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4 School Communication Goals for 2021
2021-02-23
road into the future of 2021

With 2020 now behind us (thank goodness), it is time to address some of the issues left in its wake. For one thing, many schools have seen decreased enrollments, and since your sustainability is based on enrollment, it’s an issue you have to take seriously. 

Public schools have lost students to online schools, charter schools, and private schools. Private and independent schools have lost students to homeschooling and online schools. I recently read that in my home state of Arizona, there are currently 50,000 students unaccounted for (having failed to re-enroll in schools in which they were previously attending). Today the news mentioned that New York state is seeing a 150,000 student decline in enrollment. The most significant declines appear to be kindergarten and pre-K enrollments with decreases of more than 16% (NPR). But every state is seeing startling declines, and as of just a few months ago, there were an estimated 3 million missing students (Bellwether).

So, how can you get these students back and re-establish parents’ trust and confidence?

How about setting some 2021 goals to increase enrollment and improve customer satisfaction?

Keep the customers you have

You’ve all heard that it is easier to keep the customers you have than to try to find new ones. This applies to our students as well. But that means we have to consider our current students and their parents’ needs in our messaging. If we’ve lost students to other schools or online schools during the pandemic, it is likely that many of these students continue where they are. So, what do we offer to draw students back? How do we communicate to former students and new students?

using friction to start a fire

Decrease the friction

One of the first things you can focus on to encourage enrollment (and keep the students you currently have) is to decrease any friction areas that may make registration more difficult or communication frustrating for your customers (parent, staff, and students).

If you want to encourage any activity, you must make it easier. It is friction that can change behaviors, so you must reduce or increase friction to encourage the desired action, in this case, increasing school enrollment, improving customer satisfaction, and building a strong and positive school brand. That means each touchpoint has an impact. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common touchpoints to decrease friction. I’ll provide five areas, but if you can’t focus on all five, pick one or two and concentrate your goals there.

school enrollment

#1. Enhance your website registration and enrollment sections 

Take a look at the processes involved with school registration (whether existing students or new enrollments). 

  • Do you make enrollment easy and as frictionless as possible? Is your website homepage a helpful resource for this information with apparent links to the enrollment area? 
  • Have you linked all necessary registration forms on your website so parents can print and fill out the forms before coming to the school? Or better yet, can you automate the process with online forms?
  • Is there a number they can call or a chatbox to get answers to questions they might have for quick responses? 
  • Can parents locate your school or district address, phone number, and fax number from your homepage and the registration page? 
  • Have you outlined precisely what additional information parents need to bring in for registration, like immunization records, proof of residency, or transcripts from a previous school? 

Ensuring all this information is current and available for parents will save your staff time and energy and streamline parents' process—eliminating friction.

video marketing

#2. Create a marketing video for your school before summer 

Keeping up with the competition in education means embracing new ways of reaching parents. Videos are a great way to give new and prospective parents a feel for your school, campus, atmosphere, as well as mission and vision. Videos are compelling and engaging in a way that written words or an informational packet are not. 

You could ask your high school video department to have students make a video; you could ask a parent in your school to help create a video; or you could hire a company to create one for you. You can save a lot of time and money by using your campus resources or even writing the scripting yourself. If you have a video club or department on campus, asking them to do it and getting students involved will go a long way in creating enthusiasm, educating your students, and saving you money. It’s a win for everyone.

#3. Plan effective social media strategies

School social media is most effective when you partner it with your school website. Be sure to include links to your social media pages on your website so site visitors can find you there. Your website is also a great place to share some of the stories happening on your social media pages. 

Likewise, driving traffic back to your website should be one of your social media goals, so be sure to post links to specific pages on your school website pages often. Some strategies you might consider incorporating include:

  • Schedule timely social media posts that remind your followers about open enrollment periods and the enrollment requirements and include links to the enrollment page on your website. Encourage parents to tell their friends and neighbors and share your enrollment posts. Be sure to create some fun Instagram and Facebook memes that others would enjoy sharing.
  • Did you recently add a new athletics schedule to your website’s Athletics page? Post about it on Facebook, and include a link so people will know where to find it. 
  • Use your website to provide parents and students with the current information they need, like school menus, forms, and updated calendars, and use your social media posts to tell followers where they’ll find that information. 
  • Use your social media posts to push straight to their news feeds. Use those posts to teach your school community to use your school website as their go-to resource.
blog sign

#4 Start a blog and put a link to it on your website’s homepage

Establishing a school blog is a great way to communicate important school news with parents and showcase who you are as an administrator or school official. It’s all about transparency these days, and blogs are one way to help establish that. Then, make sure you add a blog icon to your website’s homepage and link to your blog so people know you are blogging. (If you have a website with us, we are happy to add a blogging component for you and put the icon on your homepage. Just let us know!) 

