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The Transformation of School Websites from Concept to Reality
2019-08-20
butterfly image

Recently, my daughter’s second-grade class participated in a project where the class observed the life stages of the butterfly. She eagerly shared her experience with our family on a regular basis. I’m grateful for teachers who take time to take education up a notch through hands-on learning.

The change occurring between the caterpillar eating a leaf and the butterfly visiting flower patches is always amazing. Their life begins as barely a literal bump on a log, or leaf rather, but they are destined for greatness. 

Similar to the butterfly, the transformation of a dated school website here at School Webmasters is extraordinary! Just as the butterfly has various stages it passes through before it takes its ultimate and beautiful form, website development at School Webmasters is distinct, innovative, and beautiful. 

The School Website Journey from Concept to Reality 

Unlike a butterfly born preparing to transform, schools aren’t always sure what steps to take in order to maximize their school website’s potential. 

Perhaps a school feels like something is missing on their website. Perhaps the current school website is crowded and outdated. Maybe your school website isn’t responsive, accessible, or ADA compliant. Whatever the circumstance, the option to task a school employee with making all the needed changes and updates to the school website just isn’t feasible. 

When a school or district is ready for our help at School Webmasters, we are ready for the challenge. Follow us in this blog as we take a sample journey of a school’s website from concept to reality. 

How Long does Website Development Take? 

A butterfly transforms inside its chrysalis between 5 and 21 days. At School Webmasters, a website transformation typically takes between 5 and 8 weeks, while various teams work to help the school align expectations, goals, and communications plans. This time frame varies depending on the level of site complexity and your school’s responsiveness to requests from our project coordinators.

Our Level I standard template sites and Level II customized template websites transform quickly because most of the design work can be done with fewer dependencies on school staff. If your school selects a fully custom, premier school website design, the process requires a bit more time and input on your part. All School Webmasters websites include everything from photos that reflect your school’s brand and personality to professional copywriting. 

The process goes much more smoothly when a school knows what it wants, and responds quickly to questions. 

Phase 1: School Questionnaire and Project Management

Before getting started, we want to know what your website dreams and goals are so we can make a plan to bring them to fruition. 

Your project coordinator will send a questionnaire for you to fill out, which will aid in smooth website development. The questions prompt answers that help us understand what you are looking for regarding both content and design preferences. 

Representatives from the school involved in the website development project will meet with their project coordinator, who will be their single point of contact throughout the process; the project coordinator will be with them every step of the way. 

The project coordinator helps schools answer important questions that lead to an impressive new school website. Here are just a few questions we ask: 

  • What does your school hope to accomplish with a new school website?
    Determining the school website’s primary purposes helps us create the perfect website for your school. Your new website will help you achieve your communication goals in various time-tested ways. And if the school website needs to be ADA compliant, School Webmasters is a master of that too.
  • What pages does your school need?
    Beyond a Home page, there is a wide variety of potential pages to help schools offer valuable and useful information. For example, typical pages include About Us, Events, Programs, Faculty and Staff, and Contact Us. If you’re not sure about this question, never fear! Your project coordinator will be there to help you.
  • What type of calendar would be the best fit for the school?
    There are a few different calendars available from School Webmasters, and what works for one school doesn’t always work for every school. Depending on your various departments and your athletics or other programs, your project coordinator can help you determine what kind of calendar will best fit your school. 
  • Will the school be using stock images or their own photos?
    Our graphic designers will use either, according to your preference, to ensure the school’s website makes a statement.

Phase 2: Design

Butterflies don’t get to choose their patterns and colors but schools do! Along with the school questionnaire and general inquiries, your project coordinator will help you select a design from School Webmasters’ library of options unique to our company. We also help when schools select the custom website option to build a one-of-a-kind prototype. 

Check out some examples on our portfolio page for some school district websites.

Phase 3: Graphic Design

Ever been amazed by the colors and designs in nature? Our graphic design team comes close. Schools that choose School Webmasters for their website development and management choose a company dedicated to website design that reaches audiences on multiple levels. Our graphic designers work tirelessly to make every page of your school website pop. Pictures and images tell stories too and truly speak a thousand words, at least! 

Once you approve the design prototype, our graphics team gets to work customizing your entire website with the creation of new graphics throughout the new site. The team makes the site unique, attractive, and ADA compliant. If the school wants to use their own images, School Webmasters can help you choose the best ones with a list of recommended photos that will really make the school website stand out. 

Phase 4: Copywriting and Site Maps

For the butterfly, things are happening under the surface. For the school website, the project coordinator is hard at work gathering information and communicating with the school regarding various needed information all while coordinating with the various School Webmasters teams. While your graphic designer is designing the school’s website, one of School Webmasters’s copywriters is hard at work, pouring over your school’s old website and the newly-collected information you sent to the project coordinator to compile and write compelling content specifically geared toward your school’s target audience.

Just as we don’t encourage our kids to put dirty socks on clean feet, School Webmasters copywriters don’t copy and paste your old website content to your brand new website; this is something you won’t get with most other website developers who plug your old, outdated copy content into a new design. Our copywriters rework a school’s existing copy to make sure it’s professional, welcoming, and current on every page. 

School Webmasters’ best practices and years of experience ensure that our copywriters write copy that is centered on information that will help the school or district answer key questions people might ask. From an orderly site map, the site is concise, organized and intuitive to navigate. Then, we check and double-check every school’s new content prior to passing it on to the next step in the website’s journey. 

Phase 5: User Interface Design

Towards the end of metamorphosis, the butterfly is visible inside the chrysalis. It looks like a butterfly! At this point in the website design, the end is in sight! Once a website reaches this point in its journey, School Webmasters’ user interface designers put the text from the copywriting team and the graphics from our graphics team together with the wireframe design the school has chosen. They make sure your new website is responsive (it will look great on a desktop, tablet, or phone) and ADA compliant. 

Phase 6: Going Live and Server Management

When all of the changes are complete, the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. And now it’s also time for the new school website to emerge. We’ll give you the information you need to take the website live, and you can decide when to flip the switch. School Webmasters gives each of their school websites a safe and protected home on its fully managed cloud servers. If something goes wrong with your website, School Webmasters will take care of it. The school can rest easy knowing that there will be 99.99% uptime and backups will be managed and fully redundant. It’s all managed offsite so the school can rest easy.

The whole process might seem extensive, but our team of amazing professionals is up to the task! School Webmasters has been transforming school websites for over 15 years. We’ve made this transformation trip more than a thousand times! 

As the butterflies emerged from their cocoons in our daughter’s class, the students witnessed a series of miraculous transformations of design and color. While the cocoons provided privacy for each butterfly, nature took its course—and what a sight!

Just as the caterpillar is destined for greatness, every school deserves to be able to communicate all that is helpful, beautiful, and inspiring about their students and school community. 

The transformation of a dated school website here at School Webmasters is truly extraordinary—especially considering the various phases of development involved in creating a new school website here at School Webmasters. What our company offers is distinct, innovative, and professional. And, we think that’s pretty amazing!

So, if you’re ready to find out more about how your school website can be transformed into something extraordinary, just give us a call at (888) 750-4556. 

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Celebrating Students' Successes in Schools
2019-08-13
successful students

Doing well in school, more often than not, doesn’t come easy. Most times, it requires an added measure and even sometimes an enormous amount of effort. Week to week, students in your school or district attend class, participate in discussions, work on homework, and complete various projects. In general, students seek to accomplish what their teachers expect of them. Similarly, teachers work to fulfill their responsibilities and duties. 

Time after time, whether large or small, efforts are followed by success. So, when do such successes deserve a momentary pause of recognition? 

In 2009, Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn conducted a literary and anthropological experiment now known as the Significant Objects project. In it, they demonstrated that the value of any object is directly connected to a narrative and is measurable. In short, they showed that most definitely, stories add value.

History is full of real-life examples where stories have added value to objects or situations. Newsies, the Broadway musical, is a classic production based on the real-life challenges young people faced in the big cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many young boys and girls in the late 1800s stood on the corner blocks of big cities like New York, shouting the day’s headlines to work out a meager living. It took a daily effort, selling papers, capturing the moment to ultimately get what they needed to survive. After all, news today is history tomorrow. That’s still true today, isn’t it?

Newspaper boy

As a school administrator, how do you view your role as a school leader? Is it comparable, in part, to a newsboy or newsgirl trying to get your community’s attention about what’s going on at your school? 

As a school administrator, one of your roles includes capturing and recognizing noteworthy moments. Considering the size of your student body, this may feel quite daunting. Sometimes you’ll want to share the successes and recognize a specific student; other times, you’ll want to acknowledge a group of students. It’s worth noting that a school that takes the time to recognize individual noteworthy efforts sends a strong message to its school community that the individual matters. It’s not all about educating the masses, but each student. 

In this blog, we will consider various ways you can share your school’s success, thereby adding value to your school.  

Let your community know about your school’s successes

These days, letting your community know about the great things happening on your school campus is not merely a nice-to-do; it’s a necessity. Your school’s stories, the ones you tell and the ones you don’t, establish your school brand and reputation. It is directly connected to how successfully your school naturally attracts new students as well as how successfully you maintain your current student population. Your school brand and the stories you share about your school is at the heart of your school marketing effort. Outside sources will always have something to say about your school, positive and negative, so, be sure you are in the ring. Share your school’s successes through stories and other means. Here are a few questions to consider.

