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Do you have an OCR complaint against your school website?
2020-01-14
Worried about ADA website compliance for your school website?

We are getting daily calls from schools around the U.S. about what they are facing with the onslaught of complaints filed with the Office of Civil Rights against their schools. Here is a common scenario they share:

Step 1:
The school gets notified by the OCR that someone has filed a complaint against their school claiming their website is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means that it doesn’t meet WCAG 2 requirements. (All school’s must meet this standard of compliance.)

Step 2:
They go online, searching for solutions about how to address these issues. Usually this brings them to either a software company that provides automated reporting, or they find a company that can do a full website accessibility audit of their existing site. Often, these services are provided by the same vendor. Pricing for this can start at around $3K for the software subscription and increase to more than $9K or more annually, depending on the school size. 

Step 3:
Then, the school realizes they still have to do all the corrections themselves, and considering the extent of WCAG success criteria ADA compliant school websites must comply with, this is no easy task. It requires not only remediation to the existing websites, it also requires training for every single person in the school or district who touches the website or creates attached documents (PDFs usually).

Step 4:
The actual cost for all of this remediation, for the staff training, and the site corrections, is often not tracked. But, if you were to track it, well...it isn’t good news. And, it will be ongoing annually because you’ll need to continue to train your staff, check their work, and review your sites to assure they remain compliant.

Yes. This is often when the weeping and gnashing of teeth begins for the financially strapped schools. That is often when they starting looking for an alternate solution. 

Man looking at multiple doors with words Need an alternative

An alternative solution to managing ADA website compliance

Here’s the typical conversation we have with personnel at a school that has either received an OCR complaint or is trying to avoid one altogether and meet the needs of all their students:

Someone at the school contacts us. Jim, our one and only sales guy (and an owner of the company) explains how we work. Jim will tell them:

  • We design and develop your school websites to be accessible and ADA compliant. Because we write the copy, edit the images, and design the layout and navigation, we assure it happens. And you won’t have to rely on your own staff to understand the complexities of the website accessibilities requirements.
  • If you require remediation (which in our case would only apply to any PDFs you have posted to your site), we can help you with that. But, what is more proactive and more affordable is to train the folks who create documents to do so compliantly. To help you accomplish this, all of our schools have access to free online training on how to create accessible documents.
  • That’s it! We do the rest. We do all your ongoing site updates, adding content, images, news, stories, and anything else you need each day. That means no training your staff on a CMS system or the ADA web compliance requirements. We train our staff, stay on top of any ADA changes, and even review the sites regularly to assure they remain compliant. Everything from contrast issue to Alt Text to navigational consistency to screen reader accessibility is included as our ongoing website management.
  • We make it REALLY simple to send us your updates (through our customer service portal). We also send out monthly reminders and tips to whoever has access to submit updates. That way, we get a continuous stream of news, updates, and success stories to keep all of your school websites current, engaging, and informative.
  • If desired, we can even manage your social media channels (integrating those communications strategies with your website efforts). If you need public relations help, we will even train and manage a part-time community member for that strategic role with our PR4 Schools services.

Remember, your website IS your primary communications hub. That is why website compliance is so important. But managing it requires far different skillsets than those required of your IT staff, including expertise in areas like public relations, communications, customer service, marketing, and now ADA compliance. So maybe now is the time to reconsider assigning your website development and maintenance (which must include these other aspects) to an already overtaxed IT department. The education sector is the only industry in the world where such a mismatch of training versus duties is expected. 

Implement a process that assures ongoing website compliance

Our processes are ideally suited for small and mid-size schools without large communications budgets. If you are a large metropolitan district, you may have plenty of staff to do what we do for our clients. Great. Just do what we outline above, and you’ll be doing a great job and be meeting those ADA compliance needs before you know it. But it is vital that your staff be trained if you have your school staff or volunteers update your websites. In fact, we have an example about that issue as well.

A few months ago, we were hired by a competitor to bring one of their own client’s websites, which was under audit, into compliance. When it was fully ADA compliant, we turned it back over to the school to manage. Theirs was a CMS system, managed in house by school staff. But, on the very first staff update, the site became non-compliant. It was a simple update, but that is all it took. The staff member didn’t realize all the complexities involved, so just by moving a few items around, it no longer met WCAG 2.0 standards. The moral of the story is, if you are doing your own site updates, training and checking is a must. It isn’t enough to just GET your school website accessible. You must also KEEP it compliant.

Are you compliant?

Beware of the bad faith players

Whatever you decide to do to get and keep your school website compliant, we fully agree that it is the right thing to do so that everyone, regardless of ability, has access to the information they need. Be wise. Don’t get duped into paying for expensive services you don’t need or that won’t actually help you get compliant. There are free options available.

Here are a few examples we’ve seen just this past month:

  • The school got a phone call from a vendor immediately after they had been notified of the complaint by OCR. The caller offered a software subscription that would give them a report for all their accessibility errors (and other issues like broken links and misspellings, etc.) What they didn’t mention is that their automated reports are inaccurate. Many, if not most, of the accessibility requirements must still be checked manually to confirm if it is actually an issue
  • A few weeks ago, one of our school clients told  us they had received a “fake angry parent” call saying that their site wasn’t compliant for his blind child. He threatened a lawsuit. But, it was a very small school, and the office staff knew each child individually. They had no blind children in the school, and the alleged parent wouldn’t identify himself, his child, or describe what it was that was inaccessible to him. In this case, we happened to know their site was compliant because we manage it for them. We predict that in a few weeks from now, they will get a phone call from an accessibility report vendor telling them they can “solve their problems.” So, just be on the lookout for any smarmy fear-mongering sales techniques.

Don’t get us wrong. Companies need to get the word out about what services they provide. It’s the nature of doing business. As a consumer, I appreciate that knowledge. If you need an automated reporting software, great. Just do your research, and find the services that best meet your school’s needs. But don’t let fear push you into thinking you’ll get a magic bullet that will identify and fix all your accessibility issues. 

Reporting will definitely help you identify potential issues, and that is a great place to start. Just be aware that automated reporting is only step one. The rest will be hands-on, manual reviews, checking each update or new content added to your sites, staying abreast of the ongoing changes to ADA law, and training your staff on the accessibility requirements. 

This also means your staff members who create documents (like school secretaries, school board secretaries, etc.) will need to be trained to create documents that are also ADA compliant. This isn’t difficult. It’s just a new way of working with Word, Excel, Google Docs or Sheets, and PDFs. So, help them get trained. There are lots of free resources online. If you want to track that your staff is actually trained (maybe to use toward professional development goals), and you aren’t already one of our clients, you can sign-up for ADA Accessibility training for $249 per year. Doing so will let you provide access to all of your staff for most document formats. It isn’t fancy, but it’s quite affordable and easy to understand.

Fear not and remember the goal

The goal of the ADA and the Office of Civil Rights is to assure that everyone has access to the information they need to receive an education, regardless of any disability. I am an optimist and honestly believe they are NOT trying to make achieving this goal an insurmountable problem for schools. 

The law and those charged with implementing it understand that there will always be something that is challenging for a screen reader and various disabilities. Your goal is to strive to make your site as accessible as possible. If you dig deep enough, on any website, you are likely to find something that doesn’t measure up (depending on the interpretation of the requirements and how they are measured). 

But, schools that are striving to serve their students and parents are doing the right thing, and they have no need to fear. While there are some out there trying to threaten and promote an environment of fear, it isn’t the reality unless you deliberately ignore the law. Do what is needed. Set up website management processes that include keeping those updates to the site ADA compliant, and make it easy for those who can’t get access to something they need to get help from a real person. You’ve just read some tips to get you started if you want to do it yourself. If you don’t want to worry about it, give us a call at 888.750.4556 or request a quote

For more tips, check out these articles:

338483
Show and Tell for Parent Engagement
2019-12-24
happy students with teacher

Do you remember taking something to school in your hands or in your backpack for a show and tell class activity? Maybe you took your favorite toy or game and talked about why it was special or what you liked about it. Perhaps you shared a talent, like one of my classmates who brought in a tennis racket and ball. He showed us how many times he could bounce the green tennis ball on the racket without it bouncing off. We were amazed. 

Generations of students have participated in show and tell activities. In elementary school, show and tell is a great activity because it helps young children build effective communication and listening skills. It also promotes their social-emotional development since it draws a connection between students’ home life and school (source). 

Your school website could benefit a little from the principles learned at show and tell. Let me explain how. First, let’s look at communication—an informative, interactive, updated, and engaging school website encourages and establishes lines of effective communication. Second, a school website creates and maintains connections between home lives and school activities.

If nothing else, your school public relations goals should be to keep your parents informed and engaged through various means, but especially through your school’s website. Ask yourself: is our school doing enough to nourish parent engagement and communication? You can make some improvements and ensure a healthy connection between home and school by adopting the two simple actions of show and tell. 

Show

Sharing is caring. Sharing with your school community is key to keeping the communication lines open between home and school for prospective students and their families as well as your current students and their families. 

What should you share? Throughout your school website, visitors should be able to see what your school is all about. Consider these two ways to show that sharing really is caring. 

1. Share photographs of your students.

Include photographs of students from your school on every page of your school website. And don’t let those images get stale. Can you imagine parents visiting your school website and seeing students that have graduated? Kind of makes it look like you don’t care, doesn’t it? So, be sure to keep the pictures updated!

Take this tip from our PR4 Schools department: use the summer months to update those student pictures. Because teachers and staff don’t have the time to track which photos need updating, our communication coordinators take care of it for our clients. To keep things fresh, the communication coordinator updates old images on the district and school websites with new images.   

2. Share stories on your News page.

Show what goes on day-to-day at your schools by sharing stories on your News page. The News page is a perfect place to post short articles or slideshows that show everyday learning happening on your campus. A little bit of effort here will go a long way with your school community. 

Wondering what stories to include on the News page? Consider the following ideas. 