An administrator’s blog can personalize your school and reinforce its values. If you allow comments or questions, you can also gain insights about what areas of communication you might need to improve upon or find areas of weakness you can strengthen.

Setting and accomplishing this years’ goals

If you are still a bit overwhelmed and since life isn’t back to normal yet (and it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon unless we can get all schools back open), then start small. As with any successful new project (or habit), break it down into tiny, bite-sized pieces. If you are interested in learning more about succeeding at your selected goal—or even establishing some personal habits in this new year—I recommend the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. He provides some excellent recommendations that can apply to this year’s school goals.

Fogg’s primary steps include establishing the behaviors that will accomplish your goal. The Fogg Behavior Model is B=MAP. He explains that behaviors happen when motivation, ability, and a prompt converge simultaneously. The key is that the easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become a habit (or be accomplished).

As this applies to your school’s goals this year, you can influence your customers’ behaviors by applying this information and making enrollment and communication easy and painless—better yet, making it enjoyable. This includes assuring that your customer enjoys easy enrollment processes, getting questions answered conveniently, and being made to feel welcome and valued by your school staff at each touchpoint.

bulls-eye to hit your targeted goals

Goals that show you care

Now, more than ever, school administrators need to look for ways to show off the strengths they offer their constituents. Parents want to know their children can make up for the lost time experienced while the pandemic disabled the country. Your messaging can build confidence, trust, and the assurance that your school is capable of just that. 

So, make communication a priority. Select one of these areas and get to work. Remove any friction you find at any of your customer touchpoints, and by year’s end, you’ll enjoy better customer satisfaction and increased enrollment and can build upon that success in each succeeding year. 

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Enhancing Online Learning by Elevating Virtual Connections
2021-02-09
student using computer for online learning

Just like that, we were Locked down. It was March 2020, and businesses and households across the United States shuttered and hunkered down courtesy of COVID-19. Teachers left the classrooms they had poured their hearts and souls (and probably their own money) into. Without access to classroom teaching tools and real-time feedback from students, teachers faced the daunting task of expanding the classroom into an online learning format. Remarkably, they accomplished this while juggling working from home with full-time parenting tasks, barking dogs, and sharing bandwidth with other family members. 

Could it get any more complicated? Yes! Suddenly, the parents of these children-without-classrooms found themselves thrown into the roles of I.T. director, classroom monitor, lunch lady, school nurse, counselor, and unpaid tutor of every subject area. Many managed their professional lives while trying to stand in as their child’s teacher—a teacher who knew a whole lot more about the curriculum and subject matter than they did. Parents set up learning stations, rationed computer time so everyone in the household could get work and lessons done, created order out of chaos, and hunted down myriad links and passwords so their kids could access lessons. Phew! No wonder we’re ready to kick 2020 to the curb and move on to next year!

New normal

You’ve heard it a million times now—this is the “new normal.” We’re getting used to the idea that education looks different today than just a year ago. While many schools are functioning at a fairly normal level, others remain empty. More than ever before, parents are choosing to homeschool or have their children enrolled in a remote learning program—some for now, some permanently. Regardless of preference, it’s safe to say that online education is here to stay.

Like a roller coaster, the learning curve was fast and steep. In eight really long short months, we all got a crash course on what works and what doesn’t in an online classroom setting. I don’t want to belabor the obvious; we figured out quickly that to achieve success, students need routine and a place of their own. Overall, teachers and parents did a fabulous job of adapting to meet the needs of their students and children. There are, however, a few areas that may benefit from deeper instruction. So let’s get down to business and talk about how teachers and parents can guide their children toward effective virtual learning.

Video

You’ve seen the magic created by exceptionally skilled teachers who can walk the walk and talk the talk while standing in front of 30 faces staring at (or avoiding) them. Like my mom, who had eyes in the back of her head, these teachers see everything in the room while delivering an engaging history lesson, teaching a complicated equation, or settling student conflicts. These teachers love their job, and they are great at it. Interesting-to-listen-to, all-knowing teacher is a tough role for parents to play, and let’s be honest, most have no desire to fill this role. 