Do your students talk to their families about school news and events?

How well are your students’ families getting the message at home? How would you rate your school’s connection to the homes of your students? Parents are more likely to engage with the school when their child acts as a school ambassador. What motivates your students to share news from school? 

What success stories have been recently featured in your school newsletter or school website? Consider a feature specifically for recognition on either platform. Gathering and sharing personal testimonials from students, staff, and parents about your school community has a lot of potential. If someone has had a positive experience at your school, consider inviting them to share it in your school newsletter or on your school website. 

There are many successes on your campus. As you read this, you are probably thinking of a number of student, volunteer, or staff successes deserving of recognition. Perhaps your hockey team won a tournament or your AP Biology classes just returned from a road trip to the coast or an island nearby. Start brainstorming and make a list right away. You’re on a roll!

Would your school’s parent organization consider helping the school with a student-of-the-month program? 

Regularly recognizing students is a fantastic way to add value to your school while, at the same time, help your students feel valued by your school. As a parent, my loyalty to a school deepens as I am an eyewitness to the big and small ways my child’s school recognizes my child’s successes as well as those of other individuals within the school community. 

Sometimes schools might involve the PTO or other school community groups to help them run this program. Some schools may use hallway window boxes to post a group of individual student photos with get-to-know-you questions and answers that shed light on the student’s personality and interests. Other schools may feature students-of-the-month on the school’s news channel.

Who should you recognize and how should you do it?

Some schools may choose to select students based on merit and nominations from their school community. Or perhaps there is a suggestion box in the office to receive nominations. Maybe your school has a reading incentive program for young students or other academic milestones from which you can draw the recipients.

How you decide to do it is completely up to you. The important thing is to just do it. Recognition rewards might include a simple mention of the student or staff member over the school PA or in the school’s newsletter or website. Or perhaps you give a small material reward for the recognition. For example, students-of-the-month could receive a $5 gift card to a local store or business, with all nominees receiving a note of recognition and a pencil. Try holding regular assemblies parents can attend to see their children being recognized for tackling and conquering learning challenges. The possibilities are endless. Did this spark some ideas? Write them down and get started.  

We recently ran across a school who was doing a great job of gathering stories from students, teachers, and parents by adding forms to their website, making it easy to submit success stories. They collect both written and video stories and each month they feature some success stories from alumni, students, and parents. They have managed to engage their community in an entertaining way and these stories and videos help them market themselves and their successes without the cost of ineffective advertising. North East ISD in San Antonio is doing exactly what we've been recommending to schools for a decade. Kudos to them. We recommend other schools should do the same!

What role does social media play in sharing your school’s successes?

Technology is great in so many ways. Sharing images as well as the printed word once took a lot more effort. Now it’s easy to get messages out quickly. Effectively using social media is a great way to drive current and prospective students and their families to your school website. Social4Schools has helpful suggestions for strengthening communication lines within your school community using technology. 

Do your students’ families feel welcome on your campus?

Feeling welcome is a big deal in any industry, including the education industry. How welcoming is your school for your school community? 

Finding ways to open your school to your school community is important. Doing so not only enriches the community but has the potential to build loyalty and connections among students, faculty, and parents. Parents and families will feel much more comfortable and welcome in a school they visit for positive encounters and activities. When your school or district offers various opportunities to open your school to the community throughout the school year, drawing in students and their families before, during, or after school, your school organically shares what is great about your school. There are so many ways you can do this. Write down your ideas.

good news

Does your honor roll program inspire your students to aim higher?  

Having a routine for recognizing good grades as well as citizenship is worth the effort. When students are personally recognized for their efforts, it helps them and their parents feel not only proud but happy to be at your school. Could your honor roll recognition be better? Do your students and school community know what it takes and feel inspired to qualify for the honor roll? 

How else can you deliver the message?

The list is long when it comes to various ways you can communicate with your school community these days. You can share your school’s successes in person, via the internet or by more traditional methods like school newsletters or newspapers. 

Just as doing well in school doesn’t usually come easy, neither does recognizing your school’s successes. It will take effort, forethought, and consistency. Is sharing your school’s successes worth the effort? We hope you see that it most definitely is. As students and other members of your school community overcome the challenges they face, whether it’s a math problem or a problem with bullies, taking an active role in sharing your school’s success stories and the characters in those stories will strengthen your school brand and your school in general. It’s imperative to make the time to share those moments with your school community. 


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School Websites: What's the Big Deal?
2019-08-06
dill pickle with thought bubble that says What's the big flippin' dill

One of my family’s favorite magnets ever to grace our refrigerator was a large cartoon pickle with a conversation bubble saying, “You’re a big, flippin’ dill!” I love a good pun. 

Sure, it might be easy to overlook and underestimate the power of this simple magnet and its message. However, often, when something great happens for someone in the family, we remind them of this quote. The magnet’s influence and humorous message continue to foster positive vibes in our home. 

Your school website can and ought to be like this amazing magnet—a big deal.

Yes, your school website occupies a small space in the grand universe of the internet, but it still matters. Sharing practical advice on our blog about how schools can improve their communication with their school community is our passion. School websites can communicate and reach out to your school community in various ways.The very word communication evokes images of community and loyalty, and we think all of that is really a big deal for your school. 

In this blog, we will look at how school websites help you reach your school communication goals.  

4 Communication Goals Your School Website Can Help You Reach

#1: Improve Customer Service

What school isn’t trying to improve relationships with parents? One of the best ways to use your school website to reach your communication goals is to provide outstanding customer service. Your school website has amazing potential to serve your community in big ways. As you consider site visitors such as staff, students, and parents, consider why they are coming to your website. Are they looking for something in particular? Is it easy to find it? A professional, welcoming school website will work wonders for your school. Your school website can set a standard that your school aims to answer questions, resolve concerns, inform the school community, and that, man! Your school is a big deal! 

Here are more tips on improving customer service and rolling out the red carpet at your school!

#2: Provide Information

Even for schools that don’t emphasize communication, providing information is still a priority! Your school website should act as a portal for accessing various and vital information. Have you ever visited a website that seems neglected? Providing crucial information on your school website allows your school community to be informed. Parents will appreciate the ease of access to information. You will earn their trust. Schools who use their websites to share current and needed information not only build trust, they save time and effort. 

Often if a school website has been neglected, it’s because someone at the school doesn’t understand why they need a website in the first place. Read more to understand the job your school website fills

#3: Save Your Staff Time & Your School Money

Have you ever thought of saving your staff time as being one of your communication goals? It should be! Teachers are busy, and anything you can do to save them time is valuable. And yes, your school website saves your staff time and your school money. As you share information regularly and consistently on your school website, your community will quickly learn where to go when they have a question. An effective school website saves someone in your school community from making a phone call or writing an email to your staff and faculty. That means a decreased amount of individual questions. You can’t eliminate all phone calls; however, your communication goals should be aimed at time efficacy as well as hospitality. 

Read more about how your school can do more to reach your school communication goals with half the budget

#4: Improve Your School Public Relations

Your school website builds excellent public relations. Attractive school websites get noticed. They are pleasant to visit. Your school community won’t dread going there to “dig” through all the fluff to get to what they need. School websites should include board agendas, links to school report cards, important job announcements, openings, vendor information, etc. 

Read more about how a school website can help a struggling school.

So what does your website need to help you meet these school communication goals? 

12 Ways To Use Your School Website To Its Full Potential!


  1. News pages

    News pages help communicate the latest events to keep your school community informed and aware without crowding your website Home page. School websites with news pages should typically feature a “What’s New” section on the Home page, usually in a sidebar. A News page is a great way to share current events and successes and visual elements like galleries, videos, and slideshows. At School Webmasters, we design news pages for our customers to include a format for easily sending out newsletters or messages electronically to your uploaded email lists, helping your community stay involved and informed. 

  2. Interactive calendars

    School websites with interactive calendars help busy, on-the-go school communities. Interactive calendars help your school keep parents and the community informed so they never miss an event. School Webmasters’ school websites are fortunate to have feature-rich interactive calendars, thanks to our partnership with Trumba. Website visitors can sign up for email reminders for upcoming events. The school can send out online registrations or invitations. We also create customized calendars specific to sports, band/orchestra, staff development, and other areas to help simplify calendars based on areas of interest. 

  3. Photo galleries

    Pictures are a powerful and effective way to communicate. School websites with photo galleries displaying various events, activities, clubs, sports, classes, and more build your school public relations as well as your school brand by widely sharing all the good going on at your school. School websites can include galleries where visitors can click on the thumbnails to view larger images. Photos can also be displayed in a slideshow format to highlight memorable events and moments at your school. (Reminder: Keep ADA compliance in mind when using slideshows!) This aspect of a school website really enhances your school’s personality as well as draws interest from your community. 
  1. Quick links

    Your staff, students, and parents will thank you for offering convenient, quick access links to frequently-used content. As you offer such resources, communicate with your school community about the availability of such links. Just imagine the simplicity of explanation if Ms. Smith calls looking for the lunch menu and you can say, “On the Home page, find the parent quick links. Four links down is the lunch menu.” They will appreciate you as your school website becomes a hub of activity. 