  • School history: Consider sharing interesting facts and figures about your school’s past on your school website. Perhaps write a backstory on the name of your school—why the theme or mantra is what it is. Check out what two elementary school principals have to say about how and why to share your school’s story in the Digital Age. For an added bonus, these kinds of stories also play well on your school social media for #ThrowBackThursday posts.
  • Club spotlights: Your school website’s News page is a great place to showcase your school’s extra-curricular opportunities to current and incoming students. Make sure to include pictures with these stories.
  • School spirit: Help your school get in the mood for spirit weeks and other fun activities by spreading the word beforehand about traditions and fun, inspiring stories.
  • Assemblies: Your staff and teachers put a lot of work into assemblies and, depending on how well your students share, parents might never hear about them. When your school gathers for an assembly, share snippets of it with your students’ families, or, better yet, invite them to participate.
  • Faculty, staff, and student spotlights: Make space on your school website for your school community to get to know each other better. The website News page is a great spot for spotlight opportunities.
  • Field trips: Students and their families will appreciate getting a taste of the educational opportunities available within your school. Small or large trips deserve some attention. 
  • Students in classrooms across your campus: Show your school community what it’s like to be a fly on the wall in your school’s classrooms and hallways. As your administration visits classrooms, hallways, etc., take time to record the moment in order to share it with others. A positive, productive, welcoming atmosphere is sometimes best shown, not explained. 

These short article, story, or slideshow ideas show things parents want to see—and the list could go on! Using your school website to communicate success stories helps ensure your school is strengthening and restrengthening that sense of community and connection with the homes in your school’s community. 

Reach out to your school community. Ask what they would like to see on your district and school website as well as News page. We’re sure you’ll come back with even more ideas. 

Tell

Author and parent Charisse Montgomery says, “As a caregiver, I feel most empowered when I am informed enough to do more” (source). As schools continually seek ways to improve their communication lines between school and home, they encourage parents to be informed. 

Information leads to empowerment. Empowerment leads to more supported students on both sides—school and home. This type of empowerment encourages parents to make informed decisions, thanks to you. 

A supportive parent community can make an extremely positive difference for everyone in the school community (and it’s great for your school public relations). Let’s look at three ways you can use your website to tell parents about the great things happening at your school.

1. Keep parents informed.

Keeping your school website updated, accurate, and user-friendly helps your website visitors learn all they need to know, like schedules, vacation breaks, pick-up and drop-off policies, etc. Be sure to take time to communicate important events. 

Here are a few other ways to “tell” your communication and keep your community informed: 

  • A message from your administration: Students may have the chance to hear from your administration on a regular basis, but what about their families? Would they recognize them at the store or in the hallways at school? A personalized message from the administration can do much to encourage parent engagement.
  • A message from your teachers: Are there issues, for better or for worse, that teachers wish they could get out there? Counsel with your teachers and find commonalities that would be helpful to address to the whole school community. Consider handing the proverbial microphone to other school staff such as crossing guards, bus drivers, recess monitors, security guards, cafeteria workers, etc. Is there something they could say to positively contribute to your communication efforts?
  • School changes: Changes can be hard. When policies and other directions need sharing or clarification, take time to shed some light on the topic. Parents and students who are more informed have a greater opportunity to contribute and cooperate. Just be aware of jargon-monoxide that may poison your communications. 
  • Upcoming important events and activities: New students and families, as well as current ones, will appreciate more information about events and activities in order to better plan and set expectations. Have a place on your Home page for Latest News and Calendar Events. Salome Elementary School District's sidebar is a great example of this. 

2. Use the calendar.

If your school is using the calendar to its highest potential, everything parents need to know is on there! Class picture day, field trips, concerts, early dismissals, open houses, PTA meetings, etc. But, do your parents know how to use your school calendar? 

Here at School Webmasters, the majority of our clients use Trumba calendars. Did you know Trumba calendars can be subscribed to in several different ways? 

First, parents can sign up to receive a weekly email of the events on the calendar for the upcoming week. 

Parents can also sync the school calendar to their personal calendar if they use iCalendar or Google calendars. Parents can choose how much information they want to receive. 

For example, they can subscribe to the whole district calendar, or they can just pick the schools they are interested in. This is very helpful for parents who are balancing schedules for more than one student at multiple schools.

3. Find your own way.

Every school administration chooses to communicate in its own way. Hopefully, you see the time-saving benefits of communicating with your parents in part through an easy-to-access online presence. No matter what your method is, here are a few ideas all schools will need: 

  • Make a shortcut: Without making an app, show your parents how to create an "app" by simply creating a shortcut to your website on their smartphone. It literally takes 10 seconds. At School Webmasters, we think it’s a waste of time and money for schools to create apps in addition to their website. If you’re using the website right, you shouldn’t need an app. [video]
  • Sync it: We link our school websites to our clients’ blog and social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other platforms. School websites can include the social media feeds on them. Check out how the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) has their Facebook and Twitter feeds embedded on their website.
  • Registration help: As long as registration is part of your school’s process, your community will need registration help. Create a simple, clear process to help new students and their families get registered at your school, and share it on your school website.
  • Contact: Your school’s office contact information and hours should be easy to find on your school website.

Showing and telling doesn’t have to be just an elementary classroom activity. Your school can and will maintain positive parent engagement by incorporating a personalized approach to these two active principles. Your parents want to be involved in their children’s education. By improving the way you use your school websites, you improve your public relations and encourage parent engagement.

Image of colorful paper cut-out of hands

Most times, as adults, the best way to teach is by modeling. In the case of your school website, communication and listening skills will be effective as you do just that—model. Show your students and their families what matters to you by sharing visible, concrete examples on your school website. Tell your students and their families what you think they need to know by offering them helpful, updated information in a concise, easy-to-access manner. As you do this, you will expand the connective lines within your community. And that’s a good thing for everybody.  

Hungry for more? Check these out!

School Websites: What's the Big Deal?
Your Website's Important First Impression
Using School Websites and Social Media to Encourage Parent Engagement
Effective School Communication is Possible
School Websites—The Swiss Army Knife of Influence and Communications

528849
How to Get Started with a School Blog
2019-12-10
Blog in red letters

You already know the value of a school blog, right? It helps attract new students, engages the parents, and establishes you as an expert in education. Using it as part of your school marketing efforts with Inbound Marketing and search engine optimization can be a huge factor in increasing enrollment.

But...knowing and doing are two very different things, right?

So, to make this easier, let’s break it down. Let’s begin with how to get started on your own school blog.

Step #1: Pick a blog purpose

Why do you want a school blog? What is your end-goal?? If you don’t have a purpose, it might be interesting and even fun, but it won’t move your school communication efforts forward. What is your purpose? Is it to broaden your communication efforts or share school news at a more personal level? Is it to gather feedback from parents and students or maybe to build a respected brand for your school? 

Whatever the goal, writing it down and keeping it where you can see it as you write each blog will help. It could be a single line or a few words, but it should be meaningful to you, and you should keep it front and center as you write. Incorporate your school’s mission in your blog purpose as well, and you’ll vastly expand the value of each blog post. Every post will support your school mission!

Step #2: Create a blog schedule

Start by taking a look at your school calendar, and then incorporate the goals from your school mission statement. Ideas will include school announcements, events, changes, activities, and of course, the purpose behind it all. Create a massive list of all the possibilities, and then start putting them into a calendar. 

Include resources you’ll need, which will include the people who are in the know about the topics you’ve identified so you can request their input in advance. Involve those “subject matter experts,” and you’ll have better blog articles, lighten your own load, and recognize others for their contributions. Oh, and consider guest bloggers from your community or other experts in the field (you can provide them with a link back to their website and ask them to promote their post to their audience as well).

Whether you are going to blog once a week or once a month, create a schedule you can be consistent with. Whatever you do, don’t start a blog and then go dark. You’ll lose any audience you’ve earned along with your credibility.

Schedule your topics as far in advance as possible. Here at School Webmasters, we plan for three months out, but it is likely your school could plan out much further than that.

Step #3: Create a blog process

The next step is to create a process that will make your blog posting successful. Answer the following questions:

  1. Who will write the posts (or will it vary from post to post)?
  2. How often will you commit to posting your blogs?
  3. What is the purpose/topic of each blog (ideally tied to and supporting your school mission)?
  4. What is the call-to-action for each blog?

Step #4: Create a blog content calendar

Once you’ve come up with ideas about who will write the posts (so you can form your team of contributors), you’ll want to work on a time-frame and schedule. By determining the posting dates, you’ll give blog contributors time to prepare, gather photos, research their topic to ensure they will meet the posting date goal. Here is a simple spreadsheet example that can help you keep on track.

Example of school blog content calendar

(Sample blog content calendar)

Step #5: Share and promote your blog

You’ll make sharing your blog easy by including social media sharing icons (buttons) with each of your blog posts. Include all the channels commonly used by parents like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Of course, you’ll also post links to your blog on all of your school social media platforms as well. 

Here are a few more tips for promoting your new blog:

  • Include images. Be sure to include photos or images with your blog. Not only will it make the post more interesting, but it is what will grab readers’ attention on platforms like Facebook.
  • Engage with titles. Consider your blog post titles, and make them compelling enough to click on. Try engaging, open-ended questions readers will want to find the answer to. Instead of a boring “Check out our latest blog post!” make it irresistible with “Why school attendance is a bigger deal than you thought!” or “How parents make our school succeed or fail,” and watch the engagement skyrocket.
  • Promote at every chance. Posting on social media and on your school website is the first step to promoting your blog, but you need to be sure to include other avenues as well. Do you have a school newsletter? An email or parent notification system? If so, be sure to include a link to the blog post on a consistent basis. Provide a link to the blog on all your forms of outbound communication, whether it is school stationery, flyers, electronic signage, press releases, or the website. Make it easy to find!
  • Encourage blog sign-ups: Be sure to include an email sign-up on your school website so viewers can be notified when you post the next blog. And include a link to the blog post in each issue of your school newsletter.
  • Repurpose your blog. Whenever possible, repurpose your blog posts in your inbound marketing efforts. This will also help you select topics to cover in your blog content creation. For example, sharing how a student’s (or alumni’s) experience with your school helped them reach their goals would not only be an engaging topic but would help prospective parents see how their children could also succeed at your school

What’s the difference between a blog and a news article?

Educators tend to write like educators, right? But in the case of a blog, don’t be afraid to let your hair down a bit. Here are some recommendations:

  • Unlike a research paper, thesis, or news article, be sure to let your writing reflect your personality a bit. 
  • Share your opinions and perspective. 
  • Let your tone be conversational and a bit casual. Think of it as a conversation between you and one other reader—someone who wants to hear what you think. 
  • While your blog should never have spelling and grammar mistakes (you are an educator after all), feel free to use contractions, imagery, analogy, and metaphor.
  • Don’t fear being witty or humorous when your topic warrants it.
  • Use stories liberally to make your blog memorable.
  • Share links to other articles, videos, or blog posts that further inform.

Articles tend to be data-driven, fact-based, informative, and cover timely topics, news, or events. An article on your school’s news page is often time-based and may become outdated with the passage of time. Most blog posts are evergreen and less likely to become outdated in a month or even a year.

