5 Effective Ways To Build Your School Tribe

This article is a continuation of The Connected Student Series

It’s a crisp fall Monday morning, and freshly dressed school children are being dropped off by their parents – who by this time have gotten used to the current homework load and the personality of the new teacher. But this year, there is something different in the air; an angst that is causing mothers throughout the 4th grade to call each other and fuel the creation of new urban myths about iPads that their children are using in school.

The phone calls sound something like this…

It used to be so easy to help with a worksheet or two at night. I don’t really know how to help my child learn and organize? And why isn’t my 4th grader writing in cursive? How are these kids expected to type effectively on that iPad keyboard? What are we doing to this generation of kids? When are they going to learn to read, and how will they ever learn to read on the iPad?  My child needs books, like I used, and a organization planner. How do I know they are not just playing games when they are on that thing?

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These questions echo from cell phone to cell phone, and car window to car window as parents voice their concerns to each other. This starts an almost frenzy-like atmosphere of distaste for the new 1:1 iPads. Why does this type of agitation happen? In most cases, it is a spurred by two factors: a big school-wide change to the status quo, and a lack of effective communication from the school.

Unfortunately, this is what can happen if you try to change the direction of a school without involving the parents. This is a semi-fictional account of something that happened at my own school, so when it happened I turned to one of the most brilliant business mind: Seth Godin.

Godin understands the power of creating a movement and talks about it in his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us.  “Movements” are not often associated with leading a school; however, as administrators and teachers try to make big changes, it is exactly the kind of book they should consult. Godin eloquently describes how we must build tribes in order to facilitate change.

These tribes should be formed around a common interest. In schools, it is our love of students and a shared interest in their future that can bring people together to form a tribe – and this is a step that leaders in the digital age really need to leverage as they begin to make needed upgrades in their schools.

In Tribes, Godin claims people are turned into a tribe by “a shared interest” and “a way to communicate” A leader helps lead by:

  • “transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change”
  • “providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
  • “leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.”

How does a school leader do these? By involving the parents!

5 Ways to Build Your School Tribe


Parent Information Sessions

I would recommend giving them a much catchier title, but this might be the most important way to build your tribe. When we first went Google Apps for Education (GAFE) at my school, we held Google session for parents so they could understand what students would be doing in class. When we went 1:1 iPads,  we orchestrated information sessions for parents about the apps being used, so they felt empowered and informed. We also talked to them about HOW these apps were being used. How they were being implemented  in new and engaging ways and how the engagement fostered skill development. We walked them through the process so they could see the plethora of skills just one app could address. The parents came to the sessions mad about cursive and left wanting more twitter time for their fourth graders.

Important Tip:

For those parents who can’t make it – live stream your session using Google Hangouts and record them for parents to watch again later. Flipping instruction can work with parents too!


Plan a Digital Learning Summit for Parents

Dr. Joe Mazza has a great post about planning a Digital Summit  which I used – with a few adjustments – to fit the school’s needs. We held classes for parents on 21st Century Learning, on blogging, on educational apps, and on parenting in the Digital Age.  I included a list of 10 TED Talks every parent should watch and a list of ideas for parenting a student involved in a 1:1 program. While I will admit that we had mediocre attendance at first, once word got out, people were knocking down my door for more summits and additional information. If you want to build a tribe at your school, this is an great place to begin.

Summer Boot-Camps

Handing out iPads to students without a boot camp would be like playing a football game without any practices. You simply can’t do it effectively, period. It is a good idea, however to take this one step further. Before we passed out iPads, or any device, we had students and parents go through a basic one day bootcamp where they learned the basics of the apps the teachers would use the most. We learned how to use the app with an emphasis on the academic functions, and held an open discussion about digital citizenship. We allowed for student and parent voice by asking for their ideas about proper digital citizenship, and the students and their parents started the year off with a basic understanding of what would be expected of them (based on their own ideas) as they began posting and sharing their work online.

Change Back To School Night

When I taught 7th grade history, I stopped telling my parents about the content of the class and what was expected of students. I think we all know the basic components of World History in 7th grade, and if not, a quick visit to my class website would make that clear enough. Instead while I had this captive audience, i talked about the need to teach in a constructivist and connectivist way and why 21st Century skills were critical for our kids. The parents all left with an understanding of the need to blog and tweet in class and not one of them was upset that students would be posting online. In fact, they were relieved that I was guiding their kids through the digital age in a way they were not equipped to.

School or Classroom Hashtag


Jason Markey, 2014 Digital Principal of the Year, is doing this amazingly well at Leyden High School outside of Chicago, IL. Their hashtag #leydenpride allows students and teachers to post or tweet about the inspiring  things happening around the school to foster a feeling of school pride. This hashtag gives a digital home to those amazing moments that happen during a school year. Moments that should be celebrated – not just by a few, but by many – by the “tribe” Jason has formed at Leyden. School leaders who want to lead effectively in the digital age could look to Jason and his students as a shining light of positivity. They have shown how social media can be used to highlight, inform, and rally around a place.

Important Tip: If you are going to have a school or classroom hashtag, make a video tutorial for parents on what a hashtag is, why it is important for the school,  and how parents can easily access the stream.

In the end in order to build your school tribe, you will have to connect with the parent community. This will build trust and foster and understanding of why you need to make changes. Any one of the above strategies will work, but to really empower change at your school, try doing them all.


  1. Jennifer Carey

    April 10, 2014 at 10:16 am

    One thing that we really struggle with is getting more parents involved. Meetings, webinars, newsletters often go unattended or tossed in the recycling bin. Not because these parents don’t care, but because they are so incredibly busy! Does anyone feel they have success in this arena?

    • Holly Clark

      April 14, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Jen :)

      We had success doing sessions right before pickup and then again on the weekend for families with two working parents. I also offered several different times, for the same session, and soon the word was out and people were attending.