  2. Online polls and forms
    Online polls are effective and affordable. They allow you to gather data from site visitors using dropdowns, content fields, and radio buttons to populate convenient forms such as questionnaires, permission slips, polls, surveys, and applications. School Webmasters’ websites also include an option that lets you post your current school forms online so parents and students can fill them out and send them electronically to the school. 

  3. Staff directories and profiles

    Effective school websites include your school staff’s information, including emails, contact preferences, phone extensions, and photos. Personalized profiles help your school community know more about your fabulous faculty and staff. 

  4. Documents and links

    All of the school documents you use readily should be available from the school website. PDF Documents linked to your website such as lunch menus, student handbooks, athletic schedules, etc. should all have a place. And don’t forget, as these become outdated and the information changes, be sure to remove or edit them. Some documents will remain the same year after year but others will not. The quality control team at School Webmasters helps make sure the links and documents on your website are current—just one of the many benefits of our website management service! Sharing important links and documents on your school website saves staff and site visitors time and provides a fantastic, go-to, convenient resource online. 

  5. Embedded video

    Including videos of various activities or messages are popular ways of communicating to your school community. At School Webmasters, we use Vimeo as our video web host. Videos are embedded right on your website, and Vimeo provides reliable streaming, responsive design, advanced privacy settings, and a targeted audience. 

  6. School blog

    Telling your school’s story on a blog connected to your school website is a powerful way to more effectively direct your school’s reputation and what people are saying about your school. School Webmasters is a proponent of school storytelling. We believe in the power of stories and their ability to bring our communities together. Are there specific topics that directly concern your community? Address them in a school blog. With a blog created within your website, you can easily access and manage posts. Blogs are not only a great communication tool, but they can be a great inbound marketing tool

  7. Emergency pages

    When disaster strikes and you need urgent website notifications, you school website should provide necessary communication to those who need it via an emergency page. Whether the emergency involves weather closures, lockdowns or other urgent matters, it’d vital to have the vehicle that will let you communicate. Don’t leave your school community in the dark. 

  8. Secure log-in pages

    Often, school websites need staff-only/private areas that aren’t accessible to the public. These pages require secure log-in access to a certain group of users. School Webmasters websites have three levels of secure usage: Users, Super Users, and Admin Management.  

  9. Social media feed

    Your social media pages and your school website should work hand-in-hand to foster a foundational culture of community. Twitter and Facebook feeds as well as links to other social pages can be on your website’s Home page to increase engagement with your school’s followers.

  10. screen shot of Paramus School website

    Is your school and school website a big, flippin’ deal? We hope so. And if not, start using some of these features, and make it a big deal! If your school website needs some freshening up, contact us! What are your school's communication goals? Every school has its challenges as well as its strengths, but each is in the business of giving our youth the gift of education. No matter how you slice it, that’s always a big deal. 

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Stop Hiring Developers Who Are Not Trained in ADA Accessibility Standards
2019-08-05
man at desk covering face and holding hand up to stop

Is this a plug to only hire School Webmasters for all your website and document accessibility needs? Yes, it is. But it’s more than that. It may even be a bit of a rant. We care too much about our clients and the world of digital accessibility to keep quiet about how we really feel. We would love to see today’s digital world be 100% accessible to all users. Unfortunately, however, as long as schools continue to use developers who are not trained in accessibility standards and techniques, it will never happen.

Normally, this is where we would toot our own horn and tell you why we are the best option for school website development, provide raving testimonials from our clients who love our work, and show you end results for any website you can dream up. However, we want to take a break from tradition and tell you why you shouldn’t hire someone else, especially someone who does not integrate accessibility into their development process. Yes, this means your friend who is a WordPress wiz or your IT guy who says you don’t have to know code and they can just create your website for free using Wix or Squarespace—because they do that all the time just for fun. Remember the warning:

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The only exception to this rule is when our clients realize we aren’t too good to be true, and we really do everything we say we do for unbeatable prices. Oops! We said there wouldn’t be any tooting horns today. So let us tell you what makes us cringe about other developers. Imagine this scenario:

You need a school website accessibility audit because you received a letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights demanding you provide an accessible website. Or perhaps you know the law and want to be sure you never receive a demand letter for not complying with Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So, you contact School Webmasters and are excited you found a company that can give you a beautiful, accessible website for the best price. But in the meantime, to meet the looming OCR deadline, you hire someone to redevelop your current school’s website so the audit results are clean and free of barriers.

Sounds like a perfect plan, right? Wrong! We work with this same scenario too often, and it needs to stop. Don’t just assume your website developer is an accessibility expert. The first step to an accessible school website is implementing accessibility during development. It involves everyone on the development team including:

  • project managers,
  • copywriters,
  • graphic designers,
  • UI designers,
  • software engineers, and
  • all other front and back end developers.

Basically, it is vital that anyone who touches your school’s website be trained to keep your website accessible with every update to the website, no matter how simple or complex. Otherwise, your brand new, beautiful website that you spent precious time and money to create (including the unadvised slideshow), will end up with remediation costs of two or even three times more to actually bring it to an accessible state. Our heart breaks for our clients when we see this happen. But with School Webmasters, there’s no need to worry that creating a new website will take too long to meet your OCR deadline. We’ll have your new, accessible website up and running faster and for less money than it will take to remediate your old one. We know what it takes to meet your school’s pending deadlines.

The Steps to Website Accessibility Success

Adults in classroom excited to learn about accessibility

Instead of making the same mistakes we see schools make too often, follow these steps to school website accessibility success:

  • Be proactive and make your website accessible before you have to waste time and money on an accessibility lawsuit.
  • Either hire School Webmasters or find a development team trained in accessibility. (See tips below on what to look for.)
  • Hire someone to remediate the documents linked from your website. (Yes, we do this too!)
  • Work with designers and developers to create a new accessible website, or if possible, remediate your current website. (If you hire us, skip to step 10.)
  • Hire a website accessibility auditor. (Hint: that’s us.)
  • Review audit and make necessary remediations.
  • Have your auditor confirm remediations are correct.
  • Post an accessibility statement letting everyone know your website is accessible and compliant with federal accessibility guidelines.
  • Ensure every update is completed accessibly.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief.

Hopefully, you have already decided to skip steps five through nine. In this case, contact us to get started right away with your accessible school website design! Otherwise, keep reading for more tips to help your school along the way.

What to look for in a development team

In addition to someone who is going to provide a visually appealing, user friendly website with all the bells and whistles you desire, your designers and developers must care about things like semantic HTML, color contrast, WAI-ARIA, keyboard accessibility, etc. Consider asking the following questions to potential developers:

  • Do you use semantic HTML?
  • How do you test color for contrast?
  • Do you use WAI-ARIA?
  • Are all functions of the websites you create keyboard accessible?
  • Do all images include alternative text?
  • Will users be able to increase the text size up to 200% without increasing the size of graphics?
  • What do you do if we find an accessibility barrier?

Be sure your developer is willing to work with you to remediate any accessibility barriers you find after your website is complete. Not only will this help you get things up to par when a barrier is found, but it will also encourage accessibility during development, removing the need for remediation all together. After all, your staff’s time is precious and should focus on teaching new skills instead of correcting old glitches.

My website looks great, but my documents failed my audit

Lady upset that documents failed accessibility testing

Remember, all of the information you provide on your website about your school and the services you offer must be accessible. This includes the documents you link to such as school handbooks, lunch menus, board minutes, and calendars. Whether you are just getting started on your new website, are in the middle of website development, or your website is live, it’s never too soon to start remediating your documents. Learn more about school document accessibility and how we can make your document remediation efforts painless.

Keep your school’s accessible website barrier-free

Now that you know what to do and more importantly, what not to do as you design and develop an accessible school website, you’ll want to be sure it stays that way. One website update can create accessibility barriers and throw your website out of compliance.

As mentioned above, in addition to only using developers trained in ADA compliance and accessibility, the front-end developers you use to update your school’s website each day need to keep it accessible. This is why when we develop a website, it’s taboo for anyone except our accessibility-trained teams to ever touch your website. Our teams know accessibility. If we receive a request to add something that is not accessible, we show you better options so everyone can access all your information all the time.

We tried to get through a whole article without tooting our own horn. However, when you are really that good at what you do, it’s impossible. We are the school website masters. Contact us today to find out how we can accomplish accessibility together.

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School Board Members: How to Help Your School Succeed
2019-07-23
Governing board member

A school’s governing board is not only responsible for approving the school’s vision and goals; it also holds the district leaders accountable for the results.  Some common school board responsibilities are to:

  • set and support the vision and goals for the school district;
  • determine priorities and adopt policies supporting them;
  • hire and evaluate the superintendent (or director); and
  • adopt and oversee the school’s budget.

The most effective school boards are those that agree on clear goals for their school district and measure the school’s success against those goals. If they keep a laser focus on those chosen goals, filtering every other decision they are asked to make through that prism, they can have a tremendous, positive impact on staff and student outcomes.

The most effective school boards are those that agree on clear goals for their school district and measure the school’s success against those goals.

Much of governing boards’ activities include voting on the more mundane aspects of running a school, like curricula, calendar schedules, construction projects, and budget expenditures. However, there are other strategies that, when implemented and supported by the governing board, have a powerful impact on the outcome of all the district’s goals. 