Blogs focus on being helpful and engaging and are often written in the first person where the writer shares his or her perspective, opinion, or experience.   They’re also presented in reverse chronological order (newest content appearing first). Blogs usually invite comments from readers, and a well-managed blog also responds to those comments. 

So, if you need to write about a recent event or activity at your school (or one about to happen), that is news. When you want to discuss the importance of school traditions and how those impact students, make memories, and motivate students, then consider a blog post. Blog posts are great when you want to cover the “why behind the what” for schools. It is the stories that can be told through first-person perspectives that get us all on the same page and make us part of the team.

What to blog about?

If you’ve read this far, you are getting serious about creating a school blog and committing time to it. So, what will you blog about? That depends on your customers’ needs, and you might have a variety of customers. So, pick your top priority and get started. Here are some common customer needs.

happy students
  • Marketing to increase enrollment: Some customers are looking for the best school for their child. In that case, you’d blog about what might attract, engage, and convert parents. What does your school do really well, how does it help students, and why does it work so well?
  • Building trust and engagement: Some customers want to be enthused about where their children attend school now and knowing they are getting the best education possible. In that case, you’ll want to be sure to keep them informed about all the great things happening within the walls of your school and how and why those very specific strategies are in place.
  • Recruiting quality staff: Some of your customers will be new staff members, teachers, administrators, support staff, and volunteers. In that case, you’ll want to find folks who fit in with your values and goals, so you’ll share those in your posts to attract them.
  • Thought leadership: Sometimes you want to earn the respect and trust of your community members, establish your school as the school of choice, or help parents understand the rationale for your approach to education. A blog is a perfect forum to influence, encourage, and earn credibility. Creating in-depth content that offers valuable insights will demonstrate your expertise as you identify problems and provide solutions.
  • Parent engagement: There are myriad advantages to having parents who are engaged in their child’s education. Your school’s blog can help by providing parents with information about understanding their child’s development (so they can facilitate learning at home), being included in decisions that affect their child (surveys, feedback, volunteering), and by helping them recognize and value the importance in their roles.
  • Student motivation: Blogging about topics that deliver a dose of motivation and encouragement to students (and their parents) provides many benefits. It helps students see that you understand what challenges they face, and it lets them identify with educators as folks who actually care about them. Check out blogs like LifeHack, Brian Tracy, Motivation Grid, or The Positivity Blog for some motivational ideas.

In summary…

The main takeaway is school leaders should blog (for all the reasons outlined above), and because it gives you the ideal channel to improve your school communications and answer the questions you get asked, and it helps you attract new students and engage the ones you have. So, take the plunge, blaze a trail, or whatever metaphor motivates you to get started. For a bit more motivation, check out some examples by other school administrators who blog at A Principal’s Reflections, Michael Smith’s Blog, and Connected Principals.

488957
Working with the local media to get your school stories heard
2019-12-03
Breaking news with megaphone image

So, your teachers and staff are preparing for another great event. You worked hard to let your local media folks know about it and why you thought it would make a good coverage opportunity ahead of time. Despite the high hopes you had for a media frenzy, when the event kicked off, you and your camera were the only ones there to capture it. 

Many education professionals would be upset. Angry. Hurt. They’d bemoan the negative coverage they often get and say things like, “How come no one ever cares about all the good things going on around here?”  

Fortunately, that’s not your reaction. You know it’s called “earned” media for a reason. You know that even the best pitches for the most newsworthy events can still result in no coverage due to factors beyond anyone’s control. Most importantly, you aren’t ever going to let a no-show stop you from telling your story. The good news is you’ve already got everything you need to get the word out. 

In a previous post, I helped you think through different ways to communicate with the media. Media Alerts, Press Releases, and Submitted Stories were three big areas we tackled. This post is going to drill down deeper on Submitted Stories, as well as demonstrating how they all function together, along with your communication plan. 

Why should you listen to me about any of this? Well, first of all, you don’t have to—my daughter doesn’t really listen to me, and she seems to be doing fine. Of course, I’ve never been a teenage girl. But you know what I have been? A school communications and PR lead for an urban and a rural school district. Before that, I spent five years as a small-town community newspaper editor, and the three years before that as the primary education beat reporter. I’ve played this game from both sides, and I want to help break down the walls that are keeping you from getting your story out there. 

My goal is for you to get a ton of value out of this, and there’s just no replacement for a good old fashioned example. We’ve included a series of three samples that you might send to the media for this event I completely made up, the Growing Great pilot program at Piney Woods Elementary School. Check them out here.

Camera filming a meeting

Before the event

Ok, before we get to the act of creating the elements of your submitted story, we do need to set the stage a bit. Well, actually, you need to set the stage and get yourself ready to succeed. This does not happen the day of an event (more on that soon).

Communicate with stakeholders. Internally, you should be executing your communications plan for the event. Families and stakeholder groups should be receiving flyers, emails, social media and web posts, whatever you do. Generating buzz in your audience is more powerful than you may think. In the era of social media connectivity, that engagement can draw media interest before you even reach out. When you do pitch, high levels of engagement seen on social media promotions and high-quality graphic design in your materials can definitely help sway a decision-maker to cover the event. 

Get photographic release issues straight. Policies can be a bit different, but make sure you know the rules you need to respect. Work with your school’s administration to determine which students are on the no-publish photography list. Getting this information ahead of time (or at least at the event) will help you avoid those particular students as you take pictures. By front-loading that information, you don’t spend time taking pictures of the wrong students, only to find out later they are unusable. Of course, it’s hard to identify every student in the school, so make sure you have a plan to have someone else check behind you.

Send the media alert. Actually, I always like to come up with a reason to send two media alerts. That way, I’ve got something to send around 10–14 days out, and then another for the week of. You could just send it again or send a straight follow-up email, but that can be a bit annoying. Journalists can receive hundreds of coverage requests in a given week, so there should not be an expectation that they will reply promptly and directly to each one—even if you are local. Besides, saving a piece of information and then dropping it as the event nears creates some excitement and some elevation that might pull someone off the fence.

That said, the main goal of the second release is still all about reminding them. Media outlets are inundated with story ideas with so many possibilities. There’s not really such a thing as a slow news day. On top of that, many of the actual reporters/producers are early in their careers. They don’t always have good personal organization systems in place to manage themselves to a level where they’ll remember everything. That’s especially true in such a scattered and responsive industry. It’s always good to poke them with a stick. 

Of course, the biggest problem most schools have with getting the media out isn’t that the reporter forgets. The problem is that education professionals forget to ask. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting at my desk in the district office and gotten a call from a school asking for coverage of an amazing event that could draw media—and it starts in less than an hour. Definitely not going to happen, especially in a district an hour away from the closest news stations. Honestly, I’ve probably experienced that situation almost as often as a call two weeks out to ask how I can help promote an event. Even worse is when schools even forget to notify their families about an event until the week of. It’s not professional, it’s not okay, and it has to stop. If you are going to host an event, and it’s worth spending the time to set up, you must spend a little time planning your communications around it. 

Get the blessing to send the submitted story. In the process of inviting the media with the alert, you’re sure to get some regrets. That’s ok. It’s also your chance to offer the submitted story. When the reporter says they can’t make it, just reply politely that you understand, and add that you’d love to send some pictures and a write-up for them to consider. Putting this general plan in place ahead of time is a great way to avoid wasting time later. If they agree to it, it’s a big win! Of course, it’s just the beginning of the next round of work.  

You will need to think of yourself as their contractor for this assignment. Find out what they want, and especially when they want it. If they say they want it the same-day, then you need to figure out how to make that happen. Usually, that might mean a TV station that only want stills and some key facts. Basically, you will plan to just rework what you’ve already sent, add in a rough headcount and anything particularly notable, and send it on with your best pictures. Depending on deadlines, you might even need to do this before the event is over. So plan for everything—have all your gear to crank this out when they need it. 

Conversely, a weekly community newspaper that wants a submitted story may not need it for another week. You should not wait a week to give it to them, but once you finish the event and then finish storytelling for your audience, you need to go ahead and get it in a final format for the paper. Plan how you are going to do this instead of waiting until the newspaper is calling you about a hole they’ve saved you on page A5.

Prepare to tell your story. You should use those pre-event communications as a great way to start pre-writing your story. You already know what the big picture is, so there’s nothing wrong with having a few introductory and detailed paragraphs written ahead of time. If it’s a marquee event (teacher of the year announcement) or particularly timely or political, you might even have the whole thing written ahead of time. It’s not cheating; just make sure you proof it one last time after the event and before you send to allow you to edit for anything that didn’t really go the way you expected. 

Girl taking photos

At the event

Take some notes. Photos will be the most important thing you do at the event (other than any event-based responsibilities you have—hopefully none). You also need to get some words, though. If someone’s giving a speech, just jot down a key line or two from it. Pick one fun question, and ask it to a few students and parents, and write down some of the best answers. Having these in-hand will make the production stages much easier. Could you go find them later and ask the same questions? Sure you could, but it would cause significantly more headaches for you and for them rather than just capturing that feedback in the moment. Also, be sure to write down names of non-students you photograph or anyone you might not know.

Take too many pictures. If you are a professional photographer, you don’t need to take any of my advice, and you can skip this section. If, like the rest of us, you don’t really know what you’re doing, the first rule of thumb is to take a lot of pictures. Make sure to get plenty of your administrators and officials, but these won’t necessarily be the best images to publicize. Smiling faces of kids engaged in something loosely related to instruction is the highest form of school event photography. When I say too many pictures, I also mean different angles, orientations (horizontal and vertical), candid, posed, inside, outside, or whatever. You can’t go back and get them later. Better to get everything you can now. 

After the event

Tell your story in a variety of ways. (If you and your media connection agreed on a same-day delivery, skip ahead to Submitting to the media, and then come back to this later.) 

After a great event, you’re excited to get home and rest up after a long day. Understandable. Just remember that those images don’t do anyone any good just sitting on your camera’s card. Ideally, you will already have a post-event communications plan ready to go, and you will begin executing it immediately. 

For me, a good starting place immediately after the event is to upload the pictures and do a first-round look-see of what you got. If you can’t do all of the work on it right away, at least pick out a great shot or two and post to social media with messaging that conveys a great event and that more pictures will be coming in the morning. Again, you could have the post pre-written and in the draft stage ahead of time and just add in the picture(s) once you’ve taken them. 