So how do we simulate classroom learning in a remote format? Without a doubt, video is the next best thing. Incorporating movement through the use of videos and graphic images is essential for holding the attention of today’s kids. They’re experts at tuning out all distractions to focus completely on a screen. Whether it’s something you found on YouTube or a video you created, use it to enhance your teaching. Incorporating video also allows students to work at their own pace and thoroughly digest the content. Students won’t miss a thing if they get up to use the restroom (yay for the pause button!), and they can watch it as many times as they need to.

Phone camera with tripod

It Doesn’t Have to Be Professional Quality

Don’t worry about making your videos look like you hired a professional. Most smartphones do a fine job. Use a tripod to keep the camera still and avoid giving your students motion sickness, but if you don’t have one, there are plenty of workarounds. A quick Google search will return ideas you can use to make a homemade camera stand. Here’s one video with some good ideas you can pull off for free. Once you start down the creative rabbit hole, your right-brain might fire off all sorts of ideas that work even better in your circumstance. For some more great ideas on video creation, check out School Webmaster’s blog article about how to create great videos without breaking the bank.

Video filming

Thankfully, and also courtesy of Coronavirus, we’re trending away from the expectation that we have to look our best for the camera. I know I appreciate it when others don’t look like models in every picture or online work meeting because it gives me permission to relax and look like I normally do. If there’s one positive of this whole pandemic ordeal, it’s that we can finally be comfortable with being and looking like ourselves.

Try Picture-in-Picture

Picture-in-picture is a great way to incorporate slideshows and videos into your lessons while still being visually present as the teacher; you might even start to feel like you’re actually in the classroom with your students! Picture-in-picture for smartphones was originally developed for Android users; however,  you can follow this tutorial (with over a million views!) for an iPhone work-around. 

Sharing

Be sure to post links to your videos on your school website and teacher pages. You should also share the links in emails, classroom chat windows, and anywhere else that is accessible to students or their families. Stop and think like a student when sharing your videos. Will you have your students click on a link to open the video directly from the hosting site (YouTube, Vimeo, Canvas, etc.)? Or will you go the extra mile and embed the video into your emails and presentations so all the viewer has to do is click the “play” button? Both are totally acceptable. Getting the sharing link and embed codes is easy in all video platforms, so don’t be afraid to give it a try.

Hosting

Choosing the right hosting site is important for ensuring that all of your students have equal access to your videos. You’ll need to select a hosting site that offers closed captioning, which is required for ADA compliance. Storing your videos on a hosting site also reduces load time for your students, reduces buffering (you know, the annoying spinning wheel), and keeps your school’s website servers from becoming overburdened megabyte-hogging video files. 

Need some guidance for choosing a hosting service? We’ve listed a few user-friendly options you can start using today. 

YouTube

All schools should create a YouTube channel. There is just no downside to it. Even if you have another method of hosting your videos, posting to YouTube helps boost your school’s online presence so it is more prominent in online searches. 

Vimeo

Vimeo offers a variety of plans and price points to choose from depending on your needs and usage. The Vimeo platform offers some cool features like allowing you to control who can access your videos and the ability to create different channels (e.g., one for each teacher or department). It also offers an editing tool you can use to elevate the production quality. 

Wistia

For a more robust platform, check out Wistia. If you plan on uploading more than three videos, the cost is $99 per month plus an additional $.25 once you exceed 10 uploads. Wistia offers statistics that you can utilize to see how your viewers interact and use the videos and tips for shooting quality video.

SchoolTube

This is a free service provided for schools to upload and host videos. The entire site is dedicated to school-related content, so there is no need to worry that your young viewers will stumble upon unsavory content. If you used SchoolTube in the past and weren’t impressed, try again. They have stepped up their game with a new and improved website and helpful features. We love their purpose and the entire concept, so please let us know what you experience if you use SchoolTube. Closed captioning is available on their platform, which you should add when you edit your video.

Communication tips

Communication—Help!

Imagine the constant flow of emails teachers find in their inbox throughout the day. Does it let up on weekends? Nope. In between planning and creating lessons (and videos), teachers are also answering questions during their “off” time—most likely the same question several times. Maybe the homework instructions weren’t quite as clear as they were in the teacher’s mind. Maybe it’s something completely beyond their control, like a link that suddenly doesn’t work or a web page that isn’t available. The problem-creating scenarios are infinite.

