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6 Risky School Communication Tips
2019-04-16
Name tag with the words Risk Taker on it

In the previous blog, we talked about taking risks to bring about significant change at your schools. We looked at some famous academic risk-takes and discovered they could all garner the buy-in of their key audiences. In order to succeed with risk, you need to be able to gain the support of your key audiences. That is why school public relations is such a big deal in this day and age. 

Here are six tips for building strong school public relations. We’re going to help you get out of your comfort zone and look at some school communication risks that can vastly improve your school’s public relations.

Sometimes we maintain the status quo to our own detriment
  1. Let go of the old way of doing things. It’s a fact that people have a hard time letting go of the way they’ve always done things. Believe me, I know—up until recently I was using my 5th generation iPod classic from 2005. Technology has changed a lot since 2005, yet here I was clinging to the past because I was comfortable with it. I’m not usually a laggard when it comes to technology, but I was wary to learn a new music storing system.

    What changed my mind? The benefits finally outweighed the risks. I wanted to access my music from wherever I was—my computer at work, my tablet, my smartphone. So I finally made the switch to Google Play. Having my music stored in the cloud is making things so much easier for me; I am kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Was there a learning curve? Yes. Did it take some time investment to make the switch? Yes. Was it worth it? Unequivocally, YES!

    Sometimes we maintain the status quo to our own detriment. Let me share an example from one of our schools. The school brought in an interim principal who was unfamiliar with the School Webmasters’ system of updating websites. Instead of learning how simple it is to send updates and let us place news and events on the school website, she created a satellite website to post school news and events. 

    Despite her excellent intentions to keep parents informed about school events, in reality, she made things more difficult for parents who have to learn where to access information about the school. While her satellite site stays up to date, the school website is neglected. The calendar is blank; the news page is empty. A visitor to that site, for example a parent thinking of enrolling their student, would think nothing goes on there. And what happens when she leaves? A new principal comes in with a new way of doing things, and parents have to relearn where to find information. It’s not fair to parents, and it’s not fair to the rest of the school staff.

    In my masters’ program, we studied a lot of mass communication and behavioral theories. One of my favorites is the Diffusion of Innovations theory. One piece of this theory is the rate at which new innovations (methods, ideas, products, technologies, etc.) are adopted. As you can see in the chart below, it starts slowly with the innovator group—these people are fearless in their ability and motivation to try something new. Then we have the early adopters followed by the early majority. Once an innovation is “tried and true,” we have the late majority. And finally the laggards—those highly averse to change who end up being late to the party (like me finally storing my music in the cloud).

    Our schools are often lagging behind the curve to new and better innovations. Great leaders are up there with the early adopters and early majority. And that comes by being able to let go of the old way of doing things. Especially when it comes to school communications, you must be willing to adjust to new and better tools.

    We said it before—times have changed. You must be the discoverer of new paths. Remember what we said about risk aversion? If the imagined risks outweigh the perceived benefits, we won’t take action. In cases like this, remind yourself that the benefit outweighs the risk, and be willing to look at new systems.
     
  2. Conduct parent surveys. Speaking of new systems, one big mistake schools make is assuming their current communication channels are working. Simon Hepburn, a school marketing consultant, wrote an article titled, “The end of email? Parents are moving on, and schools need to follow…,” in which he asserts that parents no longer want email communications from schools. He suggests asking parents for their preferred method of communication. The easiest way to do this is through surveys and forums, but you can also just talk to parents as they drop off and pick up their students.

    Where are parents getting their news? Where do they want to see and hear about things going on at school? What can you do to help simplify their lives and encourage their participation in activities? Don’t just communicate more—communicate smarter!  

  3. Adopt a policy of transparency. When it comes to school communications, sometimes we think if we don’t mention it, people won’t notice it. Trust us; they will. And if you haven’t communicated, they’ll think you’re trying to hide something. Open, transparent communication is the best policy.

    Some administrators try to avoid sharing too much, especially in communities where every little thing tends to create a firestorm amongst community members—if that’s your community, the key is to learn what to share. Does it concern the school community? Will you lose the community’s trust if you don’t communicate? If the answer is “yes,” you must communicate.

    Consider the potential impact of staying quiet. The media gravitates to the negative—and a villain makes for a good story. Make sure you’re getting your side out there. And, if your district makes a habit of sharing good, positive stories with the media, then you have a foundation of trust and goodwill.

    Transparency doesn’t mean there won’t be firestorms. In fact, as part of a transparent policy, you must learn to deal with firestorms in positive, productive ways. It’s okay to say that you don’t have all the information at the time. It’s okay to say that information may change in the future. Provide facts and communicate with empathy and concern for your school community.

    Transparency can be scary; it can be uncomfortable. The point is to keep communication open.
     
  4. Tell Your Personal Stories! Not everyone wants to be personal. And some people will say that it’s better to talk about school policies than share stories. For example, one school district has an incredible special services team. The reason one of these leaders is so passionate about special education is due to personal experience with his own family. When he talks about his sister, you can tell that his heart and soul is in the work he does. Hearing his story helps you care more about the work he does. Unfortunately, rather than talk about personal experience, their team focuses on the mission and vision of the work. While that’s all well and good, without a story to make it meaningful to the public, the mission and vision of the work get lost in a lot of impersonal jargon.

    It’s not easy to get out of your comfort zone and start sharing real stories. You’ll most likely have some questions or reservations. For instance, maybe you’re concerned about privacy issues. But while you do need to be considerate about privacy issues, with the right permissions, sharing personal stories isn’t that much of a risk. Here’s an example from a boarding school in Australia that doesn’t shy away from sharing personal stories. While the school could communicate about how their school is a great place to board your student, Jack’s story is much more personal, memorable, and convincing.
  1. Branch out. Based on your parent surveys and audience research, offer a variety of school communication channels. In addition to parent surveys, another way to determine what channels work best is to measure the way your school community reaches your content. Some tools, like Google or Facebook Analytics, are helpful with this type of tracking. Put your time and effort into channels that are engaging the most number of people. 

  2. Try it out! Once you’ve identified new communication channels, set up a pilot scheme and test it out to see if it works before replacing your existing tool with a new one. This is a step that causes some risk-taking aversion, especially if parents are asking you to use a communication tool you’re not familiar with. One of the biggest popular school communication tools right now is Instagram. If you and the rest of your staff are not Instagram-savvy, getting started might be uncomfortable.
Let's Do This!

All in all, we aren’t suggesting taking huge risks—just simple, out-of-the-norm ways you can improve your communications and school public relations. But if what we’ve suggested makes you uncomfortable, then we highly suggest you get some professional help. No, not therapy. We mean you don’t need to be the one who does it all yourself! There are people out there willing and ready to help you. At School Webmasters, we aim to be your communication partner. We started with school websites and realized there are many more communication channels schools need help managing. That’s why we offer social media management and school public relations and marketing services. We can help you implement everything we’ve suggested in this blog. 

Is It Worth It? 

One major risk-taking hold-up is the delicate task administrators have of balancing the needs of many stakeholders. Parents, in particular, are a concerned audience.  

Remember, if the imagined risks don’t outweigh the perceived benefits, then we’re not willing to make changes. So, do risk-taking administrators appeal to parents?

I would say, yes. Here’s why.

Parents appreciate school administrators who are willing to do something new.

As a parent, I appreciate it when I see the key players in my child’s education trying new things or taking a new adjusted approach—in other words, taking risks. It’s refreshing. 

Here’s one example. One Monday morning I was heading into the office at my child’s school when I caught the latter end of the morning announcements. The school had made changes to its vision statement, and a sixth-grade student was reciting the new version over the loudspeaker. Subsequently, the principal briefly explained a few details about the collaborative effort to make the changes. This is the same principal who has a reputation for subjecting himself to various forms of “humiliation” throughout the year, such as going into the dunk tank every spring for students who worked hard reading at home throughout the school year. As a parent, I not only noticed the change in wording, I felt excited! The changes were small, specific adjustments, yet to me, these represented extra time and effort on the part of the school to adapt to an ever-changing world with a constant aim at helping students at their school strive for success. 

The administration took a risk to make adjustments. Students at the school recite the vision statement each day and know it by heart. Through the years of hearing my children recite it at home on quite random whims (Memorization works, I guess!), even I recognized the changes. The vision statement now includes specific and adjusted wording in which the school community will continue to seek for the success of each student, and as a parent, I tell you, I love it. 

 Cartoon: We want someone who is willing to take risks

Parents appreciate school administrators who willingly share and gather information.

School communication is made up of gathered and shared information. It will look different from school to school. Successful means of communicating with your school community is at the heart of your school marketing and public relations. 

With this in mind, consider how you share information with your school community. You greet visitors in the front office, schedule meetings, spend time one on one, make phone calls, send voicemails, craft newsletters, write emails, etc. How is your personal approach towards others within your school community? Are you doing things the way you’ve always done, regardless of the changing times and improvements in technology? Do you know if your approach as an administrator to communication is what your community prefers? 

Parents appreciate school administrators who adapt their means of communication. 

It’s not easy to try something new, especially if the way you’ve been doing something is the way “it’s always been done.” It’s a risk to campaign for change. But when it comes to your school communications, you need to be willing to adapt to the times and technology. According to school marketing consultant, Simon Hepburn, it’s important to consider adapting the way schools reach out to students and their families.

Why would we avoid simple steps to improve our school’s public relations with parents? It’s risky to learn that your school communication is not as effective as it could be. And, of course, you’ll be obligated to make a change—and we already know change isn’t easy. But the benefits here outweigh those risks. Improving how your parents receive your communications according to their preferences will only make them happier. Happy parents translate into better engagement and more school support. So, make an evaluation and get started as soon as possible. If you need help, please we’re here for you.

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School Social Media: Are You Talking to an Empty Room?
2019-04-09
social media first 100 followers

We create a lot of school social media pages from scratch. Sometimes schools come to us with an existing social media presence, and we just help them update things like graphics and page settings to get those profiles up and running again. That’s always fun for us because when we start posting to the page, that existing audience usually responds with some great post engagement, as if to say, “Hey, there you are, old friend! We’ve been waiting to hear from you!” 

But what’s a school social media page manager to do with a brand new page? Settings just right? Check. Awesome cover and profile pictures that represent the school brand perfectly? Check. About Us sections that tell your story just the way you want it? Check. But, wait—no one seems to be around to see it! Everything looks perfect, except for that dreaded counter on your Facebook page reading “2 Likes.” And you know that’s just you and your co-page manager. So now what? 

Once your social pages are up and running, you’ll want to spend some time building an audience before devoting too much time to posting content. If you jump right into writing the perfect post, there’s a good chance no one will see it! There are a few ways to build your following on social media. Here are our favorites:

Use Your School Website

Remember, your school website and social pages should work hand-in-hand to help you meet your communication and marketing goals. You should use your website to drive traffic to your social pages and vice versa. You can start by checking off these items:

Use your website to drive traffic to your social pages and vice versa

  • Be sure to display your social media buttons prominently on your school website. Don’t bury them at the bottom of your page; place them in the banner at the top of every page so your site visitors can easily follow the link to your Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Embed your Twitter or Facebook feed on your website. Every time you post to your social profile, it will appear on your website, too!
  • Use your website’s News page to get the word out. As soon as you set up your social pages and are ready to start posting to them, add an engaging story to your website that tells site visitors how excited you are to connect with them and invites them to follow you there.

Share Your Social Page URL Wherever You Can

Each social platform allows you the opportunity to create a personalized URL for your school’s profile. This makes your location on the web easier to remember and share. For instance, our Facebook page is located at www.facebook.com/SchoolWebmasters. Seems obvious right? Well, it’s a lot easier to remember than the bunch of random numbers and letters Facebook will assign to your page if you don’t personalize your page’s address, that’s for sure! 

Share the web address and links to your social pages on school publications like newsletters and flyers. For print materials, you can also try something fun and convert those web addresses to QR Codes so would-be followers can scan the code from their smartphones and go straight to your page.

The QR code for our Facebook page looks like this:

example QR code

Yours will look slightly different. When a follower with a QR reader app on their smartphone scans it from a poster or flyer, they will be taken directly to your social page.

Follow Other Pages

When you first create a new social page, every platform will give you the option to follow other profiles. An important part of being visible in the world of social media is interacting with other relevant pages (like educational organizations, other schools, and local businesses) by following, liking, sharing, and commenting on their posts. You’re there to be social, so BE social!

There are some important reasons your school should be following other pages, including the following:

  • Building community broadens your reach when it comes to spreading your school’s brand.
  • Attracting reciprocal likes and follows to your own social page (I’ll follow you if you follow me!) also helps spread your brand and broaden your reach.
  • Building up your Home feed helps you stay more connected with how other organizations in your area are using social media.

Whom to Follow

When School Webmasters builds a social page for a school and hands it off to them to manage, we always get them started by following/liking at least 10 other profiles. If you’ve read this far, we know you’re really invested in making your school’s social media presence as effective as possible, so we’re going to share the inside scoop with you. We invite you to download a free list of some of our favorite educational organizations. Find them, follow/like them, and you’ll reap the rewards of some really great education-related content your whole community can use. Is your school having a slow news day and you’re at a loss for what to post? Just check your Home feed; if you follow our advice and follow these organizations, you’ll find some shareable content in no time.

[Download this FREE “Who to Follow” Guide by School Webmasters]

These organizations are great for general education content, but don’t ignore your local community when you’re building up your social media connections. Use the search bar in each platform to find local pages relevant to your school. Follow your local state education department, other elementary/high schools in the area, local universities, business/community partners, etc. Remember, in partnership with your school website, the goal of your social pages is to communicate with your current families, market to new ones, and build real-world relationships with your surrounding community in general.

Try Running a Social Media Campaign

Social media campaigns are a great way to both build your following and keep your existing followers actively engaged with your posts. A successful social media campaign requires you have at least some audience members (100 or so followers should do it), but you can also use your school website and other publications like newsletters and print materials to help promote your campaign if your number of page followers is still lacking after employing the methods above. 

For new social pages just trying to gain followers, your campaign should focus on offering some kind of prize in return for likes, follows, shares, etc. Your first social media campaign can be as simple as announcing a drawing for everyone who likes your page within a given time period (announce it from your social pages and your website). All you have to do is record the names of the people who follow you within the allotted time, put the names in a hat, and select a winner!

Here are a few other social media campaigns you can try to increase and engage your followers:

  • Student/Family Facebook Cover Photo: Invite families to take a creative picture that communicates how much they love your school. When they submit their photos, let it spend a week serving as your school’s cover photo.
  • Photo/Video Contest: Invite families to submit a photo or video of a favorite holiday tradition and choose a favorite to win. 
  • Like to Enter: Post a photo of your staff enjoying their winter break, and invite followers to like it over a certain period of time. Enter those names in a drawing, and offer a prize to the winner.
  • Share to Enter: Post a marketing video of your school, and invite followers to share it with their friends over a certain period of time, entering those who do into a raffle.

Teach Your Followers to “See First”

Once you’ve built up a healthy social media following, remember to take steps to help ensure your posts are actually showing up on your followers’ News feed. On Facebook, this means you should be teaching your followers to “See First.” Facebook’s newest algorithm favors posts from personal profiles over ones from business pages, which means your school posts may end up getting lost on your followers’ home feed, or worse, not at all. 

One of the signals Facebook will be looking for to determine where to place your page’s posts will be page engagement. This means you must focus on audience-centered content, which you should be doing on all your social media pages, but it’s especially important on Facebook. First, though, take advantage of what is probably the best work-around when it comes to dealing with the new algorithm governing your page’s ranking on your followers’ news feeds. Choosing to “See First” is almost like bookmarking your school page, as it puts each new post at the top of the news feed. 

Ridgefield Public Schools posted an invitation to their followers to use this feature along with a screenshot that shows them how. 

Facebook See First example

With your posts getting preferred treatment on your followers’ Facebook feeds, you can continue to stay in front of your audience by posting audience-centered, school-specific content that will generate likes, comments, and shares. The more people who see your posts, the more engagement you’ll have, and the more your audience will grow.

Keep the Audience You’ve Built

Once you’ve done the important work of building a social media audience, following best practices will help ensure you actually keep your followers, which is, of course, key. We’ve set up many school social pages only to help build an audience, hand them off, check on them a month later, and find that no one has been posting to them. 

You don’t want to build a beautiful social media presence only to find out you’re speaking to an empty room. Likewise, and maybe even more importantly, you don’t want to fill that room with people and then have nothing to tell them. 

Having outdated, inactive social pages might not be worse than not being there at all, but it’s a close second. Social media conversations are fast-paced; if you’re not making your voice heard at least once a day, your followers will forget you’re there. To avoid that, be sure to post, tweet, and pin often. To stay in the conversation, we recommend the following activity where the “big four” are concerned:

  • Facebook: Post at least 5 times per week (every school day)
  • Instagram: Share at least 1 photo per day
  • Twitter: Tweet at least 10 times per week (2 tweets/school day)
  • Pinterest: Add at least 10–15 pins per week

You see, social media for schools is about building and connecting with your community. Your audience will like or follow your pages because they want to know what’s going on in a more meaningful way than a newsletter or website article can communicate—they want to feel connected. 

Need Help?

Building your audience is one thing, but maintaining a connection with your social media followers through effective page management is another. Thankfully, we can help with that! From page management services where our social media professionals post to your school pages for you, to our one-of-a-kind online training for do-it-yourself school social media managers, Social4Schools Academy, School Webmasters is all about giving school personnel the tools they need to meet their online communication goals. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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The Path of the Hero: Becoming a Risk-Taking School Administrator
2019-04-02
Time to change

It’s not easy to be a risk-taker. After all, “risk” involves the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome may happen. But risk also includes the possibility of something wonderful or amazing happening. This is why, historically, risk-takers are in a tight spot. Others often perceive them as heroes or villains, mess-makers or problem-solvers, crazy or innovative. 

Most of us likely agree: it’s a lot safer to don the status quo outfit and leave the risk-taking cape to someone else. Psychologically, we are more averse to loss than we are motivated by gain. That means when we make a decision, we are more concerned with what we may lose than about gaining something great. This mindset keeps us from risk. In school settings, no one particularly wants to rock the boat, and those who do, often encounter push back.

There is risk when you want to try something new—when it’s not how things have always been done. There is risk when we undertake something outside our wheelhouse. It’s risky to try something your peers aren’t doing. We are particularly opposed to risk when we’re not sure how something is going to turn out, especially when we’re not sure of the potential benefits. 

But what if the benefits outweigh the imagined risk? What if what everyone else is doing is mediocre? Great leaders are the ones willing to do something different when the status quo isn’t good enough. 

A Few Well-Known Academic Risk-Takers

Think about your heroes, fictional and real, from the legendary Captain America to Nelson Mandela or Liv Arnesen. Perhaps you picture an inspirational teacher from the silver screen like Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society. Or, perhaps you see the real-life characters of Erin Gruwell or Melvin B. Tolson. Why do you admire or revere them? 

Protagonists in all stories face challenges in various and intimidating forms. Isn’t part of the reason we admire such characters their exemplary courage or willingness to take risks in one form or another? Here are a few academic risk-takers we admire:

Jaime Escalante: Mr. Escalante taught calculus at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles from 1974 to 1991. Although the school had a reputation for poorly performing students, Mr. Escalante offered to teach an AP Calculus class. The administration disapproved of his method of asking students to answer a homework question before they could enter the classroom, but Mr. Escalante held his ground. Because of his willingness to be a risk-taker, Mr. Escalante earned a reputation for taking hard-to-motivate students and turning them into success stories. (Read more about Jaime Escalante.)

If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. — von Goethe

It was a risk to take poorly performing students and require more than just a bare minimum from them. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” Mr. Escalante took this philosophy to heart and helped his students become more. We love Mr. Escalante’s courage to expect more from his students. 

Eric Sheninger: Mr. Sheninger was a principal at New Milford High School, spending his early days taking away cell phones from students. He recognized a need for change in the school’s leadership model and teaching practices to catch up with the digital age. His leadership oversaw the successful implementation of changes that “transformed the learning culture at his school” (source). Instead of taking cell phones away, they began to encourage digital technology use in the classrooms. Mr. Sheninger backed up these changes with communication strategies that won the support of the community. As a result of his willingness to be a risk-taker, the high school became “a globally recognized model for innovative practices,” and Mr. Sheninger went on to become an award-winning leader, best selling author, and speaker. (Watch Eric Sheninger’s TEDx talk from 2014).

Change is not something people typically embrace. For that reason, we tend to stick with the way things have always been done rather than push through resistance. We admire Mr. Sheninger’s courage to figuratively say, “This may not be easy, but it needs to be done.” Mr. Sheninger’s success in combating change resistance can be attributed to his innovative approach to using modern communications to engage families. 

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago: Dr. Santiago is the founder of LEAP Academies. She wanted to improve the education and opportunities available to poor children in urban communities. In one of the poorest and most violent cities in the US, her charter school has 100% graduation and 100% college acceptance rates. Who would have thought a charter school with extended school hours (7:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.) in a crime-ridden neighborhood would be so successful?  (Read more about Dr. Santiago). 

Dr. Santiago wanted to be “an agent of change” and was willing to face the risks to get results. LEAP Academies are successful because they promote “engaged scholarship … where the entire community, students, parents, and local organizations and businesses have a vested interest in student success.” It takes great communication and public relations skills to engage that many people in the success of underachieving students.

The Enemy of Achievement

One of my daughter’s teachers would include this quote by Farrah Gray at the end of each email: “Comfort is the enemy of achievement.” There is comfort in normalcy—in maintaining a status quo. While it’s nice to have something to depend on, getting out of our own comfort zone helps us see with new eyes and even helps us resolve long-standing struggles. 

As a school administrator, there are tasks and challenges you have grown accustomed to facing and most likely other tasks that loom in front of you, daring you to tackle them. Don’t get discouraged! 

Right arrow = future, left arrow = past

Times have changed; education has changed. We are in uncharted territory. There is no proven path—you must be the discoverer of it. 

Remember, challenges are risky, and they are an indicator that you are on the path of a risk-taking administrator. As you follow such a path, it’s important to communicate and to garner the support of your stakeholders. In doing so, you establish the trust of your community and the support to undertake new endeavors.  

Be a Risk-Taker

A friend once asked author Julie Berry (julieberrybooks.com), “Are we flat characters or round?” As a school administrator, what exemplifies you? Are you a two-dimensional character, unwilling to change throughout the course of your work? Or are you willing to undergo development and change? If you want to make heroic change, the idea of risk-taking needs space in your mind. 

Taking risks can be intimidating; however, without risk, there is little excitement. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not dare not to dare.” The price of risk should things go awry may convince some to not venture; however, you’re not in your career in education solely for your own success, are you? We believe you are there because you hope to make a difference in the lives of those with whom you work. Perhaps you hope to be a hero, a problem-solver, an innovator. Is it realistic for any of us to look towards success, big or small, without the image of sticking our necks out a bit? With your mantle of responsibility at your school, there are problems to solve, and we’re not talking about the ones in math class. In order to overcome these problems, big or small, some risks are bigger than others, but remember, risk is not a dirty word.

Ms. Frizz, one of my family’s favorite fictional teachers often says, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” At School Webmasters, we believe in the powerful potential we all have to make a positive difference in our community. As a school administrator willing to take risks, you appeal not only to students’ families but also to students, faculty, and staff. Finding innovative ways to connect with them strengthens your school public relations.

The Secret to Success

In all of our varieties, we have the potential to make a difference for good in the lives of those with whom we interact. How do you live? How do you lead? Mr. Escalante, Mr. Sheninger, and Dr. Santiago have this in common: they understood the importance of gaining the buy-in of their key audiences. Mr. Escalante’s students had to actively participate in their own success. Mr. Sheninger needed his school community’s support in his campaign for change. Dr. Santiago needed the entire community to be involved in her charter school. If you want to take risks, you must understand this concept: the act of garnering the support of your key audience is good school public relations

In an interview, Dr. Santiago said, “One thing I know how to do is organize parents and teachers.” Good communication and school public relations takes practice—and a little bit of risk. In our next blog, we’ll give you six tips to help you get out of your comfort zone and build strong school public relations. 


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What is your school website “hired” to do?
2019-03-26
Cartoon characters holding flag that says Get the Job

I recently read a book called “Competing Against Luck” by Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. It produced a plethora of “ah-ha” moments for me and applies to schools and education in general. It introduces the “Jobs-to-be-Done” theory, which has been around for about 20 years now and is applied by businesses to inform their strategy, marketing, and innovation. Christensen’s earlier book called “The Innovators Dilemma” set business management on its head and introduced the term “disruptive innovation.” A more recent book is “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Or, if you’re more video-inclined, watch his session at the 2017 National Summit on Educational Reform.

Since strategy, marketing, and innovation are all vital for education to keep pace in today’s digital world and to keep our nation’s students competitive (and employed), I was intrigued. School administrators should be as well. 

What is “Jobs Theory” anyway?

People pay for a service or product to get a “job” done. The example used in the book was that when you buy a drill, you actually don’t need a drill, you need a hole. The functional job you are hiring for is to make a hole.

Yes, jobs are functional, but they also include emotional and social components that influence our satisfaction with our purchasing choices. So, to look at what we do through the eyes of our customers, we need to understand what job our customers need accomplished. This perspective can change our ideas about what that service should be or provide us with ideas for a new, more effective approach to getting the job done. 

To return for a moment to our example of the job of needing a hole, the emotional and social aspects might include convenience, time required, difficulty, cost, accuracy, flexibility, or the weight of the device used to make the hole. This realization inspires innovation and creativity. 

There are now many innovative solutions for making a hole, including: when it isn’t near an electrical outlet, the flexibility of getting holes of various sizes, a solution that is lightweight and portable, a variety of cost choices, or those with a light attached so we can see what we are doing even in the dark. Voila! Ingenuity at its finest. So, we went from a sharp rock spun between the hands to a hand-crank drill to a DeWalt lithium-ion compact 2-speed cordless drill.

Jobs-to-be-done in K-12 education

Consider this generalized K-12 educational example: Parents (our customers) are seeking the best educational environment for their children (the job they need done). This group and this job are what constitutes our “market.” Our goal is to provide services that accomplish the task that meets our customer needs. 

So, that is our functional job, but there are also emotional and social components we must consider. Our customers may also want their children to feel enthusiastic about learning, to fit in with their peers, to get a scholarship, to be popular, or they may want to feel like they are fantastic parents whose kids get into the best colleges (or land a good paying job or are contributing members of society). All of these components factor into how those customers feel about the job being done and should influence how you’ll approach the situation at your school.

Typically, jobs-to-be-done remain stable over the long haul. It is the solutions that change and evolve to better accomplish the job over time. So, we can’t just ask our customers what solution we should provide. They don’t know what they don’t know. 

If you asked folks in 1907 how they could get from point A to point B faster, they would have told you they needed a faster horse. Then the Model T came along in 1908. The job didn’t change, but the solution certainly did, and it accomplished the task faster. Talk about innovation!

When you look at the job instead of the solution, it can be quite mind-blowing because you can think out of the box and address the many emotional and social concerns rather than just the current functional concerns.

What our customers do know is what job they want done. But, that means we have to understand not just the functional role, but that those social and emotional influences are critical to success as well. Disruptive innovation comes about when we know, really know, what the job-to-be-done is in the minds of our customers (in our example, is parents of PreK-12 school-age children).

I’m not about to take on the task of discussing all educational jobs-to-be-done in this blog, but I will use the example of school websites and use jobs theory to analyze this one seemingly small aspect of a PreK-12 school’s service.

What is a school website’s job-to-be-done? Are we improving/investing/innovating in ways that are irrelevant to the job schools or administrators are hiring a website, social media, public relations service to do?

Let’s look at school websites

We could debate this, but at a high level, we can probably all agree your school website’s job is to provide current, engaging information about your school to your customers. It is there to help them make a decision (when you want to increase enrollment) or to reassure them you’re doing a great job (for parents of currently enrolled students) and to keep them informed and build confidence and trust (for both prospective and currently enrolled customers). You have several groups of customers (so it gets more complicated and has more than one job), like parents, potential new hires, community members, taxpayers, students, and alumni. 

However, your primary customer is likely to be parents. It will be either the parents of the students enrolled in your school or prospective parents whose students you’d like to have enrolled in your school. Again, two different jobs, so we’ll start with existing parents for our job-to-be-done discussion. Here are the questions you must answer:

  1. What is the job my school website needs to do for parents of enrolled students? This job will include the functional, emotional, and social dimensions.
  2. What experiences must we provide to do the job perfectly?
  3. What and how will we integrate to provide the perfect job?
  4. How can we brand our school so when a parent needs this job done, they will find us here at "insert your school’s name here"?

Functional jobs

So, what is the job-to-be-done for a school website? Here are a few functional jobs on which your website is typically expected to deliver:

  • Geographic and statistical information. This might include your address (including city and state), size of your school (number of students, student-teacher ratios, attendance boundaries, towns or communities serviced, grades, etc.)
  • Contact information. Where, when, and how to contact you would include phone numbers, email addresses (for the various departments, schools, and staff members), hours of availability, school addresses/locations, registration and enrollment requirements/forms/processes/deadlines, and school start and end dates, etc.
  • Requirements. What are your enrollment requirements or restrictions? Are there required costs or tuitions? Age limits? Prerequisites for classes or curriculum? Eligibility standards for sports, clubs, or other extra-curricular activities? 
  • Emergency information. What emergency procedures do students or parents need to know in the event of a school closure, illness outbreak, dangerous on-site situation, or health or injury requirements? Who is allowed to be on campus and are there restrictions? What emergency information do you require parents supply to the school?
  • Events and Activities. This may be as simple as a current calendar for the days your school is in session, when there are scheduled activities like testing or early release, sporting events, parent/teacher conferences, open houses, etc. Is it in a convenient, intuitive place so parents can quickly get to the typical information they might need to support their child’s education and their day-to-day activities? Is it current and accurate?

Social and emotional jobs

In addition to these examples of functional jobs, recognizing and understanding the emotional and social components of any functional job will show you valuable insights that will resonate with your customers at a much deeper level. What are some of the social and emotional jobs your website needs to deliver? Ideally, your school’s website should also provide information and convincing evidence in some of these areas (or whatever areas you identify as the job you need to do for your customers, which will vary from school to school, even grade to grade):

  • Inclusive. Will my child be welcomed, cared for, loved, protected, and engaged at this school? Will my child fit in, make friends, and learn to love learning? Do I see evidence of this through the stories, videos, testimonials, and examples on the website?
  • Successful. Will my child gain the necessary skills and knowledge to get a successful job, go on to college, become a contributing member of society, recognize his/her potential, become enthusiastic about his/her future, learn to think and reason for him/herself? (Or whatever definition of success parents might have for students attending your school.)
  • Supportive. Will this school be supportive of my role as a parent or guardian? Will it welcome my participation? Do its values and standards match those of my worldview and expectations for success? Will it allow my input and care about my child’s needs and progress? Will its teachers partner with me to help my child reach their highest potential?
  • Accessible. Is your website accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or device used? This means it must be ADA compliant and mobile-responsive so you aren’t making it more difficult or impossible for your website to do its job (which includes the examples listed above).

How does your school’s website measure up to the job to be done?

As you can see from the examples above, there is a lot that goes into making sure your school website is doing the job you’ve hired it to do. It might be functionally capable of all of these features (but if it isn’t, look again at the functional list above and start there). If it is in great shape functionally, then the next step is to look at the social and emotional aspects of your website’s job-to-be-done.

A school website doing its job requires creating and delivering on a strategic plan for communications, marketing, public relations, and customer service—all of which your website is ideally suited to deliver on, especially when used in conjunction with social media platforms. 

You can meet the social and emotional needs (using our jobs-to-be-done example list from above) by adding the following strategies to your website management:

Communications

To fulfill the jobs your customers are looking to hire your school to do, most will fall under the communications umbrella. A communications strategy focused on accomplishing those jobs is the goal. So, the first step is, of course, to determine what a particular job is. But, for our purposes here, we’ll again use our list from above as possible jobs your school is hired to do and give you some ideas to get the job done:

  • Inclusivity. The job you identify parents as needing to hire a school to do is to find a school that provides an environment where their child feels included, valued, accepted, or as part of your school’s tribe. Assuming you have such a school culture, the website and your social media become the perfect vehicles to show evidence to parents looking to hire for this job that your school fits the bill. Solutions are stories from students about how they feel; maybe stories about how they were afraid they wouldn’t fit in but your school removed this fear. These could be student success stories (and in this case, they might define success as feeling accepted and included) that are shared regularly, videos, testimonials, and quotes by students, parents, and alumni. Your communications and marketing strategy would consist of ongoing efforts to gather and share these stories as proof.
  • Educational success. As above, you will use stories and add stats to those stories to prove how your school does the job parents are looking to hire a school for. Using your website and social media, you can share your successes in areas like graduation rates, athletic or academic college scholarships, school rankings, etc. Gather stories from teachers and students that you can share, and don’t forget to interview alumni and let them share how your school helped them achieve their goals too.
  • Supportive. If one of the jobs your customers are looking to fill is a supportive, inviting school where parents are encouraged to be involved with their child’s education, share with them the ways you make this possible. You probably already offer back-to-school events or open house nights, but what about expanding that inclusion with events like family game nights, family movie night, or hosting a parenting group? Then, get the word out with your website news articles, social media, and video.
  • Accessibility. In addition to making sure your website is accessible by keeping it ADA compliant for those with disabilities, look at your staff and administrative accessibility. Do you have times when your staff and administration are available to parents or students to stop by, ask questions, or visit? Is your culture inviting and welcoming? If so, show examples through your website, social media, and by example. Acknowledge staff who are rock stars at being accessible, so others know what goals to strive for. Of course, be the example you expect of others (whether you are an administrator or the crossing guard, your example has influence and power). 

Marketing is communications; communications is marketing

It all boils down to communications. Done right, that becomes your marketing. If your school does the job parents are hiring for, then it is up to you to make the fact known. You have to market your value and provide proof that yours is the school that will get the job done. 

No school can deliver on all the possible jobs, but you can decide which ones you do well (or improve on them until you become excellent at some of them). Then, get the word out.

Help parents make the best decision for their child, and then continue to reinforce, throughout their child’s educational years, that they made the right choice.

When you deliver on the job-to-be-done, you will gain trust and confidence. Soon you will have others, including parents and students, serving as advocates and fans, and when that happens, everyone wins. Especially your students.

Look beyond the basic functionality you think you’ve hired your school website to do, and instead look at the job your school is being hired to do. Make sure your website serves as a tool to deliver on those jobs. If it isn’t, then fire it and hire one that does! (Of course, School Webmasters can help you there!)

Then, when you’ve nailed the whole website and communications management thing, take a look at the next job-to-be-done and tackle that. It is likely to be under the communications umbrella and often involves customer service, but that is a topic for another blog article.

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The X-Factor: How and Why Testimonials Work for School Marketing and PR
2019-03-19
Microphone pointed at audience, asking for a testimonial

One month before my college graduation, I received a phone call from my school. They asked if I’d share my college experience with them on graduation day to include as part of their school marketing. As a mother of five, I was graduating alongside students who were in kindergarten when I began college. They told me our family pictures, interviews, and graduation video clips would be used for tv commercials, magazines, and their website. The unique opportunity was a bit intimidating, but I said yes. When family and friends started seeing us on tv and in magazines, they’d tell us. Our kids loved it. It was a great experience, and I think it was a great way to support my alma mater.   

Whether you are a private or public school, odds are you want to increase enrollment. Positive, uplifting, inspiring stories and testimonials are the “x-factor” for your school. An “x-factor” can be a noteworthy talent or quality, or it can be a variable in any given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. There is powerful potential in content marketing for your school when you incorporate your school stories from the perspective of your students and their families; we’d like to help you learn to recognize that.

No doubt, student and school successes, large and small, occur every week on campus. You can spin your wheels talking about your school and what it has to offer your community, but it won’t be as powerful as a student or community member sharing their personal, positive experience involving your school. These experiences bring your school to the community, adding, in typical x-factor fashion, something nothing else can—meaningful connections. 

The following are three reasons you should let the stories from your community do your school marketing for you: 

1. Research supports the use of testimonials. 

The research is clear—these days, practically everyone reads reviews. Just think about it; when was the last time you read a review? In a fast-paced, easy-access, information world, we can jump online and find out about any business, product, or even school. Using positive experiences to strengthen your school brand just makes sense. 

Parents are doing their homework online before they visit your campus. What do they find?

It is clear parents and guardians are doing their homework online long before they visit your campus. What do they find? What information does the Internet give them? Do they find a welcoming and up-to-date school website? Do you have a presence on social media? What does your community say about your school? Are families happy in your school community? How much of the content out there on the Internet is coming from the school community versus the administration? How does your school rate on greatschools.org

Studies indicate that testimonials are incredibly effective. In business-related surveys, positive reviews about a product make 73% of consumers more likely to trust a local business. Reason tells us this also applies to school reviews. Consumers consistently trust one another over a company or school. This means that testimonials have a significant impact on the final decisions of where to send children to school. Testimonials are used in practically every customer decision, making them powerful x-factors for your school marketing.   

2. Testimonials are economical. 

School funding is always an adventure no matter where you live. Challenges to balance the budget are everywhere. Finding ways to market your school without breaking the bank means money can be used elsewhere where it is desperately needed. 

Testimonials take effort to gather, but as an x-factor, the potential is priceless! Testimonials are trusted endorsements for your school and even better—they’re free! My college gave me the chance to be what’s known in the marketing world as a “brand advocate.” I was a highly-satisfied customer, who passionately recommended my experiences at school, without receiving any payment. According to Zuberance, brand advocates are extremely influential; in fact, they are considered two to three times more influential and trusted than ads. Magnified by social media, brand advocates can collectively reach countless potential clients.

3. You need to talk about your school, but it’s better to let others do it for you.

There is an interesting balance between confidence and vanity. If you don’t share your school’s great successes and strengths, you’re missing out. But if you push too much of the we-are-awesome vibe, people may get the impression you’re trying too hard. However, exuberant reviews from fellow consumers simply doesn’t feel like an over-the-top sales job.

Parents are curious to hear what your students and their families have to say about your school. This type of feedback is extremely valuable. Prospective families are interested in hearing about experiences from their peers. Consider including their opinions and experiences along with the comments from you and your staff. 

Need more evidence that testimonials are great x-factors in efforts to market your school? Testimonials are a great way to demonstrate your positive, nurturing school climate using firsthand account endorsements for your teachers, your curriculum, and your leadership abilities. Trust is a large component of successful marketing. The common theme of a testimonial? “Let me tell you about my experience...” This feedback matters so much more than what we say about ourselves. 

Make submitting testimonials easy. 

Everyone is busy. Waiting for people to take time to leave a comment in a box may not be the most effective approach. Go to them! Find them in the moments when students and parents are considering their experiences at your school—while on your school website or at your school supporting their children at various events. In order to enlist your school’s biggest supporters, remember to respect their time by making the process simple. 

Here are some simple ways you and your staff can gather testimonials:

  • Personal Invitation: This may be the most daunting but perhaps the most effective. Approach individual students and families. Invite them to share their thoughts about specific aspects and experiences involving the school. It can be a quick two-to three-sentence paragraph or more. You could include their comments on your school website or in your school newsletter. You may even record these interviews; video clips on your school website are something to consider.
  • Parent Teacher Conferences: Collaborate with your teachers. Ask them for their help gathering positive comments. Consider providing forms at parent-teacher conferences where parents and students can share their thoughts about the school and their individual experiences. 
  • Front Desk Encounters: Ask the front office to have forms available for parents to complete, including a signature line permitting use of their comments on the website or in a brochure. My daughter’s orthodontist has a different question to answer each time we go in. Every entry gets put in drawing to win a prize. Consider asking for comments in a fresh way! Maybe one month, students could submit the name of someone who inspires them at school, or you could ask parents, “What is your favorite memory at our school?” or even, “Describe [your school name] in one to three words.”
  • School Website: While parents are on your school website, provide an attractive, fun way for them to share their thoughts. Consider including a feedback form on the website to collect parent, community member, or alumni testimonials. It could include the option to upload a photo to go with their testimonial, adding a personal touch and a sense of legitimacy. 
  • School Events: While families are on campus, during or following an event or program, invite them to share their thoughts about the experience. You could start with a simple greeting and conversation, then ask them in the moment or reach out at a later time with, “Thank you for entrusting your child to us for a large part of their education. I enjoyed talking to you about [topic of conversation]. I can tell you are passionate about [student’s name] involvement in [program we offer]. Would you and [student’s name] be willing to email me a few thoughts that we could share with the school community?” You could include their comments in an article about the event or program on the News page of your website.
  • Alumni Opportunities: Seek out testimonials from your alumni. It is inspiring and powerful to hear from your school’s former students who went on to accomplish their goals, crediting a teacher or the school with a role in their journey. 
  • PTA/PTO network: Ask the PTA/PTO to collect testimonials for use on your website. You can turn them into graphic elements and use them as part of the overall theme of the design. At School Webmasters, we do this for our clients, adding a professional touch to the website along with trust and credibility for the rest of your site content.
  • Gather Photos: Find unique ways to share pictures from your school community in the candid as well as the busy moments on campus. Faces smiling as they walk the school, students focusing on a group project at a table, enjoying the sociality of your school— these images promote your school brand and even without words give testimonials of their own. These images send messages like: 
  • "Students at our school have fun."
  • "This is a positive learning environment."
  • "We are interested in the well-being of every student."

Quick Tip: When sharing comments online, always factor in the option of including a photograph of the individuals involved. Testimonials can be one to two lines of their own words or longer. Perhaps longer testimonials could have an entire page of their own on your website. Your school’s super fans will be happy and honored to contribute their feedback about their experiences, especially if they sense the benefit and support they give, helping your school succeed. 

When my school reached out to me, I felt honored. I felt recognized as an individual for my place in the school community. Allow individuals at your school to be an x-factor by sharing their positive experiences. As you give them a platform, watch as this testimonial tool, in x-factor fashion, helps you market your school, strengthen your school brand, and allow opportunities for many to feel an increased unity within your school community. 

Public Relations for Schools
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The Changing Role of the School IT Director
2019-03-12
Female student living dumbells as being empowered

I’m sure all of us can agree that no other role for school leaders has changed as radically in the past decade as that of the K–12 school IT director. We all recognize that technology, in all its myriad forms, has changed how we see the world, how we live our daily lives, how we are entertained, and how we learn. 

Only a few years ago, one of the technology director’s priorities was to focus on network security, which often meant locking down the network to enforce security even if that meant overshadowing instruction. It was also the IT department’s role to fix that glitchy whiteboard, the antiquated phone system, and anything else that plugged into the wall.

However, with the implementation of 1:1 programs, technology has become a major player in day-to-day curriculums in most classrooms, regardless of the grade level or the size of the school. In many schools, CTOs (Chief Technology Officers) now have a seat at the table with other educational decision-makers, and deservedly so. It is their ability and knowledge that can put technology to work, making a meaningful impact on the educational success of teachers and students in today’s digitally connected world.

What to look for in a K–12 CTO

Today this role can no longer be filled by a “tech guy/gal” who happens to be the most advanced IT person in the school or district, but it requires a more strategic view of the place technology has in today’s education. They still must know how to fix what breaks, but they also must know how and when to integrate technology into the classroom and help educators and students understand and use these new tools.

Some skills a school CTO must have often go unidentified. Today’s K–12 IT director must:

Be a continuous learner

Change must not be something they fear. They must be willing to look at their preconceived ideas regarding devices or solutions. They should be able to set aside ego and be prepared to seek advice from others, even those from outside their field. They should willingly continue their own education, including instruction and not just infrastructure. When you find a technology director who can speak to solutions beyond technology, know that they are a valuable member of your administrative team in moving education forward. A wise IT leader is now an integral part of every school’s success, and that includes instruction integration.

Be a problem solver

One significant change in the field is that tech directors no longer walk on and “fix” an issue on the operational side alone. They must be willing to sit down with their customers (administrators, teachers, support staff, and students), understand what works and doesn’t in the classroom, and apply his or her expertise to solutions and improvements in curriculum and assessment to help everyone involved be more successful. 

Be an excellent communicator

Beyond infrastructure and bandwidth, the ideal IT director is a good communicator. That includes listening to the input of others. They should have patience with veteran teachers and staff who may not be up-to-date on the latest technology changes. They also need to be able to create professional development programs for teachers and staff to provide training before rolling out new devices or processes. This often requires writing, speaking, and presenting skills. It includes being able to collaborate and understand the goals of teachers, classified staff, and administrators to provide practical technology solutions.

Be curious

An effective CTO will constantly be on the lookout for innovative solutions, from wherever they are found. He or she will be curious about ways to use technology to solve problems, driving positive change for staff and student outcomes. Many of these solutions are found outside of educational circles. An outstanding CTO enjoys sharing these advances with others.

Be tenacious

In the K–12 educational landscape, it is extraordinarily challenging to make a case for progressive technology plans in the face of cash-strapped schools, union resentment of increased technology training for teachers, and in competition with antiquated buildings requiring capital expenditures. A CTO must be willing to make the case for leaving the status quo behind and moving forward past stagnant philosophies about student achievement or teacher capabilities and motivate others to take the same risks for the good of student outcomes.

A seat at the leadership table

K-12 school CTOs do far more today than just keep the network humming and the lights on.


K–12 school CTOs do far more today than just keep the network humming and the lights on. They can identify the technology trends that can help a school implement innovation that improves student success and accelerates teacher productivity and creativity. Their perspective from a tactical, long-term strategic approach can have a huge impact on your school’s success. 

Many schools still treat the CTO as a middling manager. But to utilize their unique perspective, they should be an executive first and a technologist second. If they are not privy to the educational challenges your school faces, how can they deliver successful solutions? How can they solve problems or make improvements when they don’t know what issues exist or what challenges the solutions should address?

Every department in K–12 education is leveraging technology—from facilities management to fiscal accountability. Schools should utilize technology’s value and contributions, and a good CTO certainly deserves a seat at the executive table to provide that perspective.

From interviews I’ve had with K–12 CTOs, one of their most common complaints is not being treated as professionals by directors or superintendents. Deadlines are often unrealistic (“I want this done now!”) when a bit of prior planning on the part of the supervisor is the real issue. Crisis mode being the standard mode of operation creates stress that is entirely avoidable. When school administrators see the CTO as a partner in education instead of a tactical grunt, everyone wins. Especially the students and staff. Are your school leaders treating your IT professionals with the respect they deserve, considering their time and goals?

What your CTO should NOT be managing

Your website involves technology. But then so does the refrigerator in the teacher’s lounge. However, neither require the expertise of your IT professionals.

Yet, in many schools, particularly in small and mid-size schools, the website management and its associated communication strategy is laid at the feet of the IT team. Doesn’t it stand to reason, since IT manages the network, the phones, the computers, the email, and maybe even know some coding that they would also manage the school’s website?

The answer is quite simple. Your school website is a marketing and communications tool. It exists to facilitate effective, engaging, and up-to-date information. It exists to appeal to a specifically targeted audience. One of its goals is to attract, educate, and convert your website visitors. Why in the name of all that is sane would anyone expect IT professionals to also be trained in the areas of marketing, communications, public relations, copywriting, design, accessibility, and a myriad of other skill sets not included in CIO or CTO educational curriculum? 

IT professionals are trained in a wide variety of technical areas. Those skill sets are dramatically different from those with a marketing and communications focus. Just ask them. They will agree. Don’t expect them to manage your school brand consistency issues, style guide, target audience and persona goals, intuitive navigational structure, SEO or keyword strategy, or integrate your social media engagement with your school website marketing efforts. Just don’t!

When you charge your CTO and his or her team with the website design and management, over time the website goals of marketing, PR, and communications will take a back seat to technical (or expediency) decisions. It is unlikely that your IT team has any training in any of these specialized fields. 

Don’t set your IT professionals up for failure by expecting them to be skilled in areas where they have no training (and likely, no interest). Put the right skill sets on the job, and let the IT professionals use their training and knowledge to implement technology that will create exceptional student outcomes.

Steps to CTO leadership roles

The position of CTO in K–12 schools is on the rise. In a 2017 study by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), there was a 10% increase in the number of senior-level technology titles in just the past five years. 

How do you create and utilize this strategic leadership role? It’s relatively simple. 

  • Hire for the skills mentioned earlier in this article (in addition to the technical skills, of course). 
  • Provide clear expectations from the outset about the strategic leadership recommendations you expect from them and the long-term goals tied to data. 
  • Encourage, or maybe require, that they listen well and understand the challenges and needs of each department and particularly the needs of the students and teachers. 
  • Budget for conferences and networking opportunities for this individual so they can see what is working well in other areas (not just in schools) and create a network of experts. 
  • Treat them like the C-level professionals they are.

If your current CTO isn’t fulfilling his or her role at this level, provide them with encouragement and training to get them there, and set professional development expectations that will empower them to rise to this level. Often just setting the expectations and providing the freedom to achieve these higher goals will be enough to create amazing outcomes. There is also an excellent article by Marc Prensky for some more ideas about what a school CTO should know.

Whether it is integrating technology into classroom learning or using it to increase hiring efficiency and professional development processes, your IT directors can help you get better outcomes for less time and money. When we all work smarter, our students benefit. When our students succeed, so goes the nation. 

Allow your CTO to help your school lead the way in moving you from legacy, or sometimes even manual, processes to more efficient digital methods that will benefit both your staff and your students. Don’t let technology decisions get pushed to the backburner, especially when it comes to implementing technology strategies that will affect student performance.

In summary…

What it boils down to is that when you equip schools with the right technology and with a CTO who is knowledgeable about what is available to help meet your school’s particular goals, you help all of your stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, classified staff) enjoy better outcomes at lowers costs. 

Utilize your IT Director or CTO for strategic planning. Empower them to use their technical expertise to help students and teachers achieve. Don’t tie them to tasks they do not have the interest or expertise for (like communications, PR, and marketing, which includes your website management). Get communications folks for that. If you don’t have communications people, you can always contact School Webmasters. We’ve got your back! Call Jim at 888.750.4556 and learn how we can free your IT Director to do the job they are trained to do.

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School Blogs: A Metaphorical Dinner Table for Your School Family
2019-03-05
Megaphone with thought bubble with the words blog, blog, blog

The Dinner Table Tradition

Each night, many families connect as they share a meal, often around a table. For years, our family has had a unique, daily tradition at dinner: we go around the table and each family member tells us about their day—what was sweet, what was sour, and something they did to be of service to someone else. With five children at the dinner table, this is the smoothest way we have found to connect with the whole family before everyone goes their own way in the evening.

Why is Connection Important for Schools? 

According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, people who live in connected communities are far healthier than those who are more isolated. Connection with others is vital for good physical and emotional health. As the issue of violence in our schools draws increasing attention to mental health, it seems prudent for every school to analyze its means of connecting with students and the school community. 

Is your school campus welcoming? Does it offer students positive experiences via various forms of communication throughout their years at school? Is social-emotional learning a key part of your school curriculum? 

At the heart of words like “community” and “communication,” we see their core meaning through the modern French words Comme meaning as or like, and un meaning one. As we seek to build community and to communicate, a common quest is to become in some way, “as one.” Community and communication are about unity, coming together, connecting. Thankfully, there are diverse ways to come together as one with students and their families. While there are too many to list here, as you may have guessed, blogs are one of them. 

Why Do Schools Blog, Anyway?

Your school website and social media presence are public relations tools that help you build and nurture relationships with audiences that are already connected to you; a blog can do the same. Because of the nature of school blogs, however, blogs are also a powerful school marketing tool to increase your online visibility, drive traffic to your website, and bring in enrollment leads. 

What’s the Difference Between a School Website, Social Media, and a School Blog?

School Website News Page

Most likely, your school website includes a news page. This is a place for your school to include information in a factual timeline. The news page of your website is where you post press releases and make various announcements related to your school community, such as:

  • New policies and procedures
  • Recent awards and achievements
  • New staff hires 
  • Upcoming events

News pages are about more general information. And, just like the 5 o’clock news, give you a brief breakdown of events and happenings in your district and at your schools.

Social Media Channels

Speaking of brief, your school’s social media channels are not places you can go into a lot of detail. Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter are built for short updates. In fact, engagement increases exponentially when you use images with these channels. The wordier your social media posts are, the less attention your posts receive. We encourage schools to post short on social media and drive traffic to their websites for more details and further coverage. 

Blogs

Blogs, on the other hand, give you a large, blank canvas to share. Blogs tend to focus on a variety of topics rather than serve as a factual timeline of events or other school information. Your school blog is where you can establish yourself as a thought-leader within the industry of education. Blogging opens the doors to share your thoughts, perceptions, or opinions related to a variety of topics involving education. 

Schools share news, updates, recognition, and encouragement on their school website news page and social media. But when a teacher is recognized in the community for his/her efforts in the classroom, a blog is a perfect place to capture the moment in greater depth. When a group of students succeeds in tackling some challenging aspect of their education, large or small, a blog helps recognize and honor these valuable moments and victories at your school “dinner table.” Taking time to write your impressions of certain experiences on campus using a school blog helps offer “a gathering place” for the school family to thoughtfully connect.

As an example for how to use all three platforms together: Let’s say a new art teacher will begin teaching at the elementary school. First, you may announce the hiring on your website news page. Then, you will want to spotlight that new teacher on your social media. Finally, on your blog, you can discuss the new hire’s qualifications, delve into the importance of art education and how it fits into your school vision and values, and talk about the art teacher’s goals for the upcoming year. 

School Blogs: A Powerful School Marketing Tool

Your school blog can connect the school with enrolled families yet reach further still today and in the future. Keep in mind that it should be relevant, interesting, and updated regularly. Do this and your blog will serve as a powerful marketing tool. 

Much like schools use social media to reach current and potential new families, they also use blogs to market their school. According to TechnologyAdvice, a resource for businesses, “Marketing, in general, has moved from a profession to a lifestyle.” TechnologyAdvice depicts in an infographic the evolution of marketing through the past few decades. Rather than the old interruptive approach, online marketing must offer something helpful and relevant. 

As mentioned previously, blogs must be updated frequently. Adding fresh, new content to your blog consistently increases your website’s search engine visibility. In addition, you can add keywords to your blogs for better Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Your blog can also be a tool for inbound marketing to increase enrollment. 

Your school’s visibility on the Internet is directly linked with the ability to share worthwhile information pertinent to current and prospective students and families. This method is known as inbound marketing. Blogs draw people in, offering them information freely, hoping they might come back for more. A school's main reason for using inbound marketing is eventual enrollment. When an organization, such as your school, offers valuable, applicable information, interested parties pay attention. In the process, your school establishes itself as a legitimate source of information. A school blog is an excellent, cost-effective way to draw students and their families to your school website. It is not about advertising—it is about information sharing. 

Effective Ways to Successfully Connect Using a School Blog: The 3 E’s 

School blogs ought to include content that accomplishes certain requirements to connect successfully with students and their families. The criteria could be called “the 3 E’s.” 

School blogs should accomplish the following: 

  • Educate: School blogs are full of good, educational information to foster understanding between students, their families, and the school. Informative content on your school blog helps establish your school as a trusted thought leader and resource. By offering informational downloads, your school blog can be a resource for gathering leads on potential new families. 
  • Entertain: Students and their families are flooded with information regarding many aspects of life. If you want to draw them in, don’t forget to find ways to appeal to them in fun, humorous ways. This is especially important for your current audience—the families of students already enrolled. 
  • Engage: You will likely engage your school community by giving space for a variety of input from staff, students, and families. Content on the blog should include answers to families’ pressing questions as well as solutions to problems. Remember: It would be a mistake to publish only your thoughts as the school administrator on your school blog. Share your platform with teachers and other administrators, invite influential parents or PTA members to guest-blog, and connect with your school family by inviting and encouraging feedback about various aspects of your school and activities.
Educate, Entertain, Engage, BLOG

Examples of Effective School Bloggers

Thanks to individuality, effective school blogs will likely look different from one another. Let’s look at two different school districts that are using blogs, examining ways they are using the 3 E’s in their school marketing. 

Ithaca City School District

Luvelle Brown serves as current superintendent for the Ithaca City School District in New York state (@luvelleb). Seeking to “Lead with Love” is a creed for the leadership within the district.

The district website homepage is welcoming and exciting with bold colors and beautiful photos. The website is engaging and easy to navigate. The homepage also includes news about current events in the school community along with easy access to a list of previous news posts on a separate page that includes photos and write ups. Providing this type and other information to current and prospective students and families offers a valuable peek into the school district. 

Vancouver Public Schools

Steve Webb serves as the current superintendent for Vancouver Public Schools located in Vancouver, Washington (@SuptVPS). He uses technology to connect with the school community.

The blog is called “Webb eNews.” It includes content that establishes the school as a trusted resource and thought leader. The blog and website are engaging and seek input from the school community. Each blog post includes an audio version. Every time people are interviewed, their responses are recorded as part of the audio version. The blog posts give space for other voices—other impressions of events and news. Members of the school community are continually encouraged to submit their own stories online. 

VPS Employee Hall of Fame is another great example of engaging. The district constantly accepts nominations online from the community, including clear and easy instructions for how to nominate. They give recognition regularly. Also, the school website includes a news center, which includes pertinent and helpful information regarding the school, establishing Vancouver Public Schools as a trusted resource. The website includes a link to a local TV station that regularly includes information about Vancouver schools and the community. For example, when pressing, even tricky-to-understand topics exists, such as school funding, the school district helps explain it. Each post includes tags, making it quick and easy for viewers to find various posts related to common topics. 

School Blog Best Practices

Frequency: You should be updating your school blog at least once a month. For better SEO, the more frequently you update, the better. Consider inviting others in your school community to write an occasional blog post. Also, it’s important to consider using tools to help you stay organized and collaborate with others involved in your school’s blog. If nothing else, you should be using an editorial calendar to help you plan and schedule your blogs, but you could also consider other collaboration tools like Trello

Quality over Quantity: When it comes to your blog content, be sure to focus on the quality of your posts over the frequency. If you just don’t have the time to create an informative, well-written post once a week, then do what you can and post once a month. If you know your schedule won’t allow you to commit to even once a month, bring someone onboard who can help you look for stories and draft your blogs—this is something for which a PR4 Schools communications coordinator would be perfect. 

Distribution: It’s important to consider what your audience will tolerate when it comes to your school blog. Take into account your method for distribution. If you’re sending out an email with each new blog post in addition to your other school communications, your audience may feel like you’re going a little overboard. School Webmasters publishes a blog every week. However, we only send out our blog emails twice a month. We do this because we don’t want to inundate our audience. If you are distributing your blog via social media, you should be posting with each new blog update. 

Accessibility: Organized, welcoming school blogs and websites invite your school community to feel comfortable, to get informed, and to have an overall sense of welcome from your school. Have you ever visited a website with pages that feel overwhelming? Using tags on blogs allows your school community to easily find certain topics no matter when the information was shared. Your efforts to communicate, if done in an organized way, will continue to work for you long after you post. 

Visual: As evidenced by the draw of social media with its variety of engaging visuals, remember to include images on your school blog. This gives you another great opportunity to use pictures of campus events and activities to demonstrate the core values you embrace. Include images of students working together on a project, in a community service project, etc. 

How Do You Connect With Your School Family?

As a school administrator, you likely view your school community as one big, (hopefully) happy family. How are you connecting with those connected to your school? What connection-fostering traditions are already in place on your campus? Do you produce a regular newsletter? Do students help make announcements over the PA system? Do you have spirit weeks and encourage students to participate by participating yourself? These, and more, are good ways to connect with your school community. 

Whether yours is a small or large school, it is critical to build connections between you and your school community by various means, including blogging and social media. Much like a family at a dinner table, your efforts to connect benefit you and your current school community as well as prospective students and families. When your community feels connected to your school, results include shared vision, motivation, successes, and raised awareness of the challenges you’re seeking to overcome. In short, it results in a better connected, supportive community. Could there be anything better?


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How Schools Use Inbound Marketing to Win Hearts and Minds
2019-02-26
ROI = Return on Investment of your school marketing efforts

Schools need to market themselves the same way great teachers teach. Demanding a student learn something just “because it is on the test” doesn’t incentivize students. But, helping them understand the personal value and benefits they can enjoy from that knowledge will make them downright enthusiastic to learn. 

School marketing can and should work the same way. 

Unfortunately, traditional marketing does the opposite. It advertises (interrupts) when you don’t want it. Radio ads, expensive billboards, and paid or print ads are such advertisements, but who trusts self-serving ads to provide honest information? So, not only is traditional marketing expensive, it is ineffective in our digital world. (84% of 25–34-year-olds leave websites due to intrusive advertising. Mashable)

What is the “great teacher” approach? It is helpful, valued education. It is called inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is attracting the customers you want by providing them with relevant and helpful information when and where they need it. It is also a way to understand your targeted customers’ needs and concerns and find ways to meet those needs. You will do this affordably through customer-focused channels like your school website, social media, search engines, and blog articles. 

Think about it. How do you make buying decisions for services or products? You Google it, you ask friends, you read reviews, and you check social media. You form opinions based on your own research, which includes reading informative content that provides you with useful information. You do this on your terms and buy when you’re ready. 

Your customers (parents of K–12 students or highly-qualified staff) are the same.

Stop begging K–12 parents for attention with interruptive traditional marketing. Let inbound marketing bring them directly to you.

To be relevant, your school must create content that answers the questions or solves the problems your targeted customers have. Your content can point those ideal customers to your school. Inbound marketing can position your school as the ultimate resource, and soon your targeted customers will come to you with their questions.

What is the return on investment (ROI) of school inbound marketing?

So, what are the benefits of applying inbound marketing, rather than using traditional marketing efforts (or worse yet, doing nothing)?

  • Cost effective. Using tools you already have, like your school website and social media, you have the primary tools you need to educate and influence your ideal customers.
  • Draw customers to you. By adding content marketing strategies, you draw in the very customers you are seeking, without the cost of interruptive marketing measures. 82% of consumers like reading content from brands when it is relevant. 43% say content marketing has a positive impact on their purchasing decisions. CMA 
  • Build credibility and reputation. Producing authoritative and helpful content that builds credibility with prospective customers increases your school’s reputation and attractiveness.
  • Create evergreen dividends. Good returns on your time and money investments, in both down and up economies through quality content, provides benefits for years to come. 
  • Focus on customer values. Schools looking to increase enrollment from local students, will see inbound marketing deliver better results using content marketing and targeting local parent values.
  • Happier customers. When you have nurtured a prospective customer, provided them with free, valuable information that helps them make decisions that are best for them, they are happier. You’ve earned their trust and respect, and they experience no buyers remorse.
  • Better retention and satisfaction. Customers who do their research and make an informed choice experience higher satisfaction, less resentment, and greater loyalty because the choice was theirs.
  • 24/7 sales team. Using your school website as the channel for your content marketing in conjunction with local search engine optimization provides you with a sales force that works 365 days (and nights) a year. That is an affordable sales team!
  • Save time and money. Inbound buyers are actively looking for solutions, so the customer buying cycle is short since they are active buyers. This saves lots of money over outbound marketing efforts targeting uninterested or unready buyers.
  • Sell the way buyers buy. Inbound or content marketing allows buyers (prospective customers) to control their destiny and make their own choices, so they are not pressured by interruptive messages.
  • Improve future marketing. With information gained through existing inbound efforts, you have better knowledge about customer needs to make future efforts even more effective.
  • Competing wisely. Business and organizations are marketing using inbound. The ROI is 3x higher with inbound over outbound (traditional). State of Inbound 2018 
  • Better testimonials. Customers who find you digitally, from whom you’ve earned respect using content marketing instead of interruptive or high-pressure marketing, are more likely to provide you with positive testimonials.

Basically, by using inbound marketing (consisting of website SEO, content marketing, and social media), you align your efforts to the behaviors of today’s consumers. It is a win-win because you are appealing to prospective customers on their timeframes and where they are going to make choices. 

Narrow the gap between the plan and the goal

The goal of most marketing efforts is to increase your customer base or build a respected, trusted reputation. But to narrow the gap between the goal and your plan, you must consider what resources you can direct at accomplishing your goal. K–12 schools seldom have enough marketing resources, in either people or budget, to participate in traditional or outbound marketing. Luckily for you, traditional marketing methods are no longer effective, so the return on your investment (money spent for results) is better used elsewhere.

As we’ve indicated above, a more affordable and effective school marketing strategy is to develop inbound marketing for your school. An impressive 96% of buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders when making decisions. (Hubspot

Since inbound or content marketing allows you to reach your desired customers (typically parents of the students you are targeting) as a respected thought leader, you will want to provide the content that answers their questions and informs them. 

Inbound marketing allows your school to build relationships with the very people you are trying to reach by providing the resources they need.

Beginners guide to inbound marketing

If you aren’t familiar with the basic steps to implement inbound marketing for your school, here they are:

Step 1: Select your primary goal. 

I’m sure you can come up with many goals, but for now, you’ll need to narrow your focus so you don’t take on more than you can handle. For example, if you want to increase enrollment, there are many ways you could approach this goal.  Try targeting parents of preschoolers who will be sending their children to kindergarten in the next year or two. Or, you could target parents of students who may be interested in your unique STEM curriculum that begins in middle school and runs through high school. Maybe your hugely successful number of students receiving athletic scholarships allows you to target parents of children with interests in all things athletic.

But, you should select one area for now, and put your efforts on that target. Then, when you have one campaign in place, you can begin the next one. What you learn during the first effort will improve your success in each subsequent marketing goal. Develop what is called SMART goals, and use our Inbound Marketing Goal Planning Worksheet to get started.

Step 2: Develop your customers’ personas

Identify the needs, interests, challenges, and goals of your ideal customer (for your selected goal). It helps you discover ways to develop the content they need to make buying decisions and hopefully moves them toward choosing your school. Use our Persona Development Worksheet as a guide.

Step 3: Document your customers’ journey

What will your prospective ideal customers need to know as they make their buying decisions? It depends on where they are in their decision process. For each stage, you will want to provide them content that will inform them, answer their questions, and resolve their concerns. Use our Customer’s Journey Worksheet.

Step 4: Select your keyword phrases

What search engine phrases might parents looking for information use to find answers? Those are the keywords you should use on your website, social media posts, landing pages, and in your inbound marketing to help them find your content. If they don’t find you, you can’t influence them. Brainstorm possibilities and see if you can get 100 relevant keywords.

Step 5: Create a persona and journey-specific content

Now you can begin to create the type of informative content your prospective customers would use. Educate them. Solve their concerns. Recommend solutions. It will NOT be content about your school or about their needs and how to solve them. Need some inspiration? Check out 51 Ways to Market Your School.

Step 6: Document your plan

Now put it all together. This can be a bit overwhelming, but if you want to have a successful marketing campaign, go through the steps. To see the details, please read the blog article that goes into detail called Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 2

Step 7: Work your plan

Create a schedule, use a calendar, and then stick to your plan. Inbound marketing is not a quick fix, but it will provide ROI for years to come. Consistency is the key. Once you have created the process and put it into action, it continues to work for you. The more it is automated, the easier it is to manage. This is the huge benefit of inbound marketing over traditional methods or outbound marketing. If you advertise (TV, radio, or print publication), any benefit ceases the minute the ad isn’t running. That means to continue ROI, you must keep throwing marketing dollars at it. You stop paying—your ROI stops as well. With inbound marketing, once you’ve done the hard work, the benefits just keep on coming. In fact, according to some studies, the benefits only increase over time, and the cost per lead drops as much as 80% after five months of consistent inbound marketing.

Step 8: Delighting for retention

Now that you’ve done all the work to get them in the door, new students enrolled, or quality staff hired, how do you retain them? It boils down to customer service, effective ongoing communications, and continuing your marketing efforts to your existing customers. The main player in this effort will be using your school website well, integrating your social media strategy with your retention efforts, and taking your school’s customer service to the next level (well, and of course, delivering on the educational promises you promoted with your inbound marketing efforts).

Just DO it!

Not to steal from Nike, but they got it right. You need to begin. If your school doesn’t step into the digital age, you will continue to lose students, have difficulty hiring highly-qualified staff, and your school’s brand will lose its shine. If all of this is merely overwhelming, let School Webmasters help you out. We can get you started and you manage the rest, or we can partner with you and add more inbound strategies as you need them. We provide the personnel with the skill sets you need at prices you can’t afford to hire in-house or pay a marketing agency to deliver. Don’t believe me; check out a few of our inbound marketing packages.

Happy Marketing


440914
Customer Service: Minding Your Ps, Qs, and Netiquette
2019-02-19
One cartoon character chasing two others with a megaphone

Today, there are a wide variety of mediums we can use to communicate with others. These means are not only great channels for your school communications, but they provide lots of opportunities to demonstrate your school’s quality customer service. How well you treat your customers influences your reputation and, therefore, your school public relations. 

In-person, by phone, voicemails, emails, social media, websites, tweets, blogs, etc—good communication and good service should be consistent through all of these mediums. We’ve talked about the power of words in Part 1, and tips to handle criticism on both the giving and receiving ends in Part 2. As the concluding part in this school customer service series, let’s look at some healthy, guiding principles to follow in order to establish your school as dependable and committed to good communication habits both face-to-face and written. 

Face-to-Face Etiquette

As the goings and comings of our lifestyle occur more and more on our devices, it’s important to place value on the moments we look others in the eye, talk to people directly, and listen to them intently. Within our schools, the struggles with devices is no longer new. Face-to-face connections are crucial for your students and others. 

In fact, the ability for you and your staff to communicate effectively in the school setting has perhaps never been so important. As the iGen generation (youth born between 1995-2012) continues to move through the educational system, one-on-one interactions become increasingly important. In 2012, more Americans owned a smartphone than those who did not. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, studies generational differences. In a recent Ted talk she presented data from long-standing historical surveys taken by youth. Twenge encourages responsible digital citizenship, something many schools now include in their classroom curriculum. Twenge’s research indicates the iGen generation are more likely to stay home more, get together informally with friends less often, and feel more symptoms of depression. In addition, the suicide rate for teens has doubled since 2007. This makes the time these students spend within the walls of your school all the more important and the communication that takes place all the more vital. 

Here are a few communication tips for face-to-face communications. Use these with your students, their parents, your coworkers, and others in your community to improve your school customer service.

  • Take time to smile.
    It’s hard not to put this one first. It is one of the first characteristics others see in a person. Don’t underestimate the power of your smile.  
  • “Knowing me, knowing you.”
    Does your school community know you? Would they recognize you and be able to call you by name if you all met on the street? As the community, parents, and students come through your school doors or receive voice messages at home, find ways to help them know your name. Make an effort to learn their names as well.
  • Use good manners.
    Graciously use phrases like, "thank you" and "please.”Demonstrating respect for others is a powerful way to establish a culture of quality customer service. As a school administrator, lead by example. 
  • Help others feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated.
    One of the key factors that determines your school’s reputation and the quality of the public relations at your school is your overall school environment. Create a welcoming atmosphere, especially at your school entrance.
  • Be a guru in school policy and procedures.
    As students, parents, community members, and faculty face moments of confusion relating to school policies, take the time to be knowledgeable. Demonstrate your ability to be a source of credible information. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, recognize that you don’t know, then resolve to investigate the matter.
  • Treat customers with empathy, efficiency, and respect.
    We all hope for these. In general, people appreciate feeling understood, like their efforts are worth it and that others see value in them. I think one common mistake we sometimes make is instructing people how to feel. For example: “Don’t get angry, but _____,” or “Don’t get offended, but _____,” or “Don’t take it personally, but _____.” 
  • Listen actively and go above and beyond expectations.
    Seek to establish a reputation as an administrator based on building-block moments over and over in which you take time to listen and follow up on conversations. Word will get around.

Online Etiquette (Netiquette)

Many of us have become casual in our writing - we rarely use punctuation correctly or capitalize letters at the beginning of a sentence. and i don’t know about u, but i don’t even capitalize my “i’s” anymore

While it may be quick and accepted to be less formal when sending an email or text to your friend, it’s not professional at work. And as an educational facility, your community may not be forgiving of informality and errors on your school’s social media. Be attentive about your casual habits while communicating online and in writing.

Here are some reminders when it comes to written communication.

  • Jargon
    Steer clear of jargon when you can. Assume your audience doesn’t recognize the meaning of highly specific or technical terms. Poor school public relations often arises when administrators use terms their audience doesn’t understand; it can cause your audience to become disengaged and frustrated. If you must use “edu-speak” jargon, be sure to define and clarify what you’ve said.
  • Tone
    It is possible that if your writing is misunderstood, you might not have the chance to explain yourself further. Consequently, be cautious about the phrases and words you use. It’s a good idea to go back and read your document out loud without using any tone or inflection. Try to “hear” how the words sound, and then make adjustments as needed. 
  • Coherence
    Your goal should be clarity. Consider what you want to say, and then allow the words to flow naturally. Work at presenting your main idea first. Gather your thoughts into paragraphs, each with a main idea, starting with a sentence describing what it’s about. Keep your paragraphs short, and on your second draft, work on further simplifying what you’ve said. 
  • Sentence Structure
    To maximize readability, your sentences should have an individual topic. While it is possible to write longer sentences using commas and semicolons, your aim is to maximize readability. Show kindness and respect to your readers by creating clean, easily-fit-together sentences. After you write, try reading your sentences out loud. If you get entrapped by any of the words or you run out of breath, consider revising your text. 
  • Readability
    The essential ingredient to good writing is clarity. Make your points clear and “easily digestible.” Using bullet points and/or subheadings is a great means to communicate your points clearly.

