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5 Tips to Upgrade Your School's Image
2020-11-24
Time to Upgrade

With so many issues to worry about when managing a school, foremost of which is educating students, worrying about your school’s first impression might seem like a rather petty problem. However, first impressions are critical because people tend to become attached to their initial impressions (people and organizations). We find it very difficult to change those initial opinions, even when presented with facts and evidence. 

To make it worse, this means that earning parents’ trust and confidence usually begins before they ever set foot within the doors of your school. While we’d each like to believe we form our impressions based on logic and evidence, psychologists and social scientists tell us this is seldom the case. Our intuitive first impressions can and do predispose our opinions.

So, let’s look at a few areas that contribute to a positive first impression, each of which we have considerable control over.

School Logo

Logo

Your school’s logo, and please tell me you have one, is the first indication of your values. It communicates ownership of your goals, which are the outcomes of your products and services. Yes, a school has products and services. The products are your curriculum, teaching methodologies, and communication strategies. Your services are how you deliver on those products—how effective your teaching staff is and how customer-focused your employees, volunteers, administrators, and governing board members are.

Your logo is the visual representation of all of that as a whole. It makes a strong first impression by grabbing attention, making your school memorable, and separating you from the competition. It represents what you stand for and puts that representation front and center.

Your logo should help people relate to what your school aspires to and how that makes them feel. A good logo can trigger positive recall about your school, your values, and your successes.

Your school is a professional organization, delivering professional services, striving to earn respect and credibility while educating this country’s youth. Doesn’t the image that triggers positive impressions need to be representative of those goals? Do more than copy what other schools are doing, but dare to be different. A well-designed school logo or mascot can communicate your culture (fun, academic, artistic, traditional, etc.) to your mission (college-ready, character development, inclusive, reaching potentials, etc.) and show how you stand out from other schools. With myriad educational choices, your school needs to stand out in a good way! Start by taking a serious look at your logo. For an affordable, professional design, we can help. Check it out.

Color wheel

Colors

There are tons of studies validating the power of color on first impressions and branding. One study by the Institute for Color Research says that people make a subconscious judgment about a product or environment (yes, that includes your school organization) within 90 seconds of their initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

So, if you haven’t done so already, put some real thought into your school and district’s color scheme. Once selected, keep it consistent and don’t change it with every new administration change. It’s about your customers (parents and students) and not the color that your latest superintendent likes or doesn’t like. It is part of your brand and should represent what your school stands for, and unless what you stand for has changed radically, your branding shouldn’t either.

Remember, your school brand is not just your logo or mascot or even your school colors. Your brand is the idea or the image that people have in mind when they think about your school and the services you provide (both emotionally and physically). This brand includes your school name, logo, and all your visual identities, staff, educational offerings, facilities, and marketing. Your school colors are a part of that brand identity, so make them count.

Colors have value because they can increase your brand recognition by up to 80 percent (according to a University of Loyola, Maryland study). In addition to recognition, we all have specific reactions to colors (although that changes depending on things like age, gender, and nationality). Accepting the psychology of color when choosing your school colors can help your audience (parents, students, community members) know who you are and what your school values. The wrong colors can also drive them away.

Knowing your school brand personality can help you select colors that reflect that personality.

  • You’ll look at tone. (Is your brand playful and fun or serious and focused?) 
  • You’ll look at value. (Is your brand inclusive and affordable or elite and exclusive?)
  • You’ll look at the targeted age. (Is your brand youthful or mature? This will depend on your target students, as an elementary district would have a different branding than a high school district.)
  • You’ll look at energy. (Is your brand loud and busy or calm and subdued?)

Next, you’ll want to factor in the traditional meanings for common colors. Studies tend to put the following associations to these primary colors:

  • Red: strength, energy, urgency, excitement, passion 
  • Yellow/Orange: fun, cheerfulness, warmth, joy, optimism, and creativity 
  • Blue: calm, reliability, stability, tranquility (popular color for men)
  • Green: nature, freshness, health, simplicity, harmony, wealth, decisiveness
  • Violet: royalty, wisdom, magic, and aristocracy
  • White: purity, cleanliness
  • Black: authority, power, intelligence

This infographic by Marketo can give you an overview of what colors mean to most people. See where your school might fit in.

True Colors: What Your Brand Colors Say About Your Business by Marketo

Just remember that school colors are about your audience and the feeling you want to invite. Smart branding will take into account the known psychological effects of colors and use the information to attract customers and leave them with a positive impression.

school website layout

Template (layout)

What constitutes a great layout for your school’s website? That depends on your website’s purpose. In the case of a school’s website, it is serving two purposes. One goal is to keep students and parents informed and engaged with what is happening at the school and with their children. The other purpose is to be a resource for parents and students looking to select a school and help them decide. Let’s discuss the existing parent needs first.  

Here’s a quote from a parent that describes what most parents are looking for:

“As a parent, I appreciate being able to find what I need quickly and easily. Too much clutter on a home page is overwhelming and makes things harder to find, so a clean, streamlined design with lots of white space is ideal. A professional-looking website makes me feel like the school has it all together, where something that looks like the 5th-grade computer class put it together causes me to lack confidence in the information.”

Here’s another quote from a parent not quite so happy with her school’s website:

“Our district’s website is terrible because half of what I need is on the district site, but it is impossible to find. And, the school sites have practically NO information that is valuable.” 

As you can see, your students’ parents want to find the information they need as quickly and intuitively as possible. This means a clean, logical layout (or template) for your school website(s). It also means that your school-level websites must also have information that applies to the parents and students going to those schools. Often the school communications folks only focus on the district-level website, and existing parents aren’t likely to search for relevant information for their students on a site dedicated to the business and marketing aspects of education.

One way we improve the logic on our client site’s layout and navigation is to include an area for “quick links.” It provides an area, in addition to the main navigation, where you can provide common links for targeted groups like students, parents, or community. You can provide quick access to the most commonly needed information like calendars, staff contact information, latest news, etc., and all only two clicks away. Parents can go quickly to the area they need without wading through dozens of pages and hundreds of links only to become frustrated.

Another thing to remember is that from your school's perspective, you don't have to start from scratch to have a clean, easy-to-navigate school website. For our clients, we give them everything they need to have a well organized, informative, yet uncluttered home page and website from the get-go. All they have to do is fill in the blanks, and they have an extremely effective website. If you’re on your own and aren’t looking for a new website vendor, reach out to us, and we’ll have one of our copywriters put it all together for you.

Exceptional School Websites eBook

New video (marketing)

Think of a school marketing video as a shop window. It is that first look to see if what you are offering is what a parent is looking for. Studies show that an engaging video on your school website’s homepage increases conversion by up to 80%, so to include a video that represents your school makes good sense. Even public schools in an area with little competition for students should consider the value of using video to create a positive perception and generate pride and trust in your school.

You don’t have to have a professionally edited video either. Parents and prospective parents enjoy seeing everyday life at your school. You have engaging content all around you that you can easily edit using basic tools. Some ideas that are useful resources for interesting content include:

  • Sporting events
  • Proms or other dances
  • Class trips
  • Award ceremonies
  • Student performances and concerts
  • Student or teacher interviews

To make good use of a marketing video (a video where you are showing what you have to offer) might include the following:

  • At the end of your video, you can link to your enrollment page and a sign-up to get a school tour.
  • Reuse your marketing video in other locations like YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and other social media channels. 
  • Use your video on other pages of your site, beyond the home page, like your site's enrollment areas. We recommend areas targeting prospective parents and students like a “Why Choose Us” section.

If you haven’t created a good quality video for your website (and other uses), put it on the list of upgrades for your school’s image now. If you need some tips, check out our blog article on how to “Create a School Video Without Breaking the Bank” and “School Video Marketing Ideas.”

school website photos

Photos

There are many reasons to ensure your website is visually appealing, and nothing is more visual than a photograph. So, while it may be tempting to cram as much information on the page as you can, don’t overwhelm your site visitors with text-heavy pages, but use images to reinforce your messages. The right photos can turn an ordinary school website into one that is engaging and memorable.