Either way, by lunchtime the next day, you should be pushing out an engaging social media post (with pictures) that links back to a web post article with lots of pictures or a link to a gallery. Yes, that means you should have an article of some kind written within 24 hours (that’s why I support pre-writing what you can when you can). This page has huge value, because now you can send to your principal for school messaging, your superintendent to include in division messaging, and, of course, you can send it to the press—although that might not be your actual submitted story. 

Submitting to the media. At this point, you’ve told your story through your channels of communication. You have two options as far as what you send to the media: Press Release or Submitted Story. 

Generally, a press release would be more of a political thing handled at the division level, or a community-partnership sort of event for a school, but that’s not always the case. You can use these tools in many different ways, and you should do what works best for you, your story, and, most importantly, your media targets. A community weekly newspaper or online news site is much more likely than a metro daily to accept and run a submitted story. If you are working with a metro paper, you should probably stick to press release tactics and consider it part of your long-term relationship-building approach. 

The key differentiators of the press release are that it has a general story flow but doesn’t usually feel as creative as journalistic feature writing. A press release can either be intended to run as is or to serve as a dump of information that helps a reporter write a story of his or her own or both. As a result, sometimes it can be a bit heavy on the quotes or the numbers. It should use a certain formatting and be no more than two pages—ideally less than one. 

Meanwhile, the submitted story is your attempt to play reporter for the day. Within reason, you should be using your storytelling skills to inform and entertain, especially with your introductory paragraphs. The more the story feels like something that the outlet normally publishes, the more likely it is to get published. That makes sense, right?

Pictures are often the critical factor in determining the fate of your submitted story. Great picture with smiling and engaged kids? Maybe it goes to the front page, or at least gets a teaser there. Boring pictures of people posed and looking at the camera? Sounds like the designated Education page somewhere in the B section is where it’s going to end up. No pictures at all? Maybe in a couple weeks, they’ll have a hole they desperately need to fill, and they’ll stick it at the bottom of page that no one is really going to read. 

Be sure to offer a variety of pictures and include captions that identify all identifiable people. Don’t try to save yourself a few minutes by sending them the article and pictures and asking which ones they want captions for. The page designer could have a totally different view from your reporter contact of how the story will look visually (usually, a much better view) and could easily decide to go for a completely different approach than a reporter. This is the least efficient place to short cut, even though it seems a bit silly to make captions for 10 pictures when you know they won’t all run. If you were on their staff, you would be available to write the captions on deadline. But if they get to deadline and try to reach you, given your role, you probably won’t be available to give them what they need immediately. So do it ahead and count it as a win.

Taking full responsibility like this also ensures that it’s a good experience for them. That’s important because you should be playing the long game here. It’s not only about this one media placement; it’s about opening their pages to you and your school district’s messaging all the time. 

With the submitted story, you have a relatively rare opportunity in the PR world to produce your own content that pushes directly into the earned space of a media outlet. Do your best to take complete advantage of it by making all deadlines, keeping communications open and honest, and putting the work in to make good articles that readers in your community will enjoy. 

Key Differentiators and Elements of Media Submissions

Media Alert

  • Send before the event, typically twice
  • Journalistic 5 Ws are key, often broken out visually for the meat of the alert
  • Often includes logistical information to facilitate media visit (parking, check-in procedures, etc.)
  • Make a clear ask to attend both in the alert and in the body of the email you send
  • Media Alert Sample | Media Alert Template

Release

  • Similar to a story, but generally seeks to give info to expedite media story
  • Don’t be afraid to use a variety of quotes or push some key numbers
  • Aim for about a page in length; no more than two 
  • Release Sample | Release Template

Submitted Story

  • Greater level of journalistic writing creativity, especially in the beginning, transitions, and flow 
  • Must include pictures and captions of a variety of people, scenes, and orientations
  • Can be posted on school website with links from school social media platforms 
  • Communicate ahead of time with your targeted media outlets regarding specific needs
  • Submitted Story Sample

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.

528905
Is the Media Out to Get Your School?
2019-11-26

It feels like the media is out to get your school. The coverage of your district is always negative. They never care about any of the good things happening in your building. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Look, I’ve heard it all before—I’ve even said some of it before. As a former journalist AND school PR lead, I can help build some understanding in this space that desperately needs it.

It’s time to debunk the junk and help you build better relationships between your school and your friendly neighborhood media folks.

Challenging Assumptions

First, let’s think about some assumptions. I’ve heard many education folks completely condemn members of the media for running a negative story about a school. Newsflash: You aren’t the only one who feels like coverage is negative. News IS negative. Not just education coverage but all coverage. “Something in your bathroom could kill your kids—story at 11.”

Fear sells. But before you judge, remember that negativity is motivation in every other aspect of life, too. Don’t advertisers play on your fears to sell a product? Isn’t the underlying motivation in hard practices for sports the fear of losing? And hey, if we’re being honest, educators aren’t immune either. “You need to pay attention—this will be on the test.” Or “This is going to go on your permanent record!”

Life has a negative component, so instead of complaining about it—thus perpetuating the cycle—we have to work hard to overcome it. That includes overcoming the media’s tendency to focus on the negative and getting them to come out to cover your positive events and stories.

It’s worth noting that newsrooms and schools have some strong similarities: they’re under-resourced. The pay isn’t great. They’re managed in a very top-down structure. They are local institutions that draw a great deal of attention and are often highly criticized. For example, as an editor, roughly an equal number of people criticized my left-wing bias as those who criticized my right-wing bias. Let that sink in for a minute.

At the end of the day, journalists are not so different from you. They believe that what they do matters, and they want to do a good job at it. If you attempt to understand them and help them do their work well, everyone wins. Ok, now that we’re seeing things more clearly, the table is set. Let’s consider action steps that your school or district can take to shift the odds in your favor.

what's your story

Always be storytelling

If you intend to ask others to tell your story, you need to actively tell your own story. Staff profiles. Class projects. Successful events. Your social media pages, school newsletter, and school website should be an interwoven tapestry of the amazing things happening in your school. Develop a solid communications plan and stick to it. This keeps staff, families, district leadership, and your community in the loop in a reliable way.

You know what else regular storytelling does? It builds a trove of handy research for a reporter when they consider your request for coverage. Think about it…if a company asks you to spend money on its product, you do some research. Maybe you go to their social media pages or to their website to learn more about them. A reporter or news outlet is considering spending their valuable time and news space on you. They are going to do the same thing.

When they get to your website, they don’t want to see the principal’s back- to-school welcome message…from last year. Show that you’re on the ball and on top of good messaging. If they can see that you value storytelling, it’s an instant rapport builder and a sign that you will work with them. They’re more likely to believe that you will support them in telling the story, even if challenges arise. Remember, investing a news team’s time comes with some risk. Showing that you too are in the storytelling game signals that you will be a partner to them. And seeing a positive school climate might suggest to them that covering this one event could lead to more stories in the future.

Another benefit of perpetual storytelling is that it significantly increases the likelihood that a news outlet hears about a good story and reaches out to you without you even having to ask. Who knows? It might not be a story you would have ever thought to send to them. Once it’s out to your specific audience of families, staff, and others, it can get legs all on its own. No matter how big your community is, there are only a couple degrees of separation between your school’s stakeholders and the media personalities who cover your area. By continuing to put out the good word, you build an environment where good things can happen.

If you know and tell your story, you make it easier for others to invest the time in telling your story as well.

woman and man talking

Take time to talk it out

Most front-line journalists covering your schools are relative newbies. Think about the reporter you see most often. Any chance he or she has kids in your local district or another nearby? The odds are against it. In most cases, the bulk of school-related coverage is produced by someone who is closer in age to being in school than having a child in school.

Most reporters don’t have a frame of reference about education other than what they experienced as a student. But they also have the mission to hold leadership accountable. That’s a hard line to walk when you don’t experience the school environment from day to day. Is it any wonder they don’t understand the intricacies and nuances that pervade education in general and your district in particular? Could it be that what you might characterize as “twisting the facts” is actually just simple misunderstanding?

The solution is simple: Connect. Instead of aiming to utter the fewest words possible to a reporter, the designated media liaison needs to have a direct line to the most active reporter—and needs to be using it often. Whether it’s a public information position in the central office, the superintendent, or a high school principal, someone needs to be working to educate the most engaged reporter. After all, isn’t teaching what you do?

Connect with your local media folks, news decision makers, and the producing reporters.

Invite them to lunch—at a school or off site. Talk them through intricate topics such as accountability and accreditation. Give them an early heads up on bigger, long-term news with lots of lead time to think about and ask follow-ups.


Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Rousseau

Make reasonable asks and be patient, regardless of outcome

As mentioned in my previous post, event or story selection is a critical part of an ask of media. Wacky Hair Day is awesome. It’s probably my favorite thing that schools do. And it’s pretty much unrelated to any instructional aim whatsoever. That said, even if I were in journalism now, I doubt that I’d assign anyone to cover Wacky Hair Day at my local school. That’s pretty much self-explanatory, right? On the other end of the spectrum, almost every community with dedicated local media will be at a big school board meeting. So how do you get the media to think of your story less like Wacky Hair Day and more like an important community event?

In addition to talking it out, as I mentioned in the previous point, you must also give some specific information in however you pitch them about the Why. 

  • Why is this event important? 
  • What does it do for student growth and achievement or the community?

You don’t necessarily need to craft a press release or media alert (although I would suggest it where possible). Even a paragraph or two about an event that may not be self-explanatory could help.

Once you’ve done that…wait. Be patient. You know how you feel about someone making requests of you during your testing window... they could be experiencing their equivalent right when you’ve asked. They might even be that busy and hemmed in every single day.

So, if your first request for coverage gets turned down (or doesn’t even get a response), don’t be discouraged. Follow these tips:

  • Keep pitching. Each one is a chance to get better.
  • Choose between four and a dozen events or stories a year.
  • Create an occasional push out to the reporter(s) to explain a couple of topics and why you think they would make for good stories (read more about what should be included in an ask).

If they don’t come out, then consider sending a submitted story their way (if appropriate). Assuming that you are storytelling as you should be, this should be easy. Plus, it gives them a chance to see what they missed.

Above all else, don’t quit. As an editor, I remember several pitches I had to hear more than once before I really started to understand what the interest factor would be. That wasn’t a necessary reflection on the pitch quality. It was also related to my bandwidth to expand my focus at any given time. You simply don’t know exactly what your friendly local media folks are going through at any given time. So don’t take it personally, keep pitching, and be patient.

If you missed Part 1, Involving local media in your school communications, be sure to check it out!