Crafting Emails

Emails and texts are great time savers in our fast-moving world. Maintain a high quality of school customer service by maintaining professional means of comportment online. Here are just some suggestions.

  • Use Clear Subject Lines
    Use a clear subject line regarding the purpose of your email. It will increase readability and prevent confusion. 
  • Personalize Your Email
    When possible, personalize your email by using the recipient’s first name. Many studies show that when we use one another’s names, we feel more connected. Your email transforms into a personalized conversation.
  • Write Direct Opening Lines
    The opening lines of your message ought to be very clear so the recipient understands either what you need from them or what you are providing them. If it is a clarification on an update or a project you seek, let them know. For example: “I had a question for you about your request…” or “I wanted to follow up concerning the questionnaire you sent….”
  • Call to Action—our Closing Comments
    As you finish your email, be sure to include what action you’d like the recipient to take and any time that might be applicable. For example, “If you could let me know how you’d like me to update this information by the end of the day…” or “In order to meet our timeline for development, I’d need the following information by Wednesday at noon….”
  • Sign Your Email Professionally
    End your email with a polite sign-off and your name. It could be as simple as or “Have a wonderful day,” “Sincerely,” or “Regards.” Use something you feel is genuine.
  • Don’t Rush
    Remember to always check your email for typos, grammar, spelling, and clarity before sending. Don’t move so fast that you make a careless mistake.
  • Demonstrate Respect
    Always craft emails with the awareness that the messages you send out may include content that could be read by anyone. Assume that any email you send may be read by anyone. Avoid carelessness.

In our daily interactions on school campuses and our personal lives, we shouldn’t be afraid to reflect our personality in our school communications. As we do so in a professional manner, we give others an example to follow. Be yourself. Be kind. Be friendly. Be fun. Take time to thank and compliment others. Take time to notice others doing things right. Consider someone you admire for their exceptional communication skills. What do you appreciate most? Are you following suit?

The best customer service isn't your reaction to a negative experience—it's about working to prevent negative experiences. 

Seth Godin, a known marketing guru, says, "Perhaps we ought to spend more time being proactive. How many people on your team are actively advocating for the customer in advance? Guiding the process so that most disappointments won't even happen, which means we won't have to fix them..."

As you apply the principles and tips in this school customer service series, your community will respect your school and be more willing to give you its trust, and you will build loyalty. All of this results in a positive school reputation and healthy school public relations.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
426003
Customer Service: Facing the Fury
2019-02-13
Two characters facing one another in disagreement - representing the importance of customer service

Criticism and negativity can be a minefield when it comes to your school public relations. Remember, school public relations refers to how your community views and feels about your school; in other words, it’s your reputation. We all strive to have favorable public relations, but when something goes wrong, how we respond can make or break our reputation. 

In part 2 of our school customer service series, we’ll take a look how to deal with difficult or upset persons as well as how to deliver constructive criticism. These valuable customer service skills will help you gain the positive school public relations for which you strive.

As a school administrator, it is in your best interest to invest in a healthy plan of school communication. When moments of difficulty present themselves, it is possible to turn a challenge into an opportunity by using certain tools that grow more effective with practice. Let’s look at key components to such opportunities as well as how to receive or deliver constructive criticism in a way that ensures both sides win. 

A Recipe for Active Listening

When a parent, community member, staff member, or even board of education member is voicing a complaint, criticism, or concern, the first step is to listen. We’ve all heard how important it is, in any of our relationships, to become a better listener. This means becoming an active listener. Remember, your customers want to voice their grievances and be heard—so listen intently. 

Consider a neutral statement to begin. For example, one that keeps you from becoming defensive and lets them know you are ready to listen could be, “Please tell me what happened.” Steer clear of jumping to conclusions about what occurred; just let your customer tell you their story. As you listen, avoid interrupting, planning your response, and making assumptions. Just listen.

Active listening takes work; but most things of worth do, right? 

Our mind tends to bounce around, making it difficult to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes. While “listening,” we might think about what we are going to say next or simply jump to conclusions about what the speaker is really saying. Sometimes, we are even thinking about something totally unrelated to the conversation taking place. 

These are all very natural human responses, and they are at the heart of most miscommunication. If we work at it, however, we can train ourselves to stay focused, concentrate on the message, ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase—and become excellent listeners. This will help us in both our professional and personal lives.

When your customers (publics, audience, stakeholder, whatever term you choose) feel listened to, it improves your school public relations even if something has gone wrong. 

Central aspects of active listening:

  • Pay Attention: If the conversation is face-to-face, look at the speaker directly. Set aside any distracting thoughts; you may find it helpful to repeat in your mind the words being spoken to help connect you with the moment. Avoid mentally preparing your response. And don’t let other environmental factors distract you. For example, don’t check your phone or computer.
  • Show That You’re Listening. In face-to-face interactions (including video conferences), nod occasionally, and include smiles and other facial expressions. Is your posture open and inviting? Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” and “uh huh.”
  • Provide Feedback. Take time to rephrase the key points of what the other person has said, reflecting back in your own words, often in the form of a question. Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing. “I understand you to mean…” or “So, it sounds like you are saying…” or “If I understand it right....” or “What I’m hearing from you is…” are great ways to begin your feedback about what you heard as well as give the speaker a chance to clarify. Ask questions on points where clarification is needed, “What do you mean when you say…” or “Is this what you mean?” During the conversation, occasionally paraphrase the speaker’s comments.
  • Defer Judgment. Avoid interrupting. It is simply a waste of time. Interrupting will very likely frustrate the speaker and keep you from understanding the message. Allow the speaker to finish before you begin to ask questions. If you are concerned you might forget your questions, jot them down and ask them when they finish.
  • Respond Appropriately. Active listening helps you gain perspective as well as information. It is, indeed, a model for respect and understanding—worth the effort to perfect. Examine your willingness to be candid, honest, and kind in your responses. Treat the speaker the way you would want to be treated.
a girl holding her ear to listen
Central aspects of active listening:

Taking Criticism

Beyond active listening, other valuable tools come in handy when facing an angry parent, student, community member, or staff. 

  • Change Your Attitude: We often become defensive and put up a wall when we or something we care about is the subject of criticism. Instead, try to put yourself in their shoes. Set aside feelings you may have about how they are approaching you (even if the way they are acting upsets you or seems unreasonable or unfair). As you try to see the circumstance from their perspective and put your personal feelings aside, you will be more likely to focus on them and the present circumstance.
  • Restate Their Concerns: Once your customer has explained what happened, express your understanding of the current situation/concern. Choose your words carefully, using calm and objective wording. (For example, “So, it sounds like…”) As you repeat back the problem, it shows your customer that you were listening and committed to solving the problem. The result will be a decrease in their stress or anger level. 
  • Find Common Ground: It is possible to understand why someone is upset. You can understand how they feel without taking the blame. It is alright to express this. By acknowledging your understanding, this does not mean you are admitting to a mistake, merely that you understand how they feel. You may show empathy by saying something like, “I understand why you are upset. I’m very sorry that  ______.” Or, “I’m really sorry this caused a problem for you.”
  • Present a Solution: If you feel like you know what will make your customer happy, let them know how you’d like to correct the situation. You could say something like, “Let me take care of _____________ right now.” Or, “I was thinking we should ________, will that work?” If you are not sure what the customer wants from you, or if they reject your proposed solution, give them power to resolve the problem. Ask them to suggest ideas of how they would like you to resolve it. For example, “I’d love to hear what you think we should do to get this fixed correctly. If it is within my power, I’ll take care of it, and if not, then we can work on another solution together.”
  • Take Action & Follow Up. Once you’ve both come to a solution, take action immediately. And once the situation has been resolved, follow up with your customer, ensuring they’re happy with the resolution. Whenever you can, go above and beyond their expectations. You might even write a personal, handwritten note if you feel it is appropriate. 
  • Use the Feedback: If possible, make sure the situation doesn’t happen again in the future. If you haven’t already done so, identify how the problem started in the first place. Consider possible steps to put in place in order to improve the process so a future problem can be avoided. If it is a mistake made by someone outside of your responsibility, provide the details and any recommendations you might have with a supervisor.

Delivering Criticism

As a school administrator, you oversee the public relations practices of many of your staff. Sometimes those with whom you interact will expect something that you know by your own experience is not possible or will not be as effective as they think. Sometimes they won’t see issues or concerns through the same lens you see them, especially when it comes to school communications. 

It’s your job to help your staff improve by offering helpful suggestions, instead of simply going along with the way things have always been. There’s a fine line here, since your relationship with others is connected to many facets of your school. Keep in mind, you are in your current position because you are qualified and knowledgeable and others welcome your input and feedback. Those with whom you interact will welcome your suggestions more if you tactfully present your recommendations using a positive approach. 

  • The Compliment Sandwich Method.
    The compliment sandwich is a common method for delivering criticism. It involves “sandwiching” clear and direct criticism between compliments. For example, you provide positive feedback on an aspect of a staff member's performance, then bring up an area where improvement is needed, and end the conversation with more positive praise.

    The compliment sandwich has declined in popularity, in recent years, with many voices saying compliments sound dismissive when paired with criticism. However, when done right, a compliment sandwich can deliver feedback for needed improvements in a tactful, encouraging way. 

    For example, let’s say you notice your front office secretary isn’t as welcoming as she ought to be. She’s very busy and puts off that “busy air” as guests come to the front desk, taking a while before she acknowledges them. Though you’ve discussed wanting to provide a friendly, welcoming environment as guests visit your school, you notice she hasn’t made any strides toward improvement. 

    Old Method: You might say, "Sharon, I’ve noticed you haven’t made efforts to be more friendly and welcoming. Please remember that you provide the first impression for guests when they visit our school and we’re counting on you to do a better job."

    Compliment Sandwich: “Sharon, you do a wonderful job keeping the day-to-day activities of our school running. I understand how busy you are, but I’m afraid that may be detracting from the friendly, welcoming environment we want to offer as guests visit the front desk. Do you think you could be more conscientious when guests approach the desk to acknowledge them, even if you have something to finish up before you can help them? A friendly, ‘I’ll be with you in just a moment’ goes a long way. You have such an affable personality, I know you’ll do a wonderful job helping us toward our goal of having a welcoming front office.”

    The compliment sandwich method takes a bit more time but is an effective way to introduce recommendations and guide co-workers and team members in a kind manner. Just be sure to remember this: all feedback (positive and negative) must be well thought out and authentic.

  • For example, in the example above a delayed compliment sandwich may sound like this: “Sharon, I know how busy you are and you do a wonderful job keeping the day-to-day activities of our school running. But I’ve noticed that you sometimes ignore guests at the counter.  Could you please be more conscientious when guests approach the desk to acknowledge them? A friendly, ‘I’ll be with you in just a moment’ goes a long way.”

    After a week, when Sharon has made a visible effort to follow through with your request, you could say, “I’ve noticed you doing a really great job recently! Thank you for helping us make this a welcoming environment!” 

  • Guided Questions
    Another method for providing constructive criticism is to pose questions and work together to determine the problem and develop a solution.

    Using the same situation as an example you might say, “A few weeks ago we discussed wanting to provide a more welcoming and friendly environment for our guests. Sharon, what are some things you could do to help us reach that goal?”

    I love this method because it allows the person receiving feedback an opportunity for introspection and the chance to develop their own solution. You also can offer feedback in a way that shows you are on the same page and willing to help in their improvement. 

By tactfully and helpfully providing criticism, you construct a happy, healthy work environment. An environment in which your employees are happy and enjoy their jobs is a crucial piece to good public relations. It’s hard to explain, but think about it this way: Happiness is contagious; if your employees are happy, it emits through their interactions with your customers and results in positive public relations for your school. 

happy people jumping up

Final Thoughts

A critical aspect of your school’s customer service is how you as an administrator face the criticism from others as well as provide feedback yourself. When these opportunities come, remember to take the advantage and connect with the people involved using tools and principles such as those mentioned here. These recommendations aren’t always easy to practice in moments of frustration, but if you strive to handle all situations with kindness and empathy, when difficult situations arise you’ll be practiced in your response and have a better chance at maintaining those positive public relations for which we all strive.

As you interact with those in your school community in a positive, constructive way, you further establish a school brand/reputation people will want to get behind. And that’s something we all like to hear!

Oh, and don't forget to check out Part 1 and Part 3 of this 3-part school customer service series.

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Customer Service: The Power of Words
2019-02-12
Two male cartoon characters - one speaking to the other as the words go in one ear and out the other

Customer: someone who receives or consumes goods or services and has the ability to choose between different products and suppliers.

This word customer may not always come to your mind when you think of the valuable work you do at your school each day. Customer service is evident at every school however, and it is at the core of your school’s public relations. 

If “school public relations” is the development and maintenance of a favorable public image for your school, then how you treat your “publics” is important in your day-to-day activities. In this three-part series, we will look at key elements of school customer service and their impact on school public relations. 

This first blog will examine the power of words to make or break your school customer service endeavors. Then we will discuss the best ways to give and take criticism. And finally, we will look at healthy online and in-person practices for your school communications. 

Who Are Your Customers? 

Schools don’t always think of the communities and publics they serve as “customers,” so the concept of customer service can seem a little foreign. As a school administrator, who are your customers? Who receives or consumes goods or services from your school? Students certainly receive goods and services. But who else? Parents are a huge group that represent your “customers.” In fact, few students have a say in where they go to school. What about your teachers and school staff? Can they choose between your school and any other school, or are you the only option? In most places, there are other options for students and their families as well as for your faculty and staff. So does customer service have a place in your school? I hope so! 

Intentional School Communication

Emily Dickinson wrote:

“A WORD is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”

The idea that our words “live” once they are said should impress upon us the import and impact our word choice has. 

Did you know using and hearing positive words can actually change the way we see reality? It’s true!

Purposeful communication is at the heart of quality customer service in any environment in which you find yourself—among those with whom you work and with whom you interact in any manner. 

Intentionally using the right words in your daily communications results in a positive perception of your school (i.e., positive public relations for your school). This perception comes from the words you choose and the promises you keep. 

Below are seven tips to improving the way you interact with others. We provide a few examples of each tip here; if you own the Marketing Your School Calendar, we’ve added a new resource for you called the “Power of Words” with lots more examples. Log in to the resource page and check it out under Week 4.

1. Welcoming Phrases

You’ve heard this before—you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s mostly true. We believe you get a chance to make a good impression any time you have the opportunity of greeting someone or welcoming them to your school. Welcoming phrases are powerful ways to put your best foot forward. Build rapport and show interest in your customer’s situation by showing courtesy, respect, and enthusiasm right off the bat. 

For example, as soon as someone walks through your office door, stand up and say, “Thank you for stopping by, how can I help you?” 

Can you tell your visitor is irritated? Say, “How can I make your day better?” 

Busy? Take a second to say, “Good morning, I’ll be with you in just a minute.” 

At School Webmasters, we don’t even send emails without a greeting; it can be as simple as “Hi, _____.” 

2. Courtesy Phrases

Your customers want to be respected; in fact, as humans, isn’t respect something all of us desire? Some of these sample phrases are examples of common courtesies you should always consider using as part of your normal vocabulary in life and especially with your customers. Doing so demonstrates respect, consideration, and basic good manners. 

“Please.”

“Thank you.” (Pro-tip: Be specific. For example, “thank you for working with me on this.”)

“My pleasure.” (said with enthusiasm, of course)

“You’re welcome.”

Thank you for your support

3. Making Recommendations

Finding a positive way to make recommendations is very important. No one wants to be dismissed entirely, so when making recommendations it’s important to also provide some validation or positive feedback. You could use the compliment sandwich; or here are some simple phrases that might be even more useful:

“Can I share an idea with you that you might like even more?”

“Oh, yes! And we could also….”

“What I CAN do is...”

4. Expressing Empathy, Regret, or Apology

When appropriate, conveying empathy with the right phrase or expressing regret will go a long way to show your customers that you genuinely care and understand their point of view. When you have made a mistake, most people respect those who are open and honest about those mistakes and who take responsibility rather than avoid it. It’s not realistic for anyone to expect infallibility, but apology and empathy go far in re-establishing trust. When you need to admit mistakes, consider using very short sentences and moving on to solving whatever problem exists.

“I understand how _______(disappointing, upsetting, annoying, etc.) that must be.”

“I’m so sorry that happened. Let me see what I can do to make it right.”

“You must be pretty upset that there was a delay…”

5. When Follow-Up is Needed

If the issue you face with your customer cannot be resolved immediately and follow-up is necessary, be careful. If you can’t promise a solution by a given time, you can always promise an update. So, if you told a customer you’d follow up with them, keep your promise, and proactively keep the customer informed (at least once a day).

For every customer who complains, research suggests there are approximately 26 customers who didn’t say anything but are likely experiencing the same problem and not letting you know. This means if you resolve the issue for one customer, it could make dozens of others happier at the same time. Always express thanks to customers who bring something to your attention that you can improve or fix. Author of How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie, once said, “In our interpersonal relations, we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.”

hand opening a door

No matter how hard you try, sometimes you just don’t get it right, but people often won’t speak up about problems. So, when possible, open the door and invite the customer to let you know if there is anything that remains unresolved. Just ask the question:

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with. I’m happy to help.”

6. Phrases of Appreciation (Especially in Closing)

At the end of each customer contact, be sure to conclude with a powerful phrase of appreciation. This expression will leave a positive impression in any customer’s mind. 

“Thank you for contacting us. I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week/day!”

7. Dangerous Phrases

There are a few less effective phrases that too often trigger a negative response when used or that may not convey your true meaning. For example, “no.” You can’t always avoid using this word, but do avoid it as much as possible. Never use it at the beginning of a sentence or without providing any form of explanation. Imagine the kind of public relations you establish with your customer if they asked if they could drop off their son’s lunch and the curt response is “no.” 

Rather, tell your customers what you can do to help them, or explain the policy and provide an apology. “I’m sorry, for safety reasons we can’t allow a lunch to be dropped off in our office. However, you’re welcome to …” 

More dangerous phrases include: 

  • “That’s just not our policy.” This phrase does not reflect empathy for the customer. Be more precise and provide a better explanation when you can. When that explanation is to provide a safe and better environment for the students, parents will be more understanding.
  • “No problem.” This is a subtle problematic phrase and one with nuances many people may overlook. It’s an acceptable response to an apology, but more and more it has become a response to expressions of gratitude for which it is not an appropriate response. For example, “I’m sorry to bother you but, …” To say, “oh, it was no problem” communicates a sort of “apology accepted and forgiveness extended.” However, when used in response to an expression of thanks, it implies a need to apologize rather than extend gratitude. For example, “Thank you for your help.” To answer “no problem” implies that it was a problem to drop what you were doing and assist. A much better response to expressions of gratitude is “my pleasure” or the classic “you’re welcome.” You're Welcome!
  • “ASAP.” You might set them up for disappointment; give them a timeframe instead.

Word Choice on Your School Website

Since your interactions with your school community occur online and specifically on your school website, your word choice can send a variety of messages. Have you noticed the difference the way some websites you visit communicate with viewers? Word choice on your school website is a powerful way to establish your school brand and culture and send a positive message to your visitors. 

Choose the words and tone you use on your school website carefully. One way you can do this is to apply the ideas mentioned above. Welcoming and friendly websites strengthen your school brand, connecting your customers to your school. When homepages have phrases such as: “Welcome,” or “We invite you ____,” it may seem insignificant but it is certainly not. Many prospective families will visit your school website before ever setting foot on your campus. Your website can set the tone and establish an expectation of your school being a happy and welcoming place. When websites simply post information without acknowledging the viewer; these websites are less engaging, less friendly, and less memorable. 

As one who works in the educational services sector these days, customer service is indubitably king when it comes to your school public relations and marketing. Please consider the importance you place on being courteous, respectful, and helpful even (and especially) if at times those you interact with fail to offer you the same. Your clients—your school community—make many of their decisions based on their perception of the service they receive relative to your school. How you treat them is important—to them. If your customers believe they’ve been exceptionally served, well, you have succeeded.

Also, be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3 in this 3-part school customer services series.

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Parents Will Engage When Students are the Ambassadors
2019-02-05
Mother and father holding child's hand

Wouldn’t it be strange to attend a school sporting event only to see the principal as the only player representing the school? Picture the scene: he or she didn’t have time to change before the event, so he’s/she’s still wearing business attire and carrying a laptop from the afternoon faculty meeting. Who would likely be in the bleachers cheering on that team of one? At first, many might come to see the surprising sight, but soon, loyalty to the “team of 1” would very likely wane as the team stats took a nosedive since opponents would be, by far, more capable of working towards victory as a team. 

Successful schools communicate to their parents and students that they are part of a team, not just observers whose presence matters very little. In general, the more your school community is in the “game,” the more your bleachers fill with spectators. And this audience should not to be underestimated; in football, spectators are known as the 12th man and can give a team an edge. Students are a school’s secret weapon to rallying your school community. If you inspire a student with a school program, activity, initiative, etc., your efforts will be multiplied by their enthusiasm to the get the word out to their family and friends. Increased parent engagement through your students is a crucial part of successful school public relations and marketing.

Shared Interest

As a school administrator, you care about the success of your students for a variety of reasons. In turn, parents care about individual students and their success for a variety of reasons. Any math teacher will agree the greatest common factor here is the students and their success. And it is no secret that parent involvement is a benefit to schools. So, how do schools foster successful parent partnerships?

In 2016, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards program gave their top honor, the David M. Rubenstein Prize, to the Reading Rockets project. On their website is an article published by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. The article states:

Schools successful in engaging parents start by going beyond narrow definitions of involvement. They don't just count the number of parents who attend the spaghetti dinner or volunteer at the book fair. They don't focus on requirements such as having parents sign reports cards. Instead, they start with a belief that student success is a shared interest of both school and family, envision parents as partners in the learning process, and then identify concrete ways that partnership can be activated. 

So, how should schools engage parents? By getting their students in the game. Here are four ways to reach out to your students, build positive relationships with them, and enlist their help to market your school.

Don’t Put Students On the Bench

When students are not key players in your school, you can bet that your parent support will be minimal. Consider ways to place your students in starting roles at your school. How often do you recognize students at your school? Is it only your star athlete or top academic student? What about the rest? Do their efforts, successes, and ideas matter and deserve school praise? As a parent, I will walk, swim, bike, or drive to recognize my child’s triumphs. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have a ribbon or trophy simply for being there, but I believe our schools have the potential to recognize student successes much more often than they do these days. Recognition doesn’t even have to be grandiose either. It can be as simple as positive communication from the principal or other school faculty recognizing the good in a student. I love this video from Glenbard District 87 where teachers shared positive words with their students. Clearly those students are the star players! 

Effectively getting your students on board with school marketing is no small task. So how can your students help market for your school?  Three core principles are at the heart of properly marketing to your students so that they, in turn, market for your school.

kids on a bench

1. Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

One of my memories of high school is running into my principal during the few times I was out in the hallways during class. I don’t know how often he was in the halls, but he always seemed to be when I was there. Mr. Waite, a high-ranking officer in the National Guard, never seemed to miss a chance to reach out to his students—even in passing. 

As a school administrator, regularly evaluate your overall communication approach. Consider your interactions with others and the overall tone of these interactions during a typical day in your busy schedule. There are many ways we communicate with others throughout the day. Are you interacting with students negatively or positively? Directly or indirectly? How often? Communication goes beyond daily interactions with students and others. Our relationship with others throughout the day work on a form of banking; if you constantly withdraw from your interactions with students or others in a critical way but very rarely deposit praise, that interaction will not inspire a student to speak well of you or anything else related to your school. 

2. Establish a School Brand That Your Students Care About

I hesitate here because I worry that administrators might read that and think, “Why does it matter if our students care?” Students are in school because education is important. And educators do their best to provide high-quality education. Lost in the midst of that, sometimes, is whether or not the students are invested in the school. Student investment and engagement go hand-in-hand in establishing positive public relations for your school, and, in the long run, marketing your school. 

As a high schooler, I hated my high school. I thought it was cliquish and the administration's highest priority was the football team. I had no school pride. Now, as an adult, I wouldn’t send my children there, and I wouldn’t recommend the school to others. That’s not the kind of relationship your school wants with your students and alumni. By establishing a school brand that cares about your students, and, in turn, your students care about you lay the foundation for good school PR and positive school marketing.

A Lesson from Fast Food

fast food french friesOne valuable principle I learned as a PTO president was this: if you manage to effectively enthuse students about an activity, parent engagement follows. Parents attend events, volunteer to participate, and provide support when their children encourage them. We call this “McDonald’s marketing.” 

Why do kids ask to eat at McDonald’s? Because the brand appeals to them—from the meal that comes in their own personal little box complete with a toy to the indoor playgrounds. Consider this: What do parents get out of the McDonald’s experience? Sure some may just love the menu options, but most of us take joy in watching our kids happily play in the playroom or enjoy their delight over that cheap little toy. The fact is, the result of a happy child outweighs whether or not the parent prefers other restaurants. Your school brand needs to appeal to your students if you want it to appeal to their parents as well.

3. Be Original

As you work to establish a brand your students care about, remember to be original. It’s no secret that millennials value originality, and it behooves your school to put effort into providing a fresh take on education. 

There are many ways and platforms on which to be original these days without breaking the school’s budget. A school that values originality sets itself apart from other schools. Consider the various platforms you have available: school social media, your school website, newsletters, spirit weeks, etc. 

Consider your school’s priorities in what you want to offer your school community. How can you put an original spin on it? No ideas? Involve your students and get a fresh perspective. Apart from student councils, do you include students in your other meetings at school? Students today want to be engaged, and engagement fosters loyalty. Consider involving students in brainstorming meetings or having student focus groups contribute their thoughts on important topics. As you allow your students to contribute, you help them catch your vision as well as take an ownership in that vision and band. As you engage students, they will naturally become advocates and help your vision succeed

It Makes a Difference

Your efforts in these three areas will make a difference. Here are just a few school categories that are impacted by effective school marketing

    • Student enrollment

    • Funding increases (taxes, tuition, fundraising) 

    • Quality teacher recruitment

    • Parent engagement and support

    • Student performance

    • Staff morale

    • Student spirit

    • Building trust and confidence

    If a student and his/her family feel a sense of rewarded satisfaction for their time and effort, you are on your way to establishing earned trust from your community. As your school repeats this over and over in your school community, that trust grows, strengthening your school brand. 

    Basically, if my child believes in it—I’m for it. If the school succeeds in giving my child the vision, it’s going to be difficult to keep my family from participating. Make your students your star players by getting them involved and invested in your school. Parent engagement will naturally follow.  

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    Is Your Front Office Helping or Hurting Your School Enrollment?
    2019-01-29
    Happy school secretary welcoming parents

    One major challenge every school office faces is the expectation to provide a variety of services to many different people. A school office is a high-traffic area for parents, students, and staff coming in to see counselors, principals, nurses, other students, etc. As if that wasn’t enough, the workload is high, and that includes juggling a wide range of priorities amidst those nearly constant interruptions. 

    School office personnel—including principals—have an unpredictable, sometimes difficult job. Just like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’re going to get in a school day! School offices never know who is going to walk in throughout the day, from the time those school doors open until they close. Especially these days, your front office has an important gatekeeping position at school buildings, and you and your office staff are to be admired. Among your various responsibilities, your front office staff often gives a critical, lasting impression to current and potential students and their families. 

    How do your visitors feel when they enter your school’s front office? Do they feel valued? How successful is your office staff at prioritizing positive impressions and first-class customer service? Your school’s front office staff plays a remarkable, yet sometimes overlooked role in school communications and student enrollment. It's no secret that quality customer service helps your enrollment. Period. Poor customer service, failing to meet your customer’s expectations, and subpar communications hurt your enrollment. 

    Here are some simple ways your school’s office personnel can contribute positively to your student enrollment efforts. 

    Stop and help

    Most everyone in and out of your school understands that your front office is a hub of goings and comings. Most recognize that school office staff is plenty busy even before adding interruptions from whoever walks through the school doors. So, what is your school policy for your open door? Is your school’s office staff trained to understand the many facets of their front-line role, including that role as communicators? Can they stop what they are doing and help someone right in front of them, ideally with a smile on their face? 

    People will walk through your doors when it isn’t convenient. It’s inevitable. But they are part of your school community. People tend to feel grateful and cultivate a sense of loyalty when others show them they are important. You send this message when you stop what you are doing to go above and beyond to help them.

    stop sign

    Greet visitors within 30 seconds of their arrival

    Have you ever frequented a business where the customer service was subpar? Did it revolve around the way you felt they valued you and your individual needs? One of our human needs is to be acknowledged, particularly when we are seeking various services. Your school visitors should not have to wait long before office personnel acknowledges and helps them. 

    As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, our family has moved many times. Each time my husband’s job transfers, we’ve started over with new towns and new schools. During one particular move, I visited a potential school and was unpleasantly surprised by what happened. I walked into the front office to ask for some general information. I expected to be met with a bit of excitement about a new student joining their ranks; the reaction I felt was the opposite. Two office staff members sat at their desks; there was no one else waiting to be helped—just me. Both nonchalantly continued to talk on their phones and did not give me any form of acknowledgment. I stood there waiting to be helped for likely just a little less than two minutes, but it felt like forever. I felt invisible. I decided to leave. It was the worst first impression of a school I have ever had. 

    Even if your staff is busy on the phone, eye contact, a smile, and a nod go a long way. That acknowledgment says, “I see you. I’ll be right with you.” 

    A note about phones

    Not all customer service interactions take place face to face. Remember, businesses that strive to please customers generally aim to answer phones before the third ring. 

    Smile

    Your non-verbal communication is just as important as your verbal school communications. Turning the frown upside down is worth the effort every minute of every day, as it affects everybody. Besides dressing professionally, it really is true—you are never fully dressed without a smile. According to research, the act of smiling lifts our mood, boosts our immune system, and lowers stress. Among these diverse benefits of smiling, it also sets a friendly tone for those you encounter every day, no matter who they are. A smile can open doors that otherwise might remain closed. 

    Families looking for a new school are looking for a positive school environment in which to enroll their child. If the first faces of the school look upbeat and welcoming with a natural smile instead of dismal and subdued visages, their impression of your school will be a happy one. Help your office staff members understand the vital role they play in the atmosphere of your campus. 

    5 hands painted with smiley faces

    Learn names

    You and your office staff see parents and guardians as they come in and out of your office. Take the small moments to see them as team players. Learn their names. Connect in some small way. You will not regret it, and you can bet that they will not forget it. 

    In recent years, research found that of the adults surveyed, 63% had moved to a new community at least once. Also, 23% U.S.-born adults say the place they consider their heart-home is not where they live now. What this tells me, is that there is a substantial number of parents in your school community who may or may not feel at home with the local area. This is your school’s opportunity to shine! This is your moment to let them know they can come to your school and you will recognize them and their children. Isn’t it truly nice to go somewhere where somebody knows your name?  

    Treat newbies and oldies the same

    As a parent, I enjoy going to the school when I trust that I am going to be welcomed by a friendly office staff. Your school’s office should focus its positive attention not only on the new students and their families, but also on your current students and their families. Remember not to take any students and their families for granted. All front-office interactions are building blocks of impressions of your school. 

    So, how is your school doing in that field? Do students and visitors want to stay, based on how your school handles the small interactions like those in the front office? Remember, both current and prospective students and families need to feel valued and acknowledged in little ways, otherwise they might see right through the disparity.

    Aesthetics matter

    Be sure your school’s office has a welcoming atmosphere. Have you ever walked into an office or business and, based on the amount of signs posted on the walls and counters, get the feeling that they would rather have you read their signs than actually talk to them? 

    In your school communications, signs have their place and can be helpful. However, if your office staff is tired of sharing the same thing over and over and choose to create a type of “absent guide” through printed papers with instructions all over the office, it sends a message that may not display the best public relations. It says, “Help yourself, I’m too busy.” Or worse, “I don’t care.” 

    People like to be acknowledged. Find a happy balance between necessary posted signs and the willingness to share information and instruction the old fashioned way—with your voice. And, if people are talking positively about the little things your school does consistently, it will turn more than one head. Word of mouth is the quickest, simplest, and economical form of communication to get your school brand out to the community, and you can bet your enrollment is connected to those perceptions.  

    How successfully does your office staff juggle the priority of giving a positive first impression to current or prospective students and their families? Your school’s gatekeepers in the front office have a multitude of tasks on their plate every day. This includes the opportunity to leave a lasting impression with each person who walks through your front door. Will visitors to your school feel valued in your front office? Will they feel acknowledged, thankful and loyal because of the way they are treated? Your front office staff and the way they treat their important recruitment position affects your student enrollment. The quality customer service they render directly correlates with your student numbers. Train them. Value them. Working in a school’s front office is a tough job but, someone’s gotta do it and do it well. 


    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
    396243
    Telling Your School’s Stories
    2019-01-24
    Students with backpack and the words what's your story

    Telling deeply satisfying, meaningful stories isn’t just a tool or device to use once in a while; it’s an essential strategy in communication and in marketing your school. If you want to build trust, enthusiasm, and loyalty that is ingrained with your school’s brand, storytelling is the answer.

    Our brains are predisposed to think in terms of story. Story is how we create meaning. Studies show that a listeners’ brain responds by mirroring the teller’s brain responses—think Vulcan mind meld—so we intuitively pay closer attention when we hear a story. We tie stories we hear to our own memories and past experiences. We engage. A compelling story impacts us emotionally. We’re both imagining what’s happening and analyzing the story for content, information, and key messages. So, we are more likely to remember and internalize a story and act upon it.

    Why should you care about storytelling? Because, as an educator, part of your job is to convince parents that entrusting their children into your hands is a smart choice. You want them to spend their resources, both time and money, on your school (through taxes, vouchers, tuition, or by volunteering). You also want to build trust, confidence, and unity throughout your school. Stories are the key. Not only are compelling stories remembered, they are shared. A compelling story will:

    • Engage all of the senses
    • Reflect and connect with people’s needs and emotions
    • Embed themselves in people’s subconscious
    • Make data and information believable
    • Convey and demonstrate your values
    • Create engagement and trust
    • Differentiate your school from its competition
    • Help people imagine a future that’s worth achieving

    Think about the memorable stories you’ve heard. They inspire. They transform. Stories elicit actions like:

    • Increasing enrollment. Stories help your target audience identify with your solutions, so they can see themselves (or their children) being successful in that environment.
    • Highlighting differentiators. Stories provide real-world examples of how your school differs from other schools and helps you attract those whose interests and needs are a match.
    • Increasing website traffic. Using stories on your website adds keyword rich content, so you will be found. When used in conjunction with social media, your stories can go viral, and your school’s brand and reputation surge.
    • Strengthening your relationships. When you tell a great story, it will be shared by the parents and students within their own circles, leading to increased enrollment and enhanced reputations. You can build spirit, pride, and loyalty by sharing engaging stories.
    • Creating staff engagement. Sharing stories with staff will build a strong school culture. Stories create shared realities and put both vision and values into practice, thus creating positive behaviors.

    How to gather stories from your staff:

    Use a story prompt to get the wheels turning and help people recall their best stories. But just asking questions isn’t enough. You won’t get a story; you’ll get an answer. To elicit a story, your story prompt will be in two parts. The opening will be in asking, “Tell me about….” or “Tell me a story about…” or “Share with me a memory about…” or “Visualize a time for me when….”

    The closing portion of your story prompt needs to be very specific to help the person select a story to share with you. So instead of saying, “Tell me about a recent classroom success,” you should rephrase it to say, “Tell me about a very rewarding experience for a student in one of your latest classroom projects.” Or, switch it up and put the specificity of the prompt before the question, like this: “I heard you had wonderful student success in one of your classroom projects this month. Tell me about your experience.”

    Story prompt ideas:

    Why did you decide to work here? (for staff)
    Story prompt: Tell me about a specific event that helped you make your decision to work at this school.

    Have you ever received exceptional mentoring? (for staff)
    Story prompt: Paint me a picture of a time when you received mentoring and it felt truly memorable.

    Describe a time when you saw one of our school’s values in action.
    Story prompt: Pick one of our school values or goals that has a lot of personal meaning to you. Tell me about a time when you saw this value being demonstrated in an amazing way (by a student or staff member).

    Describe a student success at our school.
    Story prompt: Tell me a story about a student whose successful efforts or a challenge overcome demonstrated their strength of character. If applicable, tell me about how their efforts have influenced others.

    Describe a teacher success you’ve seen.
    Story prompt: Share with me a memory about a time a teacher in our school had a huge impact on the life of a student or another staff member.

    Describe an alumni success.
    Story prompt: Looking back, tell me about a time when someone at had an influential experience on you that helped you to become the person you are today. Tell me how you feel about that person or experience and his/her effect on your life. How did that person represent our school’s values?

    How can you use story prompts to generate stories? 

    From Staff:
    You can ask for help from staff at a staff meeting and explain how you intend to use these stories to better represent the school and its successes and values in your marketing and communication efforts. Start by sharing one of your own stories at the next staff meeting as a model to follow. Or try one of these triggers to get people thinking:

    • Hold up a photo or image, ask your staff to look at the image, and then tell about (or write about) a memory it triggers. Remind them to include all the sounds, emotions, and smells/tastes that come to mind.
    • Use music or an audio file to trigger memories, and ask your audience to communicate (either to a partner you’ve assigned or by writing it down) the first memory that comes to mind when they hear the recording.
    • Share a metaphor, and ask for a story about whatever memory comes to mind when they hear it (especially as it relates to your school, their roles in the school, or their reason for being in the role they have chosen). You could say something like, “Tell me about a time when the expression “Have your cake and eat it too” held a strong meaning for you. Others might be, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “point of no return,” “heart of gold,” or “reap what you sow.”
    • Provide an online form for staff to make submitting the basic information you would need to craft a non-fiction narrative story. Then make an annual story assignment schedule (by grade level or department) so staff can be looking for stories all year long.

    From Students:
    Consider having a contest, and reward the best stories received by recording the winners telling their story on video in spotlight stories for your website. This could also be an assignment in an English or literature or communications class. Be sure to have some good example stories to use as models for the students to understand how an effective story can compel their interest far more than merely stating facts. Involve teachers in the story gathering.

    From Alumni or Parents:

    If you have a blog and are an administrator, what a great topic to write about and invite parent and alumni participation. Ask for participation from parents involved in your parent organization. Invite board members or directors to participate as well.

    Remember, one or two good stories can be a model for others and will also trigger other memories. So, make story gathering an ongoing effort, and before long you’ll have many wonderful examples of the qualities and successes that represent your school.

    And, last but not least, always keep your ears open for good stories. Savor them. Collect them. Listen delightedly as others share stories (make eye contact, lean in toward them and let your genuine interest show with your body language and facial expressions). Don’t fill pauses with words unless they are “Go on,” or “What then?” Ask reflective questions, and then give appreciation to others who share their stories. Tell them what you liked most about the story and how their story affected you. Then, thank them again.

    Additional Information

    Where can you use stories? 

    • Website and social media 
    • Staff meetings
    • Back-to-school events
    • Board meetings
    • Presentations
    • Public relations like press releases, media relations, and crisis management
    • Customer service (and customer service training for your staff)
    • Mentoring programs
    • Interviewing job prospects and recruitment efforts
    • Implementing change
    • Enhancing teamwork and professional development
    • Newsletters
    • In the classroom
    • Local media (newspapers, radio, podcasts, blogs)

    Types of stories 

    • School’s founding or history
    • What we stand for
    • What we do
    • What we value
    • Success stories
    • Overcoming barriers
    • School’s customer stories (students, parents, alumni, staff)

    114026
    Parent Engagement
    2019-01-22
    Come in, we're open sign

    Do you ever feel like your school public relations plan is missing something? Take a look at your school-parent community partnership. How often do your students’ families come to your school? Do they have reasons to look forward to their time on your campus? 

    While living in Anchorage, Alaska, some years ago, our oldest child attended kindergarten at Northern Lights ABC Elementary School (NLABC). Once a month this school would invite students’ families to attend an assembly. During the first half of the event, there would be a performance by one of the grades based on a patriotic theme. During the latter half of the assembly, the principal would present academic and citizenship awards to students. We enjoyed their reading program awards, and my daughter worked hard to meet checkpoints during the year in order to finally get a special t-shirt for reading over 5,000 pages.

    My husband and I enjoyed going to the school to watch our daughter receive an award or perform in an assembly. At the assemblies, we met our daughter’s friends as well as their families. We also marveled at how much the school managed to fit into a kindergarten day. Since that time, we have had children attend seven different schools in three different school districts. To be certain, every school has its strengths and weaknesses, but every time we move, I can’t help but compare our new school to NLABC school. Their parent engagement was exemplary.    

    According to Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University, there are six types of involvement in a school-parent community partnership: parenting, learning at home, volunteering, communicating, decision making, and collaborating with the community. A successful partnership offers a broad range of school, family, and community opportunities that engage all parties and, most importantly, meet students’ needs. Epstein affirms that these partnerships are not add-on programs or independent projects—they are effectively integrated with school goals and overall district goals. 

    Creating frequent opportunities at the school to engage parents (and grandparents too) refreshes your school public relations, helping families feel connected to your school. In general, parents enjoy supporting their children by attending events in which they were involved in one way or another. According to Epstein, parent, family, and community involvement means different things to different people. Here are some ideas of activities you can hold at your school that will foster parent engagement.

    Six Typical Ways to Engage Parents

    The Usual: 

    1. Open houses: These are typically well known, expected, and pretty much a staple on any school calendar. These events give families a chance for school orientation at the beginning of the school year. 

    2. Assemblies: As I mentioned above, assemblies give schools a chance to strengthen school brand and public relations by showcasing combined efforts of faculty and students, sharing a wide variety of messages with the families and classmates—either through spoken words or music. These events can vary based on age group, but all schools benefit from well-run assemblies. 

    3. School tours: Try offering monthly tours on a set date. Benefits of establishing a set time for tours limits disruptions to classroom time, allows for your office to professionally direct prospective students and their families, and shows that you set a priority on welcoming in new students.  

    4. School lunch: Be sure your students’ families know they are welcome to join their students for lunch during school. This is a great opportunity for parents and grandparents to feel connected to your school. If your school isn’t open for lunch, schedule a special day to invite parents or grandparents to join their child for lunch.

    5. Student presentations: This is a great chance to showcase artwork, research projects, or classroom projects. Some schools do “waxless museums” as an event where students share their research on a historical figure or host a “Greek night” after their sixth-grade class has finished their unit on ancient Greece. 

    6. Thank volunteers: Encourage volunteering by hosting an appreciation luncheon. At the end of the year, take time to thank volunteers by hosting something, such as a luncheon, for them at the school.staff member writing a note-Thank you Volunteers

    Eleven Exceptional Ways to Engage Parents

    The Less Usual:

    Alright, here I’m going to break off from the traditional hum-drum ideas with a variety of ideas for school events for all ages. This is not a comprehensive list because honestly, the sky's the limit with the possible events you could host to strengthen parent engagement at your school. 

    1. Host a new parent event: Have you ever heard of “Cookies and Kleenex?” This type of event invites parents of kindergarten students to gather together just after they’ve dropped off their students for the first time. Parents visit as well as meet the school’s PTA or PTO board and administration. As parents meet and bond with other parents, you can use this time to encourage volunteer work and participation.

    2. Plan for dinner at the school (food trucks or cafeteria style): If there is one thing that brings everyone together, it’s food! Meals can be a great way to foster a sense of community. Maybe plan a spaghetti night coupled with an evening STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) performance, or ask the PTO to bring in pizza to sell at a planned math night. Our local elementary hosts food trucks during parent-teacher conferences, and the whole community loves it! 

    3. STEAM nights: Check out this announcement and upcoming event example from NLABC in Alaska:

      “Alex Zerbe, The Zaniac, will kick off the NLABC February Science month with STEM shows for students grades 1–8 during the day. That night the theme will be different, and you won't want to miss it. Bring the family and join us for a special Evening Show focused on Arts & Literacy that is just plain fun! Seating is limited, so order your place in advance using the form available. You can preview Alex's Zany Show @ http://www.amazingschoolassembly.com/come-alive.html or by Googling for ‘The Zaniac!’”

      This is a great example of a school that understands how to create a marketing buzz for school events.  

    4. Community enrichment events: School public relations are built on positive school-community interactions. Here are a few ideas of ways your school can participate and facilitate community events
      • Free Adult English Classes—Some school districts offer free community classes. Would your community benefit from free adult English classes? As part of his undergraduate requirements at the university studying Spanish, my husband volunteered as a class instructor in such a class. We both loved it. This is a fantastic way to bring in parents of ESL students.
      • Group volunteering—Consider organizing a school service project that helps contribute something to the school (such as a new coat of paint) or in the community (such as a night serving dinner at a homeless shelter).
      • Parent Education Events—The PTSA for Ridgefield High School partners with Ridgefield Public Schools and the community to host parent workshops for “Parenting the #Selfie Generation.” These events are open to all parents and are a great way to form positive relationships with parents. 
      Local Dentist visiting a school

    5. Invite parents (and grandparents) to teach:
      • Professional volunteers —Schools usually host assemblies by local professionals, such as dentists who share tips on proper dental care. Here’s the news page snippet about a recent event at Ridge Ranch Elementary School at the Paramus School Public Schools district: 

        You don’t have to stick to dentists either. Why not take a survey of the professions and experiences of your students’ families to discover what other knowledge could be shared at the school?  
      • Art class volunteers— Some school districts have elementary art classes taught by trained volunteers who teach in individual classrooms for about 40 minutes each month. It is a beautiful way to involve parents while opening up the world of art to students.
      • Guest speakers— What better way to start or end a unit on World War II than to invite a veteran to come and speak to the class? Networking with families and community members can create lots of opportunities to bring real-world experiences into any classroom. 

    6. School enrollment events: Certain events can serve the primary needs of your district, such as events that promote enrollment. In our experience, public schools don’t take advantage of enrollment events to market their schools the same way charter and private schools do. But, as a public school, you’re fighting for enrollment just the same as they are. Events targeted toward prospective students help your school showcase your school’s strengths, bringing in potential students and their families all at once. 

    7. Dances: These events are great for socializing and bringing school community and family together in positive, fun ways. My daughters especially enjoy these events every year at all levels—elementary, junior high, and high school. Our local elementary school hosts a daddy-daughter dance in February around Valentine’s day. The girls love getting dressed up, and it’s a wonderful way to get dads and other father figures to visit your school campus and show their support. Other examples of school-hosted dances could be:
      • Youth dance 
      • Family dance
      • Sock hop

    8. Talent shows: Host your very own “Our School Has Talent” show. These can be low-budget but high-yield when it comes to your school marketing and public relations. Watch students come out of their shells and comfort zones and be amazed at how this event brings the community together. Added bonus: Videos or live stream from your talent show even makes for great posts on your school social media pages.

    9. Engineering night: Many parent engagement ideas center around the arts like concerts or plays. Here a couple of unique ideas for bringing parents and students together on your campuses.
      • Lego challenge night
      • Straw roller coaster activity

    10. Exercise/outdoor activities: Schools that focus on the child as a whole know there is more to education than the core curriculum. Let your physical education teacher take the reigns and organize an activity for students and families that will get their hearts pumping. Here are a few ideas: 
      • Yoga or Zumba Night
      • Archery event (contact your state’s game and fish department for information)
      • Obstacle course activity (indoor or outdoor)

    11. Games or movies: In addition to parent engagement, these events and activities can be ways to fundraise for your schools or participate in community service. In my experience, movies and games are a great way to bring people together. Here are a few more ideas for parent engagement that you could tie together with a larger purpose for your school
      • Game or Checkers-and-Chess night (admission could be a classroom-needed donation or a new book for the library)
      • Carnival (host game booths and a raffle to fundraise for your school)
      • Movie night (admission could be a non-perishable food item for local food pantry)
    dice and game pieces on a table

    Because of the importance of parent engagement, the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) has recognized over 600 schools since 1998 for their programs and practices that encourage community and family involvement resulting in students’ increased success in school. Project Appleseed challenges school communities to ask school boards, city councils, mayors, state representatives, or governors to issue proclamations recognizing National Parental Involvement Day, which is on the third Thursday of November. 

    Among the multiple benefits of active school parent engagement is the following hallmark statement based on research from Child Trends: Students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have better academic performance and fewer behavioral problems. They are also more likely to finish high school. According to KidsHealth.org, students whose parents and families take an interest in their education get the message that their scholastic efforts are of value. 

    Every school looks for new and better ways to help parents catch the vision of being involved and invested in their school. If you feel like your school’s parent engagement could be better, seek input from your staff and school community. What events would they like to see at the school? 

    As you engage parents, you build stronger relationships. The good times they have on your campuses translates to good will toward your school. Remember, as your school offers consistent events for parents (and grandparents too), it renews your school public relations and helps families feel connected to your school. 

    396245
    Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 2
    2019-01-15
    Inbound marketing for schools

    We’ve covered the first five steps to school inbound marketing in Part 1, so now you’ve come to the real “rubber meets the road” steps. If you missed Part 1, please review that first, and then jump right into the next steps below.

    Step #6: Develop your plan

    You can document your plan with a formalized template, a spreadsheet, or just a document that outlines your goals and the strategies you intend to use to reach those inbound marketing goals. Whichever format you choose to use, follow the steps described in this section of the blog. Step #1 is selecting your primary goals. You will then use them to develop a written plan, which will be your unifying document for your inbound strategies. Include realistic deadlines for each step, make assignments as necessary, and assure that each step focuses on your inbound goals, which should be tied to your school’s mission. Your plan provides you with both your long-term vision and the short-term goals that will motivate you to stay focused. For a step-by-step worksheet to develop your plan, use our School Inbound Marketing Template.

    We recommend:

    • Start by optimizing your website. If your school website is poorly designed (unintuitive, out-of-date, not mobile-friendly, not website accessible), then begin there. 

    • Research your keyword phrases. There are typically a few keyword phrases (common search terms) that are used to drive people to find your website and your particular educational programs. Knowing those will help you create content that will increase your site traffic and possible prospects. Learn more at Making SEO Part of Your School Marketing.

    • Review and rewrite your website content to include keywords and information you discovered in the buyer journey process. Your school website will be your primary resource in nearly every aspect of inbound marketing strategies. Each page of your school’s website is an opportunity to create useful and informative content (as well as improve your SEO).

    • Create branded social media channels for at least Facebook and Twitter. If you have the resources, add Instagram as well. Some schools show higher engagement from Facebook and Instagram, so don’t hesitate to switch it up if necessary. If these channels are set-up already, but they have not been used consistently, consider a refresh to include images, content, and posts focused on your keywords and selected goals. Schedule posts, link to informative content, be engaging, and think strategically.

    • Start a blog. This is one of the most effective ways to add valuable marketing content to your website and draw potential customers to you. It is also one of the best ways to boost your SEO rankings on a regular schedule. Blogs are also an excellent way to tell your school’s stories in a personal and engaging way. Oh, and don’t forget to include a call to action (CTA) on each blog post as well, since it is highly likely that your school gets found from one of those captivating blog posts.

    • Develop content to share. This can be time-consuming, but having at least one useful download that will encourage prospects to share their contact information with you will make it all worthwhile. If you are focused on just one persona, your content will focus on their priorities and needs. If you have multiple personas, you will develop content targeting each persona’s unique interests. You should tie each piece of content to the overall goals of your school.

      You’ll begin this task by looking at what marketing assets you already have so you can repurpose those when possible. This will also tell you what new content you need to create to address your persona’s interests. You will also organize and catalog your old and new content so it is easy to retrieve and repurpose. Be sure to catalog each piece of content by title, persona target, buyer’s journey stage, targeted keyword phrases, and content format. HubSpot provides a helpful worksheet for tracking and categorizing your content that you can modify for your school’s needs.

    • Create conversion points. These are simply places where your site visitors can take action. They are website forms to download content, get more information, schedule a tour, subscribe to your blog, or enroll at your school. But also create CTAs for those folks who are still in the looky-loo stage.

      Consider checklists (to help them plan or decide), webinars with a school counselor (even pre-recorded, on-demand webinars work). What about a quiz to help them decide on the right school for their child or eBooks, videos, Facebook Live, “Day in the Life” videos? There are so many creative ways to be there with influencing content, but be there you must.

    • Create an email nurturing campaign (segmented by the targeted audience and their needs). You will eventually create relevant content for each targeted persona’s interests and needs, providing content they can use along the way, depending on where they are in their journey.

      For example, if you were a private Christian school, you might create a quiz called, “Is a Christian school right for your child?” for the awareness phase, then offer a video showing the “Day in the Life…” where visitors can see what a day in your school might include so they can envision their child fitting in. Finally, for those in the decision phase, provide an eBook about “What to look for in a Christ-centered, K–12 curriculum,” that includes a sample course of study highlighting your well-rounded, comprehensive, and challenging curriculum. A similar approach works for public schools, independent schools, and vocational schools, with downloads written for our targeted persona interests.

    Step #7: Work the plan, creating a workflow 

    Consistency is the key to inbound marketing success. Create a schedule and stick with it. This can include blogging, social media posts, website content, downloadable content, videos, Facebook ads, and so much more. But, start with the basics and add other strategies as time and resources permit. As we outline above in #6: Developing your plan, we’ve listed what is typically an order for implementing and working your plan. 

    This is where your organizational skills and planning are critical. If your school has done no previous inbound marketing, your plan might begin with updating and creating content for your website and social media that supports your marketing goals. This might mean creating an area on your school website that provides information directed at those in the awareness and consideration stages. One easy way to address this is to add a section to your website for just this purpose. You can create a main navigation area for “Why Choose ” and from this landing page, you can link to the topics that prospective parents need to know. Check out Whipping Your School Website into Shape for some page content ideas. We recommend this step first because your website will leverage the rest of your inbound marketing efforts.

    Often you will see the term “workflow,” as it pertains to inbound marketing efforts. It refers to the automated or manual process that you create to respond to specific actions taken by any of your prospects. This usually begins with a nurture campaign (which is the term for the steps to bring those interested in your school or the information you provide closer to the final goal, which is often to select your school for their child). To give you a simplified example workflow for a nurture campaign for your school, the steps might look like:

    1. Select the ideal customer (parent/student/staff) you want to attract with this campaign. This is usually one of the personas you developed earlier. You must understand their needs and goals to address their concerns.

    2. Create your free download. This is the information you create to provide your personas with the information they seek. It could be an eBook, a video, an infographic, a checklist, or anything your persona will value. You are doing this to begin building a relationship, so be sincere about your intentions. In order words, it should NOT be a sales pitch for your school. Make sure the title for your download is clear about the information it contains. Concise and unambiguous is more important than clever if you expect them to give you their email address in exchange for your content.

    3. Develop a landing page on your website that introduces your gift (informative download for your targeted persona). This is assuming your website is one you are proud of, so if they check you out, you aren’t a disappointment. If your school website isn’t intuitive, attractive, and informative, either contact us to make sure it is, or create a separate landing page.

      It will contain a page title that is clear and body copy that lets them know exactly what your download will deliver. Bullet points are easiest to scan, so use four or five bullet points rather than paragraphs. Your landing page will also contain a simple form that requires their name and email address in order to receive your free gift. You can ask for more information, but you do so at your own risk. If you get pushy, you will hurt your relationship before it ever gets started. It is also smart to remove most other navigation from this page except for some links to share it on social media (so they can tell their friends about this excellent information you created for them). However, if your school website is well-designed and intuitive, also provide a link back to the marketing area of your website so they can see what you have to offer their student.

    4. Use an enticing call to action. This form, and the information you so willingly provide, is what is called your Call to Action (CTA). You can share this opportunity on other pages of your website where appropriate (do so tactfully, of course). It can be in a sidebar on the marketing area; we call this the “Why Choose Us” pages, on a blog page where you are talking about some of your strengths, or even in the footer of your main/district website. Just use a headline for your “button” or link that will pique the interest of your targeted personas.

    5. Develop a thank you page. Once your site visitor fills out the landing page information, you will want to redirect them to a thank you page. Ideally, you will redirect them to your thank you page and also email them the download link to their inbox as well. Your landing page tells them how they can get the information (free gift). Usually, that is just clicking on a “download” button or checking their inbox for the link to the download.

      You can also use your thank you page to include the next step in your offer. If you offer a useful eBook as your first download, maybe a virtual tour or on-demand webinar would build trust and they can sign up for it from either your landing page or from the email you send.

    6. Send your email follow-up. Once they have downloaded your content, they will need a follow-up email. This, as mentioned above, could include the link again to the download (your free gift), and you could also offer the next gift of helpful information. The goal of your next informative content is to build trust.

    7. Begin the ongoing nurture campaign. You will continue to contact your targeted persona with a gradual email series (often called a drip or nurture campaign). This will give them access to more downloads or will send them blogs or newsletters related to their interests or needs. Provide them with useful information, be helpful and continue to build trust, and you’ll stay front-of-mind when it comes time for them to make their decision.

    Step #8: Delighting for retention

    So, your inbound marketing has brought your outstanding educational services to the attention of more parents and students looking for exactly what you provide. You are meeting your marketing goals; you gradually see success. Good work. Keep it up. But now what?

    One common marketing weakness many schools ignore is the failure to focus on existing customers. This is a mistake. 

    Probably the most effective school marketing strategy is word of mouth. People are more likely to choose a school (or make a purchase of anything for that matter) based on the recommendation of a friend than from any amount of marketing dollars you spend. We trust those who have the same needs and interests we do, so their good experiences make following their lead an easy decision. From a marketing standpoint, it pays to delight those K–12 parents whose children attend your school. (Or, if your goal was to recruit quality staff, then it pays to delight your existing staff so they will share their joy with others in their profession.)

    Marketing to existing customers includes providing great customer service, putting real value on strategic communications, and giving parents frequent reasons to feel good about their choice of selecting your school in the first place. We highly recommend that once you have several inbound marketing campaigns set up for your school and the various audiences you are targeting, take a look at retention efforts. We fully believe that the first step is ongoing and effective school communications. 

    You need to be communicative, transparent, and consistent. Use your website, social media, newsletters, open houses, parent/teacher conferences, back-to-school efforts, and staff development training to support retention efforts strategically. Take a look at your school customer service. Here are some thoughts on customer service: From Good to Great: School Customer Service, Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes, and Roll Out the Welcome Mat at Your School. How do you rate? If not great, then fix it fast!

    Then take a look at the various causes retention suffers, and address any weaknesses that exist. Some of these areas of possible weakness (why you lose students) might be:

    • Parent satisfaction
    • Competition
    • Reputation
    • Faculty and staff
    • Quality instruction
    • Student outcomes
    • Price
    • Location

    We’ll cover this important topic in greater depth in future blogs, but in summary, look at your school and select the priority topic pertaining to your retention challenges and address what you can, then implement ongoing communications strategies for retention. Retention is the true test of parent satisfaction, strong relationships, and trust. Parent satisfaction is the number one priority for retention. It is more cost-effective to retain a family than it is to try to recruit new ones (the same applies to staff). An additional benefit of happy parents is they will share their satisfaction and sing your praises to others, and you’ll soon have even more enrollments. What can you do to improve your current retention rates?

    Who’s on your team and skill sets you’ll need

    Many companies and nearly all schools fail to formalize their approach to inbound marketing. They tend to use a reactionary approach and come up with a spur-of-the-moment strategy when there is a crisis that forces them to do so. It isn’t wrong to apply a strategy when there is an urgent need, but with a well-planned, consistent approach there will be fewer critical needs, so your efforts will be more effective (and much more affordable than hiring an expensive advertising agency in a desperate attempt to stay relevant).

    However, to implement inbound marketing, because it is a long game, plan ahead. You will need someone to act as the marketing strategist, someone to develop content (a content writer and a designer), and help from your school website developer. If you are working with School Webmasters, we actually can help you in all of these areas. You will fill the role of marketing strategist and guide us in your school’s goals while we implement the strategies you select to achieve those marketing goals. If or when you need our help, School Webmasters is here for your school. Just give us a call at (888) 750.4556 and ask for Jim or Bonnie. Or, if you want information about how we can implement an inbound marketing plan for your school, complete the School Inbound Marketing Assessment form today!

    424676
    Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 1
    2019-01-08
    Inbound Marketing or Content Marketing for Schools

    Marketing has changed radically in the past decade. Whole industries are either gone or dying primarily because of the changes brought about by the ubiquitous presence of the Internet. Another change-causing factor is that “interrupter” advertising that rules our favorite TV shows has increased from four minutes per hour in 1952 to nearly 15 minutes per hour in 2018. Because of this deluge of interruptive advertising, most of us have become quite intolerant of it all. 

    We live in an age of easy-access information. The Internet has allowed us to get the information we want when we need it. But we want this information on our terms. We don’t appreciate being “sold” to, particularly if we’re interrupted when we’re busy or engaged in something we enjoy. 

    This has left advertising agencies, cable and network television, radio stations, and a slew of other industries feeling the pain as customers make a mass exodus to other, less intrusive forms of entertainment. I switched to Dish satellite services from cable because I can record prime-time shows that will automatically skip commercials. I pay for Netflix because there are no commercials. I even upgraded my Pandora account to bypass music interruptions. Many of my friends and my adult children have canceled cable and satellite services completely, switching instead to services like Roku, Hulu, or Netflix, for the same reason.

    We also tend to ignore ads in other mediums. Studies show that in a majority of Internet searches, users skip the ads, even when they are relevant to their search request. One study shows that 40% of consumers use ad-blocking on their laptops and desktop computers. We instead click on the organic results. On web pages, studies of eye tracking show that we often skim right over ads there as well. TV ads (which most school’s can’t afford anyway), radio spots, billboards, and magazines, while quite expensive, similarly don’t give us the leads that would warrant the expense.

    Common sense also suggests that we seldom trust ads. They are typically companies bragging about how they are “best in class” and other such claims. Many ads are simply untrue, and I’m sure we all have had experiences to prove it. I mean, when was the last time you saw an ad where the company told you that their product or service was just mediocre?

    Outbound marketing

    What we’ve been discussing is known as outbound marketing. It is a traditional marketing that includes any method a company uses to initiate the conversation and blast its marketing message out to an audience. Sometimes, in fact a majority of times, the audience receiving this information is not even one that is currently interested in the topic of the message. Think of it as “pushing” your message out hoping that through sheer volume it will draw some of the right customers in. 

    Common outbound methods are sales calls, email spam, tradeshows, and advertising in its many forms (TV, radio, print, flyers, brochures, catalogs). One of the downsides of outbound marketing, besides it being expensive, is that it is difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI). It is also difficult to know if your costly outbound efforts are reaching your target audience.

    So, if advertising doesn’t provide the ROI that it used to, how do companies (and schools) get the word out about their services and products? The answer involves a multiple prong approach, but the good news is you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company or a well-endowed private school to be competitive any longer. Even a small school can get in the marketing game today.

    Inbound marketing is the process of attracting prospective customers to your school using content marketing in conjunction with social media marketing and search engine optimization. Click to Tweet

    Inbound marketing

    Besides outbound marketing, there are other strategies for marketing your school, including pay per click (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, social media, opt-in emails, digital marketing, and content marketing. These methods, considered inbound marketing, are also referred to as “pull” marketing because it is intended to pull customers to you when they are looking for what you offer. It involves earning their attention organically and not bugging or begging.

    In this blog, we’ll talk about inbound marketing (also called content marketing and digital marketing), what the benefits are, and how schools can make use of this marketing strategy to increase enrollment and establish a respected school brand. 

    The advantages of inbound marketing are that it is typically easier to measure the results and, according to Demand Metric, content marketing costs 62% less and generates 3x more leads than outbound marketing. HubSpot’s 2018 report says that 72% of marketers say that relevant content creation was their most effective SEO tactic. In fact, HubSpot also reports that schools using inbound marketing are 7x more likely to report higher ROI than schools using outbound marketing efforts. 

    Inbound marketing stages

    Inbound marketing is the process of attracting prospective customers to your school using content marketing in conjunction with social media marketing and search engine optimization. The goal is to create valuable experiences at each touch point, particularly your school website and blog, by providing helpful content that is relevant to those prospective customers’ needs.

    Inbound Marketing Funnel

    Steps for inbound marketing typically include the following:

    1. Attracting: Pulling in targeted visitors. You will use strategies like content marketing, social media, videos, and blogging.
    2. Converting: Turning those visitors into leads. This can be as simple as having them complete a form with their contact information to gain access to content or information they need. 
    3. Nurturing: Turning those leads into customers. This requires that you nurture them as they progress through the decision-making stages. Your goal is to give the lead the necessary information to learn the facts and make a conclusion. It also needs to deliver the emotional evidence to feel you are the right choice for them.
    4. Closing: Taking the sale. If your goal is enrollment, it is when the parents complete the student application. If you are trying to attract quality staff, it is when the applicant sends you their resume. If you are looking for donations or volunteers, it is when they send you a donation or sign up as a volunteer.
    5. Delighting: Delivering on your promises. Once they are a customer, you must delight them through the services you provide, the education you deliver, and the student success they enjoy. When you do, their students will stay with you; they will refer you to their friends and neighbors, become advocates for your school, and often become alumni who donate to your school and your causes long after their children have moved on.

    So, where to begin?

    This can all seem overwhelming if you are a small school with few resources, but you can do it with planning. Assuming you have picked a primary marketing goal as a starting point, you’ll want to develop a consistent plan of action, consistently apply those actions, and then evaluate the outcomes. Here is a sample inbound marketing plan to get you started:

    Step #1: Select your primary goals 

    • What do you need your school inbound marketing to accomplish? To attract the right visitors to your school website (where most of your inbound marketing will play out), you need to select a purpose for the effort. 
    • You’ll want to be sure your marketing goal is a SMART goal. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
    • Most of the time, a school’s marketing efforts center around increasing enrollment or improving the quality of your applicants (attracting those ideal students or applicants). Other common inbound campaign goals are for recruiting quality staff, educating the public to pass a tax levy or bond election, or strengthening a weak school brand. What is your inbound marketing goal? 
    •  Download the Goal Planning Worksheet for K–12 Schools.

    Step #2: Develop your customers' personas

    A persona is a composite of your existing (or ideal) customer’s characteristics. They will be the foundation for all of the content you will develop for your inbound marketing. By understanding your ideal customer’s characteristics and needs, you become the right solution—the best match for them.

    • Create personas for your target audience. You may have more than one target, and as they have different needs, this will require different messaging. Detailing each one will let you create a personalized marketing approach. Creating a persona for each target is a common practice. 
    • If you are just getting started with inbound marketing, try to keep this step to no more than two or three personas as your primary targets. You can add others later. 
    • The personas you develop can and should be highly customized. If you are a school serving K–8 students, you will ask very different questions to flesh out your personas than if you served high school age students. This applies to private versus public, faith-based versus vocational schools, etc. You need to understand what your personas' needs are, the problems they must solve, and goals they have in mind. Basically, you want to know what job they need to hire a school to do, or maybe why they are firing their current school.
    • Download our Persona Development Worksheet to get started. Or, check out this list of a variety of persona templates from the complex to the simple.

    Step #3: Document your customer’s journey

    Marketers call the process that someone goes through before deciding to purchase a product or service “the buyer’s journey.” For our purposes, it is the process a parent (your customer) goes through before selecting a school for their child (or possibly before firing their current school and selecting a new one). There are four stages in their journey:

    1. Awareness stage: they realize they have a problem.
    2. Consideration stage: they mentally define the problem and research options to solve it. (Spoiler alert: school websites and a Google search are primary options for this research.)
    3. Decision stage: they choose a solution.
    4. Delighted stage: they are your customer and are delighted with their decision.

    It is during the buyer’s journey that you will discover possible triggers that will push them from the awareness stage to the decision stage. A simple example might be a parent whose child will be turning five years old, and it will soon be time to register for kindergarten. Before this, they were curious about what was available, but now they must make a choice and enroll their child. Your content should include the type of information that will be that call to action to move them toward a desirable conclusion. For a more detailed explanation, use the Customer’s Journey Worksheet.

    Step #4: Select keyword phrases for search engine optimization (SEO)

    Now that you created target personas, you better understand their problems and concerns. So, what content can you create that will address their concerns or that your solutions will alleviate? What types of information are they looking for that you can deliver? You’ll need a list of possible topics that your school is uniquely positioned to answer. For example, if you are a small school competing against larger neighboring schools, create answers to questions on your website and as content in a video download, eBook, or checklist called “Big Benefits of a Small School.” Or, if you are targeting students with specific interests, consider content that engages the parents of your ideal student, like “How to Match Your Child’s Interests to the Right School Choice.”

    Consider what parents or students would put into an online search to get the answers they need or to solve their problems. Those are the keyword phrases that you will use on your website so they will find your school. You will use the targeted keywords on your website, social media posts, emails, landing pages, and content downloads. Start with a list of 100 or so relevant keywords. Those keywords will NOT be the name of your school or your programs. Use keywords and phrases related to the interests you have identified in their personas. Your content should provide information about those interests and topics. If you aren’t sure, ask your existing students’ parents what information they used, or could have used, when they were deciding on the right school for their child.

    For example, you will use identified keywords in longer phrases (called long tail keywords) for which your ideal personas might search:

    “How can high school prepare your student for a medical career.”
    “Rewarding technology careers and foundational courses students need.”
    “Starting your child’s education strong; begin in kindergarten.”

    Step #5: Create persona- and journey-specific content

    Now, begin to create informative content that provides answers to problems your ideal customers need. Help them become knowledgeable. Remember, your content shouldn’t be about you, but about the customer’s needs. You want to position your school as the experts to do that, but not by a hard sales pitch. Use stories, examples, and valuable tips to help them see your school as a possible match, or provide them with information that lets them form that opinion through your content.

    You are providing this helpful information in exchange for their contact information. You are using the keyword strategy we discussed above to uncover and create interesting and useful content ideas. You’ll use these keywords in blog titles, meta-tags, collateral, and content downloads. As part of your inbound marketing plan, you’ll calendar a regular schedule to create additional content. Need some more marketing ideas? Check out our 51 Ways to Market Your School blog.

    To be continued…

    You’re halfway there. You have a basic understanding of what inbound marketing is and why it matters for every educational institution. But keep reading and learn about the rest of the process in Part 2 of Inbound Marketing for Schools.

    Or, if you'd like to get more information about what it takes to begin a marketing plan for your school's inbound marketing, just complete our Inbound Marketing Assessment Form today!

    School Marketing in the Digital Age eBook
    424597
    School Public Relations: Do You See It?
    2019-01-01
    Mother and daughter meet with teacher.

    Recently I met our 8-year-old daughter’s teacher for the typical parent-teacher conference. My daughter enjoys this teacher and her class. As the teacher shared insights into my daughter’s school performance, I appreciated her pleasant and professional approach. What impressed me most was how the teacher pointed out something that surprised her about some of our daughter’s test scores. We discussed it and both made notes to check in on the matter at a later date. 

    Two weeks following the conference, my daughter brought home a graded assignment with a “parent signature required” stamp at the top. Immediately, I knew why the teacher had requested my signature. This homework allowed me to see something the teacher noticed per our conference. In the hectic every day, I may have missed it had the teacher not respectfully called my attention to it. As I signed my name on the page, I could picture the teacher saying, “Take a look at her progress. Do you see it? Let me know you see it.” 

    Sitting at my kitchen table that day, I felt excited. I felt a part of the process. I feel like I’m helping my daughter succeed in her education. 

    In this fast-moving world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by duty and possibility. As a school administrator entrusted with the education of youth and fostering a positive school brand to current and potential families, your job is not easy. Take comfort in the reality that powerful components for your school’s success already exist in your school—the valuable relationship of teachers and parents. 

    Healthy Parent-Teacher Relationships

    Your teachers are the boots on the ground every day. The relationship between them and parents is at the core of your school public relations. Do you see it? 

    Here are five ingredients to healthy parent-teacher relationships and how they relate to public relations for schools.

    1. PR-friendly teachers establish communication lines. 

    From the moment children enroll in your school, communication between parents and teachers arguably becomes the most important form of school communication. Classrooms full of children with different backgrounds all deserve to be honored and respected. E-mail addresses, other contact information, and understanding the parent’s communication preferences are helpful in establishing links between school and home. Faculty and staff are the ones to bridge the gap between families—the home base for their students. This connection establishes an expectation that all have a role to play in the student’s education.