You don’t have to have an expensive DSLR camera to take good photos any longer. Most smartphones are now equipped with some amazing high-quality cameras. It is likely you can even recruit students with an interest in photography to help you out. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Make sure your images are relevant to the topic on the page. In other words, does the photo help your site visitor understand the point you are trying to make? Does the image create emotional appeal?
  • Use photos of real people whenever possible. A/B testing studies have shown a significant increase in conversion and engagement when a happy, smiling person is part of the page content, particularly on main landing pages.
  • Use images to reinforce the message you want to convey. For example, if you want to stress your extra-curricular programs' strength, then be sure to include photos of students happily engaged in those activities.
  • Be sure to optimize the size of all your photos and images to avoid increasing the load time on your web page. You don’t need to have images that are larger than 72 dpi on your site, so always check the resolution size before uploading.

For more helpful tips for taking and using the best photos, check out our article, “You Don’t Always Need 1,000 Words; Just a Few Good Photos.” Or download our free photography checklist by following the link below:

Now is the time!

With the disruption in education this past year, and with the increased competition from online education, it is critical that you put your best foot forward to recruit, enroll, and retain students and staff. These five small areas of focus can help you do that. Don’t forget, School Webmasters can help

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How to Minimize Stress
2020-11-10
Woman holding head due to stress

Meditation, Yoga, exercise, blah, blah, blah. No. The answer is writing in the active instead of the passive voice. Using the active voice in website writing is much easier to read and comprehend, therefore making the reader’s experience more relaxing and yes, less stressful. If we can be a part of helping others to feel less stress, why wouldn’t we? When we talk in person, we almost always use the active voice; but when we write, for some reason, we revert to the passive voice. Maybe we think it’s more proper or it makes us feel like we’re a better writer, using more “formal” language. Or maybe we like the way it creates an aloof, a not-completely-responsible-for-what-is-written way out. Whatever the reason, the experts agree there are several reasons to write actively rather than passively, but these are the simplest reasons:

  • It's clear.
  • It's direct.
  • It takes the stress out of reading
box of donuts

Who Ate the Donuts

I loved the story by Brian Berkenstock with the Center for Plain Language in which he tells about taking his two daughters to the donut shop. Once a month, they buy a dozen doughnuts, take them home to eat one as they watch a movie together, and go to bed. And the girls know that when they get up in the morning, their donuts will be there waiting for them to enjoy. So, one morning, the girls got up, looked into the box, and found only seven donuts instead of the nine they knew should have been there. They took a good, hard look at their dad, knowing exactly what he had done, when that smart dad peered into the box and said, “Hmm. It appears someone has eaten some of the donuts.” 

The girls looked back at him with an instant, stunned look of confusion as if to say, “What did he say?” until one of them put her hands on her hips and said, “You ate the donuts!” 

The dad’s passive remark had created a second of confusion in which the daughters had to quickly make sense of what was going on, and the daughter then clarified the situation with her direct, active statement. “You. Ate.” Simple, clear, no question, no confusion.

That story illustrates exactly what writing in the passive or active voice does to all readers. If passive, readers must internally and quickly interpret the words they encounter as they try to instantaneously make sense of the information. It creates a bit of interior stress that can be completely avoided by simply using the active voice. The active voice creates a straight-forward, even relaxing experience.

100% Active Voice?

You can relax too. I don’t mean to stress you out about always needing to use the active voice, no matter what, 100% of the time. There are occasions in which you may want to (or need to) use the passive voice. But it’s probably not as often as you may think. The following are examples of when you may need to use the passive rather than the active voice:

  • When you can't or don't want to identify the subject
  • "The school was founded in 1950."
  • "The office was broken into last night."
  • To create an authoritative tone
  • "Visitors are not allowed."
  • To be tactful/noncommittal
  • "The meaning was somehow misinterpreted."

But remember, most of the time, you want to create a friendly, comfortable experience, and writing with the active voice is an important tool to accomplishing that. Save the passive voice for your handbooks, and create a relaxing, welcoming tone with the active voice on your website. All respected writers emphasize the importance of using the active voice. Grammarly says, “A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of your sentences in the active voice, unless you truly can’t write your sentence in any other way.”

your voice matters - use active voice

Choose the Active Voice Whenever Possible

Sentences written in the active voice flow better and are easier to understand. It places the emphasis on the subject of the sentence (what we can or can’t do for you) and makes the sentence more straightforward and concise. 

Examples

The following are examples of passive voice content our clients sent us for their website pages. They can sometimes (often) sound a bit stern (okay, cranky) and even a bit convoluted, so at School Webmasters, our experts make sense of the madness and convert them to friendly, much-more-understandable, active sentences.

  1. The client's passive voice:
    "Students are expected to read over 40 books and meet to read and discuss the literature every other week in preparation for a competition held twice a year at a neighboring school.”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Our students read over 40 books during the school year and meet every other week to discuss the literature in preparation for a biannual competition with neighboring schools.”
  2. The client’s passive voice:
    “Our students will be enabled to use their G-Suite accounts to complete assignments.”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Our students will use their G-Suite accounts to complete assignments.”
  3. The client’s passive voice:
    “For those with digital capability, parents/guardians are encouraged to have students access the exceptional education learning resources…”
    School Webmasters active voice:
    “Parents/Guardians, if you have the digital capability, please let your child access the exceptional educational learning resources...”

Have I Convinced You Yet?

So, two things I hope I’ve brought to your mind with this article: First, I hope I’ve convinced you that we can help decrease some of the stress and confusion in the world simply by writing in the active rather than the passive voice. Writing in the active voice creates a friendly, clear, transparent, easy-to-read, website that is inviting and comfortable to read. So, why wouldn’t we? And second, eat more donuts!

Exceptional School Websites eBook
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Raising a Healthy, Happy Social Media Page
2020-10-27
Raising healthy, happy kids (or social media)

It feels as if social media can take on a “life of its own.” It’s somewhat like a child. When your child cries in the middle of the night, your first instinct is to run to see what’s happening. You get that feeling of impending doom if you can’t get there quickly enough. Are they sick? Did they see a monster? Your job as a parent is to watch over, manage, care for, and love your child as well as ensure their success. 

And as a steward over your schools' social media, the same tactics apply.

You must raise and nurture your school’s social media platforms if they are to be successful. Here are four ways to nurture your social media channels.

  1. Get Educated 

    With your first infant, you read every book you can get your hands on! You soak up knowledge like a sponge. Soon the sponge is full of tried-and-true knowledge and begins to overflow with information. Likewise, as you start your social media page set-up, there are many references out there. Many how-to guides that describe every step of the social media set-up process. It can be overwhelming at first. But unlike not being able to pass off a crying baby in the middle of the night, you can let someone else take this one from your already-full plate. School Webmasters can do all the work for you. 

    Do you know that each platform appeals to different groups of people? Different platforms serve different purposes and people use the various platforms in different ways. Check out our website to learn more about the social media platforms schools use most often.

    Do you know who you are marketing to and how? We highly recommend conducting a survey of your stakeholders to learn more about the platforms they use and what they want to see from you on their favorite social media channels. When you understand the purpose behind your social media and you can tailor content for your audience, your school’s social media efforts will be a success! If you have questions, feel free to reach out to our social media experts.

  2. Implement Safeguards

    What if you could build a protective shield around your kids to help them withstand hardship? What if you could empower them to rise above the pounding factors that rob them of their confidence and buoyancy? What if you could safeguard their mental health?

    Similarly, we want to protect our social media pages and make them safe and secure. We need to shield them from "page trolls" or the "negative" contempt and criticism of an angry school patron with a personal vendetta.

    It should go without saying (but we’re going to say it)—setting up and managing your school social media isn’t the same as setting up a personal page. One of the most important steps we take when establishing social media pages for our clients is to set privacy and security settings according to best practices and professional standards.

    When School Webmasters sets up a page for you, we follow all the safety protocols that will let you control your page. You can be sure that the comments seen on your page are helpful and relevant to the voice of your school. We recommend setting up the “message” button so that your visitors can ask questions privately. Here are some additional tips to safeguard your Facebook page.

  3. Have Fun

    Your child—aka your social media page—has now been born and safeguards are now in place. Now the fun begins! Just as children are a parent’s pride and joy, your social media pages can be a place of pride and joy for your school. Have fun with it. Let it grow and take on a life of its own. How? Some of the more common tactics include holding a contest—a giveaway. You’ll want to create excitement or engagement that will add quality interaction with your page.

    How are you portraying yourself in your community? Show them that you are caring, fun, and, most of all, the best place for your community’s children to attend school. Show kids playing at recess, learning in the classroom, and interacting in the hallways. Let your pages do the talking—social media is the best "show and tell" time for you.

    Interact with your followers. You are here to be a part of something, and you represent your school. Your social media manager needs to have good communication skills to engage well with your community. Respond to positive comments. If you receive negative comments, take the conversation off social media by stating something like, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention; we’ve sent you a direct message.”