From a parent’s perspective, running into a hiccup can derail the day after they finally succeed in getting their child to do the homework. When students can’t raise a hand to ask the teacher a question and get an immediate answer, there’s frustration. Parents have done an amazing job picking up the slack, but sometimes they really do need the teacher’s help. Yes, there’s email, but the reality is that waiting patiently for an answer is nearly impossible for a young student. 

Set Up Office Hours

Teachers should set aside a couple of hours a day where they are available to answer questions. Whether morning, afternoon, evening, or night, teachers know their audience best and should choose the time that works best for them and their students. Religiously stick with the hours so your students and their parents know they can count on getting in touch with you during that time. Making communication easy reduces frustration, misunderstandings, and meltdowns for all parties. 

Set Up a Community Chat Box

Create a discussion forum where your students and their parents can ask questions and get answers from the classroom community in real time. You may save yourself from repeating the same information over and over, because what one parent doesn’t know, it’s likely another will. If you’re not immediately available to answer a question, there’s a good chance someone else in the group is. At School Webmasters, we use Google Hangouts; it’s free and easy to use. When a team member posts a question, everyone in the Hangouts group receives a pop-up message on their computer and (if enabled) their phone. Regardless of the time of day (or night), there is almost always someone available to provide the answer right away. The group manager monitors the group to ensure correct answers and respectful discussion. For a class team, the teacher, a room mother, trusted parent, or responsible student could monitor discussions. There are plenty of options for free, live-chat platforms. A quick Google search will help you choose the best platform for you and your community.

Conclusion

From the obvious to the obscure and from the big picture to the nitty-gritty, we’re all learning a lot—and very quickly—about online teaching and learning. Most importantly, we now understand that incorporating videos into the virtual classroom enhances teaching and offers an excellent way to get and keep students’ attention. No one needs more stress, and one of the most effective ways to create a calm, stress-free environment is to keep the lines of communication open and flowing with timely information. Develop a method for your community (classroom) members to ask and answer questions and find the information they need when they want it. Because no teacher should feel the burden of being  in demand 24/7.

Contact Us

For more helpful tips on how to improve your school communication efforts, including managing your website and social media, increasing enrollment and community support, and strengthening your school’s brand and reputation, please visit our website and subscribe to our blog.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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Home Page Makeover—The Power of An Effective School Website
2021-01-26
effective school websites

Your school website is your face to the public. It’s your chance to create a favorable first impression. So it’s imperative that you know going into your website development who you want to attract and what impression you want to give. No matter what population you represent, it’s important to incorporate best web practices into your school website. And as every good website developer knows, the number one rule is to Keep It Clean and Simple.

Simple, Clean Graphics

Does your school serve an active, energetic lot of preschoolers? Are you a STEM-focused school? A college preparatory school? An alternative high school? Start the website planning process by thinking about the profile of the students and families you want to attract, and then move forward from there. The pictures you use on your website matter, and so do the colors you choose. Keep it simple. Keep it clean

Man shooting photos

Use Your Own Photos

It’s always best to use your own good quality photos rather than stock photos. But beware the temptation to use too many pictures on one page. Hey, you’re excited about your school—and rightfully so—just remember that you want to keep your Home page clean and simple. You want to pack a positive punch in that first impression. Most of the time, one prominently featured high-quality photo representing your students and school on your Home page is just right.

Use Pleasing, Representational Colors

A preschool might incorporate mostly primary or whimsical, bright colors on their website, while a college preparatory school will go for a more mature look—like navy blue or burgundy and gold. Obviously, you want to use your school colors on your school website. But keep in mind that color preferences morph and change over time, just like fashion and interior design. Remember that avocado green, harvest gold, and burnt orange everybody loved in the 1970s? Maybe not so much today, right? It’s important to update your school colors with tasteful shades or hues of your colors with a spin towards today’s trends. Your school colors can always be blue and orange,  but they don’t have to be the same blue and orange of decades and generations gone by. Your school website is an easy, and affordable place to update your look and make a small, yet important, change.

navigation

Simple Navigation

With more than 15 years of school website experience, School Webmasters knows exactly what pages your school or school district websites need. We have the expertise to create a site that is simple to navigate making everything easy to find. This means that the top navigation on your school website’s Home page should provide a simple “map” of your school. Begin with an introduction to your school, and work your way through the most important aspects of the school day, ending with an invitation to contact you with questions or for more information.