    2. PR-friendly teachers set and meet clear expectations. 

    When people have an accurate idea of and purpose for the road ahead, the value of the journey is apparent. As educators, you benefit from parents who catch your vision. The more engagement you can get, the better. According to Meredith Bleak, a second-grade teacher in Arizona, “Parents, teachers, and staff must all adopt the idea that every child is their child and work together to help them in the best way possible.” 

    All children are at the school to increase their quality of life, and as their cheerleaders, we need to be united in the “why” of their education. A few years ago, Megan Hall, 2013 Minnesota teacher of the year, gave a Ted Talk focused on the parent-teacher relationship. She points out that every day she tries to remember that the students she teaches are “the meaning of someone’s life.” You and your teachers set the tone with clear expectations and instructions. As you do so, you improve your school public relations as parents feel hopeful and engage in their student’s progress. 

    3. PR-friendly teachers point out successes! 

    Our 1st grader’s teacher recently emailed me to point out impressive progress our daughter had made. Though she has struggled with reading, in one test she showed significant progress. We’ve been changing up how we support her learning path as a 6-year-old. The teacher’s e-mail gratified our efforts at home! Her two-paragraph e-mail took a few minutes to write, if that. I was happy for my daughter but also appreciated the fact that the teacher is on my team, and together witnessed this moment and celebrated together!

    4. PR-friendly teachers recognize and share concerns. 

    Anyone with a garden will tell you that weeding is much easier when the unwelcome plants are small and their roots less grounded in the earth. Similarly, when concerns about a student’s behavior first arise, or when challenges to a student’s education are smaller, teachers who reach out early face fewer barriers as they work to address those issues. Parents and teachers can work together as gardners, to help a student by weeding out, or recognizing concerns, instead of letting them grow and take root. I’m not sure there is anything more frustrating than to be contacted with bad news about something that is too late to do anything about.

    5. PR-friendly teachers recognize the long-lasting relationships with parents—for better or for worse. 

    Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, your school’s good image isn’t either. It’s built brick by brick, one positive experience after the other. As the first line of communication charged with the heavy mantle of the education of their assigned students, teachers’ interactions with students and parents either build or demolish your school’s reputation. Bleak points out, “If parents in a neighborhood hear good things about a teacher, they are likely to not only request that teacher for their child but also assume great things about the school. If a parent hears bad things about a teacher, then the opposite is true.”

    Healthy School-Teacher Relationships 

    Because teachers affect your school’s public relations through their individual roles, it is crucial to recognize your part in their success (and the school’s). Consider the three following ideas:  

    1. PR-friendly schools create a respectful, healthy school environment. 

    What surrounds the students at your school? Does your school environment foster learning, respect for self and others? ”The climate of a school and specifically a classroom,” Bleaks says, “has a lot to do with the relationship between parents and teachers. If the classroom and the school are clean and welcoming places, parents feel eased by leaving their children there all day. If the classroom is chaotic and the school grounds are dirty or the office staff is nasty, parents assume the worst and are hesitant to give teachers the benefit of the doubt.”

    2. PR-friendly schools seek input. 

    Did you know that a competition to design the doors of the St. John's Baptistry in Florence is often credited for the beginning of the Renaissance? It’s amazing what a little public input can do! Teachers who ask for participation from students and their home-based educators can strike a powerful match creating synergy of various kinds. For example, sending home a survey asking how parents believe their children learn not only gives you a chance to learn more about your students, it also gives parents a chance to evaluate how well they understand their children's strengths as well as identify areas for improvement. (See the sample surveys from Week 2 of your Marketing Your School Toolkit for examples).

    Reaching out can take all kinds of forms. Imagine the possibilities for connection if a teacher sends a brief e-mail each day to one student. By the end of the month, twenty families roughly would have had at least one positive, individual connection. Such moments are crucial in curbing wildfires and building positive school public relations. Reach out!

    3. PR-friendly schools send in reinforcements to teachers! 

    Teachers are at the grass-root level of education in our country. Without them and their efforts each day, we would be in big trouble. Their duties are many; the pressure is high. As a school, if you want to strengthen your school’s public relations, you cannot do it without your teacher’s support. Help them. Support them. Encourage them. Train them. Most importantly, thank them. Their shoulders are the footstool of the future.  

    Help your teachers recognize their power as public relations liaisons to your parents. Recognize staff that go the extra mile and support them in their efforts. The word will spread. Efforts at your school and the resulting success stories fall down like rain in the desert. You won’t always see it, but you will see its effects. 

    As a school administrator, isn’t it comforting to know that in a school choice environment, you possess your most valuable tools for public relations already? If you’d like to know more about how to do more with less, check out Ridgefield Public Schools for more school PR and marketing tips. 

    Public Relations for Schools

    396224
    Don't Let Jargon Monoxide Poison Your School Communications, Part 2
    2018-12-21
    Parents clapping and looking happy

    To be an effective educator, you must be a good communicator. To be a good communicator, you must break your messages down into their simplest form and change the way you talk about programs and educational systems. Let’s commit to replacing jargon with more relatable language and compelling, authentic stories. 

    Identify Your Specific “Edu-Speak”

    The first step to eliminating jargon is to identify what qualifies as your school communications “jargon.” One of the best ways to do this is to ask a parent.

    Dahlia Lithwick, a parent and Ivy League-educated lawyer and journalist, described her fifth-grader’s back to school night in these words, “The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year’s system. Which I also didn’t understand. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I understood significantly less at this open house than I did at my sons’ open house during a sabbatical last year, when it took place overseas and in a foreign language.”

    Gather a focus group of parents and ask about the terms and phrases the district and schools use frequently. See if they understand what you mean by those phrases and how they relate to district and school communications.

    Another approach is to “test” your audience to see if your messages are clear. You can do this by creating a survey of some of your common topics and the words you use when describing or talking about programs. Ask your audience to define the terms. For example, you might ask “what does cooperative learning mean to you?” 

    Dehlia also said, “I felt as if I were toggling between a business school seminar and the space program; acronyms alone—seemingly random sequences of letters like MAP and SOL and EAPE—were being deployed more frequently than actual words.”

    Acronyms count as jargon too. In education, there are a lot of acronyms. Do parents know when you say, “stem” you mean “S.T.E.M.—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics?” By the time students reach high school, parents should be very familiar with S.T.EM. But depending on the educational background of a parent whose student is starting kindergarten, it may be the first time they’ve been exposed to S.T.E.M.

    One tip is to include a list of common acronyms and other definitions on back-to-school night to help orient parents to the language of your district. Give these acronyms and definitions a home on your school website so parents and the community can easily look up a reference they may not understand.

    Be Clear and Define Terms

    One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. In the movie, one of the characters, Vizzini, uses the word “inconceivable” several times (five to be exact). After one exclamation, another character says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

    Clarify your message by making sure your audience knows what you mean.  

    According to Kathy Klotz-Guest, “Clarity is the communicator’s burden, and busy people won’t take the time to decode your message. They shouldn’t have to.”

    This means that you can’t make assumptions when you communicate. Don’t assume your audience knows what you mean when you talk about “21st-century skills” or “growth mindsets.” It’s on you to define those words and phrases. If you want to talk about social-emotional learning, within the first few seconds, you should offer a definition. 

    William Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, offers this advice when it comes to replacing jargon: “Words matter—in business and in life. I’ve always found that companies that aspire to do extraordinary things, leaders who aim to challenge the limits of what’s possible in their fields... offer rich and vivid descriptions of what they hope to do, where they hope to get, and why it matters.” 

    What do you hope your program will do? What exactly will the students learn? Why is it important? Use language that is relatable, engaging, approachable, and personal. 

    A word of caution: When providing clarity, be sure not to belittle your audience by telling them you’re going to provide clarity. I recently heard a story of a district leader who sent out a memo to parents letting them know she was going to translate a new district policy into “mom language.” Remember, the only reason they don’t understand edu-speak is because they are outsiders to your profession. Your parents may be doctors, lawyers, or educators themselves, but it does not exempt them from being able to understand educational jargon. What the district leader meant, and what she should have said, was, “We’re going to cut through our own jargon to make this more understandable.”

    Make Your Message Accessible 

    While we’re giving jargon the ax, it won’t hurt to simplify all our vocabulary. 

    I came home from babysitting one day and said to my husband, “I am not watching that kid again. He was absolutely incorrigible!” 

    My husband laughed and said, “What does that mean?”

    “Oh,” I said, “you know, he was really naughty!” The dictionary definition is “persistently bad” but he got the idea.

    I love words! My husband is a math-guy. We frequently do this back and forth where I’ll drop a ten-dollar word and then need to go back and give him a definition. He doesn’t mind it because he learns new words; I don’t mind it because it makes me think about my everyday vernacular. 

    I know I’m not alone in my love of ten-dollar words; however, it is important to consider your audience. If you are talking to a room of teachers and other educators—go ahead and use those sesquipedalian words! But when you’re speaking to parents and the community, never use a ten-dollar word when a one-dollar word will suffice.

    According to Kathy, “Big words may sound important; they’re not. Real experts know how to make the complex simple. …You’re not dumbing down your message; rather, you are making it more accessible to more people when you speak plainly to busy people.” 

    Improve Your School Public Relations With Good School Communications

    Remember the superintendent who suffered from the curse of the expert in Part 1? As soon as we realized that the community was struggling with her messages, we put our communications coordinator to work helping to break down the district jargon. 

    In speaking with this district recently, we learned that the communication coordinator is “able to interpret school jargon and help the decision-makers better talk so the public will understand.” As she sits with the administration, the communications coordinator will say things like, “Now, what do you mean by that?” Or, “Do I understand this correctly?” She then takes what she learns from the administrators and turns it into something everyone in the community can understand for the website and district newsletter. 

    Having this outsider’s ear to help the district identify their specific jargon is helping to improve their public relations by making their school communications more accessible. 

    When you understand what your audience may struggle to understand in your message, and when you take the time to be clear and deliberate in your language, you will build trust and credibility with your audience. 

    If your district struggles with the curse of the expert and your community is suffering the effects of jargon monoxide, School Webmasters can help. Complete this questionnaire to learn more.

    396133
    Don't Let Jargon Monoxide Poison Your School Communications
    2018-12-18
    Parents looking confused and frustrated

    Hockey has been my favorite sport since I turned eleven years old. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly popular here in my desert state of Arizona. So, if I start talking about breakaways, five-holes, slapshots, and dropping the gloves to the uninitiated, eyes glaze over, and I can tell what I said didn’t make sense.

    The same thing often happens when I start talking about communications. I get excited and start tossing around words like strategic communications, public relations, target audiences, SWOT analysis, and marketing. Sometimes I’m met with nodding heads of understanding (because they’ve heard many of those words before), but it’s usually accompanied with a furrowed brow, and I can tell I’ve caused a little confusion. 

    Vacant expressions, glazed eyes, confusion—these are all classic side effects of “jargon monoxide” poisoning. 

    “Jargon monoxide” is a brilliant term popularized by Kathy Klotz-Guest to explain the effects jargon has on communication. Just like carbon monoxide can poison the air we breathe, jargon monoxide poisons our messages. 

    By definition, jargon is special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for others to understand. I dedicated six years to earning a bachelors and masters degree in mass communications, and all that “mass comm” jargon is like a second language to me. 

    As academics and education professionals, there are terms and phrases that you use on a daily basis to which you possess a much deeper understanding than others outside educational circles. 

    Why does this matter? In Kathy’s words, “[Jargon] hurts you and your credibility because it pollutes your message and dilutes any chance for clarity and differentiation you have.” 

    The Harmful Effects of Jargon Monoxide

    As educational professionals, many of you are also long-time academics. Because of your background, you may not even realize when you use words and phrases that are beyond your audience. Even when your audience members are highly educated, using jargon can hurt not only your message but your reputation as well. 

    One journalist who has been covering education for over 25 years labeled educational jargon “Edu-speak.” She explains that edu-speak “often wind[s] up sowing confusion or rendering important ideas incomprehensible.”

    Here is a real-life example of what I’m talking about. A certain district I frequently work with has a wonderful superintendent. The superintendent is very intelligent, highly qualified, and cares deeply for the students, teachers, and staff in her district. 

    An example of something she might say at a board of education meeting is, “[We focus on] learning that produces cultural proficiency, global awareness, higher order, and rigorous thinking… Students will achieve social-emotional learning via dynamics of 3D design, earning them their digital citizenship.” 

    Maybe you’re already familiar with a lot of those terms. But for people like me and the parents in your community—cultural proficiency, global awareness, digital citizenship, social-emotional learning—those phrases don’t mean anything.  

    Sure, we can figure that digital means technology, and citizenship means being a member of a community. So “digital citizenship” must mean that students are going to learn how to use technology to be responsible members of society. But the truth is, very few members of your audience are going to let their brains think that deeply on one phrase. Instead, they will gloss over it and miss your point. That’s the best case scenario. The worst is that using terms your audience doesn’t understand will make your audience feel stupid. As humans, we don’t like to be wrong, and we don’t want to feel stupid. When we are made to feel like we don’t understand, we disengage, become frustrated, and sometimes even get angry.

    Back to our real-life example: A letter to the editor in the local paper brought the issue of the superintendent’s jargon monoxide effect to our attention. The community member wrote, “These phrases are smokescreen double-talk no one can understand. [The superintendent’s] unintelligible words seem to me like a tool to diminish others; namely, parents and taxpayers.” 

    Don’t Be Defensive—Be Willing To Change

    The author of the letter to the editor was clearly frustrated and angry. I’ll be honest, when I first read that letter to the editor, I was offended on behalf of the superintendent. She would never “double-talk!” Nothing she says is a “smokescreen!” Then I got it. The author said, “unintelligible words.” That is the key. The community member felt talked down to because the superintendent was using jargon! 

    Recognizing and reacting to jargon requires the know-how to step back and analyze your communications. It means making a change in how you present your information to your audiences in order to boost clarity. 

    Often, by using jargon we are attempting to establish ourselves as experts and develop a trust with the audience. But the effect is opposite. Yes, we appear to be experts because we “sound like we know what we’re talking about.” But in the end, jargon erodes trust, as you can see from the above example.

    Jargon erodes trust because it excludes “outsiders.” The author of the letter to the editor felt like the superintendent was diminishing the parents and taxpayers of the community by talking “above” them. In other words, she felt stupid.

    The author let us know what communication was important to her as she continued her letter asking, "Where is the joy of learning for our students expressed? Where is the student’s responsibility to family, community and country encouraged? How are ethics, courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness explored and developed with our students?"

    Little did she realize the superintendent was talking about those things. However, the language the superintendent used caused confusion in her message. When we are experts in something, other people don’t know what we’re talking about. This is sometimes called, “the curse of the expert.” And in school communications, if we don’t clarify our messages, we run the risk of being misunderstood and alienating our stakeholders. 

    In the next blog, we’ll look at how to avoid the curse of the expert and give you some easy-to-follow steps to filter out that deadly jargon monoxide.

    Jargon Monoxide - Part 2

    396125
    School Communication Best Practices: 13 Tips for Newsletters
    2018-12-11
    Street signs with the words boring and exciting pointing in opposite directions

    Every week it comes—a plethora of papers and school communications from my children’s schools. They come home via colorful backpacks, fabulous apps, and informative e-mails. My personal favorite delivery method is the reminder pinned to my child’s sleeve! 

    As a parent in a busy family, one of my greatest struggles is getting the messages sent from schools. My children attend high school, junior high, elementary, and preschool, and staying au courant in our home is no small feat. So, if you can get my attention, you’re really doing something right.

    First, I am proud to say I am a fan of the oft-underrated mode of communication called newsletters. 

    I think newsletters possess a fabulous potential for rapidly connecting your school to the multitude of homes your students return to each day. This school-to-home connection is immeasurable when considering your students’ individual needs. 

    However, newsletters and I have a love-hate relationship. I either really love them, or I completely ignore them. If you want me (a typical busy parent) to take time to read your newsletter, you need to make it worth my while.

    Ultimately, it’s all about content, design, and format. Here is a compiled list of best practices for any school newsletter from a busy parent’s perspective. 

    School Newsletter Tips

    1. Have a purpose. What is the purpose of your newsletter? Ask yourself often, am I accomplishing the goals I had when the newsletter first started? Ask your readers for feedback. What are they looking to gain by reading your newsletter? Does your school newsletter engage its readers? Does it inform in a creative, entertaining way?

    2. Content is still king. You may get many to read your first new school newsletter; however, if you want to hook them from edition to edition, you must constantly fill it with valuable information. As you consider what this type of information might be, think about your school mission and goals. Using this powerful tool helps you publish supportive evidence of the school’s values and all the exciting things happening!

    3. Create enticing subject lines to increase readability. If sending your school newsletter via e-mail, mix up the subject line. I receive an e-mail newsletter every week with the same subject line. At first, I opened it, but then I gradually started skipping over it. Even though the content probably changes, the stale subject line makes me think it will be just the same old news. Keep it fresh!

    4. Consider your audience. It might not just be parents who read your newsletter. When considering your audience, remember the students. One lesson I learned as a PTO president is that McDonald’s has a great marketing plan. Even if most parents don’t want to eat there, they go. Why? They go because the children are asking for it! McDonald’s doesn’t just reach out to parents in their marketing; they market directly to children. I’m not sure any school marketing plan can be truly successful unless it includes its students as part of the audience the school is striving to reach. If you reach the children, they will market for you too!

    5. Give them the full picture. Since your students’ families do not participate in all school events, bring the school events to them by sharing some highlights from a variety of school activities—the every day as well as unique. Why does this matter? As you share these highlights, you bring the activity to the students’ families in story form. Sometimes parents grapple with understanding the full scope of what their children experience at school from the child’s perspective. One of your newsletter goals should be to increase readership as well as include parents more in the educational process. It helps parents to have a chance to be like “flies on the wall.” Ask yourself, “How can I better, more accurately share the perspective of the positive and necessary school experiences with students’ families?”

    6. Be personal. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings with your school community. It’s not likely you have the chance to share all of your thoughts with those in your school community through conversations alone. When you see something good going on at your school, share it! Share it often! As you add your enthusiasm to your message, families will notice. 

    7. Write it well. If you want to draw your audience in, try hard to avoid using passive voice. You engage your audience by using active sentences. For example, check out the difference between the following sentences:

      a. The solar system was explained on Wednesday, and on Thursday, models of the planets were made.

      b. Ask your children to share interesting facts they learned about the solar system! On Thursday, students created their own solar system models. Watch for them!

      Does one phrase engage you more than the other? While both sentences contain important information, the second sentence is engaging, inviting. There is an underlying message of reader inclusion, an invitation from the educator to the parent. This should be an important aspect of any school communication. Even if writing does not intimidate you, consider including The Elements of Style, aka “the little book” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, in your personal library. The book contains simple and direct writing tips and continues to earn credibility through the years.

    8. Keep it brief. Newsletters should look more like an infographic than a novella. Busy parents don’t have time to read lengthy newsletters. Make it look good, simplify messages, and provide a link to the school website where they can get more information. Rather than a wordy page explanation of the things you are talking about in your classroom, consider showing them. White space is critical.

    9. Share the good around you. Everyone appreciates sincere recognition for their efforts. Newsletters can be a great place to communicate these feelings towards faculty, students, school staff, and their families. When your students and faculty achieve certain milestones, post their pictures prominently in the letter. Don’t limit the achievements to one certain category. You may feel strongly about how important academics or sports are, but keep your horizons open. Recognize all students!

    10. Don’t worry about repeating yourself. If you share information in a variety of ways, you are increasing your audience. Don’t just copy and paste your message, however; as you share repeated information you might consider dressing your message up in different ways based on the means of communication.

    11. Be creative! Engage your audience by formatting your newsletter with an attractive visual approach. Imagery is key to getting your readers’ attention! What images could you use to enhance your message? What if you were to use GIFs and emojis to catch parents and students’ attention in places they don’t expect it—like a newsletter? Use color! It’s economic these days, especially if you are sending your newsletter via e-mail. Imagery adds depth to the message you are sending.

    12. Pass the mic! Allow others to share their thoughts. Think about ways to open your newsletter to include the voices of your school community. Involve varied voices—include students. My high school newspaper had a section with a question answered by random students in the school—topics ranged from current events to holidays or getting-to-know-you questions. Consider implementing something small into your form that you can easily add that personalizes each newsletter and makes people look forward to the next edition.

    13. Think mobile. Many folk open e-mails on their phones these days. What happens when they open your newsletter from their phones? How does it appear? How can you ensure that your newsletter is mobile-friendly? One easy way to make your newsletter mobile-friendly is by driving traffic to your website. A school district in Ridgefield, Connecticut, sends out its monthly newsletter with story snippets that link back to the news page of their website for full articles.

    Newsletters strengthen or weaken your school brand and can be a valuable public relations tool. As an effective form of school storytelling, use newsletters to publish all that is good and necessary. I’m confident that making the minimal extra effort to follow these tips will go a long way toward increased readability of your newsletters, which will translate into a well-informed and active school community.

    396118
    Where are you spending your school website budget? Sales or Support?
    2018-12-04
    Handful of colorful piggy banks representing website budgets

    Let's discuss where schools typically choose to spend budgeted website funds. There are basically three choices when it comes to the school funds spent on their websites.

    1. Pay staff to develop and manage a free or open source CMS platform.
    2. Use a pre-developed platform (CMS platform) that is already created to serve the school’s specific needs and pay staff to manage it.
    3. Pay someone with expertise in the field to develop and manage the school website.

    You might, at first glance, assume that choice #1 is the more affordable, and the costs go up from there. In reality, you might be surprised to learn that is often NOT the case. But, in order to do get the facts, let’s look at it as a business owner would. The business owner would weigh all the costs, those he or she tracks and that have a line item in the budget, as well as the costs buried under those categories of “other duties as assigned,” as in staff costs.

    Let’s be honest. If you hire IT staff to take care of your technology needs (which are myriad) and then you assign them to learn and manage tasks that are communication-related, you are unlikely to create efficiencies or productivity. If you require teachers or principals or secretaries to learn software, maintain website accessibility compliance, and implement good communication practices, all of which are outside the skills and training for which you hired them, you might find some deficiencies. However, there is a cost involved. Every hour your staff spends on website management is a cost (tracked or not). 

    As the saying goes, “there is no free lunch.” If you want them to do the job right, it is going to take time and training, which means a cost is involved. If that is where you want them to focus their time, then that is awesome. Just provide them with the training and tools they need to do the job well. If you expect them to do the job because “well, someone has to do it,” then don’t expect much, and don’t complain when your website fails to accomplish your goals.

    Option #1 and #2: Content managed system (CMS) websites

    Whether you use an open source or vendor-provided CMS platform, the process is the same. The costs are also equivalent, in spite of the fact that an open source software doesn’t require a licensing fee. The open source software requires a level of expertise not needed for a vendor provided CMS. To understand a few of the challenges of any open source platform, read our article on WordPress. The staff costs can quickly outweigh the costs of using a vendor platform. You may not be aware of it simply because you aren’t tracking it. It is buried in staff salaries and not a line item that stands out.

    As a typical example from my own life, my assistant superintendent husband’s previous school district assigned a willing staff member to manage their website. They happened to be using a vendor provided CMS, so it didn’t require server management, security updates, and coding knowledge. The idea was that this staff member would spend a few hours a day doing website updates. This included adding content to just the district-level website (other staff members managed each school website). Over time, as the requirements of website management became more complex, this person was spending 60% of his time updating the website. When you factor in an experienced staff member’s salary, that meant the district was actually paying around $40K a year, plus the cost of the CMS platform, for just their district-level website management. If you factor in the time and training required of each person at the school levels also assigned these tasks, you can see that website management costs far more than a line item on the school’s budget.

    It’s those hidden costs that need to be acknowledged and addressed. They are real and they are necessary, but do they need to be so expensive? And, are you getting the quality that you deserve for the money spent? Are you really getting what your school needs?

    Option #3: Professional website management

    This is most typically the option used by very large school districts, large corporations, and those who can afford and need a dedicated communications team. In order to do an effective website management job, this effort needs to coordinate and support the goals for marketing, communications, public relations, customer service (customer retention), and customer recruitment (sales). They simply hire professionals trained in public relations and communications, and this team manages the school websites as part of their overall strategy. And the website is usually the hub of these communications strategies. The staff they hire are trained in all of these fields, can advise the school administrators, help with media relations and crisis management, and are key players in marketing your school. These folks know their stuff and deserve a seat at the decision-making table. Listen to them!

    But, what about the vast majority of schools that are not large enough to warrant this type of investment (even if they would definitely benefit from it)? They simply can’t afford that. What options do they have?

    Professional school webmasters

    Yep, there is such an option. Bear with me a bit longer as I explain how it works when a school wants its website to be more than just a place to hold required notices and a school calendar.

    • We design a website to fit your needs and budget. The cost can be as low as $1200 and includes all the graphics, copywriting, layout, and strategy that is required to deliver a turn-key, mobile-friendly school website. Our website development prices are similar to most CMS platforms, but theirs won’t include the consultation, copywriting, and sometimes not even the layout for your new site. Check out our video describing our development process.
    • In about six weeks, we take the website live and move you to the website management phase. We encourage our schools to provide access to anyone who would be a good resource for providing information, news, stories, or updates on what is happening at their school. They have access to our easy-to-use customer service portal where they send us any information they’d like us to add to the websites. They don’t need to have any training since we do the actual work of updating the sites. This means they don’t need to learn about website accessibility or best placement of content for readability or usability. We even review their requests for typos or grammar issues before placement.
    • The typical cost for this service is $149 per month (per site). We do your updates quickly and accurately (24 hours for sure, but usually the same day). We handle urgent requests even sooner. The staff doing your updates are all trained in website best practices, website accessibility compliance, and quality control, and they will even make suggestions about how to incorporate public relations, improve communications, and better utilize your website.

    As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to pay your staff members such a small amount and expect this level of training and expertise. This price also includes top-tier hosting and security for your websites. (Learn more about selecting school website hosting services.)

    Where does your money really go?

    If this sounds too good to be true, let me explain how we can do all of it for prices that are competitive with other providers who only offer CMS software. 

    First of all, when you hire a CMS vendor, the initial cost primarily goes to paying a sales commission. The development costs, if using a typical template system, are relatively small, but in order to get the word out about their company, they hire sales folks who get paid a commission. So, the actual development costs, unless you are paying for a fully custom website, are actually quite minimal since it doesn’t include the costly services of copywriting or consulting.

    At School Webmasters, we don’t have a sales team. It is just Jim, one of the owners (and the founder’s son). So instead, what are typically revenues going to sales staff, our revenues go directly to the staff who do the work for you. Who are those people? Well, again, we’re quite unique. Our staff of around 58 people are nearly all women who have left their careers to raise their children. They are copywriters, UI designers, graphic designers, coders, public relations professionals, project managers, teachers, proofreaders, and others who are working from home offices all around the United States. Their goals include continuing their professions (or in some cases, establishing a career) under their own terms so they can balance family and work. We allow that flexibility, and our business model sustains it quite well. They are simply amazing, which you’ll see as soon as you work with School Webmasters.

    Over time, schools needed more help with public relations and social media to make their websites more effective. So, we also offer services similar to those provided by a communications team. Even when you can’t begin to afford a full-time communications professional, we’ve got you covered. You can have a part-time communications coordinator, which we will hire, train, and manage from within your community for around $16K a year. You can have fully-managed social media support as well. Basically, we’re an affordable, professional communications resource for schools that value the power of effective school communications and website management.

    In summary…

    Whatever you decide to do, whether to stay with the process you have or make a change, set some goals for your school website. Use it as the communication powerhouse it is meant to be by keeping it current, informative, interesting, and accessible. And then do the math and figure out what you are really paying for your website management process, including your staff costs in time and training. Knowing the facts will help you make the best decision about how to manage your school website.


    400620
    3 Steps to Expert School Website Management
    2018-11-27
    3 steps drawn on chalk board

    Your school’s website is that critical intersection between public relations, customer service, marketing, media relations, communications, and branding. Website management is the process that makes it all work.

    In addition, website management ensures that your website servers, software upgrades, site performance, and security are continually monitored and maintained.

    Your website goals would, of course, include:

    • keeping your customers informed and engaged;
    • showing potential customers what you have to offer;
    • telling customers why they want or need what you provide;
    • building trust and confidence in your services; and
    • validating your brand and reputation.

    In addition to the aspects of effective school communications listed above, you need the practical applications of an attractive school website design, intuitive navigation, up-to-date and engaging content, and a fully-accessible, mobile-friendly site. And delivering in each of these areas requires a variety of skill sets, skills rarely possessed by just one individual. It often takes a team to make it all happen.

    How does your website measure up?

    Sound a bit more complicated than you imagined? Thought you could assign a few staff members to add occasional updates to the website calendar or post a few attachments and call it good? Unfortunately, that is precisely what many schools do. 

    There is a better way, but like anything worthwhile, it involves knowing your goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan.

    When this is the case, parents can’t rely on their child’s school website for information. They are forced to call the office, usually in frustration, because they don’t know about something that is scheduled or they don’t know about a policy or requirement that affects them. They complain about the school’s failure to communicate. They feel disengaged and often unwelcome. Far too many schools’ reputations, public schools in particular, suffer from this situation.

    There is a better way, but like anything worthwhile, it involves knowing your goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan.

    Step #1: What is your school’s website purpose?

    I imagine you want to use your school website (or any website for that matter) to obtain multiple goals. So, begin by listing and then prioritizing them. You may not be able to put them all into play at once, so what is your top priority? Here is a list of possibilities to get you started thinking about your school’s priorities:

    • Contact information (where we are located or how to reach us)
    • Parent information (letting parents know what is happening at your schools, including the when, where, and why)
    • Attract students (marketing to increase enrollment or finding the students with the interests and goals that relate to your school’s strengths or specialties)
    • Recruit staff (finding the most qualified and dedicated team who matches your school culture and goals)
    • Change perceptions (correcting negative, maybe faulty, public opinions about your school or possibly education in general)
    • Build a strong brand (establishing a respected school brand and a trusted reputation)
    • Engage parents (helping parents to feel included and engaged in their child’s education to improve student outcomes)
    • Create community support (gaining the respect and support of community members, parents, taxpayers, and local media)
    • Fulfill legal requirements (maintaining state and federal laws for notices, postings, access, etc.)
    • Establish trust (using communications to earn trust through transparency)
    • Tell our stories (sharing your successes and progress through stories, videos, and news to give people a glimpse inside your school)
    • Seek donations or volunteers (to encourage donations to worthy efforts and causes or to find willing volunteers to share the load)

    Depending on what your school priorities and needs are, you would begin by focusing your website content on the needs and interests of those particular audiences. For example, if you chose to focus on increasing enrollment this year, you would:

    • Make sure the strengths and specialties your school offers are prominent on your website. 
    • Highlight the primary reasons prospective parents select your school. 
    • Present your school strengths in a variety of ways, including video, stories, testimonials, stats, or infographics. 
    • Review your enrollment processes, streamlining the application steps to make it easy to submit. 

    If you do all of this and then share your great content on your school social media channels, the local media, and with local groups like the Chamber of Commerce, real estate agents, and parent organizations, your website is supporting your goal of increasing enrollment. Great!

    Now, move on to the next goal on your priority list and tackle that one. Eventually, as you focus on each goal, you will have a website that is helping to accomplish each priority of your school communications and marketing efforts. The key is to begin.

    Step #2: Creating a project plan for each website goal

    #1  List Goals

    List all the school goals you hope your website should or could support (even if you aren’t sure how you’ll do it yet).

    #2 Prioritize Goals

    Now put them in the order of what will bring you the most benefit or is a pain point that you need to remove quickly.

    #3 Select and Strategize

    Select one of these priority goals, and analyze ways you can deliver on that goal considering each of the delivery methods (story, information, interaction, visual, etc.) and how those ideas would be practical considering the areas of school marketing, communications, public relations, and customer support.

    #4 Calendar and track

    All of this can feel like a lot to do, but if you take it one bite at a time, you can accomplish it over time. Whether you do it using an hour a week or a project a month, depending on your resources and your available time, schedule the steps into your day.

    #5 Determine evaluation criteria

    Decide how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. You might begin by adding analytics to your website to see if traffic to those pages or content increases. Look at conversion, for example. Do you get more enrollments and are they handled more smoothly? Do enrollments save staff time? Are errors decreased, or are parents asking fewer questions about the process? Each goal might require a different evaluation, but decide how you will determine if your changes have moved you closer to your goal.

    Step #3: Applying the process

    Next, your daily website management processes should support your established goals. That goes without saying. But how does the actual process look? What is a consistent process to keep your school websites effective, informative, accurate, inviting, and accessible?

    #1 Gather stories that support your goals

    Every member of your school’s staff, from the custodian to the superintendent, sees successes, improvements, and examples daily. Create ways and establish expectations (even if it means making assignments to your staff) to submit these great happenings. Then turn them into news, stories, examples, videos, photo ops, and social media posts for your websites. 

    #2 Recognize and reward those who provide this information

    Make it a habit of showing your appreciation for staff engagement. If you do, it will encourage more engagement, more stories, and more great content you can use. You can do this at staff meetings, at governing board meetings, or with handwritten thank you notes, but whatever method you choose, show the staff that you value their efforts.

    #3 Create quality website management processes

    These include making it simple for staff to submit news, information, events, and photos to your communication channels. Website updates should be checked for quality control, typos, grammar, tone-of-voice, and consistent messaging. Develop a content style guide that anyone who touches the website knows they must follow. Assure that website updaters maintain website accessibility standards for both those website updates and for any document you link to from the website (PDFs, Word, Google Docs, etc.). Remove outdated information quickly. Make sure your website is always current. Schedule regular checks to remove or fix broken links, and review the site layout in multiple browsers and devices.  

    We realize this is a relatively high-level overview of what effective website management entails. To accomplish specific goals throughout the year, particularly as it relates to school communications, marketing, and school public relations, you’d need to create a detailed project plan or campaign for individual events or goals. 

    For example, you might develop a campaign for back-to-school events that would integrate the website, social media, video, photos, stories, interviews, and perspectives from parents, staff, and students. It would include details for each aspect of the activities, developing content for parent notifications and invites, wording and images for postings on social media, content to pitch to the local media, assignments for the event itself, and all of this tied to due dates. Here is a simple project plan you are welcome to use as an example.

    Here’s a video outlining what goes into the school website management processes we provide to our clients. Feel free to use our methods, or better yet, hit the easy button, and let us do this for you as well!

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    Server and software management

    In addition to the processes you create for managing the website content we describe above, if you host your own website, which is common with open source platforms like WordPress, you’ll need to establish scheduled processes for website software or server maintenance. All systems vary, so have someone with expertise in this area audit your processes to assure you aren’t missing some critical aspect that could put your website in jeopardy. 

    For example, typical server maintenance includes steps like: verify backups are working, check disk usage, update your OS, check application updates, check server utilization, change passwords, check system security, and monitor timetables for service packs and patches. Keep up-to-date with the latest security threats and make sure that your systems are patched and current with the latest software releases to minimize vulnerabilities. 

    Once you have the basics covered, you'll want to look at some of the new trends in infrastructure, with auto-scaling servers, next-generation disaster recovery, threat protection, and advanced load balancing. Take all the necessary precautions to stay current and secure.

    Great school communication = strategic website management

    It all boils down to making your school’s online communications efforts a priority. We live in a digital world. Simply put, do not neglect school website management. If you fail to develop and implement a communications plan, of which your school websites are an integral part, you will do so at the risk of your school’s reputation, you’ll hamper parent engagement (which can affect student learning), and you will be creating uphill battles for your staff that can be avoided by implementing these processes. You will also be missing out on those invaluable opportunities to market your school and earn a respected school reputation.

    If you’d like to learn more about other topics that affect school communications, check out these articles:


    400524
    Think Twice Before Moving Your School to a WordPress Site!
    2018-11-20
    Image of the WordPress logo

    All schools recognize the necessity of a school website today, although many might not utilize the full value of it as a communications and marketing dynamo. But an up-to-date school website is indeed a requirement in today’s highly-connected and digital world.

    How and why we manage school websites as we do

    Historically, when the Internet first blew into all our lives, the typical school website was developed and hosted in-house by the school’s IT department. Initially, this was a necessity because of the technical requirements of this new and complex innovation. As development progressed, it became more cost-effective and secure to use systems and programs like content management systems (CMS) that were designed and hosted outside of the school. These sites were easier to update and didn’t require the need to know HTML, CSS, server technologies, or programming languages.

    Then, in the United States, a federal program called E-Rate began to reimburse schools for a percentage of the costs of website technology. This monetary incentive allowed more schools to outsource their school website design and hosting services to professionals in those fields. Sites became more robust, more secure, and easier to manage. This also freed many school staff IT departments from the responsibility of managing the communications and public relations purposes of the school sites.

    However, a few years ago when eRate funding for school websites was discontinued, school IT departments had to come up with the previously funded money in order to sustain their school’s websites. Some schools decided they would not reallocate funds to cover this cost but hoped to eliminate the expense by bringing the website design and development back in-house.

    One of the many systems available for the DIY website system is WordPress. This is an open source program that anyone can use, and since it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular, there is no cost for the basic platform. While it was initially designed as a blogging platform, it is currently the most widely used content management system on the web, with over 50% of CMS market share.

    All of this sounds like a possible solution, given most schools’ meager budgets. If that were the only evaluation criteria, it might be right. But, is a line item in a department budget enough of a reason to return to the methods we used in 2000? Before you make your next website choice, let’s look at the most commonly used DIY choice—WordPress.

    Disadvantages of WordPress

    Security. WordPress sites get hacked. In fact, according to 2017 stats, WordPress was the most infected website platform with 83% of the sampled sites. While WordPress advocates will tell you that is only because they are ubiquitous and are easy targets, the real reason is often due to improper deployment or management. Sometimes it is the needed plugin or theme that is poorly coded, but since schools don’t have any option but to use the many plugins, the opportunity for hacking is obvious. As an open source platform, the plugins and themes are developed by different people and companies without any oversight or monitoring—so they can contain bugs, malicious code, or security breaches. To counter this known issue, you can also use plugins to beef up the security. That means you must know what you are doing up front, or you won’t know what you need to add to keep your school sites secure. So, now you need an expert, and you are likely expecting your IT team to handle that as well, right?

    ADA website compliance. This is a hot button for schools since they are required by law to make sure their school websites are accessible. There is a lot involved in making that happen, and the complexities increase exponentially when you must develop the site in-house. Once you’ve added the appropriate WP Accessibility plug, you need to understand the requirements of WCAG 2.0 and how to apply them to your site.

    Performance. In addition to not having any built-in caching (at the server or browser level), unless you really know your stuff, far beyond what yet another plug-in can provide, there will be page load issues. Also, the use of all the plugins required to make your WordPress site usable will affect site loads as well. If all of your school’s parents are on high-speed Internet, you don’t use many images, and you don’t care how long it takes to load on a mobile device, this might not be an issue. But if you care about search engine optimization (SEO) and your website rankings, you will need to care.

    Development. WordPress isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for schools. In addition to the many plug-ins required, you may also need to write complex code for some functions and posts. You’ll require more technical skills than with fully-developed CMS systems. If you need to intensify your website graphics, you will also need to learn some CSS and HTML coding. But, if you would revel in learning some PHP or CSS, you can edit some of the themes and plugs to tweak to your needs.

    Updates. Depending on how many plugins you must use, and there will be many, WordPress updates can often make parts of your theme or some of your plugs unusable. Updates will create compatibility problems, so frequent adjustments are required to maintain a functional website.

    Management. Unlike a system that is designed to meet all the needs of a school website for a turn-key solution, you get to build your own system. That means someone needs to know what they are doing. That could be you (and you can learn all that goes into best practices of school websites, ADA compliance, intuitive navigation, content development, tone of voice, communications strategies, and more), or you can hire a developer to create a WordPress site for you. In the case of the former, if your passion is to become a website developer and webmaster, great. In the case of the latter, you will have to pay someone to develop that site and will be stuck dealing with all the other issues we mentioned earlier.

    No Support. Nope. WordPress doesn’t provide technical support. You can find various support forums where others trying to solve issues have posted questions and responses. Unfortunately, sometimes these forums can leave your problem unsolved and you more confused than ever. If you are a beginner, without in-depth technical knowledge, trying to customize your WordPress platform to fit your needs will be nearly impossible.

    Advantages of WordPress

    • Compared to other DIY content management systems, if you are looking for a simple website, it is relatively easy to implement.
    • Because it is open source, if you are a developer, you can modify, distribute, and use the code without having to pay license fees.
    • Like all CMS, you don’t need to be familiar with programming languages (assuming you are not looking for customization of your website).
    • WordPress allows you to rapidly create a website using a pre-designed theme and various plugins.

    You will notice that some of the advantages also are disadvantages, depending on your school’s needs. If you love the idea of developing your own website, have the staff to manage and update it, don’t mind staying on top of the updates and changes, site load times aren’t a concern, and you have the budget capacity to pay staff to do the job, WordPress is a viable solution.

    But, should you decide to go the DIY route for your school’s website, be sure to factor in the actual costs. Don’t be fooled into looking at a single line item called “website hosting.” Include all of your staff’s time, even if they are not receiving a stipend for this “other duties as assigned” work. If they are doing the work of school website management on school time, you are paying them for it and possibly at the cost of whatever else they were actually hired to do. 

    Other factors to consider

    Regardless of whether you choose an open source CMS like WordPress, where you will host and manage all aspects of your site in-house, or you a choose a website provider whose products or services provide security, support, and customization, there are some priorities you need to implement. As yourself a few questions:

    • First, consider the purpose of your school website. What is the job it is being asked to perform? 
    • Who will manage your website long term? 
    • If you have a single individual handling the management, what happens if they leave? Is there a single point of failure in your process? 
    • Will training be required each year and if so, who will provide that? 
    • Will those being asked to fulfill these jobs have the requisite skill sets needed, like optimizing images (graphic design), copywriting (grammar, punctuation, tone, word choice), ADA compliance training, public relations, marketing, and the other knowledge required? 

    The answers you provide will influence the choice you make in choosing the best website platform for your school. 

    To provide today’s parents and your other stakeholders with the level of communication they have come to expect from your school, you need a plan. Your school website can save your school or district thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, by saving your staff time, improving parent engagement, building trust, providing better customer service, and helping your school earn a respected reputation. It can also increase student enrollment and attract the highest quality staff. Your website platform is just the first step. Handle this wisely and the next steps can move your school toward the ever-important goal of educating our nation’s youth. The communication strategy you implement, of which your website is the central hub, will help you succeed.

    The disclaimer 

    With 15 years of school experience, we are unashamedly biased in what we recommend to schools. We believe, and have the evidence to back it up, that effective school communications can make or break your educational efforts. We don’t use WordPress for our school websites for a variety of reasons. But, we also don’t ask our schools to do anything at all on their websites that they don’t want to do. They don’t need to be trained on CMS software or know how to make and keep their website accessible, follow website best practices, or even write content. They also don’t worry about staff turnover or the skillsets or training and retraining maintaining their own website would require. 

    But hey, that is just us. We are not a CMS; we’re a service. Our ideal school clients’ goals are to keep their school staff focused on their areas of expertise, and they expect us to stay focused on ours. And we believe we can do it for far less than you can keep all of it in-house and with none of the headaches. If this sounds like something your school needs, we hope you’ll reach out to us. Call Jim at 888.750.4556 or request a quote.

    School Website Redesign Infographic & Checklist Offer
    396795
    Building a Positive School Culture
    2018-11-13
    Image of students and adults interacting

    We’ve all worked in places where the culture was memorable. Possibly it was memorable because you worked in a toxic environment where stress, mistrust, and playing CYA were the daily norms. But, I hope you’ve at least had a few experiences where the culture was one in which people felt valued, trust abounded, and it was a joyful place to work. If so, you’ll know what a school with a positive culture feels like.

    When staff and students feel valued, they work harder and enjoy the experience. Students who feel as if their teachers respect them will do better academically and behaviorally. A positive culture promotes kindness, civility, and respect. Your school’s culture exists because of the people, not the programs or curriculums. 

    What’s your school culture like, from a staff perspective?

    In many schools, if you were to ask 20 people what your school culture was, you’d get as many different answers. Consider spending some professional development time (but include all staff, not just teachers) to find out what your school culture currently feels like to those who live it. Ask some questions, and then share the responses:

    1. Do you feel everyone here is treated equally (staff and students)?
    2. Are rules followed and consequences and follow-through consistent? (If so, staff will feel more supported and trust will increase.)
    3. Do administrators, classified, and certified staff lead by example? Are there role models who stand out, and are they recognized and valued for their examples?
    4. Does your school celebrate victories and praise progress (both the large and the small successes) on a regular basis? In what ways?

    Now, after you share the outcomes to your questions (you can also use a survey), find out how they would describe the perfect school culture. Are those values a part of your school’s mission and goals? How can you work toward making these values a reality for both your staff and your students? Pick one and work to implement or strengthen that value over the next year.

    What’s your school culture like, from a student perspective?

    Now that you have a better understanding of how your staff views the culture at your school, find out what the students think. It is true that when role models value one another, students will tend to emulate their example. But knowing what the students feel now will help you see how far you’ve come once you’ve focused a bit of effort on building a positive school culture. How do they feel now? Ask them.Do students feel they receive positive feedback from the school personnel? How do teachers talk to students? How do teachers treat students when they are struggling?

    1. Do students feel like they could get help from a staff member, both academically and personally, when needed?
    2. Do staff members show kindness and appreciation for one another and to students?
    3. Do students feel safe while at school?
    4. Do students feel pride in their school? Their teachers? Their educational progress?
    5. Do students feel respected by the school staff and teachers?

    Analyze for improvement

    There are a few areas that most agree are essential to improving a school’s culture. 

    • Relationships: Since a healthy school culture boils down to the strength of relationships, especially those between teacher and students, value and extol the virtues of those role models demonstrating quality relationships with students. 
    • Consequences: The rules and appropriate consequences for breaking those rules should be very clear and adhered to consistently. Be sure the consequences make sense for the infraction. For example, consider restorative justice and making amends for a bullying incident. Rather than isolation, have them find a way to make amends.
    • Problem Solving: Teach student problem-solving skills. Check out, for example, at the Boys Town Training method they call SODAS
    • Praise and recognition: Be generous with praise where it is earned. Kids know when they’ve earned your kudos or not, so avoid the “every kid gets a trophy” mentality, but be generous with praise when they deserve it. Be specific and avoid the generic “Good job!” comment, but compliment their specific behavior or choice to reinforce and encourage more good choices.

    Have some fun!

    To create and maintain a positive school culture is an ongoing process. But it should also be fun. Here are some ideas to support and energize your school’s positive culture:

    • Behind Your Back: It’s a fun twist on gossiping. It can be done at the start of a staff meeting or as a professional development exercise. Greater Good Science Center has provided a Behind Your Back example.
    • Gratitude Board: Create a place in the teachers’ lounge or in the hallway where people can post notes expressing their gratitude for each others’ actions. 
    • Sunshine Committee: Create a social committee at your school where a few “volunteers” find ways to build staff morale and create positive events or activities throughout the year for your school personnel. It can be simple ways of showing appreciation, building trust, and adding fun to the day. A quick visit to Pinterest will provide hundreds of ideas to tweak for your school’s needs.
    • Student Council Coffee Cart: We found this example at PrincipalsDesk.org and thought it was worth sharing. Just decorate a book cart with a tablecloth and a vase of flowers; add fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and pastries. Have your student council students go from classroom to classroom treating the teachers. For less than $50, you will make all of your teachers’ morning.
    • School-Wide Rallies: Consider celebrating achievements, creating traditions, or reinforcing school values and personal student goals. It can build school spirit and unity as well as showcase individual and school successes and strengthen school culture. Get some ideas from this Edutopia.org article about daily assemblies.
    • Toot That Horn: You’re all aware that much of the media gives more coverage to the negative than the positive. Unfortunately, it tends to get more attention. So, if you want to improve your school culture, you must become a school success advocate and make injecting positive school stories a goal. The positive stories that reflect the successes happening in your classrooms every day are all around. Find ways to collect them; catch good things happening, and make sure these stories make it into your school social media and onto the news page of your school websites, and send them to the local media education reporters. Your efforts can counter negative coverage (that you have no control over) and help both staff and students recognize that their efforts are seen and valued.
    • Communicate Well: Look at each of your communication methods, including your school website content, e-mails, phone messages, newsletters, social media, electronic signage, and media contacts. Are you keeping parents, staff, and the community informed? Are you telling them the “why” behind decisions that affect them, including the benefits they can enjoy? Doing so will build trust, improve perceptions, and show transparency. If you don’t communicate, your audiences will fill in the blanks with guesswork. Control the message and build a positive culture.
    • Encourage, Inspire, and Motivate Daily: Educating is tough work. You're responsible for outcomes without any control over the influences existing in a student’s life. But, it is well-documented (and the reason people stay in the profession) that high-impact schools are the ones that foster positive relationships between teachers and students. That means having teachers who know how to listen, are empathetic, and who care. Most do. But, regular and deliberate encouragement, recognition, and motivation can raise the boat when the river’s flow slows. Use weekly e-mails, staff meetings, professional development, staff blogs, or other opportunities to encourage and remind your staff what matters and why they chose the careers they did. This applies to classified staff as well. Use links to TED talks, motivational quotes, and inspiring books; write notes of thanks, and recognize excellence publically among your staff. Start with the TED Talk; Every Kid Needs a Champion by Dr. Rita Pierson. Uplift. Your efforts will have an impact on your school culture.
    • Keep Enemies Close: If you struggle with vocal opposition, one way to help your school culture become strong and stay that way is to invite a few of those typically opposed members to provide their opinion before you implement any new initiative. You may see that this early involvement turns opponents into proponents. These may be community members, governing board members, or even staff members. Give it a try!
    • Help Parents Get Involved: An effective school culture needs parent engagement.  However, school personnel often misunderstand the challenges that keep parents from getting involved or even showing up at school events (like parent conferences). A few common challenges might be the following: 1) Problem: they feel like no one ever listens to them. Solution: survey your parents to find out what is most valuable to them—what obstacles they face. 2) Problem: they are too busy with multiple jobs and children in several schools. Solution: ask them how they prefer to be contacted, and use whatever works, including phone calls, texting, or a home visit. 3) Problem: no one at the school cares about my problems or my child. Solution: To overcome past negative experiences, plan a “get to know you” event early in the year. Make it a fun, less formal activity like an ice cream social that gives parents a chance to meet teachers in a positive setting. 
    • Build Student Ownership: To involve students in building a strong school culture and letting them leave their own positive mark on it, check out these ideas from School Leaders Now called 12 Ways to Build Student Ownership of School Culture.

    We hope some of these ideas will help you start building a positive, rewarding, and effective culture in your school! It is worth the effort. Oh, and use your progress and successes as fodder for stories in your school communications. When you’ve got a positive school culture, be sure you let your community know about it through the stories you share on your website and in your social media.

    396268
    School Calendars: Your One-Stop School Communications Tool
    2018-11-06
    Image of laptop showing school calendar

    As school marketers, we sometimes become distracted by all the wonderful tools we have at our disposal—the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever the next new social media trend will be—that we sometimes don’t give one of the most efficient tools in our arsenal the attention it deserves. I’m talking about your district and school calendars. 

    The district and school calendars have tremendous potential for not only parent engagement but also for community relations and school marketing! Let’s look at a real-life example.

    Snowflake Unified School District #5 serves the Northeastern Arizona communities of Snowflake and Taylor, and the effective use of their websites has always been impressive. 

    Tohna Rogers is the administrative assistant to Hollis Merrell, superintendent of Snowflake USD, and she is largely responsible for the exceptional online impression made by her district. The quality control manager at School Webmasters recently spoke with Tohna to learn her secret for keeping the website and, in particular, the district and school calendars up to date. 

    When asked what strategy she uses to keep her community informed without burying them in too much information, Tohna replied that she asks herself this crucial question, “If I were the parent, what would I need on my calendar?” 

    We love Tohna’s response. It captures, in essence, one of the most important goals of school communication—parent engagement. What do parents need and want to know? The information to answer that questions ought to be readily available on your school websites, and there is no more logical place than on the school calendars.  

    Managing District and School Calendars

    Although they may seem simple and straightforward, school calendars can sometimes become one of the most challenging aspects of school communications. While our goal is to make sure everyone knows about events and activities, calendars can become convoluted and overwhelming. When balancing a district calendar with multiple school calendars, important events can sometimes be forgotten or duplicated. Here are a few helpful tips for managing a district calendar along with several school calendars: 

    Tip #1: Any district-wide event goes on the district calendar. Any event that specifically relates to the school goes on the school calendars. 

    It seems like a simple rule, but you would be surprised how much confusion this can clear up. Schools don’t need to worry about posting holidays, school closures, professional development days, board of education meetings, etc. because all of that information is on the district calendar. Instead, schools can focus on adding events and activities that showcase the wonderful things happening at school. 

    Tip #2: What should be on your school calendars? Make sure the following are listed and up to date on your school calendars throughout the year: 

    • Open houses, meet the teacher nights, orientations
    • Parent-teacher conferences 
    • Parent workshops
    • Block schedules
    • Commencements
    • Coffee with the principal or other meet-and-greet events
    • Activities and events
      • Assemblies
      • Athletics tryouts and events
      • Picture day
      • Field trips
      • School plays
      • Club events

    Tip #3: What should be on your district calendars? Include the following on your district calendars: 

        • First and last days of school
        • Late start and early release/professional development
        • School closure dates
        • Holidays observed
        • Testing dates
        • Graduation

        Tip #4: Know your community and know your parents. Tohna explained that the key to answering her crucial question involves both knowing her parents and her community. 

        To explain, she gave an example of one of the big high school events. Every year in October, the high school puts on a homecoming parade. One might not expect kindergarten parents to care when the high school parade begins, but the parents in her community do want that information. Tohna knows that the roads surrounding the kindergarten pickup location get congested on parade day, and parents will need to adjust their travel time depending on when the parade begins. So, Tohna places the high school parade on the district calendar—it’s not a district event, but it will affect all parents in the district. 

        Because Tohna knows the needs of the parents and the community, she can make their needs her top priority when making school calendar decisions. 

        Bonus: The district calendar can also be a wonderful way to market your schools and encourage good community relations. Tohna applies this additional strategy to her calendar decisions. She uses the district calendar to judiciously highlight individual schools throughout the year. She believes everyone in the district needs to be aware of the excellent activities that take place in the “other” buildings. 

        Using the calendar to promote bigger events and highlight the exceptional activities at select schools is an effective way to build community support and pride! Use this tactic judiciously, and don’t forget to invite the local media to those kinds of events.

        It’s important to note that parents rarely visit the district website because they are often only interested in news relating to their child’s school—and that’s okay. Many school calendar tools will allow you to display the district items on the individual school pages. For an example, see Snowflake High School’s calendar. It shows both the district events as well as school events. But even if your school calendar tool doesn’t transfer information, don’t feel like you need to duplicate all the events from the district calendar on all the school calendars. Trust that active community members will know to check the district calendar for things like board of education meetings. 

        The Benefits of an Interactive Calendar

        At School Webmasters, we use interactive calendars on all our websites. The interactive functionality means the website visitor can view the calendar in different formats, sort by the different schools, and have reminders of events sent directly to their Outlook or Gmail calendar or phone. 

        We’ve partnered with Trumba to bring our clients one of the most feature-rich interactive calendars available on the market today. When asked what Trumba feature Tohna finds most useful, she did not hesitate. Mixed-in calendars was her answer. Tohna knows that in her community, many families have students in multiple schools. Those parents can go to the district calendar page and choose all the schools their children attend. They can easily see the activities of their elementary, middle, and high school students on one calendar. 

        But how does her community know to do this? To make sure Snowflake parents are aware of the features of the Trumba calendars, Tohna provides Trumba demonstrations during Parent Night. Parents are not the only ones who use the mixed-in feature–being able to click the mixed-in calendars on and off also makes it easier for staff to plan and attend events throughout the district.

        Tohna added that community members inside and outside the school count on their Trumba calendars. For example, the community Head Start program staff regularly consults the district and school calendars when planning their schedule and events.

        Because Snowflake USD uses their calendars as an efficient school communications tool, the community trusts and depends on their district and school calendars. Managing your calendar might seem like a menial task but don’t underestimate its power as a public relations tool. As Snowflake USD demonstrates, your school calendar can engage parents, unify the community, and market your school. 


        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        396114
        How to Engage and Connect with Busy Parents
        2018-10-30
        Sticky notes on a car steering wheel

        An Olympian recently visited our local elementary school. Students heard inspiring stories and took turns pole vaulting with the help of the visitors. My daughters came home completely excited, and I thought, “How cool for them.” 

        A few days later, while scanning my Instagram feed, I noticed the PTO’s Instagram post with pictures and a short video clip of the activity. As I watched the video, these were my exact thoughts: “What a great thing for us! I’m so glad my children did that. I’m so glad they’re at that school!” Because of those pictures and videos, I felt my connection to the elementary school grow at that moment. 

        Why does this matter?  

        As a mother of six with a husband whose job transfers us often, my school loyalties don’t come easily anymore. While others feel tied to local schools, we have changed schools enough that we don’t connect to schools because of traditions or histories of excellence. It’s the little, everyday, positive experiences that really matter to my family. How this experience with my daughters and my experience with these pictures posted on Instagram affected me is exactly why schools should never underestimate the power of imagery in school marketing. 

        What is imagery and why is it a big deal? 

        Imagery is a timeless form of communication that engages audiences in various ways. Whether you recognize it yet or not, seeking to increase your use imagery as part of your school marketing is important, easy, and effective. Let’s look at the value of concrete imagery, such as pictures either on a printed page or screen. 

        According to Discover Magazine, the mechanics of sight are “by far the most powerful and complex of the sensory systems. In the brain itself, neurons devoted to visual processing number in the hundreds of millions and take up about 30 percent of the cortex, as compared with eight percent for touch, and just three percent for hearing.” Millions of fibers carry signals inside one of your two optic nerves. In comparison, your auditory nerves only carry 30,000 fibers each. Apparently, we learn a lot through these fantastic bundles of the human eye’s optic nerves.

        There was a difference between my thoughts from when I heard my girls tell me about their exciting day at school and then when I saw the experience for myself. Seeing for myself, connected me to the event in a more meaningful way, and I felt proud to be sending my kids to that school.

        Why is imagery an effective tool for engagement?

        Imagery is powerful. Images convey abstract and complex concepts subtly and rapidly. They are universal, reach across communication barriers, and help tell your school stories. As your school community sees the imagery you use, they will be much more likely to relate and connect with your school. Incorporating visuals into your school marketing plan is a beautiful and effective way to brand your school. 

        Increase readability and promote change

        Have you seen the acronym TLDR? It means, “Too long, didn’t read.” In all school communication, one of your school’s goals ought to be to increase readability. What can your school do to increase readership? 

        Imagery adds depth to the connected words of a story. For example, think about children’s books. Images in illustrated books help convey the message of the text and engage young children in reading. Images can do the same for adults. Imagery allows a reader some creative direction. Similarly, imagery used in various forms of school communication adds depth to your school brand and message fast. You’ve heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The truth is, you don’t need a thousand words when a picture will do. 

        History has its eyes on us and lessons to share. Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln both used imagery based on gathered data to inspire themselves and others. Nightingale created a historical pie chart to display the correlation between mortality rates during the Crimean War and poor sanitary conditions. While she may not have been the first to use statistical graphs, she may have been, as historian Hugh Small writes, “the first to use them for persuading people of the need for change.” 

        Abraham Lincoln used a three-foot parchment paper to display counties of the southern states. It visually represented the number of slaves by county, in varying degrees of tone connected to the number. He referred to this map many times. These two historical figures understood something we sometimes forget in our communication: people don’t have all day. 

        Images allow the “reader” to glean information at a glance and have the power to persuade. In all of history, it has never been easier to include images in our communications! 

        Embrace technology: practice digital citizenship 

        Thanks to advances in technology, it’s easy and economical to use visual images in your various school communication settings. While using imagery has become easier to implement into the everyday, the technology of our world has become increasingly intimidating because of it’s potentially long-reaching effects for better or for worse. While this is true, remember, your school exemplifies digital citizenship to your community as you choose your policies of engagement regarding online communications about school activities. As you face this task carefully and bravely, your school models pro-social, responsible, and creative social media use. 

        What pictures and images should you consider using? 

        Parents and guardians of current and prospective students will always be your audience when considering decisions regarding your visual approach to school marketing. There are a few simple, vital ways to engage your students and their families that can be easily overlooked, especially when we live in a time of an overwhelming amount of sources seeking our attention. 

        Think of your favorite moments that inspire you and make you happy. Show current and prospective students and their families what you care about through the visuals you use in school communications. Perhaps it’s watching the class engaged in a lecture, attentively listening to their instructor or students enjoying free time at recess or working together on a project. Maybe you enjoy seeing them gathered and participating in a school assembly. Sharing pictures from the school that inspire you will likely be met with a positive response by the school community. 

        How to use imagery to benefit your school marketing plan

        Thanks to technology, it has never been easier to engage your current and prospective school community. Here are some ideas:

        • Welcome students and other guests to your school with relevant images on the walls of your front office.

        • Consider what the walls of your school say with the imagery represented on them.

        • Expand your back-to-school nights by recording a message from the principal to play for everyone in the first class of the evening. 

        • Make video rather than an email to introduce a specific school program to your targeted audience.

        • Encourage your team to Include imagery (photos, clip art, charts, etc.) in the following forums: classrooms, weekly newsletters, and emails to parents.

        • Actively share your school’s stories using images shared via social media sites. (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)

        • If your school has a fundraiser, use pictures connected to the fundraiser.

        • Don’t forget to include close up photographs of students smiling—they love their school!

        • Invite faculty and parents to use class, PTO, or school social media activity. Have them share regular posts and contribute their favorite pictures from latest events.

        • Update your school website with pictures of current students and faculty. For ideas, see some of the websites School Webmasters updated most recently. For tips on what and what not to include on your school website, see School Webmasters’ inclusive list. 

        • Consider more options with the production of school videos (video marketing), a powerful use of imagery for reinforcing your school brand.

        Making decisions regarding your school’s online communication and social media activity can be daunting. Fortunately, as time goes on, there is more and more information at your fingertips to help make informed decisions. 

        Nervous about how to approach social media? Consider researching an informative list of do's and don'ts about safe sharing in your school as well as ways to protect privacy. At the beginning of the year, many schools include a media permission slip among the forms provided to parents. Permission to use pictures of students at your school is vital to your school marketing. 

        Can the use of imagery help strengthen your school brand similar to that of commercial brands who choose to use little green geckos? Absolutely. One action item for any school marketing plan ought to be specific plans to give your school’s visual approach a facelift. As you share visually compelling images, you reinforce your school’s message, mission, and values. Oh yeah—one last thing: don’t forget that abstract imagery, storytelling and other ways of sharing your stories, is just as valuable. Using a variety of imagery connects your families. It is truly a reformative mode of school communication and marketing. 

        For great tips and guidance on using images on your school website, visit School Webmasters’ blog post on the topic, and download the free photography checklist for schools. For all you Marketing Your School toolkit owners, this checklist has been added to the online resources under Week 36—ENJOY! 

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        395964
        51 Ways to Market Your School
        2018-10-23
        Image of the number 51, representing 51 ways to market your school

        Marketing your school is essential in today’s competitive educational environment. The good news is that there are so many effective ways to do it—you just need to get started. So, here are 51 ideas to get you moving in the right direction.

        Invite them in: Create a virtual video tour of your school. Make sure you film it when there are students and staff present and viewers can see the activity and enthusiasm present. Include students, staff, volunteers, and support staff, and show their smiling faces and grab some quotes that reflect the values your school represents. This is also a great video for the marketing area of your school’s website. (You could also do this with static pictures.) You DO have a marketing area, right? Let a tour bring your school to life for those prospective visitors.

        Put that website to work: Your school website is the communications and marketing hub for your school, so make it count. It should be mobile-friendly (responsive), accessible to those with disabilities (ADA compliant), current, informative, engaging, conversational, and easy to navigate. It should have the forms and instructions available to register, the answers to all the most common questions (ask your office staff if you aren’t sure what those are), calendars, and contact information. You should have information for both your prospective site visitors (a robust marketing area) and the parents of your enrolled students (current engagement and customer service). We can help you with this area, so reach out to us, but in the meantime subscribe to our blog and gets lots of great information twice a month. Also, check out these blog posts: “School Websites—The Swiss Army Knife of Influence & Communications,” “Does your School Website Help you Become a School of Choice?” and “How a Website can Help a Struggling School.”

        Tell them a story: One of the most effective tools a school has is the ability to share its stories of its people and programs. You want your audience to see their children succeeding and thriving at your school, so give them real-world examples to envision. Be specific. Show successes. Describe dreams that come true. People relate to people, so give them something to relate to. Use these stories on your social media posts as well. See “Storytelling: Your Most Powerful School Marketing Tool” and “Telling Your School’s Stories.”

        Gathering stories: Provide incentives to gather stories that you can share in your marketing efforts (website news stories, videos, social media posts, blog posts, local media human interest stories). Rewards can be as simple as a verbal recognition at a staff meeting or a candy bar for a student who shares the success of a fellow student, but make it part of your school’s culture to gather stories that represent your school’s strengths and values. Let your staff, students, and parents know you value the story-sharers among them, and you’ll have plenty of great stories to share. See “Telling Your School’s Stories” for ways to gather stories from your staff.

        Highlight your families: Invite families to tell their stories, and share them on your school website, linking to them from your social media. It’s as simple as asking families for answers to a few questions that will provide social validation to other prospective families. Let your existing parents help prospective parents make the decision to select your school! See great examples at St. James Episcopal Day School or see video stories at Santa Fe Christian School. Do this also with students, staff, and alumni as well!

        Highlight your programs: Create an area on the marketing pages of your school website where you tell the stories behind some of your most effective programs or projects. Do you have certain programs you do every year (often you’ll have one or two in each grade)? Take a picture or two and tell the story behind it. Why is it effective? What do the students learn? How does it broaden their educational experience? Why is it so effective and yet fun? These stories are a great way to highlight your school's strengths and what makes you stand out.

        Post those testimonials: Collect testimonials from parents, students, staff, and alumni at every opportunity. In addition to a page on your website to be used as part of your marketing and enrollment information, these can be used as graphic elements throughout your website, in social media posts and memes, and in other marketing collateral you create. Collect these via a form on your website, during parent/teacher conferences, or from social media channels, and keep some handy forms for parents to leave comments in the front office.

        A day in the life: To help prospective parents get a real feel for what it is like to be a student at your school, walk them through a day in the life of “......” (select a student at the various grade levels). It can be as simple as a slideshow with captions or a video. Select a student from the elementary grades, one from the middle school, and another from the high school to show the variety of opportunities. Be sure to include lots of smiling faces, quotes from the student and others they interact with, and how the student you are shadowing feels about his/her day. If yours is a boarding school, consider a “week in the life” of a student as well.

        Community-wide events: Can you establish a once-a-month event to which you invite your targeted prospects? For preschool or kindergarten students, what about a day to visit and get a preview of your programs (parents get to see their own child interacting)? For upper grades, invite a parent to let a current student be their guide as a “Day in the Life.” Provide a campus tour with coffee and donuts and be sure any feeder school parents are aware of the event. Create a “story time” on a Saturday in your school’s library and get creative with a variety of programs (stories, art, visits from local professionals or businesses). Have a unique offering, then expose other students by holding a “friend day” and letting students invite a friend for the day. Use social media and your website to publicize your events.

        Horn tooting infographics: Create a page or section on your website (and create a digital version you can use on social media or as a flyer as well) that highlights your school’s best qualities. You can use a simple Infographic program or pre-designed icons to keep it simple and clean, but a simple image and a few words announcing your strengths can be quite memorable. Some common stats are: grades served, student/teacher ratios, college placements, technology use ratios, average test scores, diversity percentages, scholarship percentages or amounts awarded, community service percentages, enrichment offerings, athletic programs, groundbreaking programs, and after-school programs.

        School blogging: The goal of a blog is to connect with other people interested in your topic. Your purpose would be to connect with parents, students, community members, and those ever-important prospective student families. There are many advantages, see “The School Marketer’s Dilemma: to Blog or Not to Blog,” with the time commitment being the biggest challenge. However, it can integrate well into your annual marketing goals, be used on all your social media channels, be linked to on your school website, help you keep rumors at bay, help the media cover your good stories, help you brand your school, and help your target audience get a real feel for the human interest side of things.

        Rhyming campaigns: Use rhyming or alliteration in your next marketing campaign theme for memorability. Studies show that people see rhyming phrases as more accurate than non-rhyming phrases. It could be because they are more memorable, likable, and repeatable, but regardless of the reason, it seems to help. Can you come up with an accurate but rhyming title for your important marketing effort? Sometimes it is as simple as some alliteration in a hashtag like #WelcomeWednesdays, but give it a try and see the benefits of adding this element to your next marketing event.

        Bystander effect: The more people who are around, the less likely someone will take the lead and take charge (diffusion of responsibility). This applies to a marketing campaign where it is obvious you are sending your request to lots of people (everyone thinks it is the responsibility of everyone else to respond). So, send your requests out individually (like survey requests, community feedback, parent requests, etc.) when you want to be sure your message is valued and especially if you want people to respond to it.

        Hand-written notes: Because nearly every communication these days is digital, sending a handwritten note will really stand out. There are also ways to do it right that include sincerity, specificity, brevity, being personal, and proofing your note. Learn more on our “Telling Them Thank You” blog.

        Every penny helps: When seeking donations, does the wording matter? Yes! Richard Wiseman, the author of 59 Seconds conducted a study with Barnes & Noble to identify the best of the following phrases: “Please given generously.” “Every penny counts.” “Every dollar helps.” “You can make a difference.” And the winner was “Every penny counts” with 62% of all contributions. “Every dollar helps” came in last place with only 17% of the total. Why? Putting a small amount in the box might have made them look cheap, but the “Every penny helps” title encourages even the smallest contributions. The box asking for a dollar didn’t encourage lesser amounts and people don’t want to look cheap, so fewer people contributed and gave nothing at all. The color of the box mattered (the red box did better, maybe because it appeared more urgent).

        Inbound marketing:  Parents put lots of research into selecting the best school for their child. You want your school to be part of that process. This will not only establish your school as an expert—establish your credibility, but it lets parents know you are there to help. You can do this by creating content to help them make the best decision for their situation. It can be an eBook with questions to ask themselves or the school's admissions department, checklists for parents during the selection process, college preparation tips, parent or student guides, and other resources parents can download for free. They provide their e-mail information, and your school can then nurture that prospective parent with additional updates and information over time. Admissions information. Tip: keep the information you request on your “free download” form to a minimum (name/e-mail) or they won’t fill out the information. For some example topics of content, here are some title ideas:

        • Questions to Ask When Selecting a School for Your Child
        • Selecting a High School for Your < insert son/daughter/child>
        • 5 Steps for Selecting the Best School for Your Son
        • Choosing the Best Private/Independent/Public School for your Family
        • Top 20 Questions About Life at
        • Big Benefits of a Small School
        • How to Match Your Child’s Interests to the Right School Choice
        • Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten
        • Beyond Grades: the Importance of Leadership and Community
        • Athletics: More Than Trophies
        • Arts: Educating the Whole Child
        • How to Prepare Your Child with Life Skills for Future Job Markets
        • Top 3 Things You Should Know When Choosing a Preschool (elementary/high school/etc)
        • Preparing Your Student for the College of His/Her Dreams (career of their dreams, etc.)

        Lead nurturing: When a school gets a request for information about enrollment or tuition or attendance boundaries, don’t let the contact end there. Create what is called a “nurture campaign” that will continue to inform this prospect with additional tips and information. It will help your school stay relevant and front-of-mind so when they are weighing their options, your school stays on top. This could be a series of e-mails with tips and information, links to additional downloadable topics, or videos that highlight areas of interest. There are many programs to make this process easy, like MailChimp that offers a free version or GetResponse with a low-cost version.

        Webinars: Private schools will sometimes do webinars during the year to educate and engage prospective parents. We’ve seen topics like: “How to afford a private school education,” “Helping your child study,” “Helping your child transition to high school,” “Guidance for the college-bound student,” “Kindergarten: The Next Step,” and “Helping without helicoptering.” What a great way to engage parents, whether prospective or already enrolled! Adding value will set your school apart, which is the whole idea for marketing your school.

        Search engine optimization: Many schools, unless they are boarding schools or online schools, want to attract students from their local areas. This means that your search engine optimization (SEO) must be localized to include the cities or towns you serve. In order to find and convert the right students, you must be found in a local search. Your school address can help you show up in a local search for the same town, but what if you serve students in the next town over as well? This is where optimization must come in. Some of the areas that will contribute to successful SEO, especially for local schools, are claiming your business (school) on Google, securing inbound links, responsive design (mobile-friendly), accessibility, target keyphrases, reviews, etc. Learn more with “Make SEO a part of your school marketing.”