    In the case of local businesses, teachers, and staff members, be sure to follow your followers back, and interact with their posts. Like and comment on your local business’ posts, and share/repost appropriate content from your staff and teachers.

    being watchful

  4. Be Watchful

    While your child is learning and growing, who is measuring them? Just as you take a child to the pediatrician where they measure the child’s height and weight—and give helpful advice, Facebook and other social platforms have their own "insights" pages that tell you exactly how well your platform page is performing.

    Perhaps the best, most inclusive way to measure your analytics is by using your scheduling software. We use Hootsuite, which measures page growth, new followers, follower demographics, and the best and worst times to post to your page. There is a treasure trove of information available to you to ensure that your "child" is growing correctly and quickly.

It Takes a Village

Perhaps the most fun part of having an effective social media page is the teaching and learning that takes place. The landscape of social media is ever-changing and growing. It can be a lot to manage. The team at School Webmasters is continually learning new rules and techniques and becoming familiar with trending topics to ensure that your pages stay on topic and are brand relevant. We go to conferences, take specialized training, and have open, active communication with our school representatives to ensure that we are going above and beyond for our clients!

Social media is at the forefront of your school's image; make sure you are correctly representing your school. If you need additional information, help, or resources, we are just a call or click away. Contact us today to see how we can help your pages grow!

Social4Schools Academy Social Media 101 with Anna Nolan and Heidi James
Social4Schools Academy
Social Media 101
Learn to manage your school social media platforms effectively—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. This course curriculum is a culmination of years of experience with actual page management by real-life, professional social media managers. Now, we’re sharing all of our know-how and trade secrets with you!
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Share Your Photos!
2020-10-13
Young man taking pictures for school website

The images you share on your school website and your school social media make a huge difference. There’s an old Chinese adage that says, “When I hear, I forget. When I see, I remember.” Typically the saying refers to learning something—in this case, I want you to think about it in terms of your school marketing, public relations, and brand. Seeing is remembering. If you’re trying to make an impression on your community and prospective parents, you need to show them something about your school that’s worth remembering. 

Pictures and images help your community see your mission and vision in action.We share the importance of good photos for your school website along with some photography tips in a past blog called “You Don’t Always Need a Thousand Words: Just a Few Good Photos.” It’s worth a read if you missed it! 

So, because we covered all that previously, we want to focus on something else regarding your school photos. 

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) exists to help prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. When it comes to your school website, there are many regulations and guidelines in place that will help you provide an equal user experience to individuals with disabilities who use your website. Many of those accessibility guidelines relate to posting and sharing images. 

If you’re worried about maintaining ADA compliance and avoiding a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), then you might be anxious when it comes to sharing your school photos online. 

Yes, there are things you need to take into consideration—but don’t let that stop you from reaping the benefits of showcasing your school online! In this blog, we’re going to share some of our best practices and tips for sharing photos in an accessible way. 

Picture of boy in wheelchair at the bottom of steps

Photo Accessibility Tips

When you consider sharing images online, there are some clear do’s and don'ts. Here’s a simple breakdown:

Add Alternative Text

All images on your website need to have alternative text. For users who are visually impaired or choose to disable images, the alternative text (or alt text) is what displays and what a screen reader reads to describe the image. Here are two key tips to remember when adding alt text: 

  1. Never start your alt text with a phrase like, “image of” or “a picture of”—the assistive technologies will identify your picture as an image. 
  2. Then, just keep your descriptions short—don’t try to go into a lot of detail. If you’re not sure what to say, pretend you’re on the phone with a friend. What would you say in a sentence or two to describe the image? You might say, “There’s a picture of a teacher with her students working on a lab experiment.” For your alt text, leave out the part where you identify the image as “a picture,” and your alt text would simply read, “A teacher with her students working on a lab experiment.” 

Mark Appropriate Images as Decorative

Some images on your website don’t require alternative text. According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), decorative images can be marked as such when they are: 

  • Visual styling such as borders, spacers, and corners
  • Supplementary to link text to improve its appearance or increase the clickable area
  • Illustrative of adjacent text but not contributing information (“eye-candy”)
  • Identified and described by surrounding text

To mark an image as decorative, you can leave the alternative text blank. Be sure you still include an alt attribute. It will look like this:

<img src=”url-of-decorative-image.jpg” alt=””>

Avoid Using Images with Text

If you have created an image with text, you will need to make sure that all the text is available as alternative text. This becomes especially complicated if you’ve posted an event flyer as an image. Consider posting an accessible PDF instead of an image.  

In addition to ensuring you implement alt text appropriately, text within images poses other accessibility issues. For example, when a user needs to increase the size of the text on a page by only zooming text, the size of the text within a graphic does not increase. We always recommend adding text as actual text on your web pages.

Check Color Contrast 

The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) explain that contrast is a measure between the difference in perceived “brightness” between the foreground color and the background color. This is especially important to users who may have a visual disability such as color blindness. The best advice here is to avoid using text over an image, but if you must, then be sure to check the color contrast

Include Controls for Image Carousels

First, we do not recommend image controls, as they are typically an accessibility nightmare. Images that scroll, rotate, or change automatically present a problem for some users. In order to be accessible, any script that causes images to automatically advance should include a function that allows the user to stop and play the movement. This function must be accessible to everyone—including keyboard-only users. In other words, you need to be able to stop and play the movement without using a mouse. Additionally, each time new content is loaded, the new content must be presented to everyone—including screen reader users.

Computer screen showing school photos

Sharing Images Online—Best Practices

Now that you understand the basic guidelines for making your images accessible, let’s talk about where and how to share them. 

Sharing Images on Social Media

When you first think of sharing images, you may think of social media. Instagram, especially, is prime real estate for your school images, and including images with your Facebook and Twitter posts increases engagement.

The downside of using social media platforms to share your images is that the platforms don’t necessarily have to abide by ADA regulations. The good news? There are ways to help make the information and posts you share more accessible. 

One way is to add alt text as you post your images on social media. Most of the platforms have the option to add alt text under the “edit” function after you add an image. You should be aware that if you are using a third-party platform to schedule your social media posts, you might not be able to add the alt text. In most cases, you will need to add the alt text within the specific social media platform. 

The second way—and best way—to make sure your school’s social media content is accessible is to make sure any image and information you share on social media is also available accessibly on your website.

Mobile screen showing Instagram

Sharing Images on the Website

You’ll want to make sure your best school photos are also shared on your website, especially if you’re sharing a news article about an event, assembly, or classroom project. 

Posting one image on your website is easy if you’re a School Webmasters client. Just send us the image and a brief description through our customer service portal. We’ll post it to your site following best practices to keep your website accessible. 

If you’re using your own CMS, you’ll need to make sure you can add the alt text to the image as you post it. 

Things get a little more complicated if you want to share a lot of images on your website. There are lots of ways and widgets to share slideshows and albums on your website—we’ve tested several of them! In this blog, we’re just going to share the best (and simplest) ways we’ve found to share lots of pictures and keep your website accessible at the same time.  

Sharing an Album 

So far, our favorite way to share lots of images accessibly is to create a folder on Google Drive and share it. A screen reader will read the file names, so you will need to rename the files with your descriptive text. 

  • Advantages: Google Drive provides easy viewing and sharing for your audience. You don’t need a Google login to view them. 
  • Disadvantages: Your school won’t have a lot of control over how the album is viewed. Your album may open up on a list view for some users and a grid view for others, depending on how they have set their Google Drive preferences.

Sharing a Slideshow

When creating and sharing slideshows, we prefer using Google Slides and publishing it to the web. You can find the “Publish to the Web” options under “File” in Google Slides. Keep in mind, in order to keep your slideshow accessible, you cannot enable features that auto advance the slides. You will need to allow the user to manually scroll through your images. The screen reader will read the alt text you provide with the image when you add it to your slide.

  • Advantages: You have control over how the end user views your album. The slideshow is easy to share using the link or by embedding it. One big perk in creating a slideshow as opposed to sharing an album is that you don’t have to rename file names.
  • Disadvantages: The slide show looks embedded instead of allowing a customized view to match your website.

Your School Website Needs Photos

Don’t let ADA compliance scare you away from sharing photos on your school website. Parents want to see the great things happening at your school, and we want you to be able to share them accessibly for everyone to see! 

If you have any questions about ADA compliance or sharing images accessibly, feel free to reach out to our director of website accessibility, Kelly Childs.

