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School Website Management: It May Be Time to Get Some Help!
2021-06-08
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If you are like many of the school administrators we speak with, you know your website is a critical tool in your communications toolbox. But, most schools don’t have staff on hand to manage communications and public relations. They simply can’t afford it. So, how do you effectively and affordably manage these critical tasks? Consider getting some help by experts trained to manage school websites. Your school staff is busy and often lacks the skill sets to maintain the level of communication that an effective website requires. 

Not just the design—the day-to-day grunt work too!

Most schools outsource the design of their school’s websites. Very few schools have the skill sets among their staff members to get a professionally designed school website with effective layout and navigation. But, there are content management systems that provide templates and editing software to use. Sometimes these are sufficient. (Though sometimes they are ineffective or cookie-cutter and don’t brand your school the way you want and provide the image you need.) But very few supply you with the staff to keep your site current, professional, and informative on a day-to-day basis, which is what really matters, right? Consider another option: you can let School Webmasters become your trained staff of professional webmasters for as low as only $189 a month. 

Get help with the grunt work, too.

If you can’t do that, then let me help you create a process that replicates what we do to help our clients maintain current and effective websites.

  1. Develop your school’s website style guide (the rules anyone who has access to making updates will follow). Be specific, from grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules to tone of voice and font usage.
  2. Determine color choices, and stick with them throughout the site. Don’t let individuals change “their” page to reflect their own interest, but always maintain the integrity of the site’s overall design and the brand image you desire for your school. Be consistent—insist on it.
  3. Train, inform, check their work, and do it all again. We do this by providing monthly PR tips to anyone who might want to submit information for the website. We also provide ongoing training and quality control for those who are trained to do updates, something you will also want to include as part of your process.
  4. Create an easy procedure for collecting information from staff, and then reward their contributions. It is the only way to keep your site vibrant, current, and informative and to turn it into the public relations tool it should be.

But, please beware those hidden costs of the do-it-yourself website. 

School districts are forever trying to trim their budgets. When looking to tighten the budget purse straps, many administrators believe that creating and maintaining the school website would be a perfect project for a knowledgeable computer teacher to do during his or her prep time. Or the job makes the to-do list of the district IT department. While delegating an in-house employee to the project may seem like immediate savings, there are many hidden expenses that can end up costing your district more than you imagined. 

Beware those hidden costs

Here are a few:

#1: Time away from mission-critical tasks

Placing the responsibility of the district’s (or school’s) website onto employees keeps them away from the jobs they were originally hired to do. An effective school website takes time to build, write, and layout, which are only a few of the actions necessary for the site to be functional. For teachers who may be delegated this responsibility, it means time away from lesson planning and preparation, and time away from their class. Teachers are hired to teach our students, a time-consuming responsibility in itself. Robbing students of their rightful teacher time is the biggest expense imaginable.

Likewise, IT directors have vital roles in a school. Making sure the computer systems are operating properly and software is running efficiently, installing programs and firewalls to keep students in safe places on the internet, and handling technology emergencies are just some of the daily responsibilities. 

Let’s be honest—when overworked teachers and IT directors get saddled with the school or district website, unless they let their mission-critical work suffer,  maintaining the website will go to the bottom of the to-do list. Many times it will never even make the radar.

Similar to #1 is the hidden cost of delegating to overworked staff

Those who have worked inside any school system will tell you that most people are overworked and underpaid. You hear people speak of public school as a “noble profession.” There are many requirements and not a lot of recognition, monetary or otherwise. Many times the goals of an administration are not understood by the faculty and staff, viewing them as more requirements, more forms to fill out, more hoops to jump through, and no time in which to do them.

Overworked staff

Delegating a sizable project—such as website maintenance—to an already overworked employee is likely to lead to employee discontent. Maintaining a positive work environment for teachers and staff is key to having a highly performing school, and when employees feel used, the entire dynamics of the school environment suffers. If an unhappy employee is now responsible for the school or district website, it’s a pretty good bet that employee won’t devote his or her personal best to the project, leading to a less-than-effective website. 

Taking these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see that while it may appear to save your school or district money upfront, a website created in-house has unforeseen costs. If your school or district really wants to make their website a priority, hiring School Webmasters is the easiest and best solution. We already have the experts. We already have the time. It’s what we do. It's ALL we do.

#2: Set realistic expectations because Computer experts are not necessarily web design or accessibility experts

There’s a lot that goes into creating and managing a fabulous website. While many people within your school or district may be computer experts, chances are good they do not have all the skill sets required to do the job effectively. School Webmasters employs experts in each area. Our graphic designers create sites that are not just pleasing to look at, but that help the user find things easily on the site. The placement of graphics, sidebars, images, and other text effects on a website is actually a science. Balancing visual elements so they help the user find information rather than distracting them, is something our designers do flawlessly.

In addition to design, the content of a website is one of the most important. It’s not simply about putting information onto a website; if parents and the community can’t access or understand the information, your school or district website is useless. Our content writers make sure the information on your website is not only informative, but they ensure it is also conversational in tone and easy to read. We pare down wordy information to include just what the public needs to know. We take the “education-ese” out and rewrite it to appeal to a larger audience. While volunteers may be great at scanning in documents and newsletters to put on your site, very often your audience is not taken into consideration.

As if this wasn’t enough, a good website requires knowledge of layout philosophy, public relations, branding, proofing, editing, and accessibility. Your volunteers may be good at one or two of these tasks, but are they experts in every area?