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.

512244
Involving Local Media in Your School Communications
2019-11-12
journalists with microphones

Why does getting the media to cover your school event seem like such a Herculean feat? It doesn’t have to be! As long as you’re willing to tweak your mindset, align your tactics, and show some patience, the rewards can be huge.

Who am I to help you make this happen? I’m one of those journalist-turned-school-PR guys. So, as a reporter and an editor, I made the decision to cover negative stories about schools. Many, many times. Positive stories, too. 

When I was in charge of those news decisions, I hadn’t worked in schools before. I didn’t always fully understand the culture, the language, or the system. When some story ideas crossed my desk, I didn’t know the importance they had to the school system or even to our community. When I understood the story, I was more likely to get it assigned. That usually happened when someone took the time to give me some context and explain it- concisely. Remember, news decision-makers are being pitched stories constantly—clear understanding of a story and its impact helps move it to the top of the pile.

When I moved to a school district PR role, I had to learn how to nicely ask former coworkers and their competitors to cover our positive stories. I used what I knew about their workflow to increase my likelihood of success. And some of those insights are what I’ll share with you in this post. So, let’s get in the trenches together to tackle this topic.

I’ll offer some general relationship building and overall best practice advice in another post, but for now, let’s get a bit more specific. We’ll break down the core nuts and bolts of strategy and executing a basic media request. It boils down to three elements: What, Who, and How. In this case,

  • What is the story or event we are asking to be covered.
  • Who is the particular media outlet or journalist we are asking to do the covering.
  • How is the way we ask for the coverage of the What by the Who.

What: Story/Event selection

Yes, I know that amazing things happen in your building every day. Every. Single. Day. After all, you are in the business of changing lives, molding minds, building character—of course, this stuff is epic! And yes, anytime one of those things happens, or every time there is a great fun thing for the kids, it would be wonderful to see it on the news. But that’s simply not how the news game works. You have to be okay with that so you can learn what might be newsworthy to help you select what you send on to the press.

I say “might” be newsworthy, because it can be a moving target. In general, what I mean is you should learn what kind of stories might draw media interest. But whether it actually becomes a story is also fairly relative to the rest of their world. While there is no such thing as a slow news day, there is always competition between potential stories. In fact, good journalists know that they must be advocates for their own stories to increase the likelihood of getting top billing. So things well beyond your control can affect the outcome of your pitch. I can’t even estimate how many times I had a reporter scheduled to show up and then they had to bail at the last minute—or how many times in my reporting days I was the one doing the bailing.

good news

This newsworthiness is somewhat captured in the concept of having a “newspeg.” A newspeg is what makes a story timely or relevant—events or stories that are on trend (for education and/or news), innovative, involve the broader community or giving back to the community. You won’t always have an explicit newspeg. Some stories are just good people stories—but that also makes them less likely to be covered. See how that works?

For example, Wacky Hair Day is a lot of fun and might have some visual appeal (another key element), but there’s no hint of a newspeg for even the most fluffy-news-minded reporter. If your event is an assembly with a speaker giving a talk, it won’t be very visual, so it may not get good response. Of course, if your speaker is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, then, yes, you’ll probably get some media attention. If the speaker has a particularly compelling story that connects to a broader trend issue, that might also be a draw.

Here’s a great example of a story that gained strong interest from my neck of the woods. Henrico County Public Schools, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, set the internets on fire a couple years back when they did a signing day event. Now, your typical signing event features the high school’s best student-athletes in their new college merch, with a row of grinning dads and athletic directors in the background. But Henrico’s event featured the school’s best workforce-ready students—in their hardhats and new uniforms—signing contracts for the jobs they were about to start. The moment was perfect, as districts across the country were seeking ways to highlight career and technical education programs. In one visual event, HCPS elevated CTE program success with the veritable pinnacle of high school—the college-bound student-athlete. Absolutely brilliant. It was picked up by the media and had solid viral activity on social media platforms.    

woman reading to students  

You don’t have to set the bar that high for yourself before you reach out to the media. Think about some good examples of interactions in your school. Read Across America Day brings the high-profile mayor in to read to your elementary school students. Your school nutrition team delivers meals to students in the community during the summer. An English teacher at your high school runs an annual ultramarathon as a way to raise funds for scholarships.  These are all real things I encountered in different districts. You know what makes your district special. Tell your story, and find the cool elements of it to share with the media, and see if they’ll help tell your story, too.

Media outlet selection

Up until this point, I’ve used the term “media” as though I was referring to a completely monolithic structure. The reality is that there is a wide range of media outlets, and choosing the right folks to ask for the right things is part of a successful media engagement strategy for your school or district.

You need to know your event or story, be able to verbalize what might make it newsworthy, and then ask an outlet that defines newsworthy in the same way. It isn’t the same in newsrooms across the country, your state, your city, or even your small rural area.

Painting with broad strokes, here are a few different kinds of media outlets to think about:

TV News

TV stations are great to get but also the least likely to be on board. Also, they’re the most likely to bail at the last minute. There is a great deal of competition among them, and they generally still believe that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Pitch them, but don’t take it personally if they don’t come out—even if they seem more than willing to air a harsh story about your district. If they have dedicated education beat coverage, go for that reporter who covers other things about your school or district. If not (or in addition), the news/assignment editor position is a key one to get on board with your story.

girl's face looking out of old-fashioned TV screen

Metro/Regional Newspapers

A mixed bag, usually. Even a mid-sized city paper likely has just one reporter on the education beat, and that person is probably covering more than one district. Your primary target is that reporter as well as the editor they report to. For very visual events, a photojournalist might be a good course as well.

Alternative weeklies/Community magazines or monthlies

An even more mixed bag. This is the broadest of these categories, so don’t take anything here as written in stone. This is a wide range of publications—sometimes they are very interested in education stories, and sometimes they only want things that tie-in nationally. I’d say that they belong in your “to ask” list, but they shouldn’t be the place you start. Aim for anyone you see covering your stuff—the editor and the news desk, generally.

Community Newspapers

This might be the best place to start. Usually, there is a dedicated education reporter. Just don’t forget that the same reporter probably covers three other beats, too. These are often wide open for submitted stories as well, which can be your easiest path to positive coverage.

male student reading newspaper

Online news sources

These can be great! Find the hyperlocal news blog covering your neighborhood, and keep them up to date on what’s happening in your school. Submitted stories might work here as well. Sure, their reach might not be huge, but it’s right where you want it. They are often looking for the kind of coverage and content you can provide, so it’s a win-win—and we like wins.

News radio

I’ve never particularly targeted news radio myself, unless directed to do so. Maybe have their news desk email on your larger press email list, but beyond that, I wouldn’t really focus on it unless there is some particular outlet/show in your community that has a lot of weight and is connected to education.

What to send

I just referenced the press email list. It’s an important tool in the toolbox and probably the most efficient. But it’s not necessarily the most effective. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to start.

Create a list of the relevant news outlets for your school or district. Target the positions and the people we discussed in the Who section. When you send them an email, ALWAYS drop the list into the BCC field; they don’t need to know who else is getting this.

Word of caution: Possibly the worst thing you can do is take the flyer you sent to your families to promote the event and just forward on to the press list with no description or attempt to flesh it out. There are inherent problems with this:

  • It’s designed to tell families what they need to know—times, sign in/sign out, etc. In other words, a bunch of information that your media contact doesn’t need but now has to sort through to find the relevant stuff to make a decision about your event.
  • It also probably doesn’t have a bunch of stuff they need—the address, phone number—even the name of your school might not be on it.

Feel free to add the family flyer as an attachment, but you need to do more. You need to use the concept of differentiation. Just like you connect with students in different ways in the classroom, your audiences (families, press, staff, students) have different needs as well. In this case, you must give the media a nice, clean, and re-focused description of the event or story and its key details—and not much else. When you explain the event to students, you might focus on fun. With families, you may highlight logistics. With the media, you want to focus on the newspeg and how the story or event fits into your school’s broader efforts. If you start by doing some of their work for them by framing the story, they’re more likely to do the rest.

There are three different types of formats you may use to convey this information:

A media alert is a brief statement of a particular event you hope for them to attend. The Fall Carnival will only happen at one particular time, so if they are going to cover it, they have to show up there and then. Your alert will tell them the when and where, and why it is important.

A media release is a longer piece intended to inform the media about a topic. It’s usually written like a story, but a pretty boring story. It’s usually a bit fact-laden and quote-heavy, as the writer is trying to hand off lots of details in the hopes that it will help the reporter write a story based on the topic.

press release

A submitted story is a done and ready-to-run piece (including images) that is sent to the outlet for use as-is. Assume that there will be some edits, and don’t fight for personalized credit for whoever took that picture or wrote this up. The bottom line is, it’s more like marketing than creative work product, so be happy to achieve the goal of getting it in print, even if you don’t have a byline. 

When promoting an event, use an alert. When something has already happened or there is a personality or program story you hope to have covered, use a release or submitted approach. Just know that submitted tactic is really only going to get into the paper as-is with a smaller news organization.

Instead of simply sending an email blast to all, take the time to add a personal message to a specific reporter or news decision-maker in your email, and then drop the rest of the ask below that. In the Who section, we thought about specific reporters and positions that might be a good fit. Start with them. 

Media reach-outs are important, but they are more successful when they are an integrated part of your larger communications plan for an event or campaign. For example, if it’s something you think the media should cover, it probably deserves a page on your school website—in school news or programs or events. If the event was covered by media last year, include a link to the story on that page. The outlet will appreciate it, and others will give the event a little extra newspeg instantly.

Of course, you should also be pushing out the link to that webpage on your social media accounts, getting some buzz in your school community and beyond. Seeing some engagement around the event or issue will also encourage media interest as well.

tell your school's stories

As far as the timing, a good communications plan will dictate when and how to use each element. Families need to know early if it will require something extra of them, like showing up in the evening or baking cookies. The media will need to know early, but not too early; a contact about a week or so out can help you get on the calendar, but you’ll also need to follow up 24–48 hours before an event. Also, know that sometimes you hear nothing, and then they show up.

If you have concerns or questions or want to follow up, don’t be afraid to just pick up the phone and call the news desk. The gatekeeper there can help steer you to the right people as well as help push your request along.

Will these steps guarantee that you lead the six o-clock news? Of course not. But adding some intentionality to how you approach the media will help you make inroads. Over time, you’ll start to see an improvement in media relations, and that is very good news for your school.

Check out Part 2 of managing the media!