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School Blog Topics to Engage and Convert
2020-09-22
the word blog written in a book on desk

A few weeks ago, we talked about the power of storytelling to make your school blog interesting and engaging. To further encourage you to begin your own school blog, we’re going to share some topics that will inspire your own ideas. 

But first, let’s talk about the process to make maintaining a blog possible given your already busy day. Here are some getting started tips:

Gather ideas

In a previous blog, we talked about how to get started with a blog, so review that for the full picture. But as you gather your courage to commit to a school blog, you’ll want to select topics that you want to write about.

woman surrounded by light bulbs representing ideas

One way to begin is to create a spreadsheet that acts as your idea repository. It should include columns that will inspire your new ideas. 

Column #1 could be ideas inspired by your school’s strengths in programs, services, or successes. Be sure to include reasons parents choose schools other than yours (so you can address those objections in blog topics and show how you can solve their problems or meet their student’s needs).

Column #2 can be the popular topics of interest you’ve gathered as you have reviewed blogs by other school administrators. So, basically, check out the competition—especially if you have schools nearby that are attracting students you’d love to get or keep.

Column #3 could be topics that your staff recommends. Ask them, especially those who answer phones, work with enrollment or registration, or are the first line of contact with parents, what the most common questions are and what concerns prospective parents ask. These are topics worth their weight in gold.

stack of blocks with the words trends latest hot popular

Sample Topics

Okay, while you go about gathering content for your future blog posts, let me give you a few topics to get you started. Tweak these to fit your needs:

  1. Write what parents should look for when considering the right school for their child.
  2. Tell what types of social-emotional support is available for students at your school (include a personalized story about a student as an example of a good outcome).
  3. Explain how your school applies gifted student programs to help those students excel.
  4. Write about what technology is available to students, how it is integrated into the classroom, and how it assists them in learning.
  5. Provide a list of reading recommendations for each grade level, and share your personal experiences of how reading has inspired you (or other successful individuals).
  6. Write an article about the professional development training that teachers receive during the year and how it benefits the students.
  7. Blog about how to keep children safe while on the internet.
  8. Write about your gifted program and how it engages students.
  9. Start a series of articles about alumni, staff members, or students (for achievements, progress, or personal stories) that will encourage or inspire others.
  10. Review your school calendar, pick a few of the events that are unique to your school, and write about the benefits, the history, and the value to students.
  11. Post a survey to find out what topics your parents (and prospective parents) would like to hear about or learn more about, and cover those topics in detail.
  12. Pick a topic that is a current issue (sometimes controversial), and discuss how it affects students and how parents can talk to their students about world-wide or cultural issues. You don’t even have to take a stand; just let parents know that the topic is of interest in your school.
  13. Write about why parents should send their child to your school. What are your strengths? Use a story to provide an example of a child who has excelled because your school programs and culture matched their needs.
  14. Share 10 questions parents should ask in choosing the right school for their child.
  15. If you have competition nearby, write about the differences between a private and a public education (or whatever the differences are between you and them) and the pros and cons of each.
  16. Write a series of blog posts about how to prepare students for the upcoming school year:
      * how to prepare for the first day of school
      * fun and healthy after-school snacks
      * planning ahead for school holidays
      * how to manage the hectic back-to-school rush
      * how to help your child deal with bullying
      * how to start the school year off right
      * getting your child on a sleep schedule
  17. Share a story that brings your mission statement to life (showing your culture and values in action). Gather these stories from your staff on a regular basis.
  18. Write a series of blogs about the various clubs and activities at your school, interviewing some students who participate in those and sharing what it means to them.
  19. Discuss the various learning styles to help parents identify their child’s style and how they can help them succeed.
  20. Write about the special education program at your school and how different learning accommodations benefit all students.
success tips

A few more blog tips

There are a few more success tips that are worth noting as you manage your own blog ideas and posts.

  • Use Images. Your content is much more credible and enjoyable when you add images to your posts. Photos are even more effective when they are actual photos of the people or topics you are writing about. Stock photos are better than no images, but whenever possible, use the real thing. But, be sure you are using royalty-free photos (and NEVER just grab an image from Google images or the internet since those are typically copyrighted).
  • Be consistent. Pick a schedule to post your blogs and stick with it. You want to get your readers (customers/parents) to get used to seeing your blog or they will forget about it and the important things you want to share.
  • Be personable. Don’t be afraid to express your personality. I know that in K–12 schools, personnel tend to feel they should play it safe and be low-key. But that doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself with humor, confidence, and inspiration. Let your personality shine through, whether you are naturally an extrovert or introvert, love a good joke or tend toward sarcasm, joyful or serious, let your word choice and content reflect your personality.
  • Titles matter. Your blog titles will capture the attention of your readers, so keep that in mind when you are writing your blog article. It should be actionable, interesting, clear about your topic, and contain some of your targeted keywords. Check out some more title tips.

So, you should have lots of ideas floating around in your head by now. Write those topics down and start your own idea repository. The more you gather, the more ideas you’ll discover. Then, just get started. You may soon find that it is a task you look forward to tackling each week (or month—depending on how frequently you decide to blog).

Happy blogging!


574052
Is Your School Website Hard to Keep Current?
2020-09-08
frustrated cartoon woman with too much to do

Have you ever seen one of those plate-spinning acts? The performer runs around on stage placing plates on top of long sticks and setting them spinning. They often run back and forth doing other things too like flipping cups and spoons, adding more plates, all the while keeping the main plates spinning atop their seemingly unstable perches. (If you've never seen such a performance, check out Erich Brenn on the Ed Sullivan Show YouTube channel to see what I’m talking about). 

Do you ever feel like that’s your life? Metaphorically, to keep a bunch of plates spinning without letting any crash to the floor? In working with schools, one place we see master “plate-spinners” is in administration and front offices. School secretaries, in fact, have so many varied job responsibilities we often wonder how they manage to keep everything going without plates smashing to the ground left and right! 

man juggling spinning plates

Trying to Do It All

To get a better idea of just how busy a day in the life of a school secretary can be, we talked with our friend Tammy who works in the front office of one of our local elementary schools. As a parent with students who also attend the school, Tammy puts her heart into the work she does as a secretary, and she is very good at it. We asked her about the challenges she faces as she keeps up with all her spinning plates. 

In school administration, there are lots of demands on your time. And it is not just a matter of sitting down and completing a task; there are many interruptions that arise throughout the day. Tammy mentioned just a few of the tasks that she handles every day: “For the front office, every day brings a different opportunity. Enrolling new students, helping students, parents, and teachers, general office work, attendance, letters, filing, ordering supplies, scheduling field trips or special events, processing payments, newsletters, and the list goes on—all done with a smile! As far as administration goes, there are student issues, teacher issues, observations, district meetings, and so on. And every year it seems like new software is introduced and more demands are put in place...”

Tammy sings the praises of the staff at their elementary school, saying everyone is “willing to pitch in and help whenever needed.” We imagine your school runs the same way—with employees and staff asked to step in to various roles regardless of their technical job descriptions—that’s how many good organizations run. 

Among core responsibilities is the daunting challenges of effective school communication. This duty is ongoing and will never be considered complete. Communications related to your school in all of its varieties requires ongoing effort and diligence to keep it alive—or at least on life support. 

However, school communications is often one of those “other duties as assigned” that gets doled out to various staff members regardless of experience, expertise, or time available to dedicate to the task. You may have noticed a few of Tammy’s assignments included sending out letters, scheduling special events, and writing the newsletter. These are vital aspects of effective school communications. Along with the rest of her responsibilities, that’s a lot to demand of a school secretary. Tammy admits, “There are so many items to communicate that unfortunately some do fall through the cracks.”

note to self: prioritize

Prioritizing

Tammy listed a lot that goes on in a school’s front office. Considering the diverse demands on school administration and the number of students in your charge, can you see why we chose a spinning-plate act for the visual of this blog? How do you do it all? And there is always something more you could do, but where would you find the time?

Let’s say your school’s front office is equally busy. What duties are essential for the day-to-day success of the school? We asked Tammy, and she said it perfectly:

“[Our essential duty is] to service the children—give them the best possible education they can get and prepare them for life in the future. All kids need to learn how to problem solve, get along with others, and more, as well as learn reading, writing, and math. We are preparing them to be the future generation—some come to us with no skills and need a smile or hug to get them through. The ‘tough’ ones are the ones I love the most—when you find that ‘thing’ that they respond to—it is an amazing feeling.”