We generally recommend that every school website contain the following pages: 

  • Home
  • About Us
  • Our School
  • Our Teachers & Staff
  • PTO/Site Council
  • Awards & Recognitions
  • Testimonials
  • Events
  • Calendar
  • News
  • Programs
  • Before/After School Program
  • Clubs & Activities
  • English as a Second Language
  • Special Education
  • Helpful Resources
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Our Community
  • Web Links
  • Website Accessibility
  • Contact Us

Quick Links

When your navigation is set up similarly to our example above, most site visitors can quickly and easily find everything they’re looking for. However, it’s nice to have a place where you can quickly link specific sets of site visitors to information they often need. For a school website, visitors usually fall into four main categories—students, parents, employees, and community members. Additionally, there are people who are looking for reasons to move into your school boundaries, or if they already live within your boundaries, they might want to know more about the schools their children will have the opportunity to attend.

To connect your visitors to the information they want, we suggest curating  “quick links” into categories geared to these groups of site visitors. It’s especially nice to make the quick links accessible from every page on your website.

A Simple Welcome

I’m amazed by how frequently I see school websites that don’t immediately tell you where they are located and what grades they serve. After 30 years of using the internet and visiting websites, it seems like including such basic information right up front would be a given; after all, just because you know where your school is, doesn’t mean everyone else does! Remember, it’s quite probable that there is another school (if not many other schools) with the same name as yours, and you want to be sure people know they’re on the right website as soon as they land on it.

Here’s an interesting case in point. I did a Google search for “Mountain View High School,” the Arizona high school nearest me.  The search returned three other Mountain View High Schools on the first page—one in El Paso, Texas, one in Stafford, Virginia, and one in Loveland, Colorado. Even more interesting/irritating is that to find out the location of each one, I had to scroll to the bottom of each of these sites just to find out. To figure out what grades they served would have taken much more time than I cared to spend. 

A Message from the Principal

After introducing your school by location and the grades you serve, a friendly, welcoming message from the principal adds a nice touch to your school’s Home page. Keep it short but friendly as you give a more in-depth introduction to your school and it’s personality and goals. Every school has a mission and mission-specific goals; make sure your principal’s message sets the tone for accomplishing them.

News Teasers

Home page real estate is premium. Make the space easy on the eyes. Cut the clutter, and don’t make your visitors scroll down too far for information. You may be thinking that you must have your information and announcements on the Home page so they don’t get missed or lost deep in the website. So, how do we solve this problem? At School Webmasters, we came up with a solution many years ago that serves our clients well. We suggest putting a news “teaser” on the Home page that links to the rest of the story on the News page. We call this the “What’s New” section, and use it to post eye-catching, current announcements front and center on the website’s Home page, all while keeping the page clean and attractive. Clients that initially rejected this suggestion often come back to us after they find they don’t have a good place to put a super-important announcement on the Home page. The “What’s New” block is a great way to feature frequently changing information while also keeping your Home page current and looking great year after year.

School calendar image

Calendar

Along with important notifications and news items, it’s also necessary to create some space on the coveted Home page for upcoming calendar events. A calendar widget is the perfect way to compactly display a specified number of upcoming events on the Home page that seamlessly links visitors to more information and the full calendar on the website’s Calendar page.

Social Media

Don’t forget about your social media pages. You’ll want to use your website to promote and link to your social pages and vice versa. Use your school website’s Home page and the website header or the footer to display social media icon links on every page of your website.

You can also showcase your social media pages on your Home page by using the streaming feed widgets various platforms offer. Facebook and Twitter both offer ADA-compliant widgets that will fit in just about any place on your Home page. You can place them in the sidebar or the main page area, anywhere that creates a balanced effect and where there is adequate surrounding white space to prevent crowding the page.

Resist the urge to crowd

Resist the Urge to Crowd More onto the Home Page

The temptation can be strong to add more and more to the Home page. The fear of something not being seen is real. We hear you. But trust us when we tell you that by keeping your Home page simple, clean, and professional-looking, you give a phenomenal first impression. You’ll relax your site viewers and keep them there longer. Ultimately, you want them to find everything they’re looking for with just a click or two. A Home page that presents as a point of chaos at first sight is never effective. Too much visual input creates uneasiness, speeds up the visitor’s heart rate, and causes frustration, ultimately ending in abandonment. That’s not what you want. Make your Home page a nice place to invite your visitors to stay awhile, relax, and read up on the great things about your school. Or maybe just create a space where they can quickly find the information they’re seeking and go happily on their way. Both create a pleasant user experience—one your site users will appreciate and respect you for.