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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Creating your School's Communication Plan
2019-10-22
images of people with arrows representing communications

Effective school communication is essential to your school’s reputation, community support, and student success. Without good communication, with all of your audiences, you build unnecessary stumbling blocks that will affect trust, engagement, and even enrollment.

What is a communication plan?

It is simply a roadmap you will use to get your message to the right audience at the right time by using the best channels. It is the process of creating a comprehensive plan that addresses the issues your school is facing and keeps your audience engaged in events and projects. 

Just as you would use a map or GPS to take a trip to an unfamiliar location, you should use a map to reach your communication goals as well. That is what a school communication plan can deliver, and it is well worth the effort. And yes, effort will be required.

Why schools need a communication plan 

There are many benefits to working through a school communication plan. Here are a few:

Benefit #1: Fulfills your school’s mission. A majority of schools have a mission statement or goals that they labored over, painstakingly developed, and recorded at some point. The whole idea behind a mission statement is to use it as your north star. It will keep you pointed in the right direction through every effort, and that includes your communication strategies. If your projects, events, and programs don’t tie into your school’s mission statement, you risk diluting your school’s brand, and your school mission will become meaningless—or worse, a lie.

Benefit #2: Clarifies and unifies your purposes. Your communication plan, like the map we mentioned earlier, will get you from where you are to where you would like to be. You will accomplish your goals, keep your promises, and fulfill your school’s potential (and your students’ potential). The tactics you apply, while different for each issue, will get you to your desired destination, just as each correct turn in the road will keep you from becoming hopelessly lost.

Benefit #3: Efficient use of resources. By using your staff’s time and financial resources wisely, not duplicating efforts but repurposing content, you will avoid wasteful and ineffective efforts. And, by aligning your staff with your communication goals (which you’ve tied to your school’s mission), you have everyone pulling in the same direction with consistent messaging and unity that will help you achieve your goals more quickly.

Benefit #4: Measuring your success. Once you have identified your audience’s needs, how to reach them where they are, you can begin to measure the success of your plan. You will be able to stop wasting time on ineffective efforts and put your focus on what works. However, you must have a planned outcome to determine your success, and a communications plan helps you keep that laser focus on your destination.

benefits of blogging

What’s stopping you (common roadblocks)

There are a few common pitfalls you will want to avoid that can derail your communication projects, so watch out for these:

Challenge #1: Unclear goal or vision. If your goal is vague and not clearly defined, or if those involved don’t understand why this is important now and what its impact is on them, it may fail. Be sure that staff and others involved with your plan recognize its value and timeliness. Keep them updated on your progress, and share any successes along the way. Keep them motivated and enthused, and you’ll find helpers and not hindrances.

Challenge #2: Poorly structured plan. Don’t wing it. Clearly define your purpose and why it matters. Be sure everyone understands the “why behind the what” so they can recognize the value and benefits for the projects. Outline the specific steps, timelines, responsibilities, and outcomes for each step of the plan. Don’t assume anything. Write it down and be sure those involved understand their roles.

Challenge #3: Failing to gather lessons learned. Be sure to take a step back after any project or issue to evaluate how you’ve done. What might you improve? What should you avoid in the future? Share these lessons with others, particularly administrators, to continue to strengthen your communication efforts.

Drafting your school communication plan

  1. Challenge or opportunity summary. (What are the issues you need to address?)

    This should be a high-level summary of the problem or opportunity you want to address. Be sure to also look at how this problem or opportunity ties in with your school’s mission statement. Keep it brief—only one or two sentences.

    Topics for a communication’s plan could be a specific issue or a full organization strategy. Examples of typical issues are marketing your school (enrollment decline, competition), school closures, back-to-school events, social media implementation, reputation enhancement or turnaround, increasing participation, parent engagement, override/levy, crisis in confidence/leadership, healing relationships/leaders and associations or unions, crisis event management, or changing of focus on boundaries, grade levels, curriculums, or school types). 

  2. Research. To understand your situation, really understand it, you need to look at the issue from your audience’s perspective. That means you need to do a bit of research (both informal and formal) to see what their current opinion actually is.

    Methods include survey, forum, advisory panels/committees, question/complaint tracking, website analytics, parent interviews, exit interviews and enrollment interviews, case studies (other schools that have experienced a similar issue, check out your state School PR association).

    If you need to save money, be creative with your research gathering and take steps to make your plan more effective.  Both formal and informal research is beneficial.

  3. Situation analysis. Using a few brief statements, describe what you know of the situation and why there is a need for the communication project. Include any information you know about target audience needs and preferences based on your research.

  4. Communication Goals/Objectives. Include the who, what, when, and how for your communications plan. A general plan will require broad goals, but a topic/issue-specific plan will be more targeted. Four parts to a good objective will include the audience, the behavior or action you expect from them, how you will measure the outcomes, and the timeframe for the goal/objective.

  5. Audience and messaging. Who to include (your audience)? Determine who is most affected by your topic (an individual issue or an overall communications plan). Be sure to focus on those most immediately impacted. But don’t forget employees, as they are often the most trusted resource for information and have huge influence with parents (they are opinion leaders, as are folks like school secretaries, board members, etc.)

    What is it you want your audience to know or understand? What do you want them to come away knowing? Watch your word choice, and then use the perspective of your target audience regarding language, tone, word choice, etc.

  6. Channels. What channels will you use to get your message out? What method of communication will you use, and with what frequency? How can you repurpose the content you will develop across a variety of channels to save time and money? Some of these channels include school websites, social media, local media, parent notification platforms, social media ads, flyers, downloadable content, school calendars, signage, press releases, parent meetings, governing board meetings, emails, newsletters, texts, staff meetings, etc. 

  7. Responsibility. Who is responsible for the various tasks? These tasks might include content development, social media posting, graphic design, etc. Include deadlines for when tasks are due. 

  8. Evaluation. How did your efforts perform? Did you move toward your goal? What worked well and what didn’t provide results? How are you going to measure the success or failure of your communication efforts?
action plan and success

Now, give it a try

As you can see, these steps are just logical progress toward creating and implementing a simple communication strategy. These steps aren’t necessarily quick, and the whole process will take time, consistency, and planning. You will follow these steps in this communications plan for each unique project or goal you want to achieve. 

While there are more complex templates and detailed steps for each step in a communication plan, your first effort will benefit you most by keeping your format simple. In summary, it can be as simple as:

  1. Summary Statement
  2. Research
  3. Situation Analysis
  4. Goals (high level)
    • Target audience (stakeholder)
    • Desired audience behavior
    • Timelines (dates/times)
    • How you will measure outcomes
  5. Audience messaging (detailed)
  6. Channels (method of communication)
  7. Responsibilities/assignments
  8. Evaluation (at project end)

For event or issue communication plans, consider using a simple spreadsheet, and then calendar deadlines into your calendar (and the calendars of anyone else assisting you with your project) so you don’t miss your targets or deadlines.

For a more detailed format, you can download a sample of the Communications Plan we use here at School Webmasters for our schools and edit it for your own needs. This one works well for those district-wide communication plans with more than one objective.

To learn more about how the various aspects of school communication factors into effective outcomes, check out our article on 7 strategies for effective school communications.

For some tips handling crisis communication, read When tragedy strikes at your school and School crisis management: how prepared is your school for some tips.

489074
School Website + PTO = Fundraising Success!
2019-10-08
Football fans

While budgets, schedules, and meetings take up a lot of school administrators’ time, it’s worth noting that there is an untapped resource in your school community that is ready and willing to support your school in helping to face and even overcome its challenges: your students’ support network at home—their fans.

It’s fall and that means it’s football season! Football fans are often called the “twelfth man.” The nickname alludes to the fans’ support as a contributing factor to a team’s success. In unique circumstances, fans could even be called from the stands to fill in for the team when needed, as was the case of now legendary E. King Gill at a 1921 Texas A&M football game. Fans support their teams, and win or lose, it’s a good combination. The game simply wouldn’t be the same without the fans. 

Your school community is full of fans—they are your 12th man. They are found in the homes of each student, in the cars in the pickup line, and behind the permission signatures. Parents, guardians, grandparents, and other extended family members encourage and support students day after day. Whoever they are—and despite their varying perspectives and personalities, this one thing they share—they want their students to succeed. 

So, how do you reach them?

Effective communication is essential to encourage a cooperative community. Your school’s website is one of the best ways to keep parents and your community informed and empowered. 

In this blog, we’ll share some reasons why we think you should consider giving your local parent organization (PTO, PTA, or PTSA) a permanent place on your school website. 

school fans

Open Up Your Huddle With a PTO Page

Your school website’s PTO page can effectively reach out to parents and families. Hopefully, you’re already connecting with your students’ families via your school website. Having a PTO page helps facilitate conversations, opening your huddle and basically saying, “Hey, here is the need, this is how we hope to satisfy the need,” and most importantly, “let's do this together, for the students.”

Points to ponder: 

  • Advantages of online fundraising
  • Safer than students walking door to door
  • More accessible—donations accepted 24/7 online 
  • Less costly 
  • Eco-friendly (less paper, less traveling)
  • Reaches beyond the neighborhood to families and friends far away

  • Effective ways for schools to raise funds 
  • Online donations 
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Content marketing
  • Effective branding
  • Fundraising metrics—progress bar, leaderboard, or scratch card
    • funds raised (show goal and actual)
    • impact raised (i.e., how much $50 can do)
  • Calls to action
  • Social media marketing

  • School fundraising events and ideas
  • Restaurant Night: Arrange with a restaurant to donate a portion of the earnings for one evening, and encourage students and their families and friends to eat at the restaurant that evening.
  • Read-a-thon: Family members and friends pledge donations based on how much the students commit to read.
  • Walk-a-thon: Family members and friends pledge donations based on how much the students commit to walk.
  • Pizza Lunch: Coordinate a lunch where a few volunteers bring hot pizza to the school lunchroom. Let the students know in advance so they can plan to purchase pizza for lunch.
  • Dress Down Day or Hat Day: Schools with a uniform policy invite students to dress casual one day every month for a small donation to the PTO. Non-uniform schools invite students to make donations for the privilege to wear a hat. 
  • 50/50 raffle: Half the pot goes to the winner, and the rest goes to PTO.
  • Grade vs. Grade: Host a week-long event, a run or a walk between the grades or classes, and challenge them to raise more funds than each other for bragging rights at the school.
  • School Art Show: With the purchase of an admission ticket, offer a hosted display of your students’ artwork or charge for refreshments.
  • Bake Sale: The school community, parents, and students bake and sell goods to sell at the school or a local market.
  • Silent Auction: Parents help secure donations from local vendors and businesses to create gift baskets for silent bidding.
  • Box Tops are always a good option and available online now.  
cupcake in bakesale

If you have made space for a PTO page on your school website already and are wondering what your next step could be, we’ll let you in on some ways you can reach out to your 12th man through your school website. You’ll also see how some schools have connected with the community by engaging and encouraging cooperation among families in the school community.