Did you notice that school communication is not a priority? And that’s okay! In fact, we hope the response would be similar regardless of who we asked at your school—we imagine any teacher, principal, or school janitor would say that their priority is to serve the children that attend your school. And that’s just the way it should be! 

So why do we make such a fuss about the importance of school communications? 

Because it matters to your ability to serve the children who attend your school. It matters—immensely—but it doesn’t need to be your priority. Let it be ours. Let us help you! 

School Communications Matter

Communication fails at times because it requires more resources than are available in the typical school scenario. Tammy says, “If we are not up-to-date with the calendar/marquee/robo calls, parents do not know what is going on.” And that means more work for Tammy! When parents don’t know what’s going on. She has to spend more time fielding calls and helping parents find the information they need. 

School communications require constancy to be current and effective. Demands on your time, as well as demands on the time of those tasked with helping you, means communications will sometimes fall by the wayside.

Let’s look at updating a school website, for example. Typically, when we see an outdated website, it’s disappointing—like when the performer’s plate falls off the stick it’s spinning on. For a school, habitually outdated school websites can have negative effects on public relations. Outdated school websites are less productive and drain time and energy from your school.

Did you know it takes our professional website updaters an average of 15 minutes per website update request. Keep in mind, that’s our average. And we’re really fast because it’s all we do day in and day out! Some website update requests take longer (like building a new page for your site), some are much quicker (like adding an event to your school calendar). Our clients average between 15 and 46 update requests per month. Add it all together and that’s between 4 and 10 hours per month per site. 

With your school’s various challenges and demands, do you feel like your efforts in regard to your school website and school communications are where you’d like them to be?

We asked Tammy what communications factors she considers essential for her school. She shared that they have so many ways and reasons to share information that they could really use a full-time person just to focus on school communications. In fact, she shared that when she first started, the school did a semi-monthly newsletter, but due to time constraints, they now send it only once a month.

girl student learning to balance spinning plates


Fit In School Communications without Adding More Spinning Plates

So, what’s the best way to fit school communications in without adding more spinning plates to your school administrators and staff to-do lists? 

We asked Tammy what would help make school communication more manageable and what aspects she would consider outsourcing if she could. Tammy mentioned, “One program that does it all! It would be nice to only have to enter things one time and have it update everything, [and reach] more people!” 

We love Tammy’s suggestion. Wouldn’t it be nice to enter information in just one place and have all your communication channels get updated? We think so! That’s why we’ve developed a system where it makes it as easy as possible for you to keep your school websites and social media updated with minimal time from your staff. 

Now, typically, we don’t like to make our blogs into sales pitches. In fact, our main blog goal is to provide relevant, useful information to help school professionals maintain and manage their school communications. Our company goal is to be your school’s communication partner, and we do that by striving to help you balance your spinning plate act. We try to take on the tasks that we know your staff and administrators don’t have time for. What follows is a simple picture of how our service works and saves time for your staff. 

teamwork makes the dream work

How It Works

You’ll still need to gather the news, stories, photos, and event information for your school website (unless you have a PR4 Schools Communication Coordinator to do it for you). Once you have your information, just like Tammy suggested, there is just one place you need to send it: SubmitAnUpdate.com

Submitting a request is as easy as sending an email. If you’d like to see how our update request portal works, feel free to watch our “How to Submit An Update” video.

Once we receive your request, we handle all updates, changes, additions, and improvements to your school's website. That includes checking your website for grammar errors, outdated links, and old content. We even help you keep your site ADA compliant

The best part is that no one on your team needs to learn HTML or waste time watching training videos for a frustrating content management system (CMS). 

If we manage your school’s social media, your social media manager will see the update request and make sure important information reaches your social media community as well. 

We even send out reminders to designated staff members in order to gather the information and write the content that will keep your website up to date. And if you really want to take the pressure off your staff, we can hire someone from your local community to help coordinate your communication efforts

Your IT, teaching, and administrative staff usually have their hands full with core responsibilities, and expecting them to be designers, writers, and managers of the school websites and social media content is unrealistic. Letting School Webmasters help you with your school communications provides you with the skill sets you need without overburdening an already busy staff. 

In reality, who of us can get it all done well without a little help? Here at School Webmasters our aim is to provide an excellent product and keep that product up to date so you can focus on what matters most—your students. 

Check out these School Website articles: 

3 STEPS TO EXPERT SCHOOL WEBSITE MANAGEMENT

WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON BEHIND THE SCENES OF YOUR SCHOOL WEBSITE? 

SCHOOL WEBSITES—THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE OF INFLUENCE AND COMMUNICATIONS

THE TRANSFORMATION OF SCHOOL WEBSITES FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY

553592
School Blogging and the Art of Storytelling
2020-08-25
Storytelling

You’re a nice guy (or gal). You’re considerate of others’ time, and you care about your staff and students. Heck, you think your school is doing a great job, but you can’t understand when parents don’t trust your motives, and you’re shocked when you lose a student to another school.

What’s a guy (or gal) to do?

Parents are swamped with information. It comes at them from all angles, so in order for your message to be considered, you have to stand out from the crowd, and in a good way. Gone are the days of posting basic information on your school website, updating the calendar, and sending home a newsletter once a month to keep everyone informed. Now you have to break through the noise. You have to be interesting.

The blog difference

As a school administrator, you will want to embrace the difference between a news article and a blog article. Writers of news articles typically remove themselves from the article to show their objectivity. Successful blog authors do the exact opposite, using subjectivity, inserting themselves and their humanity into their articles through story.

As a blog author, unlike a journalist who is typically basing his/her article on reporting, information, and facts, you should feel free to describe things from your personal perspective or from the perspective of the story teller. It is always helpful to validate your opinions when you can with facts and information, but a blog article doesn’t require it and readers today understand that. Go ahead and share a perspective about your school, student needs, and concerns using storytelling to engage, entertain, and influence.

The power of a good story

Our brains love a good story. Heck, we love even a bad story if it fulfills the requisite aspects of a story. Our brains use stories to understand and to learn, to live vicariously with experiences outside of our own while in the safety of our minds. We identify with the protagonist (sometimes the antagonist) and see through their eyes. This is why binge-watching six seasons of that show on Netflix is so compelling and listening to country music makes us cry or laugh.

So, the moral of the story is to write blogs that tell a story. If your reader can identify with the hero, you will be making an immediate connection and they will want to read the whole blog. If they identify with the hero, they will have to find out how it all turned out.

Your blog purpose (sign with red arrow)

Your blog purpose

In the marketing world, this is called the call to action (CTA) or what it is you want the reader (customer) to do after reading what you’ve written. In the case of a school leader blog, it might be to trust in the strategies you and your staff are using to educate their children. It might be that they will pay for that tax increase because they understand how students benefit from the increased budget capacity. Maybe you are just sharing a story about one student’s success because they put in the work and applied what they learned as evidence of proof that your school and your staff rocks. 

Each blog will have a purpose. Identifying it early will help you keep your blog article on topic as well as identify stories that will align with your blog’s purpose.

Your blog audience

Don’t be afraid to show your humanity when you write a blog. This isn’t a thesis or a governing board report; it is a blog written to humans by a human. As a school administrator, you have lots of stories at your disposal, many of which will be easy for your readers to identify with. Your readers will likely be parents who have school-age children. That makes your job much easier, right? 

Keep an image of who you are writing for in your mind as you write (in the marketing world, this is called the “buyer persona.”) If you remember you are writing to that one person, the process will be much easier and more engaging for your readers. Keeping your blog audience in mind is critical to the blog’s success.

Your blog opening

Set the scene with a gripping first line. Sharing the human experience, describe what the reader wants (their problem or challenge) and how they feel when they don’t get it. They will relate and want to read the rest of the blog where you paint the picture of the solution (while giving them practical advice that will solve their problem). The sooner you can get to the story, the more likely your readers are to keep reading.

Those who tell the stories rule society - Plato

How to use stories in your blog posts

There are many ways to effectively use stories in your blog articles. Here are a few:

Tip #1: Include the essentials of a good story

Most writers will tell you there are three elements of a story. They are:

  • a sympathetic character (someone our readers can identify or empathize with); 
  • a conflict (what is the problem they face); and 
  • resolution/transformation (how is the situation improved or the character changed for the better). 

We tend to instinctively include these elements in stories, but if you can learn to recognize them and include them, your stories will be more compelling. 