Traits of effective school board members

What are the traits of effective governing board members? Assuming the overall common goal for every school (their mission) is to provide an educational experience that challenges each student to achieve his or her highest potential as a citizen and a learner, what qualifications must governing board members have to be effective?

Effective governing board members know how to work as a team:

  • They know how to collaborate with the other board members and the district leadership.
  • They treat others with respect and courtesy.
  • They avoid using their position for any personal or political agenda and focus on solutions that benefit student achievement.
  • They come prepared for meetings and stay informed about current topics of interest.

Effective governing board members are good communicators:

  • They communicate their actions with the community and advocate for the school with the public.
  • They seek opportunities to recognize the contributions and achievements of staff and students at every opportunity (publically and privately).
  • They build trusting relationships with parents, students, staff, and community members through their example of outstanding customer service.

Effective governing board members have a clear vision for the school and their responsibility in helping to achieve it:

  • They help set the district goals and consistently measure the success of the district against those goals.
  • They understand their fiscal responsibility and adopt and support school budgets that support the district’s goals.
  • They are capable of hiring qualified district leadership and support them to lead. They don’t micromanage district leadership but focus on district-wide goals and policies.
5 steps for effective governing board members

5 communication strategies to achieve school goals

Regardless of which goals a school selects, there are some key strategies governing board members should model and encourage school leaders to adopt that will help accomplish those goals. While all of these strategies fall under the umbrella of effective communication, including them in your school’s efforts will make the difference between success or failure.

Let’s break these communication strategies down into areas having the greatest impact on whatever goals your school and its governing board selects. 

Step #1: Consistent communication

To be effective, your communication methods and channels must be consistent. You want parents to know where to go to get the information they need, and when they get there, the information must be accurate and up-to-date.

To achieve consistency, there must be a plan in place. If it is one of those “other duties as assigned,” it simply won’t happen. When consistent communication takes place, here is what you can expect:

  • Trust. When you can be counted on to provide timely and reliable information, you earn the trust of others. 
  • Respect. When you are consistent, you show your respect for others. When you are proactive enough to keep others informed without forcing them to search for answers, you demonstrate respect for their time and opinions.
  • Caring. Keeping others in the loop is just plain considerate. It avoids confusion, creates efficiencies, and helps others engage in positive ways. 
  • Customer service. When you provide handy, accurate information to others, you are providing excellent customer service. A big part of customer service is making things easier for others, and what better way to do that than to keep them informed and engaged?

Step #2: Transparency in communications

While this is currently a popular buzzword, when your communications are transparent, there are benefits that are more far-reaching than at first glance. Being transparent basically means being honest and clear in your communications. But, due to the fear of public backlash, which can come from any and all angles these days, transparency feels risky and is often avoided. 

However, the benefits far outweigh the occasional negative side effects. Once you have created a reputation for being transparent, you will be trusted. So, when negativity arises, your reputation will carry more weight than any detractors. The respect you’ve earned will create loyalty and others will advocate for you if the need arises. 

Transparency isn’t just about being honest; it also means helping others understand the reasons behind decisions and actions. Understanding the rationale for why the school made the choices it made can eliminate negativity and promote unity and support.

Step #3: Sharing your stories

Nothing influences other’s opinions more effectively than a story. It’s just the way our brains work. We make sense of the world by taking the disparate experiences and facts around us and forming them into a coherent, logical story. So, when you can turn information and facts into a story, you’ve got a winner. 

There are school stories all around you. There are success stories about students who struggled and overcame. There are staff stories about teachers and leaders who helped others reach their highest potential. There are stories about programs that made learning fun and motivating. The most successful communicators become good at recognizing those stories and sharing them. 

School board members who encourage school leaders to gather and share stories set a tone that will help the school attain its goals. Good communicators use stories to influence, motivate, and engage as one of the primary tools in their arsenal. Even effective marketing is just good storytelling, and if we hope to attract quality staff and increase student enrollment, marketing matters.

engaged parent with high school graduate

Step #4: Engaging parents improves student outcomes

When board members recognize the value of parent engagement and its impact on student achievement and encourage that type of engagement, our students benefit. Because governing board member values influence the school’s leaders, a shift toward inviting parent engagement can have profound effects on student attitudes and staff expectations. How can board members encourage such engagement?

Governing board members can strengthen parent engagement by incorporating the following strategies:

  • Improving all communication channels so parents are consistently informed. This includes school website management to assure up-to-date content, easily accessible websites, intuitive navigation so information is easy to find, and integration with all social media channels so the websites and social media work in harmony to keep parents and community members informed. Other channels include parent notification systems, newsletters, blogs, outdoor signage, and even notes home from the teacher.
  • Recognizing and validating parent groups like a PTA, PTO, parent advisory council, or site council. Inviting them to board meetings, encouraging input, and using their input in decision-making will help inform board members so they can better represent those who elected them.
  • Supporting parent volunteer opportunities in the classroom. Research evidence proves that student success correlates to parent involvement. Children do best if their parents are involved at home and when they volunteer at school and are involved in decisions about the school’s programs. To encourage parent engagement, some schools develop parent training to provide parents the knowledge and skills to support student achievement with topics like parent leadership skill development, how to create home environments that support academic achievement, and how parents make our school better.

Parents can’t be involved if they are not informed. And along with increased engagement comes increased trust and confidence in school leaders and governing board members. When parent trust and confidence increases, this flows to students and leads to improved student achievement and optimism in the classroom—benefiting all students, even those whose parents are not as engaged.

Step #5: Rewarding communication rock stars

We can’t improve what we don’t measure, and if we don’t share the information about what we measure, no one benefits. We all like to be recognized for our efforts, and since you need all school staff to be involved with effective communications, you need to create opportunities to reward your communication rock stars. There is no stronger message about what your school values than when those values are recognized by the school board members. So, create opportunities to acknowledge and honor your rock stars:

  • Parents who volunteer and participate
  • Staff members who keep those school websites updated, engaging, and informative (through the news, stories, photos, and information they submit)
  • Staff members who provide outstanding customer service (in whatever role they serve)
  • Teachers who excel at parent relationships (welcoming them, encouraging them, interacting with them)
  • Administrators who excel at student and staff interactions (supporting, encouraging, engaging)
  • Students who succeed in various areas, including those who have made a significant improvement based on dedication and hard work

Some schools have annual awards presentations during governing board meetings for some of the topics listed in the bullet list above. Recognition by their community-elected representatives sends a loud, positive message to other parents and staff and thereby raises expectations and improves future involvement. 

With the right messaging by a proactive school board, the school culture will be positive and welcoming, student outcomes will improve, and staff turnover will decline. Don’t underestimate the power of strategic communications, especially when great examples are set by school board members!

More school board member tips?

Need some more ideas to strengthen your school’s communication strategies? Check out some of these articles:


474361
How Do I Market My School?
2019-07-16
flower market

When I was 18, I fell in love with flower markets. I’m drawn in by the variety of colors, shapes, designs, and fragrances—walking past rows of roses, daisies, and irises and vendors working beside them. While surrounded by pavement and noise, flower markets are refreshing oases for customers and passers-by. Flowers for sale naturally, powerfully draw customers in aromatically and visually. 

When I think of marketing, sometimes I think of the old-school flower markets of Paris, Brussels, Rome, and other big cities. But, what could flower markets possibly have to do with school marketing? 

It’s important to remember that as your school builds a reputation for being professional, musical, highly academic, etc., school marketing takes work. It will always take work. You are always selling your school to potential teachers and students, every day in every encounter. While much of your school’s reputation is built on natural, everyday experiences in your school community, it doesn’t come without conscientious effort. As you consider which school marketing strategies are best for you, we’re here to help ensure your school marketing approach is well-rounded and effective. 

You might not imagine a beautiful, delicious flower market when you think about ways to improve your marketing for your school. However, just as flower vendors use their flowers’ strengths as selling points to draw their customers in, your school can do the same—and here’s how. In this blog, we will look at six of the most enticing ways to market your school.

Marketing your school 

Just like a beautiful bouquet often includes many different flowers, your school communications should include many different channels
  1. Keep your website fresh and updated with current events, news, and stories.

    While fresh flowers generally smell amazing, old ones are repugnant. When your school community visits your school website in search of information, it’s important for them to find it au courant.

    Your school website is where you offer your first impression to those you want to attract, including new students and staff. It’s also a resource to keep your current community, including staff and students, informed. We notice that many expensive private school websites are solely focused on attracting new families. This is a major marketing mistake. Because word of mouth marketing plays such a big role in marketing your school, you do not want to discount your current students and staff. In order to feel connected, they need to feel your school’s commitment to them as much as prospective students. Frustration rises when current staff and students are uninformed or disconnected. Connection = Support. In other words, your school community will be your school’s advocates when they feel informed and included, and you need that.

    Just as radio broadcasters eschew a break of silence between programming, you must avoid outdated events, news, and stories on your school website. Keep your school website updated and encourage involvement by sharing news, expectations, goals, and processes and by being consistent.  

  2. Incorporate Social Media Management into your school marketing plan.

    Just like a beautiful bouquet often includes many different flowers, your school communications should include many different channels. Your school’s social media acts as an extension to your school website; when it comes to marketing, they are interdependent. Engagement through social media combined with your school website’s informative arm establishes a broad reach for your school to communicate with your community and prospective students and families.