  • Your school image is affected by your fundraising efforts. Be mindful not to burden your 12th man with sales pitch after sales pitch. Schools are not the only ones on tight budgets. Remember that the kinds of fundraisers your school chooses and the way they are run affects your school’s marketing efforts and reputation. Less is more in this case. Select fewer, more profitable school fundraisers.

    Consider your past fundraisers. How successful were they? Has your school done the same thing for years? Is it time to take a new approach or stick with what you’ve been doing? It wouldn’t hurt to survey your parents to ask if it’s time for a change.

  • Effectively using your school website as a fundraising tool has its perks. At School Webmasters, we understand schools need fundraisers to bridge budgetary gaps and cover basic needs such as technology, supplies, enrichment, after-school activities, and more. But parents may not understand the need for fundraisers. Use your PTO page on your school website to share the vision of your school’s fundraisers. Make it easy and even engaging for your 12th man to show their support across the board.

    It’s always a good idea to communicate the reason for the fundraiser as well as exactly how you will use the funds. When families understand about the money being collected, they are more likely to open their hearts and their wallets.

    When you have a fundraiser, make it easy to donate or purchase by letting parents, teachers, and community members pay online! 

  • Getting help with your fundraiser. When fundraising, it’s important to plan in advance and get started early, building a solid group with solid team players of three personalities: 

  • The Boss: someone who will monitor fundraising milestones, be in charge of deadlines, and keep the team and your school community in line with the schedule

  • The Marketer: someone who can connect and communicate via face-to-face apps as well as eblasts and other communications 

  • The Accountant: someone who can count and keep track of money movement

  • Make a connection. Monday through Friday, students and faculty leave their varying support networks at home to spend the days at school. While there, noteworthy, inspiring stories unfold within the classrooms and hallways. As many of the students and faculty and their families in your school community regularly face challenges, big and small, school successes can be of paramount importance in their everyday lives.

    When your school community experiences the support of the PTO and feels an emotional connection to the work it does, they’ll be more likely to get involved and become your 12th man. It takes time and effort to communicate effectively, but connecting with the community by engaging and encouraging your school community is well worth the effort.

Here are some examples of schools that are taking advantage of a PTO webpage on their school’s website.

  • Capitan Municipal schools in New Mexico has an informative PTA page. We like how the school’s PTA succinctly shares the big picture for the school year in a variety of ways. First, the website includes easy contact information for the PTA board. Second, it explains what the PTA does and doesn’t do. And third, it lists the school programs and events that are sponsored and/or supported by the PTA. From just one page, the school community gets information and perspective.

    The PTA at Capitan Municipal schools sponsors events connected to the school for the students, staff, and families. Some of the activities listed on the website include: Bring Dad to School Day, Mom’s Breakfast, Boo Hoo Breakfast, Staff Appreciation Events, Book Fairs, Speech Contests, Food Drives, and Angel Trees. The PTA also supports school events such as the Veteran’s Assembly and Reception, Math and Science Nights, Field Trips, and Positive Behavior Program.

    One way the school could continue to make the most of their PTA page is to list the dates of the events. And, once an event is over, sharing a story about the event and it’s success would be a wonderful way to report on the fundraiser.

  • Harrison High School in Georgia is another good example. Their PTSA website is easy to navigate. Their PTSA makes donating easy and entertaining. Donors are entered into drawings to win various prizes such as Atlanta Braves tickets and more. Also, the web page keeps an archive of Eblasts. Harrison PTSA is certainly seeking to reach out with purpose, check out this flyer

Need More Ideas?

Our best piece of fundraising advice is to set goals, establish realistic expectations, involve the students, and express gratitude for those who help in various ways. If you’re still struggling to decide what to do, use our free Marketing Your School survey template to reach out and get some solid ideas. 

You’re also welcome to check out our Pinterest board for Fundraising Tips and Ideas.

Don’t Have a PTO Page Yet? 

School Webmasters can help. When we design a school website, we provide them with current and relevant information. We specialize in helping you create effective communication strategies to engage your school community. Whether your school has a PTO, rural school association, education organization, sports team, church, PAC, BOCES or educational service center, we can take your school to the next level with a mobile-friendly, responsive school website. 

How We Do It

At School Webmasters, our professional copywriters work with template or custom website designs and then keep these websites current and updated for our clients year after year. No matter what type of school website you are looking for, we’ve got you covered, either with a customizable or a fully custom website design.

We can also help you create your own online spirit store so you can sell school items from your website (t-shirts, mugs, and more)—and you keep the proceeds!

fundraising map

Online Fundraising Is the Way to Go

Many tools are at your disposal to market your fundraiser. Don’t forget your website! Use your school’s website to create a buzz about your fundraisers. Keep your families up to date with all the latest news including event dates, goals, progress, and results. Use graphics on your website to illustrate how much you have currently raised and how far you still have to go. Remember, fundraisers work better when donors understand where their money is going.

Let’s be real. I tear up every time I watch “Rudy.” Somewhere towards the end of the movie, I lose it, partly from the music, but mostly when considering the story I’m watching really happened. About when the leaves on the trees go from varied greens to red, yellow, and orange, we snuggle in for a movie about an underdog transfer student at Notre Dame who dreams of making the football team. Watching Sean Astin play the role of Rudy, I can’t help but feel like I’m in the stands, one of the team’s 12th men, cheering him on. The story of Rudy Ruettiger moves me every time. 

Teamwork makes the dream work. Keep families informed and provide opportunities and reasons to be involved. 

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Instructional Videos—Good for Your Students; Good for Your School Marketing
2019-10-01
Instructional video as VHS

I couldn’t completely grasp my grandmother’s knitting rhythm, but I enjoyed the result: a warm, colorful blanket. I tried to learn how to knit and crochet a few times. My early attempts ended in frustration. Decades later, I finally learned; to the chagrin of my nostalgic side however, I didn’t learn it from her. I learned from an instructional video on YouTube.

As hard as it may be to admit, there are instances in life when the recorded you might just be better than the real you. Thanks to YouTube and other video-sharing apps, an experienced mechanic makes a short video in which he demonstrates a car repair. A dog trainer shares a video where she talks about tips with pet owners. Willing magicians share their tricks. Seasoned educators explain key concepts and skills, and students can watch them—over and over if needed.

These recorded moments are not limited by time and space. They can be viewed anytime, anywhere. And they are. Video sharing sites such as YouTube are high-traffic websites. YouTube is easily considered the second most visited and most popular site in the world.

grandma knitting

In a previous blog, we listed videos as a worthwhile feature of teacher websites. We also looked at how to create videos without breaking the bank

In this blog, we’ll look at the following four key benefits of using instructional videos to reach your students and their families and explain how they can translate to your school marketing:

  • Knowledge retention
  • Mastery
  • Accessibility
  • Evaluability

How Instructional Videos Benefit Your Students & Their Families 

As you use your school’s instructional videos, the bottom line is, you’re going to increase your public relations. Your students will learn better, and you’ll connect school-to-home learning, resulting in healthy connections and more effective parent engagement. 

Let’s look at the key benefits mentioned above. 

1. Videos promote knowledge retention.

female student thinking

Videos enhance knowledge retention via a microlearning approach, covering complicated material and skill application in an effective way. Videos provide students with unlimited access to instruction. Video instruction allows students to fill in gaps and better master concepts. 

From an educational standpoint, using videos in the school just makes sense.

For example, brief videos that demonstrate key concepts give your students a better chance to take in information at their own pace rather than become overwhelmed by the amount of information. The Cognitive Load Theory suggests the value of smaller doses of information sharing. The theory is based on accepted theories about our brains and the way we process and store information. 

Here are some interesting key points from this theory:

  • Human memory can be divided into long-term memory and working memory.
  • Information in long-term memory is stored in the form of schemas.
  • Learning outcomes can be affected when processing new information, resulting in “cognitive load” on working memory.
  • Cognitive Load Theory suggests that due to limited short-term memory, learning experiences ought to be designed to promote schema acquisition by reducing working memory “load.”
  • If teachers are aware of the means by which they teach, not just about what is being taught (content vs. procedural learning) the learning sequence (what is it, how it works, how to use it) and the nature of it (design thinking through definitions and knowledge versus domain-specific knowledge), they are more fit to recognize the less than optimal scenario for students who, according to the theory, are facing extra challenges in their brain. 

As Terry Heick from TeachThought puts it, “We want students to grapple with complexity, but that’s very different than defying neurology.” The goal is not just to share information but rather to encourage knowledge retention, committing concepts and applications to long-term memory.

2. Videos encourage mastery.

student raising her hand

When one of your students is absent, they miss the opportunity to see concepts and principles explained, demonstrated, and applied. Upon that student’s return to class, videos can pick up where worksheets leave off, helping to bridge the information gap the absence might create. Or, when the class as a whole tests poorly on certain key concepts, teachers can use videos to help students and their families better master subjects.

When teachers record brief instructional videos to explain and demonstrate an important concept, students can revisit information they missed due to an absence or when they didn’t entirely understand it on the first pass. 

Videos promote mastery, helping teachers teach. At the same time, videos help save your teachers’ valuable time in the long run. 

3. Videos offer accessibility. 

student working on homework late

Would I rather have learned to knit from my grandmother? Of course. Yet, the instructional video had a lot of something my grandmother did not: time. When the season was right for me to learn, my grandmother was gone. As I began to master the skill, I could review the process anytime, anywhere—even on a long road trip in remote Alaska.

When using instructional videos in varied ways at your school, consider its impact today and tomorrow. Videos support your teachers’ efforts today and beyond. 

Using videos as part of a teacher’s “re-teaching” plan can save the teacher time and energy, especially if making instructional videos at your school is a team effort. The gift of knowledge is available time and time again, and the gap to understanding concepts can be more effectively overcome.

4. Videos offer opportunities to evaluate.

teacher teaching

When educators at your school use videos to capture, demonstrate, and share instruction, it creates an opportunity for self-check and self-mastery. How successfully does the teacher teach the topic? How effectively does he/she demonstrate and apply key concepts? And as videos allow educators to decide what to share and how to share it, we discover another valuable result: improved teaching. 