Contact School Webmasters

Come on over and check out some of the websites we’ve created at School Webmasters. We’re happy to discuss how these ideas can benefit your school or how we can help you create a professional and effective school website. Please feel free to call us at (888) 750-4556, or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Does Your School Website Need an FAQ Page?
2021-01-12

Does your school website need a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page? The short answer is yes. But let’s consider the reasons to include it and talk about how to create an effective FAQ page. Why does your website need it? What should it look like? What should it include? How can you create one? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.

Why?

Back in the day, whenever I had a question, I called Anne Marie. Happy, helpful, all-knowing Anne Marie, the office lady at my children’s elementary school. From what time my son needed his lunch to the details of sponsoring a booth at the school carnival and everything in between, Anne Marie had all the answers. She spent her days greeting and directing every adult who walked into the front office, taking care of students waiting to be picked up for a dentist appointment, tracking down children and teachers for various and sundry reasons, keeping her eye on the misbehaved student who was “sent to the office,” and answering the phones. From 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Anne Marie barely had time to grab a bite to eat or take a trip to the bathroom. She was utterly amazing.

Why?

Now, in hindsight, watching the scene that played out day after day and year after year through my School Webmasters eyes, I see how, as much as I appreciated Anne Marie, running her ragged and probably to full and complete burnout wasn’t necessary. If only the school’s website had done what it was supposed to do. The website was, frankly, inadequate. There were some nice photos of school children on a few of the pages, and there was a staff list that I would use to email my children’s teachers when I needed to, but that’s about all. It was seldom up to date and lacked the most basic information. As often as I hoped to find what I needed, I usually just gave up and called Anne Marie. How I wish I could go back and help them better utilize the school website for Anne Marie’s sake. Kudos to all school secretaries and office helpers who juggle the many responsibilities of running a school. Over time, with budget cuts and program changes, we have demanded more and more from all school personnel who do a difficult job amazingly well. But let’s face it, not every school is blessed with an Anne Marie who can do it all without losing her mind.

Not only would a more effective website have helped Anne Marie, but parents would have been much happier as well. Of course, there will always be those who prefer to pick up the phone and hear a friendly voice answer their questions, but most parents today want to find the answer on their phones, at the instant they think of the question. No longer can any business, and let’s face it, that’s exactly what your school is. And that business will not garner respect if it doesn’t have an attractive, well-thought-out, easy-to-navigate, well-written, informative website. And a good Frequently Asked Questions page is, in particular, part of that effective website.

What It Is and What It Is Not

So, let’s talk about what your school’s FAQ page should include. We’ll assume that you already have a beautifully designed, responsive, ADA-compliant website. It has an easy-to-navigate structure that allows site visitors to quickly find the information they’re looking for. The content throughout your website is friendly and informative and doesn’t read like the thou shalts and thou shalt nots of the parent-student handbook. It has lovely photos that represent your school, its values, and your student body. That’s excellent! (If this isn’t the case, please contact us right away.) The FAQ page should not replace any of that. The idea is not to create a long list of questions and answers that replaces information throughout the rest of the website; the FAQ page should be a quick guide to information. It should contain succinct answers with links to more fleshed-out information that exists elsewhere on your website when possible.

This page is not a marketing brochure. Though it might be tempting to write in a way that touts all the wonderful things about your school, the FAQ page is not the place for that. Such an approach is not helpful to your audience—your students and their parents, grandparents, guardians, and caregivers.

The FAQ page is not a dumping ground for the things you can’t put anywhere else or a grab bag of random items.

This page should not be a page of collections of every question you’ve ever been asked—or that you wish you had been asked, either.

It should include the questions you hear most often. It should include the questions and answers to the information your audience is seeking. I’ll bet if we were to ask Anne Marie, she could, off the top of her head, come up with five to ten questions she was asked over and over again.

Example Questions

Here are a few examples:

  • What are the school hours?
  • When does my child have lunch?
  • What are the meal prices?
  • What if my child requires medication during the school day?
  • What do I need to do if I must pick up my child early from school for an appointment?
  • What do I need to do if my child is absent from school?
  • Do you enforce a school dress code?
  • Can I volunteer in my child’s classroom?
Helpful Tips

More Helpful Tips for Effective FAQ Pages

Organization

Try to refrain from randomly throwing out your list of questions. Similar questions should be grouped together. In the examples above, we started out with the beginning of the school day and worked our way through the day, put a couple of the more similar questions together, and ended with the outliers. If there will be several questions, organize them in groups or categories, perhaps with subtitles to separate the groups, so site visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. Site readers tend to scan the page, looking for the question they have in mind. Grouping and appropriate subtitles will help make it a pleasant experience.