Tip #2: Use Examples

Use stories from your experiences at school/work and your personal life to make your blog more entertaining. This will enliven your post and help readers see humanity and relate to you, your school, and your article. People identify with one another, so make your story more powerful by adding a story that will help your reader relate to the story experience. Don’t be afraid to use examples from your personal life!

Example stories can introduce a problem from a specific parent or student’s perspective. A common example might be a time a teacher gave encouragement and resources to a student who felt overwhelmed by a challenge and wanted to give up, helping the student overcome the situation and find success. Example stories are great at helping us put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has overcome challenges or faced similar issues. They give us hope and insight and can provide proof of how our school or staff solves problems and creates successes for students (and parents). 

Tip #3: Align with your blog post topic

This might seem an obvious tip, but your story should align with your post’s message. Because each story has a meaning, just make sure that what you want people to glean from the story fits with your blog idea.

Tip #4: Conduct interviews

Interviews are a rich source of story gathering. So are testimonials, which you know you should also be gathering for your website. Use these as stories in your blog because real experiences can reinforce your message, build trust, and provide transparency. Interviews are also an excellent way to collect stories—particularly success stories.

Tip #5: Gather personal anecdotes

You have had many experiences as a student/teacher/parent that impact your leadership/teacher/learning today. A personal, interesting, or humorous story about a real person (you or someone else) carries a lot of weight in our memories and in how we relate to the message or example in the story. Gather anecdotes wherever you find them. These will be brief, about an individual person or incident, and will have a point. Many bloggers and writers even collect and record memorable anecdotes for later use. You’ll be surprised by what a great resource this will be when you need a few stories to invigorate your blog articles.

Blog story types

For some ideas of the types of stories you might want to gather, consider the following:

  • Stories of successful or beloved staff members over the years
  • Stories describing the school’s founding or interesting history
  • Stories that reflect your school’s values in action
  • Stories of students, staff, or alumni who have overcome barriers
  • Success stories about students who gain confidence, develop a love of learning, learn something new, overcome challenges or fears, etc.
  • An opinion piece that shares the story that led you to form your opinion (about a topic of importance to parents or the community now)
  • Personal stories that describe your own experiences (These make strong connections with your readers—especially when you transfer your emotions onto the page.)

For help with story prompts to gather these stories, check out our blog article on Telling Your School’s Stories.

Ask the right questions

Ask yourself the right question

Finally, or maybe before you even begin, ask yourself, “As a result of hearing my story or reading my blog article, what should people think, feel, or do?” 

Effective communication. That really is the purpose of a blog article, a story, a presentation, a social media post, or a school website post, right? 

Whenever we attempt to communicate with someone, we are offering them something in exchange for their time, so we must be clear about what we want them to take away from our efforts. Answering this question will help ensure your blog and the stories within your blog are focused on the audience needs and, in the process, they will vastly improve your communication efforts.

569071
Practical Public Relations Advice for Reopening Your School Amid COVID-19
2020-08-11

The logistics of reopening your school for the 2020-21 school year are intimidating enough. Nearly 27 million Americans are dependent on schools for childcare to work. So while there are many parents who need their children to return to school, there are many parents still worrying about whether it’s safe to send kids back to school.  

We know your admin team is busy making lots of changes and decisions about the day-to-day logistics of back-to-school. And as good public relations ambassadors, they are also making sure your school is communicating those decisions and providing all the necessary information to your community in places they can easily access. 

The last thing you need is more tasks on your to-do list, but parents need to know your school is invested in the care and safety of their child. The good news is that for every tip we list here, School Webmasters can help you. 

At the risk of oversimplifying strategic school communications, we’ve boiled your back-to-school PR initiatives during this difficult time down to three steps: 

  1. Coordinate
  2. Create content
  3. Communicate 

Coordinate

While it’s nice (important even) to divide up communication responsibilities among those on your staff who have the time and inclination to undertake them, such an approach often leaves your communication efforts fractured. Great school communications takes strategic communication.

The key to strategic communication is coordination. Strategic communication is important when there is good news to share—it’s essential in times of crisis. Coordinating your school’s communication efforts will unify your message and help you connect with your community, enabling improved school public relations. 

While your school prepares for the new school year, it may be worthwhile to designate someone as the “back-to-school” communications coordinator. Not only can a designated communications coordinator make sure your communication channels are updated (more on that later), they can help unify your message. 

Information as it relates to COVID-19 and schools reopening plans change almost on a daily basis—but that doesn’t mean your message should change. At least once a week, your school communications coordinator should touch base with everyone else who manages a school communications channel. This team should develop and use a campaign slogan or hashtag. Ideally, everyone should be working off a communications calendar that has a centralized topic. Aligning your back-to-school efforts under a single message provides clarity. 

Create Content

When your team of communicators coordinates their efforts, one of the first questions they need to ask is: What kind of information are parents looking for? 

Our team brainstormed the following important points your school website must include as you prepare for the return to school: 

  • Prevention protocols. Will your school be implementing any sort of testing or temperature readings? Will students/teachers/staff be required to wear personal protective equipment? Will you require hand washing or the use of hand sanitizer more often? 
  • Safety precautions. What changes will be made (or are currently being considered) when it comes to in-person attendance, remote learning, and class sizes?
  • Transportation. What changes (if any) will there be to transportation? How are children getting to and from school safely? Some schools have implemented such things as staggered arrival times and new school bus rules. 
  • Operational upgrades. This information could include things like hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes in classrooms, plastic partitions, desk spacing, and/or facility cleaning protocols. 

Your school will want to cautiously promote your safety protocols. We say “cautiously” because these are uncertain times and no solution or protocol is going to be perfect. Despite your best efforts, your school may still face an outbreak of COVID-19. Does your school have a crisis communication plan in place if that were to happen? Your communications team can work on that as well. You may not get things right the first time around; that’s why the trust and relationships you establish through your school public relations efforts are so important. Monitor and adjust based on your community’s needs.

As your communication team creates content—whether it’s a blog, podcast, website news post, or newsletter story—one tip to keep in mind is that your school leaders should be visible. Frequent outreach from administrators, as well as teachers, will provide continuity and encouragement to your school families. In addition to “the facts,” your community will also be curious to hear the rationale behind certain decisions, and including statements or interviews from your school authorities will go a long way in building transparency and creating trust within your community. 

One final tip for your back-to-school content: your communications should reflect emotional intelligence. Remember that families are struggling. Some are grieving because of loss—separation, whether temporary or permanent, from family members and friends, job insecurity, or even loss of normality. Some parents have to get back to work and aren’t sure how to balance a new half-in-school/half-at-home schedule for their children. While learning is important, recognizing this and providing emotional support will foster a unified community—a key concept especially while you may be physically distanced. 

Here are a few great examples of quality back-to-school content from our schools: 

  • Liberty Montessori: The Place for Learning provides exceptional care for children six weeks to six years old in Jersey City, New Jersey. Because much of their community is working parents, it was important for the school to communicate the steps they are taking to ensure the care and safety of the children enrolled at their school. School Webmasters helped them create this video for their website and school marketing materials.
  • Vernon Elementary School District serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.  With school starting virtually this year, the superintendent asked teachers to create introduction videos for their classroom. School Webmasters suggested adding the information to the news page and posting the individual introduction videos on the “Administrator and Staff” page.

Communicate 

The final step in your back-to-school communications strategy should be to get your message out there! Communicate on your website, social media, newsletter, superintendent’s emails, school blog, and any and all of your other communication channels. 

Why would using all your communications channels matter? 

Let’s say, for example, that your district superintendent sends out a weekly email with the latest updates and changes. What if that email gets filtered to a parent’s spam folder? Or (as happens in my house) what if it’s sent to dad who doesn’t pass it on to mom? The fact is sometimes emails get missed. And we can say the same for most forms of communication. That’s why coordination among your channels is so important—get that information out there in multiple ways! 

Keep in mind, not everything needs to be shared on your school’s Twitter feed. However, all information should be available somewhere in some form on your school website.

Here are some schools doing a great job communicating COVID-19 related updates with their school websites. 

Decatur Fowler Queen Creek Saddle Mountain Tolleson Yuma

One major public relations tip as your school works to communicate important updates: don’t lose good posts by only updating your emergency message! We know the emergency pop-up message is the best for grabbing the attention of your community. But as soon as the next update comes along, your last message is lost. We recommend keeping a page dedicated to your return to school plan like those examples above or, at least, updating your news page with information parents and your community will need in the long run. 