        Landing pages: If you are doing any Facebook Ads or Google Ads, you will want to send those who click on your ad directly to a page that discusses the topic of your ads. Don’t make the mistake of sending your hard earned visitor just to your school’s homepage. If they are not taken directly to the information they were interested in, you’ll lose them. Create a landing page and a Call to Action (CTA) for that page, being to gather the information that will let you continue to market to the site visitor with information you already know they care about.

        Text messages: While you don’t want to overuse this method, it is very helpful for reminders or for sending a link to something important and timely. Most schools have some sort of parent notification system for enrolled students, but don’t overlook this method to include prospective parents as well. If you have an open house coming up, why not let them know as well? Write up a brief invite that tells them you have not forgotten them and that they are welcome. Have a webinar you offer? Let them know that as well! Texting is often the preferred method of communication with parents of younger children, and the open rates are much higher than with e-mails.

        Surveys: Be sure you are aware of how your various audiences feel about their relationship with your school. Are they advocates or begrudging? Is there something they are dissatisfied with, and what do they think you should do about it? The very act of getting input can provide support and cooperation, so don’t miss this valuable opportunity. Can you include other community members as well as those without students in your school? What is their opinion, and what impact can you have on them (or do you care)?

        Customer service: An often overlooked aspect of effective marketing is your school’s customer service levels. This includes everything from the first impressions people receive (by visiting your school, clicking on your website, or perusing your social media posts). How would you rate? If you don’t rate an A+ in these areas, it is time to rethink how important this aspect of marketing really is. Check out Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes? and Roll Out the Welcome Mat to get some ideas for improvement and to download our customer service eBook.

        Creative signage: Beyond the digital outdoor signage, think out of the box a bit and enliven your school with signage that supports your brand and values. It might be as simple as adding the colors of your school to your hallway walls or attaching colorful banners to the exterior of your school for special events. Are your values highlighted where staff and students are reminded daily? This can be from inspirational quotes to posters of staff and students living those values. When a guest arrives at your school, is it clear where they need to be, and is that message welcoming or dictatorial?

        Back-to-school or open house marketing: Before school begins (over the summer and even the last few months of the previous school year), begin to engage your staff, parents, parent organizations, and students in your recruitment efforts for the upcoming year. Before new parents make a decision, be sure you make your presence known using your social media, summer events, open house events, social media contests, website refresh, and so much more. Make sure parents can register online. Get some more ideas at “Starting Each School Year Strong.” Don’t forget to reach out to local pre-schools, churches, realtors, and others who can share your school’s information with those kindergarten parents as well.

        New family night: Invite prospective parents to mingle with the staff, tour the campus, and meet your community. Since this event will cater specifically to new families, you’ll want to enlist a team of parent ambassadors to conduct campus tours and facilitate a social hour. Use PTO/PTA, alumni, or current students and their families. Connecting new parents to a community will build their budding sense of camaraderie with the school. Hold your New Family Night in the spring to correspond with the registration season. If possible, a personal phone call to invite or thank new families shows that you care about your school family on an individual level.

        Meet the teacher night: Parents have high expectations of your faculty. They want to feel informed, heard, and considered. While the primary focus will be on the individual classrooms, featuring the best qualities your school has to offer (programs, facilities, and activities) is sure to excite the community. Arrange for the school band, orchestra, or choir to entertain your strolling crowds. Have the local Girl or Boy Scout troop hand out water bottles. Enlist your student council officers or PTO members to organize a spirit wear sale. Show parents that your school is a community with multiple facets. (Don’t forget to take some video to use later on your social media and website!)

        Information packets: Develop an information packet (usually mirroring the information on your up-to-date website) that includes a flyer highlighting you school’s strengths, success stats, contact information (including your school’s website URL), and even the phone numbers of a few parents who would be willing to answer questions from prospective parents. Include registration dates, tour dates, office hours, parent, student, and alumni testimonials and lots of good photos. Put these packets in the hands of local neighborhood associations, churches, realtors, chamber of commerce, feeder schools, preschools, daycares, and youth clubs.

        Student marketing club: If you have a junior high or high school in your district, encourage some creative entrepreneurship by inviting a local marketing or communications firm to help students develop and implement some marketing strategies to increase school enrollment. Not only will the students receive some great hand-on experiences, but you’ll be engaging community members and benefit from some practical and effective marketing efforts. Effective outcomes have been student-developed marketing videos, word-of-mouth and social media campaigns, and a big increase in school spirit to boot!

        Community service events: Using your parent organizations and your student clubs or organizations, plan several community service projects for during the year. Be sure that the events piggy-back on your school’s values as well as some of the educational focus happening during the year. Create a series of articles for the local newspaper and radio highlighting these student service projects, their purpose, and the benefits to those serving and those receiving the service. Take lots of photos and use them in all your marketing channels.

        Befriend your local reporters: You need to help local media reporters help you. They have busy schedules and are spread thin, possibly over more than one beat. Make their jobs easier by providing them with all the materials they need to cover your school and its successes and challenges. You will want to get to know the local reporters long before a crisis erupts. Invite them to sit down with you and get to know their needs, deadlines, best times and people to contact, preferred format for materials, and any pet peeves they want to share. Give them a school tour, share your school’s mission and values, introduce them to key administrators, and develop a rapport. Then, return their phone calls promptly (building trust), be honest (if you don’t know an answer, tell them you’ll find out and then do it), and expect to available for both the good times and the bad. Building relationships can make all the difference!

        Social Media Marketing Ideas:

        #TeacherTuesday: Highlight a different teacher every Tuesday on your social media posts. Share a fun picture and tell who they are, what drives them, what they love and value, and let your followers get to know them. Link to a profile page or a news article on your website where they can learn a bit more.

        #Ilovemyschool: Ask students what they love about your school, and have them write and draw their answer on a large sheet of poster board. Have them hold it up; snap a picture, and you’ll have some great social media posts you can use all year long! Oh, and why not do it for your staff and administrators occasionally as well?

        #JustFactsMa’am: Use a social media post to share some of the great statistics at your school. What are you known for? Share it socially. Low student-teacher ratios? Post it. What’s the number of scholarships awarded last year? Make a fun graphic and share your successes. Lots of highly-qualified teachers? Share that percentage and encourage your followers to do so as well. Be sure to include a fun image or graphic, of course. 

        #ThrowbackThursdays: Reach back into your school’s past and find some great archived photos and stories from past yearbooks, and use those for social media posts. It’s fun to see, will bring the history of your school to life, and might even highlight some past alumni who are now parents of students in your school. Or, post a baby picture of a different staff member each Thursday, and ask your community to guess who it might be to engage them and create more interaction with social media.

        #Countdown: Use photos to do a countdown to some event at your school. Maybe it is a post with a student holding up a sign or drawing of the number 10 and your post says “Only 10 days until school is out!”—pick a different countdown number and event occasionally. This is also a great way to remind your followers of upcoming events like graduation, holiday breaks, back-to-school events, testing days, teacher recognition day, and so much more. Have the students and staff get clever with the images and ways they display the number, and see how creative they can be.

        #GraduationCountdown: Ask high school seniors what they will miss most when they graduate, and use their answers as social media posts (along with their senior photo) during the last month of school. It’s a great way to let seniors share their perspective with lower classmates and add a bit of school spirit and enthusiasm to the end of the year.

        #InspirationalQuotes: Combine a great picture with an inspirational quote, and you have the perfect social media post. Use your students as much as possible for your photo, and watch your social media engagement skyrocket as their parents share these posts on their own social media channels.

        #SchoolTagline: What is your school’s tagline? Let students respond to that question in a social media post. They can write it out, use artwork, hold up a photo, or whatever works, but have them respond. For example, if your school tagline is “Every student matters, every moment counts,” ask the students to respond to how they know they matter and how they make every moment count. What a great way to incorporate a tagline into their life and internalize its meaning.

        #ADayintheLife: Use Instagram to post a series of photos that represent a typical day for a specific student or staff member. Vary it each week with different grades or staff (include support staff like secretaries, crossing guards, custodians, and food service folks as well). Make this a once a week project!

        Facebook Live: School videos, especially live video, are a great way to boost engagement on your school's Facebook page. The most updated Facebook algorithm favors video, and while it's still more than fine to post pre-recorded video on your page, going live with Facebook Live will get your video ranked even higher on your followers' news feed. And the videos stay on your news feed after your live broadcast ends, so followers can continue to interact with your video later on. Additionally, your willingness to go live as a way of giving your learning community a chance to see behind your school walls is a great way to demonstrate transparency. From Q&A sessions and presentations to school pep rallies, FB Live is a great way to share your school's stories in an engaging way. Check out how Bayshore Christian School uses FB Live to showcase their positive campus culture.

        Facebook Ads: We all know that your parents are using social media—daily. So what better place to marketing to those prospective parents? Assuming you already have a Facebook page for your school, creating a Facebook Ad is pretty simple. Select your purpose (for example, if you want to increase enrollment, you’ll run some ads over the summer targeting your desired audience), write some content that is engaging, fun, and relevant (your school’s unique strengths, how you can help their students, etc.), and include a visible call to action button (like scheduling a tour or requesting more information). You can even use Facebook Ads to remarket to these visitors on Facebook later!

        Facebook Groups: Facebook Groups are a great way to create micro-communities within your school population. Looking for a way for alumni to connect? Working on a special project that merits regular updates? Facebook Groups are a great way to offer meeting places for like-minded individuals within your learning community. Facebook allows business users (which schools are) to create groups that branch off their page, so a group can focus on a particular topic and still be a part of the greater whole. Check out how Ridgefield Public Schools uses the Facebook Groups feature to foster communication among interested parties regarding their School Start Times Project.

        School videos: There is one strategy that seems to get lots of engagement with school marketing, and that is creating a video. There are so many schools creating fun, engaging, and informative videos that you don’t want to be left out. To learn how and to get started, check out our blog called “Creating a School Video that Won’t Break the Bank.” We’ve listed a few ideas below, but then be sure to snoop around and see what other schools have done that is creative and effective, and join the fun. You can have students create your videos, involve your staff and administration, and as technology advances, it gets easier and easier to edit and create professional quality results (well, at least professional enough to get the job done). Have fun, but give it a try and see the increase in traffic and engagement you’ll garner.

        Video Marketing Ideas

        Perspective videos: To see a great example of a school showing student’s progress through their years of school, visit www.htacademy.org and click on the “Start Here. Go Anywhere” video.  It’s fun to create and very effective in bringing the school experience to life for someone checking out your school.

        History videos: Grab those old archived pictures of your school along with original staff and administration, and put together a slideshow video of the history of your school. If possible, interview some of the original teachers or administrators or students and get their perspective and memories as well. A history can show your school’s longevity, dedication, achievement, and consistency in delivering an outstanding education to its students over the years.

        One-Minute videos: Create a series of one-minute videos that highlight a different aspect of your school. Include any and everything that your school excels at or that you are proud of. A great example is the One Minute Video Series produced by Eastern Christian School. They highlight everything from performing arts to athletics to STEAM to their faculty and then use the videos in their social media posts and marketing efforts.

        101 reasons: How many reasons can you come up with for why parents should enroll their students in your school? Linfield Christian School came up with 101 and displayed them all on their school’s website. Turn it into a contest with staff, parents, and students participating, and see how many unique answers you ge—then highlight each one. Turn each reason into a social media post, of course!

        Teacher/student-produced videos: There are lots of clever videos out there on YouTube, Vimeo, and SchoolTube, so just do a search to get some great ideas. Here’s one called “Welcome to the 4th Grade” of a teacher’s back-to-school rap to introduce himself to his new students. A video by students in Australia tells the incoming students what school will be like for them. This one is a heartwarming video about that first day of kindergarten from a parent’s perspective. 

        Videos to address sensitive topics: Schools are also using videos to address uncomfortable topics in thought-provoking and engaging ways. Instead of running for cover with the next big public relations challenge, face it head-on with a video. “We See You” shows that teachers care (in response to local teen suicides). Here’s one about student bullying. Do a search and see how other schools are handling topics important to your school. These videos can be used both internally (for your students and staff) and externally on your website and linked to from your school’s social media channels. Who knows, maybe yours will be the next big viral video to bring your school some great positive public attention!

        Whatever school marketing strategy you try and whatever needs your school needs to address, just jump in. If you don’t let your community know what you do well, how will it know? Make marketing a part of your yearly plans, and see what a difference it makes in your school reputation, brand image, loyalty, and trust. 

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        You Won't Believe What Happened When I Rang the Bell for Service
        2018-10-16
        Image of school office staff at desk

        Recently, I went on a trip with my mother and sister-in-law to Billings, Montana. Yes, in November. Yes, it snowed the whole time. This was our first trip to Billings and we weren’t sure where to stay, so we selected a place with a good deal and positive reviews on Expedia.

        When we arrived at the hotel, no one was at the counter to serve us. Instead, we were greeted by this sign: 

        “Please RING the BELL for service. We really don’t mind! Sometimes, we are multi-tasking in the side office or in the laundry room. We are so glad you’re here!”

        Were we annoyed no one was there to greet us? Not at all! The sign had a wonderfully friendly tone, and explained why no one was manning the counter. We patiently waited just a minute to see if anyone had seen us come in, and then I rang the bell. 

        Right as I pushed the button, a concierge walked around the corner. The bell wasn’t a simple ding… It was a long, drawn out doorbell tune that played up a scale and then back down. I grimaced and looked at the concierge’s face to see if I had annoyed her by ringing the bell—I could just imagine how hearing that tune every day may grate on her nerves. 

        Can you believe it? She wasn’t even a little annoyed that I had rung that bell just as she appeared. She came up to the front desk smiling and welcoming us! I hurriedly said, “I’m sorry for ringing the bell, I didn’t see you coming.” And she said, “Oh don’t worry about it! I don’t mind at all; that’s why we have it there!” And you know what? She meant it.

        Once we were checked in and ready to head off to our rooms, I turned around and snapped a picture of that service sign. Not many “ring bell for service” notes impress me enough to take a picture. Let me explain why this one stood out.

        A Friendly & Inviting Tone

        First of all, I love the line “We are so glad you’re here!” Just reading it made me feel welcome and appreciated. At your school, how a visitor is greeted is a clear indication of whether visitors are seen as intruders or welcome guests. 

        There are lots of ways you can create a friendly, welcoming environment everywhere, from your front desk to your school website. Keep in mind that eye contact, a smile, a wave, a handshake, or a “good to see you” or “how are you today” go a long way in setting a welcoming atmosphere for your schools. 

        As parents and community members visit your campus, remember that first impressions are lasting impressions, and little things make a difference. Providing helpful instructions instead of “thou shalt not” rules and using polite instead of commanding verbiage (please sign in versus visitors MUST sign in) help your guests feel comfortable and welcome at your school. A simple note reminding your visitors that it is “for the safety of our students” will help to quell any annoyances about policies or procedures that might seem complex or cumbersome. 

        Make a Promise and Back It Up

        Have you ever noticed that sometimes a first impression can be misleading? For example, imagine how we would have felt if the hotel employee had come out irritated that we had taken her away from what she was working on in the office or said, “I’m coming!” when I rang the bell? 

        The hotel’s “ring bell for service” sign made a promise (“we really don’t mind… we’re so glad you’re here”), and then the actions of the employee backed it up. That is really what excellent customer service is about—making a promise and then following through. 

        How do you envision the welcome desk on your campuses or at your district offices? Do your staff and teachers seem to mind when a parent or community member interrupts their day with a visit or a phone call? Is every one of your employees on board when it comes to providing excellent customer service? 

        That last question is essential. Imagine: a parent calls the front office to let them know they will be bringing their child’s lunch by later that day. The parent gets a happy, helpful voice on the phone that let’s them know it’s not a problem and explains where they can drop off the lunch. But when the parent shows up at the school, he/she encounters a grumpy curmudgeon at the front desk who sighs deeply and grudgingly says he/she will get the lunch to the student. 

        When your school makes a commitment to provide a friendly, welcoming environment, you’re making a promise to your publics that once their children are enrolled in your school, you will continue to treat them with respect and provide excellent customer service. When you follow through on this promise, it builds trust and loyalty. When you don’t, it creates disillusion and uncertainty. Simply put, it leaves a bad taste in the customer’s mouth.

        A Bad Example

        Let me tell you about the time a restaurant chain made a promise it didn’t back up, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. The tagline for this particular restaurant is, “When you’re here, you’re family!” My friend chose this restaurant for her birthday dinner several years ago. You know how most restaurants sing you a song and bring you a complimentary dessert or scoop of ice cream on your birthday? This one didn’t. When we asked about it at the end of our meal, the server told us, “We don’t do that here.” I was genuinely surprised and said, “Wait, aren’t we supposed to be like family when we’re here? That’s the motto, isn’t it?” The server said, “I’m sorry, we’ve never done that. It’s company policy.” 

        I don’t know about you, but I get dessert from my family on birthdays. And, for me, there was a definite disconnect between what this restaurant chain purported in their tagline and the actual experience at their restaurant on a special occasion. I’m glad to report their policy on birthday desserts has since changed; however, because of that experience, I rarely return to that restaurant and, despite its policy change, I certainly don’t choose it when I’m taking my friends and family out for birthday dinners or special occasions. 

        How It Translates to Marketing for Your School

        Consistently creating and providing a welcoming, friendly environment is the key to great customer service. But why does it matter? 

        The short answer is that it is not enough to provide excellent education service; we must also create relationships and emotional connections with parents, students, and community members. That’s what we mean when we talk about school public relations

        Public relations is often a misunderstood concept in the overall stratagem of communications and marketing. School public relations can be defined as the development and maintenance of a favorable public image. Your school’s public image consists of your school culture, reputation, and brand—all of which have ties to your school customer service. 

        I told you about my great experience at the hotel in this blog; I even wrote a review for them on Google where I mention how wonderful the customer service was. I also told you about the less-than-favorable experience I had at a restaurant, and I tell that story every time a friend asks me why I don’t want to eat there. This is word-of-mouth marketing, and it happens every day in personal interactions, online, and in social media. Your customer experiences translate directly to school marketing.  

        In our increasingly technological society, our social interactions and simple acts of courtesy and kindness are more important than ever. Even one person’s attempt to provide above-and-beyond customer service to those with whom they come in contact can radically improve your school culture and your school’s reputation and brand. Imagine getting everyone on board!


        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        What Private Schools Do Right that Public Schools Suck At
        2018-10-09
        Image of shopping cart filled with the words school shopping

        If we were to tell you just one thing that private schools do right that most public schools don’t bother to do, it would be to market their school’s differentiators. Maybe public schools see themselves as ubiquitous and feel they don’t offer anything different than every other public school in the country. However, I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. It is no truer than every private school offering the same services as other private schools, but they go to great lengths to prove otherwise through their marketing. Maybe public schools should follow their lead.

        So, let’s begin there, with the importance of marketing your school.

        School marketing

        All top tier private schools begin by creating their school’s marketing plan. A simplified process looks similar to this:

        • What are your marketing goals? What do you hope to accomplish in your marketing efforts? Your goal might be as simple as increasing enrollment, or it could be complex and involve branding, targeting specific audiences, or working for a particular purpose like a tax levy or bond override.
        • Whom are you trying to reach? In most cases, for a K–12 school, that would be parents since they typically decide where their children will attend school. Then, depending on what grades you teach, how would you describe the typical parents in your target audience? What are their ages, educational background, concerns, and interests for their children? Those target audience personas will vary a bit since the parent of a kindergarten student has different concerns than that of a high school student.
        • Outcomes? What do you want each of your target audiences to do? Enroll their children? Tell their neighbors? Get excited about how awesome your school is? See their children being successful and fitting in at your school? Volunteer? You need to determine specific, time-bound, and measurable goals.
        • What platforms? What channels and methods will you use to market your school? In days gone by, that included advertising (TV, billboards, radio, magazines), but today they are better served (and you’ll spend far less money) by focusing on school websites, school social media, local newspaper articles (not ads), inbound marketing, blogging, search engine optimization, and content development. It means going where your target audience is to get your message out and make available the information they need to make a decision.
        • Getting it done! Once the strategy is decided upon and a written plan is in place, the rest involves getting it scheduled and accomplished. Typically this is a year-long plan, sometimes multiple years. There are often campaigns tied to each goal of your marketing plan as well. You'll make assignments and establish deadlines so you hit all your targets.
        • Analyze, revise, and repeat. Yep, you get to do it all over again each year. You’ll want to figure out what was effective and what was not. You’ll also factor in any new goals your school might have for the next year and go back and do this process again. You’ll learn from each unique experience and will factor in this knowledge to improve each year’s efforts.

        Any private school that is trying to increase or maintain enrollment makes their marketing strategy a priority. Public schools seldom do, even when they are losing students to other schools, homeschooling, or online schooling. And it’s a big mistake. Parents are out there searching for the best fit for their child, and if a public school doesn’t provide the information necessary to make their case, they will not be in the running. Moreover, it is no one’s fault but their own. 

        Marketing strategy is step one. Then using the following methods to implement your plans are the next steps.

        Inbound marketing

        If you aren’t a hardcore marketer, you probably don’t even know what inbound marketing is. However, what you do know, if you have tried other marketing efforts for your school in the past few years, is that marketing methods that worked ten years ago are not as effective today. Oh, don’t get me wrong, some advertising agency will still try to tell you it does, but the return on investment (ROI) is not there. Buyers (parents) needs have changed. They don’t want to be interrupted with your ads; they want to get the information they need to make a decision when it is time to make that decision. That means, sticking up a billboard (for thousands of dollars per month) is unlikely to be worth the investment. So, what to do?

        Buyers make a purchasing decision to solve a problem or meet a need when that need arises. You have to help them see how your school can do just that. However, unlike methods like advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook ads, TV or radio spots, buying e-mail lists), inbound marketing is a strategic process where you focus on creating quality content that pulls parents toward your school through materials you’ve developed to help guide their decision. Your content must answer your prospective parents’ questions and meet their needs. The goal is to attract inbound traffic and then convince them to select your school. However, for that to happen, they have to find you and learn how your school best meets their needs.

        Step #1: Attract

        The first goal is to attract customers who are seeking what your school has to offer. That might be information about how to select a school for students whose interests are specific to one of your strengths whether art, music, STEM, sports, or college prep programs. It could be information to attract new teachers who are looking for a mentorship relationship with experienced, highly-qualified teachers. Whatever your marketing purpose, the goal is to provide the right content when they need it (which is when they are searching for such information through an Internet search or social media marketing).

        Step #2: Convert & Close

        Once you’ve attracted a prospective customer (parents or maybe staff) to your website, where they can download your informative and valuable content, you get their e-mail in exchange. They get the information they are seeking, right when they need it, and you get their contact information so you can market specifically to them. Your goal is to be helpful, informative, and stay top of mind so that when they are ready to make a decision (like where to enroll their student), your school is the one that stands out as the #1 choice. To close, you must have a call to action (CTA) so they take the step to make the decision. Every page focused on marketing (whether for student enrollment or staff recruitment) should include a CTA. Make it easy to choose you!

        Step #3: Delight

        You might think that once you’ve converted a prospect into a student or a new staff member you've completed your work. You would be mistaken, of course. You will continue to engage them through ongoing content in the form of news articles, social media information, videos, and stories that consistently confirm their right choice in selecting your school over all the other options available to them.

        To maximize your efforts with inbound marketing, you’ll want to consider how you will promote your content. One of the most useful options we’ve seen schools use is social media ads to expand and broaden their reach while still engaging the current parents. Invite your parent and student followers to share your content on their Facebook and Twitter pages as well. Just a few “shares” can exponentially expand your visibility. Another highly effective method is judicious use of your school websites. Search engine optimization, great storytelling, engaging videos, and new articles with a human interest angle will be worth their weight in platinum.

        Blogging

        Developing a school blog, or even considering doing so, might strike fear into the heart of even the most intrepid school administrator. Our experience has been that they tend to want to stay out of the line of fire and fear that such a public forum might make them a target for those who are aiming. However, when it comes to marketing your school, blogging can be one of the most effectual tools available. 

        One of the benefits of blogging is that it improves your school website’s search engine rankings. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the use of specific keywords or keyword phrases used in an Internet search that will take the user to your school website. A blog is a natural way to grow your online presence and feed information to the ever-voracious search engines looking for new and relevant content. If a parent is looking for tips to help their child get into a respected engineering program and you have a blog post about your school’s outstanding program, why it works, and which universities seek out your students might be precisely the relevant content they were looking for. Now you are in front of the very audience you want to see all your school has to offer.

        Another blog benefit is that it gives you excellent opportunities to tell your school’s stories. Not just from a news story perspective but from a human interest perspective. You can highlight individual student successes, make your staff relatable to your community members, and bring a level of transparency to your audience that only a first-person viewpoint can provide.

        When your blog posts are entertaining, informative, and engaging, you also have an opportunity to include a call-to-action (CTA) where they provide you with their e-mail so you can continue to market to them. By allowing comments, even if you choose to moderate them, you also have an excellent chance to see concerns or resolve misunderstandings before they become a public relations issue; you can nip those in the bud with a response or clarification. 

        You can also use your blog to invite guest bloggers to share their experiences and opinions on topics of interest to others. For example, you could ask alums to write about how attending your school helped them succeed in college or their career. A graduating senior could write about his or her most rewarding experiences and how it prepared him or her for the next phase of life. Get staff members to share their most memorable teaching moments. Your blog can also provide background and perspective on current topics that have the community all abuzz, providing the rationale for decisions that may affect them while building trust through transparency.

        A blog, done right (which means it isn’t all about the author but about your audience’s interests) is a win-win for your school brand, your staff reputation, and your successful school communication strategies. Oh, and don’t forget to use your social media channels to link to your blog posts and encourage additional engagement.

         For some more tips, read “The School Marketer’s Dilemma: to Blog or Not To blog.

        Storytelling

        Whether we like to admit it or not, we make most of our decisions based not on logic and reason but on emotion. The best way to influence and engage emotion is through storytelling. The neuroscience behind how this works is fascinating and well documented. To better understand the benefits and uses, check out Telling Your School’s Stories.

        The next step to implementing good school storytelling is to make story gathering a part of how you do things at your school. Your staff need to understand that those stories are valued, so gathering and recording them takes place. We all have stories and get new ones every day. The problem is, we don’t record them. But you make it an essential part of your communication and marketing efforts, you will see a tremendous positive change in your school culture, and your school culture has a direct effect on your school marketing. To implement storytelling at your school, you must:

        • Reward and recognize good stories. This means using stories in your own leadership style or your teaching as an example to others. It also means sharing others’ stories during staff meetings or governing board meetings and giving credit to the story-sharer. What you value and reward (even if just through acknowledgement) your staff will copy and implement.
        • Use story prompts to gather stories. There are prompts available in the article we mentioned called Telling Your School’s Stories. Share this with your staff at the next staff meeting, and see how many stories you can gather. Then, teach this method to them, and have them gather stories from their students as well. Not only will you gain some excellent stories, but you will also all learn so much from one another in the process and be rewarded with some positive emotions as you see the great things happening at your school.
        • Record the stories you gather. You might try using a simple spreadsheet with fields for the topics and the essential elements of the story to jog your memory. Others use OneNote or Evernote and tag their stories. I use a Google Sheet and ask everyone in our company to add to this shared document. By doing this, the next time you need a story to make a point, write a blog, change an attitude, or add support to your message, you’ll have a resource at your fingertips. 
        • Make it a habit. Use stories every chance you get. Need to make a presentation? Add a story. Teaching a class? What story will make this lesson memorable for your students? Talking to your own children about something important? What story supports your message? The best speakers, the best TED talks, the best communicators know how to use storytelling to influence, engage, and convert. Learning to use stories in your communications will take your school marketing from “meh” to “magnificent.”
        • Want more information? I learned so much from Shawn Callahan’s book, Putting Stories to Work. He takes you step-by-step through what a story actually is. Everyone these days is talking about the importance of storytelling, but Shawn’s book shows you how to use this powerful communications tool.

        Customer Service

        You might not think that customer service belongs in an article about school marketing, but from talking to parents, you will quickly see what a huge impact it has on the choices they make for their child’s education. Many years ago, my son and I (our business development director) took a road trip through several states to visit schools. We learned so much from the experience, but when it was all said and done, our most shocking takeaway was the radical differences in the customer service levels between schools. At some, they greeted us with smiles and a welcoming attitude. At others, we were an unwelcome interruption (even though they had no idea why we had walked in their front doors). From the front office staff to the signage and curb appeal, the differences were significant. Moreover, those differences weighed in favor of the private and independent schools. 

        Private schools seemed to put more importance on that first impression, and their office staff was apparently trained to be welcoming and friendly. Why should a public school be any less so? Where would your school rank?  

        If you aren’t sure where you would rank, you need to find out from an objective, unbiased third-party. Try the secret shopper approach and have them report their impressions. Then, take steps to provide customer service training to your staff if necessary. Take a look at your curb appeal, the wording on your signage, the parking you provide for visitors and parents. Then look at your internal customer service. How does your staff treat one another? How does it treat students? What is on the walls of your hallways? All of this reflects what your school values. Does it appreciate civility, kindness, and engagement? Are your parents raving fans or more like raging foes?

        Here are a few more ideas to help you improve your school’s customer service:

        For more marketing ideas, purchase our Marketing Your School toolkit for 50 weeks of marketing ideas. Use the coupon code "success" and take $100 off the purchase price!

        Benefits of getting started

        There is much information here, and you can’t apply all of this immediately, but you can pick one area and get started. Whether you are a private school, an independent school, a charter school, or a public school, you MUST care about marketing. While word-of-mouth is the most crucial factor for your school’s growth, with declining birth rates, school choice, online schools, and homeschooling options, you need to get the word out. If you don’t share what makes your school special, all of the great things you are doing every day will remain unknown to those outside of your classrooms.

        If you need some help knowing how and where to begin, we hope you’ll contact School Webmasters at (888) 750.4556 or e-mail Jim. We’re here to make your job easier and your school communication more effective!

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Red Ribbon Week
        2018-10-02
        Red Ribbon Week: School Marketing at It's Easiest

        October is Red Ribbon Month, and schools typically celebrate Red Ribbon Week during the last week of October. This year, Red Ribbon Week is October 23–31. Whether your school pulls out all the stops for Red Ribbon Week or you’re throwing together a last-minute plan, don’t miss the opportunity to market your school. 

        Why do we classify Red Ribbon Week as an opportunity to market your school? Because your key stakeholders—parents and community members—care that your school is providing a well-rounded education to students, and that includes, among other things, how to make responsible decisions. Another element of marketing also includes encouraging parent engagement and community involvement. The National Red Ribbon Campaign makes it easy for schools to incorporate drug prevention education into its curriculum and engage communities to participate. 

        Many of our public schools (and even private and charter schools) make “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)” a big deal. Frequently in education, as we’re speaking with parents and the communities, we rattle this phrase off as if everyone understands what we’re talking about. SEL framework starts with principles taught in classroom instruction, relates it to schoolwide practices and policies, and then encourages family and community partnerships to reinforce those principles. Red Ribbon Week is an opportunity to tie a big event to that amorphous phrase to help our stakeholders understand what we really mean when we say, “we’re invested in the social emotional learning of our students.” Red Ribbon Week can be an excellent example in action. 

        Plan Your Red Ribbon Week

        The National Family Partnership (formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth) works hard every year to bring ideas, resources, and material to help schools conduct a successful Red Ribbon Week. The 2017 National Red Ribbon Week Theme is, “Your Future is Key, so Stay Drug Free.” There’s no point in spending time and resources on additional school marketing material for this week when so much has already been done for you. Visit the RedRibbon.org website for a host of free downloads. You’ll find a planning guide to help your school plan activities and involve your community, an infographic and fact sheet to share important information, and even curriculum suggestions for all the grade levels. 

        On the RedRibbon.org website, you’ll also find activities and contests. Because the organization has 30+ years experience, your school can easily find activities to engage your school community on the activities page. There is a photo contest that you can participate in as a school or encourage families to participate in on their own. If your school enters the 2017 Red Ribbon Photo Contest, winners could receive an iPad and $1,000 for their school. And you can encourage your students and staff to enter the theme contest for next year’s Red Ribbon theme.

        If you have the Marketing Your School toolkit, refer to week 13 for step-by-step guidance in making the most of our your Red Ribbon Week plans.

        Other Campaigns & School Marketing Opportunities

        The National Family Partnership and Red Ribbon Week is by far one of the most recognizable campaigns when it comes to helping to keep youth drug free, but there are other programs and campaigns your school can use to not only keep students healthy and safe, but to also engage parents and the community and market your schools. 

        Drug & Alcohol Prevention

        Natural High’s mission is to inspire and empower youth to find their natural high and develop the skills and courage to live life well. They specialize in powerfully told stories and lessons aimed at changing the lives of youth by helping them to stay drug and alcohol-free and find their “natural high.” 

        Bullying Prevention  

        National Bullying Prevention Month is also in October. It is a nationwide campaign founded in 2006 by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. 

        StopBullying.gov also provides resources for bullying prevention at schools. 

        Online Safety

        NetSmartz Workshop, created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, is one of the best websites with resources for keeping students and children safe online. See week 35 in your Marketing Your School toolkit for more on school online safety.

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Why Transparency Matters in Your School Communication Strategies
        2018-09-25
        Are your school's communications transparent?

        In today’s highly-connected world, it is more important than ever to establish trust. One of the main contributors to trust is creating a culture of transparency. To most of us, being transparent means you’re hiding nothing. You’re letting others look through a window into your world, throwing the blinds wide open. 

        Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone expects complete transparency, all the time. There are issues that cannot and should not be shared publicly. There are personnel issues, student privacy issues, medical situations, and security issues that must remain confidential by law. But what the public doesn’t trust is when public issues that are not addressed. Then, when they hear about it and don’t understand why some decision or another was made, they speculate. Their speculation may lead to the assumption that it was a cover-up and not merely an oversight.

        Excluding politics, which has its own set of conspiracy theories and hidden agendas, and in spite of what some media outlets say, most schools do not deliberately hide or cover up information. Often times, it might not be shared because “we didn’t think anyone would be interested” or “it was kind of boring.” And they might even be right. It might be boring or not pertain to most people. But failing to share is where the problem comes in. Your public wants to decide if it is boring or of interest. If the blinds are closed, they can only guess what is going on behind them. That’s when doubt and mistrust creep in. But, if schools try to share all the minutiae, the overload of information will soon have no one listening to anything at all.

        So, what’s a school to do? 

        Tell them what, and then tell them why

        Nearly all the school leaders we work with put tremendous thought and planning into every decision they make. Few determinations are made on a whim. There is a purpose, a value, a goal behind every major decision. There is also a “why” behind each problem to be solved or improvement to be made. When that “why” isn’t shared, that one failure can cause more trouble than any other communication oversight. 

        Create a transparent culture in your community. Develop trust, and during the tough times (budget cuts, school closings, lower test scores, etc.), that earned trust will carry you through. When the community understands the facts and the factors you had to weigh in order to come to a decision behind any given situation, mistrust is more likely to evaporate. 

        Your information will trump the rumors and gossip that is sure to surface—if you get it out there. However, you must be proactive, not reactive. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and must react in an unexpected crisis. But when you maintain consistent transparency, those times are the exceptions. You will have proven to be trustworthy, caring, and conscientious educators with your students best interests in mind.

        Some more tips about maintaining transparent communications strategies:

        • Be consistent: Establish reliable channels of communication that are continually updated and informative. Your school website should be the communications hub from which everything else radiates, including social media, newsletters, parent notification systems, local media articles, employee intranets, governing board meetings, parent e-mails, staff e-mails, local TV channels, etc.
        • Watch your tone: Know your audience and talk to them, not at them. Your messages should be conversational and friendly. Avoid jargon and educational terms that the community and parents wouldn’t know. Avoid passive voice. Write with your audience needs in mind. Remember, it’s about them, not you.
        • Provide evidence: If you have facts and stats, that is great; be sure you share them. But don’t forget to tell your stories. Talk about the people and situations behind the decisions, how it affects them, what differences these changes will make in their lives or in their education. Create school videos; let people tell their stories and speak their truths right into the camera. 

        School leadership matters; be that leader

        Your school’s leaders typically set the bar. If they are focused on keeping the staff, students, and community informed, they are more likely to be trusted and followed. If you’re lucky, your school leaders demonstrate integrity and honesty. They don’t demand it; they live it. When this is the case, the school’s staff know to what values they are expected to adhere. These standards become the expectation. When this is the expectation, going from integrity to transparency is a short trip and will be easy to implement.

        However, maybe you’ve worked in a school where a leader actually lowered the bar. His or her behavior was less than stellar and certainly not something to which you personally aspired. When a school environment is littered with the minefields of mistrust, gossip, and innuendo, the culture becomes toxic. No one does their best work in a toxic environment, so students don’t receive the best education possible. Certainly, this is not ideal. But you can effect change, from right where you stand.

        Regardless of the leadership in your school, we are all leaders. We each have our own sphere of influence. As teachers, our sphere of influence is not only our co-workers and our students but our administrators. As support staff, we influence teachers, students, and parents. 

        For example, I have a co-worker who believes in being loyal to those not present. He doesn’t backbite, gossip, or criticize behind anyone’s back. If he has a concern, he takes it to the source. He has set the bar and doesn’t lower it, even when it is convenient to do so. Because I’ve witnessed this value in action, I also know that he’s loyal to me in my absence. His example, the standard he’s set, helps me to do likewise. This value is another form of transparency, and it is just one example. 

        What’s your superpower of transparency? Integrity? Honesty? Loyalty? Trustworthy? Keeping confidences? You have that same powerful influence, no matter your role. 

        Become comfortable with pushback

        Some people avoid transparency because they hope by saying nothing, no one will notice and they can avoid any conflict. The problem with this approach is that when someone does notice, they may assume you are hiding something. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you have communicated this information? What are you hiding? If this happens very often, those assumptions and that mistrust will become difficult to overcome.

        If the typical communications approach, especially during a crisis, is to duck and cover and hope the media doesn’t get wind of it, you’re playing a dangerous game. You won’t build public trust if your methodology is to circle the wagons against any challenge or question. Your strategy should be to get out there first and state the facts. Tell your story or take the risk that someone else will tell a far different version. Trust me, they will. You’ll be on the defense instead of the offense.

        How to deal with pushback:

        • Recognize that pushback gives you a chance to show the thought and planning that went into a decision. Give the reasons and strategy behind it. You can share the advantages you’ll gain and the challenges you’ll face with other choices or if you don’t make any decision at all.
        • Take the opportunity to listen. Ask questions instead of doing all the talking. We often make faulty assumptions about what a concern might be if we spend more time talking than listening.
        • Share how the school’s vision and goals tie into the decision. Tell them who wins and why.
        • Explain the situation and ask for ideas. You might hear the perspectives and solutions you had not even considered. If nothing else, you will have shown the public what it is you have to work with so they can see what the challenges are. 
        • Communicate each step along the way. Articulate the why and answer questions.

        Incorporate transparency in your school communications plan

        Effective school communications is about building trusting relationships. It can’t be faked in the long run. It requires that you believe in the value transparency can bring to your school’s culture and your community. It means you need to value the importance of working collaboratively with staff, parents, students, and community members. It means you value such qualities as:

        • Respect: Treat each person as an individual, and don’t make assumptions. Let others tell you their ideas without interruption.
        • Listening: First, pay attention. Focus on what is being said, and maintain eye contact. Ask open-ended questions. Know when to be silent. Remember we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
        • Courtesy: Greet others with a smile or a “hello.” Say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome” or my personal favorite, “my pleasure.” Express appreciation. Treat others with dignity by being thoughtful and receptive. Give others the benefit of the doubt (as we do to ourselves).
        • Honesty: Be truthful while being considerate. Avoid absolute language like “never,” and “always” (they evoke defensiveness and lack credibility). Check your motives before criticizing. Get the facts before repeating rumors/gossip. 
        • Integrity: More than just being honest, it means consistently keeping promises, being trustworthy, and acting ethically. It is holding to your moral standards. It is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

        Take your community members and parents behind the scenes. Let them see these qualities at work in your planning, strategies, decisions, and solutions. Inviting them in and sharing valuable background information removes doubt and builds trust in your school and its leaders. 

        To create a simplified school communication strategy that incorporates transparency and school public relations, consider this simplified approach:

        • Communication objectives: What communication goals do you want to achieve this school year (or maybe for just this one project)? Be specific and quantify those goals. (I want to establish a school social media presence of 1500 Facebook, 500 Instagram, and 500 Twitter followers. I want to incorporate transparency strategically.)
        • Target audiences: Who are you trying to reach? What are their primary concerns? (There may be more than one target audience.) 
        • Desired action: What concrete action do you want your target audience to take? (Comment? Attend? Think you’re awesome? Understand a purpose or change? Become supportive? Donate? Respond to a survey?)
        • Which platforms: List the platforms you intend to use. (Examples might be: website, social media, newsletter, local media coverage, signage, parent notifications, group meetings, e-mails, videos, etc.)
        • Article topics or themes: What stories, examples, or information will support your goals and objectives? Be sure to include transparency as one of your article goals. (Articles, blogs, or posts for your website, social media, newsletters, local media, meetings, videos, etc.)
        • Key recurring events: Does your school have annual recurring events or dates? How can these projects or campaigns support your school’s annual objectives? (Open house, back-to-school events, tax levy or bond override, kindergarten enrollment, school marketing, fundraising campaigns, etc.)
        • Success measurements: How will you measure the success or progress of your school’s various projects or campaigns? (Facebook followers, newsletter sign-ups, blog subscribers, website analytics, enrollment numbers, parent volunteers, etc.) Set intermediary goals, end goals, deadlines, and metric goals for each project.

        Incorporating transparency in your strategic communication’s plans is worth the effort and will pay off by building trust, strengthening your school brand, and marketing your school and its strengths. You will avoid more misunderstandings and quash rumors because your community, staff, and students will learn to trust that your school can be relied upon to keep them informed and included in the decision-making processes your school leaders make.

        Start simple, if necessary, but don’t be afraid to share the motivating factors behind the choices and plans your school implements. Trust is something you want to earn every day.

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Meaningful Social Media for Schools
        2018-09-18
        Image of students clasping hands

        Social media is a wonderful school communications tool. At a minimum, your school should be using social media to keep parents and the community informed about the daily routines at your school—late starts, early releases, snow-days, etc. Ideally, your social media should connect you with your community and engage parents.

        This month our social media team reminded us that school social media can (and should!) be so much more than the same old, tired news post or calendar reminder on our social media streams. With a little extra investment and the courage to be personal, schools can turn their social media into a truly unifying force with their overall community. 

        Adding Meaning to Social Media

        Anna Nolan personally manages the social media for several schools while also directing our Social4Schools service line at School Webmasters. Here are her insights about how school social media managers can invest a little more humanity into their efforts to better connect with the community: 

          This past week, I've spent more time than usual on one particular client, Bayshore Christian School, as they were on hurricane watch while they waited for Irma to make landfall.

          Over the past two years, I’ve developed a great working relationship with Tara, my contact there. This week, I exchanged a few e-mails and texts with her regarding announcements we need to make about school closures, and I've been watching the news to hear how Tampa has been faring.

          Aside from simply announcing when school was canceled, knowing what was going on in their area has affected what I will write in each of their posts for the next week. It's got me to thinking how important it is that we're making an effort to follow not just what's going on at our schools but also how events in their communities at large might be affecting them.

          I imagine myself in the shoes of the parents in that community in order to imagine what kinds of posts might be most helpful or encouraging to them. They deal with hurricane season every year, but as you can imagine, this one has disrupted their community more than others have. With all of that in mind, I’ve been able to schedule out a week's worth of everything from safety kit recommendations from the state and activities to help keep the kids distracted while they wait out the storm indoors to sharing encouraging stories about how community members are helping one another deal with these events.



          Now, I'm just waiting to hear from Tara about re-opening the school and returning to more business-as-usual posts (upcoming school news & events, etc.).

          Having the events relevant to their community on my radar has made a real difference in my tone and content choices all week, and the posts are getting very positive interaction (likes, shares, etc.), which tells me that the school community appreciates the information and encouragement coming from their school.

        School Social Media Management Tips

        In addition to this great example of going the extra mile in your school communications, Anna shares a few school social media tips for school social media managers about posting when dealing with a newsworthy disaster or tragedy in your community. Here are Anna’s tips:

        • Don't make assumptions. Send an e-mail to your school or district administrator to understand and gauge the school's official response before you begin posting.

          I e-mailed Tara back on Wednesday to let her know I was aware of what was coming and to ask if there was anything I needed to know about posting over the next several days. Her response helped me better understand how the community was being affected so I could post appropriately. You don't want to ignore an important conversation that might be happening in your learning community, but you also don't want to create an issue where there isn't one. Tampa doesn't often experience too much damage from these storms because of where they're located, so I didn't want to start sounding off alarms without approval—that would just create panic where there was none before.

        • Be sure you're following local news on your school's News feed. Monitoring local news is an important part of managing social media for schools. A lot of these cities have Facebook pages for their local news channels or online newspapers, and watching those posts can help you stay current with how the community is faring (just beware of the tone the media sometimes takes just to sell stories). These community pages can also provide you with relevant news stories to share on your school's page where appropriate.

        • Add positivity to the mix.

          There was plenty I could post about the importance of emergency kits and sandbags, but I made a point to include articles like keeping the kids busy while they were stuck indoors and, because this is a Christian school, I shared a few encouraging Bible quotes. Try to provide a balance between providing important information and being a voice of comfort and support.



        • Follow up. At a certain point, all communities will feel ready to start talking about something else after a tragedy, especially one that's all over the news like this one has been. Touch base with your client after you think things have calmed down, and stay sensitive to the fact that not everyone in the community might be back on their feet. Gradually get back to business-as-usual as appropriate. 

        So there it is! Social media managers for schools have a unique opportunity to engage parents and help the community get to know our schools on an even more personal level than they might if they were just viewing their school websites. In fact, if you had visited Bayshore's website these past two weeks, you would never have known any of this was happening! School social media is where the real connection happens.

        If your school struggles with social media, you’re not alone. For tips and advice about how to improve your school communications, be sure to subscribe to this blog for Marketing Your School and the School Webmasters blog. If you’re looking for an affordable solution to manage your social media, drop Anna Nolan an e-mail, and she’ll tell you how easy it is keep your social media updated with Social4Schools

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        395413
        3 Steps to Improving Parent Engagement
        2018-09-11
        Parents engaged in child's learning

        Nearly every educator will agree that positive parent engagement improves a child’s educational outcome. Besides making common sense, many data-driven studies are proving what we all know intuitively.

        We are each formed within the framework of our families. It is here we receive our initial education. Schools and teachers continue the process and expand our knowledge and education. But lucky is the child whose family supports and engages with their schools. Student success and achievement increases. Students graduate prepared to be productive, contributing, and successful citizens. Students with involved parents, regardless of their background or income, are more likely to attend school regularly, earn higher grades, have better social skills, enjoy a more positive attitude toward school, and show improved behavior. School culture improves, and everyone wins—especially students—when home-school-community collaboration takes place.

        So, what are the barriers to promoting family engagement? What challenges and obstacles do you need to remove?

        Step 1: Determine family & community involvement needs

        Before you can create improvements in your school’s home-family engagement, you’ll need to assess where the needs are now. One effective and popular way to do this is to survey your parents. This will give you a glimpse of what parents feel are your current strengths and weaknesses. You can then move forward with the information, correcting the weakest points and highlighting your strengths. By gathering the insights of the very people you hope to engage, you can see any challenges from their perspective (which is likely to be very different from your own). And, when parents participate in completing a survey, it is more likely they will become interested in its outcome and results. Check out this example K–12 parent survey and another on school communication preferences that might get you started creating your own. Another excellent survey resource is Family-School Relationships Survey, available from Panorama. Some example questions you might want to include, as related specifically to parent engagement might be:

        • Do you listen to your child read or read aloud to your child? Often / Sometimes / Never
        • Do teachers suggest homework activities for you and your child? Often / Sometimes/ Never
        • Is the school reception staff friendly and helpful? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Are your child’s teachers easy to talk to? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Is the school’s principal easy to talk to? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Have you attended any school-sponsored meetings to help parents understand and work with children? Yes / No
        • Would you be interested in attending meetings or workshops for parents on parenting skills if offered (child development, discipline, helping children learn)? Yes / No
        • Are you currently involved with the school as a volunteer, room mother/father, aide? Yes / No
        • If you have not volunteered at school, please indicate why. Never been asked / I don’t know how / Work schedule conflicts / Other children to care for / I don’t feel comfortable / Not interested / Other
        • How many parent-teacher conferences did you attend last year? None / 1 / 2 or more
        • How often do you communicate with teachers about your child’s performance? Often / Occasionally / Never
        • Have you participated in any school councils, committees, or PTA/PTO meetings? Yes / No
        • Does the school seek ideas from parents in these organizations regarding school-related issues like student achievement, improving communication, or developing programs? Yes / No / Not sure
          • If yes, have you ever shared your ideas or advice on any of these issues? Yes / No / I’ve not been asked.
          • If yes, do you feel like your opinion was taken into consideration when it comes to decisions made? Yes / Not sure / No
        • Would you like to participate in decisions reached on school-related issues? Yes / No 
        • Do school personnel encourage or assist parents and communities in becoming more involved in the schools? Yes / No / Not sure

        Step 2: Analyze and implement communications strategies

        Once you have gathered some data, look at how you can implement strategies that will improve your current communication levels. You will want to factor in the following challenges:

        • Avoid overwhelming parents with an unmanageable volume of communications. We are all inundated with massive amounts of information each day. So, be selective and wise with your communications. Be brief. Be specific. Be interesting. Be consistent.
        • Avoid complicated reports. Deliver your information in digestible bites. If you want to share something complex, tell a story that explains it and keeps it interesting. You want your audience to relate to your information.
        • Use a variety of resources. Not everyone has access to the same tools. They also have different preferences. By using a variety of communication channels, you will avoid excluding anyone. 

          Channels of communication:

          Personal Contact

          By far, the most effective way to engage parents is that personal touch from the teacher. This is one reason that parent-teacher conferences can be so valuable. So, putting extra effort into such events as back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences is vital.

          However, personal contact can be challenging in a large school when a teacher has 150 students during the day. Many teachers are using notification systems to engage parents and students. Some of the common programs (some are even free) include Remind, Class Dojo, SeeSaw, and many others. Another way to produce a good outcome is by texting a quick message or reminder. A simple “Reminder: John needs to study for the test” or “Oops, attendance has slipped. Everything okay?” can be very impactful. Texting also has the advantage of reaching most parents; even low-income families often have phones capable of receiving texts. 

          There is evidence that specific, rather than general, teacher-to-parent communication is much more impactful and valued by parents. It is also important that this communication takes place for both positive and negative aspects of student behavior. If a parent only hears from a child’s teacher when something bad happens, a trusting relationship isn’t likely to develop.

          Websites

          To use your school websites effectively, parents need to feel they can rely on it to keep them informed. Your school website management is a critical aspect of good communication strategies. Always make sure that all scheduled events and activities are on up-to-date calendars, you populate the news page with engaging articles and success stories, and easy access to forms and parent resources is just a click or two away. Then, consider adding a section geared at encouraging parent engagement. Many universities have been doing this very successfully for years. Follow their examples, and create a parent guide page on your school sites that include some of the following resources:

          • Share the facts with parents about how important their involvement is to their child’s education. Show them the data. Share some personal stories. Once they understand the value their engagement brings, they’ll be more likely to get involved. (FAST study, CPE study, Rice U Study)
          • Provide information on how to become a volunteer at your school. Include what those needs are and how students benefit from parent participation. Be sure to include some quotes, testimonials, or a school video sharing other parents’ positive experiences. Highlight a parent volunteer each month on your school’s website.
          • Schedule a series of workshops that parents can attend. Topics can be selected based on your school and parent needs, but popular areas are parenting and discipline, helping students develop good study habits, building self-confidence through success, nutrition guidelines, improving parent/child communication, character development, teaching responsibility, etc. Consider partnering with local businesses and experts to sponsor or assist in developing the classes.
          • Provide a survey to let parents see where they score in their current level of engagement in their child’s education. It can encourage them to raise the bar and set personal standards. Check out the great example at Project Appleseed.
          • Provide information about all events parents are invited to attend. These might include meet and greet tables at school concerts, open houses or back-to-school night, parent-teacher conferences, school board meetings, or PTA/PTO meetings.
          • Describe how parents can schedule a meeting with their child’s teachers, and explain the process in detail. When they understand how it works, they will feel more welcome and be more likely to reach out, ask questions, and get involved. 
          • Make sure you have mobile friendly, ADA compliant websites that ensure easy access.

          Social Media

          Your school social media channels, working in conjunction with your website content, is the way to celebrate your school’s areas of excellence, recognize the things that make your school unique, and engage your parents and community. The key here is to make it a coordinated effort with your school’s current communication needs and goals. The following are a few tips for creating engagement, especially in light of Facebook’s new algorithm:

          • Post school photos. Parents love them. Encourage parent comments with your post by asking fun or engaging questions they can answer.
          • Add “events” on Facebook for upcoming events and activities. This will take your post beyond just a reminder.
          • Post tips. Include anything from study tips to movie recommendations or best books the whole family might enjoy. Ask parents and students for their feedback.
          • Share favorite recipes. Get students involved. What is a favorite healthy breakfast? Most remembered school lunch ever?
          • Create a video. Ask the students to help (or let them create it). Want parent engagement? Then make the topic one they can’t resist, like having students answer, “What makes my Mom awesome” on Mother’s Day or “Why my Dad should be president” for Father’s Day. Try having students or even parents share stories about their favorite teacher and then asking others to share their comments as well.

          Parent Notifications and Alerts

          Many schools use parent notification systems to contact parents via e-mail or text or phone for reminders, attendance notifications, or events. For a majority of parents, this is a welcome technical change. The other benefit is that it encourages parents to stay engaged with their child’s education on a regular basis and add their support and encouragement to their child’s progress every step of the way. Many platforms that make these notifications easy to manage are available.

          Media Relations

          One very successful avenue for parent engagement is to use the local media to make your case for you. That means providing your local radio, newspaper, and TV stations with articles and resources that will help parents recognize the importance of their involvement in their child’s education. 

          You can write articles, citing data-driven studies. Be sure to include stories that validate those studies. You are sure to generate interest from your local media. If you have some good local stories, create a video and interview a few of your engaged parents, letting them share how their engagement helped their child succeed. Invite the newspapers and TV stations to attend the volunteer recognition event where you honor those parent volunteers. If you offer workshops for parents on study skills or parenting, be sure to invite your local media to attend, or provide them with quotes from parents (or a video clip from attendees).

          Step 3: Reevaluate

          Once you’ve identified the most important aspect of engagement for your school and tried a few new strategies, you have to be patient. It takes time to change attitudes and habits. You may tweak and refine what you are doing, but don’t give up. Then, send out your survey again the following year, and see what has changed. What improved? What is worse off? Then, do it all again.

          What are some best practices to help you on your way?

          • Create a welcoming school climate. Do you give a welcome packet that includes information about your community and available services to parents visiting your school? Is your office and reception staff trained in customer service? Is the entry experience at your school welcoming and friendly?
          • Hold an open house or back-to-school event before the first day of school. Let parents meet their child’s teachers, tour the school, meet other parents, and become familiar with your school’s methods of communication. (Tell them how to follow the school on Facebook and Twitter. Give them the URL of the school’s website.)
          • Partner with local agencies and provide workshops on parenting, study habits/learning skills, nutrition, and other areas of interest. Provide materials for parents on how to improve their children’s study skills.
          • Ask teachers to make regular homework assignments that require students to discuss with their families what they are learning in class.
          • Create roles to include parents on advisory committees. Help those parents become spokespeople for the rollout of new policies or changes.
          • Create volunteer recognition events or activities, certificates, and thank you cards. Be sure you share your thanks to your volunteers through your website and social media.
          • Consider establishing a network that links every family with a designated parent representative.
          • Establish school-business partnerships that will provide students with mentoring, onsite internships, and experiential learning experiences.
          • Develop a survey with parents to identify volunteer interests, talents, and availabilities that matches these resources to your school programs and staff-support needs.

          So, go forth and engage! Your students will be the winners.

          359080
          Storytelling: Your School's Secret Weapon for Successful Marketing
          2018-09-04
          Telling Stories printed on small chalkboard

          Last fall, I listened to a teacher relate the following experience about my uncle, a retired principal in California:

          As she walked back to her classroom one day, she noticed a man running from her room carrying her purse. She ran to the office to tell my uncle. He quickly set off with the school janitor in pursuit of the thief. The teacher described my uncle running down the road dressed in his suit and tie. He caught the man soon after and retrieved this teacher’s stolen purse. The teacher joked that while the purse probably only had about five dollars in it, it meant a lot that her principal would make such an effort for her. Then she asked, “How many principals do you know who would run two blocks in a suit to save a teacher’s snatched purse?” While this story exemplifies one man’s character, it also sheds light on the culture and atmosphere of the school. 

          Telling school stories that inspire, excite, entertain, and encourage your school community is at the heart of successful school marketing. Stories educate, inspire, and entertain us. They carry with them underlying themes connecting us to the organization and people involved. Storytelling and its scientific background affirms its relevance as a powerfully simple tool in school branding. Let’s look at how you can use this tool in your school.

          Using Storytelling in Schools

          As a school marketer, I’m sure you enjoy hearing your school’s success stories. When you witness or even hear about a moment that inspires, encourages, excites, or entertains, be careful not to just listen and go on with your activities. Take a moment to record the experience. These passing moments embody your school brand, demonstrating good things happening at your school. They are actual evidence supporting your school brand! Pass the good word along to your school community! 

          Gatekeeping is a process through which information is filtered. Journalism students learn that journalists are the “gatekeepers” of the news. It’s a sad-but-true fact that sometimes our schools don’t receive the coverage they deserve because the “gatekeepers” don’t think it’s “news.” But don’t despair! You are the gatekeeper of your school website! Fill your district news page with stories from around your district and your school news pages with stories from your classrooms and hallways. Then you can use your social media to drive traffic to your website where your audience can read those stories. 

          Your School Website is the Best Place to Share Your Stories

          Your primary communication platform needs to be your school website. However, sometimes schools neglect their online home. If you take anything away from this blog today, let it be this: Your school website is the best place to share your stories, your way! Social media should not be the only place you tell your school stories. In fact, if anything, your school social media should serve as a secondary platform for your stories. 

          Ridgefield Public Schools does an amazing job of this. The school’s part-time PR4 Schools communications coordinator fills the news page on their district site with events, news, and stories from around the district. The stories support the district’s mission and illustrate the actual events taking place on a daily basis that contribute to their vision. The district makes sure its community never misses a story by sending out a monthly newsletter that drives traffic to the website to read the whole story. 

          School Marketing Potential

          There are a variety of ways schools can share their stories. Allison Anderson, an educator in Oregon, lists current and practical ideas for sharing stories with your school community on her blog. Your school strengthens its public image as it shares stories along the following themes:

          • School’s history
          • What we stand for
          • What we do
          • Success stories
          • Overcoming barriers

          Bonnie Leedy, CEO of  School Webmasters, affirms that sharing your school’s stories is vital for school marketing for the following reasons. First, stories encourage enrollment. Your target audience relates with the solutions in your stories. Readers envision themselves (or their children) successful in that environment. 

          Second, stories help indicate differentiators. They provide authentic evidence of how your school differs from other schools, attracting those with matching interests and needs. 

          Third, stories encourage website traffic. Sharing stories on your website adds keyword-rich content, helping Internet users find your school website. When coupled with social media, your stories can get a lot of attention, and your school’s reputation and school brand surge. 

          Fourth, stories strengthen your relationships. When you tell a great story, parents and students will share it within their own circles, leading to increased enrollment and an enhanced reputation. You can build spirit, pride, and loyalty by sharing engaging stories. 

          And last, but not least, stories create staff engagement. Sharing stories with staff builds strong school culture. The result? Shared realities and embodied vision and values exemplified, thus fostering positive behaviors. 

          Science Behind Storytelling

          In a recent TEDx talk about storytelling, David JP Phillips explains how stories affect us physically. Phillips describes the positive effects of storytelling using three components of storytelling. 

          First, make them laugh.

          When you tell jokes and stories that make people laugh, you’re not only giving people a chuckle and a smile, you’re giving them something more. Listening to humorous stories increase our endorphins. Increased endorphin levels lead to increased creativity, focus, and relaxation.

          Second, get them excited. 

          As human beings, we are programed to tune in to stories. As you share stories, your listeners get excited. If your story contains an exciting element, it will fuel their focus. Listening to this type of story increases levels of dopamine and affects your audience. Just by telling a story, your listeners experience an added measure of focus and attention as well as increased memory and motivation. 

          Third, don’t be afraid to share.

          If you are willing, expose vulnerable aspects of yourself by sharing times when you experienced difficulty or stories of others in tragic situations. The effects on your audience lead your listeners to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity; they also feel more relaxed. Listener’s level of oxytocin increase. Phillips explains that the listeners feel “more human.”

          There is an opposite to these story ingredients. Phillips warns against creating emotions resulting in unproductive feelings. Stressful situations, irritating noise, or negative feelings increase our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which fosters feelings of intolerance, irritability, cynicism, poor decision making, impaired memory, and lack of creativity. Not a desirable result! 

          Functional storytelling—storytelling that builds trust, encourages relationships, improves memory and recall, and relaxes and focuses your audience is done using the three elements. You don’t need all three components in every story—but make sure you incorporate at least one in your school stories.

          Tell the Stories

          As you work to market your school, consider one game-changing mindset shift: become a detective at your school and gather stories directly connected to your school brand (in other words, those that relate back to your school mission statement). 

          If tackling school storytelling seems too daunting, consider School Webmasters’ PR4 Schools, website management, or other service lines. Think of the possibilities! With your full schedule, it may be easy to overlook school storytelling as “one more thing to do.” However, as you open up to the power of its potential, telling your stories truly could become your greatest school marketing tool. 

          So, what’s your story? How are you going to tell it? And who’s going to hear it? It’s time to invest in your school’s stories.


          395412
          All You Ever Wanted to Know about School Website Accessibility
          2018-08-28
          image of keyboard with access denied key

          Website accessibility compliance has become front and center in the past few years for both schools and businesses. The history of the Americans with Disabilities Act started in the 1960s, but only recently have the Office of Civil Rights and lawyers focused on website accessibility. Basically, if you have a website, you need to make sure it is accessible to those with disabilities. That means it must be readable by screen readers (which reads the content to those who are visually impaired), must be navigable with a keyboard (for those who cannot use a mouse), images that contribute to the content of your site must have alternative text that describes what the image provides, certain levels of color contrast ratio must be adhered to, and closed captioning must be on your videos. These are only a few of the 12 required categories but are some of those most commonly mentioned.

          The only way to know if your website is meeting these standards is to do an accessibility audit of your website. In the U.S. these standards are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and they provide various methods you can apply to make your website compliant. So, we'll get right to it and begin by telling you how to perform your own website audit.

          Do-it-yourself website accessibility audit

          If you want to do your own audit, you’ll need to understand WCAG 2.0 guidelines. We also recommend understanding Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) techniques. WAI-ARIA assists with making dynamic content and advanced features available to people with disabilities. You’ll also want to be familiar with how screen readers work.

          If you have no idea what all these acronyms are about (and don’t ever care to know), then just contact us and we’ll do your audit for you. But, if doing your own website audit sounds intriguing, please continue.

          Step 1: Scan your website

          The first step is usually to do an automated accessibility scan of your website. A free tool is WebAIM’s WAVE tool. We like their tool because they really know accessibility, and their tool displays the 15 error types that are particularly accurate with an automated scan. 

          Some of the other accessibility scans are expensive and provide so many false positives that we find them quite problematic, creating a lot of unnecessary work checking so-called errors that don’t actually exist. For example, some of the things automated tools are not capable of testing are keyboard accessibility, logical content order, timing, distinguishable links, accurate alternative text, consistent navigation, accurate form labels, text resizing, school video captions, and all instances of use of color like hover and focus. An automated scan can check for empty links (if there is alternative text present—but not whether it is accurate), the presence of a page title, and the presence of form labels (but not label accuracy). 

          So, don’t run out and spend thousands a year on automated testing expecting it to determine your site’s accessibility. An accessibility tool can only assist you in doing so. All automated scans still require that you do manual checks and manually fix any errors. Pricing for some of the more aggressively marketed automated scan subscriptions start at $3K and increase to more than $9K annually, depending on your school size. Sadly, many schools have been talked into making this large purchase, only to realize later that they must still make all of the corrections themselves. 

          If you decide to purchase automated testing, make sure you understand the reports provided so you will know which items are actually errors and which are not. You will also want to be sure that your website developers and updaters are well trained on the success criteria in both Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. So, be sure you understand automated vs. manual accessibility testing. If you’re still anxious to spend thousands, remember that you will need to budget enough to pay the people who must correct the errors as well. The actual corrections are more critical than any report.

          Here is a list of accessibility evaluation tools. You can even filter them by guidelines, language, licensing, and other criteria to find the one that best fits your needs.

          Step 2: Select your method

          The next step is to decide what method you will use to complete your audit and to stay organized. You’ll want to decide upon a process for consistency in your website review and corrective action. W3C provides an evaluation methodology (WCAG-EM) that is very detailed and includes best practices. It also provides a WCAG-EM reporting tool that uses its methodology.

          Step 3: Get started

          Now it’s time to dive right in. However, an introductory way to begin (sort of a swimming lesson, if you will) is with W3Cs easy checks. These simple steps will give you a feel for the types of checks you will need to make. It is a bit like swimming where your feet can still touch bottom when diving in looks a bit intimidating. 

          We also provide you with our WCAG 2.0 checklist to help you get started on your own audit. Download your copy below.

          Once you begin testing, you may see elements that pass compliance standards in one area but fail in another. It is important to understand that each element may need to pass multiple success criteria to be accessible for all your users. For example, your links are descriptive, so they pass WCAG 2.4.4, which is Link Purpose, but because they are only distinguishable by color, they then fail WCAG 1.4.1. As you can see, each element requires a different standard to meet a different need.

          Step 4: Remediate documents

          Once you’ve checked your actual website HTML content, you’ll need to test the electronic documents such as the PDFs. Every attached document must also comply with accessibility guidelines. These will also require manual testing, but with regard to the items you can test with an automated scan, the following are some tools we use when testing PDF compliance:

          • PDF Accessibility Checker - This is a free software. We like it because it also provides a screen reader preview, which is quite handy when troubleshooting errors.
          • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC - This program, which isn’t free, gives you all the tools you need to create and correct documents.

          Step 5: Create a process and use it

          Now that you’ve finally made your school website compliant, you must keep it that way. What does that look like?

          • Make sure everyone who touches the website is trained on the requirements of website accessibility. That includes how to use your CMS software so that each update conforms to standards. The training will need to be repeated, probably at least annually. Make sure your training provides a way to check updates for a while to ensure that the website users are using compliant methods on a daily basis. This should be part of your processes for your school website management.
          • Check the website periodically to assure that errors are not being introduced. This will look like a mini-version of the DIY audit we describe above.
          • Make sure anyone who creates a document that you link to from your website is trained in accessibility. Typically, this includes secretaries, receptionists, and even students who might be contributing to website content through a newsletter or another attachment. (We provide affordable accessible document training for only $249 annually for your district personnel if you are interested.)
          • Provide information on your website so site visitors can request assistance if they struggle to access any information on your school website. We recommend you link to an accessibility page in the website footer so it is available on every page of your website. Include a form to describe what information they need and where it is on the site. Be sure, of course, that this form can be completed using only a keyboard. Include a contact phone number as well. 
          • Your newly created accessibility page is where you can also post your accessibility policy. If you don’t have one, you’ll want to add it to your list of things to do. This policy describes the standards to which your school adheres. Here’s a friendly version and a formal version as an example, but be sure to check with your school attorney to comply with your state laws as well.

          Step 6: Those off-site links

          What about existing software or websites you link to from your school website? Well, that depends upon the off-site link use. If you link to a solution or site that is required by your site visitors, that software or website solution must be accessible. Need some examples?

          • Student information system (SIS). If you link to a student information system and parents or students need to use that site to get student grades or homework, then that SIS software should also be ADA compliant. 
          • Staff required resources. If you have internal software that teachers or staff must use to get to information your school requires, that site or software must be compliant. An example might be your human resource software or a secure intranet. 

          You’ll notice that the above are all resources that are sponsored, supported, or required by your school to get to needed or required information. So, they will be expected to provide the same level of accessibility as your school website. However, if you provide links just as useful resources, but you do not require your students or staff to access those sites as part of their education or employment, your school is not responsible for assuring their ADA compliance. More examples?

          • Community resources: you might provide links to community resources like the local parks, chamber of commerce, library, or museum—not required, but helpful.
          • Educational resources: you provide links to educational resources like National Geographic, Smithsonian Learning Lab, or tips for parents—not required, but fun.

          However, the caveat here is that if you now require students to use one of those websites to complete their homework, then it becomes part of the “supported” websites, so it must now be ADA website accessible.

          Step 7: Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

          The Office of Civil Rights, at least on some of the complaints filed against schools, is asking that schools identify the vendors used to design, develop, and maintain the content and functionality of the website. If the vendors have provided documentation (commonly known as a VPAT) or other assurances that their services and products will help you meet your underlying compliance obligations, OCR requires schools to describe them. 

          So, what is a VPAT?

          VPAT is a template that was developed by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) and the Government Services Administration (GSA) to allow companies to provide an analysis of their conformance to accessibility standards. Because Section 508 mandates that any product or technology used by federal employees must be compliant, vendors whose products are being used by anyone directly or indirectly federally funded, must also adhere to these regulations. 

          Since public schools and many private and independent schools receive federal funds and must provide accessible websites, the VPAT can save the school time in assessing the various vendor solutions and products. This applies to any other software or online presence your staff, students, or parents use, including your website CMS provider (if you manage your own school website). If they can provide you with a VPAT, it will help you see any possible deficiencies that you will need to address or to which you must provide a workaround solution. 

          When it’s more than you CARE to know

          This is probably WAY more than you ever wanted to know about school website accessibility, right? If that is the case, we have a solution for your school that is unlike any other website provider around. We’ll just do it all for you. Yep, we’ll design a compliant website and manage it on a day-to-day basis (meaning no staff training ever required). We’ll complete the quality control checks needed to maintain a compliant website, and if you need us to, we can even remediate your documents. Bonus? That we can do it for you for less than it would cost to have your school staff do it. Let us show you how all this is possible. Call us at 888.750.4556 or request a quote. It might sound too good to be true, but for 15 years we’ve been helping schools put the impossible within reach.

          Do-it-Yourself Website Accessibility Audit
          375539
          What Makes the Best School Websites? Part 2
          2018-08-21
          Smiling man giving a thumbs up gesture

          The best school websites serve many critical purposes. To accomplish those many objectives, they must also be functional, usable, and accessible (which we covered in Part 1). Once you have fulfilled the required functional aspects of the best school websites, you need to turn your focus to the day-to-day website management of accomplishing the most important communication goals of your school. Here we’ll not only cover what should be on a school website but how to target and satisfy your various audiences.

          Two of the most common goals of any school website are:

          #1. Engage and inform your existing students, their parents, and your staff. 

          #2. Market your strengths and successes to potential students and staff

          These two goals target different audiences with different needs. So, the best school website will address both. What we commonly see on high-end, private school websites are  sites devoted to marketing and enrollment goals, but little else. We sympathize with this need since attracting new students each year is critical to a school’s continued existence. No funding = no school. This is also the most common approach for university and college websites. However, we see the opposite approach in much of the  K–12 market, particularly public schools. They tend to ignore marketing efforts all together.

          The reality is, whether you are a local public school, a charter school, or an independent school, you must attract new students and their parents AND if you expect to earn and maintain a parent’s trust and loyalty, you better do more than just that initial sales pitch. You better prove you are worthy of their loyalty and trust day in and out through all of your communication efforts.

          No worries. You can accomplish both goals. But you must use your school websites effectively. Let’s start with engaging and informing the parents of your enrolled students. These are the folks with whom you must build long-term trust and confidence.

          Engageability

          One of the most influential factors in a student’s academic success is parental support and encouragement. So, engaging parents in their child’s education is vital. One way to help parents get and stay engaged with your school is to keep them in the loop. However, this can be quite a daunting task, depending on what a parent’s personal experience was when they were in school. If a parent had a negative school experience, their biases might be difficult to overcome. But, there are some effective options. Here are a few:

          • Show the love. Every parent, regardless of their own bias toward schools, will love those who show they care about his or her child. When you can demonstrate you have your students’ best interests at heart, you’ll win the hearts of their parents, in spite of their own childhood experiences. A personalized approach is necessary and will likely come from each child’s teachers. Notes home, especially positive ones, are a great start. Every teacher should have had a positive contact with each student’s parent before contacting them with a problem. A teacher website, a phone call, or a personal note are all easy ways to begin showing the love. Principals, secretaries, and support staff can also have a powerful impact on a parent’s perception of your school’s sincerity.