Maybe someday my grandchildren will watch my old hands move rhythmically as I knit or crochet. They may choose to sit beside me to try to figure out the movements and duplicate them on their own. If they get frustrated, I wonder if someone will be able to direct them to my YouTube channel. Then maybe they can say they learned, even if years later, from their grandmother instead of from a stranger. What will your students say? 

How Instructional Videos Benefit Your School Marketing Efforts 

According to Jim Leedy, Director of Business Development at School Webmasters, videos will soon be everywhere and will be the only content that will be consumed. “Content without videos is going to be ignored,” Jim says.

Videos are accessible from all devices such as computers, laptops, smartphones, etc. These days, there are plenty of authoring tools and learning management systems to use. 

Still not sure if instructive videos have a place on your school’s full plate? Consider how these videos will affect your school marketing and public relations efforts. In fact, we can look at the same benefits instructional videos have for your students and families and apply them to your school marketing and public relations.

  • Knowledge Retention
    According to Forbes.com, the three most effective types of video content are 

  • Customer testimonials (51%)
  • Tutorial videos (50%)
  • Demonstration videos (49%)

  • When your school incorporates a tool, like instructional videos, which increases knowledge retention for its students, understanding increases and test scores improve. Grades improve. Students succeed. Student success is not only good for strengthening your school’s reputation, it also strengthens your school band and improves your ability to market the success of your curriculum and programs. 

  • Mastery
    As your school fosters mastery by allowing for individual students to better understand key concepts and principles, they overcome challenges created by absences or misunderstanding. A 2018 study showed video outranks printed books when it comes to student learning. One student said, “When I'm doing my homework, I'll look up how to solve a problem on YouTube.I like it because it's really easy to follow. I can pause it, or I can rewind it if I have a question.”

    Does your school mission, vision, or values attest to valuing the success of every student? What better way to show this dedication than by implementing practices that enable student success? Again, this strengthens both your school branding and your home-school relationships. 

  • Accessibility
    When your school offers information in an attractive, desirable, and maybe even fun format such as instructional videos, your students’ families are more informed. Families who are informed are more able to support their students and their education. When families can offer informed support at home, students succeed.

    And consider the possible reach of these videos. If students searching for videos to help them with their homework find teachers from your school offering assistance, your school brand recognition is strengthened. If you’re a public school trying to compete with local charter and private schools, demonstrating the caliber of your teachers through instructional videos is a great way to market your school.

  • Evaluability
    When schools take time to create instructional videos, they open the school doors wide for their school community to get a glimpse of the heart that drives their school. Schools who share, connect. When schools connect with their school community, support is built. When support increases, success follows. School community successes are good for your school public relations.

From a school marketing standpoint, using videos just makes sense.

Not Sure Where to Start?

First, you’ll need to choose some topics. We recommend asking teachers and staff at your school what they wish the school community understood more fully. From there, ask your students and parents where they need the most help. You’ll have a quality list of topics in no time! 

Next, you’ll need to film and edit those instructional videos. There’s no need to invest in expensive equipment or software. Simple instructional videos can be filmed with a smartphone or webcam and edited with iMovies or Windows movie maker. 

Finally, your videos will need an online home. Here at School Webmasters, we are using, Vimeo to embed all of our school videos. It is in HTML5, so it’s responsive in the page and it doesn't have any ads. There are schools who opt for using Youtube, which works fine and has the convenient feature of adding the necessary closed captioning to keep your videos ADA compliant. Another option is SchoolTube, which has some nice features and doesn't add any other content that you don't want to show. So those schools who block YouTube because of the inappropriate content it delivers, which you cannot filter out, consider SchoolTube. They are adding new features all the time and we're very impressed with what they now have to offer, so check them out!

If your school does choose to go with YouTube, we recommend adjusting your settings so the video does not autoplay on your school website. That’s not ADA compliant, and website visitors don’t appreciate it, especially if it’s not clear where the sound is coming from when they first land on your page. 

Would your school community collectively benefit from sharing what is great about your school right now? Capturing the spirit and soul of your school community is at the heart of telling your school’s story on a regular basis. Instructive videos could assist your school in its quest to connect your teachers to students and their families and strengthen your school PR and marketing.

496231
Consider Hiring a Professional School Communications Coordinator
2019-09-24
Image of happy communications professional using cell phone

With so many communication avenues at our disposal, this is a miraculous time to be a school leader. With a phone, a laptop, an email, or a social media post, we can tell our school’s stories—with pictures! Parents, students, teachers, and staff can add their photos to our stories or tell their own school’s stories via Twitter, Instagram, Google Classroom, the PTA newsletter, or an email. 

At the same time, with all these school communication avenues, there are pitfalls. The 24-hour news cycle, round-the-clock events, and unforeseen circumstances that need our immediate attention mean we sometimes rush the story out before we have fully considered what we are communicating. 

  • Or, we might put a lot of time into a message that is never read. 
  • Or, we might get caught up communicating with the same ten parents—those we see on a weekly basis—and we forget about the other 5000 parents in our community. 
  • Or, our “crowd-sourced” content might have spelling or grammar mistakes, which are never acceptable from a school. 
  • Or, we start out with a communications plan (“I’m going to do a weekly newsletter!”) but then get caught up with the daily events of the school and let months go by without any communication. 

You get the idea—strategic school communication is difficult. 

That's why hiring a communications professional might be an economical investment for a school district. This might seem like a shameless attempt at job security because I work for School Webmasters—a small business in Arizona that helps schools with communications and marketing by designing websites, helping with ADA compliance, and assisting with public relations—but schools all over the nation are starting to recognize the importance of school communications. 

I live in a town in Connecticut and help School Webmasters with the communications for the school district I live in. I report to my district’s assistant superintendent and with my contact in Arizona regularly. I’m also in regular touch with the nine principals in our district as I try to keep parents and staff informed of all the exciting stories from our schools. 

So what makes a dedicated school communications coordinator worth the investment? Because I work primarily from home, I have the luxury of uninterrupted time to write and think. I go to meetings about once a month, compared to the back-to-back meetings that school leaders go to. My phone never rings with the day-to-day challenges school leaders face such as a parent whose child has been acting out, a teacher who has to go on emergency bedrest, a bus that is broken down and will be late to pick up the students, an unexpected snow squall at dismissal, etc. 

In short, I just have more mental space to think about the message that the district and school want to communicate. My background in journalism means I can make the weekly newsletter deadline every week. At the same time, the school district benefits from School Webmasters’ vast knowledge. The company understands ADA compliance, has social media expertise, and employs website quality control experts who monitor the district’s complicated information on a consistent basis to help keep links current. And, School Webmasters is affordable.  

Image of various communications strategies

Whether or not you choose to hire a professional to help with communication, please consider the following advice when it comes to your school communications. 

  1. Get everything proofread. No spelling mistakes ever. I consider myself to be a good speller and grammarian, an English major with a long career in public relations and journalism. Still, I have been mortified to see a text where I wrote, “I here we’re seeing you later.” My daughter’s fifth-grade homeroom teacher sent a welcome letter and every sentence started with “I will be…” While this is not technically wrong, a quick look or a second set of eyes would have probably prevented the gaffe. Proofreading also helps to catch wrong dates and incorrect information as well as help you clean up your final draft. Don’t think of this step as adding time to your already busy schedule; think if it as good school public relations. Mistakes have the potential to erode trust and confidence in your school district, which takes endless time to fix. 
  2. Attribute appropriately. Whether you’re writing about a recent board of education meeting or a school tragedy, please don’t plagiarize. There are many sources available that can make school communications easier. However, I recommend exercising caution when using open-source material. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel every time you send out a letter. It does mean putting things down in your own words or giving credit to your source. For example, if you find communication from another school district that encapsulates your feelings better than you can, try something like: “Finding the right words to express how devastating this event is, is challenging. My colleague Wilma Shakespeare at Blank High School said it best when she wrote, …” It’s okay to borrow, but it’s not okay not to acknowledge it. 
  3. Check media opt-outs. My first day as the communications coordinator, I took the district’s video camera to film an eighth-grade off-site arts and science program. I enjoyed filming the kids working together and was thrilled when I caught on camera a girl in a hoodie saying, “This is so great! I love this project!” When I was ready to assemble the video, I checked the media-opt outs for the class and had to delete almost all the footage I had taken that day. The girl-in-the-hoodie’s parents didn’t want her to be filmed. For school communications, this tip is huge—check media opt-outs first! Teachers should know which students can’t be photographed in their class, and they can point them out to you. 
  4. Utilize all your sources. One of the most time-consuming parts of my job is coordinating. I’m reaching out to principals and art teachers on a weekly basis. From there, I’m communicating with school librarians, classroom teachers, and probably my most important resource, school secretaries. I’m scrolling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for district news items. Also, I’m in the central office regularly, so I hear district priorities being ironed out and articulated sometimes more clearly than the individual school leaders in the district. Your school is rich with source information—utilize it!
  5. Show the whole picture. It’s important to show the variety of programs and activities your school has to offer. Sure, everyone in the community is excited if the girls soccer team is the state champion. However, If you just focus on one thing—like athletics—you’re not showing the whole picture. Our school’s newsletter has a weekly art gallery, book recommendations, and math updates. I realized recently that we hadn’t done a lot with science and discovered that the annual Physics Cardboard Boat Race was happening that week at our local pool. It ended up being a great newsletter with pictures of our students working together to solve engineering problems and having a blast doing so! 
  6. Establish good relationships with the local press. Even in this day of social media, traditional media relations are still very important to school communications. Many community members, including seniors, still rely on the newspaper to get their news. That’s why it’s so important to have the local school beat reporter’s email on file to tell the good stories happening at the school and also to help in emergencies. 
  7. Manage all your channels. It’s great to tweet the latest victory at your school’s Invention Convention, but don’t neglect your school’s website in favor of social media. Keep communications flowing to the right places throughout the school year. This tip is especially difficult to manage on your own—but you don’t have to

Clearly, there is much to think about when considering effective good school communications—consistency, quality, and authority. I return to my original recommendation: Consider hiring a professional. Our district is committed to being ADA compliant and to getting our website up-to-date. It’s the law, and it’s also the right thing to do. However, it’s not easy. We have been working with School Webmasters to make steps toward ADA compliance. Having experts who have done this before and are up-to-date is helping us tackle a daunting proposition. If you do want more information about what School Webmasters can do for your school communications, reach out to owner Bonnie Leedy

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