    Your school website and social media can and must work side by side. The synergy of the two platforms is crucial for marketing your school. For example, your social media feeds push news and updates directly to your followers and pulls them in by inviting them to see the rest of the story on your school website. Your school website and social media work in harmony to tell people about your school and show them evidence with stories, photos, testimonials, and videos. 

  3. Tell your school’s amazing story.

    Do certain flowers spark certain memories for you? Maybe you and your grandmother used to grow sunflowers each summer or you had irises or lilies at your wedding. Stories matter. Stories connect us. They always will. And stories matter to your school community.

    In terms of marketing, stories matter to current and prospective students and their families. School websites and social media for schools can work interdependently to help you tell your school’s story more completely. Just think of the many ways stories can be shared using these platforms! Use technology to improve student engagement and stay in the communication game, sharing and connecting with your school community. 

  4. Use inbound marketing.

    Since marketing isn’t what it used to be, schools find more and more competition to enroll new students and retain old ones. These days, students are not going to attend your school just because it is the closest. Your competitors vying for these same students include online schools, homeschooling, charter schools, and private schools.

    While visiting a flower market in France, I watched a vendor select a beautiful flower and give it to a three-year-old girl passing by with her mother. How does this apply to your school marketing? Rather than using outbound marketing (blasting out marketing messages, hoping something will hit your targeted audience), consider the more affordable and more effective approach of inbound marketing. Inbound marketing draws customers to you when they need the information you provide or the services you offer. Known also as digital or content marketing, it is a new, affordable and effective approach to school marketing. By providing free content, you form positive relationships with potential families, and they come to see you as an expert.

mother walking with children
  1. Recognize your abilities and limits regarding school public relations.

    Technology has made the world incredibly connected allowing you to reach out to your customers in unexpected ways. In today’s world, small businesses and corporations, including quaint floral shops and smaller schools and districts can reach a wider audience than ever before. With these amazing possibilities, one of the most challenging aspects of managing your school website, social media, and other various means of communication, is not having the manpower to make it all happen. School Webmaster’s PR4 Schools is one solution to this challenge. Rather than adding more duties to your staff workload, we have people who gather information and share your school’s stories. We can even hire an on-site communications coordinator for you. If you need help keeping your school website and social media for schools current, consider PR4 Schools

  2. Be consistent, get it done.

    Time waits for no one. The early hours for flower markets demand preparation in order to be ready for customers throughout the day. As in everything, setting your goals and expectations and fleshing them out with action items and plans is critical to your school marketing success. When you talk with your school community, what are the challenges you face in school marketing? Have you received feedback from your school community about school-related strengths or concerns?

    If coming up with detailed marketing steps along with creating templates, forms, references, project plans, surveys, etc. seems intimidating, consider School Webmasters Marketing Your School Calendar. Filled with practical marketing strategies and tips, the calendar is a day-to-day resource to help you throughout the school year. To successfully market your school, it is vital to create, implement, and follow through on a plan throughout the school year.  

Selling your school’s strengths to prospective students and their families is important and can be a daunting task in today’s world where families typically have an abundance of options. Competition can be tough, but marketing your school in an effective way is possible, especially thanks to technology and the resources at your fingertips. You will establish a strong school marketing plan as you create and maintain a professional, user-friendly school website and allow social media to draw your customers in. 

While recognizing your limits, display with pride your school community’s strengths and accomplishments through the stories you share on your school websites and various social media platforms. As you share your stories, you will establish natural and alluring pathways of inbound marketing for potential and returning customers. And don’t forget, consistency is king. As you establish a reliable approach to marketing your school, you will not be a flash-in-the-pan option for potential customers but will be seen and known as a school that cares and is passionate about not only maintaining but even seeking to improve what makes your school so great. Who could resist?

479068
Your website's important first impression
2019-07-09
superman image with first impressions written on his chest

How important is a first impression? Very. Whether we like it or not.

But why is that first impression so critical? It has to do with what is known as the halo effect. Our first impressions create a perception, whether positive or negative, that causes us to associate other qualities with our original impression. 

For example, if our first impression when we walk into a school office is that it’s chaotic, disorganized, and our presence is inconvenient and unwelcome, we are likely to jump to the conclusion that the education for our children will be less than stellar. There might be no connection between our front office experience and what happens within the classroom or the interactions with students, but without an experience that forces us to change our opinion, our future judgments will be influenced by the halo effect. First impressions can change, but not without concerted effort.

What’s your school website’s first impression?

Often, the first impression parents and community members have of your school comes from your school’s website. Is it prejudicing the very folks you are trying to attract? Is keeping it attractive and current low on the priority list because everyone’s to-do list is longer than the Nile? Or would some initial effort in this area actually shorten some of those to-do lists? 

Let’s discuss how the design, layout, and management of your school’s website can create positive and long-lasting first impressions that will influence parent attitudes about the work you are doing at your school, opinions toward school staff, and even enrollment numbers.

Put your best foot forward

#1 Put your best foot forward

If you are going to a job interview, you prepare to make a good impression by dressing professionally, combing your hair, etc. Your goal is to create positive social cohesion and avoid negative impressions leading to biases and prejudice. Well, consider your website as a job interview. It is just as critical for your school to put its best foot forward as well, and this begins with its appearance.

  • Navigation. It must be intuitive. The information a site visitor is looking for must be easy to find (ideally within 3 clicks). Our recommended page navigation for K–12 schools has been copied by thousands of schools because it has proven to be logical and clear (so feel free to copy our nearly two decades of experience). It also needs to be consistent from page to page. Don’t change up your navigation, even if it seems clever and edgy, or you’ll lose and frustrate users.
  • Layout. Keep your website clean and uncluttered. This means allowing for generous white space (which just means not crowding a page full of text and images but allowing enough white space around these elements for ease of reading and to keep your brain from exploding). Also, keep your design elements and colors consistent with your brand across the site (white space, visual, consistent brand, cohesive colors/style). So, choose and stick with no more than 2–4 colors.

#2 Be helpful

  • Up-to-date content. This seems like such common sense, but we see school websites in the thousands that are so outdated it’s flat-out embarrassing. Your content needs to be relevant and current. When parents or community needs to get information about anything at your school, they should be able to use your website as their most reliable resource. Earn their trust and keep it by getting and keeping your website current. More tips to keeping current.
  • Useful and convenient information. What do your site users look for most often? Make that information easy to find. Not sure? Ask your staff what questions they are asked most often, and be sure to answer those needs on your website. 
  • Accessible. Having an accessible website means whatever the device, your website should be available and easy to navigate. So, your school website should be responsive (mobile-friendly). It must also be ADA accessible to the estimated 19% of the population who have some form of disability (it’s also the law).

#3 Smile and talk about their needs

  • Use content and tone that is inviting and conversational. It is a conversation between your school and one site visitor at a time. Make it welcoming. Avoid jargon. Make it engaging. Remember it is about them and not you.
  • Tell stories. It will be your stories that help parents and prospective staff learn if yours is the school for them. They will influence, inspire, and engage your visitors. Tell your school’s stories often and well. 
  • Select word choice wisely. The right words can deliver better customer service and make site visitors feel welcome and engaged, or they can repel and discourage.
  • Provide proof for your claims. This includes the use of testimonials from parents, staff, students, and alumni. Create videos to share your stories and successes that help parents envision their child succeeding at your school. Share successful statistics that deliver on your promises and goals. Provide stories and photos of successes and progress on your news page and in your school social media channels. Help them believe that you mean what you say.
strategic website management

Manage your website strategically

As you can see from the three steps described above, there is nothing quick and simple about creating and managing a school website that not only provides a positive first impression but maintains that opinion of your school over time. It takes planning and a strategy to support your school’s mission. 

So, who is responsible for your school website? Is it “other duties as assigned”? Or is it a task given to some department other than those expert in communications?

It is common for public schools to assign this task to the school’s technology department or IT director. We advise against this practice since there isn’t a single industry other than K–12 schools that would ever consider such a strategy. You must match skill sets with the task, and to ask your technology folks to put on the hat of communications, marketing, public relations, and customer service is just unrealistic and silly. Besides, it isn’t as if they don’t have enough to do without expecting them to tackle an additional field of expertise.

Consider the following few steps involved in effective website management strategy:

  • Gather content, information, stories, and successes on a regular basis from those in the trenches who know what is going on—teachers, office staff, departments heads, and principals. Create a process that makes contributions easy, and then reward those behaviors. Include (or require) all grades and areas from athletics and art to kindergarten and the senior class. 
  • Update regularly and consistently. If parents go to your website and nothing is new or engaging, they won’t come back. If your website analytics indicates parents aren’t visiting your school website often, that is on you. It means there is nothing there to draw them. Create a consistent schedule to keep the information flowing so your site is always current and interesting. Then use your social media to drive them to your website for more details and the rest of the story.
  • Follow best practices. The ideals for website best practices include regular quality control checks to remove any broken links and outdated information; update contact information and staff contacts; check for website accessibility compliance and correct grammar and spelling mistakes; maintain a consistent tone of voice and the following of a style guide.

Ideally, anyone who updates your website or writes content for it should be fully trained. Not just on the website software, but in each of the areas mentioned above. One update completed by someone who isn’t aware of these important areas can not only take your website out of compliance (making your school a target for an accessibility audit) but can make a poor impression by introducing errors.