Language

Keep it friendly. School speak, or “educationese,” can seem like a foreign language to  non-educators. And generally speaking, the typical school handbook, with its do’s and don’ts, its actions and consequences, is not inherently friendly. So, to maintain great public relations and garner support from your customers (your students and their caregivers), it’s imperative to use a friendly, conversational tone, avoiding acronyms and other education-specific language that might make your answer confusing.

Keep It Simple

Don’t overdo it. If you load your page with too many questions, it will overwhelm your readers and do exactly the opposite of what you intend. Remember, the purpose of this page is to help your customers find what they’re looking for quickly, easily, and without stress. Too many questions will undo all your good intentions. Keep it simple. Stick to those questions that really are the ones they ask most—not the ones you want them to ask. Only give them what they want and need.

Focus on your customers

Focus on Your Customers

No longer can schools rely on the number of school-age children within their boundaries to fill their classrooms. Educators must go the extra mile to make sure they offer top-notch services and experiences to all students and their families. Your website is your face to the public—it is how you make a great first impression. Using it effectively helps you keep your customers happy. We applaud you for making the education and welfare of your students your first priority. You’re doing a fabulous job. Focusing on the needs of the people who make tremendous efforts to support them and help them succeed should be your second priority. And one simple but powerful way to do it is by creating a friendly, informative, concise, and well-organized Frequently Asked Questions page.

Contact Us

If any of this seems a little overwhelming or you simply don’t have the time to worry about it, please let us do the work for you. With almost two decades of school website experience, the folks at School Webmasters know how to do it. We create eye-catching, easy-to-navigate, informative school websites throughout the country. (We even have a few outside of the U.S.) Our company goal is to delight our clients, and it would be an honor to help you achieve your website goals.

Exceptional School Websites eBook
643361
Keeping it Positive
2020-12-08
Stay positive

Throughout my sassy teenage years, my mom often told me, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And I agree with her—most of the time—if we’re speaking face to face. In writing, what you say is just as important as how you say it since it’s difficult for others to hear your tone of voice—especially if you don’t use just the right words. Some marketing writing makes me cringe. My internal editor alarm goes off as I think, “If only they had said it differently…”

It’s the Little Words: “But” vs. “And”

For example, we write websites for several small, rural schools. Frequently, I see, “We may be small, but…” I shudder. Right off, they apologize for being small. Then they explain that even though they’re small, they have great programs and many advantages. What’s so bad about that? Well, why not skip the apology and say that because we are small, we have many advantages and great programs? The change could be as simple as “We are small, and…” The simple “and” in place of “but” completely changes the tone. The list of small-town advantages is long and varied, from a tight-knit community to small class sizes and individualized learning and much more. Own it; don’t apologize for it.

Negative: “Ms. Jones, can we go out to recess?”

“Yes, but we need to get our math lesson finished first.”

"Ugh, okay. I’ll do my math."

Positive: “Ms. Jones, can we go out to recess?”

“Yes, and we can do that as soon as we get our math lesson done.”

“Yay! I’ll hurry and get it done!”

What about rules?

What About Rules?

Obviously, you want to make sure everyone understands the rules so there is no chance for misinterpretation of your expectations. You might ask, “What’s wrong with writing ’We do not allow…’”? “Do we really have to be upbeat and positive all the time?” Why yes, some things do require an iron fist, and you may want to make sure there is no question about the severity of your meaning. But these situations are probably a lot less often than you may think.

For example, we see student handbooks from schools from the east to the west coast and everything in between. They all have the same general rules and standards: dress standards, bus rules, cafeteria rules, tardy/absence rules, etc. And though they come from myriad schools with varied student body, staff, and community situations, almost all present the rules as “thou shalt nots.” Wouldn’t it be great to see a handbook that spouts all the great things students can do, what they can wear, and how they will rather than won’t behave? 

Focus on the Positive—What You CAN Do

You can create a positive, encouraging, and supportive tone simply by using positive, rather than negative, words. Every time your sentences take a negative slant, identify the negative word(s) in your sentence, and rephrase with positive words and ideas. 

Here’s what a positive spin on the rules might look like:

  • Because we respect ourselves and each other, this is how we dress.
  • This is what we do.
  • "We are the Spartans, and..."

Focus on solutions

Focus on Solutions

Shine a light on the solution instead of the problem. Tell us what we can do and what will happen when it’s done rather than on the things we can’t do and the consequences of our failure to comply. 

