If you were to jump back in time 60 years or so and asked what the latest thing in education was, you might be pointed to Skinner’s Teaching Machine. Invented by Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1950s, the Teaching Machine was once a pioneer in “personalised education”.
This wooden contraption would walk each student through a set of prepared questions, which they would answer on a reel of paper. The student would then pull a loud crank that would reveal the answer, then move on to the next question. The hope was that each child would learn at their own pace and that this would, eventually, revolutionise education.
Needless to say, the machine did not achieve the revolution in education Skinner had hoped, and it is a far cry from what we imagine an ideal classroom to look like today. Today our most successful classrooms do not resemble the scifi-esque image of every child silently plugged into their own machine. Instead, they are loud, social and very human.
Similarly, we have come to recognise that modern learning is messy. It’s complex, fluid, and unpredictable – and no two classrooms or students are ever the same. Crucially, a child’s learning is not limited to the classroom, and not limited to a one-way interaction between teacher and student. It is in their daily exchanges with their peers, their headteachers, parents, and families. If a school is to properly support its students’ learning, it is essential for the school to engage all areas of the student’s community - from the students to their teachers, school leaders and parents.
This, however, is much easier said than done. There are plenty of things that get in the way of community engagement. Students might forget to pass on messages to their parents. Teachers may waste their precious time creating email lists, or logging into several different platforms to reach different parties. Parents are bombarded with so many emails they aren’t able to determine what’s important and what isn’t.
In short, while whole community engagement is an admirable and necessary goal, it can be a logistical and administrative nightmare if not managed correctly. To avoid such a fate, we’ve put together 4 principles you can follow to ensure that your school is successful when engaging the whole community:
Make sure it's easy - A teacher’s job is complex
The tools they use should not be. A teacher is more likely to stick to traditional ways of working or lose valuable time using inefficient tools if the job is made unnecessarily complicated.
Do your teachers have to learn how to use several different platforms to perform the same job? Does the platform they use look like an unfriendly tech relic from the 90s?
Usability is a key prerequisite before bringing in any educational tool. This is why users are at the heart of Firefly’s design because we know that you can immediately lose users - whether students, teachers, or parents - if the tools they use are too complicated. Make sure the tools you’re giving your community are intuitive and make their lives easier, not harder. Their focus needs to be on teaching, not on unnecessary technical complications.
Make sure they know how to do it
If you’re asking your teachers to engage the whole community, whether through a platform or otherwise, you need to provide them with appropriate support. Have they received enough training? Was this training helpful? Pedagogically driven?
Learning is central to Firefly’s experience, and this is not limited to students learning. We make sure that teachers are able to use our tools as though it were second nature to them, allowing them to go further every day.
Make sure school policy is on your side
Policies can be a valuable tool to ensure that all elements of student life are connected. Some schools require all homework to be submitted and marked electronically, making it easy for platforms, like Firefly, to immediately provide relevant information to parents, headteachers and pastoral staff. Other schools require parents to access all school reports electronically. These policies can be key to facilitating smooth sharing of information among the whole community.
Be consistent and targeted with your messaging
Parents’ inboxes are often filled daily, and a series of emails from their child’s school might get lost in all the clutter. Similarly, students tend to forget to check their inboxes but have no problem checking phone notifications.
Having consistent and targeted communication can greatly increase the likelihood of the community engaging with your message. If your school requires regular updates to parents, make sure the medium and messaging are different than an urgent school announcement.
Platforms like Firefly enable you to diversify how your messages are delivered, and for which audience. Instead of having an email sent to the parent with their child’s information, why not notify them on their phone to check the easy to use platform? Remind students of their upcoming event through a phone notification, rather than adding another email to their unread inbox.
The science of education has taught us that a student’s community is no longer a secondary consideration, but a central component of a student’s learning. It is the responsibility of schools to properly engage this community. With the right principles and the right tools, whole community engagement can be a driver of student social and intellectual growth, rather than a logistical hassle.
Want to discover how Firefly can drive whole community engagement? Visit our product tour page and take a look for yourself!