Reconsider your website’s long-term value

Just like the halo effect can distort reality, so will overlooking the value of the first impression you are making with a poorly designed and managed school website. The halo effect often creates long-lasting assumptions, from causing witnesses or police to wrongly identify suspects to teachers over- or underrating a student’s potential. Recognizing that fact and choosing to use it to our advantage is just smart. None of us wants to make our jobs any more difficult than they need to be. So, take another look at your school’s website, and consider how it represents your school and staff.

If you don’t like what you see when evaluating your own school website’s first impression and need help getting and keeping a school site that creates a positive halo effect that benefits your staff and school for years to come, give School Webmasters a call at (888) 750.4556—or request a quote and tell us what you need.

478022
DIY School Website Management
2019-07-02
slice whole grain bread

The aroma of fresh-baked, homemade bread wafting through my home, which is also my home office, is one of my favorite things. Oh, not just any bread, but freshly ground wheat (or some other luscious, whole grain), which I grind right before baking. 

After four decades, at least twice a month, the whole process is still nearly mystical to me. Those beautiful, caramel-colored loaves seem a work of art.  

How baking bread is like effective website management

Are you salivating yet? I know I am.

But, what does baking homemade bread have to do with your school’s website management? They both boil down to creating a memorable, inviting, and emotionally engaging experience.

One of the reasons freshly baked bread is evocative across every culture is that it engages multiple senses. There is that malty, yeasty, aroma. The visual beauty of a risen, golden-crusted loaf cooling on the counter. The feeling of its warm, flaky crust and spongy-soft honeycombed center. Oh, and don’t forget the sound as a serrated knife slices through a rustic, crusty loaf into densely packed bubbles of yeasty pockets before you slather on sweet, creamy butter or drizzle on thick, caramel-colored honey. 

Do your school’s communication efforts engage in this way? They can. Once you recognize the value of your school’s website, used in conjunction with your social media, you can begin to make those experiences much more memorable. Let’s carry this bread baking analogy a bit further and help you incorporate ways to engage your audience at a gut level (pun intended).

homemade bread and butter

Grinding the Grain

You have a lot of things going on at your school. Some of it is routine and boring (at least from your perspective). But, is your perspective biased because you live in this world? How would a parent looking for the right school for her kindergarten child see it?

So, recognize that you need to start with quality ingredients. You wouldn’t use stale, rancid ingredients and expect a mouth-watering outcome, so don’t expect any less from your communications efforts. Your website content and social media posts should be fresh as well. 

The information should be current, accurate, and engaging. How up-to-date is the information on your website? Is it accurate or have things changed and your website doesn’t reflect those changes? Is the copywriting interesting or just regurgitated facts filled with jargon and education buzz words that only someone with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction could love?

Is your staff information interesting to your audience? If so, it must be less of a professional bio of qualifications and more about the people who will be teaching and supervising their children. What do they care about, what drives them to this career, or what are their personal goals? Try writing a friendly staff profile blurb on your school website staff page or teacher website or sharing weekly staff spotlights (or videos) on your website news page via social media posts.

Your focus should be on the needs of your customers, primarily parents, and often that means providing answers to their questions and alleviating their concerns. It is likely you don’t know what those concerns are unless you understand what the parents you are targeting want and need. 

You might begin gathering those quality ingredients by conducting surveys of parents in your geographical boundaries, talking to parents who have chosen to send their children to another school or are homeschooling, and doing some serious self-evaluation of your school’s current image to see what your perceived weakness are.

Mixing bread dough

Mixing the dough

In breadmaking, the reason the dough is mixed (or kneaded) is to develop the weblike gluten strands that expand and cause the bread to rise as the yeast produces carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. 

To implement effective website management and build a strong communications strategy, you must also develop a network. There is a bit of kneading that must take place, and when done well, you’ll see a rise in loyal supporters and an increase in trust for your school and its staff and administration, and in time, you’ll enjoy other benefits, including increased enrollment.

Creating a network includes using a deliberate communication strategy that supports your school’s agreed upon goals (your mission). Integrate your social media efforts with your website content, your media relationships, and your marketing efforts. Every post, story, press release, video, and website update should support your communication efforts (which supports your school’s mission). Nothing is haphazard. Everything has a purpose. 

This may be easier than it sounds. Does the news article you are posting on your website highlight one of the educational goals of assuring quality programs to your students? Did you link to that encouraging story from your social media and ask parents to share it in their Facebook and Instagram feeds? Did you offer to have the local media share an interview with the staff or students involved? If so, you just did a great job of developing your network. You integrated social media and gave parents and community a reason to visit your website and see what kinds of great things are happening at your school. You involved your staff and students and provided kudos where deserved. 

Letting it rise

This is the stage in both breadmaking and website management that requires patience and an awareness of your environment. For the magic to happen—the bread or your school reputation to rise—you knead (oops!) to recognize that it doesn’t happen instantly. If you expect it to, you’ll be disappointed. 

You can’t just post an interesting story on your school website and expect that you’ll suddenly enjoy increased enrollment, strong parental support, and committed students. It will require a consistent and deliberate communications effort, instilling a customer service mindset among your staff, a willingness to listen to feedback, and making ongoing improvements based on that feedback. 

This stage requires a long-term plan and patience. It means being aware of your environment. Is the room too cold? The bread won’t rise, and your parents won’t feel welcome and will be less engaged and fewer students will thrive. 

If the school culture is always in a state of chaos (environment is a bit too warm), not only will your bread’s yeast die, but your school culture will become toxic, and you’ll have trouble getting and keeping good staff or attracting students who enjoy learning and can be examples for other students.

homemade bread

Baking the loaf

In baking bread, timing matters. If you put your rising bread in the oven too soon, it won’t rise evenly, and the crumb can be dense and heavy. Too long a rise, the bread can fall when baked, and the crumb will be uneven and even a bit fermented. 

In website management, it is also about the timing. If you don’t keep the information flow steady and appropriate, this communication resource will be considered unreliable. If it is unreliable, it will not be used as a resource at all by the very customers you hope to inform, and it only takes one or two visits for people to make that determination. 

Another process that affects the long-term success of all your communication efforts is transparency. To build trust, you must be willing to respond to questions from your public and proactively explain your school’s “why behind the what” for decisions and plans. You will eliminate many potential problems by making a habit of using your website and your social media to tell parents and community members the rationale behind changes that affect their children, school hours, bus schedules, school policies, elimination of programs, and much more. 

Sharing the “why behind the what” for common events or activities that seem routine to you as a school employee, can go a long way toward developing trust and improving communications. For example, we know that your school applies reason and value to every activity from lesson plans to school assemblies and field trips. So, share that rationale and those values with your audience. 

Rather than just posting a school assembly on your calendar, write an article about it on your news page. Be sure to include the topic, what your students gain from the experience, how it adds to their education, and a few quotes from students from their perspective. This kind of information, provided consistently and in support of your school’s goals and mission, are the hallmark of great strategic communications.

Whole grain bread and honey

Enjoying the fruit of your labors

Now the hard work and your strategic planning and consistent follow-through is done. But don’t quit now! The joyful efforts of your work are about to pay off in more ways than one.  

If you’re baking, the benefits are evident since your home is now filled with the sweet-smelling fragrance of wholesome bread just waiting for you to tear off and devour a thick, warm chunk. However, since we’ve carried this analogy to extreme tummy rumbling lengths, spread some sweet cream butter on your bread, and let’s talk about the benefits of a well-managed website.

If you have followed the previous stages of managing your website, you can already see the benefits. Gradually your customers will be influenced by your communications efforts, especially the reliable information available from your website and social media channels. They will be impressed by the stories and successes you share. You'll strengthen your school's reputation, and your transparency will be respected and appreciated. You will build trust and confidence with your community, and parents will go from being critics to advocates.

When you make mistakes, which is bound to happen occasionally, be honest, apologize, and let your customers know what you are correcting to avoid future mistakes. This is an aspect of communication that leaders try to avoid, but avoidance does much more harm than sincere honesty provides. 

Finally, be sure to recognize and show your appreciation for the staff who gather the stories for you to share, the employees who demonstrate the customer mindset you are encouraging and modeling, and give kudos to all those who are supporting your goals. Share examples with your staff when you see these desired behaviors modeled, and reward the behavior in a variety of ways (awards during governing board meetings, thank you notes, recognition at staff meetings, gift cards of appreciation).

In summary

The steps we recommend to manage your school website are:

  1. Gather data from your customers. (What needs do they expect you to meet? What do they value most? What challenges does your school solve for them?)
  2. Establish your annual communication goals. (Tie your goals to your school mission.)
  3. Evaluate your current website. (Is the navigation intuitive? Is your website mobile-friendly? Is it current? Is the content tone friendly and inviting? Is it informative and engaging?)
  4. Develop update processes. (Involve staff by assigning topics and deadlines for news articles, success stories, staff or teacher spotlights, events—and all news should include an explanation for the “why behind the what.”)
  5. Schedule frequent website updates. (Schedule daily or weekly content updates to keep the website current, accurate, and engaging. Maintain a friendly, consistent tone.)
  6. Coordinate social media posts with website content. (Integrate your social media channels with articles and news on your website to drive customers to the more detailed, informative, and inviting website information.)
  7. Schedule regular website checks. Look for and fix broken links, layout errors, outdated content, website accessibility compliance, spelling and grammar errors, etc.)
  8. Recognize, reward, and repeat. (Find good examples of staff who are providing engaging articles and stories or keeping the website and social media content current. Recognize these examples and honor them publicly. This will encourage more of the same!)