Let’s take a look at this approach:

Negative: “I cannot meet with you this week.”

Positive: “I can meet with you next week.”

Negative: “We know many students may feel uneasy, but, unfortunately, parents may not walk their children to their classroom on the first day of school.”

Positive: “To ensure every student’s comfort and safety on the first day of school, our teachers and staff are available to help them to their classrooms.”

Use Antonyms to Remove the Word “Not”

Using antonyms whenever the word “not” appears is a simple trick for turning the negative into something positive.

Negative: “The office will not be open.”

Positive: “Our office will be closed.” 

Negative: “We will not be holding our school carnival this year.”

Positive: “We have canceled our school carnival.”

Avoid negative words - two woman miscommunicating

Avoid  Negative Words

Stop and think before writing (or saying) these common, negative, words and phrases:

Negative: “Although we can’t meet in person, we’re excited about our new, virtual platform.”

Positive: “We’re excited to meet with you via our powerful, virtual platform.” 

Negative: “No problem.”

Positive: “My pleasure.”

Another trick of our trade is to shift the focus to what we do want rather than on the negative outcome (what we don’t want). It’s as easy as getting rid of the word “don’t” at the beginning of a sentence. For instance:

Negative: “Don’t forget to bring your library book back on Friday.”

Positive: “Remember to bring your library book back on Friday.”

Negative: “Don’t talk.”

Positive: “Quiet, please.”

Common Negative Words to Avoid

Stop. Think. Banish these negative words from your writing:

  • no
  • however
  • unfortunately
  • problem
  • unable
  • never
  • although
  • not
  • but
  • bad
  • waste
  • wrong
  • regret
  • error
  • mistake
  • should
  • shouldn't
  • difficult
  • can't

Say This, Not That

Substitute those negative words with these happy, positive words.

  • yes
  • and
  • easy
  • simple
  • please
  • now
  • fast
  • strong
  • powerful
  • effective
  • will

I'm sorry, but..."

Since my pet peeve word, “but,” is already on the negative list, allow me to interject another argument to stay away from it in your writing and speech. Consider “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you’re getting completely off track.” Are you truly sorry? The simple word “but” negates your entire apology. Let’s try that again: “I’m sorry to interrupt you. Let’s get our conversation back on track.” Phew! Now doesn’t that sound better?

Use “I” Instead of “You”

“You” can often sound accusatory. “You forgot…” “You didn’t…” “You should…” “You never…” “You always…” So, when faced with a difficult issue, think “I.” Let’s practice:

Negative: “You are always late.”

Positive: “I get frustrated when we begin after the scheduled start time.”

Negative: “You forgot to send the attachment in your email.”

Positive: “I am missing the email attachment.”

Placement Matters

We’ve all said it, “Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” Even when you take care to write positively, not everything is going to come across as great. So, always give the good news first, and then approach the bad news softly (while still phrasing it as positively as possible). And always finish up with more positive.

Using the examples above, here’s a positively-positioned paragraph:

“We’re excited to return to school and to see our students’ smiling (even if mask-covered) faces. To keep our students safe and make sure they are comfortable on the first day of school, teachers and staff will be available to help them find their classrooms. Our teachers are prepared with teaching tools and lessons that will empower your children and prepare them for an exciting future. Let’s do this!”

In a nutshell

In a Nutshell

In our speech, in our attitude, and especially in our writing, there’s power in being positive.

  • The simple, three-letter word “and” is one of the easiest ways to convey an upbeat tone. That little word can change your marketing efforts from mediocre to phenomenal. And being aware of positive wording will change the way you talk to and treat others, how you make them feel, and how it makes you feel.
  • Writing the solution, the “can do,” is a great positive writing tool. If you start to apologize or defend yourself for things that cannot or did not happen, pause and take a moment to think about what can happen or about what you will do to make things right. Then write that. 
  • Use positive words.
  • Avoid those “but” sentences.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Soften the not-so-good (you know, the stuff that the Debbie Downer will latch on to) by padding the front and back ends with the positive and upbeat.

The words you choose really matter. I once heard of a man who received a letter laying him off from his job. The phrasing was so positive, he didn’t even feel bad or get angry. Now that’s good writing! So, Mom, you were right. How you say it is important, and what you say matters too. A lot.

Need some help with your website content, tone, and positivity? Request a quote! We've got nearly two decades of experience to help you out.

Exceptional School Websites eBook
637685
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

640413
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
633116
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!


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