          • Tell your stories. There are great stories, successes, moments of wonder, ah-ha revelations, enthusiasm, spirit, dreams dreamt, and personal growth happening every day in every classroom, playing field, and hallway in your school. The trick is to recognize them for what they are and share them. Share them in the teacher’s lounge, let them make the news on the school website, post them to your school social media, contact the local media, create school videos, and record personal testimonials. Then, reward the staff and students who help you gather these stories so you can share them. When the school leaders make this a priority, you’ll see more of these wonderful and true stories to share. Set up an internal process to 1) gather stories, 2) share those stories, 3) reward those who share, and 4) repeat often.

          • Quality and engaging content. Your website and school social media channels are the ideal channels to engage parents and students. Excite them. Incite school spirit and enthusiasm. We all want to be on the winning team, including the parents of your students. Let them know when they are on the winning team by sharing successes (and not just of the school as a whole, but individual student stories carry possibly more weight than a school-wide recognition).

            We all like to see ourselves or our children as the possible hero of stories, so share your school stories liberally! You should fill your website news pages with them. Spotlight your teachers and support staff. Spotlight your parent volunteers. Spotlight your administrators and governing board members. Not by listing some boring ol’ bio, but share their humanity, their dreams, their interests instead. The personal touch lets you  relate to them as fellow dreamers, engage your community, and turn any foes into fans.

          • Readable website content. There are certain formats that make reading information from a website far more enjoyable. You’ll want to apply these strategies when writing your website content. 
            1. Use short paragraphs. It is easier to read and encourage people to keep reading. If their eyes fall upon a large block of text, they tend to skip over it, whereas a smaller paragraph won’t seem overwhelming.
            2. Use informative, brief subtitles. This will help readers stay engaged. It will tell them immediately what the topic is, and they will be able to scan the content quickly when looking for a specific area of interest.
            3. Bullet points and numbers. Use bullet points or numbered lists to help organize the information and let the reader quickly get to the meat of the topic when they are scanning.
            4. Avoid industry jargon. If you are using terms only your peers would know, you are not only creating content that will be uninteresting, but you may inadvertently come off as condescending. Avoid educationese.
            5. Keep it short, sweet, and conversational. Never use a big word when a small word will do. Sometimes a bigger word is the perfect choice, but be aware of your audience and don’t make them drag out a thesaurus. Remember you are having a conversation, not writing a dissertation. Keep it conversational. Feel free to use conjunctions. Avoid passive voice. Be positive, inviting, and friendly. Imagine the person you are speaking to as you write to help you hit the right tone.

          • Engage parents. Both district websites and school-level websites are the norm for many schools. Traditionally, public school websites will have a district website or the main office site that contains all the business aspects of running a school; it serves a wide range of grade levels. The district website content contains information about job postings, hiring processes, department contacts, contact and location information, enrollment forms, district-wide bus routes, administrative and board of education leaders, etc.).

            Then there are the grade-level school websites. These typically focus on a specific school facility that serves certain grades. For example, a public school district might have a district office website and three individual school sites, all linked from the district website. There might be one for the elementary school, one for the middle school, and another for the high school.

            This is a useful website best practice for many reasons. Each school website is often created to reflect the interests and needs of those students and their parents. This is not only intuitive for parents, but it allows principals and staff at those grade-level sites to  focus on their unique audience needs and interests.

            As a parent who just enrolled my child in your school district, where I used the district website to learn about your district’s strengths, programs, values, and how to enroll them, now I care most about my child’s day-to-day activities. I don’t necessarily want to wade through a news page or calendar highlighting the high school students’ successes and upcoming activities when I have a kindergarten student. This is where the grade-level school website shines.

            A savvy school principal can create a respected and trusted school brand just by providing the type of information the parents whose children attend his or her school want and need. Not only will the website be much smaller, so it is more intuitive and simple to navigate, but the colors, images, and stories will all reflect that school and its students. Those great stories you are gathering, those videos you are creating (or having students help you create), those student and parent testimonials, those teacher spotlights you created—are for just the right audience. For many more tips for grade level school websites read, “Don’t bench your grade-level school websites.

            Marketability

            Now comes the information that targets the interests of the prospective parent or staff member. We touched on this above, but let’s get serious and talk about school marketing. If I am new to the community, or maybe I’m trying to find the school of choice that will meet my child’s needs, I’m going to shop around. Your website should influence those selection choices.

            • Create targeted content. We encourage our schools to create an area of the website specifically for student enrollment efforts. Consider a “Why Choose Us” category, and use some of your best stories there so prospective parents can envision their child being one of these happy, successful, students who fit in and thrive in your school. Show off your strengths here as well. At what does your school excel? What are your differentiators? Parents are looking for the best match for their child’s interests. Let parents visualize the possibilities through the stories your website tells, and continue to promote them through your school social media content. This marketing section is typically located on the main office or district website. Keep it front and center so first-time site visitors will notice it quickly.
            • Integrate and promote through school social media. Your school social media channels will take your messages and stories to your audience. And your audience is on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, so be sure you are there to engage them. This means your school social media strategy should be part of your school marketing plan. It should be a focused, coordinated effort. It should be used to drive visitors to your website, where you have “the rest of the story” to engage them further. It should ask questions and gather information from your audience (surveys, comments, engagement). It should be used to recognize and congratulate your staff and student successes and progress. And, nearly every post can support your school’s mission and its marketing goals for the year. Get more school social media ideas at School Social Media Management 101, Part I and Part II or This is not the end of Facebook.
            • Build strong school public relations. What is PR for schools? It is your deliberate, strategic communications efforts focused on building relationships. Ignore public relations at your peril. If you don’t manage it, it will be managed for you and not often in your favor. Done right, public relations will establish and strengthen your school brand. It will create a positive connection with your community. It supports your school marketing plans. Public relations means listening to your publics (surveys, parent advocacy groups, etc.), establishing relationships with the local media (supplying them with articles, stories, videos, being accessible to them), and planning messaging and goals to support your school’s mission. Need help? Check out PR4 Schools.   
            • Create school videos. Creating engaging and informative school videos is a powerful way to market your school. It is visual, quickly conveys lots of information, and helps the viewer identify with those at your school. It turns your school from a cold, uncaring institution into real people with whom they can relate. It is one way to break through the onslaught of information bombarding those you need to reach and get your message heard. Learn more at “Creating a school video that won’t break the bank.
            • Train for customer service. Here at School Webmasters, we believe having high customer service standards is a tragically overlooked aspect of successful school marketing. How we treat others, what respect we show, what words we use, and how we live our values (each as representatives of our school’s mission) speak volumes. The expression, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say,” applies here. Your staff’s actions speak far louder than your marketing messages. When your marketing and the actions of your school personnel match up, you have a winner! You need to ensure  all your school staff know what it looks like to live the promises your school’s mission makes. Check out “Parents: raving fans or raging foes?” and “Choose your words wisely...it matters!” or download our free eBook “How to Create Sensational School Customer Service” for some school customer service tips.

            What to avoid

            There are some things you’ll want to avoid (no matter what someone on your staff thinks might be cool).

            • Avoid background music (especially when it autoplays).
            • Don’t use Flash (but I’m sure everyone knows this by now).
            • Avoid a splash page (where you have to “Click to Enter”) unless it is a secured, member-only area.
            • Never grab an image or content from any other website. This is plagiarism or copyright infringement. If it is “published” elsewhere, you can’t use it without permission unless it is royalty free or the owner indicates you can use it.
            • View this article for more tips about what to avoid, “20 Tacky School Website Practices Schools Should Avoid.

            So, there you go. Now you have plenty of ideas to make sure your school has one of the best school websites around. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it! (If you don’t like the hard parts, we hope you’ll partner with School Webmasters. We make it easy and worth it!) 

            How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
            375462
            California Schools: Know Your State's Website Accessibility Requirements
            2018-08-15

            Beginning July 1, 2019, California law requires state agencies and entities to post a certificate of accessibility on the home page of their websites. California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 434 into law on October 14, 2017. 

            If you haven’t already heard about this new law, you definitely need to keep reading since you may already be behind. The required certification confirms your website complies with specified accessibility standards, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The California Department of Technology provides this certification form to download, complete, and post on your website. In addition to posting this certification by July 1, 2019, a new certification must be obtained every two years. 

            Although laws will often begin a process, accessibility is not about the law. Accessibility is about individuals. It’s about giving everyone equal opportunity. 

            Accessibility is not a new topic. We use accessibility every day without even realizing it. Many of us look at accessibility features as conveniences. Consider these scenarios:

            You walk up to a building with your hands full, and no one is around to open the door for you. Then you notice there is a button to press that will automatically open it for you. Isn’t it convenient? 

            You need to complete forms to register for school and participate in various school functions. First, you have to print the form. Of course, this means buying more ink because your printer is always out of ink. You then manually complete the form and send it to school with your student (which means it may or may not make it to the right place). Isn’t it nice when you can just fill out the forms online and press the submit button?

            While these are just two simple examples of conveniences for many, it is a necessity for many others. We often do not realize the accessibility features at our fingertips. Can you imagine not having access to the Internet? California’s new law is another step to ensuring no one is without access to everything on the web.

            What steps do I take to provide access to everyone and remain ADA compliant with this new California law?

            Now that you understand it is important to provide an accessible school website, let’s talk about what it takes to provide this day in and day out. The steps below will help you meet your accessibility goals. If your website is already accessible and compliant with accessibility standards, you are ready to certify your website and can skip step one below. Of course, if you are already a School Webmasters client, we have already confirmed you have an ADA compliant website, and you can begin at step two. 

            Here’s a quick outline of the initial steps you must take:

            1. Perform needed website remediation to make sure yours complies with accessibility standards.
              If accessibility guidelines are like a foreign language to you, this may seem overwhelming, but whoever manages your school website must be trained in accessibility. If this is not already the case, you have quite a bit of catching up to do and don’t have any more time to lose. Call us today.

              We strongly encourage you to start this step right away. If you are going to tackle this on your own, great! Don’t waste another minute. Or, you can take the easiest and most inexpensive route and have us do it all for you. Since we’re way ahead of the game, we can do it for less than the cost of training your own staff. Let them do what they do best—educate our country. And call School Webmasters to do what we do best for you. Don’t wait until June 2019 only to discover you need a complete website renovation; that would make it very difficult and most likely impossible to meet the July 2019 deadline. 
            2. Perform both automated and manual human testing to certify compliance. 
              We wish we could say automated testing is enough. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. Our Automated vs. Manual Accessibility Testing article explains why you must use both forms of testing to ensure accessibility. Manual testing is vital. 

              When you are ready to begin manual testing and are qualified to certify each accessibility standard, we recommend keeping the standards in front of you as a reference to ensure you do not miss anything. As an accessibility auditor, you also must know how to use assistive technology, such as a screen reader. If knowledge of accessibility standards and the ability to use assistive technology is not something you already have, contact us and we will provide you with the accessibility audit you need. (We can usually provide this service to our website management clients for free.) 

              Oh, and be sure not to skip the documents attached to the website. They must be reviewed for accessibility also. 
            3. Once you certify your website is accessible and compliant, you are ready to add a certification on your Homepage.
              Again, if we already manage your website, this is something we can do for you. We will place a certification seal on your website and link it to your Website Accessibility Certification form. 
            4. Ensure your website stays accessible.
              Now that you’ve worked late nights and long weekends to provide an accessible website, we know you want to keep it that way. Rendering your new website inaccessible with the very first update would be traumatic! Our accessibility trained designers, developers, and updaters take accessibility seriously. We maintain the websites we manage in a way that allows everyone access to all information all the time so we can provide continuous compliance. We can do it for you if you’d like. 
            5. Update your accessibility certification every two years.
              The law states that you must recertify your website for compliance every two years. However, we strongly recommend you keep your website accessible at all times. We feel this is the intention of the law. Doing this ensures every teacher, parent, student, and community member is able to access all the information you provide, all the time. Of course, you will also have peace of mind knowing you are in full compliance with the law.

            If you have read this far and still have no idea what we are talking about, simply take the obvious route and contact us now. Let us explain how we can handle all of your accessibility needs. Here at School Webmasters, we take accessibility seriously. We know how important it is for everyone regardless of ability to have access to the important information on your website.

            Not only do we offer accessible websites, we also provide a wide range of other website accessibility services. This includes document accessibility training (free for our website management clients), document remediation, accessibility audits, and consultation. Essentially, we have everything you need to establish and maintain accessibility.

            *Please note that School Webmasters does not claim to offer this or any information as legal advice. We recommend contacting a licensed attorney for legal advice about this or any other accessibility-related topic.

            Do-it-Yourself Website Accessibility Audit
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            What Makes the Best School Websites? Part 1
            2018-08-14
            And the winner is...what makes the best school websites

            This is a question every school leader should ask. A school’s website is one of the most effective tools a school has to improve communication, engage parents, market its strengths, and build a solid, trusting reputation within its community. These are all benefits that improve education for our nation’s students, which makes achieving them worth the effort.

            There are typically two primary purposes for any school website. One is to provide timely, engaging, and current information to your current parents, students, staff, and community. The second purpose is to attract new students (through their parents or guardians) and to recruit quality staff. So, that means your school website must both inform your existing customers and market to potential customers. Because those audiences have slightly different needs, it can be tricky. But, no fear. It can be done right with a bit of planning. 

            Let’s start with the basics that apply to both audiences—the necessary functions required of any great school website. In our next blog, Best School Websites Part 2, we’ll cover how to fulfill the requirements for school websites to both market and inform so that all of your audiences will benefit (and it will be your students who are the real winners). 

            Functionality 

            A functional school website provides easy-access to solutions and meets its audience’s needs. There are quite a few factors that go into website functionality. Try to keep all of them in mind as you consider your own school site:

            • Clean, uncluttered design with a visually appealing balance of images, text, and white space. White space is a key here. Be generous with that. (Hint: whitespace does not mean actual space that is white, it means there is space for the eye to rest and an absence of text or images. It maybe very well be a color, but it will provide space between blocks of text and images.)
            • Convenient, time-saving features. This includes online forms, accurate calendars, areas for targeted audiences (like prospective parents and students). Think of it this way; is there anything a parent or student should be able to get on your website that will save them the inconvenience of coming to or calling your office? What about enrollment forms? Staff applications? Schedules? 
            • Uncrowded home page. Don’t try to cram everything onto this one page. Instead, create logical categories where site users can easily identify where to look for the additional information or resources they need. (See our detailed recommendation under Usability, below). 

            Want to see a few nice examples of intuitive functionality? Try these school websites:

            Usability 

            All website developers will debate the most intuitive navigation and favored approach to provide the highest usability satisfaction. And, to make it more challenging, each industry is a bit different, with different user needs. We’re no different, and we have what we consider a proven and logical structure we recommend for schools. (Sometimes our school clients listen to our advice and sometimes they don’t. But, of course, the client is the boss.) 

            One way to test your site’s navigational effectiveness is to do your own usability study. Remember, the goal is to get users to the information they need as quickly as possible. A simple test is to ask a variety of users (not those already familiar with your school website) to see how easy it is for them to accomplish a given set of tasks. For example, have them register a kindergarten student, find certain events on the school calendar, locate the school lunch menu, or any other frequent need your site visitors might have. Have them rate the experience on, 1) how quickly they could accomplish the task, 2) how easy it would be to duplicate this task later, and 3) their level of satisfaction with the experience. This will let you adjust any areas that might need to be improved.

            Navigation is key to usability
            Keep it as simple and concise as possible. Be consistent in your navigation layout from page to page, or you’ll lose your site visitors. Stick with the traditionally intuitive over the creative for school websites. They are there to find information quickly, not to be impressed by an edgy, cool style. 

            So, what should be on a school website? Effective, logical main level navigation might be Home, About Us, School Info, Events, Departments, Helpful Links, and Contact Us. Then add a few audience targeted buttons like parents, students, and staff. However, we discourage using only audience specific navigation as the main navigation bar. A few schools have started doing this because it is has a clean look. But, if not careful, the user experience can turn into a nightmare when users are forced to choose between parent and staff categories as their only choices—especially on large, district websites. 

            If I’m looking for the lunch menu or meal pricing payment and I can only choose between parent, student, or staff, I’ll then arrive at another navigation level for another set of choices. I’ll find it, eventually, but it will take me a few extra clicks and more time than clicking on departments and then the food service page. It can work, but weigh the pros and cons to see what works best for your school. If you are forced to choose between aesthetics and usability, we recommend favoring usability. 

            Easy to find
            Are news, events, menus, staff contacts, e-mail addresses, and other frequently accessed website information current and easy to find and use? If you are not sure what the most frequently sought-after information is, check your website analytics or ask your office staff what the most common phone call requests are. You’ll have your answer in short order. Your office staff and your site users will appreciate NOT getting or making those repetitive phone calls that could easily be answered via the website 24/7 and at the site users’ convenience. For a few nice example encompassing all of the above, look at Fowler Elementary School DistrictWillcox Unified School District, Synergy Public School, or Morristown Elementary School

            Common questions
            Consider creating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page covering student policies for quick answers to questions like “What if my child is tardy?” or “What if my child is absent?” or “What are the school’s discipline policies?” Done right, these “Thou Shalt Nots” can be handled in a friendly, positive manner in this easy to use format. Tone and word choice can turn a contentious experience into an amicable one. Some clean and simple examples are Maricopa Institute of Technology, Lake-Lehman School District or Paramus School District.

            Cross-browser usability
            This means your website should function properly in all of the main browsers. That doesn’t mean it needs to be supported by all older browsers, of course, at least not the ones no longer supported by their developers. But, don’t think that sticking a notice on your website that tells them to use just Edge or just Chrome will be enough. Test your website and your mobile views to assure that usability is consistent.

            Fix errors
            Check regularly and fix any broken links, outdated content, errors, and blank pages. Don’t use “under construction” notices either. If the page isn’t complete, then remove it from the navigation until it is. That’s like inviting someone to your house for dinner when your house is at the framing stage. 

            Accessibility

            The idea of website accessibility is to make sure anyone on your site, from any device, can gain access to the information for which they are searching. This requires several areas of focus. Let’s review a few of the areas below:

            Mobile-friendly
            Recent studies show 95% of Americans own a cell phone and 77% own a smartphone. (Pew Research, 2018) This means that having a responsive, mobile-friendly website is becoming more important than ever. If you aren’t sure how mobile-friendly your school website is, Google has a helpful responsiveness testing tool. The logical solution is to have a responsive, mobile-friendly website. Just this one step will solve or mitigate several other accessibility issues as well.

            Fast loading
            Not everyone has high-speed broadband, and especially if they are using a mobile device, consider your load times. This is particularly true of your home page, so you might not want to put resource-hogging elements on the home page. There are lots of possible solutions to faster loading websites—everything from page caching to image compression to implementing a content delivery network (CDN) and optimizing JS and CSS files. Whatever it takes, make this an ongoing project. All of your site users will appreciate it.

            ADA website compliance
            Studies indicate 19% of the population has some form of disability. That is about 56 million reasons to make sure you correct any website accessibility issues your school website might have. Not only will you reduce your risk of expensive legal action and comply with both federal and state laws, but you gain benefits in the form of usability, search engine optimization, reducing server load, and enabling your site content on a different configuration, and you’ll be prepared for future and advanced web technologies. For more details about making sure you get and keep an ADA compliant website, check out these articles:  How to have an ADA compliant school website, What every school administrator should know about website accessibility, or ADA website compliance, Part I & Part II.

            So, these important first steps are enough to take your site to the level of the best school websites. We’ll cover the next steps in Part 2, where we will show you how to use your school websites to inform current parents and students as well as attract prospective students and quality staff. Join us there, and we’ll discuss how the best school websites must also be about engageability!

            What Makes the Best School Websites? - Part 2

            How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
            375456
            Effectively Communicating the Value of Our Schools
            2018-08-07
            Image of spotlight on educational winners

            At School Webmasters, we feel strongly that schools should share the extraordinary things happening on their campuses with their communities. 

            A while back, our CEO, Bonnie Leedy, was invited to be a guest presenter at the annual conference for the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS). PARSS works to benefit students in all of the Commonwealth’s schools, but especially those in small, and rural schools. At the annual PARSS conference, administrators gather to network and discuss current issues related to education, policy, and funding. 

            Bonnie was asked to present on school communications. Specifically, why public relations and marketing have become vital for all schools and how schools can improve their communications even on a shoestring budget. 

            In her presentation, Bonnie said:

              Managing school websites all over the US, we see dedicated teachers motivating and enthusing students, changing lives, making amazing things happen in their lives. We see students realizing their potential and striving for their dreams. We see dedicated leaders who are guiding their schools to improve and excel.

              But, we also see a troubling pattern in many public schools: these success stories seldom make it to to the local news or onto their school websites or into conversations or to their school social media or into their communities where they need to be heard.

              School personnel talk about test scores or funding decreases or declining enrollment or disengaged parents. Most public school personnel take it for granted that everyone understands the value of what they do.”

            In the private sector, the foundation of any successful business or corporation is effectively communicating the value of what they do. In education, we often assume that people know the value of what our schools are providing. But do they really? Do they understand what we mean when we talk about “digital citizenship,” “social-emotional learning,” and “cultural proficiency?” Or are they glazing over the jargon and wondering what in the world their children are doing for six and a half hours a day?

            School Spotlights

            In her presentation, Bonnie highlighted a School Webmasters’ client, Otto-Eldred School District, whom we know does a fantastic job getting their school stories to the community through their school website and their local news. How do they do it? 

            Watch the video below to find out: 


            To help schools grow accustomed to recognizing and talking about the wonderful things that take place amid the “daily grind,” we asked participating PARSS administrators to submit a story about a time they successfully shared what was going on at their schools with the community. We chose one lucky winner to receive a copy of the Marketing Your School toolkit

            Congratulations to our winner, Dr. John W. Zesiger and Moshannon Valley School District!

            According to Dr. Zesiger, Moshannon Valley has worked to embrace STEM project-based learning and connect it to the rural community of Houtzdale, Pennsylvania. Through various grants, the school has created an Aquaponics lab, a greenhouse, and garden beds. Students created a Garden Club and, most recently, high school students invited the 4th grade students to the high school for student-led demonstrations about the lab and how it connects to science, math, chemistry, and other classes. 

            Does that sound similar to some of the learning activities going on in your school? I’ll bet it does. 

            Dr. Zesiger explained that several fish tank Aquaponics systems were organized in the elementary school classrooms and that the younger students were so excited that their enthusiasm spread to their parents and the local community. Dr. Zesiger said, “Interest is increasing in this learning opportunity. We are sharing much about it through our Twitter account @MV_Knights.”

            What a great example of excellent public relations and marketing from Moshannon Valley School District—well done! 

            Here’s What Their District is Doing Right

            First, the district purposefully looks for ways to incorporate and connect STEM learning to the community. 

            Next, they created interactive labs—aquaponics, greenhouse, and garden beds—to engage and enthuse students. 

            It worked! Students organized a Garden Club, high schoolers invited the 4th graders to come and learn from student-led demonstrations, and student excitement over these projects spread to parents and the community. 

            Bonus: the school shares its every-day successes on its Twitter feed. Teachers and students post about what’s going on in the classrooms using a school-wide hashtag (#puttingacademicsfirst) and tagging the school. 

            Moshannon Valley School District is demonstrating its value through its school communications. When parents see their students engaged and excited, they form positive opinions about the school—and that’s good PR. When the community can follow the activities on school social media—that’s good marketing. Thank you for sharing your story with us and with your community, Dr. Zesiger. Keep up the good work! 

            The Importance of School Marketing 

            Bonnie also said in her presentation, “If we think marketing our school isn’t a part of all our job descriptions, then our careers, our schools, and our students will suffer. Our students suffer when there is no parent engagement, and parents disengage when they lose faith and trust in our schools. 

            Done right, marketing and public relations provide transparency, trust, and confidence. When we earn trust, we gain advocates who will help us achieve our goals, and that includes parents who support their children in their education, communities who support us with their tax dollars, legislators who back us in their policies, and media coverage that is more than the sensational and negative.” 

            Remember, school marketing creates enthusiasm, school spirit, and cooperation. If you need guidance for how to market your school, the Marketing Your School toolkit is a great place to start. If you’re interested in learning how even small and rural schools can afford a trained communications coordinator on their team, we recommend our PR4 Schools service line. 

            395407
            6 Things People Actually Want to See on Your Social Media Pages
            2018-07-31
            What people want to see on their school social media

            Social media is a great communication tool for schools. In fact, your school’s social media should be a key component of your school marketing campaign. If you’re not on board with social media yet, it’s high-time you get there.

            A strategic communications plan for your social media can improve relationships with parents, build trust, and encourage engagement. When it comes to school communication, parents want important information such as events and meetings, policy changes, and news that affects the education of their child. However, this is information better suited for e-mails, newsletters, and the school website.

            Short and simple posts are essential on social media because of limited space and short attention spans. When it comes to educational program changes, curriculum updates, or other school news, spell out the details on your website, and use school social media to increase awareness of the information by driving traffic to your school website. Your school’s social media is best used for revealing the daily life inside your school.

            You see, social media for schools is about connection. Your audience will like or follow your pages because they want to know what’s going on in a more meaningful way than a newsletter or website article can communicate—they want to feel connected. Your school social media can give them a window into what goes on during the long school hours.

            Aside from connection, social media has become, more increasingly, about entertainment. In fact, it’s a habit for many to check their social feeds when they’re bored and absent-mindedly looking for something to entertain them. Social posts that get liked and shared are ones that make that connection or fill that entertainment need. So it’s a good idea to fill your school social media with interesting and entertaining information.

            School marketing is a natural result of this kind of content. As you show the great things going on at your school, you show your school culture and brand. Here are six areas to showcase your school, programs, students, and staff on social media.

            1. Learning in action
              Reading, writing, math, and arts. Show off the active learning that goes on behind your classroom walls. Videos and photos get more attention on social media, so don’t just tell about a project your fourth grade students are working on, show it! Share images of engaged students and involved teachers.

            2. Incredible staff
              We love to see people being appreciated and recognized for their hard work. From the superintendent to the school janitor, pick someone to highlight every month or every week on your social pages. Let your followers get to know your school better by getting to know the people who work there.

            3. Stellar students
              Spotlight your students. Your school’s social media should sing the praises of students who have achieved noteworthy accomplishments. Remember to look for unique opportunities as well—student talents, student projects, student athletics, etc.

            4. Altruistic endeavors
              Show your students and staff unifying for a good, noteworthy cause. Whether it’s an event for earth day or anti-bullying week or a gesture supporting a staff member with a serious diagnosis, the causes and events your school supports tell more about your school culture than any “about us” article can.

            5. Heart-warming stories and simple gestures
              More than ever, people want to see good news come across their social media feeds. If you catch students being kind or teachers going the extra mile, we encourage you to share it on your social media. Don’t be shy about showing acts of service or kindness, especially if that’s a part of the school culture you are trying to cultivate. One example of this kind of content is the “positivity challenge” several schools have participated in—see Glenbard South’s positivity challenge video on their Facebook page

            6. School events and traditions
              Sports events, choir concerts, fundraisers, talent shows, homecoming, etc. Share pictures and video of your events and school traditions in action. These events are a part of your school culture outside of the classroom, and your fans want to see what makes your school special. 

            Social media should be fun. Allow your social pages to be a window into your school, and show your followers the amazing programs, people, and events connected to your school. Don’t let it be overwhelming. For more ideas to keep up with social media trends, check out this article on the School Webmasters blog. In addition, the Marketing Your School Toolkit has many ideas for your school’s social media and will keep you on track with meaningful, strategic communications.

            How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
            395403
            How School Leaders Can Foster Community Trust
            2018-07-24
            Building trust for your school

            Trust—all across our country—is perceived as wounded and limping. Whether within corporations, government, or our schools, many feel the damage is irreparable. We disagree, and you should as well. You have the ability to rebuild trust in your circle of influence and create optimism that replaces cynicism. Trust rules. It drives your school’s cohesiveness. It drives performance. It even drives student achievement. 

            Want your school to have a competitive advantage and become a school of choice? Build a culture of trust. Your school’s culture isn’t your mission statement or values. It’s the reality of “how we do things here.” It is how people behave. Trust is a part of all healthy relationships, whether personal or business. Your school’s culture requires trust to be healthy. In addition, don’t confuse “influence” with “trust” because influence can be bought, but trust must be earned.

            Sometimes trust refers to “I trust you to do a good job” or “I trust you to do the right thing,” and other times it is “I trust you to protect me” or “I trust you to have my best interests at heart.” When it comes to our schools, it refers to all of the above. 

            For a school to earn the trust of its communities, it first must create an environment of trust within its own walls. It is also a fact that schools with a high degree of trust are more likely to do what is best to help their students achieve. Since student achievement (reaching their highest potential as individuals) is education’s overall goal, then trust matters.

            Assessing trust at your school

            How would you say your school or district measures up when it comes to having a trusting culture? Trust in Schools, by Bryk & Sage, asserts that there are four behaviors that demonstrate the level of trust that exists in your school. I loved these questions and found them very indicative, not just for the idea of trust, but whether you and your colleagues live these behaviors. How would your school personnel answer these questions?

            Respect

            1. Do I acknowledge others’ dignity and ideas, or do I sigh when they speak?
            2. Do I interact in a courteous way, or am I distracted and playing with my phone?
            3. Do I say hello in the front office?
            4. Do I respond to e-mails in a timely manner?

            Integrity

            1. Can others trust me to put the interests of students first, and do I demonstrate that I trust them to do the same?
            2. If something needs done for a student’s sake, even when it isn’t convenient, do I step up?
            3. If something that will support student growth needs to be written up or a meeting needs to be attended, do I do it because it is best for students?

            Competence

            1. Do I believe in my colleague’s ability and willingness to fulfill his or her responsibilities effectively?
            2. Do I delegate and show that I’m confident when I do?
            3. Do I ask for their insights?

            Personal regard

            1. Do I ask how they are when they come back from being absent?
            2. Do I go the extra mile for someone when I know there is a need?
            3. Do I happily do an extra duty, sign the birthday card, even occasionally “take one for the team” without complaint?

            One way to determine your current school culture is to use a survey. While you might believe answering the above questions gives you a clear picture, it will only constitute your perspective. Survey results can provide a wider view. Check out some survey examples from ED School Climate Surveys or School Climate Survey Compendia. Then consider holding small group meetings to further examine your school culture. 

            If you believe your school has trust issues or you are coming into an educational environment where a previous administrator’s actions or inaction eroded trust, consider bringing in a consultant or someone outside the school to conduct individual interviews. In this way you can ensure honesty and impartiality. It might also let you see if the staff, administrator, or governing board has created or overlooked a problem that needs to be addressed.

            Building trust through communication

            Successful leaders require the trust of their stakeholders. How difficult is it to manage the day-to-day aspects of your job when you must constantly climb over a mountain of suspicion? As Steven M. R. Covey says in his book The Speed of Trust, The One Thing that Changes Everything, "Trust allows us to operate with greater speed, lower cost, and improved results. Without trust, the cost is significant." Without trust, what should be minor incidents can spiral out of control. So, what steps can you take to build trust? 

            Begin with Respect

            1. Look at your customer service levels. Can a parent reach the school during the day or does their call go directly into voicemail? Does your school's receptionist act “put-out” with some parents or staff members questions? Do you take time to listen to whomever happens to be speaking with you at the moment, or are you thinking about how much you need to do and how quickly you can get them out of your office? When you and your staff demonstrate consistent messages of respect (and it must begin with you), you will begin to create the bonds that build strong and trusting relationships. It all boils down to respect for the individual—one at a time. It is the small slights that can undermine respect—notice them and fix them! See Roll Out The Welcome Mat.

            2. Implement a climate of respect. It might be as simple as returning phone calls, acknowledging concerns, a smiling face (yours), getting input by asking questions (and deciding what you will do with the answers). One day you may hear the words "he/she listened to me" and you'll know this translates to "he/she respects me." When this happens, you are on the road to trust. See Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes.

            3. Communicate competence and integrity. It is a common tactic to avoid providing information when the news isn't so good (maybe we hope no one will notice, and we'll avoid any conflict if it all blows over). However, that strategy does little to develop trust, for it erodes other’s confidence in you as a leader as well as your integrity. Rather, an effective communicator will deliver concrete, clear information with confidence. If you radiate a sense of calm and patience while offering solutions and information, you will communicate competence. Your words demonstrate competence, and your actions (if in alignment with your words) will reflect your integrity. Walk your talk. 

            Practical trust building steps for school leaders

            If you want to be school administrator who is successful at building trust with your staff do the following:

            • Communicate to your staff: Know that many parents will judge your school based on successful or unsuccessful interactions with their child's teacher. Make sure you communicate the importance of good school customer service in this area, and train your teachers to appreciate the value of each interaction they have with parents. Acknowledge and appreciate the positive interactions. Encourage your staff to speak their mind with openness and honesty without fear or reprisal. Include others in decision making. Live your life with honesty and integrity, and your actions will communicate far louder than any words you might speak. 

            • Communicate to your parents: Use your school website to create excellent customer service by creating and managing a school website with the requisite self-service information parents need. It should be a resource to do business with your school easily and reliably. Can parents find vital info they need there—forms, events, calendars, procedures, and accurate information? Information should be current, thorough, and timely. Do you tell your school’s stories through your news page and your school social media? Do you make yourself available to teachers, parents, and students both online and in person? Show that you care and are not afraid to take a personal interest in the well-being of others, whether it is staff, students, or families.

            • Communicate to the community: Use the media to share successes. Toot your horn. Contact education beat reporters, write up press releases, and put all this information on the website, and use your social media to drive parents to your school website. Good communication is key if you want to create an environment of trust and respect. Make sure transparency is a driving force behind your school communication strategies. Your school communication strategies, including your website and social media are a driving force behind your school brand. Make sure building trust is part of your school branding goals.

            To earn the public's trust, we have to run our schools and organizations so they meet or exceed the ethical and public expectations society has for us. This includes being profitable (which in educational organizations would be delivering high quality services and turning out students who are prepared as contributing members of society and who are good citizens). To achieve this goal, trustworthiness is the trump card. It means being transparent (and with widespread social media platforms and 24-hour news channels looking for sensationalism, we don’t have much of a choice). Most secrets don’t stay secret. What happens at school doesn’t stay at school. It is Tweeted and shared and blogged about ad nauseam.

            Trust increases a sense of security among educators. It encourages problem solving and a willingness to take on challenges and work together. But, conversely, when trust is low in a school, education suffers. Everything suffers.

            Obstacles to Trust

            Some of the more common obstacles to building trust are:

            • When leadership decision-making is perceived as arbitrary and not in the best interest of the school (or not communicated in a way that clarifies the reasoning behind it)
            • Frequent turnover in school leadership or teaching staff
            • Failure to remove staff who are widely viewed by others as inadequate
            • Ineffective or insufficient communication

            Building or rebuilding trust takes time and sincerity. It means investing time in nurturing relationships. Look for opportunities to recognize others. Trust begins one relationship at a time, one conversation at a time. But, time is the key element. One person can set a tone of trust, which can change the culture of the school. Be the one to lead the way (whatever your current role). 

            Now, it’s your turn!

            Try these five steps to get started today:

            1. Accept responsibility—take blame when things go wrong, and give credit when things go right.
            2. Show appreciation—saying thank you goes a long way, and it travels even further when done publicly. Lift up others as a shining example any chance you get.
            3. Be a good listener—improving your listening skills allows you to collect new information (seeing problems and then solutions) and build trust and rapport.
            4. Show enthusiasm—a positive attitude is contagious. It also engenders trust and attracts others who are upbeat and enthusiastic to you and your cause.
            5. Be reliable—be the one others can count on. If you are, you will become one of those trusted with new tasks, projects, solutions, and ideas. This trust will give you tremendous influence. Use it wisely.

            Leaders who walk the talk and strive to live up to the standards that earn trust are modeling those behaviors for others. When a school’s staff rises to those same standards, students not only see such models they can emulate in their own lives, but they are also more likely to reach their individual potential. Trust really is the one thing that changes everything. Give it a try!

            Public Relations for Schools
            375999
            What's Really Going on Behind the Scenes of Your School Website?
            2018-07-17
            Webmaster working on school website

            My parents recently began a kitchen remodel. There are essentially two types of people when it comes to home renovations—those who do it themselves and those who would rather hire someone to do it for them. 

            Once upon a time, my dad undertook a home-plumbing project. He thought it would be simple and figured he could do himself. He was wrong; it was a fiasco. In the end, he called a plumber to come and fix it anyway. Ever since then, he has not tried to complete a project he knows he can hire someone with the education and experience to do for him.

            Even though my parents hired experts, the kitchen remodel has been stressful. One of the biggest stress factors has been the lack of communication from the contractors. On the one hand, my parents trust that they know their business. On the other hand, it is a foreign process and understanding the process would have been nice. 

            If you are contemplating undertaking a school website development process, I imagine you’re feeling a little stressed. There are definite pros and cons to building a school website the DIY route. If you have tried it and are ready to hire professionals, you’ve come to the right place! Just as it would have been nice for my parents to know what to expect from start to finish, we invite you to take a behind-the-scenes look at the School Webmasters’ website development process.

            What to expect during website development

            As you search for a school website developer, it may be difficult to differentiate one option from the next, and many of the processes may seem similar. But there are a few key services we offer during the development process that set us apart. 

            First, we assign your project to a project coordinator; this is your single point of contact for the duration of the website development process. Your project manager will send you a development questionnaire. This helps us gather information about your school or district and understand your website redesign goals. After you complete the questionnaire, you’ll meet with your project manager to talk about what you’d like to see on your new school website and determine a development timeline. You’re welcome to show examples of websites and features you like, and your project manager will help you choose a template from our library of Standard and Customized website designs. If you’ve opted for a Premiere website, you’ll discuss your layout preferences, and a graphic designer will develop a unique prototype for your approval. 

            School website development is often a team project, with lots of individuals at your school offering input and feedback. Having a single point of contact on our end improves your customer experience. Your project coordinator will be available and responsive throughout the development process. To really streamline the process, it helps to designate a single point of contact at your school too. 

            At School Webmasters, we understand that your school website is a key communications tool for connecting and engaging your community. Your project manager will want to know what your school communication goals are and what you want to accomplish with your new website. They will also help you decide what pages you need, what kind of calendar to use, and whether you want to use your own photos or have a graphic designer find great stock images. 

            In addition to your project coordinator, your development team will include a professional copywriter, graphic designer, user interface designer, content and graphic layout staff, editor/proofreader, and quality control team. 

            Copywriting

            Any communication specialist will tell you that “content is king.” So while the layout and design of your website is very important; the text that fills your pages is arguably more important. Many website developers require you to provide the content to fill the pages of your new website, or they simply copy and paste your old content to your new site. Chances are, your staff is too busy to write pages of new content for your website, and using your old content on your brand-new website wouldn’t help you meet your school marketing and communication goals.

            That’s why our copywriters develop a new site navigation that is intuitive and organized and then rewrite and update your existing content. We have years of experience with school website content best practices. And don’t worry! You stay in control of the content. We gather information from your old school website and interview key school personnel. We’ll fill your website with current, useful information written in a friendly, professional tone. And we will edit and proof the content before adding it to the website. Trust us, it’s easier to edit and approve new content, than write it all yourself!

            Graphics and branding

            Branding your school website is an important step in the design process. Our graphics department will use your logo or mascot to create unique headers and footers for the site and select a relevant color scheme based on your input and school colors.

            Your colors and logo are just one element of school branding. Beyond that, the graphics and photos throughout your website communicate your school culture and market your school. We prefer to use images and photos of and from your school; we even provide you with a list of recommended photos for your website to help you build your image library and visually tell your school's story. However, if needed, our team will select stock images to fill your pages, based on your communications goals.

            User Interface

            Our user interface designers add the approved content and graphics to your new website design and build a responsive, ADA compliant website that will look great on a desktop, tablet, or phone.

            Your user interface designer will build the functionality for all the required features of your website and, depending on your chosen package, will code the buttons, menus, icons, and hover effects that will make your school website stand out.  

            Your school website then goes through a harrowing system of checks and double checks to ensure a quality user experience, and cross-device and browser compatibility.  

            Finally, your website is proofed one more time and sent to you for final approval.

            What happens when the website is complete?

            Your school decides when to take your website live. If needed, our team can help with that final launch. 

            Our hosting services, including the “housing” for the website, are permanently connected to the Internet with 99.99% uptime. Your website stays safe and protected with managed backups, scheduled server maintenance, and security updates to assure that your data remains secure. 

            Where a self-hosted CMS would leave you to troubleshoot on your own, we have real, live people available to help with any issues or problems that may arise.

            What happens after the launch?

            Your school website is kind of like a living entity in that it requires updates and maintenance to be the communications and marketing tool it should be. With most school website developers, once your website is launched, you might get some training on how to keep it updated, but then you’re on your own.

            On the contrary, we don’t leave you with a fond farewell after the launch; we are in it for long haul. You stay in control of the content, but we handle all the time-consuming, back-end work. Send us your news, upcoming events, meetings, and announcements, and we’ll take care of navigation, placement, formatting, organization, punctuation, grammar, tone, and ADA compliance.

            Sending us your information is as easy as sending an e-mail. Here’s an example of how it might work:

            It’s the start of summer vacation for Ellsworth Elementary School and Josie, the school’s administrative assistant, needs to add the summer food program hours to their website. She logs in to the School Webmasters customer service portal and copy/pastes the following information from the e-mail she received from the district administrator:

            School hours to add to homepage:
            Summer Food program at Ellsworth
            May 30-June 30
            Mon- Fri
            Breakfast 7:15-8:00 am
            Lunch 11-1PM 

            From start to finish, the process takes Josie about a minute. 

            Renee, one of School Webmasters’ updaters, takes the information provided by Josie and creates an update that has a friendly tone and active voice. The announcement is formatted and styled according to best practices. 

            Rather than clutter the Home page with information that will be outdated in a few months, Renee places the announcement on the News page and links to it from the news teaser on the Home page. The announcement will stay on the News page until July 1, when it will expire and be removed. She may also add it to the Ellsworth Elementary calendar, so that any parent checking there first won’t miss the dates and times.

            The news announcement reads:

            Summer Food Program

            Our summer food program returns to Ellsworth Elementary from May 30 to June 30. The cafeteria will be open Monday through Friday for breakfast from 7:15 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Lunch will be available Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

            The best part? Josie doesn’t have to give this update a second thought. Placement, formatting, organization, punctuation, grammar, and tone are all taken care of. And because the announcement will automatically expire and remove from the website, the site will never be cluttered with outdated information. 

            Sometimes after a few months, and definitely after a few years, a school website can start to look stale and outdated. But you won’t need to waste precious budget dollars on a redesign unless you opt for a whole new look; our graphics department will also post and update pictures, create slideshows, organize navigation, and add buttons or any other design element that will keep your site fresh, clean, intuitive, and welcoming for years to come. We also make sure your images are at the optimal size for your website so page download times and responsiveness are ideal for desktop, tablets, and phones. 

            We complete all of your requests as quickly as possible—within two business days at the longest. Our update team’s goal is to complete requests within 24 hours. We even have team members working over the weekends, and we complete most requests within just a few hours. You are even able to mark a request “urgent” if it is particularly time-sensitive. 

            Our school websites are also equipped with emergency pop-ups to which you and designated staff members have direct access. With this feature, you can post school closures and any other immediately necessary information on the forefront of your websites. We also have an incredible customer service department available to help you with your requests; our team is available for advice, technical support, and troubleshooting when you need it. 

            Quality Control

            Behind the scenes, our quality control (QC) team monitors and audits your school website. We check your school website at least every two months for broken links, errors, or anything out of place. This team makes sure your website continues to perform optimally in multiple browsers. We also work hard to make sure our update team is careful and accurate with your updates by performing monthly quality checks. 

            QC will contact your school if there is anything out of date, redundant, or that might work better on another page. They will also reach out throughout the year with reminders and tips and tricks for keeping your website fresh, up to date, and working toward your communication goals. 

            Additional Services 

            A school website’s primary purpose is communication, right? As educators, communication doesn’t always play a key role in the day-to-day activities. But marketing and school public relations, features of school communication, are becoming more and more a necessary role for schools. For that reason, we also offer additional services to turn your school website into the school marketing and public relations machine it should be. 

            Website Accessibility Training, Audits & Document Remediation 

            Anyone who creates documents for your school needs to be trained in website accessibility. At no additional cost to our clients, we offer ADA training for your school staff. Training is available for all of the major programs used to create public-facing documents including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Powerpoint, Microsoft Publisher, Google Docs, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe InDesign, and YouTube Video captioning. With our training website, you’ll be able to track who has completed the training and print reports (which are required if you’ve received a complaint from the Office of Civil Rights). 

            If you have received a complaint from the Office of Civil Rights, or if you’re just curious about the accessibility status of your school website, we offer affordable website accessibility audits. We’ll provide a detailed report of the accessibility issues found, a list of criteria that do not meet guidelines, recommended changes, and a corrective action plan to help your school undertake the task of bringing your school website into compliance. 

            Finally, maintaining the accessibility of your public-facing documents is an important part of maintaining accessibility. This means that all of your past and current documents need to be accessible. Not only do we have the services to train your staff to make accessible documents, but we can help remediate (bring into compliance) all of your existing documents

            Logo Design & Print Services

            If your logo is looking a little dated, your mascot could use a major makeover, or your school brand needs an overhaul, our graphics department can help you out. We have a team of graphic designers who can assist you with any project you can dream up—from brochures, flyers, posters, and postcards to promotional event products and document template design. 

            Social Media Management 

            A strong school social media strategy goes hand-in-hand with your website in engaging your community and marketing your school. Your school needs to make an effort to communicate with your audience in places they habitually check every day. And as social media rises in prevalence, social media is more and more the place to be. 

            We offer a variety of social media packages for schools that range from page set-up and support to full channel management. Our social media management services become an extension of your school website. Your personal social media manager monitors the website updates you send in and drives traffic from your social connections to your school website. 

            Public Relations 

            It’s easy enough for many schools to send us announcements, events, and meetings to keep the school website and social media updated. But if you want to set your school apart from the competition, especially in this climate of school choice, your school needs to engage your audience with news and stories from your school. Gathering those stories and writing them up is something for which most schools have zero time. 

            We offer a school public relations service that allows schools to have a part-time communications coordinator on your school campuses collecting stories and photos and engaging in the communication and marketing efforts you know you need but never seem to have the time for. School public relations is the best way to build and protect your school’s reputation.

            Your School Deserves So Much More Than a Website Developer 

            We do all this work for your school because we want to be your school’s communication partner. We offer a complete system that truly allows you to manage your content—easily and cost-effectively. You maintain control of your content and message without worrying about all those other nuances of keeping a website updated and compliant. 

            You probably began your school website development project by looking into school website content management systems. But what you found was a lot of content management software—programs that will allow you to update and manage your school website. That’s pretty par-for-the-course when it comes to school websites. A designer will charge you thousands of dollars to build a fancy facade for your school website. But in the end, you’re left with the old content you started with and the same system you’ve always used for maintaining your website. We find that without help, new school websites become outdated, out of ADA compliance, and disorganized, sometimes within a few months of launching.

            We claim to be the proverbial “orange in the apple box” by offering the whole system schools need to develop a new school website and then keep that site, beautiful, fresh, updated, and useful year in and year out. 

            Give us a call today at 888.750.4556. We’d love to tell you more about what we do here at School Webmasters.


            To learn more about our processes, check out the short video below and meet some of our staff as we tell you how it works when we go to work for you!


            400507
            School Video Marketing Ideas from Down Under
            2018-07-13
            3D map of Australia and video filming equipment

            Have you ever found yourself imitating the sayings or mannerisms of people with whom you spend a lot of time? I lived with my grandma for a year while working on my master’s degree, and one of her favorite expressions is “oofta!” That interjection of dismay, concern, or surprise comes from a combination of Grandma’s Swedish ancestry and youth in Minnesota. For better or worse, “oofta” has crept it’s way into my vocabulary. 

            Whether or not it’s a conscious effort, we seek to imitate people we admire or view as successful. This carries over into the business world as well. While careful not to infringe on anyone’s copyrights, we look to others for inspiration. When you undertake a website design, do you look at other school websites to see what they are doing? So how about seeking inspiration for your school marketing approach too? 

            As I look for inspiration, researching successful school marketing campaigns, I come across a lot of Australian private and boarding schools who do an impressive job with marketing videos. Videos are an underused, but poignant, medium for school communications. Marketing videos allow you to tell school stories in unique and memorable ways. I want to share some of these examples in hopes they will inspire your school marketing efforts. 

            Example About Us Video: Knox Grammar School is a boarding school for boys years seven to 12. Instead of creating a video about their campus and services, their “about us” video follows one of their boarding students, Jack. Instead of talking about students in general, they make it personal—Jack could be your son. The video aims at putting rural parents to ease about sending their kids to a boarding school by showing the teachers, other students, educational situations, and activities. This video is the epitome of telling about your school through story. Watch the video on Knox Grammar School’s Vimeo channel.

            Tell your school’s story through the eyes of your students, the eyes of your parents, or the eyes of your teachers.

            Inspiration: Let your “about us” video or website page tell a story. “Stories” sometimes get confused with “branding.” A story is not the history of your school, your mission, or the services you offer—that’s branding. A story grabs your attention and evokes emotion. You don’t need a huge marketing budget to pull something like this off. Tell your school’s story through the eyes of your students, the eyes of your parents, or the eyes of your teachers. Write about it on your blog, create a website page, or make your own video.

            Example Programs Video: Donvale Christian College is a primary and secondary faith-based private school. They produced a series of videos titled, “The Donvale Difference” to explain how their school is different from other schools. Their “Guitar” video is one of my favorites. It features a group of musically-inclined students who take a young, shy guitar player under their wing. The video promotes the school’s Creative Arts Week, a program where regular classes are postponed and replaced with opportunities to participate in drama, dance, music, etc. It tells a great story by demonstrating how this program is geared to help students work together, regardless of age or ability. Watch the video on Donvale’s Vimeo channel

            Inspiration: Forty percent of students in Australia attend a private or independent school, so these schools are on the top of their game to stand out and make an impression. With school choice and open enrollment becoming an ever more prominent topic in the states, school marketing will continue to be essential to public schools as well as private and charter schools. Set your school apart from the competition. What does your school do better than any other? What are your premier programs or services? Tell your story. Your website and social media should be filled with the great things going on within your classroom walls.

            Example Event Video: Pymble Ladies’ College serves students from kindergarten to year 12. In 2016, the school opened a new sports complex. As part of their promotional campaign, they shot a marketing video to tell a story, not only about the new complex but about the history and culture of the school. I love this video because they don’t just talk about the facility; they interview alumni, parents, and students. The video includes some footage of the opening ceremonies, but the best part is at the end where the students talk about the things they love about the new facility. Watch the video on Pymble’s Vimeo channel.

            Inspiration: If you have an event, designate a videographer or, at least, a photographer. Get some quotes from the attendees, show off your event, and put something together to share through your communication channels. Often a lot of our marketing efforts go into promoting events and encouraging people to attend. It’s a mistake not to continue your school marketing after the event is over. A video, feature story or slide show on your website and social media can engage your community members who were unable to attend your event. 

            As you seek your own inspiration, remember, there’s a fine line between imitation and inspiration. I came across the following quote when thinking about this topic: “Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but clones kind of get it wrong because we are promoting individuality and being proud of being [ourselves]” (Brian Molko, musician). Don’t hesitate to seek inspiration in what other schools are doing to market themselves, but make sure inspiration doesn’t become imitation. Don’t be a clone; show off your school’s individuality and pride!  

            395220
            The Hard Work of Changing Public Perception
            2018-07-10
            Change perception and earn respect

            Nationwide, schools in the United States have a public relations problem. It would seem they could fix these problems with some well managed strategic communications and marketing efforts, right? But, the problem goes deeper than that. It isn’t even entirely a perception problem; some of it is a reality. We must respond to these issues quite differently. 

            For starters, let’s talk about perceptions and why there is such a divide between what we think of ourselves and how others view us.

            The image disconnect

            Anyone capable of being honest with himself or herself will admit that we don’t judge others by the same measure we judge ourselves. Not because we are selfish and egocentric either, but because we factor in our good intentions. We seldom do that for others simply because we don’t know their intentions. It is human nature. Until we are capable of reading minds and hearts, it will remain that way.

            What is an educator’s self-image? Based on my own unscientific research, here is how most of my educator friends and family see themselves.

            • I am dedicated and hard working.
            • I give generously of my knowledge, compassion, and time daily.
            • I have a big heart, putting the needs of others before my own.
            • I am inclusive, altruistic, selfless, passionate, and caring.
            • My career and my expertise are undervalued and unappreciated.

            The perception gap

            First, recognize that public perception varies significantly between how people feel about their child’s school and how they feel about schools nationwide. Parents often give their local schools an “A”  or “B” grade, but when being polled about U.S. schools nationwide, the perception is far less rosy. (52% are dissatisfied with K–12 education nationwide. 79% are satisfied with their own child’s education. Gallup 2017)

            Now, to see the perception gap, let’s look at how others describe educators nationwide. (Overhead comments, online forums, articles, surveys, etc.)

            • There are too many bad teachers, but bad teachers don’t get fired
            • Education degrees are an easy major. Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
            • Educators work fewer hours, get summers, breaks, and all holidays off but complain about not making salaries like those working 12-month jobs.
            • Educators are: whiny, uncaring, unprofessional, selfish, entitled, lazy, and bored.

            Yes, anyone in education could debate, heatedly, how unfair or faulty such perceptions may be and what causes them. But, as you know, perception is reality, so we must address what we know. Our excuse has been that we are too busy educating students; we don’t have time to market ourselves. We shouldn’t need to, right? 

            If only that were true.

            I’m sure we would all agree that the media has heavily influenced nationwide perceptions. And, unfortunately for educators, many news and opinion outlets are far more interested in telling salacious stories or promoting their own agendas than acting as cheerleaders for schools. But to be fair, media rationale (and advertising dollars) is that we humans are attracted to the most sensationalist stories, and they would be right. After all, Jerry Springer has been on the air for 27 years now. So, what are our options?

            How to bridge the perception gap?

            First of all, we must be honest with ourselves. Some of these perceptions are not simply a public relations problem. Some are truths that educators need to address. If schools want respect, they must earn it by fixing those problems. If the perception is unfair, change it by telling your side of the story and proving your case.  

            Maybe you can’t make such changes for the whole nation from your little corner of the world; there are too many complexities involved. But as a school, you can change perceptions within your area of influence—and possibly far beyond your school boundaries. 

            In the book, The Way Back, How Christians blew our credibility and how to get it back, by Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock, they discuss similar perception problems for Christians. I know, separation of church and state and all of that, but bear with me; the comparison provides some relevant solutions. The authors point out that to positively change the minds of the masses, you have to walk your talk. Their term was to “be all in.” 

            How can we apply similar principles to the negative perceptions about American education?

            Changing hearts, minds, and perceptions

            Let’s take a few of the negative perceptions we mentioned and look at some ways to alter those perceptions. Educators can address some of these issues by improving communications, by telling their stories, and through their public relations efforts. Otherwise, those that are fact and not just a faulty perception will need to be addressed head-on and changed.

            1. Perception: Bad teachers are protected and seldom terminated.

            What adult or student hasn’t known at least one poor teacher? Most school employees and principals also know which teachers are sub-par. So, when poor teachers’ jobs are secure due to tenure, union protections, or laws, the reputation of all educators is marred. No amount of public relations will convince the public that educators are deserving of their admiration when other educators appear to protect those who are unsatisfactory.

            Solution? Raise the bar. If that means changing tenure laws, union contracts, or state laws, give educators the right to reward the best and remove those who won’t or can’t meet higher standards. In any field where poor quality is ignored or protected, the whole industry suffers by association. (Consider how industries like politics or Hollywood are perceived, based on the lowest common denominators.)

            Then, in addition to fixing the flaws in the system and making sure your publics know about those fixes, make sure you create a communications strategy that will highlight the quality, skills, and successes of your staff. That means finding and sharing with your publics on a regular basis through your school website, social media, recognition programs, and local media.

            2. Perception: Education degrees are an easy major

            There are many studies showing which college curriculums are the easiest, and education is typically one of them. There is a saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” 

            One reason this perception exists might be that teachers are ubiquitous. There are approximately 3.6 million full-time equivalent (FTE) public and private school teachers in the U.S.(1) Parents most likely have more contact with the teaching profession than any other professional group (compare it with the time people spend with doctors or nurses or CEOs). For example, there are only 340,000(2) career firefighters and 900,000 policemen(3). Roughly 55.9 million students are enrolled in either public or private schools(4), so that is a lot of parents engaging with educators. 

            Everyone has had a teacher. So, some people believe they know what educators do and could do it themselves. Others believe it is glorified babysitting. The increase in homeschooling in the past few decades lends credence to the idea that more and more parents feel quite capable of teaching. Although many homeschooling parents say their main reason for homeschooling was their concern about school environment—safety, drugs, and negative peer pressure. Their concerns about academic quality usually came in second. There are now approximately 2 million home-schooled students(5). 

            Solution? Many of the negative perceptions related to educational careers can be improved through strategic communication efforts. Our personal experiences bias our perceptions, for good or ill. To change others’ perceptions, we must show a more accurate perspective. Warning: this effort must be authentic and honest. It must be a consistent effort throughout the year if you hope to change minds and hearts. For some communication ideas about how to get started, try: Telling Your School’s Stories.

            3. Perception: Educators work fewer hours, get summers, breaks, and all holidays off but complain about not making salaries like those working 12-month jobs.

            The majority of adults working full time in this country average 47 hours per week(6). 33% of employed people also worked for some period of time on the weekends. This is more hours than in other countries. Americans also receive fewer vacation days and often don’t take all the time they are given. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when parents working long hours know that schools are closed and parking lots are empty before they ever get off of work.(7)

            Of course, sometimes others are not aware that, like any respected profession, there is a lot that goes into being an outstanding educator. For teachers, there are the extra hours of grading papers and preps for the next day. Some schools also require extra-curricular duties from bus duty to club sponsors. There are also ongoing professional development and teacher education requirements. For administrators, they typically are required to work 12 months of the year and, like their counterparts in business, they have meetings and deadlines that require them to get the work done, regardless of the “normal” work-day hours.

            Solution? As with the solutions mentioned previously, this too is tied to using communication to give others a glimpse into our world and helping them understand that it is the years of education and experience that allows educators to be effective. Just as a brain surgeon’s hourly fees for a few hours of surgery seems exorbitant, they are paid for their years of expertise and experience.  

            Educators have to work a bit harder to share the evidence of their work. The proof, like parenting, is not something you see immediately but over many years of diligence and consistency. They have to let parents know that they care about the individuals in their charge. Teachers must bring the successes and progress to the attention of busy parents, or parents won’t be aware of it. The surgeon’s evidence is immediate. The patient lives or dies. For educators, the patients languish or reach their potential over many years, and the educator seldom gets credit for the successes. School communication, tied with customer service and public relations can provide the evidence and trigger the emotion that can change those negative perceptions. It takes consistent, strategic effort by all the school’s staff to bring these messages to light. Learn from: Why School Marketing Matters, Public Relations for Schools, and From Good to Great: School Customer Service.

            4. Perception: Educators are: whiny, uncaring, entitled, lazy, and bored.

            I’m sure all professions have their share of people who might leave impressions like those listed above. We’ve all had experiences where we have even seen such examples. But, complaining about the unfairness of it all when we feel unfairly judged can lead to confirmation of those very opinions. A much more powerful approach might be to prove them wrong through our actions.

            Solution? Use multi-pronged communication strategies to: show them caring, show them being unselfish, show them as dedicated in spite of challenges, show them being generous, show them working hard, show them being excited about their work and their students. Encourage other staff members to live their intentions; then make their stories a regular part of your communications and public relations strategies. 

            Consider what the public often sees of educators outside of their local school events. The last thing I saw, just yesterday, in fact, was a news segment about a teacher strike where angry, strident individuals were waving signs, demanding a raise. That scene made the news, and regardless of how worthy the cause, the sound bite can easily reinforce the very perceptions schools are trying to combat. If I don’t have a child in school to counteract these perceptions, negative perceptions will persist. If schools don’t take steps to counteract the negative messages with positive ones, who will? Don’t let others control the messages because they are seldom in your schools best interest. Check out: Your Most Powerful School Marketing Tool, Telling Your Stories and Simple Rules of Word-Of-Mouth Marketing.

            What’s a school to do?

            You must be all in. You have to get everyone at your school to be all in as well. That means you must hire staff who believe in your cause. They must believe they can make a difference and are valued. They must value others. How can educational leaders encourage such actions? 

            • Be the example. You might feel alone, but you are not. It is only a loud, uncivil minority that attempts to grab the stage. But, behind these noisy, negative naysayers, millions of Americans want to trust and respect our profession. They want to believe they can entrust their children, and all of our futures, to committed and dedicated educators. You have to show them proof that they can. Be all in, and your actions and attitudes will go viral, at least within your scope of influence. And that is a start! You are NOT entitled to respect. The minute you recognize that and begin to earn it, perceptions will begin to change.
            • Show them proof. You do this with strategic communication. You do it through the stories you gather and share with your publics. You do it in the priorities you select for your staff. You must recognize that if you don’t show the naysayers proof, they will never know that their perceptions are wrong. You must replace negative perceptions with positive ones. Select very specific goals, and prioritize your communication efforts around those goals. Create a communications plan that uses every channel of communication available in your community. This takes planning and follow-through. It takes training, inspiring, and recognizing successes.
            • Make communication a priority. You must weave these efforts into the very fabric of your school culture. Everyone should be engaged in looking for great examples of success and progress. Customer service should be a part of your school brand. Relationships should be more important than the test scores. Using communications daily, in every channel, not only works but makes everyone’s job a lot more fun! 

            To return to our earlier comparison of the book about the perceptions I mentioned, a small sect of outliers went from anonymity to world-wide influence. They did it because they were all in. They shared the miracles they witnessed, and their commitment changed the beliefs of the Romans and eventually, much of the world. 

            What miracles happen within your schools that you aren’t sharing?

            I’ll bet you witness miracles nearly every year in your profession. Do you see and help the discouraged find inspiration? Do you witness those who are failing as they learn to thrive? Do you observe minds engaged and excited that will achieve dreams beyond their current potential? These are the proofs that will change perceptions if you’ll only pull back the curtain and proudly share these miracles with our sometimes cynical nation. 

            When we are committed, when we are all in, we don’t simply wring our hands at how misunderstood we are; we roll up our sleeves and get to work. We don’t demand; we demonstrate our value. If we don’t, we have no right to complain about not being respected. When we do, we are respected. If you work in the field of education, be all in to make a difference, and then share the results of that hard work. The rest will take care of itself!

            Public Relations for Schools
            1. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
            2. https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/Firefighter-Accountability/articles/1063922-Top-12-firefighter-facts/ 
            3. http://www.nleomf.org/facts/enforcement/ 
            4. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
            5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling_in_the_United_States
            6. http://news.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx
            7. http://cbcse.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/The-MismeasureofTeachingTime-SA-1.14.15.pdf
            372216
            Claiming Your School Brand
            2018-07-03
            Superhero revealing the word Brand on his chest

            In an Indian fable, The Blind Men and the Elephant, six blind men offer their definition of an elephant based on limited parts of the large animal. Each blind man defines the elephant much differently. To the man touching the broad side—the elephant is like a wall. To the man holding the tusk—the elephant is like a spear. To the man holding the ear—the elephant is like a fan. To the man holding the tail—the elephant is like a rope. To the man holding the leg—the elephant is like a cow. To the man holding the trunk—the elephant is like a snake. 

            Like the blind men in this fable, the community members surrounding your school offer definitions of what your school means to them. Rather than let the blind men alone define what the elephant is, wouldn’t it have been better, in some ways, if the elephant could have spoken to the travelers and explained its various parts and their important roles? Well, realistically elephants don’t talk. Luckily your school can—if you give your school a voice! So, don't give your power away and let others define your school for you. Claim your school’s brand for future, current, and prospective students and faculty.  

            Effective School Branding

            So what is a school brand anyway? When thinking about “brands,” you might picture product name brands such as popular snack or soda items. In the school world, your brand is much more. Your brand is what defines your school. According to Alina Wheeler, a brand is known as the promise, the big idea, the guide, and the expectations of those involved. School branding also includes making an emotional connection with your institution. In this blog, we’ll help you see beyond colors and logos to identify your school brand; then we’ll discuss three core principles at the heart of effective school branding that facilitate successful marketing for schools. Alina Wheeler, a brand is known as the promise, the big idea, the guide, and the expectations of those involved. School branding also includes making an emotional connection with your institution. In this blog, we’ll help you see beyond colors and logos to identify your school brand; then we’ll discuss three core principles at the heart of effective school branding that facilitate successful marketing for schools. 

            Identify inclusively your current school brand

            When trying to identify your school brand, ask yourself: Who are we? What do we stand for? What is our mission? Also, remember, when looking at your own school, take time to look around at the variety of schools that pull from your potential enrollment pool. What is their school branding like and how are they marketing to the students in your area? 

            Here is some “homework” to consider a valuable addition to your school marketing plan:

            Task #1 List three adjectives that come to mind when you think of your school or district. 

            Consider the following sample of school descriptions: new, local, old, American, urban, national, regular, independent, parochial, good, rural, small, Christian, different, special, traditional, normal, Indian, effective, suburban, able, important, different, open, eligible, hard, ready, better, concerned, bad, free, fun, great, difficult, boring, large, low, significant, successful, full, involved, responsible, safe, big, close, fine, nice, private, easy, empty, and friendly. 

            Look to your mission statement or vision for adjectives. Think about what your school stands for—what things you focus on year after year. In this task, try to be more realistic than idealistic. 

            Task #2 Ask stakeholders to share three adjectives they would choose to describe your school.

            Are the three words you chose the same words parents would choose to describe your school? What about your students and staff? Reach out via e-mail or phone. Maybe hold a focus group with a few stakeholders. Engage parent-teacher organizations or poll your website or social media. You may even consider giving local business owners, realtors, or local government personnel a chance to describe your school or district from an outsider's perspective. You may consider combining this task with task #4. 

            Task#3 List ten positive school attributes. 

            Once you’ve narrowed down how people see and feel about your school, you need to identify the programs and services that define your school. Think of unique programs or offerings. Think of school culture or other attributes that make your school special. Don’t just think of things that matter to you as an educator; consider things that really matter to parents

            Here are some ideas: 

            • Positively engaged students
            • Quality instruction
            • Strong curriculum
            • Reasonable cost
            • Successful sports program
            • Variety of extracurricular activities
            • Beautiful school facilities
            • Inspiring library
            • Involved parents

            Task #4 Invite school staff, faculty, students and their families to share their thoughts about your school’s attributes.

            Once you list your school’s attributes, ask others to make a similar list. Consider this for your next faculty, site council, or student council meeting. You may even consider sending out an online survey; it’s much easier to do that these days than in the past (ie. Google surveys, SurveyMonkey, etc.). Think about how these attributes speak to your school audience's needs and aspirations.

            Task #5 Find common themes among the feedback. 

            Good or bad, the words you received are your school’s brand—it’s what comes to people’s mind when they think of your school. What are the common themes among the feedback you received? How would you rate your school storytelling regarding these adjectives and attributes? Is your school brand promoting loyalty? Don’t ignore the negative. Negative adjectives highlight areas where some re-branding needs to be done. 

            School branding involves the intricate weaving of values, key attributes, and experiences. If the brand you identified isn’t the brand you desire, re-work these tasks to identify your “ideal” school brand. Then apply the principles below to start implementing that brand. If you feel your school has a strong brand already, apply the principles below to reinforce that brand!

            Principles at the Heart of School Branding

            #1: Don’t do it alone.

            Just like the blind men, it’s impossible to see the big picture using one person’s perspective. That’s why, as you identify your school brand, it’s important to get input from outside your offices. Similarly, implementing and building your brand is not something your school administration can do alone and do it accurately. You will need the help of the community, faculty, students, and parents. Just as the blind men described various aspects of the elephant, various voices in your school community can help in the school branding process. Remember, branding is about defining who you are, and that extends to all aspects of your presentation, including your website.

            #2 Accuracy and consistency in your school marketing. 

            You’ve heard it said, “trust is earned.” Accuracy is a hallmark quality when it comes to gaining trust from current and prospective students and their families. With so many people involved in your school and your brand, it’s impossible to avoid mistakes in accuracy and consistency. But mistakes don’t have to define you. For starters, as you identify certain weaknesses in your school brand, try your best to learn from them, and seek ways to turn them to strengths. 

            Consider the many messages sent out from your school. How current and consistent are the images you use on your school website? Does your school letterhead match your school website? School branding also involves logos and images. Do you use different logos based on the platform you are using? Is it time to update your logo and website? Not only is it important to be consistent in the images on various school communications, but it’s important to look for ways that your school branding tells a story. Do you live in the mountains? Near the ocean? Look for ways your school branding connects your school to your local community's geography and history.  

            In the previous section, you listed key attributes for your school. Take these attributes and compare them to your current school marketing plan. Ask yourself as well as your school community: 

            • Do the attributes listed communicate our school’s identity as an institution of learning?
            • Are there messages coming out of our school community that are contrary to our school’s key attributes? What actions can we take regarding negative messages?
            •  Does our school marketing plan appropriately represent these key attributes?

             #3 Share your daily realities with effective school storytelling.

            Thanks to today’s technology, your school has an intricate web of stories shooting out into the World Wide Web every day. Through the use of social media platforms, your students and others in the community tell stories connected to your school every day. They post pictures, vent about homework and teachers, capture memories at sports events, and share stories that define your school in myriad ways. These stories are out there already—some positive and some negative. 

            So the question is—will your school be silent in the school storytelling ring, or will you speak up? Tony Sinanis, lead learner from Cantiague Elementary, Long Island, New York, explains that telling your school’s story is critical. He encourages schools to “share [your] daily realities.” Help prospective students and their families build their perception of your school based upon accurate information rather than upon misinformation, word of mouth, or outside publications. Mr. Sinanis also suggests that to influence the perceptions of our schools, schools need to create the realities they want others to see. What a concept! He suggests that this means including all voices (students, faculty, admin, parents, etc.) in your storytelling.

            In addition to using various voices, your school should also be using various online media platforms and other ways to tell your school’s story. Here are a few questions to help you measure your effectiveness in sharing your school’s stories:

            • How would you rate your success this year so far, in regards to your goals for your school communications? 
            • Do your core values exhibit themselves on your school blog, website, and other social media platforms?
            • Are you effectively and appropriately sharing your school’s successes and strengths? 
            • How are you publicizing your school’s strengths (individual and school group successes)?
            • How healthy is your school PR program? 
            • Are you utilizing a variety of means to reach a broader span of the school community?

            The Benefits

            In the fable, when the blind travelers’ perceptions differed, they lacked unity. And due to the elephant's inability to claim it’s own identity, we’ll never know if the blind men ever gained an understanding of what an elephant is. School branding is not only a good idea for your school marketing plan, it is vital. Applying the principles you’ve read about here will help get you on your way to better marketing your school. Collect your school’s stories that best manifest the key attributes that matter to your school community. Through analysis of what matters most to students, parents, and faculty, identify your core attributes as well as consistent unspoken messages through logos and images. The positive results of school branding—and sending a consistent message across the board—are TRUST and LOYALTY from your school community. All together, you will paint a collective picture of your school, and by so doing, you claim your school brand.


            How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
            393858
            Is Website Accessibility Required for Independent Schools and Private Schools?
            2018-06-26
            Inclusion is accomplished with an accessible website

            With all the talk in the past few years about ADA website compliance for schools, the focus has been on public school websites. Public school websites must comply with Section 508 as they receive federal funds. But what about those independent and private schools? 

            Some independent schools and private schools don’t receive federal funds, so where do they fit in? They want to know if their school websites also need to be ADA compliant. It’s a great question and worthy of an answer. 

            Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it might be a circuitous route to get to an obtuse legal answer because the Department of Justice has delayed their decision making and the circuit courts don’t always agree. Luckily, we’re not lawyers, so we won’t even attempt to tackle this question from that angle. But we can share what we recommend to all of our schools, regardless of their funding status. Maybe that will give you some guidelines as well.

