It has become a fact of life: Most of us spend a lot of our time drifting from one social media site to another, in what feels like a natural progression. Social media plugs us into a community and gives us a platform to listen, to be heard, and to connect meaningfully with those around us. When we think back to our web 1.0 lives, tasks like checking email seem almost like a chore in comparison.
When a handful of teachers at one of my district’s schools, Park Side Elementary in Marshall, Minnesota, came to that realization, they knew there had to be a better way to reach the diverse population we serve, where communication with families can be a barrier because parents forget to check classroom websites or don’t have access to email. But, as the teachers figured out, parents almost always have a smartphone on hand, and that alone is a tool powerful enough to build a rich and vibrant community.
We’re fortunate in that we’re a pretty tech-rich district, with iPads in our K-2 classrooms and 1:1 Windows devices in grades 3–12. I serve as a district tech integration specialist, meaning that I provide assistance and troubleshooting to our students and spend a good deal of time with staff on technology-related initiatives, digital content, technology use in the classroom, and evaluating and testing new resources with classroom teachers who work in five different buildings.
When the Park Side teachers suggested using a parental engagement app called Bloomz to connect with parents, we jumped on board and let them pilot it. We loved what we saw. Bloomz looks like a social media platform that anyone would take to very easily. Not only can parents see what their students are up to during the day, but it also serves as a portal to direct involvement in the classroom ecosystem.
We saw how popular features like the calendar, the parent-teacher conference scheduling, and the volunteer request tool became, so we decided as a district to implement the app at another of our elementary schools, West Side, and then transition to the rest of Park Side, all in a few simple steps and without going through a long deployment process. I provided a demonstration at a building staff meeting that covered the primary features of Bloomz. I also set up all the teachers and their class lists in our Bloomz community to help them hit the ground running. (Although Bloomz is very easy for teachers to use, I will continue teacher training efforts well into next year.)
In the fall, West Side plans to implement Bloomz’s behavioral management tool as well—they had started the year using Class Dojo and will finish out the school year using Bloomz so everything related to parent communication is in one place. Even though use of the app isn’t mandatory, we’re seeing so much positive engagement that I get new requests for implementation assistance weekly.
Meeting the Challenges of Buy-in and Security
The biggest challenge right now is getting every parent to buy into the community at this time of year, since we began this journey mid-year. Our first two days of the school year are assessment days for our elementary students. Parents will be bringing their child or children in for their assessment during those days, giving us the perfect the opportunity to either get them signed up on Bloomz on the spot or provide them information to sign up at home.
Security is one of our primary concerns. Student safety is always a consideration when looking to implement new resources in our district, and so we did our homework ahead of time. There are plenty of security features on the backend, and groups are invite-only, with a multi-level verification process and administrative options for class membership and content-sharing. Bloomz also doesn’t share any personally identifiable information with third parties, and information like email addresses or phone numbers are only visible to the teacher or administrator of the school/class, all of which were important for us.
Best of all, our building administrators are the driving force behind this effort. We all feel like we’re in this together. When everyone jumps on board, the excitement and energy are palpable. That’s how you build a community.
Karen Londgren is Technology Integration Specialist at Marshall Public Schools in Minnesota.