We’re Here to Help 

As your school coordinates communications, creates content, and shares that content on your communication channels, your community will be well informed and thankful for your efforts during this difficult time. No solutions will be perfect. But open, honest communication is key to forming a partnership with the parents in your community. You’re in this together; make sure your communication channels are open! 

And we’re here to help. Whether you need a communications coordinator to unify your communications teams, a video created, or a website or webpage developed, School Webmasters is ready and willing to assist you with your school communication efforts. Give us a call or send us an email and let us know how we can help. 

618229
20 Tips to Create Amazing Customer Service at Your School
2020-07-28
Customer Service with Excellence box checked

We can all agree that customer service is a part of K–12 education these days. In fact, there isn’t any sector in which customer service isn’t an expectation if the company or organization expects to remain relevant (or in business).

Admittedly, the type of customer service we must deliver in education is different from retail or other service organizations, but essential nonetheless. It is actually a bit more complex because our relationships are more so. Our services go beyond briefly serving our customers. Our interactions affect students’ lives, helping them to become responsible, contributing members of society (while partnering, encouraging, and engaging their parents at the same time).

Today, unlike in the not too distant past, public schools were the only game in town, so parents and students were forced to accept the status quo. When bureaucracy and rudeness reared its ugly head, a bit of whining and complaining was the only recourse. Not so today—and maybe that is a good thing.

The goal is to create customer-focused institutions that rival that of any business. We mustn’t let inefficiency, mistrust, and bureaucracy get in the way of our real jobs—educating future generations.

So, what follows are some tips for improving the level of customer service we provide to our customers (who include students, their parents, our communities, and even our co-workers).

  1. Think convenience. We all expect self-serve options today. We also expect to be able to get what we need without ever leaving our digital device. That means our schools are held to that same standard. If we expect people  to complete student forms or forms for enrollment or or staff member requirements, those forms must be available online. We should be sure our online information is available at their fingertips and easy to find (or at least in a logical place so their searching isn’t in vain). Being considerate of our customers’ time and effort is just one example of expected customer service in our digital age.

    Secret Shopper
  2. Secret shoppers. Begin by testing the customer experience for yourself. Don’t assume that you already know what that is like, but look at your touchpoints from a completely objective viewpoint. Have someone sit down at a computer and ask them to find specific information from your website. Is it intuitive, logical, and current? Or is it frustrating or impossible? Now have your “secret shopper” use the phone tree and see how simple it is to get through to leave a message. See if anyone gets back to them and how friendly and helpful the conversation is when they do speak to someone.
  3. Roll out the welcome mat. Okay, this isn’t just the welcome mat or even just the front office, but it can begin in the parking lot. Is it hard to find? Is there disability access? Are the hours of availability posted both online and on the building and are both correct? Are your grounds clean and neat and the signage welcoming or cluttered and forbidding? What about your office entry? Is it institutional or does it reflect your school spirit with student art, a video slideshow, and a welcoming front office with staff that makes eye contact and welcomes visitors with a sincere smile? Are the words and tone used with customers and one another what it should be?
  4. Be better than “Good Enough.” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “it’s good enough for government work,” but today’s standards for the education sector is no different from what feels good enough for any industry. Like it or not, the bar has been raised. Strive for being a Nordstrom and avoid being the DMV. That means being timely and considerate. Doing it right the first time is far better than a belated apology after missing the mark.
  5. Eliminate waiting. Take a look at the ways you make your customers wait. Can they get through on the phone when they call, or are they stuck forever in phone tree hell? Encourage your office staff to grab that phone by the third ring and say hello with a smile to see what a difference it makes on those initial customer service contacts. When someone (student or parent) comes to the front office, how quickly does someone in the office make eye contact and acknowledge them? How quickly do you expect staff to return parent calls? Is there a standard you strive for? If not, make sure there is. 
  6. Own the handoff. Set a standard that when a handoff is needed, whoever is the initial contact recognizes that they own it. This can happen when someone promises something to a customer like “We’ll have his teacher call you,” or “We’ll let the principal know,” or maybe the initial contact doesn’t have the answer and needs to direct the customer to someone else. Whether or not you have the answer or expertise, assuring that the ball didn’t get dropped on the handoff builds trust and provides the kind of customer service you would want to receive if it were you. 

    Yield sign entitled My Bad
  7. Admit mistakes. There will be mistakes. They are a fact of life, and your school and staff are not exempt. Sometimes staff will need to apologize for something that wasn’t within their control or was something they had nothing to do with. But an apology, especially one that shows empathy for the customer’s situation, will go a long way toward building bridges of trust (and forgiveness). Having staff comfortable with saying, “I’m so sorry this has happened. Let’s see what we can do to fix this (make it right, solve this, etc.)” is training that will translate into a lot of goodwill.
  8. Get to yes. The goal, in a customer-focused driven school culture, is to find ways to get to yes with your customers. Other than the obvious privacy, safety, and security issues, more times than not, there is a way to get there. Far too often, especially in organizations, the default answer is, “if you call back tomorrow…” or “that isn’t the way it is done here,” or “that isn’t my department.” Your default can easily switch to yes with a bit of encouraged ownership for problem-solving. The “yes” answers to these three examples should be obvious and with a bit of role-modeling, the new norm.
  9. Model, train, hire. Many institutions tend to inadvertently grow, or allow, what the author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, Micah Solomon, calls “situational tyrants.” These are the folks who have the power to say “no” in their circle of influence and who use that power frequently. Keep these people from undermining your customer service culture efforts by getting them on board with a customer mindset as quickly as possible. This will mean looking for any evidence of their showing that spirit of getting to yes and rewarding that behavior to encourage more of it. Have them help you root out processes that are no longer necessary or are just there “because it has always been done that way.” These folks are often good at implementing improvements when empowered.
  1. Share information that your customer wants. Far too many school websites are filled with content that is about the school and its needs instead of content about what the parents need. Consider regular articles that address topics or contain stories that are about your customers’ needs or wants. It might be a monthly article on a topic that helps parents be parents on a myriad of topics like “quick, nutritious lunches your kids’ friends will envy,” “tips to get your student to share their day’s happenings,” or “preparing your preschooler for a great kindergarten experience.”
  2. Surprise them with good news. This tip mostly applies to teachers, but counselors and coaches could do this as well. Surprise parents with a note, text, or phone call about something their child is doing well—no reason other than you just wanted to share something you noticed that they might enjoy hearing. Ideally, every first contact with parents by teachers should be a positive one, and this is a great customer service standard to make that a reality.
  3. Share examples. Gather and share (regularly) examples of when staff has received (or witnessed) excellent customer service from their co-workers. Create an easy-to-submit process for sharing these examples, and find ways to highlight them at staff meetings, in conversations with staff, on the staff intranet, or in written exchanges. You could begin by asking every staff member to share one great experience of outstanding customer service so you have a pool of examples to draw upon.
  4. Create a contest. As in the above tip, gather great customer service examples from your customers as well. You can turn it into a contest and begin with students. It could be examples they see from staff members or their peers. Share the results on social media. This shows that you value customer service as well as helps others notice such examples (and emulate them).

    Ask for feedback
  5. Ask for feedback. While this might sound a bit scary, you can’t fix what you are unaware of, so create ways to get feedback from your customers. This is fairly easy to accomplish with surveys (online, hard copies, through the PTA/PTO, or as part of events like teacher conferences or meet-the-teacher night). Put a feedback form on your website and invite students, staff, and community to contribute. Find out what areas are in need of improvement as well as where you are doing a great job. Share the good news with staff, and work on strengthening the areas of weakness.
  6. Share feedback reactions. Once you’ve received feedback and made improvements, let folks know what you’ve done to incorporate that feedback into your culture or processes. This will not only let people know they are heard but will show evidence that you are reactive and transparent. You’ll build trust and earn future goodwill.
  7. Puttin’ on the Ritz. At the Ritz Carlton, known for their amazing customer service, they have three rules that are easy enough to implement at your school. 1) Start with a warm and sincere greeting, 2) Use their name. Don’t be afraid to ask it if you don’t know, and then use it in the conversation, 3) Leave them with a warm goodbye. These three simple standards are a good place to start if you have nothing in place yet. 
  8. Small acts have a big impact. In K–12 education, everyone involved shares a common purpose (why we are here). But sometimes our individual role in that common purpose can get lost in our day-to-day tasks. When staff understand how their particular role fits into this common purpose, going out of their way to meet and exceed customer expectations no longer feels like an imposition, but an honor. Recognize, model, and encourage small acts of service so everyone will recognize their big impact on your school’s success. (Being friendly, smiling a greeting, starting conversations, asking questions, listening actively, providing assistance, and other simple acts can become the norm.) Let the staff know it is okay to be off-task sometimes when they are serving the common purpose.
  9. First impressions. Take a look at each touchpoint of first impressions, and do some quick clean-up there. How does your school look on the first visit? Is it clean? Inviting? Is the signage clearly marked and friendly? How does your website serve first-time visitors? Do they know what your school does well? Is it inviting and intuitive? How quickly are phone calls answered and guidance provided? Negative first impressions are difficult to reverse, so make them count.
  10. Accepted as a valuable asset. Every member of your staff and even the on-site volunteers should know that school customer service is a valued asset (even an economic asset) rather than an expense or inconvenience. The school leaders must continually demonstrate that this return on investment (of their staff’s time) justifies those short-term costs and will influence attitudes and learning for generations. Each touchpoint matters and is valued.