            To comply or not to comply

            Yes, that is the question. The short answer is “yes.” There are several reasons why any school would benefit from making sure its school website is accessible. Let’s review a few of those:

            • It’s the smart thing to do. Designing your website with accessibility in mind means you will benefit from cleaner semantic code, you’ll enjoy improved browser compatibility, you will have a better overall design, and you may even enjoy higher search engine rankings. You will also be better prepared for technological changes moving forward.
            • You will reach a larger audience, making a difference to those with disabilities. You’ll make their lives easier by allowing access to your information that is more similar to those who are not disabled. You have the power to level the playing field, and that is a great feeling.
            • One of the less altruistic reasons to have an accessible school website is because it may keep you out of trouble. This trouble can come in the form of lawsuits (just ask Winn-Dixie, Target ($6 million in class damages + $3.7 million to National Federation of the Blind for attorney fees), or Blick, Hobby-Lobby, and Five Guys
            • The possibility of litigation doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, so why risk it? It will cost far less to create a compliant school website and keep it that way (just ask us, we do it daily) than it would be to respond to a lawsuit, even if you win. For example, in 2017 plaintiffs filed 814 federal lawsuits over inaccessible websites. This number is significantly higher than the 260 suits in 2016.

            Understanding how ADA website compliance may apply to you

            While your school may not fall under Title II, Section 508 requirements because you don’t receive federal funds, many courts are ruling that schools and businesses that provide services to the public fall under the Title III ADA requirements. 

            What is Title III? It states:

            Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors' offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.”

            You will notice that people with disabilities are not to be discriminated against by “places of public accommodations,” and there is a specific mention of “schools.” Is your school a place of public accommodation? The courts haven’t settled this issue yet, but as time goes by, the trending opinion seems to favor the idea that if you are open to the public for services, you are indeed a place of public accommodation. Also, the idea that a website is also a “place of public accommodation” is gaining popularity among the plaintiff’s lawyers, if the number of lawsuits filed on behalf of those with disabilities is any indication. Is it worth the risk? You decide.

            One question you might ask yourself to help determine if these requirements apply to your school is: Do I have to provide wheelchair accessible ramps and restrooms because I am a “place of public accommodation?” If so, then it is likely your website will also need to be accessible.

            If, on the other hand, you believe your school website doesn’t fall under ADA requirements, then be sure you also check your state requirements, as those might also apply. See State Regulations for Private Schools

            What’s it gonna take to get my private school website compliant?

            If you now believe that having a compliant  private or independent school website is a wise choice, you want to know what it entails, right?

            Step #1: Conducting a school website audit
            If your school website is responsive and you are on a system that isn’t a legacy software (meaning outdated or difficult to support), it will require you to begin by auditing your site. (If you are on legacy software, there might be technical or programming issues that will prevent you from correcting all accessibility issues. If you aren’t sure, contact your website provider to find out.) 

            You typically begin your website audit by using an automated website accessibility check and following up with a manual check. The automated check will give you the big picture about the issues you need to address. But no automated check (no matter what the vendor’s salesman tells you) will catch everything, and all will give you false positives. So, don’t stop with the automated check, but it is the place to begin.

            Side note: You also might want to get familiar with what a screen reader does so you can understand why you are making all these changes. (This understanding will certainly help your frame of mind.) A person with a disability, particularly the visually impaired, will use a screen reader to read your website. It is telling them what the sighted person sees. It is quite fascinating to watch. See a screen reader in action. Understanding why Alt Text, Skip Nav, or the need to navigate a website without the use of a mouse will help you see that your website compliance efforts are indeed quite useful and appreciated by those in need.

            Once you’ve done your automated site review (yes, that is on every page of your website), you want to follow it up with a manual review. It takes a real person to determine whether or not your automated check missed anything or if some of those errors it found are not a problem. (Check out our blog post on conducting a DIY website audit for more details.) To get some help, give us a call. We can either design a compliant website for you and keep it that way, year in and year out, or we can audit your existing site for you.

            Step #2: Creating a website management process
            Once you have determined what your accessibility issues are, you will begin to fix those. This corrective action is sometimes called remediation. If you are the typical human, you are likely to go for the low-hanging fruit first. So, those fixes that your content management system (CMS) provides training for to get started might be easiest. Possibly it is adding descriptive alternative text for every image on your website. Maybe it is to assure users can navigate your website using only their keyboard. However you decide to prioritize your audit findings, here’s a list of next steps:

            1. Develop and post your school’s website accessibility policy. You should link to this policy from every page of your site, and it should describe your commitment to accountability and ways for users to report any accessibility issues they have. There should also be a way to submit a complaint or issue or a way to contact the proper individual. Many of our schools use a version of this simple policy template. Or, for a more robust version, check out the NCDAE policy example from Cornell. Consult with your school attorney or board policies, of course.
            2. Make a list of any accessibility issues and prioritize them. Then confirm with your CMS provider that their system is capable of complying with WCAG 2.0 AA standards so you can begin to correct the errors you found. If their system is not capable of creating WCAG 2.0 AA compliance, you will need to work with them to update their software—or you’ll need to find a new provider. (Pick us! Pick us!).
            3. Make a plan and work that plan. Based on what errors you found and prioritized, set a timeline for scheduling your website remediation. Whether you schedule your corrective action for a few hours a week (assuming you aren’t already under review by the Office of Civil Rights), or if you have the resources, a few hours a day to get it done quickly, be consistent. If you don’t do this work regularly, your efficiency and accuracy will suffer. Then, get started!
            4. Provide training for anyone who updates or adds content to your website. This is imperative because otherwise your hard work could be undone with the very first update someone else makes to your website. They need to know specifically what to do and why, or you’ll spend all of your time fixing website errors. If you use a CMS, you can request accessibility training on their software. You may also want to provide training on general website accessibility, the what and the why of it all. People are always more willing to accept change when they understand why they are being asked to do it.
            5. Provide training to those who create documents you link to on your website. These documents must also be compliant so that a screen reader can read them as well. This is often secretaries, head teachers, headmasters, department heads, and other staff members charged with creating documents in Word, Google Docs, PDFs, spreadsheets, etc. This should include closed-captioning and transcripts for videos. We can help with this training. Check out our low cost, online ADA document training. You will also want to gradually remediate documents currently linked to from your website that are not accessible. Need document help?

            Step #3: Maintaining website compliance
            Schedule regular website checks. Once you’ve done all the work to bring your website into compliance, you’ll want to be sure it stays that way. Until you are sure everyone adding updates or content to your site is correctly trained, you’ll want to do periodic spot checks. As before, start with an automated check, and follow up with manual checks. Once you are confident that your staff is doing updates correctly, you can schedule your mini-audits more infrequently.

            Some states, like California, have passed laws that all state agencies conduct and post website certifications every two years. So, check your state laws on website accessibility mandates to see what may also be required.

            You will also want to be sure that training for any staff doing updates continues, and consider periodic training reviews so your staff can stay on top of any accessibility changes. Do this especially if and when WCAG revises standards, which as technology advances, it is sure to do.

            Step #4: Take a bow for your hard work
            Once you are maintaining an accessible school website, toot your horn. Let your community know that you care about all of your users and that you provide access to all. Do a bit of public relations and marketing and provide the local media with the information about the what and why your school assures website accessibility. It’s a lot of work to achieve and maintain this level of quality, so take a bow!

            372208
            School Marketing: Using Testimonials
            2018-06-19
            School testimonials can grow enrollment

            Whether you’re managing school marketing for a public or private school, chances are you would like to grow your enrollment. After all, more students mean more opportunities to make a positive impact in the community. And, let’s not forget, higher enrollment numbers give your school more funding, allowing you to provide more services and resources to all of your students. 

            But do you feel like you’ve done all you can do to try to market to new families? You’re using school social media to build engagement, hosting events at your school to build community, networking in parenting groups and neighborhood events, and engaging the media in successes happening at your school. 

            While these are great ways to market your school and, as a result, grow your school, don’t underestimate the power of your current and former families to assist your efforts too. Studies show that reviews and referrals are far more influential than any other form of marketing. Testimonials are a respected and valuable resource that schools don’t often incorporate into their marketing efforts—and they should. 

            Using testimonials in your school marketing efforts is based on the concept of social proof (or social influence). In technical terms, social proof is the psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation. 

            This principle applies to how parents make decisions about where to send their children to school. Parents like to “be in the know,” or at least look like they know what’s going on. And parents talk to each other about the things they have in common—usually, that conversation revolves around their children. So it naturally follows that parents talk about schools, all the time. Whether it is on your school website or comes by way of word-of-mouth, a good testimonial is social proof—a positive confirmation that your goods or services are worth an investment.  

            More than a monetary investment, your school is an investment of time and trust for the families you serve. So what better way to show other parents what a great school you have than to let them hear it from other parents? There is always more credibility hearing a testimonial from someone who has nothing to gain, than from a school employee with a vested interest. 

            How to Use Testimonials

            The best place to use testimonials is on your school website. I love this recently launched School Webmasters website for Student Choice High School (SCHS) in Tempe, Arizona. SCHS offers a unique educational experience, tailoring classes to fit the needs of students who struggle to learn in the traditional setting. Students at SCHS receive individualized instruction and personalized attention and class sizes are kept small so students can focus, pace themselves, and achieve success.

            My favorite feature of the website is the testimonials scattered throughout the pages. 

            Scroll down a little on their homepage and you’re greeted with three quotes: one from a parent, and two from community partners, all attesting to the caliber of the programs and staff at Student Choice High Schools. 

            Screen shot from Student Choice High School showing testimonials.

             

            Screen shot of sidebar from Student Choice High School's website. Image shows links to testimonials and a student quote.

            In fact, testimonials are used throughout the pages in the sidebars. 

            Navigate to the “Choose SCHS” page and the sidebar  (see the image on the right) proudly displays several links to letters of recommendation for the school provided by parents and community partners. Further down in the sidebar is a student testimonial as well.

            A simple rule to follow when placing a testimonial on your school website is to keep it brief—one or two lines is ideal if used graphically—and longer testimonials should be placed on a page of their own.  

            Make It Easy

            Your school supporters want your school to succeed and will be happy to contribute to the school's success by showing their support. So, don't be afraid to ask for testimonials! 

              • Ask teachers to help gather positive comments (maybe forms are available during teacher conferences).

              • Ask the office to have forms available for parents to complete—with a checkbox where they can check and sign an agreement to let you use their comments on the website or in a brochure.

              • Add a feedback form right on the website to collect parent, community member, or alumni testimonials. Let them also upload a headshot to place next to their testimonial. This adds legitimacy and a personal touch.

              • When you have an event or program, get a testimonial from parents whose children were involved, and include that with the article.

              • Ask for them from alumni. There is nothing more powerful than hearing from those who once attended your school and went on to accomplish their goals, crediting a teacher or school with their start on the right path.

              • Get the PTA or PTO to collect testimonials--and use them on your website. You can turn these into graphic elements and use them as part of the overall theme of the design. We do this for our clients and it adds a professional touch to the website. 

              Testimonials are a great way to prove that your school climate is nurturing and effective. They provide first-account endorsements for your teachers, your curriculum, and your leadership abilities. And even better: they’re free. 

              Get started using testimonials today. Oh, and encourage parents to also post their positive comments on parent evaluation sites like Great Schools as well. Invite those who provide positive testimonials to share their comments by giving them links directly to sites that review your area schools. New and prospective parents often use review sites to decide which school is best suited to their child’s needs. Make sure your school shows up and shines! 


              How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
              393512
              7 Strategies for Effective School Communications
              2018-06-12
              School communications umbrella

              What is effective school communication? Most people would acknowledge that it is critical to the success of our school, but it is a broad topic and difficult to pin down. 

              It sounds simple enough, right? 

              Merriam-Webster says it is “the interchange of thoughts or opinions.” I think the use of the word “interchange” is significant, as it indicates mutual give and take.

              What communication isn’t

              I think we would all agree: Talking is not necessarily communicating. Real communication is not a one-sided affair. 

              The real goal of effective communication, whether it is in our schools or with our spouse, children, or co-workers, is to share information or ideas with the desired result that the recipient understands our meaning and sees our point of view. I didn’t say they agree with our point of view, but they at least see it. 

              The most effective communication is usually about “we instead of me.” Let’s not do our schools or professions the disservice of merely talking and then feeling like we’ve done the work. As in any relationship we value, let’s put in the effort to do it right.

              School communication strategy: what it includes

              As a former public relations director, I always had a hard time describing where public relations ended and the other communications areas began. Because most American schools can’t afford to have specialists in each of the areas that fall under the communications umbrella, some of the overlapping areas are often neglected, and our communication effectiveness can become counterproductive. 

              For example, can you think of a company that has strong marketing efforts, but their customer service fails? Or maybe a company where social media is edgy and fun, but their public relations is always in crisis mode? For me, an example is McDonalds. Their marketing was compelling, but my personal experience with their customer service belied their marketing promise. The exact opposite happened for me with Chick-fil-A. I wasn’t familiar with their marketing messages or their brand, but my initial customer service experience with them simply blew me away. It was only after positive experience (consistently, in different locations) that I even noticed their ads. In my experience, they maintain a cohesive and effective communications message with their customer service, marketing, social media, branding, and public relations. This shows in their competitive success. 

              How can you get your school to do the same? 

              What’s under the school communications umbrella?

              When you consider your school’s communications strategies, go for consistency (everything you do should support your school’s mission) and use a multi-prong approach. Here are some of the areas that contribute to truly effective school communication strategy. Include them all!

              #1 Customer service
              Early in my career, I was a school secretary. As I look back on that job experience, I recognize that I failed at one of the most important aspects of the job. Why? I didn’t know it was expected. It wasn’t part of my training. It evidently wasn’t very important. Or was it? 

              In retrospect, I realize it was one of the most important services I could have provided to my customers (and yes, parents, students, and school staff were my customers). One aspect of my job was to provide great customer service. Based on my experience working with schools in the decades since (and yes, I’m that old), this expectation in many schools hasn’t changed much. It needs to. In a big way. Every single school employee should receive customer service training—or at least understand its value to their customers and to their jobs.

              Each of us connected with a school, whether we are staff, volunteers, or administrators, are representatives of that school. We represent what it stands for through our words and actions. We are there to serve. If we don’t, we will create gaps and challenges to effective communication. 

              Does your school have the reputation of the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Ritz-Carlton? Your answer will depend on what you expect of your staff. Do your teachers make sure they have a positive contact with parents before contacting them about a problem with a student? Do you have a cranky receptionist in the front office? Do your office phones go unanswered (or are callers consistently forced into an automated phone system—which isn’t answered)? I’m guessing, unless you have customer service training in place, there is room for improvement.

              Yes, we know that in your heart, you are a caring, dedicated professional. You are proud of the work you do and the difference you make in the lives of others. But, as educators, we often make assumptions that are not based in reality. Our customers form their opinions based on our actions, not on our admirable intentions. Our customers are the reasons we have careers. They want to feel welcomed, valued, and understood. They need our assistance while maintaining their dignity. 

              What do schools do wrong? Sometimes we don’t hire for the right qualities (warmth, empathy, optimism), and other times we don’t train correctly. We should include customer service training for every school employee and volunteer as part of any onboarding or new hire process. If we don’t set expectations, we are not likely to see success. These expectations usually come from the leadership in the form of written expectations, examples set, and recognitions made.

              Great customer service in schools improves communications at every level. It builds trust, creates positive relationships, reduces problems and misunderstandings, increases enrollment, and reduces staff turnover. If you don’t do anything else to enhance your communications strategies, put your efforts into creating a remarkable school customer service environment.

              Get started with our complimentary eBook: How to Create Sensational School Customer Service.

              #2 Website management
              Your school websites are likely to be the first impression your schools make with a potential customer, whether a parent, student, or prospective staff member. A school’s website is also a parent’s primary go-to resource for information. But, to be an effective communication resource, there are several important factors that the best school websites maintain:

              • #1 - Keep it current. This is critical. If the latest information isn’t on your school website when your customers go there, you are sending the message that it isn’t a reliable communication resource. They may not come back.
              • #2 - Match skill sets and training to the job. Your school website is not a technology project. It is a communications project. It is the most visible and frequented information resource your school maintains. If not done well, it can do more harm than good for your public relations, branding, and reputation. It shows the public what you believe in, or possibly what you don’t. It requires skills like those focused on in this article: public relations, marketing, and all aspects of communications. Who is managing your school websites?
              • #3 - School-level websites matter. Many public school websites include a district website and individual school sites for the various buildings and grade levels. This is very smart. Once a parent enrolls a student, they seldom visit the district or main office website. They instead go directly to the source that contains the information specific to their child’s activities. They don’t want to wade through the business end of your school district website each time. They want the information that impacts their child. So, make sure it is worth the visit. Grade level sites, the district MVPs.
              • #4 - Incorporate website best practices. From the tone and word choice to navigation and content, maintain best practices. That includes knowing what taboos to avoid as well. 
              • #5 - Create and maintain an exceptional school website. This useful eBook will get you started!

              #3 Social media management
              There is an old adage that says, “If you want to catch fish, fish where the fish are.” Well, today, the fish are on social media. If you don’t engage there, you are missing the interchange with a majority of your customers. Used in conjunction with your school website, you have powerful tools at your disposal. Interest and engage them on their social media, and send them to your website for “the rest of the story.” It is an ideal and very effective push/pull communications strategy. School Social Media Management, Part 1 & Part 2.

              #4 School public relations
              What is it? As described by the Public Relations Society of America, public relations (PR) is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” The short version is that it is about building relationships. It is your effort to influence positive attitudes. The goal is to get your audience to know, like, and trust you. It means establishing relationships with the media and your community, and it involves research, planning, implementation, and evaluation. The goal is transparent, honest, and ethical communication. If you don’t manage your school PR, you are at the mercy of others who will. If you don’t tell your own stories, you may not like the stories others tell about you. Check out our Crash Course in School Public Relations to get started. Or, let us hire someone in your community to do this for you part-time, under our tutelage with PR4Schools.

              #5 School marketing
              Some schools believe if they aren’t losing students to other nearby schools, there is no need for school marketing efforts. Those schools would be wrong. Marketing isn’t only about attracting more students or highly-qualified staff, but in highlighting your successes, telling your stories, and showing the world what is special about your school, your students, and your staff. 

              Marketing your school lets you positively influence your existing customers and the community as they learn about the great things happening at your school. You need them to know how qualified your staff is. Marketing helps you strengthen your reputation and build positive perception. It lets you move toward becoming a school of choice. Marketing is necessary and strategic. To learn how to get started, check out these articles:

              Special Bonus: For actually sticking with us this far in this article, for a limited time, you can take $100 off the price of our 50 weeks of Marketing Your School toolkit/calendar. It includes strategies, ideas, and templates that will last you for years. You’ll even receive access to the online resources to supplement the marketing calendar. Go to www.MarketingYourSchool.org and use the word “success” in the coupon area for $100 off!

              #6 School branding
              As mentioned above, in order to stand out in the minds of your customers and potential customers and to be able to compete in an age of school choice, you need two things. You need to know who you are and build a powerful brand based on that knowledge.

              We humans make most of our purchasing decisions with our heart, not our heads. Branding is about winning the heart. To learn how to go about doing just that, we hope you’ll enjoy our article and “how to” steps called “School Branding: How to Stand Out in the Crowd.

              Your brand is more than your school colors or your logo or mascot. It is the feeling invoked when people hear your school name. It can generate confidence and trust. It is a powerful tool in your communications arsenal. When used in conjunction with the other tools described here, you will be amazed at the impact you can have on your students’ education as well as their success and confidence in their future. Who could ask for more than that?

              #7 ADA website compliance
              Why, you ask, would we include ADA compliance under the umbrella of communications? One reason is that this audience is estimated to be as large as 15–20% of the population. You simply can’t and shouldn’t ignore their communications needs (especially since it is also a civil rights law in most countries). You want all your communications efforts to be enjoyed by everyone, right? We could have put website accessibility under customer service, website management, or even public relations, as it applies in all these areas, but we thought it deserved its own discussion.

              Because we’ve written reams on this subject though, we’ll summarize here. You need to make sure your school websites are accessible to those with disabilities. That means your sites will need to meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards. To find out more about what that means and how to get there, here are some articles that should help.

              Once you’ve complied with those requirements, be sure to let your customers know that your school is committed to ensuring everyone has the information they need. Provide them with a way to contact your school if they have difficulty accessing anything on your website (usually a form to complete that will help you know what it is they need and possibly a phone number to call). If you get a request, be sure to respond promptly. This way, communication is inclusive. That’s always a good thing.

              So, there you have it. Seven areas that all fall under the communications umbrella, and each is important. The lines between them blur a bit, which actually makes them easier to implement. But, if you ignore one or two, you do so at your school’s peril. 

              If you need help, you know we’re here for you, so reach out. We have services to help you integrate them all for a best in class communications strategy that will help you and your school stand out from the crowd. Happy communicating!

              371999
              The School Administrator's Dilemma: to blog or not to blog
              2018-06-05
              Hands on a computer keyboard of a school blog

              Blogging shouldn’t seem like a new fandangled idea any more, especially as you delve into your position as school marketer. You might be hearing about it in conference sessions, in articles about school social media impact, or from other education blogs. 

              Blogging for schools is not a new concept, that’s for sure.

              The goal of blogs, in general, is to connect with other people interested in the same subject. For the school marketer, this means connecting with parents, students, and the ever important taxpayer. But before you sign up for your very own school blog, let’s consider some of the pros and cons:

              Advantages of a School Blog

              • Easy to create. There are many easy-to-use blogging programs, which are often free to educators. You don’t need to have any special or technical skills like coding or HTML to start or maintain school blogs anymore.

              • You control the message. Many school administrators we work with have a love/hate relationship with various communication channels and may be apprehensive toward the idea of a school blog. Often, it is because they feel betrayed when their carefully choreographed interview is twisted beyond recognition after they see it in print (or on the local TV news). If you are in charge of marketing your school, you can overcome this apprehension. Help your administration understand that their words in a blog can’t be misquoted. In addition, there is ample space to explain things carefully and in detail. 

                Word of caution: proof your blogs carefully, and never hit that publish button when emotions are running high. If you are a school marketer, build trust with your administration one blog at a time. Our communication coordinators send out press releases for their districts on an almost weekly basis, but nothing is sent until their administrative supervisor has a chance to approve the message. 

              • You can respond to the rumor mill or media. A blog gives you a forum for an immediate response to that runaway rumor train. You can stop it in its tracks or at least present the school’s perspective in a timely manner. As you build a rapport and engage parents and community members, they will turn to your blog as a trusted source, giving you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to runaway rumors.

              • Create relationships with the media. Once you have established a readership and you blog regularly, you may find that traditional media will contact you for comments and input on other educational topics. We call that “becoming an expert in your field.” And it’s something all bloggers strive for. Your blog can create positive exposure for your school and for you because you will become a respected resource.

              • Share the good news. A school blog is a great way to highlight your school’s success in depth. Use the space to recognize staff, tell great stories, show off student achievements, and provide updates. Use it in tandem with your school website and social media platforms. Drive traffic to learn more about your programs and join you on school social media where you can give snippets of your good news. 

              • Marketing and school public relations benefits. School marketers can use a blog as a marketing and public relations tool. A school blog is your own personal electronic newspaper and can get the community involved, keep them informed, and respond to concerns. More importantly, you can build your brand. Your school brand is the exemplification of your school mission, vision, and values. A blog is an opportunity to tell the stories that show how you accomplish your mission, strive toward your vision, and demonstrate your values. 

              • Inbound marketing lead generation. A blog, which includes topics that appeal to your ideal customers and their needs, adds the type of valuable content to your school website that will draw potential customers to you. It is one of the best ways to increase your SEO rankings, which means you'll be found by those who are interested in your topics. By including a call to action (CTA) and free content for download, you can turn your blog into a lead generation magnet to be used for increasing enrollment or recruiting high-quality staff.

              • Make you real. Your blog can help parents and students get to know your school—not just your professional role, but the real person behind the role. We relate to one another as humans, and it is this quality that builds relationships, trust, and, understanding. A blog is a way to show your public your human side (especially that of your administration). And that can carry a lot of weight when needed (like when you need to educate the public about an important topic, address a controversial subject, or garner support for an important cause).

              Challenges of a School Blog

                    • It takes time. Ah, time! It is the one thing of which you have very little to spare. If you are going to start a blog, you need to schedule it into your day and absolutely commit to it. To make a school blog successful, we highly recommend using an editorial calendar to plan out topics and posting times. The time you take to organize upfront will pay off as your blog gains readership.

                    • It takes patience. Most successful blogs don’t happen overnight. It takes patience and perseverance. An effective and informative blog will enjoy word-of-mouth growth, but that takes time. So, if you commit to this, plan to hang in there.

                    • It takes thick skin. Yes, your words and intentions can be misunderstood. That can be frustrating. Also, people who feel anonymous will say things in comments that they would never say face-to-face. An effective blogger learns how to respond to both positive and negative comments.

                    • It takes motivation. You need to decide if creating and maintaining a blog for your school is for you. It could be an individual blog that only you write, or you could involve others and make it a group blog you take turns posting. But, however you do it, you’ll want to be sure there is enough motivation behind the process to see it through.

                    Next steps:

                    Learn more about the ins and outs of creating effective communication using a blog. We highly recommend the book “The School Administrator’s Guide to Blogging: A New Way to Connect with the Community” by Mark J. Stock. 

                    Check with other schools or administrators who keep up a blog to see how they do it. Eric Sheninger is an administrator who has been blogging for years and has become very successful at it. For a great example, check out his blog titled “A Principal’s Reflections.

                    Because a blog takes time and commitment, maybe you’ll need a little help getting it done. For that we recommend a communications coordinator. School Webmasters PR4 Schools service line affordably hires and trains a part-time communications coordinator to help your school meet your communications needs—and that could include getting a school blog up and running! 

                    Happy Blogging!

                    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                    393509
                    School Branding: How to Stand Out from the Crowd
                    2018-05-22
                    Superman with school branding on chest

                    When many parents select a school for their child, they are selecting with their heart, not their mind. This is actually how we make most of our purchases as well. Branding is about winning the heart. It is an intangible. A feeling. An emotion. 

                    All the other “things,” you probably associate with a brand, like a logo, colors, and website design, are only the visual identity of that brand. Unless yours is a well-known brand, it isn’t likely that most people who see your school logo or school colors will have a strong emotion associated with those images. But creating emotion and a feeling of belonging that others associate with your school is the goal and what branding is all about. When you can accomplish that, you’re a rock star, and your school will be as well.

                    Why bother?

                    A book that educators who want a deeper understanding of school branding should read is called BrandEd: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning. In their book, authors Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin translate traditional brand strategy into its educational counterparts. They summarize that a brand is basically about belonging. We all want to belong, and when we identify with a brand, we belong to that tribe. Businesses work hard to encourage us to identify with their brand and become members of their tribe—and they spend massive amounts of marketing and branding dollars to achieve it.

                    But what about schools? They don’t have massive budgets to spend on branding. They aren’t “selling” a product. But, they must create a strong brand if they hope to be influential and effective and to build trust. When communities, families, and schools work together to support learning, research shows that children tend to do better in school—much better. 

                    To create that unity, with everyone working toward the same goal (student learning and hopefully a lifelong love of learning), you must invite others to believe in and identify with your brand. It’s about telling your stories, sharing your successes, and providing an inside look to those who are outside. Why bother with branding? Because you want your students to have the best possible chance at success. You want your community to be proud of and support your school, especially in this environment of school choice. You want to attract the elite teachers and staff. Branding can help you make that happen.

                    What do you think you stand for?

                    The first step in building a positive brand for your school is to understand what the current perception is, or if it even exists in the minds of your public. It is easy for those who work in a school to assume they have a good handle on how parents and community members think about education. But, it is likely their viewpoint is biased. Those whose school experience was negative, or even painful, are unlikely to go into education as a career. So the mere fact that you are working at a school means you may have a different perspective about the value school provides than many of your parents and community members. 

                    So, step one would be to gather other’s perspectives. And the more you engage parents and other community members in the process of building your brand, the more powerful that brand will be. Consider a survey. They are easy to implement and provide you with valuable information to discover your current brand status. Promote it through your students (offer rewards for the first class that gets 100% completion of the survey by their parents). A pizza party will work wonders. Post it on your mobile-friendly website. Here are some sample parent survey questions to give you some ideas. Or, keep it simple and start with simple parent survey questions like these:

                    1. What three adjectives (or emotions) immediately come to mind when you think about our school? (Examples: welcoming, supportive, inclusive, inspiring, intimidating, boring, etc.)
                    2. How likely is it that you would recommend our school to a friend or neighbor? (rated from “not at all” to “extremely likely”)
                    3. What changes would our school have to make for you to give it a higher rating?
                    4. What do you like most about our school and our services?
                    5. What suggestions do you have to help us improve our school and services?

                    Be sure to survey your staff and students as well (although you may need different survey questions for them). Or, if you really want to simplify, just ask what three words come to mind when you say (insert your school name here). You will learn a lot about where you are now from a brand perspective.

                    What do you want to stand for?

                    Your next step is to come up with your key messages. What is it you want your school to be known for? What three words do you want people to associate with your school? If you don’t create your own messaging, people are likely to think of the last negative thing they heard about the school. Your branding goal is to provide a steady stream of messaging that provides proof of the many positive things happening at your school.

                    You could start by making a list of your school’s 5–10 best attributes. Now, see how those might align with your survey results. Are there areas where the perception doesn’t match with your known strengths? If so, those are your branding weaknesses and something you can work on changing. For the attributes that do align with current perceptions, create messaging to highlight those strengths.

                    It is also likely that your school has similarities with nearly every school in the country. However, you need to identify some differentiators that you can express. It might be the students you are targeting (ages, interests, parent concerns, culture or religion, etc.). Or maybe it is specialized curriculum or services you provide (arts, STEM, athletics, values, 1:1 technology, etc.). Maybe it is location, history, reputation, or status. Identify why you should be the first choice for parents looking for what you offer.

                    Naming your brand vision

                    Now, how would you describe your school to someone in a 30-second elevator ride? That is the next step in your school branding adventure. This includes your school’s value proposition—what value you bring to your audiences. Not sure what yours is? This value proposition worksheet might help. Whether you use your school’s mission or vision statement or simply a series of words that define what you want to represent, everyone must believe in the goal. Your vision statement or tagline (whatever you use to define your brand description) should become a reference point in your communications goals. It should be a reminder of what your school’s focus is. 

                    Unlike so many mission statements that are a laborious creation that ends up as a meaningless statement tucked away in a handbook, yours should be a living, breathing goal. So, make it count. If your school’s goal is to produce responsible, self-reliant, and contributing adults, how is responsibility modeled and rewarded? Are the values your brand claims being taught? Are teachers incorporating teachable moments in the classroom that highlight one of your brand goals? Do some of your school stories show evidence of that success? If you say you meet the needs of each child, do you have stories about how you differentiate instruction for individual students or use small group instruction successfully? This is how you create an honest brand image and make a brand goal a reality.

                    Be sure everyone knows what that vision (brand goal) is. Share examples with your staff when one of their peers models some aspect of it. Repeat your school’s vision in your morning announcements. In the excellent book, The Power of Branding, the author describes how one of his elementary schools went so far as to include the community. He told parents on Facebook that the first five people to find the principal and tell him the school’s vision (tagline, mission, etc.) would get a school t-shirt. He says the response was amazing, and they had all internalized the message as a byproduct. 

                    Telling your school’s stories

                    So, you have selected a brand goal, or maybe it is only a wish at this point. You know what you want and strive to be. This is called your brand promise. The next step is to provide evidence that this promise matches up with their brand experience. This is where school communications matters, when you’ve earned their trust, and success thrives. We also mentioned that an effective brand creates emotion and a feeling of belonging. The most valuable way to create an emotion and help people feel an affinity for what we believe in or who we are is to share a story.

                    Our brains don’t typically remember facts and figures for long, but a story can be 22x more memorable. Listening to facts only activates two areas of our brain (language processing), while listening to a story activates our whole brain (including emotion and sensation). So, building a positive brand for your school will in large part depend on your ability to gather and share your stories.  Learn more about Telling Your School’s Stories.

                    Making it visual

                    Now it is time to tie your brand, the “what you want to be known for” with your visual images. They will need to be consistent with your vision. Do they enhance your reputation and reinforce your brand image? If not, it is time for a redesign. 

                    Once created, you need to maintain the integrity of all your careful strategy by making sure everyone knows the brand “rules.” If you don’t, before you know it, the IT department will tweak the font to something techier. The high school art department will jazz up the mascot. And the kindergarten teacher, well..., you can only imagine. So, create a simple set of rules that everyone can follow. In the business world, it is often called a brand bible. It will include which fonts your school allows in print and on the website, font colors and design colors (both print and web), logo or mascot placement rules, and links to approved logos and mascots. Use it, enforce it, and remain consistent.

                    Include your logo and colors on your signage, busses, uniforms, spirit items, stationery, business cards,, forms, school website, and social media. Your school website is the front and center example for this, so check it in each of the following areas:

                    • Visually: Is your brand represented consistently across all channels (logo, mascot, colors, fonts, design elements)? They should also be the same on your social media, newsletters, and signage.
                    • Tone and voice: The overall tone should reflect your desired brand image. Are you welcoming? Artistic? Active and sporty? Techy? Your tone and word choice can build on your visual brand images.
                    • Fonts: The font choice needs to be consistent. Don’t switch it up just because you get bored with the tried and true—it is tried and true for a reason. Typically two fonts on the website are all you need (one for text and another for titles and subtitles). And PLEASE don’t use comic sans, period.
                    • Messaging: What are the key talking points that represent your school’s values? Are you using stories and testimonials to validate these messages and reinforce your brand?
                    • Design: Are consistent design elements reflected throughout your schools’ websites? Are the colors congruent from page to page? Does the design support your desired image, whether preppy, vocational, elementary level, or traditional? 

                    Want to rate your website management in each of these five areas? Try our Website Branding Report Card.

                    Get your school brand out there

                    In summary, once you have the vision, design, tone, and rules in place, take your message to where your audience is:

                    • Include links to your school social media on your website and the newsletters or flyers you send home. Create hashtags for those important keywords for which you are branding.
                    • Let parents and the community become familiar with your brand and your values through the friendly, conversational medium of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
                    • Tell stories on your website and through social media that provide proof that you live your values. Use testimonials, videos, and photos to reinforce your brand.
                    • Involve staff, parents, and students in the branding process. Make sure everyone knows the focus and purpose, and then share the branding successes with them while acknowledging their efforts.

                    Finally, help all of your staff members understand the value of customer service, a welcoming atmosphere, and how their words, actions, and even facial expressions are a representation of your school’s brand.

                    So, get busy branding your school. Your school brand is what people think when they hear your name. It is your school’s reputation. It matters. It is worth the effort to do it right.

                    Note: For hundreds of additional strategies to brand and implement school marketing, check out our Marketing Your School Toolkit with 50 weeks of actionable steps. A year-long guidebook created by the experts at School Webmasters, which can be implemented by any school principal or even his/her secretary.

                    362574
                    6 Tips for Handling Your School's Reputation Online
                    2018-05-15
                    Angry boy holding his fingers in his ears

                    “...and that is why I will never trust the welfare of my child to this school AGAIN!!”

                    Your school just received a negative comment somewhere online, like Facebook or Twitter, for all to see. Here’s a multiple choice question for you: 

                    How will you respond? 

                    1. Ignore it and say nothing
                    2. Delete the comment
                    3. Respond and engage the person publicly online
                    4. Respond and attempt to engage the person privately

                    The right answer? It all depends on the situation and your school social media policy. 

                    How do you envision the impact of negative comments on your community’s perception of your school? In this blog, we’ll provide some informative tips to help you take action to protect your school’s reputation online via your school blogs, website, social media, or other online sites.  

                    Tip #1: Recognize the value of putting your school online.

                    In today's world, effective school marketing involves using popular, accessible means to better reach your students and their families. In case you’re wondering whether it’s worth using social media and online school communications to help market your school, consider this recent story shared about a family in Arizona and the powerful marketing tool for schools known as social media. 

                    If you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities of social media as well as the ins and outs of it all, check out this free How-To-Guide for your school’s presence on social media

                    But don't stop at social media. Many schools are experimenting and having success with school blogs. It's a time-consuming activity, but it opens up a dialogue with your community. Two-way communications (i.e. dialogue) is an important element in your school PR efforts. A blog gives you a voice in your community; a voice to which your community can respond by commenting. Need some inspiration? Check out these principal blogs

                    Tip #2: Don’t run away.

                    In a great scene from Disney’s movie, Moana, the Polynesian princess peacefully approaches Te Ka, a huge fiery monster who feels she has been robbed. Moana is confident. Te Ka? She is burning with rage. Undeterred by Te Ka’s anger, Moana engages in the challenge, and the outcome is as beautiful as it is surprising.  

                    Don’t let your trepidations about setting up a school social media presence keep you from the benefits of using social media. Your school wouldn’t dream of leaving your phones unanswered during business hours. And you certainly wouldn’t neglect to return voice messages. With 21st-century education, it’s necessary to practice 21st-century communication and treat our online outlets the same as you would your phone lines. Your school social media activity plays a valuable role in your school communications. Posts, tweets, hashtags, or online commenters who directly involve your school merit a similar level of attention from your staff. 

                    The best advice is to equip your staff with tools for community and parent engagement. Then if your school is confronted with upset stakeholders burning with rage, your staff will be able to respond clearly, courteously, and confidently, turning a potentially volatile situation into one with a peaceful and respectful dialog. 

                    Tip #3: Solidify your overall approach to negative comments.

                    In order for your staff to stand their ground with confidence, arm them with the proper procedures to respond to negative comments. Responding to negative comments in a professional manner is a healthy ingredient in public relations for schools. 

                    It’s true that these online platforms are great ways to put your school’s best foot forward. However, the same platforms also open up an opportunity to naysayers (merited and not so much). It is easy to lash out online. So how should your school respond? As with most things, it helps to have a plan! Keep reading for the best practices your school should consider incorporating into your plan.

                    Tip #4: Define some ground rules with your community.

                    In the long run, your school community will benefit if you lay out your rules of engagement from the get-go. So, in addition to training your staff on proper responses, you can brief your stakeholders about what you expect from them by developing a “Public Commenting Policy.” Such a policy can either be simple or detailed. Here is a simple example: 

                    Simple Policy Sample

                    [School Name] is proud to share the great things happening on campus and upcoming events. If you would like to share a concern, please contact the office.” 

                    This policy simply lays out the purpose of the school’s social media presence and advises the appropriate place for concerns. The following is a more detailed policy: 

                    Detailed Policy Sample 

                    We welcome you and your comments to the Facebook page for [School Name].

                    Our intent is to inform and engage with the parents, friends, family members, and our local community.

                    We encourage you to submit comments, questions, and concerns, but please note this is a moderated online discussion site and not a public forum.

                    Once posted, [School Name] reserves the right to delete submissions that contain vulgar language, personal attacks of any kind, or comments we deem offensive or disparaging.

                    Further, [School Name] also reserves the right to delete comments that:

                    • Contain spam, advertising, or solicitations or include links to other sites
                    • Are clearly off topic or disruptive
                    • Are obscene, vulgar, or sexually explicit, including masked words (***), acronyms, and abbreviations
                    • Are chain letters, pyramid schemes, or fraudulent or deceptive messages
                    • Promote particular services, products, or political organizations or campaigns
                    • Infringe on copyrights or trademarks
                    • Advocate illegal activity
                    • Violate any school policies

                    Please note that the comments expressed on this site do not reflect the opinions and official position of [School Name].

                    Post your social media policy on your school social pages, or link to the policies on your school website. 


                    Tip #5: Understand your options on various online channels.

                    As a school facing a barrage of comments online, it’s good to know what your options are on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. 

                    Twitter

                    Twitter is rapidly becoming a “customer service platform,” according to social media experts. Your school’s followers reach out to you using Twitter because they hope for a rapid response. According to the experts, if there are complaints, questions, comments, and other interactions of the sort, you should answer them—no excuses. 

                    If someone sends you a tweet and you wish to reply, think about whether it is a matter that should be addressed publicly or privately. If the tweet could tarnish your reputation, reply to acknowledge the tweet, but suggest the conversation be continued privately via a DM (Direct Message). This approach takes the conversation off the public platform and still addresses the issue. On the other hand, if someone poses a query you wish to answer publicly, just reply directly and professionally.

                    Facebook

                    Here are a few things to know about Facebook: 

                    • You may customize your page setting to allow comments, review comments before they post live on your page, or delete comments completely. Reviewing comments before the post is a good practice for schools. It keeps unsavory comments off your page and allows you to address them privately.

                    • There is a review feature you can leave on or disable. Facebook reviews by either ratings (a simple one to five star rating) or by a review that contains a star rating and a written statement. 

                    • Remember, if you do receive a negative review, don’t panic. One negative review or rating will not permanently damage your image.

                    • If you receive a negative review (not a comment), you can click “I don’t like this review.” If it turns out to be spam or without merit, Facebook may remove it.

                    • You can reach out to the reviewer by commenting on their review post or by sending them a private message. The preferred strategy? Publically comment something like, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ll send you a private message to discuss the issue.” Private message the reviewer to discuss it. If you are able to resolve the issue and restore positive feelings, you can let them know you’re going to reply to the review and even ask for the reviewer to remove or edit their review. 

                    • You can challenge negative comments with Facebook, but it's tricky to get them removed. However, since reviews are treated like comments, you can (and should) reply.

                    • Remember, not everyone who posts negative comments is crazy. Be understanding, sympathetic, and willing to take your lumps. Consider negative comments and reviews as a little FREE consulting to improve some weakness or customer service issues.

                    A few more thoughts about Facebook… 

                    Seek out positive reviews to offset negative comments. Reach out to your parent ambassadors, staff, etc. Facebook innately displays the “most helpful” reviews. These are the reviews with the most interaction. (Like, love, and comment on your positive reviews to boost their visibility.) This is also why we recommend reaching out privately to negative reviews to avoid boosting the negative review by opening a conversation and creating the potential for other people to join.

                    Tip #6: Don't allow negative online comments to overpower your positive efforts of school branding.

                    Positive school communications, formal or not, can be a great way to fill the Internet with more of the good going on at your school. For example, school storytelling is a powerful motivating tool that chronicles the positive as well as strengthens your school brand. Storytelling for schools can be a positive response that speaks volumes to the community. School blogs are a great place to chronicle the good things happening at your school. Blogging for schools can be a great tool to put the good out there. If marketing your school is a tricky task to add to your faculty’s list of to-dos, School Webmasters has a helpful option for your School PR needs

                    Conclusion: Live Confidently

                    Think about your information consumption habits. Many of us defer to the comments or ratings section and allow the word of mouth opinions of the public to influence our decisions. For this reason, and others, social media for schools can often seem intimidating.

                    Dealing with negative feedback, much like Moana standing up to Te Ka,  particularly the public criticism online, is something all organizations face. Staying silent in the online age can be more than a little detrimental to your school. As you engage online, responding in particular to those negative comments, remember to have a plan of action, and to use various means and their options to get the good word out about your school. You may even be surprised as you face the initial naysayers instead of ignoring them.


                    393504
                    Tell Them Thank You
                    2018-05-07
                    Little boy holding sign that says Thank You

                    Here at School Webmasters, we believe that effective school communications are a part of good customer service. One doesn’t happen without the other. And, one aspect of school customer service (aka good communication) includes telling others thank you. Thank you for your contribution to our school’s success. Thank you for your commitment to our students’ learning. Thank you for your great attitude that makes working with you a joy. Thank you for helping your child succeed!

                    Learning from example

                    A while back I received a handwritten thank you note from a superintendent. And, I have to tell you, it made my day. In fact, it made my week. Not that we don’t get thank you messages from our schools, because we get them in abundance via e-mail and through the customer portal daily. But this one stood out. At first, I wondered why this seemed so unforgettable, and once I understood it, I incorporated that knowledge into my own practices.

                    So, I thought I’d share the joy and recommend this to all of you who have customers, vendors, or staff. It’s the old-school approach, and that is what made it memorable. I recommend adding this to your arsenal of good customer support, HR, and school communication strategies. Here are a few tips that a wise superintendent knew intuitively.

                    1. Be sincere. Don’t express sentiments that you don’t really mean but you think might be the expected thing to say. No need for over-the-top hyperbole; just be honest. The note our superintendent wrote just said he had worked with us when he worked in another school district and had become accustomed to our excellent service, but this past year at his new district as superintendent, he was even more impressed. He then asked that I pass his appreciation along to all of our staff—and be assured I did! For that matter, I put his comments on our website and kept his nice note on my office bulletin board for months!
                    2. Be specific. Avoid generic phrases like “thanks for all you do” but give specific examples of how they helped. This will add to the value of your appreciation. It will help them see that they had made a real difference to you—enough of a difference for you to recognize it and take the time to share your thanks.
                    3. Be brief. Use your opening paragraph or sentence to tell them what you are showing appreciation for. It is as simple as summarizing your experience and stating your gratitude. It could be acknowledging help or information they provided, recognition of a job well done, or follow-up after a meeting or contact. If they inspired you or encouraged you to get out of your comfort zone, let them know the outcome along with your thanks.
                    4. Be personal. This can be the way you send your note (mine was hand-written on a custom notecard with the school district’s logo on it—simple, classy, and professional). Or, it could be the wording you use. In my example, the superintendent referenced our services and reputation specifically—I knew it wasn’t generic. He knew who we were, and we stood out in his memory.
                    5. Proof your note. If you aren’t the best speller or grammarian around, you might compose your brief note in Word or a Google Doc first to run it through spell/grammar check, and then just hand write it from there. It is an extra step, and if you make a small error on a handwritten note, it will probably be overlooked, but considering who you are and your field of expertise, you might not want to take the chance. Typos are understood, but a handwritten note might indicate that we didn’t just move our fingers too fast along the keys but we really don’t know how to spell “apprecaite” correctly. :)

                    Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to handwrite notes of appreciation for them to be memorable—but do take the time to be sincere, specific, and say thanks. A carefully thought-out e-mail can be very effective, and a face-to-face expression of appreciation (when possible) will make someone’s day. Most of us are highly motivated when we are valued, and we enjoy pleasing those who appreciate us. 

                    When appropriate, consider showing your appreciation in front of others. This might mean cc’ing their supervisor if it is an e-mail, or if in a group setting, use their first name instead of pronouns when you voice your thanks. 

                    Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of school social media channels or to add an article to the news page of your website when appropriate. Public appreciation speaks volumes (to the individual you are thanking and to others about what you value).

                    Parents: consider making it personal

                    Parents will often struggle to find ways to tell their children’s teachers that they appreciate them. In the United States, on the Tuesday of the first full week in May, we celebrate National Teachers Day or the start of Teacher Appreciation Week. In some countries, World Teachers Day is held on October 5th. Other countries' day of honor varies, as you can see here on this list of Teachers Days. It is a calendared reminder to say thanks.

                    But, as a parent, you don’t need to wait for a specific day or week to let your child’s teachers know you value his/her contribution to your child’s education. A thoughtful, sincere note that describes something specific about what you value will be more appreciated than a dozen apples during Teacher Appreciation Week. 

                    Better yet, ask your child to tell you about something his or her teacher does that makes them like to learn, and include the example in your note. I guarantee it will be a note that makes it into that teacher’s “keepers” and is valued long after your son or daughter has moved on.

                    For some other ideas, check out our extremely popular blog called, “Showing Appreciation for Your School’s Staff.

                    Raise the bar: from school customer service to personalized service

                    As humans, we are a selfish lot. Particularly true for educators is the expression, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Those who interact with us, particularly parents, students, and staff, will feel loyalty, trust, and confidence in those they know care about them and their needs. 

                    When we can turn our school customer service into personal service, we will build a strong school brand. Our school’s and leadership’s reputation can become nearly bulletproof so long as our efforts are sincere. So, how can we do that in our schools?

                    Step #1

                    Tell them why they care. Ask yourself, are the customer service processes we’re using in our school helping our customers (staff, parents, staff) feel like they are doing business with a human or a bureaucracy? For example:

                    • Are the answers we give about why something is necessary because “that’s the way we do it here” or “it’s a rule/law/policy”? Or do we provide a reason that helps them understand how they benefit from our request?

                    This could be as simple as providing the information on your school website about why a particular student policy is in place (“It helps us protect your student’s privacy," “It helps us assure that all of our students are safe on campus,” or “It helps me understand how to best help your child learn”). Or, it might be the way we word a request, avoiding a demanding tone and passive voice in favor of a more inviting, conversational tone.

                    Step #2

                    Are we using people’s names? If we don’t know it, we can ask and then use their name in our conversation (which will also help us remember it next time). If we teach or lead, do we make an effort to learn the names of those we serve? Brain science tells us that our own first name is important to us, and when we hear it unique brain functioning activation occurs. This in itself makes our interaction a personal one. Even using your own first name makes your exchange more personal. Think about the difference between getting an e-mail from “ABC School Attendance Clerk” or “Mary at ABC School.”

                    Step #3

                    Put a face to it. If you often interact through e-mails, put a face to those conversations. It will humanize you and your school. It personalizes the communication. Add a real picture—no cheesy avatar—but just your smiling face added to your signature block will do. This is true of your school website as well. On those school directory pages, be sure you include a photo of each staff member (from the custodian to the superintendent). No exceptions (even of those people who say they don’t want their picture taken...well, unless they are in the Witness Protection Program)! They all are a part of that personal service your school provides.

                    Step #4

                    Ask questions. In every conversation you have, ask and then listen. Find out more about who you are speaking with. How long have they lived in your area? How many children do they have? What can you do to help them out? Questions, asked sincerely and heard, provide tremendous value. What is more personal than having others show they are interested in you and your needs? 

                    That’s really what effective customer service in schools is about, isn’t it? Outstanding customer service can also include finding out what your customers want from you, and a few well-targeted surveys can help with that. Then, when you analyze those surveys and implement solutions to meet some of those needs, be sure to let them know about it so they will know you heard them.

                    Make your school’s customer service a memorable experience

                    If you want to improve the relationships in your office or school, add the personal touch when showing appreciation or recognition. It only takes a few minutes, and the effects can last for a LONG time. I received a handwritten note from a superintendent several years ago, but to this day, whenever I hear this school district or superintendent’s name mentioned, I still get a nice warm feeling—and I am also quick to make sure we maintain his high opinion of us.

                    So, add showing appreciation in a memorable way to your school’s customer service repertoire. Look for opportunities all around you, or consider calendaring reminders to send out a few notes of appreciation weekly. In today’s society, where we are increasingly more isolated in a digital world, a personal thank you can stand out and bridge gaps. Give it a try!

                    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                    368346
                    Lay the Groundwork for Marketing Your School
                    2018-05-01
                    Image of the words Lay the Groundwork on corkboard

                    I’m no engineer, but I do know the value of a solid foundation. The foundation is the basis upon which something is supported. Foundations are essential for buildings, organizations, relationships, and yes, marketing plans. 

                    As we make our resolution to market our school (you’re with me on this, right?), the first step I suggest is aligning your school values to your school marketing agenda. Because this is such an essential marketing tip, I’d like to help you with this step. Let’s work together to lay the groundwork for marketing your school by defining your school values, mission, and stakeholders.  

                    School Values

                    Your school values are the ideals in which your school population believes. Values define the deeply held beliefs that define your school’s culture—who you are as a school. 

                    If your school doesn’t have a set of predefined values, do the following:

                    • Ask yourself, “What do the people at our school believe?” 

                    • Ask other administration and staff what their professional values are. Add the common answers to your list. 

                    • From your own list and the responses you receive define a few core values and e-mail them to some select people for feedback. 

                    School marketing begins with who you are, and these steps can help to shape your overall brand. 

                    I once heard a marketer say that when he sells something, he has to believe, deep down, that if his customer makes a purchase, then his or her life will improve for the better. 

                    • Do you believe the education and services your school is providing will improve lives for the better? 

                    More than anything else, your answer to that question will influence the success of your school marketing efforts. If you answered “no” or “not really,” then take a minute to figure out why you’re not buying into your school’s brand. Values are more than words; values guide attitudes, actions, and decision-making. If you don’t believe in your school's brand, then you can’t expect others to become invested through your marketing efforts. It has to start with you.

                     School Mission

                    Values determine how your school will behave, and that is where your mission statement comes in. Marketing best practices dictate that your school’s mission statement will drive all your school marketing projects. Many schools already have a mission statement in place. If this is the case with your school, then use the following questions to evaluate your school’s mission. If your school’s mission statement is undefined or a little ambiguous, then use the following questions to clarify your mission.

                    • What does your school do to support its values? Does your school believe that every student can succeed? What are some of the ways you help every student succeed? 

                    • What makes your school unique? Or even, what does your school do better than any other schools in the area? 

                    • What makes your staff unique? Or what do you do to show your staff members they are valued?

                    Key Stakeholders

                    There are lots of different words we use to define the varying groups of people that are connected to schools: publics, audiences, target audience, customer, community. The word we think fits best for school marketing purpose  is “stakeholder.” A stakeholder, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a person who is involved in or affected by a course of action. This definition encompasses all of a school’s key publics including students, staff, parents, taxpayers, boards of education, parent-teacher organizations, etc.

                    You know who your stakeholders are (and if you need help defining them better, stick with us, we’ll cover that in another post). This week we’re taking in general terms and, in general, about the needs of your stakeholder’s. Here are some questions to get you started:  

                    • Who are your stakeholders? In general, make a list of the groups that are involved in or affected by your school.

                    • What matters most to your stakeholders? Remember to think in general terms. All of your varying stakeholders do have different values on deeper levels, but on the surface, they all should have something in common—a base value that matters most. Hopefully, this will be something that aligns to your school values as well.

                    • What are your stakeholders’ “pain points?” A pain point is a problem, real or perceived that worries, annoys, or concerns your stakeholders. It’s harder to generalize pain points, but don’t try to go too in-depth here—remember, we’re just laying the groundwork at this stage. 

                    With these three questions, you should have a pretty solid foundation for understanding your school’s stakeholders. 

                    Understanding your school’s values, mission, and stakeholders is a great foundation on which to start building marketing plans. These three areas will serve as the basis for any campaign you run by helping you to answer:

                    • What do we want to accomplish? 
                    • What do we need to say? 
                    • And whom are we trying to reach? 

                    Happy School Marketing! 

                    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                    392684
                    Instagram for Schools
                    2018-04-24

                    A few weeks ago, my 15-year-old daughter competed in a music festival. I was so excited to see that her band teacher posted about it on the school Facebook page! When she got home that day, I said, “Did you see the nice FB post about the competition?” She stared back blankly. That’s right, I remembered, she doesn’t have a Facebook account. Neither do most of her friends. Their parents all do, and I’m friends with many of them there. 

                    As a parent group, we follow our school pages, allowing us the opportunity to stay updated on school events and be a part of our children’s classroom experiences (assuming, of course, the school page is being managed effectively, which ours only sometimes is, but that’s for another blog). We also update our own timelines with “mom brags,” memes about how the kids have stolen our sanity, and the occasional “mom of the year” story—an anecdote that really demonstrates we’re the exact opposite, like leaving for school drop-off without one of the kids (hey, it only happened once!)—all with the knowledge that our tweens and teens probably won’t see our posts. I showed her the FB post on my phone and asked if she wanted help setting up an account. “Nah,” she said, “He posts everything for us on Instagram; that post was probably mostly for the parents.”

                    Our tech-savvy students aren’t spending as much time on Facebook or Twitter as they used to. The reason? Their parents have invaded! A growing number of our students have turned to Instagram for their social platform of choice. In fact, 63 percent of 13 to 17-year olds use Instagram daily. Studies do show that young people begin to use Facebook more as they get older, but they aren’t giving up their Instagram accounts. What’s more, younger parents are more likely to have both, and the number of existing Facebook users who are adding Instagram to their daily social media use is growing. If schools are going to adhere to the old marketing adage, “fish where the fish are,” then it makes perfect sense to consider adding Instagram to your online communication toolbox.

                    What Is It?

                    Instagram is all about photo sharing. It’s a mobile-based platform, meaning you post photos straight from an app on your phone or tablet, not a desktop computer. It’s your go-to photo-sharing platform when you’re on the go! Instagram easily partners with Facebook, and schools using both can expand their audience by reaching parents and students alike since each platform tends to attract a different age group. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. With Instagram, you can do more than just tell followers how great your school is—you can show them.

                    Is It Safe?

                    Keeping your students safe online is a top priority. Like all social platforms, Instagram can be misused. It’s up to school personnel to ensure your Instagram account is set up properly, safeguarding your students’ privacy online. There are a few things to consider when setting up your school’s Instagram profile:

                    • Privacy Setting: I would argue that personal accounts should always be set up as “private” accounts, meaning only people you grant permission to can follow your page, but Instagram business profiles (which is the type of account schools should be setting up) default to “public,” meaning anyone can see the photos you post there. Because of this, Instagram should be considered just as public a platform as your website. If you wouldn’t post a particular photo or video on the school website for everyone to see, you shouldn’t post it on Instagram. The fact that it’s a public account brings us to our next point…
                    • Make very sure that you have photo releases on file for every student. Parents need to know that you may feature their child on your school’s public social media pages, and they need to be okay with it. And even with those photo releases on file, remember not to post the last names of the students you portray there. No name is even better. Don’t have a school-wide process for parents to give photo permissions? Check out these free templates:

                    • Location Share: There is a feature on Instagram that allows you to share the mapped location of where you took the picture. To ensure safety, turn this feature off both in Instagram and in the settings for the device you’re using to make your posts. 
                    • Stay in control of what photos post to your school Instagram account by selecting just one or two administrators to manage your posts. Page administrators should be the only ones who can log directly into the account. Other staff members can contribute photos by sending them to Dropbox or Google Drive (something I highly encourage) so the account managers can moderate which photos get published. 

                    Using Instagram Effectively

                    Because Instagram is a mobile-based platform, it’s ideal for use on the go. As your school social media manager, you can attend an event—like a basketball game, for instance—where you can take a few photos or short videos and upload them straight to your school’s Instagram right then and there. A fun caption, a branded hashtag (we’ll talk more about that in a minute), a few photos or a video (60 seconds or less), and you’re good to go! Here are five tips for leveraging Instagram’s unique and fun features:

                    1. Engaging photos & video
                      Instagram is all about the visual. The best advice I can give when it comes to choosing content is to not only know your audience but to place yourself in their shoes. If I’m a parent of a child in your kindergarten program, what do I want to see? The answer is pretty simple: I want to see how my child is learning and growing in your care. Give your audience a taste of what’s going on inside the classroom, how your teachers interact with the kids, and how the administration supports the staff and students. Most of all, reassure them that they’ve made a good choice in trusting you with their child’s education. Post photos of your students working and playing, videos of story time and show and tell, and parents and other community members volunteering on campus. Your Instagram feed should reflect your school’s unique personality, so be sure to feature programs that set you apart like STEM, IB, or Special Education. Not only will these images speak volumes about your current students having made the right choice by enrolling at your school, they will attract prospective students whose parents are looking to learn more about you.

                    2. Compelling captions
                      If the photos and short videos you post are the meat of your Instagram feed, the captions you include are the potatoes. Crafting an effective line of text to go with your images can be the difference between likes/comments and, well, no likes or comments. Since Instagram’s algorithm favors posts with more engagement, your captions play a key role in pushing your posts up higher in your follower’s feeds. Visit Hootsuite’s blog, “How to Write the Best Instagram Captions: Ideas, Tips, and Strategy,” to see eleven tips for crafting the perfect Instagram caption.

                    3. Use (but don’t overuse) hashtags
                      Hashtags were originally created as a way for users to search related posts; by now, they’ve developed into a bit of an art form! Your captions should include hashtags, but you’ll want to use them wisely. Use them to target your audience, spread your brand, and help your posts show up in searches that relate to your school, but don’t use so many that they clutter up your caption, making it a chore to read. It’s an excellent idea to create an original hashtag for your school. It can be generic, like your school’s name or mascot (#GoTigers), or you can create a hashtag for a specific event (#RPSFunRun). You can even center a schoolwide social media campaign around an original hashtag like South Valley Junior High School in Gilbert, Arizona, did. In addition to using it on their official school pages, they encourage their students to use #PostingThe Positive when they share on their own Facebook or Instagram pages to help combat all the negativity that often circulates on social media. According to a study by Simply Measured, Instagram posts with at least one hashtag average 12.6 percent more engagement than those with no hashtags.

                    4. Follow and tag
                      Chances are very good that the businesses and organizations in your community are already on Instagram. Spend a little time searching for them there so you can follow their pages. This will often result in their following you in return, and it’s an excellent way to circulate your school’s brand around your area. When you have the opportunity, tag these pages in your captions simply by placing the “@” sign before their page’s name (i.e. @mimphx). Tagging fellow Instagram users is a nice way to give them a shout-out when they get involved with your school. Did a local restaurant host a “food around town” night, donating the proceeds to your school? Snap a photo at the event, post it, and tag their business in the caption. Making friends out in the community is an important part of every school’s public relations strategy.

                    5. Schedule ahead of time
                      Instagram is really about sharing in real-time, but that’s not always practical for schools. In the past, school personnel have shied away from the platform for this reason alone. Unlike Facebook business pages, Instagram doesn’t offer the option of scheduling posts into the future. However, there are third-party platforms you can use to schedule Instagram posts. Learning to use a scheduling tool is an extra step and takes a bit more time upfront, and some of these platforms charge a monthly subscription fee, but school social media managers may find that the ability to schedule posts ahead of time is worth it, saving them time in the long run. Check out these scheduling tools to learn more:

                    Ask For Help

                    Instagram is a fun way to share school photos, and what’s more, many of your students and parents are already there! If building a tight-knit school community is your goal, Instagram can help you do just that. But, that doesn’t mean you have the time for it! Just because you as an educator use social media personally, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be running your school’s pages. Frequent posts, engaging content, keeping up with best practices—those things take time and ongoing training, and we know that you and your staff are busy enough as it is. Here at School Webmasters, we work continuously to ensure we’re offering our clients the most relevant online communication services possible. Social Media is ever-changing, and we must change with it! We’ve recently added Instagram management to our list of services—something we’re really excited about. The addition of Instagram is a game-changer, so we’ve re-arranged our management packages a bit to make room for this platform. We all know it can be hard to ask for help, especially when it comes to using tech tools that our children seem to be using so effortlessly! However, using Instagram as a part of your school’s communication, public relations, and marketing strategy is hardly child’s play. E-mail me to learn more about how School Webmasters can help your school use social media to tell your stories and build community. I look forward to hearing from you!

                    375224
                    Smart School Communication Improves Student Outcomes
                    2018-04-17
                    Image of student holding red paper heart

                    Standardized testing—do these two words raise your blood pressure? It seems as though the school year all comes down to testing, doesn’t it? For administrators, your school grade, your school reputation, your school brand, all rely heavily on the results of how students from your school perform on test days.

                    Parent engagement is connected to higher scores

                    According to the research, there is a positive relationship between parent involvement and improved scores on standardized tests. This means, how well your school communicates with your students’ parents about helping their children prepare for standardized tests plays a role in whether your school makes or breaks the grade.

                    Having had children in the public school system for the past ten years, we have seen many state tests come and go. Besides the accepted support with their homework, our role as parents leading up to the testing period has been limited to making sure they get enough sleep and a good breakfast. Sometimes we even donate healthy snacks through the school PTO.

                    Thanks to schools that practice healthy home-school communication habits, parents become key players in helping students put forth their best effort on test days. It has become a tradition in my home to make sure that my kids are physically ready for tests the next morning. I wonder sometimes if some schools typically view the role of parents in preparing students for these tests as primarily focused on physical nurturing. In general, the unspoken message I feel schools send are: Parents, you get them rested and fed, then leave them with the school and we’ll do the rest.

                    Did you know that students can suffer from harmful stress as a result of testing pressure? Struggling students can internalize the idea that they are “bad” or “worthless” if they don’t perform well on tests and can lose curiosity and a love of learning as a result (source). We know schools care about the emotional well-being of their students, so is it possible to engage parents to help students with testing beyond providing the basic physical necessities? 

                    The invitation

                    This year, in the weeks preceding standardized testing at our daughter’s school, I received a surprising letter from her teacher. This is what it said:

                    Dear Parents:

                    Next week, your child will be taking our state’s standardized test. 

                    By working together, we can make your child’s test experience positive and successful. Here are some suggestions that you can do to help your child succeed:

                    • Make sure your child gets a good night's rest.
                    • Have your child eat a healthy breakfast at home or in the cafeteria at school. 
                    • Make sure your child arrives at school on time.
                    • Gently encourage your child to do their best.

                    Please take a moment to write an encouraging note on the attached paper. Return this note in a sealed envelope before the test, and I will give it to your child the first morning of the test. 

                    Thanks for your help!

                    Your child's teacher

                    What a great, out-of-the-box idea! While the teacher covered the basic needs of the students prior to test day, she also provided a wonderful idea to help ease the mental stress of test-taking for my child—this teacher gave me the chance to write a special note of encouragement for my daughter to read just before the test. I jumped at the opportunity and wrote it immediately!

                    While I tend to put too many things off, I did not push off this important assignment. I sat down first thing and wrote a letter to express my love for my child. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes, and I feel very grateful to this teacher who thought to include me, and all parents, in the success of the class. It was clear to me that this teacher had the emotional well-being of my child in mind. To me, this is a hallmark example of the power of including all team players in the success of a student.

                    The letter

                    The teacher’s invitation went beyond the physical preparedness of my student and touched on the mental preparedness that often goes overlooked during testing. So, is this type of an approach to parent engagement really worthwhile?

                    In a world spilling over with technology, handwritten letters are more than just a way to communicate. Writing allows us to encapsulate our feelings in the moment, turning something abstract into something concrete. As William Wordsworth describes it, we fill the paper with the “breathings of [our] heart.” 

                    ...we fill the paper with the breathings of our heart.

                    Two years ago in a Ted Talk in Switzerland, Canadian historian, Sonia Cancian, shared valuable information regarding letters. Sonia’s research is based on love letters written between Italian migrants and distant loved ones between 1946 and 1971. She cites Sir Jack Goody who described one of the core reasons for writing letters—writing letters has “important repercussions on people’s emotions, not simply expressing already existing feelings but in creating or expanding those sentiments through a process of reflexivity” (Goody, J., 1998. Food and Love: A Cultural History of East and West. London and New York, Verso, 107.)

                    As food becomes fast, we rediscover the need to slow down and enjoy what we eat. As fashion becomes disposable, with new collections every two months, we rediscover vintage fashion of well hand-stitched pieces. As our smartphones suggest words before we even thought of them, we rediscover the time, to take the time, to think about, to ponder over, what and how to write. We rediscover our innate ability to write creatively to lovers and loved ones.

                    Frankly, I have a lot of good intentions as a parent. It’s impossible for me to realize most of the amazing parenting ideas I see on Pinterest. While there are many ways I demonstrate my love to my children every day—providing a home, food, and clothing—in the rush of the routine, I sometimes fall short. When it comes to taking time in other ways, I often miss moments where I can support my children. My husband and I both enjoy reading to our younger children at night or chatting with them about their day as they grow older, making sure to give them a hug and kiss goodnight (when they’ll let us). Expressing my affection to my children beyond the everyday routine, opportunities, especially during testing times when children feel pressure to do well, is both welcome and worthwhile.

                    The result

                    The idea to invite parents to write a letter to their children to be read prior to standardized testing is a unique move. It speaks volumes of parent engagement inclusion. How refreshing! The specific and simple invitation for parents to “work together” with this teacher is direct evidence of a desire for cooperation between teachers and parents. I’m not sure I can think of too many characteristics of a successful school that can top that. 

                    I am thankful to this insightful teacher who thought of the power and potential in connecting her students to their parents through an encouraging letter. Perhaps she was thinking to help her students much like a study where looking at pictures of a loved one helps reduce pain. To me, that’s just what this letter was for—to help ease anxiety and boost confidence before the students had to tackle that exam. 

                    My family’s connection to the school grew astronomically. Reflecting on this teacher’s invitation, I appreciate how it opened the door to parent engagement in a positive as well as an economical way. I am thankful for this teacher’s foresight, giving me a chance to share my love and encouragement with my child just before she faced her test on her own. 

                    Public education has changed a lot through the years, but one factor remains relevant and even critical to student success—parent engagement. Research continues to show that such engagement not only improves student achievement, it also lowers absenteeism and reinforces the confidence your students’ parents have in their children’s education. When parents and others are involved, students earn higher test scores as well as higher grades—aside from improved behavior and social skills.

                    I am grateful for a thoughtful teacher who offered up a moment before the test for parents to encourage and express their love for their children through a simple, encouraging word. Involving families is simply a win-win!

                    392714
                    Going to the Source
                    2018-04-10
                    Boy drinking clean water from a pure source

                    While backpacking recently with my family, I was reminded of the value and refreshing nature of trusted sources. We hiked deep into the Grand Canyon along a popular trail. While water was everywhere, and we certainly enjoyed every minute playing in the turquoise blue pools and staring at the spectacular red rock backdrop, there were really only a few places to access clean drinking water.

                    One evening, my eight-year-old and I took our turn to haul water back to camp. We followed the signs to the natural spring, carrying our empty containers. As we got closer and closer to the spring, our path converged with other paths from various directions coming down to one last trail leading to the spring. Most times, encounters with other hikers outside of our group were brief; the only time this wasn’t the case was at this natural spring. I found the convergence of hikers very beautiful—all of us heading to an isolated, trusted source to satisfy our basic, vital need for water. To me, it was a wonderful sense of community. We stood in line, visiting with those around us. On this particular visit to the spring, I even ran into a long-lost cousin! After filling up our water containers, we said our goodbyes and headed back to camp.

                    Interestingly, in French, the word for a natural spring is source. While we were comfortable swimming in the majority of the water, the only water we trusted enough to ingest was water from the source. Other water could be dangerous and couldn’t be relied on. Just as this trusted natural spring brought my family peace of mind and a sense of community, primary sources online foster trust in a world where information is everywhere—but not all of that information is trustworthy. 

                    Imagine your school website as the natural spring in this real-life analogy. Your website has potential to be the trusted, dependable, primary source of information straight from an authoritative location. As such, students and their families can, and should, come to your school website for current and trustworthy information on which they depend. 

                    The Trusted Primary Source

                    Why should you establish your school website as a recognized source of information connected to your school?

                    Have you ever read something interesting online only to find out it was fake news? Or, have you ever shared something interesting you read with family and friends only to hear back that it was phony or a scam? How did you feel when you realized it? How did your acquaintances respond? 

                    In today's world, it is all too easy to be misled by information online. As a school administrator, your efforts to establish your school website as a trusted primary source of information relating to your students and families are crucial for your school brand, communications, and public relations. 

                    Information gathered from primary sources is more likely to be accurate and sound. Whereas, information based on secondary sources warrants caution. Historians, researchers, and even detectives or lawyers use multiple sources of information to piece together stories. We require students to cite sources in research projects. And teachers and parents encourage testing the validity of informative sources. 

                    So, what are primary sources? 

                    Primary sources are defined by their immediate connection to someone or some event. Sometimes called an “original source” or “evidence,” primary sources come from first-hand experience. Secondary sources are created later by someone who did not participate in or experience the information mentioned directly. Secondary resources come from the audience—it’s someone else’s perspective. 

                    Such examples of sources hold value in terms of school websites. Stories are going out into the world from and about your school by the minute via multiple channels—social media, local news, word-of-mouth, online review sites, etc. It is important that your school not be silent, allowing only these secondary, and sometimes misinformed, sources to fill the void. Rise up and allow your school website to take its rightful place as a primary source for your school in your community. 

                    Contaminated vs. Pure Sources

                    When you’re thirsty, and the water is running clear… it can be tempting to assume it’s safe. It’s clear, not stagnant, but can you tell the difference between contaminated water and pure water just by looking? You don’t know what’s been in the water upstream from you, or, in other words, you don’t have the full story.

                    Information about your school online but not on your school website is much like the clear water whose purity is questionable. Take for example the local media. Information here may seem like it comes from a trustworthy source. However, take it from someone with journalistic training, there’s no such thing as unbiased reporting. As humans, we can’t help but insert our opinions and experiences into how we present information—including facts. And it’s no secret that newspapers thrive on sensationalism. Consider these two fictitious headlines: 

                    • ABC District Seeks Largest Budget Increase in County History
                    • ABC District Looks to Bring Facilities and Classroom Technology into this Decade

                    You’re looking at the same fact—the district is asking for an increase to the budget. But the two headlines are vastly different in their presentation and effect. 

                    Another example of a potentially “contaminated” source is online reviews. Reviews have become an important piece of many consumers’ decision-making processes. Personally, I never make a purchase from Amazon.com until I’ve read a review or two. It’s no different for parents and families deciding where to send their children to school. Websites like GreatSchools.org and Niche.com are providing communities with review platforms just for schools—and parents are looking.

                    I’ll share a secret with you about reviews: Reviews are typically only written in extreme circumstances—a product is either amazing or awful, service received was either above-and-beyond or deplorable. There is very little middle ground with reviews. 

                    So what’s your school to do? Monitor and combat the activity upstream. Make sure inaccurate or misleading information is available and clarified on your school website. Tell your stories with your own voice using your primary platform to make that information available. 

                    When it comes to reviews, be honest, transparent, and kind in your response (if responding is an option). Where response is not an option, make efforts to change where you can. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but if a reviewer complains of never being able to reach a human being when calling the front office, make changes to your customer service practices.