All your website management is tied to good communication. Your website is the most valuable resource available for improving customer service, marketing, public relations, reputation management, and parent engagement. Put it to good use, and then enjoy the many rewards that strategic communication brings!

If your school needs website management services, please remember that School Webmasters specializes in just that—and we have for 16 years! Let us help you manage your school website and social media (whether on our system or yours). Contact us today and find out more, or request a quote and we’ll contact you!

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What is poor customer service costing your school?
2019-06-25
canvas bag with a dollar sign printed on it

Many schools across the U.S. are experiencing the hard-hitting reality of declining K–12 enrollment. These declines are triggered by falling birth rates (only two states in the U.S. have birth rates above replacement levels), lots of school choice options, homeschooling, and online schools. It is time to take a hard look at how we can remain relevant and competitive. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, declining enrollment also means fewer jobs. We hear lots of wailing and teeth gnashing about budgets and funding at both state and federal levels, but what can we do at the school level that will make a difference sooner rather than later? 

There are several effective strategies you can implement (inbound marketing being one). But today we’ll discuss the importance of one of the most beneficial strategies your school can implement—one with wide-ranging impact beyond increased enrollment. 

Let’s talk about school customer service!

Your goal should be to deliver customer service levels that are nothing like the DMV and more like Ace Hardware or Nordstroms. However, this means every staff member must understand how important customer service is to the survival of your school and possibly their career. 

Female student doing match at whiteboard

Step #1: Do the math

Begin by showing them how enrollment numbers affect your school’s bottom line—and their job. Educators don’t appreciate being told to think of their schools as a business. I get it. But there are some similarities that can’t be ignored, and one is that we must have the revenue to support our programs and services. 

Since school budgets are based on a per-student model, whether it is from tuition or state and federal funding, student numbers are impactful. So, run the numbers for your school or district and share that information with your school employees so they understand the financial significance of each student lost to another school. 

Fill in the blanks:

_____ Number of students homeschooled or enrolled in online or virtual schools
_____ Number of students attending other schools (private or charter schools if you are public and public schools if you are a private or charter school)
_____ Total lost students

Now take the number of lost students and multiply it by the total amount of per-student reimbursements or tuition you receive for the years they are enrolled. The total is your potential lost resources. 

____ (lost students) x _____ (per student income) x ______ (years served) = _____ (total lost income)

Let me share an example from a public elementary school in Arizona, a state with one of the lowest per student reimbursements in the nation.

A local elementary school near me enrolls 65% of the K–8 students within their school’s attendance boundaries. The other 35% attend local charter or private schools, nearby public schools, or are homeschooled. So, the math looks like this: 

1200 (lost students) x
$6100 (per student reimbursement) = 
$7.3M (lost revenue per year)

The long-term scenario is even worse. Over the total elementary grades they serve, which totals nine years, this district is losing a possible $48.8M. Wow! 

If we look at other states, like California, New York, or Vermont, where the per-student spending for public schools is closer to $20,000 per student, you can see what it means to a school’s budget. If you are a private school, even the loss of one or two students might mean teacher layoffs or discontinued programs.

This fact gathering first step helps school employees recognize how customer dissatisfaction affects your school and them personally. How we treat our customers matters. They have choices, and if they feel like we don’t care about them, they can and will go elsewhere. With fewer available students than ever before, we must work to get and keep those we can.

Step #2: Know what your customers want

Our primary customers are parents since they decide where their children will attend. So, understanding and meeting their needs is a critical first step. What do all parents want?

Parents want their children to attend a school where the staff:

  • cares about their children;
  • sees the potential in their children;
  • holds high expectations for their children;
  • inspires and encourages their children; and 
  • acts as their children's advocates.

Parents also want school staff to:

  • treat them with respect and consideration;
  • keep them informed about things affecting their children;
  • provide honest and timely answers to their questions; and
  • listen to their needs and concerns.

You can meet each of these needs with a staff that is fully committed to delivering outstanding customer service at every touch point. And, providing excellent customer service is one of the most impactful ways a school can influence attitudes. 

Step #3: Train, recognize, repeat

Implementing customer service should begin at the top. School leaders must be on board and ensure that having a customer service mindset is an accepted part of their school’s culture. Putting training in place as part of professional development for all staff, from the teachers to the crossing guards, will establish long-lasting benefits.  Training for parents as well as for internal staff and students is well worth the effort. Staff relationships will improve, students will respond to the increased respect and courtesy modeled for them, and parents will feel welcomed and respected. These improvements will make our schools a better place to work and learn—and everyone wins.

Consider these initial steps:

  1. Conduct an internal audit. Address the most critical issues first. How easy do you make it for parents to get the information and help they need? How easy is it to enroll? How informative and intuitive is your website? How do you communicate with parents and students, and how effective are your methods? Send a secret shopper around to your schools to find out. Get them to use your website and your phone systems to see where the weaknesses are, and eliminate them.
  2. Streamline the bureaucracy. Customer expectations in our digital world are higher than ever, and schools are no exception. Can you streamline processes, consolidate required forms and put them online, eliminate hoops parents must jump through, and remove obstacles that hinder customers from getting the answers they seek? Not sure what those hindrances might be? Ask your staff what keeps them from solving problems during customer contacts, and incorporate their knowledge and suggestions into your solutions.
  3. Implement customer service training. Conduct annual customer service training specific to your staff’s various roles (administrators, teachers, aides, office staff, bus drivers, food service). It isn’t a “do it once and forget it” type of training. Each annual training will help school employees adopt these life skills and establish an employee customer support mindset throughout your school. Your staff will enjoy the advantages of improved interpersonal skills that will benefit them in all aspects of their personal lives. 
  4. Establish recognition and rewards. To reinforce outstanding examples of customer service within your school and among your staff, find and honor those who demonstrate these ideals. Find ways to share their stories, highlight those positive experiences, and let others see examples they can emulate. Catch folks doing things right, and spread the word. You’ll be helping everyone know what behaviors to strive for.
  5. Improve and repeat. Review your progress at regular intervals. Reevaluate your school culture and your levels of customer service, and apply what you’ve learned to continue the improvements throughout the year. 
Sign with the words All About Relationships

It’s all about the relationships!

With an ongoing focus on customer service, you’ll enjoy consistent improvement in customer relationships, a strengthened school brand, and more loyal customers. A positive school culture makes working there more enjoyable for your staff, so the recruitment of highly-qualified staff improves. Your students also benefit from the respectful and supportive attitudes of school employees and their parents. Over time, you are likely to see increased enrollment as well.

While we recommend implementing customer service training for all your staff, here are a few basic tips you can implement at your very next staff meeting, department meeting, and other opportunities, even before you roll out a formalized customer service initiative for your school. Here’s a start:

  • Make answers easy to find. Be sure your customers have easy-to-find access to their questions online. Your school website and social media should be prime communication resources and be intuitive, informative, and reliable. Not sure what your customers’ most common questions are? Ask your staff. They will know which answers they must repeatedly provide, which calls they get most often, and what parents dislike most about your phone tree. Your website analytics can tell you what questions are searched for most often.
  • Raise the bar. Incorporate customer service standards as part of staff evaluation standards. What is not measured will not improve! Recognize those who model these standards and share the positive outcomes their behaviors produce.
  • Ensure handoffs matter. Sometimes we must tell parents or other customers that we don’t have the answer they need but we can find out or get someone to get back with them. The problem occurs when we fail to follow through and make sure our promise is kept. We must provide any necessary details to the person to whom we are handing off the customer request, and we must take responsibility for following up to ensure they completed the pass (so to speak). After all, it was our promise, and we should take responsibility for our commitment. The follow-through and promises kept build trust with our customers. Own the follow-through and train staff to do likewise.
  • Empower a culture of yes. Occasionally there are security, privacy, or legal issues that require us to say “no” to some customer requests. But, there are many ways to get to “yes” (or say yes to a no question) when we empower our staff to think out of the box and find solutions that will satisfy a customer’s need. Sometimes it is as simple as learning the customer’s purpose (the why of their request) and finding a way to accomplish it even if it is a more different solution than expected. Training and trusting your staff allows them to creatively and effectively find resolutions. 

For additional tips to begin implementing customer service strategies at your school, check out some of these articles:

From good to great: school customer service
Customer service: the power of words
Is your front office helping or hurting your school enrollment?
Parents: raving fans or raging foes?
Customer service: minding your Ps, Qs, and Netiquette

Next steps?

We addressed some preliminary steps you can begin today in this article and recommend providing formalized customer service training for your staff. While on-site training is motivating and can get things off to a strong start, it can also be expensive. There are also some online course options, or you can develop your own. A few helpful resources we recommend are: 

Who Cares? Improving Public School Through Relationships and Customer Service
Think Like a Patron: without losing your mind
5 reasons to adopt a customer mindset in schools

School Webmasters is rolling out online customer service training for schools very soon. We invite you to sign up to be notified when our free mini-course for school customer service is available, and we’ll send you the link to the introduction course. Then, if you see value for your staff, you can register for the full online course in development now!