    Recognize your stars
  11. Recognize your stars. Go out of your way to notice and acknowledge the individuals (staff or student) who exemplify good customer service. Share those stories with others to show that you value that behavior. Reward those behaviors, and you’ll begin to see more of the same.

Just get started. Effective school customer service always begins with a customer-focused mindset. School staff must see their individual roles as vital to the school’s success as well as see the benefits it can provide to them personally. Customer service attitudes are the outward expression of your school’s culture. Its impact on student learning, and their willingness to learn, is obvious. The support your school enjoys from the community as a whole is also, in large part, affected by how you value customer service measures. 

So, is it worth the investment of time and training? You bet it is!

Start anywhere, but start today.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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Video Conferencing: Connecting Remotely
2020-07-14
Teacher using video conferencing

In the blink of an eye, Covid-19 has significantly changed how we interact. Although the pandemic has halted classes around the country, the work of educational leadership is increasing exponentially. In the era of social distancing, you’ll need new tools, new approaches, and new processes to overcome the challenges schools face in internal communications, stakeholder engagement, and alternative learning delivery. Video conferencing has emerged as a key element of all three.

Video conferencing gives you the opportunity to see and communicate with your team as well as opens possibilities for teachers to connect with their classes. But which platform should you use? What is the best approach? How can you mitigate security and legal issues? We’ll tackle these questions and more in this installment of the School Communications Scoop.

Video conferencing has been seen as a boon to collaboration. But as many are learning in recent weeks, video conferencing isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. First, there’s the technical aspect to overcome. We’ve all had awkward situations of participants being muted, video not displaying, freeze-ups, and other glitches. Some of these are systems-based, but many are due to user error.

Adjusting to the subtle differences in the flow of conversation in video conferencing takes some time as well. Back-and-forth exchanges can be a bit trickier to navigate, causing the speaker feed to look like a tennis match of alternating faces. Many are adjusting with bored kids playing in the background and dogs hungry for some attention. Trying to set up a good space in your home can be a challenge. For some, the huge amounts of data being chewed up is also a serious issue. And the list goes on.

Despite the obstacles, video conferencing is here to stay. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the video conferencing segment was increasing in quality and usage. The relatively low barrier to entry also drove a swarm of newcomers to the space. While that results in more options for you, it also means more possibilities to consider.

To help you implement or augment your school or district video conferencing plans, we’ll offer an analysis of a few of the main options. We’ll discuss Zoom, it’s main competitors, and then some other options you already have at your fingertips.

Please remember that you will need to consider legal impacts for any usage that involves students. Talk to your district leadership and legal team to ensure that you are in accordance with policy and law. You will likely need a specific approval of some kind, but—at the very least—you should consider a basic family notification.

Zoom video conferencing

Zoom

The hands-down leader in the space right now is Zoom. The company has reported that its number of average daily users in December was 10 million. Just one quarter later, that number has skyrocketed to 200 million. Despite some questions around security, Zoom’s widespread use is a testament to the ease and efficiency of the platform and strong feature options.

Zoom’s free-mium model usually leaves most wanting to upgrade to a paid subscription. The free level will allow up to 100 participants on a call and unlimited one-on-one meetings, but group meetings are limited to 40 minutes. However, the company has recently created a temporary waiver of the 40-minute rule for education accounts, so check that out. This makes it the clear best choice for schools.

All basic features are unlocked for as little as $14.99/month, so once this crisis is over, it will generally be affordable and worth it to upgrade. However, if you plan to conduct board meetings or all-school/all-district calls though Zoom, you’ll need to dive deeper into pricing and compare against competitors on options such as large meetings, storage, video webinars, and more. You don’t want to find out mid-meeting that your plan isn’t robust enough to handle your needs.

You also want to ensure that your Zoom meeting is safe. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the options, which include per-meeting IDs and enabling the Waiting Room to screen participants at the door. It’s important to keep your Zoom version up-to-date and encourage your team to as well.

Competitors: GoToMeeting, WebEx, Microsoft Teams

These are Zoom’s main competitors. My feeling is that Zoom is the way schools should go at this point, but here are some differentiators that may make you take a second look at others.

GoToMeeting offers similar functionality to Zoom, but without the free option. Their base package allows up to 150 participants, and they offer free cloud storage for recordings. That could make them a strong option if you’re looking for a board meeting platform. 

WebEx allows 100 participants on its free plan, which also features a 40-minute limit that has been temporarily lifted for COVID-19. It requires participants to set up accounts, which may become a friction point. The payoff is some added host-control features to enhance the sometimes free-flowing feeling of Zoom meetings.

MS Teams is perfect if you are already in the Office 365 universe. If not, you can get a free version. Security is stronger for MS Teams, but it also requires accounts.

Google hangouts

With so many districts taking advantage of Google Classroom and the tech giant’s educational packages, Google Hangouts is a logical option to consider. The application was created to offer text, phone, and video chat—all from one central place.

A Google Hangout text group can accommodate up to 150 people, but only 25 can participate in a video call. In its version of screen share, the user has the option of sharing the full screen or selecting a particular window to display. That’s a nice feature for those who feel naked revealing their crowded desktop to a group of colleagues. During a Hangout, the 10 most active participants of the moment are displayed at the bottom of the screen. Another nice feature is that Hangouts can also be recorded and shared for others to view later.

So, Hangouts might be a good option for your virtual team meetings, or teacher-based connections with students.

FaceTime

FaceTime

Apple users have the option of using FaceTime for virtual team meetings. Most use it for the one-on-one experience, but there is so much more capacity.  In fact, FaceTime will actually allow up to 32 users in one video chat. See the “Add Person” button? Click away.

The functionality works for not only iPhone but also iPads and Macs as well. Phones need to be running iOS 12.1.4 or newer, and Macs needs to be on iOS 10.14.3 or newer. But even those on older devices should be able to jump in on the audio portion of a Group FaceTime. Depending on the nature of your meeting, you can tap on the Effects button to use Animoji or Memoji and add funny effects, such as turning yourself into an animated character. 

Facebook Live

Facebook Live is a great tool to use in certain situations—namely, external communications. It’s a perfect option for school-based and morale-boosting messaging. While FB Live is one-way communication, viewers using the comments can engage and interact, so be sure to ask for comments, and be responsive to them during the recording.

If you want to allow teachers to use FB Live to communicate with your school audience, you will need to designate them as an admin on the school page. To prevent the headaches that can accompany that, you could opt to have your school page set up a Facebook Watch Party for a FB Live production by an individual teacher.

As always, be sure to follow all district policies regarding social media communication. Remember, if you create a new social media page right now, families have to engage it to be connected. Please make sure you aren’t leaving students out. Stay in touch with your leadership to keep up with changes in social media rules in light of the pandemic.

lady on phone conference

The phone

With the fascination over video conferencing, I know I might sound like a luddite here, but is there anything wrong with using your phone like… a phone? It’s great that we can have these video options, but we can also just push 10 digits (or the saved contact) and be talking to someone. Don’t forget to use that simple functionality any time you can. Not every conversation needs to be a video of you from the waist up while you’re in your pajama bottoms. After all, pajama tops are pretty great too.

Posted by Greg Dorazio, School Communications Strategist

Greg Dorazio is a communications strategist with 15 years of experience as a reporter, editor-in-chief, and a school PR pro for both a rural and urban district. Now a communications consultant, he improves strategic storytelling through web, social media, design, and more for his clients in associations, public health, education, and small business.

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