                    Your website is a great place to host your own reviews—we call them testimonials. Ask your parents, students, and staff why they love your schools. Use their responses in the sidebars of your websites. 

                    Stagnant vs. Flowing Sources

                    Stagnant water becomes an incubator for parasites and bacteria. The good news is we can recognize, fairly easily, when stagnant water isn’t good for us. Most people can recognize when information outside of your school website is not reliable.

                    Outdated school websites are a sure sign of a stagnant source. When searching for the latest news for your school, how do you feel when you notice that a website you visit appears out-of-date? Check your site, when was the last update? How do you feel when you see a website whose last post was three months ago? Or worse, three years ago? A stagnant school website says you don’t care about your image, your reputation, or your communication. 

                    In contrast, flowing water helps prevent bacteria and other unwelcome parasites. Keeping your school website “flowing” with current communication benefits everyone. Your community should feel confident that when they come to the source of school information, it will be fresh, easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and ADA compliant and lack the negative, stagnant stigmas mentioned above.

                    Another example of stagnant versus flowing sources can be seen on social media. Just as my family enjoyed playing in the water all around us on our backpacking trip, your school community naturally entertains secondary sources for school information. The secondary sources offer “outside perspectives” that can offer fresh context about your school. Because it’s a secondary source, most people are willing to give your school the benefit of the doubt and take negative reviews or comments with a grain of salt. 

                    Much of the interaction taking place on social media can be great, but it’s important for your school community to be cautious about what may be internalized. There are places, especially on social media, where negativity can fester and become unhealthy in a community. If your school does not have a way of reaching out through various channels to facilitate open, two-way communication, it can be very difficult to purify those stagnant pools. 

                    Your school needs a social media presence to join in and lead those conversations. Be sure to use school social media effectively. It doesn’t do your school public relations any good if you treat your social media like a leaky faucet, only posting when the next fundraiser happens. In contrast, your social media isn’t effective as an open fire hydrant either. It takes strategy to effectively manage social media. In light of recent tragedies and natural disasters affecting our communities, your school's social media presence has the potential to add depth to your school community.  

                    Pave and mark trails to your school website 

                    These days, it seems like school communities struggle with either the lack of communication or less effective inundation of communication in a variety of forms. As a busy parent with children in three different schools, I appreciate when schools provide a centralized approach to information. Keeping an updated, current school website creates a natural, reliable source of information for your school community. 

                    What could be the trails leading to your primary source in this analogy? Some possibilities might include sending e-mails, school social media, hashtags, school newsletter, and other marketing tools. Our social media department at School Webmasters has a policy to drive traffic to your website. As your audience gets used to “learning more” on your school website, it will get used to turning to the school website and rely on it as the primary source of information from your school.

                    Do your various forms of school communication for your students and their families lack cohesiveness? Taking time to mark the trails and maintain sign indicators as well as the trails themselves are vital to bringing people in. In our analogy, this is school branding. Establish and maintain a consistent brand for your school—from your school colors to your school culture. It takes effort and time but establishes authority and builds trust from your school community. 

                    Filling up your water container at a natural spring is a uniquely vintage experience. Failure to provide such a refreshing source in your school website runs the risk of false or inaccurate information tainting your school image. With your strategic efforts, your school website can be a trusted source of information for your school community. 

                    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                    366673
                    School Crisis Management: How Prepared is Your School?
                    2018-03-20
                    Man writing the question Are You Prepared in the air

                    If you’ve been following our blog for any length of time, you know that we believe communication is at the heart of every school’s success. That includes your school reputation, public relations, school marketing, customer service, and crisis management. In each of these areas, without rock solid communication strategies in place, you risk losing control of the situation. When it comes to losing control in a crisis, where the safety of students and staff is imperative, you can’t afford to be complacent. If you don’t already have a comprehensive crisis communication plan in place, don’t delay. If you have one, it might be time to review it, practice it, and update your plan.

                    Communication is the key

                    Trust and confidence play a pivotal role in accomplishing your school’s goals, especially when it comes to your students’ safety and security. In addition to clear and concise communication, a proactive, well-organized emergency response plan will give parents and students peace of mind, reduce progress-inhibiting panic in the event of an emergency, and act as a deterrent to future incidents of crisis.

                    Ensuring your staff and students are well-prepared (by way of professional development training and lockdown drills) will better equip your community members to respond. The drills will help you recognize weak points and make the necessary changes before an actual crisis. Be sure your protocols include a multi-pronged approach that provides resources and directions. Emergency pages, instructional videos, safety committees, alert notifications, and a detailed website and social media pages will all prove to be crucial tools in emergency situations.

                    #1 Start here: use smart technology to stay connected

                    Technology is available to help schools implement immediate solutions. The School Superintendents Association (AASA) has sponsored an exciting project called Safe Classroom, which is powered by CrisisGo, to put a safety app on every classroom computer by the end of 2018, for free. It is AASA’s goal to help keep over 50 million students across our nation safer. Schools can send an audible alert to every classroom instantly, so staff and students will immediately know of any significant safety threat. Also, the staff in those classrooms can remain in communication with safety administrators to receive updated information and share any critical information they may have.

                    To sign your school up for this free resource, go to https://www.crisisgo.com/offers/safe-classroom. You can also view the Safe Classroom explanation video to learn more.

                    #2 Conducting a needs assessment

                    Step 1. Identify threats and hazards

                    The first step in creating a safer environment is to review your school’s current safety parameters and policies and gather incident reports, security breaches, and other troublesome occurrences. This will give you a baseline of where you need to make improvements. Most schools have adopted an emergency plan (often state mandated), so review what you have in place now.

                    Step 2. Identify public concerns

                    Conduct a survey of your community regarding areas of safety concerns. The Ophelia Project provides many free resources to help you get started. Check out their needs assessment survey and their school climate survey (with a focus on bullying). But these can easily be adapted for your school’s priorities. A comprehensive safety checklist, shared by Adventist Education, is also helpful.

                    Step 3. Form a collaborative planning team

                    Assemble a planning committee of staff (including a wide range of personnel like administrators, teachers, school psychologists, nurses, facilities personnel, transportation personnel, etc.). Include student and parent representatives as well as representatives from organizations that represent the interests of those with disabilities, minorities, and religious organizations. This will assure that you include a variety of concerns. Next, you will invite community partners like first responders, local law enforcement officers, school resource officers, fire officials, mental health practitioners, and emergency medical services personnel. Share the results of your survey, and ask your committee about their safety concerns. The team's task will be to create goals and objectives now to meet the needs you’ve identified.

                    Step 4. Create your plan

                    The next phase is to plan our course of action for each threat or hazard identified (natural hazards, technological hazards, biological hazards, adversarial and human-caused threats). This is where you will identify your school’s course of action for each situation. You will format your plan. Consider using Guide to Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans provided by FEMA. This extensive guide can walk you through the complete crisis plan development process.

                    #3 Make improvements and provide training

                    Once you’ve analyzed your school’s security measures and set measurable goals, it’s time to take action. So, while you are working with your planning team to develop your crisis plan, there are often some quick solutions to immediately improve school safety. Here are some positive steps your school can take to protect its students and staff:

                    • Increase adult supervision in places where there are high instances of bullying (e.g., playgrounds, cafeteria, busses, or bathrooms), and install convex mirrors to increase the staff’s visibility around blind corners.
                    • Designate one single school entrance, or upgrade chain link-style fences with wrought iron gates, and ensure they are locked at all times.
                    • Partner with local community centers to negotiate mentorship programs, extracurricular opportunities, and facility use.
                    • Develop relationships with law enforcement, emergency responders, victims’ assistance agencies, and other community leaders in your area.

                    For more ideas, check out Safe Schools Hub (from Australia) and their National Safe Schools Framework.

                    #4 Build a connected culture using multi-pronged communication

                    Decreasing threats to your school’s safety can be as easy as promoting a vigilant, inclusive, and well-informed school community. Each school crisis plan should have an educational component, enabling all school community members to safeguard against hidden dangers and report safety concerns. Integrating communication skills and conflict resolution into a curriculum and enforcing an anti-bullying policy can help create a positive school culture.

                    To be sure everyone understands and knows their role in your crisis plan, effective school communication is critical. This means using an integrated communications approach.

                    School Websites

                    In the event of an emergency, parents and community members will likely scour the Internet in order to find more details. Therefore, it is to your benefit to provide the most up-to-date resources on your school’s website to avoid additional chaos on your campus. In a crisis situation your website can:

                    • Designate reliable news sources.
                    • Provide detailed and clear information and instructions.
                    • Tell your side of the story in your own words.
                    • Get your community in contact with the proper agencies and aftercare resources (e.g. police investigators, weather websites, counseling/relief organizations, and other resources).

                    An informative school website and social media page will significantly reduce the amount of phone calls you receive, freeing up your lines for emergency responders. In addition to including information on your regular website, you may want to consider the following in the event of an emergency:

                    • Plan ahead. Pre-draft emergency messages for your school to use during a crisis. Good communication is best achieved when stress and emotions are at a minimum.
                    • Have an emergency alert web page. An emergency alert is a web page/message you can quickly publish on your website anytime, day or night, in the event of an emergency.
                    • Use the immediacy of social media to your advantage. Releasing a statement on Facebook or Twitter will present a consistent front to parents and enhance your communication with them.
                    • Designate a section of the website to security protocols and lockdown drill information. Share nothing that would compromise student or staff safety, but only basic protocols that would help parents know what to expect in various crisis scenarios to show the degree of security in place. (Done right, this may even deter pranks or worse.)
                    • Make sure your school’s website is responsive so it is easily accessible from mobile devices.

                    Online

                    • Make use of apps like CrisisGo to notify parents of procedures, emergency notices, and follow-up outcomes. If possible, share stories or create a video for your website highlighting the confidence your drills and practice bring to staff and students from the crisis management plan enactment (share testimonials).
                    • Release developing information via social media channels in the event of an emergency. For information on how to implement engaging social media channels, enjoy: Creating effective social media strategies, Part I & Part IIUsing School Social Media When Tragedy Strikes.
                    • Use e-mail to provide updates, announcements, and important news. Include links to more detailed information on your website right from your e-mail. E-mails tend to have higher open rates and so are a useful option if it isn’t an urgent message. Parents also appreciate e-mailed online newsletters (instead of finding a month-old, crumpled stack of papers in the bottom of a backpack).
                    • Consider featuring a YouTube instructional video like those produced by airlines and theme parks. This is a very effective use of video to inform your community of your safety measures (and to reassure parents and students of the importance your school places on their security).

                    Face-to-face

                    • Plan for small- or large-group meetings to explain your safety measures. Consider involving parent groups like the PTA or PTO or site council members.
                    • Make yourself available at school and at public forums to answer questions.
                    • Agree to meet in person with concerned parents, and encourage parents to share their concerns with you.

                    Print media

                    • Include an explanation of your commitment to safety in your student handbook.
                    • Send home newsletters, letters, or flyers with resources and information after an emergency.
                    • Provide contact information for parents and students.

                    Other methods

                    • Implement alert notifications via voice messaging, text messages, or e-mails. While your website is a “pull” method for parents who are seeking information, alert notifications are a “push” method, keeping parents informed. (CrisisGo is a good example of an alert notification that sends out an audible tone school-wide on all devices to keep everyone in direct communication with each other, to receive guidance, and provide feedback.)
                    • Incorporate safety training into your staff’s professional development sessions.
                    • Schedule emergency lockdown drills to familiarize your students and staff with your safety protocols. 

                    #5 Communication that is worth the effort

                    Your school’s planning, training, and crisis management strategy efforts may be some of the most important work you do. For decades, students and staff have drilled for possible school fires. Their efforts have paid off because, in spite of the thousands of school fires that happen every year, the damage to life and property is minimal. When staff and students are prepared, similar outcomes happen for other crisis situations. 

                    So, build your plan, train and drill it, and feel confident that your crisis management plan and the time it takes to implement it will keep your school a safe haven for the students in your care. What could be more rewarding than that?

                    Additional Crisis Management Resources

                    School crisis plan resources:

                    CrisisGo & AASA free Safe Classroom app
                    Emergency Response Plan Template (AZ DOE)
                    Sample School Emergency Operations Plan (FEMA)
                    Practical Information on Crisis Planning (DOE)
                    Drills and Exercises: Guidelines for Schools (AZ DOE)

                    General safety and crisis resources:

                    School Safety & Crisis Resources (NASP)
                    Ready Gov for Kids

                    Emergency planning resources:

                    American Red Cross
                    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - Learning Connection
                    Terrorism & Disaster Center - University of Oklahoma Health Sciences

                    Bullying prevention & harassment resources:

                    Stop Bullying.gov
                    Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
                    Connect For Respect: National PTA Leader Guide

                    Active shooter resources:

                    Active Shooter Preparedness (Homeland Security)
                    Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence (U.S. Department of Justice)
                    Active Shooter: What You Can Do (FEMA)

                    Fire safety resources:

                    U.S. Fire Administration

                    Public and mental health resources:

                    Suicide Prevention Resource Center
                    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
                    Violence & Suicide Prevention Resources - CDC
                    Finding Help - Mental Health American
                    Strong Families, Safe Communities Project - Ohio.gov
                    Suicide Prevention Help - Better Addiction Care

                    Internet safety resources:

                    Cyberbullying Resource - Cyberbullying Research Center
                    Enough is Enough Resources - Making the Internet Safer
                    OnGuard Online - Federal Trade Commission
                    Safe Online Surfing - FBI
                    Cyber Tip Hotline - Missing & Exploited Children

                    368206
                    School Websites and the Evolution of ADA Website Accessibility
                    2018-03-13
                    Image of the evolution of robots to represent the evolution of website accessiblity

                    By now we’ve all heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA. Interestingly, it was the by-product of the civil rights legislation passed during the 1960s. But with all the acronyms, sections, and titles, it can be a bit confusing for us lay folk.

                    How it came about

                    • First, there was the civil rights Act of 1964. It covered those receiving federal funds, employers, or places of public accommodation and prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin (but not those with disabilities). 
                    • Second, in 1968 the Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex in the sale and rental of housing (but again, not those with disabilities). 
                    • Next, in 1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability but only in federal programs or those receiving federal financial assistance. It didn’t protect those with disabilities from discrimination in many other employment situations or for public accommodations in the private sector. 
                    • Then, in 1990 the ADA was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Described as one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, and is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
                    • Finally, In 1998 Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (IT) accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in IT. The goal was to provide disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to access available to others. This is the specific area of law that requires schools receiving federal funds to comply with ADA standards.

                    The ADA was established to guarantee that people with disabilities have access to services, goods, and public accommodations and have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of America life. 

                    To fall under the ADA’s protection, one must have a disability. They define a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment).  

                    How did this all become a website compliance issue for your school website?

                    As with most laws, this one isn’t simple or brief. The law’s sections that apply to schools and accessibility (both physical facilities and websites) that concern us here are Title II and Title III. Both of these fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

                    Title II covers the regulations allowing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to implement the ADA for state and local governments or “public entities” as follows: “Public entities include any and all state or local government and any of its departments, agencies, or other instrumentalities whether or not they receive federal funding.” That means that Title II applies to public schools and universities.

                    Title III is far less straightforward. It covers the regulations allowing the DOJ to implement the ADA for businesses and nonprofits that do not receive federal funding and are not providing state or local services to the public. The law states: “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any private entity who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Title III applies the following definitions:

                    • Public accommodations
                    • Commercial facilities
                    • Private entities that offer certain examinations and courses related to educational and occupational certification

                    When ADA was passed, the Internet was in its infancy. Now, with widespread use of online services, including online access to information, enrollment, procedures, and forms, it would be unfair to have barriers that would prohibit people with disabilities from accessing this same information due to a disability. 

                    So,  whether you are a public or private school that receives federal funds or a private or independent school that doesn’t receive public funds, determines which category your school falls under. While schools that receive federal funds fall squarely under the purview of Title II and Section 508, many courts now consider any school or business that provides services to the public to fall under Title III ADA requirements. While there is still no definite answer to the question of how the ADA applies to the Internet, it is very clear from the number of lawsuits in recent years that inaccessible websites may not want to risk remaining that way, even if they don’t specifically fall under Section 508.

                    The risks of non-compliance under Title II and Section 508

                    If your school or university receives public funds and does not maintain website accessibility standards as outlined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (and soon to be 2.1), a complaint can be filed against it with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). OCR is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education. It focuses on enforcing civil rights laws in schools. It will work with your school to assure your compliance. This can become expensive and time-consuming when factoring in attorney fees, technology fixes, staff training, document remediation, and audit costs. If a school fails to address the issues, the OCR can withhold federal funds.

                    The risks of non-compliance under Title III

                    If your school is private or a university, the penalties you face are in the form of lawsuits, as did MIT and Harvard in 2016. In the past few years, t several major lawsuits were filed against those not complying with the ADA in a variety of industries. In addition to avoiding the risk of costly litigation and some very bad PR, you will be providing access to those with disabilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans estimated to have some form of disability is as high as 19%, or around 56 million people. It just isn’t smart to exclude this percentage of site visitors, and it’s smart school customer service.

                    What are compliance standards?

                    Now that you understand how we got here and why you want to get your school website compliant, what does website compliance actually mean? 

                    The goal is to have a school website that meets the standards specified by law, which are designed to allow anyone with disabilities to use assistive technology to navigate your school site. In addition to the guidelines set forth by Section 508, websites must also follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG provides various techniques you can use to meet accessibility standards.  

                    The current level of requirements is WCAG 2.0 AA. However, a recent update has been issued that  will take this to WCAG 2.1 in the future, so you’ll want to be aware of those changes when that goes into effect. As it stands now, we expect to see changes that apply to mobile and pointer accessibility as well as additional color contrast requirements.

                    You can see a summary of the WCAG 2.0 standards on WebAIMs handy checklist page (which we think is much easier to understand than the official W3C guidelines page that is a bit more tech talk than most people want to wade through), but feel free to take your pick. You will notice the following four principles that the standards fall into:

                    • Perceivable: this means that the information presented can’t be invisible to all of their senses.
                    • Operable: this means that the interface (for our purposes, we’re referring to the website) can’t require an interaction that a user cannot perform.
                    • Understandable: this means that neither content nor the operation of the user interface (website design) can be beyond the user’s understanding.
                    • Robust: this means that it should be designed in such a way that when technologies evolve, the content will remain accessible.

                    Additionally, there are 12 guidelines. These are the basic goals to strive for to make content more accessible. They provide a framework and objectives to understanding the success criteria. 

                    Perceivable

                    • Guideline 1.1 Text alternatives: provide text alternatives for any non-text content.
                    • Guideline 1.2 Time-based media: provide alternatives for time-based media.
                    • Guideline 1.3 Adaptable: create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure (for example, simpler layout).
                    • Guideline 1.4 Distinguishable: make it easier for the user to see and hear the content including separating foreground from background.

                    Operable

                    • 2.1 Keyboard accessible: make all functionality available from a keyboard.
                    • 2.2 Enough time: provide users enough time to read and use content.
                    • 2.3 Seizures: do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
                    • 2.4 Navigable: provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.

                    Understandable

                    • 3.1 Readable: make text content readable and understandable.
                    • 3.2 Predictable: make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
                    • 3.3 Input assistance: help users avoid and correct mistakes.

                    Robust

                    • Compatible: maximize compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

                    The success criteria are where the meat of the process lies. These are the techniques you can use to ensure compliance. Your school website must meet these standards in order to comply to WCAG 2.0. Within these success criteria, there are three levels of conformance: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). Schools are currently required to meet AA levels. Within the 12  guidelines, there are 39 areas of success criteria, just in the A and AA Levels. See the checklist to get an idea about specific solutions required for each level.

                    Finally, there are sufficient and advisory techniques, which describes techniques for the guidelines and success criteria mentioned above. They provide information for what constitutes meeting the criteria as well as those that are only advisory. The advisory techniques go beyond what is required and address accessibility barriers not covered by the testable success criteria.

                    What’s next?

                    Website accessibility requirements are not going away. With the use of technology and online access to information and education, providing access to everyone is a necessity in all fields. And, it is important that we provide access, regardless of disability, simply for the fact that it is good customer service. Even if it weren’t the law, no right thinking business (or school) would construct barriers to keep out customers. We’ve not spoken to a single school, public or private, that doesn’t wish to comply. The challenge comes when trying to make the desire a reality. It can be a costly and time-consuming process.

                    For the past few years, individuals have filed complaints against schools and colleges at a rate of hundreds per month. The Office of Civil Rights is overwhelmed with handling these complaints promptly, and budget cuts are on the horizon. Schools are scrambling to get their websites compliant and then struggling to keep them that way. While we have done things this way for decades, times have changed. But like all progress, improvements will happen, albeit slowly.

                    What are schools with tight budgets to do? As webmaster for many hundreds of schools, here is what we recommend:

                    1. Don’t wait to receive a complaint before addressing the accessibility of your school’s website. This will increase the expense and stress and is bad for public relations. Who needs any of that?
                    2. If you have a website you love, that you manage in-house and that is built on recent technology, contact your vendor to get training for your staff so all future updates are ADA compliant. 
                    3. Get training for your staff so that anyone creating documents as website attachments creates them compliantly. All PDFs and other attachments must also be compliant. Need affordable online document training? We can help!
                    4. Run a free online website accessibility test to see where the obvious barriers lie. This will only give you some ideas; you’ll need to conduct manual tests as well.
                    5. Make a plan. You’ll find some step-by-step recommendations on how to have an ADA compliant school website.
                    6. Or, if you’d rather hit the easy button for any of these steps, we hope you’ll give School Webmasters a call. It’s what we do. We do ADA website audits and accessible website design and management, and then we keep it compliant for you day in and out. All for less than you can do it for yourself. Now THAT is an easy button! 
                    367344
                    Your Most Powerful School Marketing Tool
                    2018-03-06
                    Storytelling is the best marketing!

                    Recently I attended my uncle’s funeral in Southern California. He worked as a school principal for many years, and two teachers spoke at his memorial. They honored his memory by sharing stories. One of the teachers described the following experience:

                    As she was walking back to her classroom, she saw a man run out of her room carrying her purse. She ran to the office and told my uncle. He quickly set off with the school janitor in hot pursuit of the thief. The teacher described my uncle running down the road dressed in his suit and tie. He caught the man soon after and retrieved this teacher’s stolen purse. The teacher joked that while the purse probably only had about five dollars in it (the thief had already spent it on some street vendor), it meant a lot that her principal would make such an effort for her. Then she asked, “How many principals do you know who would run two blocks in a suit to save one of their teachers’ snatched purses?” While this story exemplifies one man’s character, it also sheds light on the culture and atmosphere of the school. 

                    Telling school stories that inspire, excite, entertain, and encourage your school community is at the heart of successful school branding and critical to your school’s success. 

                    What stories come out of your school each day? What do people say about your school? Instead of allowing everyone else’s stories to daily spread through hallways, parking lots, or on the sidelines of a sporting event, create added value by asking your school administration and staff to join in the conversation. 

                    In this blog, we’ll look at a scientific side of storytelling and explore how other school administrators across the county are implementing various storytelling tools. 

                    Science Behind Storytelling

                    In a recent TEDx talk about storytelling, David JP Phillips explains how stories affect us physically. His presentation entertains and informs. Phillips presents evidence to suggest that storytelling is, in fact, the most powerful tool we possess. Phillips describes the positive effects of storytelling using three components of storytelling. When properly mixed in, you create what Phillips calls the “angel cocktail.” 

                    • First, tell stories that get people excited
                      As human beings, we are programmed to tune in to stories. So whenever you share stories, your listeners get excited. Listening to this type of story increases levels of dopamine and affects your audience. Just by telling a story, your listeners experience an added measure of focus and attention as well as increased memory and motivation. 

                    • Second, touching stories bring people together
                      If you are willing, expose vulnerable aspects of yourself by sharing times when you experienced difficulty or stories of others in tragic situations. The effects on your audience lead your listeners to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity; they also feel more relaxed. This is because the listener's levels of oxytocin have increased. Phillips describes this effect saying the listeners feel “more human.”

                    • Lastly, don’t forget to make them laugh
                      When you tell jokes and stories that make people laugh, you’re not only giving people a chuckle and a smile, you’re giving them something more. Stories that make them laugh increase their endorphins. Increased endorphin levels increase creativity, focus, and relaxation.

                    There is an opposite to this mixture, which Phillips calls “the Devil’s cocktail.”

                    • The Devil’s Cocktail
                      The devil’s cocktail combines emotions that result in unproductive feelings. Stressful situations, irritating noise, or negative feelings increase our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which fosters feelings of intolerance, irritability, cynicism, poor decision making, impaired memory, and lack of creativity. What an unpleasant mix!

                    Functional storytelling, storytelling that builds trust, encourages relationships, improves memory and recall, and relaxes and focuses your audience is done using the angel cocktail elements. You don’t need all three components in every story; that may be emotion overkill—but make sure you incorporate at least one in your school stories.

                    Stories that educate, inspire, and entertain us carry with them underlying themes that we connect back to the organization involved. Its scientific background affirms that storytelling is an extremely powerful and useful tool in school branding. Since stories can bring people together, storytelling should be at the heart of school marketing and strategic communication plans for schools across the United States. 

                    How School Marketing Experts Use Storytelling

                    As a school administrator, you love it when you hear your school’s success stories. The perception of your school brightens. This awareness creates enthusiasm. Of all of the people on the school campus, your administrative role gives you access to so many stories! 

                    When you see or hear about a moment that inspires, encourages, excites, or entertains, consider taking a moment to record that experience. These little moments when you witness your school brand embodied in the good things happening at your school is actual evidence that supports your school brand. Don’t let these moments pass by unshared! Pass the good word along to your school community! 

                    Let’s explore how school marketing experts are using current technology to share their school stories.

                    Stories & School Social Media

                    Two school superintendents, Dr. Joe Sanfelippo in Wisconsin, and Tony Sinanis, in New York, run an upbeat podcast called BrandED. Recently they interviewed Amy Fadeji, a principal in Petaluma, California, about how she shares stories from her school through Twitter.

                    During the interview, Fadeji acknowledges that telling the school’s story is primarily the principal’s job. Her enthusiasm about this role is contagious. She says their school social media is about everyone sharing the message. She goes about her day looking for those magical moments. She attributes educational opportunities, like authors skyping into her classrooms, to the school’s use of Twitter. 

                    “All teaching staff is on Twitter. The librarian too,” she says. Once she recognized a student on the school’s social media platform, and, though it was just one brief moment in her hectic day, for the student it had a powerful, lasting effect. The student felt valued. When asked how she finds the time, she calls it a “change of mindset.” “Telling the story is a mindset. You’re always looking for stories...it’s contagious, it never feels like one more thing [to do.]” 

                    The school gets added mileage from their Twitter posts by “feeding” them to their website. 

                    Amy Fadeji is not the only school administrator known for her use of Twitter in education. Martha Peek, a superintendent in Alabama has also been recognized for using this tool to share her school stories. 

                    Springfield Platteview Community Schools websites are great examples of a School Webmasters program, Social4Schools.

                    Stories & Your School Websites

                    Social media cannot be the only place you tell your school stories. In fact, if anything, your school social media should serve as a secondary platform for your stories. Your primary platform needs to be your school website. However, sometimes schools neglect their online home. If you take anything away from this blog today, let it be this: Your school website is the best place to share your stories, your way! 

                    Let me explain. Gatekeeping is a process through which information is filtered. Journalism students learn that journalists are the “gatekeepers” of the news. It’s a sad-but-true fact that sometimes our schools don’t receive the coverage they deserve because the “gatekeepers” don’t think it’s “news.” You are the gatekeeper of your school website! Fill your district news page with stories from around your district and your school news pages with stories from your classrooms and hallways. Then you can use your social media to drive traffic to your website where your audience can read those stories.

                    Ridgefield Public Schools does an amazing job of this. The school’s part-time PR4 Schools communications coordinator fills the news page on their district site with events, news, and stories from around the district. The stories support the district’s mission and illustrate the actual events taking place on a daily basis that contribute to their vision. The district makes sure its community never misses a story by sending out a monthly newsletter that drives traffic to the website to read the whole story. 

                    Where Can You Start?

                    Bonnie Leedy, CEO of  School Webmasters, believes that if you want to build loyalty, trust, and enthusiasm, sharing your school’s stories is vital. To begin this approach in your school, keep in mind a broad list of ideas for telling your school’s story. Bonnie suggests implementing storytelling in schools in the following areas: 

                      • On the school website and social media 
                      • During staff meetings, board meetings, and presentations
                      • With back-to-school events
                      • In school communications and public relations like in press releases, media relations, and crisis management
                      • In customer service and customer service training for your staff
                      • During interviews and recruitment efforts
                      • When implementing change
                      • Enhancing teamwork and professional development
                      • In newsletters
                      • In the classroom

                      Types of school stories you can share include: 

                        • School’s founding or history
                        • What we stand for
                        • What we do
                        • Success stories
                        • Overcoming barriers
                        • Your school’s customer stories (students, parents, alumni, staff)

                        It’s exciting to see the variety of ways schools are sharing their stories. For example, Allison Anderson, an educator in Oregon, shares current and practical ideas for sharing stories with your school community

                        One storytelling professor in Arizona recently told me that while most people recognize the truth behind the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words,” we may not always see the long reaching effect of stories. However, a story paints a thousand pictures in your audience's mind. Gathering stories ought to be an ongoing effort as part of your school communications plan. 

                        As an administrator, consider one game-changing mindset shift: become a detective at your school and gather stories directly connected to your school brand (in other words, those that relate back to your school mission statement). 

                        If tackling school storytelling seems too daunting, consider School Webmasters’ PR4 Schools, website management, or other service lines. Think of the possibilities! With your full schedule, it may be easy to overlook school storytelling as “one more thing to do.” However, as you open up to the power of its potential, telling your stories truly could become your greatest school marketing tool. 

                        So, what’s your story? How are you going to tell it? And who’s going to hear it? It’s time to invest in your school’s stories.


                        340839
                        School Marketing Road Map to Success
                        2018-02-27
                        Image of red carpet showing steps to school marketing success

                        If you’re hashing out marketing and school public relations on your own, then a full-blown strategic communications plan can feel overly complicated and time-consuming. Sometimes looking at complex processes in different ways can help with understanding and executing and, thereby, simplifying the process. In this blog, let’s look at your school marketing plan like a road map—complete with simple, stops along the way to help you reach your goal.

                        To keep things as unconvoluted as possible, we’re going to skip over some of the “essential,” strategic steps (like completing an in-depth situation or SWOT analysis and conducting research). Instead, we’re going to have you run on generalizations, things you already know, and situations that are apparent. 

                        Get Started

                        It’s not easy to make school marketing plans on your own. To get started on the right path, gather a team and hold a brainstorming session to determine your goals. 

                        If this were traditional marketing, your goal would grow out of the foundational work you completed in your situation analysis and research. But sometimes it’s already painfully clear where you need to start with your school communication efforts. You need to increase enrollment; you need to attract new teachers; your school needs a plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

                        Use these questions to guide your brainstorm:

                        • What matters most at this time? 
                        • Why is this important?
                        • What are we truly trying to accomplish? Or what outcomes are we trying to achieve?
                        • What will success look like? 
                        • Will this goal support our mission?

                        Whatever goal you choose for your marketing plan, it must relate back to your school mission. This might seem like overstating a trivial matter. You might be thinking, “What does it matter if our goal doesn’t relate to our school mission?” But it does matter. Your mission is the unifying, rallying call for all your school activities. It is the standard to which your school is constantly striving. Your school marketing goals will be successful when they relate to and uphold your school mission. 

                        Identify Your Audience

                        Now that you have a destination in mind, the next stop on your journey is to identify the people involved in or affected by the goals you have set. These people have stake in your actions, therefore, they are your key stakeholders. We’ll skip the nitty-gritty business of developing stakeholder personas and doing in-depth research to understand your various audience needs. While that information is important to you in the long run, we’re on the fast road here. Instead, we’ll focus on the basics. As you identify your audience, make generalizations. 

                        Ask your team: 

                        • To whom is our communication targeted? 
                        • Why are these stakeholders important to this goal? 
                        • How does our goal benefit our audience? 
                        • What matters to these stakeholders? What are their interests, values, motivations, prejudices?
                        • How do our stakeholders prefer communication (channel and frequency)?  
                        • Are there any constraints on communication (language, culture, technology, etc.) that we need to consider?

                        If you aren’t able to answer these questions, you may need to take a detour off of the fast road and do some of that nitty-gritty research on your stakeholders. 

                        Brief detour to research methods

                        A common misconception about research is that it has to be time-intensive and costly. However, there are a number of simple things you can do to better understand your parents, staff, community, students, or whomever it is you need research. Try some of the following fast and simple research methods:

                        • Focus groups with a few stakeholders. Bribe attendants with coffee and donuts. This is a great way to ask questions to learn what your stakeholder's value, have negative attitudes toward, are skeptical of, and appreciate.

                        • Curbside surveys. Take advantage of the morning drop-off and evening pick-up to ask your stakeholders a few questions. This is especially good for short discussion questions, including demographic information and communication preferences. 

                        • Social media or website-based surveys. These channels can be helpful for opinion polls to see how stakeholders feel about certain issues. Keep in mind, though, if you’re polling areas where your stakeholders don’t prefer communicating, you may have trouble getting results. 

                        Define Your Key Messages

                        Back on track with our school marketing plan, the next stop is to define your key messages. Keep these high-level; at this stage, you’re not planning on exactly what you’ll post on Facebook or on the website, you’re defining the overall message you want to communicate. 

                        One of the best school marketing tips we can give you here is to make sure your messages are credible. Just one key message that your audience won’t believe can undermine all your marketing efforts—so be honest, be clear, and be sure to back up what you say. Here are a few questions to discuss with your team as you define your key messages.

                        • What are three to five points we want our target audiences to retain?
                        • What matters most to our stakeholders that will help these messages resonate?
                        • How do we want our stakeholders to feel, think, or act as a result of our communications?
                        • Is this message memorable?
                        • Why will our stakeholders invest in this message?
                        • Do these messages support our school brand (mission, vision, and values)?
                        • Are these messages clear and concise?
                        • Will there be disagreement, argument, or opposing opinions to our messages? If so, what is the opposition? What can we communicate proactively to counter the negative messages?
                        • Are there points in our messages that need to be communicated to only some of our stakeholders?

                        Set Tasks

                        Your carefully crafted key messages will be the starting point for your strategy and tactics. While the main point of your messages will remain the same, as you start planning your communications, you will modify your messages to fit specific communication channels and tailor them to specific audiences. 

                        Your strategies are the main tasks—the big picture ideas—that you want to execute to reach your goals. Your main tasks can include things like newsletters, feature stories, marketing videos, social media campaigns, etc. Your tactics are the sub-tasks (the specific actions) that need to take place to accomplish your main task. This is the part where you will start to craft the contents of your newsletter or plan social media posts. Work with an editorial calendar or a communications calendar to plan your strategy and set deadlines.

                        Be careful to keep focused in this step. Your goal should be supported by one or more communication strategies. But you don’t want to overdo it; the last thing you want is to set too many strategies. Too many different tasks can lead you down detoured roads, and you run the risk of losing sight of your main goal. You’ll never reach your destination if you keep adding new stops along the way, especially if you have limited personnel to help with your school marketing plan. The best advice? Keep the number of your strategies to five or less. 

                        Here are several questions to help your team set tasks: 

                        • What can we do to reach our audience? 
                        • What stories, illustrations, analogies, or anecdotes will help our messages be memorable? 
                        • What communication channels do we have available, and how can we best use them?

                        In this step, you’ll want to streamline your tasks by assigning a responsible party. Choose someone on your team who has a passion for the task. For example, you’ll want to assign your social media addict to social media updates and your resident closet-novelist to writing stories for your newsletter. The key to this suggestion is to make sure your responsible party has the time to commit to the project. You don’t want your plans and efforts to fall by the wayside because your team doesn’t have the time to commit to the task. 

                        Celebrate Your Successes

                        “Evaluation” is sometimes the least favorite part of any campaign, but it is a crucial step. Without it, how will you know if you’ve been successful? Evaluation is easier when your goal is something with clearly measurable results (like increasing enrollment or increasing your social media engagement). But what if your goal is more abstract, like “improving public relations” or “creating better teacher-parent interactions”? 

                        One of the best marketing tips I can offer is: celebrate your successes as you go! There is no overstating this. When something goes well, toot your horn! And I’m not just talking about sharing your school successes with your community (which you should be doing anyway). You need to share your marketing successes with your team and with the school administration. 

                        Did you post a picture and caption on Facebook that engaged your audience with likes and comments? Grab a screenshot and send an e-mail to your principal with a note saying, “Did you see this? Our fans loved it!” If you’ve been working on gaining more coverage in the local papers, then every time your story gets covered, send a link to your team and admin. 

                        Tracking these successes will help you evaluate your campaign when you reach the end. If you’re really clever though, you won’t wait until the end to spend time evaluating. In fact, you should schedule times throughout the year to meet with your team and follow up. Sometimes your marketing goals might have relatively short time frames—for example, promoting your back-to-school activities. In that case, don’t worry about evaluating until it’s over. However, other times, you might have year-long goals (or longer). Especially with longer-term goals, you may hit a roadblock with a tactic that isn’t working or need to detour if an emergency arises. Keep everyone on track by getting together periodically to talk about what’s working, what isn’t, and where you may need to make some adjustments. 


                        Are you ready for the journey? We’ve mapped out the major stops along the way, so don’t let your school marketing plan feel overwhelming. Stick to these and reach your goals: 

                        • Gather your team and set goals
                        • Identify your audience
                        • Define your messages
                        • Set your tasks
                        • Celebrate your successes

                        A lot of what feels overwhelming about marketing plans can be the manpower to see it through. If this is your case, ask us about our PR4 Schools service line. It’s an affordable solution to the man-power conundrum. 


                        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                        392663
                        School Social Media FAQ
                        2018-02-20
                        School social media FAQ

                        When it comes to school social media management, there are those who outsource and those who prefer to learn what they need to keep things in-house. As social media managers, we spend enough time on Pinterest to understand and respect that DIY spirit. Spending time on Pinterest, though, has also made us sympathetic to those almost inevitable “Pinterest fails,” a term that has become so well-known that pinners dedicate entire boards to those DIY projects they were so sure they had the know-how to tackle, only to find out that not everyone really can make a beautiful lamp out of a milk jug. 

                        Much like some of those too-perfect-to-be-homemade Pinterest crafts, managing a truly effective social media presence for your school is not quite as easy as it looks. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to add it to their skill set, but maybe you do! Maybe you are the adventurous crafter who stops to read the directions and really learn the skills necessary to make that lamp. If this describes you, we hope you also recognize the need to train yourself to use this tool properly in order to create something beautiful. When it comes to social media, there are best practices to follow, school policies and photo release forms to consider, and of course, keeping up with the latest trends. Social media is fast-paced (What? You just learned about using gifs and everyone is already moving on to Facebook Stories?), and it takes time and effort to use it well.

                        Social4Schools FAQs

                        As our social media management client list grows, so does the number of educators coming to us with questions about managing their school or district pages themselves. And we’re happy to help! If we can help your school communicate and market to prospective students more effectively with social media, whether it’s by managing your pages or teaching you how to manage them yourselves, we’ll feel fulfilled. With that in mind, please let us share a few of the most frequently asked questions from school personnel making the leap into the role of social media manager.

                        What social media platform should our school be using?

                        The long answer is that each social media platform has its own appeal and unique features and attracts a slightly different demographic. Your parent community is most likely on Facebook and might also be on Pinterest, but your students may be using Instagram and Twitter more. If you’re a district office or a high school, you might want to cover your bases to reach parents and students alike. For primary and elementary schools, maybe you only need Facebook. 

                        The shorter, slightly less involved answer is that if you’re going to manage your school’s social page(s) in-house, it’s best to choose one platform and do it really, really well. As an educator, you’re likely familiar with the concept of spreading yourself too thin. Trying to fit in the time needed to manage multiple platforms effectively might result in the entire social media effort going south. 

                        So if you have to choose just one, which social platform is best for schools? In our experience, Facebook is the most effective place to start. Even with the recent changes Facebook has made to their algorithm affecting the way some pages show up on the news feed, Facebook is perhaps the most widely used social networking site out there, with 71% of online adults using it to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. The ability to create a business page on FB makes it a unique tool for those who want to spread an awareness of their brand, and your school is no exception. At a minimum, all schools should have a Facebook page. You don’t have to take our word for it, though. In the end, studying your own audience will usually give you the tailored information you need to make your decision. Try conducting a quick survey to find out which platforms your community is using, and go there first. 

                        Should our school page be set up the same way as a personal page, or do we need a business page? What’s the difference?

                        First off, be sure to set up your school social media pages under the name of your school or district—never under the name of your superintendent, principal, or any other staff member. You’ll want to make the identity of your page crystal clear by naming it appropriately. 

                        For Facebook, this means you should be using the “page” option rather than the “profile” option. Individuals have profiles, and organizations have pages. There’s also an option on Facebook to create a group, but your school should have a page, reserving groups for smaller organizations within your school community like alumni groups (Facebook now allows pages to link a group to the page. Visit the Facebook Help Center for more information about this feature). 

                        For Twitter and Instagram, just set up the page as normal, using your district or school name in place of an individual’s name when creating the page. And for Pinterest, schools should use the Pinterest for Business option to set up your school profile. 

                        Why does Facebook require me to attach our school page to a personal account?

                        We get this question A LOT. The Facebook philosophy revolves around personal profiles—the idea of giving individuals the opportunity to connect with other individuals from wherever they are. Once the platform took off, people started to see the benefits of using it to help their organizations, businesses, etc. connect with their audience, customers, etc. The natural progression was to allow the individuals using Facebook to create pages for the organizations they wanted to build an online community around. This way, Facebook could ensure that someone with a profile was responsible for the page, following their rules and regulations regarding conducting business in a social media environment. When you set up a new page, you are the page manager. As the page manager, you can seamlessly use Facebook on a personal level and manage your business page all from one place, without having to log out and back in every time you want to change how you’re using the platform. This arrangement also allows a page to have multiple managers, which is a handy way of ensuring that your school page will never be without an administrator. 

                        Can our school page followers see my name or personal information when I post to the school page?

                        No, page followers will only see the name of your page, never the names or any other information about the page managers. If you ever want to verify what your page visitors are seeing, you can always use the option to "View as Page Visitor." by following these steps:

                        • Click on the three dots next to the Share tab.
                        • Select "View as Page Visitor."
                        • To return to your Page Manager view, just refresh the page.

                        This view shows you what your page visitors see when they visit your page (except for the top menu and Contact list, which is always personalized for you or whoever is logged into FB). Page visitors will also have the option to invite friends to like the page, but when they click on that tab, their friends list will generate, not yours. 

                        How many posts should our school be making every week?

                        One of the most frustrating things for us as school social media managers is when we set up a beautiful new Facebook page for a school who wants to manage it themselves, hand it off to an administrator, and then visit it a month later only to find that they have only made one or two posts in that time. We understand that educators have a lot on their plates already; it’s the reason we created our Social4Schools management services. If you’re going to manage your school’s social pages yourself, though, remember that it’s very important to post regularly, keeping up with the general flow on the social platforms you’re using. With that in mind, here’s the post frequency we recommend schools follow based on how long you can expect a post to stay on your followers’ radar per platform:

                        • Facebook: Every weekday. You can throw in weekends if you really want to stay in front of your audience but, let’s face it, parents aren’t usually expecting to hear from their kids’ schools on weekends.
                        • Twitter: 2–3 times per day
                        • Pinterest: 10–15 new pins per week
                        • YouTube: Add a new video as often as you create one to keep your school’s YouTube channel updated.
                        • Instagram: 1 photo per day (more if you have a particular event going on)

                        Is there a certain time I should be posting to the school social pages to ensure the most people possible are seeing our posts?

                        Our social media representatives have generally found that the best times to post for the schools we manage are between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., M–F. According to this CoSchedule blog, our practices are pretty much on the mark. According to the article, posting at these times will result in peak post engagement.

                        While this afternoon window is generally thought to be the best time to post, if you're posting about something happening the same day, you'll want to post early in the morning. We've found that 7:30–8:30 a.m. is a good time for early morning posts.  

                        By all means, however, if you learn through your own experience that certain post times perform better than others, you should use that data to schedule your posts accordingly—even if the times don't fall into the "statistically" best post times. Statistics are one thing, but letting your own experiences with your audience guide you is always better.

                        Should our school use Instagram?

                        Instagram is all about photo-sharing, and the students at your school are probably using it more than the parents are. If you’re looking to engage students in your school’s social media presence, Instagram is a great way to do it. It’s a mobile-based platform, meaning you post photos straight from an app on your phone or tablet, not a desktop computer. Instagram is a great go-to, photo-sharing platform when you’re on-the-go, and it has some fun features. If you do choose to integrate Instagram into your school culture, remember that business accounts are public, which means anyone can follow your profile. As with all social platforms, be sure to get your photo release forms in order, and make sure whoever manages the Instagram account is well-versed in your school’s social media policy. 

                        The students at our school seem to use Snapchat a lot. Should our school be using Snapchat?

                        Ok, I’m just going to say it—I’m not a fan of Snapchat where schools are concerned. Some people choose the platform specifically for its temporary nature (photos disappear after 10 seconds and Snapchat Stories stay visible for 24 hours); but in my opinion, it’s that very feature that makes it problematic for schools. One of the reasons your school should be using social media is to demonstrate transparency, so using a platform where the content doesn’t stay on your permanent record isn’t ideal. There are arguments for using Snapchat to reach teens where they are, but as someone who works closely with school social media, I’m not convinced it’s the best way to do that. Whatever you decide, do your homework first. Here are a few resources that might help:

                          Is it ok for our teachers and staff to allow students to follow their personal social media pages? What about vice versa?

                          It’s not a best practice for school administration, teachers, and staff to connect with students’ personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat profiles. We say, encourage students to follow your official school social media pages instead. There are some who would argue for using social media to open up the lines of communication between students and teachers, but there are plenty of other, more transparent ways to communicate digitally. The Remind app is a great way for teachers to get messages straight to students via text without having to worry about blurring the lines between personal and professional digital communication. It might be a good idea to implement a rule through your school social media policy that students can follow or friend school personnel only after they graduate.

                          On a slightly related note: administrators, teachers, and staff should not post photos of their students on their own personal social media pages. When parents sign photo release forms, they are only giving their permission to share their child’s image on official school social pages, not the personal pages of your staff. It’s important that your school social media policy stipulate this rule as well.

                          What should I do if someone posts something negative on our school social media pages?

                          Responding to negative comments is just as important as responding to positive ones, and handling these situations in a professional manner is a healthy ingredient in public relations for schools. With 21st-century education, it’s necessary to practice 21st-century communication by treating your online outlets the same as you would your phone lines. Your school wouldn’t dream of leaving your phones unanswered during business hours, and you certainly wouldn’t neglect to return voice messages; your social media communication is no different. FB messages, posts, tweets, hashtags, or online commenters who directly involve your school merit a similar level of your attention. The best advice is to equip your staff with tools for community and parent engagement. For help, read our six tips for handling your school’s reputation online.

                          Is social media ADA compliant?

                          Social media platforms may still have a little bit of work to do in this area, but there are steps you can take to ensure that your school’s social media posts are accessible to everyone. Screen readers can read the text in your social media posts, so the big question becomes how they handle the photos/graphics you add to those posts. FB adds automatic alternative text to the images included in posts to allow people using screen readers to get an idea of what’s pictured. Twitter is a little further behind, requiring users to add alt text themselves, something you can easily do. For both platforms, the biggest issue may be with graphics that include text, and that's probably an important thing to remember since users sometimes get important information from these graphics. As a general rule of thumb, if you share a graphic that contains text with important information, like the date and time of an upcoming art show, for instance, you should also include that basic information in your post. This way, a visually impaired person can get the pertinent information from the post itself, even if their screen reader skips the image. And for videos, be sure you’re using the closed captioning features available on each platform.

                          Another good rule of thumb is to make the information on your social media pages available on your ADA compliant website as a backup. This means that if you’re going to invite people to the school talent show in a Facebook post, be sure that event’s date and time are also available on your school website’s calendar and/or News page. This way, you can be sure that everyone in your community will get the invitation.

                          How do I use social media to drive more traffic to our school website?

                          We’re so glad you asked! School social media is most effective when you partner it with your school website. Be sure to include links to your social media pages on your website so site visitors can find you there. Your website is also a great place to share some of the stories happening on your social media pages. Did you run a social media campaign offering a prize for post likes or shares? Tell your website visitors about it, and encourage them to visit your school social media pages to join in on the fun. 

                          Likewise, driving traffic back to your website should be one of your social media goals, so be sure to post links to specific pages on your school’s website pages often. Did you recently add a new athletics schedule to your website’s Athletics page? Post about it on Facebook, and include a link so people will know where to find it. Use your website to provide parents and students with the current information they need like school menus, forms, and updated calendars, and use your social media posts to tell followers where they’ll find that information. Your social media posts push straight to their news feeds, so use those posts to teach your school community to use your school website as their go-to resource.

                          Ask an Expert!

                          We hope that sharing the answers to some of these more frequently asked questions proves helpful as all you DIY social media managers work toward adding this task to your skill set. If you have a question that doesn’t appear here, please reach out to us! Just fill out our handy “Ask an Expert” form, and one of our professional social media managers will get back to you. With the right tools, you can become an effective social media manager for your school or district, keeping your pages off the dreaded “Pinterest fail” boards.

                          Ask an Expert


                          347236
                          Stellar School Branding
                          2018-02-13
                          Image of red pencil

                          In the world of education, colleges and universities are the branding kings. Think for a moment of your nearest state university. Do you know its colors? The mascot? Can you visualize their logo? I’m betting you can. Colleges and universities put a lot of money into their brand. Our public schools and private schools run on much smaller budgets. The great thing about branding, though, is you can create a strong school brand with thought and effort rather than dollars and cents. 

                          The term “brand” is much more than a logo or school motto, and it encompasses much more than your school letterhead and newsletters. Your brand is an image that includes the ideals that you want to promote to your enrolled families, prospective families and visitors, and the community at large. A distinctive brand can be one of your school’s most valuable communication assets, especially in this time of school choice and open enrollment.

                          The Basic School Brand

                          We won’t spend too much time on the basic brand—chances are this is stuff you already know. A basic brand will include the consistent use of particular elements such as the name of your school, your school motto, your school colors, and your logo and mascot. These items are most likely already created for your school; however, if you happen to be going through a rebranding process, or if you’re a startup charter school or private school, here are a few tips for the essential elements of your school brand

                          • School name. Make sure you have and follow consistent rules for your school name—and that includes the abbreviation you choose to use. Do you want to be known as Mountain View High School or MV High School? Or do you prefer MVHS after the first reference? If you want your audience to be aware of your school’s name, you need to be consistent in it’s use.

                          • School logo and mascot. A logo is a graphic mark or emblem your school can use to attain instant public recognition, allowing you to spread your brand more easily. An effective logo becomes implanted in the memories of your target audience. Much like the importance of an effective logo, a good mascot will be an instant brand recognition tool.

                          • School motto. If your motto is already set, your job here is to make sure it’s known. Take a look around your campus. Is it written on your walls? On your letterhead? Do you use it often in your assemblies? Your school motto can, and should, promote school pride. Make sure those words mean something around your campus.

                          • School colors. There is science behind the use of colors that influences how we perceive, choose, and even react to different things based on color. What do your colors say about your school? What colors are designated as complimentary colors in your school branding bible?

                          The Good School Brand

                          Every school has a name, logo, mascot, motto, and colors. That’s the kind of blasé branding every school does. But you want your school brand to be better than average, right? To take your branding up a notch, take a page out of college and university playbooks—be different. 

                          What makes you different could be the deciding factor in an enrollment decision. Yale and Harvard differentiate themselves as academically prestigious and highly-competitive when it comes to admissions. Arizona State University has (some may argue “had”) a reputation as a party school that drove them to become one of the largest universities in the country.

                          Your school should have personality. If you’re not sure what your school’s personality is, start with what makes you unique. What programs do you offer that no one else does? In what areas does your school excel? What services do you provide that your stakeholders love?

                          Once you’ve identified your niché, take a walk around your campus. Spend some time people-watching with a notebook in hand. What do your students look like? Are they happy? Are they excited? What are they talking about? Watch your staff. What is their demeanor? Is your school a place people love to be? Why? 

                          Really good school branding includes these elements of branding—image and atmosphere. 

                          The Stellar School Brand

                          Really great school branding takes an image and atmosphere and shows it to the world! 

                          Arizona State University has a great campaign called “Sparky World Tour.” This is a campaign aimed to connect with (and promote) ASU Online students. To participate, students fill out a questionnaire, and, if they qualify, ASU sends them a doll of the school’s mascot—Sparky. In return, participants send in a picture of their Sparky doll in an interesting location near their hometown, which is then shared on social media. Campaigns like this fuel school pride and help to spread the brand.  

                          Don’t worry—your branding efforts don’t need to circumnavigate the globe; but they do need to permeate throughout your community. What can your school do to reach your community, increase school pride, and brand loyalty? 

                          One example of stellar school branding comes from a school in Minnetrista, Minnesota. Westonka Public Schools starts recruiting kids from the minute they’re born with “baby bags.” When a baby is born in the area, the district sends parents a baby bag filled with a district-logoed bib, a welcome letter from the superintendent, and a course catalog. The district follows up by sending a birthday card on the child’s birthday every year for the next five years. This simple marketing campaign gets the school on parents’ radar early and keeps them on their radar as they decide where to enroll their child. 

                          Minnesota is an open enrollment state, so it’s clear the schools understand the importance of school marketing and branding. With issues like school choice hanging in the air this year, establishing your brand and marketing your school becomes increasingly important. 

                          Stellar school branding incorporates school marketing to help you establish your school as the school of choice in your community. Creating a recognizable brand for your school is a must; it provides your school with the opportunity to tell your entire community who you are at a glance. 

                          Your brand is the visual and visceral representation of your school—make it an effective one. A well-thought-out brand gives your school the edge when it comes to school marketing and also helps your school communications and fundraising efforts. Through that one, united image, you can communicate your promise to deliver on your mission and uphold your values as a school. Because brand is connected with logo, students and parents will feel a sense of pride when they see it on school publications, social networking pages, and even on their clothing. Visitors to your website will be reminded of your school’s commitment to excellence by the presence of your unique brand, and they will come to recognize and trust you by it.

                          How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                          391402
                          How Your Reaction to ADA Compliance Affects Your Public Relations
                          2018-02-06
                          Image of woman at desk giving thumbs up for ADA website compliance

                          I won’t sugarcoat this—making and keeping your school website ADA compliant is difficult! 

                          To begin, WCAG 2.0 contains four categories with sixteen guidelines and over seventy rules… I mean, “success criteria.” If you’re building or redesigning your school website, you need to keep accessibility in mind as you consider layout, text, images, and other design features. Then, if you are managing your website in-house with a content management system (CMS), you need training on the accessibility features of that system. With each update, you will need to remember to apply the features. Finally, any member of your staff who will be posting or updating the website will also require training and quality checks to ensure they are applying the accessibility functions with every update. 

                          And it’s not just your website you need to worry about either. Schools have hundreds, even thousands, of documents, all of which must also comply with ADA requirements. Everything from your lunch menu to your student handbook to your board of education minutes needs to be accessible.

                          We asked our ADA compliance guru, Kelly Childs, to tell us the average time it takes to remediate a document. Her response? “It's really hard to say because each document is very different. I would say, a simple document with only text may take less than ten minutes; however, a complex document may take an hour for one page.” 

                          Why does it take so long? Kelly says, “There are so many factors that go into it such as the document format, whether or not it is scanned, and what type of elements (headers, tables, graphics, etc.) are on the page. A super simple page could take five minutes or less, but that is more the exception than the standard.”

                          We’ve blogged previously about the legal requirements of website accessibly and how to make your school website ADA compliant. We’ve even provided full website accessibility services to make things easy for our clients (feel free to reach out to Kelly for more information). But there is one thing we haven’t talked about yet in all this—and that is the public relations aspect of ADA compliance. 

                          School PR and Website Accessibility

                          School public relations can be defined as the development and maintenance of a favorable public image for your school. Your school culture, customer service, reputation, brand, and communications all contribute to your PR. 

                          So why does having an ADA compliant school website matter? 

                          What is your school mission, vision, or values? I’ll wager there is something in there about every student, or all students, or each student. Am I right? ADA compliance is about making sure you truly meet the needs of each student. While you may already do an outstanding job of that in the classroom, consider that the regulations surrounding school website accessibility ensure that the parents of every student have equal access to any information and communication your school provides to help them be involved and engaged in the education of their child. 

                          While we hope that negative consequences aren’t your primary motivating factor, we cannot ignore that it does play an important role in considering website accessibility and your school public relations. Imagine the PR nightmare your school might face if the Office of Civil Rights comes knocking on your door for accessibility negligence. That would send a message that your school doesn’t care about making your communications accessible to individuals with disabilities. Even if that’s not the case, the media loves a good “David and Goliath” story, and if it’s your school versus the disabled—you can guarantee the media won’t be kind.

                          Rather than moan and groan over the amount of work ADA compliance entails, try a more positive outlook: Website accessibility is an opportunity to improve your public relations. It is a chance to show your community that you care, that truly every individual is important to your school, and it demonstrates that your school is willing to take those extra steps to make sure every student has every opportunity to succeed. 

                          For these reasons, we flinch when we hear (understandably) frustrated administrators say things like, “This is too hard. We just won’t have a website!” Before you do your community the disservice, let’s look at the four most common reactions we hear from school administrators and how that solution would affect your school public relations.

                          1. “We just won’t have a website!”

                          This is perhaps the most dramatic of reactions to ADA compliance. When faced with the complexities of maintaining accessible school websites according to accessibility standards, many schools are ready to throw in the towel on the whole thing. While this may seem like a tempting, reasonable solution from an administrative standpoint, from a PR perspective, it’s the worst possible solution.  

                          Your school website is your primary online communications channel. And due to current media trends, we can say your website actually is your main communications channel, period. 

                          Everything needs to be online and easily accessible in this day and age. For everyone. Consider the fact that as many as one in five of your audience (students, parents, or community members) requires special technology, tools, or modifications to access information online. If your target audience can’t find what they are looking for within three to five clicks on a mouse, chances are they will become frustrated and either give up or click on the “contact us” link and make a call. Maintaining an organized, useful online presence for your school is not a luxury—it is a necessity. 

                          2. “Instead of a website, we’ll just use social media.”

                          Sometimes administrators think that instead of the website, they will just use social media for their school marketing and communication needs. Again, this is not a feasible solution. First of all, social platforms do not currently adhere to accessibility regulations. Secondly, your school does not own the social media platform. Owning your main platform of “online real estate” is essential for marketing, public relations, and the survival of your school or district in the long run. 

                          Businesses recently learned this valuable lesson as Facebook made some algorithm changes in past weeks. The abbreviated version is that company posts would become less visible to followers’ news feeds. If businesses wish to reach a larger audience, Facebook requires them to pay to “boost” posts. The opportunity of “organic reach” or viral posts for businesses has plummeted. While schools don’t quite face the same dilemma on social platforms (yet), this does illustrate the importance of maintaining control over your main online communications channel. 

                          3. “We’ll just take down all our PDFs.”

                          Again, this may seem like a simple solution to a complex issue; however, let me tell you a true story. One Thursday I attended a webinar where the presenter said that one of their schools had 187 PDFs on its website, all of which needed to be made accessible (that process is called “remediation”). Rather than remediate the PDFs, they removed them saying they would “put them back up one at a time as parents complain.” 

                          This is the attitude of a frustrated educator dealing with the problem, rather than a communications person dealing with a solution. Can you imagine the burden such an action would place on your staff when parents can no longer find lunch menus, student handbooks, supply lists, and enrollment forms? 

                          As a PR person, that phrase “as parents complain” really bothered me. No school actually wants parents to complain. Don’t we complain about parents complaining? Don’t we create policies and manage customer service around keeping our parents and community happy? We don’t want complaints! It’s not good PR. 

                          Please remember, ADA is about accessibility! Making things less accessible to everyone is not the solution here.


                          4. “Instead of posting documents, we’ll just add a page to the website.”

                          Documents are one of the most time-consuming elements of ADA compliance, and schools have an abundance of documents! We understand the impulse to create pages instead of documents, but in the long run, it is not a practical solution. 

                          Websites are meant to be dynamic. That’s why keeping your website updated is such a big deal. Sometimes, schools are required to keep an archive of documents (such as board of education minutes) that could go back years. Creating pages on a website, rather than linking to a document or PDF, starts to take up a lot of room. The last thing you want is for your school website to become bloated with too much content and cumbersome to navigate.

                          A dynamic, easy to navigate website is a powerful public relations tool. 

                          Consider also that your parents may want to save a form, schedule, or list. For example, a parent may want to print the lunch menu and stick it to the refrigerator for easy reference. Printing from a website is a pain, unless your website is designed for “printer friendly” versions. If this is your chosen approach to accessibility, your school will need to make sure every website page has a printer friendly version. Realistically, doing so is a lot of work and an extra expense for your web development team.

                          One possible solution to your document challenge is to use Google Drive. Although Google doesn’t offer the same accessibility options as other programs like Adobe PDF, it is an accessible option for your school documents. Keep in mind that for your Google Docs and Sheets to be accessible, you must apply all the accessibility functions available in the program. And when you export a Google Doc to a PDF, Microsoft Word, or another program, there are additional accessibility features you will need to apply. But for forms and documents that you need on your website, a link to a Google Doc is a feasible solution.

                          ADA Compliance is Worth It

                          So what is the solution (the only solution, really) to ADA compliance? Just do it and do it right. It takes a lot of time, but we promise you it’s worth it. It’s worth saving your school the legal hassle. And it’s worth it for your public relations. 

                          Have you ever come in on a project that was started without you or inherited a task that was a mess from top to bottom? That is what has happened with ADA compliance coming on the scene of school websites. It’s a mess getting started, but as you work on one aspect of clean up at a time, you’ll make it through. 

                          Get Started

                          Step 1: Create an ADA policy for the website.

                          Step 2: Start with a website audit and work to make the website itself ADA compliant one step at a time. 

                          Step 3: Begin to remediate your attachments, documents, and videos. 

                          A word of caution: You know how frustrating it is to clean up a room in the house only to have your kids come in like a tornado and undo all your hard work, right? Or maybe at least you know what it’s like to clean up a mess in the kitchen only to have someone come in with a pile of dirty dishes, flop them in the sink, and march off. Don’t let that be your experience with ADA compliance, especially where your website is concerned. 

                          Worrying that once it is compliant, your hard work may be undone is a valid concern with content management systems (CMS). With so many people making updates to your website, someone is bound to throw something out of compliance. And with ADA compliance, it’s all or none—meaning, if just one thing is off, your whole website is considered inaccessible. 

                          The OCR requires schools to have an action plan to bring their websites into compliance. The most straightforward action plan to managing school website ADA compliance is to hire School Webmasters. Not only will we build an ADA compliant website, but we’ll keep it that way. And for your documents? We offer free accessibility training for your faculty and staff and document remediation for a quote.

                          Regarding School Webmasters' ADA services, the director of public relations and marketing at Tolleson Union High School District, Joseph Ortiz, says, "School Webmasters has been very helpful. The best thing has been the open and direct contact with staff members who can help us and provide direction. [School webmasters] is very easy to work with and we rely on their expertise in this area. We feel very supported." 

                          Let us know how we can support you with this heavy task of ADA compliance. We're happy to help! 

                          347678
                          5 Ways School Marketing Will Pay Off by the End of the Year
                          2018-01-30
                          Image of road sign with the word advantages representing school marketing advantages

                          Benefits are a huge motivator. And whether we realize it or not, much of our day-to-day actions are motivated by benefits. If we weigh the benefits versus the activity and decide it’s not worth it, we won’t carry out the activity. 

                          Take, for example, doing the dishes. It’s really something I ought to be doing every day to keep my kitchen clean and tidy. I truly enjoy a clean and tidy kitchen, but honestly, sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day. At the end of some days, the benefit is outweighed by more pressing chores or the need for sleep, and the dishes don’t get done. You really have to love that clean and tidy kitchen to do it every day, and, at the very least, you have to want a clean and tidy kitchen to do it several times a week.

                          Marketing your school may seem like a similar chore—you know you should market every day, but it gets outweighed by more pressing matters. It’s something you really ought to be doing at least three times week to start seeing results. But, let’s be honest, there are some houses where dishes pile up for weeks on end and never get done. That’s how school marketing ends up at many schools—a mountain of “to-dos” that never get done. 

                          Maybe that’s because it’s harder to see some of the benefits of school marketing. This week, I hope that by illuminating some of the benefits of school marketing, you’ll find a motivating factor to help you continue your efforts. 

                          Stakeholders Who Like You

                          One of the first benefits of good school marketing is that your stakeholders will like you. 

                          Yes, you need your stakeholders to like you. In fact, you really want your stakeholders to love you, but we don’t mind settling for like right now. “Liking” constitutes a positive opinion and attitude towards your school. That positive attitude is fostered by the basics of school marketing: open, two-way communication, fostering relationships, and great school customer service. 

                          When I was earning my master’s degree, one of my favorite courses was persuasion theory, in which we learned how people are influenced, convinced, or persuaded to act and think. One determination of influence is “liking.” People, or in our case organizations, are more likely to agree with people (organizations) they like. Some of the benefits of liking include a more stable environment for your school, more positive grassroots word of mouth, and more cooperation among stakeholders.

                          If your stakeholders don’t like you, consider the alternatives; they either dislike you or are apathetic towards you. Neither one of those attitudes fosters the kind of cooperative, engaged environment you wish for your school.

                          Stakeholders Who Trust You

                          My husband and I recently shopped for car insurance. He was really in favor of using one of the prominent companies that advertise a lot on television and radio, even though they were a more expensive option. He couldn’t quite put his finger on why he wanted to go with that company, but he finally said, “It has to be that guy in their ads. I like him; I trust him.” 

                          When your stakeholders like you, trust generally follows.

                          When stakeholders trust your school, it eases relationships and fosters cooperation, and stakeholders will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt in crises situations. 

                          Keep in mind, though, that trust is a delicate relationship. In addition to liking, trust relies on credibility and reliability. That means the quality of your school marketing efforts matter as do your ethics. You earn and keep trust when your school’s communications are transparent, consistent, and honest and your customer service is genuine and caring. 

                          Invested Stakeholders

                          When we talk about invested stakeholders, we’re talking about the extent of their relationship with our school. Investment is a step beyond being liked and trusted and connects on a more visceral level; it’s an emotional connection to the point where your stakeholders care about your school.

                          Many parents are invested in their children’s education but not necessarily in the school their children attend. Marketing your school can help build loyalty, pride, and commitment in your stakeholders. Once their child is enrolled, parents may be more willing to invest their time and money in your school for the duration of their child’s education. Your marketing efforts can help stakeholders become invested in your school’s future even after their children have moved on.

                          When you care about your stakeholders, they will care about you.  

                          More Stakeholder Support

                          When stakeholders like, trust, and are invested in your school, they are more likely to support your school and your school’s efforts. It’s no secret why schools should seek out the support of their key stakeholders. But just for argument’s sake, support is especially important in all of your school’s undertakings as you launch new programs and cut outdated ones, adapt education to the 21st century, develop teaching methods, pass budgets, petition for funding, etc. 

                          Your school needs parents, community members, staff, and students on its side. Marketing your school will help you cultivate a supportive environment. 

                          More Stakeholder Involvement 

                          What happens when you care and support a cause or organization? You do everything you can to become involved, don’t you? 

                          As your school marketing efforts yield results, you will find your stakeholders engaging with your school in positive ways. Not just better attendance at parent-teacher conferences and back to school nights. Your marketing efforts can create a culture of actively engaged stakeholders for your school. 

                          Here are some ways your school marketing efforts can boost involvement: 

                          • Increase student attendance and involvement 
                          • Attract qualified and quality staff 
                          • Increase parent volunteers and committee members 
                          • Boost attendance at school events 
                          • Increase fundraising 
                          • Help pass bonds or levies

                          Like, trust, investment, support, involvement—marketing your school has incredible benefits—benefits that are worth your time at least a few hours every week. If you need some help getting started, download our free ebook How Effective Schools Market Themselves

                          Happy School Marketing! 


                          How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
                          390731
                          School websites—the Swiss army knife of influence and communications
                          2018-01-23
                          school websites-the swiss army knife of communications

                          One of the most powerful tools a school has when it comes to implementing effective school communications is the school website. It’s like that indispensable Swiss Army knife that has nearly every possible tool in one convenient location. 

                          Any school that cares about happy parents, attracting more students, recruiting quality staff, keeping everyone informed, and building a reputation it is proud of, will give top priority to its school website strategy.

                          Let’s take a look at just a few of the most useful tools provided by the best school websites:

                          Large blade: improved communication

                          The largest blade in your handy-dandy Swiss Army knife is the one that does the most work. The largest blade, and the main purpose of  your school’s website, is to create and maintain a reliable and current communications channel for all of your customers. It means your parents will know they have an up-to-date and comprehensive resource they can go to any time of the day or night to find the information they need. It means new residents in your community can check out what your school has to offer their children. It is the place that teachers trying to find the perfect match for their skill sets can end their job search. 

                          A school website, whether it is the district website or a school level website, is the news channel that you control. You should:

                          • Use it to educate your community about what you offer, and share the successes your students and staff enjoy. 
                          • Use it to keep everyone informed and on the same page. When your website is a reliable resource, it will get used and appreciated.
                          • Use it as a powerful way to cut through the gossip and misunderstandings that can quickly go viral and take on a life of their own. 
                          • Use it to become the reliable experts, not allowing some other resource with a bias to hurt your reputation or control the narrative.
                          • Use your school website to control the messaging, build trust and confidence, and quickly dispel misinformation.

                          For more ideas to implement some great school communication strategies, check out: Effective School Communication is Possible, Telling Your School’s Stories, and 3 Simple Principles to Keep Your School’s Website Current.

                          Small blade: customer service

                          Another essential tool (and a primary purpose for any effective school website) is to meet those customer service needs. While it may not be the most obvious tool in the school website arsenal, it is vital to long-term success. 

                          The following are just a few of the customer service solutions your site can address:

                          • Welcome them! Start your site with a welcoming message, just like you would in any conversation, whether with an old friend or a new acquaintance. It serves several purposes. First, it reassures site visitors that they are on the right website. Secondly, it shows them you recognize the importance of their visit and that you want to meet their needs.
                          • Make it easy. Now that you’ve said hello, make sure they can quickly find the type of information they are seeking. Use intuitive navigation, be clear and concise, and don’t make them drill down to find what they need. 
                          • Give them what they need. Your school website should make finding the most common and necessary information convenient and current. This online customer service is available 24/7 and will not only assist your customers but will save your staff time. If you aren’t sure exactly what this necessary information is, ask your staff, particularly school secretaries, what the most common questions are that they answer daily. Be sure the answers are on your website. This includes online forms that will not force parents to come by the office (often during hours that are inconvenient for them) to complete forms and permissions.
                          • Make sure yours in a mobile friendly website. You’ll want parents to be able to access your site from their phone or other device, no matter where they are. A responsive website design for your school site has become a must.
                          • For more ideas, check out these customer service blog topics: Roll Out the Welcome Mat, Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes?, From Good to Great: School Customer Service.

                          Can opener: school marketing

                          Schools that do a good job of marketing their successes and keeping their parents informed and engaged don’t have to worry about losing students to other schools. They often have a waiting list from those other schools. Your school’s website, used in conjunction with social media and family-school engagement efforts, can pry open resources you might not have considered targeting originally, like pride, enthusiasm, and trust. The stories you tell and the successes you share will make that a reality and the main resource will be your school websites. 

                          But to be effective, it has to be worth the visit. If parents go there and nothing has changed in a month, they won’t bother to come back. They also lose trust that you care about their needs. They want to root for you. They want to believe their children are attending the best schools available. But, if you don’t prove, through your news, stories, and communications that it is a reality, no one else will.

                          Use your website strategically to apply smart marketing efforts. Provide something for each of your key audiences. Include an area for your recruiting efforts that tells prospective parents or staff about the strengths your school provides. Include video testimonials from each audience that validate your claims. Include any impressive stats available, like scholarships won by graduates, alumni successes, state or national ranks or awards, and successful programs and services. And always, always include evidence of your priorities. It might be providing a safe environment in an area where security is an issue. It might be specialized programs not offered elsewhere, like music, art, or sports. If you provide help to students who struggle in a traditional environment, share those stories about how your students achieved goals beyond what they thought possible to them. 

