By Jessica Vician
We recently implemented a YOU Program training workshop at a school district in the Midwest that has four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Before the workshop, an administrator identified an issue she wanted us to address with the workshop attendees.
There is a parent-focused private Facebook group that was initially started by a mom in the district who wanted to provide a place for other parents to discuss successes and concerns in relation to their children’s education.
Unfortunately, a small group of parents have turned a well-intentioned online community into a forum for unconstructive complaints. They leave negative comments about teachers and administrators but don’t offer solutions, and the page has turned into a sour environment where other parents no longer want to participate.
This district’s problem, while unfortunate, is not unique. Online communities can quickly turn into forums of negative comments and complaints. Many people feel safe sharing opinions online that they would never say to someone in person, because the guise of being behind a computer screen and speaking with a keyboard brings courage to some.
But online communities, especially those focused on improving their children’s education experience, need not suffer just because of a few bad apples who lack the desire or ability to proactively and constructively address concerns directly with educators and/or administrators. It is possible for this Facebook group moderator to return the group to a place for positive and constructive discussion without banning the people bringing in unnecessary negativity.
Share Informative and Positive Content
If the group moderator is providing an online location for conversations but is not sparking those conversations, he or she is inviting unproductive comments. Instead, the moderator should give these parents something constructive to talk about.
Distribute positive and helpful information, like school announcements. Let this group become a place where parents and teachers can share valuable information about the classroom, from dress-up days and show and tell to fundraisers and registration dates. Parents will see this information and can ask questions or coordinate with other parents. Imagine the collaboration possibilities between parents in this environment: they could even end up arranging carpools and organizing teacher appreciation gifts.
Of course, this particular Facebook community wasn’t created just to distribute school information. It’s there to discuss challenges both with the district and in parenting. The moderator should share parenting and education information that could spark healthy discussions or provide valuable tips for busy parents. The digital component of our program, YOU Parent, is a website full of parenting tips and advice. That’s a positive place to find thought-provoking articles that the moderator can share with parents. In turn, even the parents who didn’t attend our workshops can learn the value of parent engagement and how to help their children succeed.
Monitor Comments Appropriately
In this situation, the moderator should avoid fueling the fire. Ignore negative comments from parents just seeking attention. However, if the parents are not honoring the code of conduct or are mentioning teachers or children by name in a negative manner, delete the comment and send a message to the individual notifying them why their comment was removed. It’s important that the moderator tells them why their comment was removed and gives them the opportunity to return to the forum in a more positive manner.
If there are negative comments that can be addressed in a constructive way, then the moderator should address those comments on the page and redirect the person to the correct information. For example, a parent might be complaining about a lack of communication between the school and parents. In this case, the moderator might acknowledge the parent’s complaint but also point out that the school recently debuted an email newsletter for home-school communication and can direct the parent to the sign-up page. In this example, the moderator took control of a negative comment and educated the parent on a solution to their problem.
Moderating an online community can be a lot of work, especially if it is the only place for parents to connect online to discuss the school district and educational opportunities for their children. As with this district, the discussion can turn negative quickly, but with the right guidelines and a plan in place to distribute interesting content and to monitor and respond to comments appropriately, parents or even the school district can successfully manage a forum like this one. Additionally, the information parents share on these pages can provide valuable insight to a district’s strengths and opportunities for improvement.
Each district has unique issues that the YOU Program can help address both with parents through parent workshops and educators through training workshops. We customize each workshop to address your school’s needs, so please contact us for information on how we can help your school resolve issues and reach its goals.