The International E-STEP conference took place in Athens on November 7th. It was hosted by the 8th International Conference in Open and Distance Learning 2015, “Innovation and Research in Open & Distance Learning and in Information Communications Technology.”
Over the last couple of years, the E-STEP project set about helping teachers and school leaders acquire and reinforce attitudes, skills, and knowledge that will enable them to effectively enhance parental involvement in schooling and interact with parents through social networking technologies. This culminated in the development of a specialised Training Framework and supportive materials for teachers around Europe that enable them to:
- support, engage and motivate parents to utilize social networking systems in order to collaborate with teachers.
- develop strategies and initiatives that teachers and school managers could use to communicate effectively with parents and to engage them in support of their children’s learning at home and at school.
- enable school leaders to support their staff on designing and effectively implementing parental engagement activities.
Our school was invited to participate by the Irish project partner ULS, Universal Learning Systems. We were one of a number of organisations, from the five participating countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland and the UK), who were involved in both phases of the project. The pilot schools went down a variety of different paths in their endeavours to use social media to enhance parental involvement. Activities ranged from creating Facebook pages at each grade level where there is an active dialogue and exchange of views between parents and teachers, to organising one grand event in the school with total collaboration with parents. Some schools developed their own school Twitter accounts or decided to extend their existing learning management platforms to create an interactive communication and information platform for parents.
Our school took a slightly different approach. During the initial activities of the ESTEP project discussions took place between parents, our HSCL teacher and school management regarding the use and introduction of social media in our school setting. Some reservations emerged about creating a school Facebook or Twitter account – the posting of inappropriate content, detraction from face-to-face interactions etc. Consequently, as some teachers had recently started using Edmodo and Class Dojo, we decided to simply pilot the sharing of access to these digital platforms.
The initial response and feedback from parents was generally positive and it is hoped that this practice will now be extended and brought to the parents of children in more of our classes. The idea of creating a school Facebook page or Twitter has not been completely discarded and may be revisited some time in the near future.
Participating in the E-STEP process enabled us to become familiar with empirical knowledge about parents’ engagement, and to directly apply this knowledge base to our own unique school situation.
The ODS platform was used to provide E-STEP materials for webinars and anyone interested in getting trained based on E-STEP guidelines can find this material here. The E-STEP community includes teachers and parents who participated in E-STEP as pilot schools, but also welcomes other teachers and parents who are interested in building effective partnerships.