                          Developing these stories and videos takes planning and effort, but will be well worth your time and focus. For other ideas, check out our 50-weeks of school marketing toolkit, or read a few of our school marketing blogs, like Why Marketing Matters, DIY School Marketing, or School Marketing is Not a Dirty Word.

                          Pliers: public relations

                          Your school needs you to manage its public relations. That means you must plan for consistent and intentional communication if you hope to build mutually beneficial relationships with each of your audiences. Since public relations is all about the messages you communicate, your goals to strengthen your relationships, and turning negative messages into positive ones, your website is a critical tool. Like a good pair of pliers, great for getting a grip on things, your public relations efforts can grip your current school reputation and bend it into one that shows your strengths, builds trust and confidence, and creates advocates out of adversaries. 

                          Here are a few tips to get you started on using your website for PR:

                          • Use your website as your online newsroom. That means keep it informative and engaging with current news and successes. We’re sure you have lots of feel-good stories to share, so do it! Get your staff engaged in helping you highlight them.
                          • Use your social platforms to drive people to your well-written stories, your engaging images and videos, testimonials, and the information that lets your community get to know and recognize your school brand.
                          • Make sure your website content is friendly, jargon free, and engaging to read. You must remember who your audience is and speak to them using tone and language that is not only clear, but enjoyable. Apply school copywriting best practices.
                          • Make your website a journalist-friendly and handy resource, so when local media needs to do background research on a topic that comes their way, your school site is a reliable and inviting resource. And, if they call you wanting information, call them back and provide the type of information that will share your school’s perspective.

                          For more public relations articles, try: Public Relations for Schools, Don’t Bench your School-level Websites, or Schools That Do More With Less. If you need help with feet-on-the-ground, school PR, check out our PR4Schools services. Get the professional support you can afford.

                          Scissors: saving time and money

                          Cutting out wasted time and trimming expenses is essential in today’s educational environment. There simply aren’t enough funds to go around, so good leadership means making efficient use of the funds we have. Using your website as a ready resource to answer questions and provide solutions while keeping your staff focused on its core responsibilities is just plain smart.

                          Questions that parents frequently ask of your office staff should be available on your website. Online registration or materials available to complete forms without requiring parents to stop by the office is not only a time-saver for staff but a welcome convenience to parents. Frequently accessed school policies should be just a few clicks away, and a page for frequently asked questions can turn a rule-laden student handbook into a positive and informative tool. 

                          Use your website to eliminate redundancies, provide a consistent and reliable resource for answers, provide up-to-date calendars, and post news and events that will support your marketing efforts and keep everyone informed and engaged. These common-sense efforts are a low-cost way to improve communication and save staff and parents time. Anything that makes doing your job more efficient and effective saves time and money, and the good will engendered is a huge plus.

                          Magnifying lens: social media engagement

                          Engagement is about zooming in on relationships, trust, and common goals. Using your school social media effectively will greatly magnify parent, student, and community engagement.—good for improved communications.

                          With some of the changes in how posts are ranked, you’ll want to make your social media engagement as effective as possible. Here are a few tips:

                          • Think photos! Post lots of school photos. Your parents and students look forward to seeing their friends in your posts, so be generous with images.
                          • Focus on content that will encourage your communities to share, comment, like, and love your content. Ask questions, have fun, and create events to make participation irresistible.
                          • Create video, including live video, for your Facebook posts. Find opportunities to use Facebook live, which will always get your post ranked higher.
                          • Share your own music videos. For the next school concert, play, or half-time performance at the next game, video and share.

                          All of your social media engagement is working in conjunction with your website, where the more detailed information resides. When you create an event on your social media and then follow up with the huge success of your event on your website along with pictures and descriptions of the outcome, benefits, and purpose of the event, you’ll be promoting and then covering your own news. In the process, you’ll be creating fans, earning trust, and building a strong school brand. Here are a few articles with additional school social media ideas: Facebook’s new algorithm, School Social Media Managers: A Calm Voice, and Use the Power-Packed Punch of School Social Media Analytics.

                          Tweezers: ADA compliance

                          ADA compliance is yet another area that requires attention and time when managing your school websites. Some administrators find it so challenging that they have considered eliminating the website in its entirety. But, since communication is essential for great leadership, failing to use the most effective channel at your disposal is simply foolish. It behooves us to turn this resource into a communication powerhouse. That will include making sure that everyone accessing it can get the information they need. As it is estimated that those with visual, hearing, or other impairments are 10–15% of the population, we will only benefit by making sure we are inclusive.

                          The other reason to make sure yours is an ADA compliant website is simply to avoid the expense and negative impact of having the Office of Civil Rights knocking on your door with a complaint. Once the lawyers get involved and the press grabs onto a sensationalist story, the fix becomes much more challenging.

                          So, take steps to make sure website compliance is included in your website management processes. I liken it to using those tweezers in your Swiss Army knife to remove a splinter or shard of glass. It may not be killing you, but the constant irritation and worry of living with the pain is just not worth it. 

                          So, how do you do that? We have quite a few resources to help you out. If you are the DIY type and are adding all website updates with your staff, train them how to do it right, check their work, and repeat often. If you aren’t sure what ADA website compliance entails, here are a few high-level articles to help you out: School Website Accessibility Tips, School Website Accessibility FAQ, School Website Accessibility Worries, ADA Compliance and PR, or How to Have an ADA Compliant School Website. Or, if you want to keep your staff focused on the jobs you hired them to do, hire School Webmasters to do your daily website updates and management for you, thus ensuring that your websites stay compliant. In other words, we’ll serve as the tweezers in your handy toolkit.

                          Use all the tools you have

                          K–12 education is changing. Schools are under constant scrutiny from the media and community. Polarizing attitudes about what should be taught and tested and who is responsible for it all is a popular political ball being enthusiastically kicked around. But the smart educational leaders don’t assume that we can do things in the educational sector the way we did 20 or even ten years ago. We must manage our communications, earn the loyalty and trust of our customers, and market our schools’ strengths. 

                          Every day we see great examples of schools doing an outstanding job in each of these areas. These are the same schools that enjoy improved teaching and learning, student confidence and successes, and engaged parents. Is yours one of these schools? Are you one of these leaders who has the vision to lead your school to greater heights for the benefit of all your students? If so, you are putting a priority on communication and using your website as the driving force behind your strategies.

                          A few months ago, a school superintendent told me that his public school website was dismal. They didn’t update it often. But, he chuckled and said that it really didn’t matter, “because parents in our community don’t go to it anyway.”

                          What he didn’t see was that they didn’t go there because it wasn’t a resource they could rely on. It wasn’t that parents didn’t care about their children’s education; they just went elsewhere for their information. Those alternate resources were costing staff time (and wasting limited school funds) and were often inaccurate or negative. It was also an embarrassing first impression and an unprofessional representation of his school. 

                          That is the power you give up if you don’t effectively manage and use your school website to its potential. You are giving your most useful tool, effective communication, to others who don’t have your best interests at heart and showing contempt for the very customers you seek to serve.

                          Your website matters. It can change attitudes and improve your educational outcomes. It can turn criticism into trust and critics into advocates. This is all within reach. Just use the tools at your disposal wisely. Your school website is a powerful and effective resource. Put it to work for you!

                          357031
                          This is NOT the End of Facebook!
                          2018-01-17
                          School social media tips

                          Dear School Social Media Clients, Followers, and Managers:

                          Despite what you may have heard, the Facebook world is NOT coming to an end. Still, with a term like “Facebook Apocalypse” being thrown around, we felt it best to spend a little time chatting with you about what Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement concerning the changes Facebook will be making to their algorithm means for you. Does it mean the end of Facebook’s usefulness when it comes to school communication and public relations? No. Does it mean school social media managers will have to change some of their strategies when it comes to post content and interacting with their communities on Facebook? You betcha. 

                          If you’re already a School Webmasters social media management client, we’ve got you covered! (Aren’t you glad you don’t have to keep up with all the constant changes in social media yourself?) We’re reaching out to management clients to touch bases on the ways you can help us keep your pages running as smoothly as ever, but we’ll be doing the heavy lifting for you when it comes to implementing changes to post content. If you’re a district/school administrator or staff member who manages your own school Facebook page, you might want to take a few notes. Your school page can still succeed at reaching your learning community where they are; you’ll probably just have to make a few changes to your Facebook strategy.

                          First, if you haven’t heard anything about this yet, please take a moment to pop on over to Mr. Zuckerberg’s FB page to read his announcement from January 11, 2018. After a little background information about what matters most to the Facebook creator (“to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us”), he says he’s responding to feedback that “public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” Now, while we know you don’t normally lump your school in with businesses, brands, and media—Facebook does, because using the “pages” option (just like businesses do) is the best way for you to tell your school’s stories on their platform. Not personal pages. Not groups. Pages. 

                          If you’d like to read up more on the business world’s take on the announcement, please check out these resources. While these videos and articles approach the change to the Facebook algorithm from a marketing perspective, many of the points they make about the ways using Facebook pages will have to change are just as easily applied to schools. 

                          • Social Media Examiner video: This explains the "open letter" from Mark Zuckerberg. It's a little on the alarmist side for my taste, but they do a pretty good job of going through the letter bit by bit to explain it.
                          • Recode article: Talks a little about the reasoning behind FB's decision to move in a different direction with the way they rank content.
                          • Mark Schaefer: Takes a "this is not as big of a deal as everyone is making out to be" approach that, frankly, I appreciate.

                          Basically, Facebook has been under some fire over the past year or so about the way their algorithm may be a contributing factor to the spread of fake news and people’s general discontent with the social media experience. I think it's safe to say that the microscope they've found themselves under as a result of their approach to ranking news feed content is a big motivator for this change. They've also seen a bit of an exodus from Facebook to other platforms because people are tired of having to scroll through a ton of ads and business posts to get to posts by their friends and family—the reason they joined FB in the first place. From a personal perspective, I say, “Yay!” From a social-media-for-schools perspective, I say, “Don’t panic.”

                          Posts from pages will likely fall lower on people's news feeds as this takes effect. Not to worry, though! The secret to your school’s Facebook page success will continue be what it has always been: to post engaging content and train your audience to interact with your school’s page in a way that creates an active, positive online community. School social media managers can follow our lead and take the following, proactive steps to make sure your page followers are still seeing school posts:

                          Teach Your Followers to “See First”

                          This is probably the best work-around when it comes to dealing with the new algorithm governing your page’s ranking on your followers’ news feeds. It’s almost like bookmarking your school page, as it puts each new post at the top of the news feed. Since the big announcement, Ridgefield Public Schools posted an invitation to their followers to use this feature along with a screenshot that shows them what do. 

                          We also created a quick how-to video on our own Facebook page, which you’re welcome to share on your school page! Whichever method you choose, make teaching your audience to see your page first your first step in adjusting for this change. And do it today.

                          Focus on Engagement

                          This new algorithm will most negatively impact pages that get little to no engagement. This means that we need to be focusing on audience-centered content more than ever, which means more school-specific content that you think, based on experience, will generate likes, comments, and shares. Facebook says that they’re making this change to increase the number of conversations people have with each other, so content that gets your audience talking to one another in the Comments section will get preference over, for instance, a generic reminder about tomorrow’s bake sale. One of the signals Facebook will be looking for to determine where to place your page’s posts will be page engagement. And really, isn’t this what we’ve been telling school social media managers to shoot for all along? Social media is supposed to be, well, social! For schools, your most engaging content is going to include:

                          • School videos, especially live video. Facebook always favors video, so pre-recorded video is still fine, but going live with Facebook Live will get your post ranked even higher.
                          • Create events for upcoming events vs. just posting reminders.
                          • Post school photos—parents LOVE them, and posts with images will always get more attention than those without.
                          • When you don’t have any specific school content to share, stick with some tried and true FB content—the kind of content we know people are likely to engage with on Facebook—and apply it to your school community. In 2017, Buzzsumo listed the following as some of the most viral FB posts:
                            • Practical tips/hacks: from studying tips to suggestions for which of the latest box office hits are good for the whole family, many parents appreciate practical advice from their child’s school.
                            • Awesome, inspiring content: #MotivationMonday posts, especially ones that use your own school students and staff to inspire, can be a big hit with school communities.
                            • Food & recipes: for schools, things like healthy breakfasts and easy school lunches are safe bets.
                            • Cute animals: maybe something related to your school mascot?
                            • Music videos: take some video at your next school band concert and share away!

                          Remember, aside from hearing about all the great stories and important announcements your school has to share, your followers are on Facebook to have a little fun, so indulge them a little!

                          Change Some of Your Posting Habits

                          If you’ve been managing your school Facebook page for a while, you’ve probably gotten into a few management habits that you’ll have to switch up a bit. You might have even developed some of those habits by listening to previously good advice from social media professionals (like us!); but we’re all making adjustments, so here’s our newest advice:

                          • If you’ve been using a scheduling app like Hootsuite to schedule FB posts ahead of time, stop doing that now. Actually, we’ve always recommended people use the FB scheduling tool vs. a third party scheduler for FB posts, so this isn’t really news to us. We haven't heard too much about FB's scheduling tool with regard to this change, so we’ll probably keep using it (sparingly, and not too far in advance) until we hear otherwise.
                          • The number of posts your page makes per day also seems to play a factor. Believe it or not, some social media marketers were recommending posting up to 10 times per day on FB. Even some of our school social media competitors were posting five times per day for their clients. I hate to say "I told you so," but yeah—fewer, more meaningful posts will be the key here as well. Aim for one Facebook post per day, or two if you have something really spur-of-the-moment to share.
                          • Spend more time telling your audience what they need to know right from your post and less time directing them to external websites. It looks like the new algorithm punishes pages that use their posts to tell people to leave FB to get the information they're looking for. You can still use your social media posts to drive traffic to your school website, blogs, and other social pages, but try to find a more creative way to direct people there over simply providing the link and directing people to follow it. Obviously, we know our goals are SO much different than the tabloid-like sites that use "clickbait" to try and trick people into clicking on their ridiculous articles, but FB won't know the difference between our intentions and theirs. An example of typical clickbait phrasing might be something like, "Our students expected cupcakes at the bake sale, but what they got was MUCH more amazing. You’ll have to follow the link to our website to believe it!" You might think you're just being playful, but headlines like that could make your post a target to the filters they’re using to weed other kinds of less-helpful content out of people's news feeds.
                          • Finally, use Facebook’s page analytics tools to monitor what your audience responds to and what they don’t, and adjust accordingly. If you try something new that gets great engagement, add that type of post to your regular strategy. Likewise, if you notice a post gets zero engagement, skip posts like it in the future. 

                          Basically, this change will only affect school pages negatively if we aren't doing all of the things we already knew we needed to be doing: creating engaging, audience-centered content and communicating with our followers about the best ways for them to engage online with our schools to nourish a happy, healthy social media culture. After all, school social media is all about building community, and that’s what this change to Facebook’s algorithm is supposed to be about. Make your posts reflect Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of “focusing on bringing people closer together” and “make[ing] sure that Facebook is time well spent,” and your school page will be just fine.

                            356112
                            Creating a School Video That Won’t Break the Bank
                            2018-01-09
                            Students posing for a school video

                            Feeling a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information you have to absorb each day? Beginning to think you are merely roadkill on the side of the information superhighway? Are you inundated with far more information coming in than you can assimilate? Well, you are not alone.

                            In fact, one study shows that the typical adult receives the data equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. Another study puts it at 63 gigabytes of media a day (which translates to 10,000 times the Complete Works of Shakespeare). One study predicts that by 2025, we will be creating 163 zettabytes of data per year (and a zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes).

                            How can you compete with this information overload and break through to get your audience the right information? After all, to be an effective educator, you must be a good communicator. If the knowledge you need to share doesn’t get through to your equally overwhelmed audience, you are just wasting your time. The competition for attention is stiff, and the proof is evident by the state of your e-mail inbox, Facebook feed, and the online resources you access daily.

                            Given that fact, what can you do to reach your parents and community members to get your school messages heard?

                            You must make your message compelling. One successful and affordable way to do that is through video.

                            Why does your school need video?

                            School videos are highly impactful. They draw our notice amid the chaos of information clamoring for our attention. Here are a few examples of why they work.

                            Increase Conversations

                            If schools were a business (selling a product or service), we’d tell you that video boosts conversations and sales. In education, that translates to:

                            • increasing enrollment
                            • engaging parents
                            • attracting quality staff
                            • enthusing students
                            • creating a positive public perception

                            Build Trust

                            One of the primary goals of effective school marketing and communication is to build trust. Building long-term relationships requires trust and support, and this includes parents, students, staff, taxpayers, or donors. It is no longer about trying to “sell” them, but to provide them with the information and evidence to let them make their own decisions. Videos can ignite emotion, improve parent engagement, and build trust. They provide visual proof.

                            Increase Visibility & Shares

                            As mobile device use increases, more of your intended customers are watching videos on the go. Because of this convenience, video consumption rises over 100% every year. If you aren’t going where your audience is, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to engage and influence them.

                            Reach Your Audience

                            You have to take your message to where your customers are, right? So where are they? They are watching videos—on Facebook and YouTube or websites or video links e-mailed by a friend. It’s like everyone is going to a party, so be there or be square. YouTube is now the 2nd largest search engine, so you need to be there as well.

                            Make it easy for your customers to share your news and your influence with their friends, community, and family through their social media channels. Remember, people share emotions more often than they do boring facts, so increase your shares by engaging their emotions.

                            Even your SEO (search engine optimization), which helps your school get found online, will be positively affected because Google gives lots of ranking cred for the length of time your site visitors stay on your pages, ranking you higher. Video extends their visit.

                            Learning the HOW of creating school videos

                            The good news is that your school videos no longer have to be high-end, expensive marketing videos. With the explosion of YouTube, the home-grown video has become perfectly acceptable, and sometimes even more credible than a professionally filmed one. We’ve seen some remarkably effective videos created by students, staff, and volunteers to promote their school’s successes.

                            Here’s how to get started:

                            • Cameras: The quality of most smartphones will take you where you need to go for most school videos. (Use it in horizontal/landscape orientation for the most flexibility). The newer devices have high-quality cameras that produce surprisingly good quality videos, especially if you are doing an impromptu filming of an event or success story happening live. Now you can purchase fancy lenses for your smartphones for a wide array of effects.
                            • DSLR Cameras: If you want to go big, it can also be surprisingly affordable. You can get an excellent entry-level DSLR that will serve your needs quite well for your more professional projects for around $500. Look for audio/in if possible so you can use an external mic.

                            There are some great short training videos for you depending on whether you are using a smartphone or a DSLR camera. A bit of searching on YouTube will provide you with many examples. Here are a couple of samples:

                            Making a video with your smartphone
                            Making a video with a DSLR

                              • Editing your video: Check out Lynda.com. It has some great, affordable courses and is an inexpensive and entertaining way to get up to speed in a hurry. You can also find free training and tips on YouTube, Vimeo school, and Wistia library. Once you decide which type of software you would like to use for editing, go from there. We use Camtasia (for PCs), and many Mac users use Screenflow. Some prefer the editing software that comes with Windows or Mac (Windows Movie Maker or iMovie app), and there are others like AVS Video and Pinnacle (many have a trial version you can test out). There are also much more advanced video editing programs. As you gain confidence, you can migrate to programs like FinalCut or Adobe Premiere Pro for their advanced features. But if you are just starting out, you don’t need to push for this level of expertise, especially if you are short on time—and who isn’t? Most videos on YouTube and social media are not professional, and they still get many happy viewers. (Also, if you are a high school, consider letting students edit your video for experience and credit).

                              • Length of video: We have become a country of short attention span, immediate gratification, media overloaded people. So, just acknowledge that and keep it as short as possible and still get your message out. That can be anything from 15 to 90 seconds. A 2012 Wistia study shows us that less than 50% of viewers will watch a 1–2 minute video to the end. So, keep it short!

                              • What about lighting? The light needs to hit your face when filming a “talking head” or an interview. This doesn’t have to be expensive and could be as simple as moving a desk lamp closer to your webcam. But, if you are interested in getting a bit fancier, check out Wistia’s video describing how to create a lighting kit that is well within the budget of most schools: https://wistia.com/library/down-and-dirty-lighting-kit

                              • Audio: If you want to make a noticeable difference in your video quality, consider upgrading to an external microphone. If you do a lot of interviews, consider opting for a wireless Lavalier microphone. You can find them rated very highly for less than $20. Just search in Amazon—be sure to check out the reviews and ratings.

                              • Video Intros: When you want to brand your school videos, try adding a video “bumper” to the beginning and end of your videos. Splasheo is a very affordable program that makes it easy to create a personalized intro and give you a professional outcome for only $47, $97 for outros (endings). You can also make your own and use the same ones for every video, so you only have to create them once. Camtasia has some great tools to make your intros as well.

                              Where to host your videos

                              It should go without saying that your videos should have links on your school websites since they are an important part of your school communications strategies. Place them where appropriate, of course, like the news page, and any other topic-specific page. Then link to the “hot topic” videos from your home page in a teaser news areas. Some schools will also create a media page, where they link to all of their latest videos. But, before you place them on your website, you’ll want to host them where you can take advantage of closed captioning (they must have closed captioning to have an ADA compliant website) and reduce load time on your website servers. You will also use your school website link on your school social media channels, digital newsletters, and in e-mails to drive traffic to your school websites and create even more engagement.

                              So, what are some hosting options?

                              • YouTube: All schools should create a YouTube channel. There is just no downside to it. Even if you have another method of hosting your videos, posting to YouTube is a good idea for search and SEO benefits. 
                              • Vimeo: various plans are available, from free to $20 a month, depending on your needs and usage. You can control access to your videos and create channels, and it has a player you can use for editing to make it look nice on your website.
                              • Wistia: This has a robust platform, and for more than three videos it costs $99 per month plus $.25 per video over 10. It offers respectable analytics and lots of tips to teach you how to shoot video.
                              • School Tube: This is a free service for schools to upload and host school videos. However, it doesn’t appear that they are still updating their platform. I am unable to get responses to my attempts to contact them, so beware. It also looks like closed captioning is available on their platform, which you would need to create during your video editing.

                              What types of videos should you make?

                              Okay, we’ve convinced you it is time to join the party, but now what do you want to video? Fortunately, the list is endless, and it will depend on your school needs. First, what is your primary goal? Do you want to increase enrollment? Do you want to notify the community about a new program? Do you want to win support for a tax override election? Are you looking for business partners? Donations? Volunteers? Recruiting high-quality staff? Creating a strong brand? Do you need to earn the respect of parents? Show your community you are the school of choice? All great goals.

                              So, as an example, let’s assume you want your video to help you with enrollment. You would think about your target audience (who you are trying to attract) and clarify things like demographics, values, goals for their child, etc. You can do this by interviewing a few families you recently did attract and ask them what their top three needs/priorities/fears are. Learn at least three things your video should target, and then address those needs. If this were marketing 101, you would be creating a customer persona and content that resonates with them. For our purposes, we’ll keep your first video very simple. Here are a few quick ideas for approaching this type of recruitment video (hopefully this will inspire other approaches for whatever needs you choose to address).

                              • Video parents who selected your school. You could invite several families to the school to answer few selective questions. Be sure your questions address the top three priorities you determined earlier. You could also have families take their own videos and submit them to you for editing. The more you get, the more responses you can select from to narrow your focus on your top priorities.

                              • Interview alumni from the school. This is especially effective if you have a few well known or successful alumni who would be willing to share how attending your school helped them become who they are today. It’s hard not to listen to a great success story when the evidence is in front of you.

                              • Do a series of interviews with people like the principal, a few teachers, some students, a few parents, the nutrition director, a secretary, the custodian, and the superintendent. Ask them to share a few words about why they love your school. I’ve seen this done effectively with just a one-word description from each person. It's quick, compelling, believable, and shows a broad base of support from many people at your school. It could simply be titled “The Faces of .”

                              Also, as a bonus for hanging in there for this whole article, please accept our free download with some additional resources called school video tips & topic ideas. If you have effective examples at your school, please share them with us, and we’ll add them as a resource example for others to enjoy as well. E-mail us at Info@SchoolWebmasters.com with the subject line “great school video examples.”

                              Just Do It!

                              At the risk of treading on a famous motto, like Nike says, just do it. Give it a try. What have you got to lose? You are likely to be very impressed with the outcome, and you can certainly improve your school marketing and communication efforts by sharing your school stories in a way that people will enjoy and share.


                              (1) Richard Alleyne, “Welcome to the information age – 174 newspapers a day,” The Telegraph, Feb. 11, 2011 (Compare that to 2 ½ pages 30 years ago.)
                              (2) James E. Short, “USC CTM Releases Report on Americans’ Media Consumption,” USC Marshall School of Business, Oct. 28, 2013
                              (3) IDC, Data Age 2015, “The Evolution of Data Through 2015,” sponsored by Seagate.

                              340594
                              What the Best Elementary School Websites Have in Common—and Why It Matters
                              2017-12-26
                              Image of an example of an elementary school website

                              Imagine a scenario involving two parents, Laura and Sue, who live on opposite ends of the city and in different school districts. Each has a child in elementary school. It’s early in the new school year, and on this particular evening, both women realize they need to download a copy of the school lunch menu. But here is where their stories diverge. 

                              When Laura arrives on the site for Wayside Elementary, she is greeted by an explosion of color and text that feels more like a circus than a website. Text boxes display random information in varied font styles, and everything contends for top billing on the page. The navigation tabs provide only vague clues about the pages they might lead to. After hovering over a few tabs, Laura tentatively chooses one labeled “Information.”  This tab takes her to an exhaustive list of documents, from supply lists to school policy letters to reduced lunch applications from the past three years.

                              After scrolling through the list twice, Laura tries another tab, and another. Eight clicks and one growing headache later, Laura manages—almost by accident—to locate a link to the September menu. She pounces, ready to download the menu and be done already. But fate is not so kind, and as the dreaded 401 error message pops up on Laura’s screen, she slams her laptop shut and wonders—like so many other frustrated Wayside parents—why the school doesn’t do something about their outdated and inadequate website. 

                              Meanwhile, ten miles away, Sue hops on the newly updated site for Calm Springs Elementary. From the moment she’s there, she knows she is in the right place, and she’s confident she’ll find what she’s looking for. There’s a letter from her son’s principal, welcoming visitors to the site and letting them know what to expect. The home page navigation tabs are simple to follow, labeled in a font that’s easy on the eyes and easy to read. Sue locates the menu in the Parents Quick Link, downloads it to her phone, and she’s good to go. 

                              Before she leaves the site, Sue decides to check out the latest school news and events. She finds out that she can sync the calendar on her phone with the school’s calendar (which—hallelujah—means she won’t need to rely on those crumpled flyers stuffed into the black hole of her son’s backpack). The more Sue explores this website, the more impressed she is. She finds homework help, special program information, teacher contact numbers, links to the school’s social media accounts, and more—and with every page she visits, she feels even more secure in the choice she made to send her child to Calm Springs. 

                              Unfortunately, the experience of most parents is closer to Laura’s than to Sue’s. So many elementary school websites are deemed “good enough,” when in reality, they are an extreme source of frustration to parents, faculty, and other stakeholders. But how do you know what makes a great elementary school website? How do you know if your website measures up when compared to best practices? It all comes down to how well the site is serving the needs of your audience. Is your website a help or a frustration to the people who come looking for answers and information? Do visitors love spending time on your website? Or do they tolerate it because they have to—or avoid it altogether?

                              When assessing how well your website serves its visitors, it might help to consider some of the essential components of effective school website design. Let’s take a look at what the best elementary websites have in common. 

                              A Welcoming Home Page

                              The best elementary school websites use their home page as the central hub, not as a dumping ground for everything considered important or noteworthy. The home page sets the tone for the entire site and serves as the online face of your school. An effective elementary school home page will have:

                              • A warm introduction (that includes location information). Your school’s home page is the anchor for your website and should immediately orient the reader to where she is and what she can expect. Open with a friendly, welcoming paragraph that provides a brief look at where the school is located so visitors know they’re in the right place.
                              • A message from the principal. This is where you can really start to infuse the website with the personality of the school, so keep the tone consistent with the message you want to convey on a larger scale.
                              • A guiding purpose. Many schools throw random information on their home page without giving a thought to the flow or placement. But the best elementary school websites ensure that the purpose of the home page—helping visitors find what they came there to find—is evident right from the get-go. 

                              Clear-Cut Navigation

                              The best elementary school websites have an intuitive navigational structure. Simply put, this means that the average site visitor will find what she’s looking for where she expects to find it. Intuitive navigation includes the following elements:

                              • Simple and clear navigation tabs. A good rule of thumb is to keep the number of tabs on the main navigation bar between five and seven. Too many options make for a crowded menu and create confusion for the visitor.
                              • Sub-menus (or drop-downs) that group related links together. A key practice when building intuitive navigation is to group like items together in drop-down menus underneath the main navigation tabs (if a sub-menu is needed). 
                              • Internal links. These are links within the text on any given page that help visitors hop from page to page within your site as needed. For example, if you mention your amazing teachers and staff on the home page, include a hyperlink so visitors can seamlessly move to the “Our Staff” page to read teacher bios or find contact information. 
                              • Headings and labels that make sense. Think of your headings and labels as signposts that guide visitors through the site. The more straightforward the heading, the easier it will be for a visitor to find his way.
                              • Clearly defined links and buttons. In other words, if a word or shape is clickable, it should look that way; if it’s not, it shouldn’t. This means you’ll want to avoid underlining anything on your site, because an underline denotes a link. (When you create a link, the underline will occur naturally, so don’t worry about adding one in.) 
                              • Quick links arranged by user type. This helps to customize the experience for different types of visitors and makes it easier for them to find the answers and information they’re seeking. For example, you might have categories for Parents, Students, Teachers, and Community, each with a drop-down menu of links specific to the typical needs of that group.

                              Engaging, Informative Content

                              Great elementary school websites use clear writing and relevant content to compel the user to move organically through the site. The best school website content has: 

                              • Straightforward language. Too many school websites read like a policy manual. Shun industry jargon in favor of clear, accurate phrasing, and choose active voice over passive. (For example, instead of “Medication will not be administered without prior approval,” try “We won’t give your child medication unless you’ve given us written permission to do so.”)
                              • An upbeat tone that matches your school’s personality. The best website copywriting for elementary schools has a positive vibe that makes visitors want to stick around. Liven up your content by using a conversational tone to engage the reader and encourage open communication. 
                              • News articles about current events, upcoming activities, and proud school moments. Help visitors stay informed by including a news page, and be sure to keep it updated with the latest information. Parents, teachers, and community members alike will begin to view your site as a go-to resource for the latest school happenings.
                              • Documents and information that your visitors need. Consider the requests you get from parents, students, and community members about activity schedules, forms, and policies, and think about the questions you’re asked most frequently. Be sure to include these documents and address these concerns in the appropriate places on your website. (In fact, we suggest creating a Frequently Asked Questions page to address many of the questions you hear most often.)
                              • Current material. Many districts only update their district site, leaving the individual school sites static. But when parents have questions or need information, they usually turn to the website for the school where their child is registered. Keep your individual school site up to date by regularly posting the latest forms and pertinent information for students, parents, and stakeholders.
                              • Clear calls to action. Ideally, every page on your website should have a call to action (or more than one). Often this simply means to tell the user where to go next or what to do with the information on that page. For example, on the FAQ page, you might include language to this effect: “If you have additional questions, please refer to our Student Handbook [include the link], or give us a call [link to Contact Us page]. We’ll be happy to help.”

                              Clean Design and Layout

                              The best elementary school websites are showcases of well-planned and beautifully functional design. Best practices in school website design include:

                              • Ample white space. In design-speak, white space refers to the places on a document or website that don’t have text or images. The blank spaces. While untrained website designers often try to fill every inch of space with something, professional designers understand that using white space is one of the most effective ways to create clarity, structure, and breathing room on the page. White space also helps with the flow of reading, making it much easier for readers to digest content.
                              • Limited color palette and font styles. Many elementary sites are designed a bit like a toy store, with flashing text, a rainbow of colors, and a haphazard array of font styles. But if you want to follow the principles of good visual design (and keep visitors on your site), limit your palette to two or three colors—usually your school colors are best—and stick to a couple of font styles as well. Choose one style for headings and a contrasting but complementary style for body text, and make sure they’re professional and readable.
                              • Cohesive use of good-quality images. The graphics and photos you use on your site can help you tell your school’s story. Use photos with good lighting and a high resolution, and focus on images that will carry the theme of your message across the entire website. For instance, is your school known for its excellent STEAM program? Be sure to include plenty of images that feature students involved in those types of activities. Have a great character-building program? Use photos that highlight school values in action. We suggest using photos of your actual school, teachers, and students, but if you must use stock photography, look for high quality images that don’t seem overly posed or cheesy. 
                              • Responsive design. Responsive school websites improve the user experience by automatically orienting the layout to the user’s screen size. This is important, because more people are using mobile devices more of the time to conduct searches and visit websites, and the trend is continuing to grow. Make it a priority to develop content that caters to mobile users, designing for the smallest screen first and then expanding to include the desktop experience. Learn more about responsive design to understand why the best elementary school websites optimize for the mobile user experience.

                              Here’s the hard truth: Just because a school website is live and somewhat functional does not mean it is serving its purpose—or its audience. Broken links, confusing layout, cluttered screens, and typographical or grammatical errors look unprofessional and reflect poorly on your school. But with careful planning, a clear vision, and dedicated effort, you can create a site that keeps your target visitors coming back again and again.

                              338488
                              School Social Media Managers: A Calm Voice amidst the Storm
                              2017-12-12
                              Social media used to deliver hope

                              I was relieved when I logged in to Facebook this morning to see that a friend of mine had checked in as “safe” from the Wildomar Wildfire, a fire that was actively threatening the area where she lives. I wasn’t sure of the details, but I knew she was safe, and that was comforting. Throughout the recent, almost unrelenting string of newsworthy tragedy after tragedy, from devastating natural disasters to senseless violence, our social media feeds have been abuzz with news articles, personal encounter stories, links to fundraising efforts, and yes, “check-ins” from across the map. People in Texas, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and California have been using Facebook’s new Crisis Response feature to communicate with loved ones—even if only to say, “I’m okay.” 

                              Social Media: A great tool when you use it well

                              Every day, I strive to help schools partner social media with their school websites to improve their online communications. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are an important part of meeting your audience where they are and telling your school’s stories in a more engaging way than a school website can on its own. That said, I know that social media sometimes has a bad rep when it comes to the way it affects how people interact with each other, and not without reason. In a perfect world, these platforms would only enhance healthy, interpersonal relationships and bring people from opposite sides of the world closer together. The reality is, not everyone using social media has the best intentions. From fake news to cyberbullying, there’s definitely room for improvement. But some recent events have brought to light another prevalent and much more encouraging trend; that is, we might just be learning how to use this tool to help build up our communities. 

                              What I’ve noticed—as I’ve been privileged to share posts on our social media clients’ pages about blood drives, donation opportunities, and clean-up efforts in response to disaster—is that social media platforms can be a place to publicly display acts of kindness, generosity, and even heroism. For schools across the country, social media should be a way to provide not only important information leading up to and during an emergency, but, maybe even more importantly, a calm voice amidst the storm. Social media is providing community members with a real-time, interactive way to check in with each other—even if only to remind them, “we’re okay.” It’s the kind of reassurance people need when tragedy strikes, and your school community is no exception.

                              Make School Social Media More Meaningful

                              In the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, I spent more time than usual with one particular school social media management client. As staff, parents, and students at Bayshore Christian School waited for the storm to make landfall in Tampa, Florida, it became more important than ever for me to become invested in the events taking place far away from my home in Gilbert, Arizona. In addition to exchanging regular e-mails with Tara, my always-helpful school contact there, I found myself glued to the news channels and searching for online resources that would help me get a better understanding of how Tampa was expected to fare. And once the storm hit, when I knew it would be difficult for them to provide me or even their own school community with updates, I knew I could, at the very least, provide a voice of comfort from their Facebook and Twitter pages for them. After all, as we’ve learned from past events like this one, people today tend to turn to social media to gauge how their friends, family, and communities are managing. While you may not have electricity, if you can get a cell signal, social media allows you to check on many people at once. When your family member or friend posts a picture of a downed tree, you’re relieved because, though there’s destruction to report, they were well enough to post the picture, and that brings comfort and hope. 

                              Knowing what was going on in the Bayshore community that week did more than change how I crafted social media posts for them; it changed how I understand my own responsibilities as a school social media manager. While I normally help their school tell school-related stories on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest—things like sharing classroom projects, teacher shout-outs, and fundraisers—I realized I was going to have to enter into a broader definition of the term “school community.” While school social media managers normally focus on the students, parents, and staff as our target audience, it’s important to recognize that the school itself is a member of an even larger community: a town, a county, a state, and so on. I got to thinking how important it is that we're making an effort to follow not just what's going on in our schools but also how events in their communities at large might be affecting the people we serve on a personal level. And so, I imagined myself in the shoes of the parents in that area. What kinds of posts might be most helpful? What words of encouragement would I need? 

                              In the days leading up to the storm, page followers got everything from a Pinterest board dedicated to emergency preparedness and shared local public safety resources to activities that might help keep the kids distracted during the storm.

                              During the storm, the time when everyone is least sure of how others are faring and how things are going to turn out, the school social pages could, at least, provide a voice of reassurance.

                              And after the storm had passed, we were able to share stories of heroism, updates on how the school buildings withstood the storm, and even some great images of the school community coming together to clean up the campus.

                              School Social Media Management Tips

                              School social media managers can and should go the extra mile when it comes to the thought they put into posts leading up to, during, or after a newsworthy disaster or tragedy that directly affects their community. If you ignore these kinds of events from your school social pages simply because you don’t think they qualify as school-related topics, you’re failing to take advantage of one of the biggest advantages school social media offers: meeting your community on a more personal level as approachable, caring people. Not administrators, teachers, and staff—just people. People who care about the community they live in and the people they serve. That doesn’t mean you have to comment on every newsworthy event across the globe, and it doesn’t mean you should allow your personal views into your posts (you must still represent the school accurately), but if a tragic event directly affects your school community, you can bet your followers are getting plenty of information and advice from their other social media connections. Your school should be one of the voices they’re hearing, and that voice should be one of calm reassurance. Rather than becoming part of the panicky noise that often rises up around a newsworthy tragedy, you’ll be providing your community with relevant, helpful posts. Here are a few tips:

                              • Don't make assumptions. As soon as you become aware of a situation you know will affect your learning community, send an e-mail to your school or district administrator to understand and gauge the school's official response before you begin posting about the event. I cannot stress enough how important it is for school social media managers to have regular communication with school or district administration. I e-mailed Tara days before Hurricane Irma made landfall to let her know I was aware of what was coming and to ask if there was anything I needed to know about posting over the next several days. Her response helped me better understand how the community was being affected so I could post appropriately. You don't want to ignore an important conversation that might be happening in your learning community, but you also don't want to create an issue where there isn't one. 
                              • Be sure you're following local news on your school's news feed. Monitoring local news is an important part of managing social media for schools. Most cities have Facebook pages for their local news channels or online newspapers, and watching those posts can help you stay current with how the community at large is faring. These community pages can also provide you with relevant news stories to share on your school's page where appropriate; just beware of the tone the media sometimes takes just to sell stories before you share on your school’s page. Panic may sell in the news, but it’s not at all helpful for school communities.  
                              • Add positivity to the mix. There was plenty to post about the importance of emergency kits and sandbags, but we made a point to include games and fun activities for the kids while they were stuck indoors and, because this is a Christian school, we shared a few encouraging Bible quotes. Try to provide a balance between disseminating important information and being a voice of comfort and support.
                              • Follow up. At a certain point, all communities will feel ready to start talking about something else after a tragedy, especially one that's all over the news. Touch base with school administration after you think things have calmed down, and stay sensitive to the fact that not everyone in the community might be back on their feet. Gradually get back to business-as-usual posts as appropriate. 

                              Social media managers for schools have a unique opportunity to engage parents and help the community get to know our schools on an even more personal level than they might if they were just viewing their school websites. In fact, if you had visited Bayshore's website over those two weeks, you would never have known any of this was happening! With everything that was going on, website updates were the last thing on their minds. School social media, though, pushes right to every follower’s news feed in real time; in a lot of ways, it’s where the real connection happens.

                              Ask an Expert: School Webmasters social media managers are here to help

                              If you’re managing your school’s social media pages yourself and need a little extra support, we’re happy to provide it! We make an effort to post shareable content on our own corporate social pages as a way of offering school social media managers post-worthy ideas. When you see a post you think is relevant to your own school community, please feel free to share. Whether it’s offering content that might help your communities cope with tragic events;

                              or offering advice on how to create a better partnership between your school website and social media pages;

                              we strive to give you the resources you need to make your online communications stand out. 

                              Even better, we can manage your social media pages for you! We specialize in building one-on-one relationships with our social media management clients that result in the kind of top-notch partnership we enjoy with Bayshore Christian School—and all of the schools we work with. It’s this partnership that made our exceptional communication during a very difficult time for their community possible. To learn more about our social media management services, visit our Social4School page or e-mail me directly.

                              Ask an Expert

                              343187
                              What does your school need in a website?
                              2017-12-01
                              Blackboard with words in chalk Let us Work For You

                              What do you REALLY need in a school website? This is actually a very important question. Different schools have different needs, so it is worth taking a few moments to think about your answer. Your response should depend on your audience, which is the parents of your students, your community members, your staff, and your students. Your type of school will change the expectations of your audience as well. But, there are a few areas that are universal, and if you don’t address them, you are bound to create unnecessary challenges for yourself and your school.

                              Meeting Expectations

                              All parents sending their child to school want to know, and be reassured regularly, that they are sending their child to the school that will best meet their child’s needs. Sometimes parents don’t have many school choices, but even those parents want to believe their child’s school rocks. So, what does that look like, and why might partnering with School Webmasters, instead of one of the thousands of website providers, help you meet your audience expectations?

                              • If your staff is busy,
                              • if your school lacks necessary resources,
                              • if reputation and trust are important values,
                              • if time equates to money and staff time is considered valuable,

                              then having a service instead of just software can help you meet expectations and turn parents and staff from critics into supportive and enthusiastic ambassadors.

                              So, to tie together audience expectations with the actual website itself, this means that your website should always be:

                              • Informative: It needs to contain current and accurate information. This includes events, activities, schedules, resources, go-to information, success stories, etc.
                              • Educational: It needs to show your audience how your educational curriculum is building self-esteem in your students, creating a lifelong love of learning, providing them the skills to succeed in this world—whether it is in science, math, art, vocational skills, sports, character development, or leadership.
                              • Professional: It needs to be accurate, so that it reflects the goals you are striving to have your students achieve—including correct spelling, grammar, writing, design, communication, public relations, etc.
                              • Reliable: It needs to be a resource they can go to where they can find what they need, or at least the information about where to get it quickly and intuitively. 
                              • Accessible: It is not only the right thing to do to provide a website that is accessible to those with disabilities, it is also the law. It also assures that you are inclusive of all website visitors.

                              The reality is that most schools simply don’t have the staff resources to develop and maintain a website that delivers at this level. Your staff is focused on what you hired them to do—they are highly skilled at their specialties. But usually those skill sets don’t include graphic design, copywriting, public relations, user interface strategy, and website best practices that includes keeping your websites ADA compliant. Even a full-time communications director seldom has all of these skills and must outsource some of them.

                              So, we’ve changed the game!

                              What we offer, which is far different from the rest of the crowd, is the staff to support your staff. We provide graphic designers, copywriters, content updaters, programmers, social media experts, quality control, marketing, and public relations savvy folks who can do the work of keeping your school’s website in top form, integrating your social media channels, and even implementing public relations strategies. We gather the front line information from your staff (and we make that easy for them), and then we take it from there. 

                              You’ll never have to train your staff again to learn a new content management system, website accessibility standards, or style guide rules. You’ll never again have to check their posts to see if they did a spell check so you aren’t embarrassed about what shows up on the public facing website. You’ll never spend hours of valuable time in meetings trying to determine what is intuitive and strategic in a school website. 

                              We will be your dedicated professionals doing all of that for you, day in and day out. On top of it all, we’ll save you money because we can do all of this for far less than you could pay to keep it in house because of our work-from-home business model!

                              Get a no pressure pricing quote. Or, just give us a call and tell us what your school's communication challenges are (call 888.750.4556 and speak with Jim). Then, if you decide our services aren’t a match for your school, we’ll even make some recommendations to some of our competitors who might better meet your current needs.

                              Want to learn a bit more about our processes or services? Here are some additional articles for your review:

                              114121
                              20 Tacky School Website Practices Schools Should Avoid
                              2017-11-28
                              Don't do these tacky school website practices

                              If we provided the following list to most other industries, it would be old news. I’m pretty sure the whole article would get a response like, “duh!” from their readers.

                              But, because schools and many educational institutions have limited communications budgets and the folks managing the school’s websites are seldom trained in website best practices, this topic is worthy of review. At least we assume it is because we continue to see the following tacky practices on many school websites.

                              All we can say is that if you are doing any of the following, please STOP IT! (No matter how many other schools you see doing it.)

                              What to avoid 

                              1. Counters – lose the page counters. They do not add credibility to your site or your school, and they look amateurish. For analytical purposes, view your statistics through Google Analytics (or any statistics analysis not publically displayed). Your site visitors don’t really care how many “hits” your site gets. It’s not like YouTube or Facebook and doesn’t validate your site visitors as being one of the in-crowd.

                              2. Excessive Animation or Flashing Text – If your animation doesn’t serve a purpose that adds to your message, lose it. In the 90’s animated gifs might have been cute, but now they are annoying and detract from the professionalism and message of your site. The best school websites are not used to show off design cleverness but to provide useful, current, and relevant information. (Some flashing text may not meet ADA compliant website standards, so be careful there as well.)

                              3. Broken Links – There are tools you can use to check your entire site for broken links. Get in the habit of running those frequently to keep your links useful. Broken links make your site visitors feel that your site is stale and you don’t care enough to keep it fresh. Parents also get upset when the form or page they are looking for is no longer there. We all know that off-site links are not under your control, but when they become broken, fix or delete them. School website quality control is worth the effort.

                              4. Under Construction Notices – All sites should be constantly under construction if they are to stay current and useful. However, don’t place any “Under Construction” signs on your site. If it is not ready to display, don’t take the page live until it is. You wouldn’t invite friends over to dinner and not make a meal, so don’t invite people to an empty page. Yes, we know other schools do it. Just don’t be one of them, as it is considered Tacky 101.

                              5. Slow Page Load Speeds – Fast wins! The established standard is text that is visible between 1.5  and 5 seconds. It is acceptable for graphics to take a few seconds longer if they are worth waiting for, but always optimize them for the web. However, while speed is important, don’t completely sacrifice quality for two seconds of load time. Pixilated photos detract from visual appeal and professionalism. Your site exists to provide information to your customers—parents, students, staff, potential new hires, and the community—so always keep their needs at the forefront of all your design decisions. They went to the site to save time; don’t test their patience, or they will leave.

                              6. Inconsistent Navigation – Your site visitors should feel confident that while transitioning from page to page, the navigational structure will remain consistent. With navigation, the KISS rule applies (keep it simple stupid). Don’t confuse the visitor with redundant navigation scattered around the page—different buttons or links pointing to the same page. The exception to redundant links on a page is, for targeted users’ convenience, when you clearly delineate them under a specific category like Parent Quick Links or Student Information. And, if you have a main office website or a district website as well as school sites, please keep the navigational structure the same on your school sites. Parents are often visiting multiple school sites, and having completely different structure from site to site just causes confusion and frustration.

                              7. Incongruous Theme & Style – A professional site design will maintain a theme throughout. This tells your visitors you care enough to build a cohesive, well thought out website. It also assures your visitors they haven’t wandered off your site. Don’t change styles from one department to the next just because they want to do their own thing. You need to display an organized front, not a fragmented, departmentalized image. A school or district website shouldn’t be a reflection of individual personality but a team of professionals dedicated to a unified mission.

                              8. Stingy White Space – Readability requires the good use of white space. Use adequate margins and line-height, and avoid wide blocks of text that are difficult to read. On a monitor, if the text runs from one side of the screen to the other, it is too difficult to read and your viewers simply won’t do it. Be sure you have adequate space around all images, navigation, and blocks of text. Effective white space will guide the eye and help important information stand out, and it is professional and attractive.

                              9. Obnoxious background colors – Sure, your school colors may be neon orange and teal, but don’t use them for background colors on your website or as a text color. While you may be attempting to “brand” your website with your colors, some colors and background images can make it difficult to read content and distract the user. Save those colors for graphic images, your school mascot, or maybe a heading or two. Don’t over do it. It is also important that you comply with those ever important ADA website compliance issues regarding color contrast.

                              10. Non-compliance - We’re referring to several areas of noncompliance that you need to avoid. The first is ADA website compliance. Your school website design needs to meet WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, and there can be expensive consequences for not being compliant. We’ve got lots of information for you on that topic on our blog (ADA tips, What every school administrator should know, How we can help). Another area to avoid is using images or photos that are copyrighted. You MUST tell your staff they can not just pull images from Google images or any other Internet resource because they are likely copyrighted, and the fines can be substantial. And, finally, be sure you are not copying content from another website. If it is published on a website, it is copyrighted. It’s called plagiarism. We all know how that turns out.

                              11. Background music - Your site users won’t appreciate it when they land on your site and are greeted by auto-playing music that they didn’t select and can’t stop. If you must add music, be sure to provide controls so your users can start and stop the music. Nix those endless loop audio files, and don’t let anyone insist your school alma mater needs to ring in your visitors’ ears on every page, no matter how clever they think it might sound.

                              12. Non-responsive website - Between 25 and 85 percent of your site visitors are getting there from their mobile devices. If you don’t have a responsive, mobile friendly website, you are making it more challenging for them to get to the information they need. There is no way around it these days. Get our school website mobile-friendly. Learn why and how to have a responsive school website.

                              13. Outdated information - This problem, having outdated information on your school website, is one of the quickest ways to send the wrong message to your website visitors. It says you don’t care (which, we know, is not the case). But those first impressions matter, and having old news, out of date calendars, last year’s welcome message, and other relevant information on your site is a bigger mistake than you might imagine. Create a plan to update your website daily (or at least weekly), no matter your school size. Also, don’t use your site as an archive dump for every old agenda or meeting minutes you’ve ever posted. Get the old news off your site. It’s unprofessional, creates unnecessary site bloat, and just looks tacky.

                              14. Link inconsistencies - We’re referring to what your site visitors can expect when they click on a link, especially in text links. Your off-site links should open in a new window, so your visitors don’t lose their location on your school site. But, typically, links that are pointing to a page within your school site should open in the existing window. There are a few exceptions. For example, we would recommend that a form that needs to be filled out could open in a new window to be completed, but then the visitor could quickly return to their previous location within your site without getting lost. Use an intuitive and consistent link strategy across all of your school sites.

                              15. Silly font usage - Don’t try to get too creative with your website’s font selection. Pick one or two fonts, and stick with them throughout the site. A common approach is to use a legible serif web font for titles and maybe a san serif for text (or the reverse). But don’t change font styles without a good reason. Communication and clarity are the goal here—no extra points for creativity. Oh, and remember, “friends don’t let friends use Comic Sans.” 

                              16. Lose the jargon - Terms that are familiar to educators often have no meaning to those outside of their profession without a bit of explanation. You want parents and community members to understand and engage with your website, which means you need to avoid education jargon. That includes using acronyms and terms like IEP, ELL, ESL, GPA, IDEA, AP, NCLB, ESSA, Title I, whole language, block scheduling, and hundreds more. Instead, be clear and concise, and create communication that is welcoming to everyone.

                              17. Stop centering text - Reading on the web is not much different from reading a book, and it’s easiest to read text that is left aligned. When you center text, the starting place for each line changes, and it forces the reader to find where each line begins. A consistent left edge lets us move our eyes quickly as we complete a line. So, it is faster and easier to read left aligned text. Centered text is best used for some headlines, like over a narrow column, or short lines of text that you want to bring to the reader’s attention. (While we’re at it, it also isn’t a good idea to right justify your paragraph text, as it is also harder to read. If you do it, have a good reason to decrease readability.)

                              18. No style guide - One of the best ways to create effective and professional school communications is to create a clear style guide for your staff to follow (this blog will help if you handle your own school website management). A style guide is a document that briefly defines the set of rules you expect your organization to adhere to. It is basically a list of do’s and don’ts. It helps create a consistent tone that supports your school’s mission to portray your school communications in the style and format your school chooses. It also establishes consistent grammar, punctuation, and spelling standards. Our blog on style guides will help get you started.

                              19. No address - Schools often commit the far too common mistake of not including the school’s address (including state and country) on their website. You need to remember that no matter what your school name is, there are likely to be others with similar names all around the country (and world). Whether your website visitors are prospective staff or new family move-ins, be sure they know they have found the correct website. Always put your full address on the school website. A good location is in the footer so it shows up on whichever page your site visitor enters. If you can’t do that, be sure you have a prominent “Contact Us” page available from the main navigation.

                              20. Ignoring your audience needs - One thing that all good communicators know is that the website content should address your customer interests. For schools, the customers are parents, staff, students, and community members. That means that the website should focus on their needs and wants. You need to know what their concerns and interests are, of course. Walk in your customers’ shoes, ask questions, do surveys, and make sure your school website content maintains that focus.

                              In addition to the list of mistakes to avoid, keep in mind that your school website is your primary communications tool. In concert with your school social media, you have a potent resource at your fingertips (literally). Be sure you put it to good use. Tell your school’s stories. Market your school’s successes and benefits. Use it to help parents decide to send their children to your school. Become the local school of choice. You can do it through effective communication.

                              337326
                              Why Your IT Department Should NOT Manage Your School Communications
                              2017-11-14
                              square peg in a round hole, that is when you let IT manage your school communications

                              No other industry would even consider asking their technology department to manage their communications, public relations, or marketing strategies. These two areas of expertise require radically different skillsets. It would be like asking a prima ballerina to conduct brain surgery. Both are experts in their fields, but their fields are vastly different. But public schools do it all the time. So, how did this come about?

                              The history

                              Back in the early days of the Internet, IT departments in schools had their own servers, and they often designed the website themselves, updated the school website content using HTML, and managed the hosting servers, which were often sitting right on a rack in their IT office. So, in those days, it made sense to have the school websites under the purview of the IT department. But that was then, and this is now.

                              As the Internet and online technology exploded, it became more and more complex, which also meant it became riskier to manage. There were security breaches, ransomware attacks, hacking, spamming, DDOS attacks, and scamming on a daily basis. Maintaining the in-house server was becoming a fulltime job or several full-time positions. That is when schools started outsourcing the actual school website design, development, and hosting to companies that specialized in just that to take advantage of economies of scale. 

                              Matching staff skillsets with school goals

                              However, when the technology evolved, schools often failed to leverage the rest of the website responsibilities to their communications folks (mainly because a majority of schools don’t even have a communications staff). So, they ended up keeping the school website management in the IT department. Here’s why that is a terrible idea.

                              1. The school website is NOT a technology project. In concert with social media, it is a school’s primary communications resource. Those who manage it must have the skillsets in communications, public relations, marketing, and school customer service. After reading a few of the skillsets we’ve listed below, ask yourself if your IT experts possess such skills:
                                • Coordinating consistent, effective, and goal oriented public relations messaging that coincide with the school mission and goals. 
                                • Creating friendly, informative content with an inviting tone of voice that is grammatically accurate and typo free. Schools can’t afford to set a bad example. After all, you are educators.
                                • Telling your school’s stories to highlight your successes and goals engages your audience. That means writing people-focused stories that parents and community can relate to and be proud of.
                                • Building relationships with the local media so that your community becomes supportive and engaged. You need advocates and willing taxpayers.
                                • Enforcing ADA compliant updates, which means every item added to the website whether it is a photo, text, document, or video must be ADA compliant. Anyone adding content needs to understand what is required to maintain compliance.
                              2. Managing any website software means ongoing training for staff members who add content. Anyone who touches the website needs to understand the school’s annual communication goals, what goes into ADA website compliance (from color contrast to ALT text), copyright legalities (like image copyright infringement), and marketing strategies. To tackle these goals, in addition to the never ending requirements of maintaining classroom technology, hardware, computers, electronics, and much more can quickly overwhelm any IT department. Providing such training to every newly hired staff member, in areas outside of their expertise, is an unreasonable request. No business would even consider such a crossover of duties.
                              3. Managing servers so that they are secure, which includes dealing with daily issues like hacking, ransomware, server hardening, firewalls, and upgrades. It has all become so complex that even the most experienced server engineers have their hands full. School’s typically can’t afford such staff positions, and the risks put on the school technology folks is simply untenable.

                              Trending: IT departments leverage communications duties

                              In the past three years, we’ve seen a marked increase in requests from school IT directors who are looking to outsource their school website management chores. Busy IT departments recognize the dissidence created when tying a communications effort to the primary responsibilities of their technology staff. 

                              IT directors tell us they don’t want to be blamed for typos or grammar mistakes (and they simply don’t have the time or skills to proof and edit submissions to the website). They don’t have the time to reach out to school staff and gather information, events, and stories that are required to keep the websites current and engaging, so the sites get stagnant and out of date. 

                              IT personnel are seldom in a position of authority to demand from school principals or other staff that they keep their school sites current, even though the superintendent or governing board might hold them accountable for complaints from parents about out of date or inaccurate information posted on the website. Their focus is on keeping everything up and running, and they are often not involved in communications or marketing strategies that the administration must incorporate. They are often held responsible for outcomes they simply don’t care much about due to their core responsibilities and expertise.

                              In any other sector, whether a small business or corporate conglomerate, technology staff are not trained in communications or public relations (nor are they expected to be). But it is the area of communications, marketing, and even customer service that is the very purpose of a school website (or any website for that matter). Check the course requirements of a degree in computer information systems (CIS) or masters of science in engineering (MSE) versus a BA or MA in communications to see what we mean. Very different focus. 

                              What’s a school to do?

                              For those larger school districts with a communications department, this simply means transferring website decisions, strategy, and management to that department (where it belongs). Where once the IT department selected a school website provider and software, this decision should now fall to the communication team. But for smaller schools or those whose budgets cannot support a communications department or individual, the trend is to seek an affordable solution but still remove this albatross from around the necks of their overwhelmed technology department.

                              There are basically two possibilities for the smaller, mid size, or budget strapped schools. 

                              DIY school communications

                              One is to keep it in-house but to assign the duties related to communications (website and social media management) to others who show an interest in communications, public relations, and marketing. The choices will depend entirely on your staff. In a small school, it might be the school secretary, an assistant principal, or a teacher with a minor in communications. They must understand the value of your school communication strategy and the impact it has on your overall school’s success. The more impassioned they are about this role, the better job they will do. 

                              They also need to be recognized as part of the administrative team whenever decisions about annual school goals, mission, your school’s reputation, improving communications, increasing enrollment, or passing a tax levy or override are involved. If you are looking to rebrand your school or engage more parents, involve your communications liaison (and expect to pay them for their work).

                              Charge this communications role with incorporating all communications efforts (to include website updates, social media efforts, and media relations) with the administrative goals. If you expect to see success, you must include them. They might also be responsible for training staff on the use of whichever school content management system your school selects as well as for ADA website compliance. They are often responsible for quality control issues and periodic reviews to make sure your website(s) stay current, accurate, and compliant. If your school is suffering from declining enrollment due to competition from other schools or online learning, your communications liaison must be involved to implement marketing strategies to compete, attract, or retain students.

                              For some tips on how to make all of this happen, feel free to download some of our eBooks on the topics of school marketing, effective school website management, school customer service, school public relations, or social media in schools. If school marketing is a primary goal, check out our 50 weeks of school marketing toolkit/calendar to help them get a running start. While they can’t implement everything at once, you can determine the most critical areas and have them begin there. Create a school communication plan, and be sure everyone involved is aware of the school’s goals for the year and that your plan’s tasks support those goals every step of the way.

                              Get the help you need!

                              The other option involves learning about how we can help your school have the best of both worlds. Our school website management includes:

                              • Designing your website (according to your wishes), writing the website content, creating intuitive navigation, consulting with you about the best school websites (what to do and what to avoid), taking your school site live, and managing top tier website hosting.
                              • Managing all website updates from your staff, proofing and editing as needed, making sure updates are ADA compliant, making recommendations to keep your school websites engaging and informative, and even sending out reminders to encourage your staff to keep sending in that information your parents expect to find on the site. (We call this last step nagging, but we do it very nicely.) If you have a communications person, we become his or her staff and manage all the grunt work so they can focus on strategy.
                              • We provide ongoing quality control so your sites will stay attractive and professional. Our staff follows the Chicago Manual of Style guide so your school maintains its stellar reputation. 
                              • We can even manage your school social media to integrate the messaging there with the news and events on the website.
                              • We can also provide you with onsite public relations support (if that is what you need) to implement the strategy normally only available to larger schools. We hire from within your community (a part-time position), and we train and guide and assist them so that you get the efforts of a communications team for ¼ of the price.

                              Whichever method you choose, implement it. If you are one of the schools who is still putting your school communications efforts in the hands of your IT department, we beg you to rethink this strategy. It isn’t fair to IT, and it isn’t fair to your customers (parents, students, taxpayers, or staff). Take a tip from the business sector. Put the right skillsets to work in the right areas, and you’ll see improved communications (and more supportive, engaged advocates), find your funds are better utilized, and maybe enjoy the status as a school of choice with higher enrollment. After all, that is what effective communications are all about, and your website and social media is the most effective resource you’ve got. Put it to work for your school.

                              317720
                              Whitespace & Readability for an Effective School Website
                              2017-10-24
                              Artistic tree representing school website readability

                              The blank canvas. The empty page. We want to fill print media with ink the same way we fill silence with words. It makes us uncomfortable, all that nothingness. If you are a customer, you feel cheated that you paid for, what exactly?

                              Effective use of whitespace

                              Many people who write and design their own websites try to cram as many things onto a page as possible. There are always services to explain, regulations to post, disclaimers to mention, and frequently asked questions to include. Many people post page upon page of single-spaced type, assuming the user will actually sit down and read it in novel-like fashion.

                              Content that is crammed onto a page and leaves little to no whitespace is not only ineffective, but it pretty much guarantees that no one will ever read it. You’ve lost your target audience because they are overwhelmed simply looking at the page before them. It is simply a usability nightmare for your customers (parents, prospective parents, community members, and prospective staff).

                              The writer’s stumbling block and artist’s nemesis is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to web design concepts. Whitespace (or negative space) is simply space on the page that contains no content, words, pictures, or graphics. It could be space between columns, line-spacing, letter spacing, margins, padding, gutters, and even space around images and graphics. In fact, incorporating whitespace can actually help your audience access the information in your school’s website. 

                              Effective use of whitespace allows your site visitors to chew and swallow between bites. And, just because it is called whitespace doesn’t mean it has to be white. The effectiveness of whitespace to maximize focus, emphasis, and organization on a website with a black background, for example, would be plenty of black space around blocks of text or design elements, which just as effectively guides the eye to the content you want them to see or read.

                              Benefits of whitespace in your school website

                              • Guides the eye.
                                When readers glance at a school website, whitespace cues them on where to start reading. Whitespace in the margins helps lead the reader’s eye along each sentence, while space between paragraphs leads the reader to continue down through the text. Whitespace breaks up a page of black or grey text, making it easier on the eye, giving you a chance to hold the reader’s attention before they get tired. 

                              • Allows the reader to focus on what is important.
                                White space allows the reader to focus on important visual cues, such as bullets, headings, font styles, type size, and photos. These design elements help the reader organize the information in a meaningful way. Most school website users scan for information using headings and titles. Making sure there is enough white space to focus on those cues helps your audience access your information.

                              • Allows the reader access to all the information.
                                The “more is better” philosophy is a myth. Trying to cram all the information you can into a small space turns the reader off, and you’ve accomplished nothing. Sometimes more is just more, making your school websites noisy and overwhelming. Readers will actually read text and information they can access easily. Using whitespace can help keep a reader on your web page, reading. It can also improve reading comprehension. Keep this in mind for document attachments (like PDFs) as well since these are often so text heavy.

                              • Draws attention to calls to actions (CTAs)
                                Marketing types know that it is important for CTA buttons to be prominent if you expect to convert leads. For a school, these leads are in the form of new student registrations, attracting staff, and engaging parents. Whether a teacher application or student enrollment forms, there are calls to action to get these forms filled out. Providing good use of whitespace means they will stand out from the rest of the page and be easier to find and complete.

                              Take a good look at websites you like to frequent and surf. How do those sites employ whitespace? What about websites you avoid because they are difficult to read and navigate? How do they use whitespace? You may find that your own school website isn’t as effective as you thought. Finding a way to embrace the space will help you make your website as effective as possible.

                              The goal is to avoid the clutter so typical of most school websites and replace it with a balanced, easy-to-navigate site where your visitors can find what they need quickly and intuitively.

                              Just for fun, this is a good example of what to avoid and believe it or not, it represents the Yale University's School of Art.

                              Website typography & readability

                              Another important aspect of an effective school website design and usability is an effective use of web typography. Not only has web typography gotten much larger, the page-load speed has become a critical factor in the success of your site (especially when it comes to good search engine optimization and being found on the web). By creating a clutter-free site, a responsive website design, using web fonts and content-first page loads, you are creating an aesthetically appealing and uncomplicated user experience for your school site visitors. Doing so nearly ensures they will have the patience to stay on the site long enough to find the information they seek. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a school website?

                              Website typography affects your site’s readability. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring mostly to what is called macrotypography, which is a big word referring to the readability and design of paragraphs and the page. The best school websites will attempt to make their website a positive reading experience, which is part of creating a great user experience (UX). If your school website has poor readability, you’ll find that your site visitors will be confused and frustrated. But, when it is a great reading experience, they won’t notice a thing except that they feel like your site is engaging and helpful. That is a big win-win!

                              Typography tips:

                              • Font type. Use fonts that are easy to read, which will depend on where the text is used. For example, headlines are shorter and easier to scan, so you can get a bit creative on your font choice, but be sure you use both capital and lowercase letters because the height difference makes scanning easier. For longer blocks of text, use sans serif fonts. Standard sans serif fonts that are easy to read on a screen include Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Trebuchet, and Verdana.
                              • Font size. Because you are going to, of course, design for a responsive website (since your site visitors are going to be using a wide range of devices and screen resolutions to view your school site), you will want to use percentages rather than fixed heights. (We actually use viewport units for our school websites rather than percentage, but for our purposes here, just know that it allows for flexibility based on screen resolution.)
                              • Contrast. Another factor in readability is the contrast between background and text. Not only is this an important factor in your ADA website compliance, which requires a contrast ratio of at least 4.5 to 1 in most situations, but having too little contrast can make reading especially difficult and tiring for the eyes. Avoid bad color combinations like blue on red or white on yellow. This also applies to busy background images that can decrease readability. 
                              • Line length. While we typically don’t mind reading longer lines of text for our print media, shorter is better on the web. If your typical lines are longer than 70 characters (depending on font size), consider turning them into columns to avoid scaring your visitors off. The idea is to allow the reader’s eyes to flow easily from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. Another assist to your readers is to use shorter paragraphs, which will also help your readers with scanning (some say 75% of site visitors would rather scan than read word for word).
                              • Header usage. Using headers effectively is essential to readability. They are vital to hierarchy, which is the guide for readers about where to read. Headers assist in scanning and differentiate sections from body text. Headers are typically indicated by size and boldness. When using headers and titles, be sure to use H tags rather than just bold or italics to maintain ADA website accessibility standards.
                              • Website content readability. Keep in mind that your typical site visitor reads at a 7–8 grade level (not an insult, just a fact about the average reader’s comfort level).The best way to be safe and keep people reading is to make sure your content is conversational (after all, this is a conversation you are having with your site visitor), avoid the use of educational jargon, and don’t require people to pull out a thesaurus to understand what you are trying to say. You’re not trying to prove to anyone that you have an advanced degree—just communicate in a friendly and inviting way. And you don't need to feel like you are "dumbing" things down because even highly literate audiences prefer easier-to-read copy. 

                              In summary, keep in mind that the purpose of your school website is to improve communication, tell your stories in an engaging manner, and make the visit to your schools’ websites enjoyable and painless. Keep your content scannable using whitespace, headers, and smart font choices, and keep your website content conversational and avoid education jargon. When you follow these best practices with your school website design and layout, you’ll be making huge strides in having an inviting and effective school website.  

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                              How to Become a Rock Star Principal in Just One Year
                              2017-10-10
                              school principal taking first solo flight

                              Implementing change is like flying solo for the first time. It scares the crap out of you when you look down at the runway, but once you land, you can’t wait to get back up into the sky. And it is change that will be required if you want to take your school from marginal to majestic in one year. It can be done. And, like flying, it just requires taking certain preparatory steps, one at a time, in the correct order.

                              If you’d like to soar above the rest of the pack as a school principal, the secret to your success will be smart school marketing. That will NOT include advertising and making sales pitches. But it will include getting your staff on board and implementing good school customer service. It also means coming up with a marketing plan that supports your school’s mission and goals for the year. That plan will include using your school websites and social media as your school communications media hub. All of your educational experience leading up to this has gotten you this far (let’s call this your ground training). Now, let’s make sure your next few years are the best ever!

                              So, let’s begin our solo flight into creating the best school ever with enthused and dedicated staff, engaged and supportive parents, and students who look forward to every school day.

                              Preflighting

                              As a principal, whether you are brand new to the job or have been an assistant principal or a principal of many years, in order to make your school a school of choice, there are some steps you’ll want to take. In flying, this is called preflighting the aircraft (inspecting your airplane prior to each flight). In our case, this is a needs analysis for your school. It’s the best place to begin and looks like this:

                              • Cabin inspection: What is your front office like? Is it customer friendly? Are your processes efficient and clear? How is the phone answered? Are calls forced into phone tree hell, or does a real person pick up most of the time? Are visitors greeted with a smiling welcome? Conduct a secret shopper office visit for an objective view. Do the same with a caller’s phone experiences. Based on the information you collect, decide on areas that need improvement as well as those where your front office does a great job. Meet with your office staff to review the results and plan for future training if necessary. Let them know how much you value a customer service-friendly front office (and that includes all visitors, yes, hormonal students too).
                              • Exterior inspection (the walkaround): Take an objective look around the grounds. What do visitors see when they arrive or drive by? Look at the parking lot. Is it visitor friendly with marked visitor parking? Look at the signage both on the marquee and other posted signs. Is the wording friendly or shouting “thou shalt nots” at your visitors? Are the grounds clean and clutter free? How is the curb appeal at your school? Make a list of areas that need improvement, meet with your grounds personnel, and come up with a plan to fix anything that is amiss as well as congratulate them on the strengths. Let them know how much you value this aspect of your school’s reputation and representation and their role in making this successful.
                              • Flight plan: Before takeoff, you’d file a flight plan. Well, it is no different here because we want to have a plan of action so that our takeoff is a smooth one and we reach our desired destination. This is typically called your school marketing strategy. What does that look like? Here are a few basic steps—we’ll even include a free download to a simplified school marketing plan.
                                • Determine your goals for the year. What are the most critical aspects you need to address for improvement (is it engaging your parents, creating better customer service, improving your internal or external communications, etc.)? How will you measure your progress and what will success look like? Of course, all of this should support your overall school mission as well.
                                • Identify your audience. Who are the customers (stakeholders) you need to serve to accomplish the goals you have set? How does your goal benefit them? What channel of communication do these stakeholders prefer?
                                • Define your key messages. Identify three to five key points you want your target audience to know. What matters most to them? How do you want these stakeholders to feel, think, or act as a result of your communications? Is your message memorable?
                                • Set your tasks. What can you do to reach, teach, train, influence, engage, or convert your targeted audience? Write out these goals (tasks), decide who is responsible for assisting you, and include a due date for completion.
                                • Celebrate your successes. Don’t forget this stage in your plan. It is important to acknowledge the progress and show your appreciation for those who are assisting you in meeting these goals.
                                • School Marketing Roadmap to Success Template. Download this simplified template to make it easy to get started on the planning process. Just click on the link and get started.

                              The takeoff

                              Before you can enjoy those beautiful views from the heights of respect and the reputation of a great school, let’s look at the takeoff process to get your school marketing strategies in place. 

                              • Getting clearance from the tower. Basically, this means getting everyone on the same page. The best way to introduce change is to get buy-in from everyone who will be affected by these changes. But, as you already know, telling people about change isn’t often popular. To do it more effectively, introduce change with a story. What story could you share that will tell them the reason the changes are necessary? Why will it be better for them (individually)? How will these changes make their jobs easier or improve the school’s public perception? When they can see the benefits of a better school reputation, engaged and supportive parents, and positive community relations, it provides the motivation to accept and implement change. Precede your presentation of your marketing plan with the benefits they will enjoy.
                              • Create clear in-flight processes. Once everyone involved understands the value of the changes (the value of marketing, customer service, and communications), they will need to know exactly what is expected of them. They will