. While these virtual events were designed to meet an immediate need, our ability to stream such events in the future has real potential to allow parents who cannot physically attend to participate virtually. For example, boarding parents who live abroad were able to participate in a parent forum for the first time through the use of Zoom. 


Virtual Speech Day at Campbell College


Campbell College also won the award for Rethinking Teaching and Learning Online. You can explore the range of digital tools they used and the impact it had on student engagement in this article. 

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