As a seven-year Facebook enthusiast, I've witnessed births and breakups, catfights and celebrations. But when the ability to create a secret group arose, I saw a whole new depth of crazy. Turns out, the forum presents a clever way for PTOs and other school-focused groups to share info and even curb some crazy.
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With back-to-school ads lurking in the summer shadows, veteran Facebook group administrators share dos and don'ts of creating a group page for your child's school and preventing it from devolving into a mess of egos, hurt feelings and absolutely no productivity.

But first: Why a Facebook group?

"Our Facebook group is a 'one-stop shop' for information about any and everything happening at [our school]," shares Sibyl Reagan, administrator for the private Facebook group page for the PTO at Nannie Berry Elementary in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Leveraging Facebook groups also can help rally community involvement. Jennifer Schmuke has two school-aged children and helped create an open Facebook group to build buzz around a 5K fundraiser for their charter school in Westminster, Colorado.

"[C]ommunicating … was our main objective," she explains. "Getting people to know each other. Being more [of a] community. We rely heavily on the family support and a group of us moms really wanted to motivate the community to feel the same way."

An effective school-focused Facebook group page can provide:

  • A rally point for fundraisers
  • Sign-up links for events that need volunteers
  • Info about school schedule changes (e.g., delays caused by weather)
  • Details and reminders about upcoming school events
  • Quick answers (e.g., school dress code, drop-off and pick-up line rules)

"Make your group the place to go for up-to-the-minute information," Reagan emphasizes.

What to choose: Open, closed or secret?

Facebook offers three options for group page access: open, closed and secret.

  • Open means the group is searchable to anyone on Facebook, participants are visible and so are posts. Schmuke's group for Academy Charter is one example.
  • Closed groups are searchable and members are visible, but posts are visible only to members.
  • Secret groups, their members and posts are invisible without an invitation.

Reagan has three school-aged children and appreciates the discretion a private group offers. Knowing each member has been vetted as an actual parent or school staff member is reassuring, she says.

Dos for group administrators

  • "Set clear and concise guidelines," Reagan recommends. "One of our guidelines says that our group does not host discussion about specific teachers or staff."
  • Actively moderate conversations. Reagan's group has multiple moderators who are quick to remove inappropriate posts. "We have had a few instances where a parent has posted a complaint about a specific teacher. The pile-on that results isn’t productive in fixing the situation and the discussion is often one-sided and unfair."
  • Focus on facts; don't speculate about information.

Don'ts for group administrators

  • Don't delete an inappropriate comment without following up. "Explain why the post is inappropriate for the group," Reagan says. "Many times, a gentle, personal reminder about guidelines prevents misunderstandings and hurt feelings."
  • Don't let one or two posters dominate a group and go off-topic.

Dos for participants

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Invite other parents who can benefit from the information.
  • Learn the group's guidelines and follow them.
  • Treat members with respect.

Don'ts for participants

  • Don't stray off-topic. Stick to school activities.
  • Don't advertise your business.
  • Don't debate non-school issues.
  • Don't get personal.
  • Don't forget anything you post online, even on a secret page, lives on forever.

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