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Digital Citizenship: 2 Guiding Principles to Help School Leaders Face Technology Struggles
2019-06-18
Male student sitting at computer

In your school, are personal devices such as smartphones and personal laptops promoting or hindering the educational environment? 

In February 2018, the Education Week Research Center surveyed 500 school leaders. One alarming statistic surfaced from the report—95% of school leaders are concerned that students spend too much time on their phones at home. 

The level of technological connectivity in today’s world is beyond anything we as digital immigrants have ever seen before. Word may have traveled fast back in the 80s and 90s on the playground or in the hallways, but these days, the doors of instant communication have been thrown open and remain open non-stop, day and night.

This is new territory for everyone. The students in your schools are digital natives. They have always known a world chock full of technology and online connections. As school leaders tackle the challenges brought about by personal devices, it’s worth noting that we are in relatively uncharted waters and the currents can be treacherous. As a society, it’s fair to say we don’t have all the answers about technology, and, as adults, it’s imperative to be open with youth and seek to collaborate with them. 

Despite the unknown, more research is beginning to emerge such as the statistic about screen time mentioned above. To help students succeed from elementary through high school, it’s important to learn from the past and each other, ideally including the digital natives in the mapping process as well. In this blog, we will examine real-life examples of those in our society taking a proactive stance to the challenges facing youth regarding technology and identify two core principles to help you chart your course. 

1. Use your influence to make a difference in your school community.

Two adult females looking at a computer screen
As a school leader, your voice matters. Here are two examples of corporate executives using their position of influence to answer technology concerns. What can you learn from their examples? 

Facebook Executive Speaks to College Graduates
Recently, Facebook Executive, Sheryl Sandberg spoke to college graduates. Ms. Sandberg admitted that Facebook leader, “didn’t see all the risks coming” and “didn’t do enough to stop them.” Acknowledging the downsides of technology, she urged students to use technology for good, understanding that there are those who choose to use technology harmfully, willingly or not. She said, “Technology needs a human heartbeat.”

How can you encourage students in your school community to use technology responsibly? 

Apple Shareholders Issue Public Letter
In January 2018, key shareholders urged tech giant Apple to “issue a health warning for their devices and change their systems to allow parents greater control of their children’s usage.

In a public letter, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) together with Jana Partners LLC, called on Apple, Inc. to address the concerns of phone problems, to get involved in research about the negative effects of device use, and to install an advisory board to be current on the situation. The letter, speaking truth to power, drew attention from the media.

In the letter, the shareholders raised the following points:
  1. 67% of 2,300 teachers surveyed noticed a growing amount of students negatively distracted by digital technologies within the classroom. 
  2. 75% note that their students’ focus on tasks has decreased.
  3. Since personal technologies have come into the classroom in the last 3 to 5 years, 90% note an increase in emotional challenges among students.
  4. 86% recognize an increase in social challenges. 
  5. Pertaining to increasing risk factors for suicide: U.S. teens who are on their electronic devices three hours or more each day increase their likelihood by 35%, and for those who spend five hours or more on their devices, the likelihood increases by 75%.
  6. Teens on their devices more than five hours a day get less than seven hours of sleep (rather than the recommended nine).
  7. Long-term issues such as high blood pressure and weight gain are long-term issues linked to sleep deprivation.
  8. Following five days of a device-free outdoor camp, youth tested “far better on tests for empathy than a control group.” 
  9. 58% of parents worry about social media’s influence on their child’s mental and physical health.
  10. 48% describe regulating screen time in their family is a constant struggle.
  11. 58% describe their child as attached to their device.

This public letter exemplifies standing up for what is right and in the common good. Apple quickly responded to the letter, and a few months later, has now entered the discussion about digital health. At schools, we seek to instill character traits such as courage and honesty. Even in our communities, we see the growing theme “See something, say something.” 

Both of these examples show brave members of the community raising their voices and taking a risk for the greater good. How can you raise your voice in your school community, courageously facing the challenges your school community faces?

2. Lead by example and collaborate.

Students looking at laptops and tablets

There are several organizations and movements out there to help you keep students safe and responsible when using technology. Here are a few we have found:

#SavetheKids Movement

In April 2018, Collin Kartchner took a risk and started a movement called #SavetheKids. Kartchner believes in the astronomical power of social media, raising money to aid hurricane victims, cancer patients, and orphans in South America. For the past year, he has traveled to schools and community centers nationwide to raise awareness regarding the dangers of social media. Mr. Kartchner connects with teens, sharing a message about the destructive effects of technology on mental health and self-esteem. Through his counterpart movement #SavetheParents, he challenges parents to reconnect with their children. He has spoken to thousands of youth and adults across the country, calling on them to “rise above the negative effects of social media, while showing the world how to use it for doing good.”

Digital Citizenship Education: DigCitKids

In February 2019, Dr. Mike Dribble along with other contributing authors, published DigCitKids: Lessons Learned Side by Side. The book is a collaborative work involving educators and parents from around the world. It seeks to confront real problems on a local, global, and digital level. The collection of stories in the book demonstrate a quest to instill digital citizenship in the classroom and the home. The book highlights the importance of learning together and talking with children, rather than at them.

Dribble believes a foundation of healthy digital citizenship, as well as good citizenship in general, is built on the “Five Be’s.” 

  • Be We Not Me. Understand that there is strength in numbers. The digital world should be made up of positive interactions. 
  • Be an Example. Good behavior must be modeled. Whether online or off, demonstrate character.
  • Be Curious. Ask questions, search for answers, and be able to learn from and teach each other. 
  • Be a Citizen. See differences but find common ground. Discover your voice in the world.
  • Be Empathetic. Consider how others will likely receive your message. Be careful when sharing ideas, applying the THINK model by asking if your communication is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.

Media Literacy: NAMLE

According to NAMLE, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, media literacy is that having the ability to “access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication is interdisciplinary by nature.” 

Media literacy represents a necessary, inevitable, and realistic response to the complex, ever-changing electronic environment and communication cornucopia that surround us.” In order to be successful, individuals must be able to “develop expertise with the increasingly sophisticated information and entertainment media that address us on a multi-sensory level, affecting the way we think, feel, and behave.” 

The world communicates to us via a combination of sounds, images, and words. NAMLE defends that it’s vital to develop a wider set of literacy skills to understand messages as well as to successfully use the same means to raise our own voice. 

Literacy in the media age demands critical thinking skills, promoting healthy decision-making in and outside the classroom. NAMLE is not an anti-media movement, and it is made up of educators, health care providers, faith-based groups, and consumer and citizen groups who seek a higher understanding of the media environment. 

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin is the executive director at NAMLE. Since 2017, she has “advocated for greater media literacy education through CNN, PBS News Hour, NPR, The New York Times, and Al Jazeera English” (source). Lipkin launched the first-ever Media Literacy Week in the United States and has established partnerships with Participant Media, Twitter, and Nickelodeon. She is a strong advocate for media literacy education. 

My Digital TAT2

My Digital TAT2 is a nonprofit organization in the heartland of technology, Silicon Valley. It was started by a social worker and a child psychologist. Their approach to technology is “positive and empowering, not fear-based.” They seek to educate early with a focus on helping families stay connected via open communication as well as fostering the creation of respectful, thoughtful online engagement. The organization supports student discovery of the value of a positive digital reputation and standing up to cruelty on and offline.

According to My Digital TAT2, the most successful way to establish kind and respectful online communities is to involve all stakeholders: students, educators, and parents. As they collaborate with youth in the classroom setting as well as teen advisory boards or programs, the organization can get a real handle on how youth use technology and its effect on them.

Your Role in Digital Citizenship

As school leaders, we are painfully aware that our school communities are not immune to the harsh realities of today’s world. Smartphones and other personal devices with their various tendrils, including social media, are similar to other things in the world that are wild and free in our society. 

One of the most powerful components of technology is how devices facilitate our ability to accomplish or share certain aspects of our lives. It’s easy and fast. Our voice travels miles in milliseconds on the phone, our words travel just as fast via texts or emails. Heartfelt and thoughtful or hurtful and thoughtless intentions can be communicated, interpreted, and shared with others instantly. 

As you examine ways you can use your influence to raise awareness to the struggles your school community faces, your students and others will notice. As you collaborate with others, including your closest digital natives, your students, they and others will listen. As we come together to chart our courses through this unfamiliar territory, we will be better suited to create and foster environments of learning on a higher level, using technology for good. 

Resources

 “Growing Up Digital Alberta.” A collaborative research project by Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital, the Center on Media and Child Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, University of Alberta, and the Alberta Teachers’ Association (2016) 

Twenge, Jean M., PhD., iGen. New York: Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2017. 

Yalda T. Uhls, Minas Michikyan, Jordan Morris, Debra Garcia, Gary W. Small, Eleni Zgourou, & Patricia M. Greenfield. “Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues.” Computers in Human Behavior Journal (Oct. 2014): 387-392 

American Psychological Association. (2017). APA’s Survey Finds Constantly Checking Electronic Devices Linked to Significant Stress for Most Americans: Stress in America™ poll shows parents struggling to balance personal and family technology use, February 23, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2019. Available online.

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