Keep it up! Constant maintenance

#3: Good websites require constant maintenance

For the sake of argument, let’s say someone at your school or district does create a fabulous website. It’s beautiful. Easy to read. Easy to navigate. Now the question is, does that person have the time to keep your site current? For a website to continue to be effective, it must be updated regularly. Information at school gets old quickly; meeting dates pass, school fundraisers end, new events have been added to the school calendar. Principals retire, teachers transfer, clubs are canceled, new sports find coaches. Many times that volunteer who so graciously got your website up and running doesn’t have time to continue weekly maintenance on your site, especially if the work he or she is performing is pro bono. 

And the fact is, parents log on to your school or district website a few times and see the same old information, they will quit using your site as a resource. They will start calling the school to get the information they need, which is now a double whammy—it wastes school and district personnel’s time, and now that great website someone volunteered to create is no longer being used by the public. School Webmasters makes it easy to update your school website. We have a staff of updaters who focus solely on keeping your site up to date. Our staff makes thousands of updates to graphics and content in an average month. Does your staff or volunteers have that much time?

Take off the blinders

Once you’ve truly assessed the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing different components of your website, you may find that this process is a huge benefit to your school. You may also find, however, that a company that can deliver the whole package for you is a better use of your school’s time and money. If you find yourself in that boat, give us a call. Here at School Webmasters we’ve got the blinders off and both feet planted firmly on smooth ground. Do you?

Take off the blinders

It doesn’t pay to underestimate the time and expertise required to manage your school’s online communication successfully. You want everything you put out there for public consumption to reflect the same excellence your school embraces. But do you have the time and expertise to create and manage an online presence that really represents that excellence?

Hiring a professional to manage your online communication ensures quality and consistency. Successful websites and social media pages will always require some kind of cost, whether it’s time or money. The difference in how hard your online presence works for you depends on investing both wisely.

Need more reasons to get some website management help? Check out Nine Reasons to Outsource Your School Website Management.

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It Might Be Time to Update Your School Website If…
2021-05-25
Time to update

Ah, technology. Do you have a love/hate relationship with it? It seems as soon as you update your cell phone, TV, or even microwave, there’s a newer, better model right around the corner. Having the latest technology with all the bells and whistles has become not only a  cultural status symbol, but it’s become absolutely essential to many consumers. It’s no wonder cell phone providers have developed creative incentives to encourage you to update your phone as often as once a year! 

Websites also have become essential for all organizations—from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit organizations, and, yes, even for your school

You certainly don’t need to overhaul your school’s website every year, but you do need to make sure you're presenting your school in the best light by keeping up with current website trends. Your school website is the key component to all of your digital marketing efforts and often the first impression prospective parents have of your school and your values. So how do you know when it’s time for an update? 

It’s time to update your website...

mobile friendly website

#1. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly (responsive) website design 

If your website is not responsive (meaning it looks weird on a mobile device), you are definitely long-overdue for a redesign. The percentage of folks who use their phone and other devices most of the time increases daily. So, it is critical that the website is designed with well-thought-out space and navigation. Your website should be designed with “mobile-first” in mind. 

Your site visitors will access information on their phones differently than on their desktop, and your website must address that reality. For example, if there is a lot of information on the home page, they would much rather see a social icon or link to the social media feeds than have to scroll through and past all the embedded social feeds in order to find the phone number in the footer.

In addition to your viewers’ expectations, for several years now, Google has been penalizing websites (with lower rankings and less likelihood that you are found during searches) if your website is not responsive. You definitely want to come up in any search where parents are investigating schools in order to decide which might be the best choice for their child. Being found, and quickly, is essential for increasing your enrollment. It is also important for the convenience of your existing parents and families.

Websites that are 3–5 years old are also likely to have dated coding in the background, which can produce multiple issues, including security risks, accessibility issues, slow loading, and many others.

make a good first impression

#2. Your website’s home page does not make a positive first impression

  • Busy busy: Make sure it’s not too busy with lots of various things going on (many buttons, many different kinds of graphics, slideshows, embedded videos, lots of gradients, etc). Clean and minimalist is king now.
  • Too much is too much: Avoid using too many colors and more than two main fonts. Also remember that anything flashing tends to date your site quickly as does too much texture and too many buttons.
  • Silly slider: A pointless slider in the header serves no purpose for your visitor. No one sits and watches these any longer. If you are going to insist on a slider, at least incorporate important calls of action within them. A huge image in the header with no call-to-action is a waste of space. If the first thing someone needs to do is scroll down to see any kind of information, that makes for a poor user experience. A large picture at the top of the Home page is still a trend, but use the space wisely while including something along with it.
  • Logical layout: On Home pages, if a site only has two columns with a main body and sidebar, it looks dated and needs a refresh. There are so many more interesting ways to present information on Home pages these days. A main body and sidebar are fine on subpages since they are generally there to only present information. But a home page is for at-a-glance info to get you where you want to go. 
  • Quick links: The navigation and quick links should have strong categories but be kept simple and clean. Use them to ease navigation and create intuitive and easy-to-find information. Use them well and keep them simple
  • Hover heaven: Button or navigation hovers and any movement on the page should be cohesive and used sparingly. One to three hover transitions throughout the site is sufficient. Any more than that is just too much.
  • Wise width: If your entire site is still contained within 1200px, it may look dated. The content can still be contained within 1200px, but just stretching the backgrounds, navigation bars, and images the full width of the screen results in an updated design.

#3. If your website is slow loading 

If your website is slow loading, commonly due to extremely graphic-heavy designs, using images instead of CSS for styling, or hosting or development inefficiencies, you put your school at a disadvantage. 

Since your website is often a prospective parent’s first impression of your school, the judgment they form from this experience matters. It is estimated that if your site doesn’t load within three seconds, 40% of your site visitors will abandon your site. When this happens, you defeat the purpose of having a  website. Website speed is imperative for a good user experience. Do a speed check to see how your website measures up. The faster your site visitors can get to the information they need, the more satisfied they will be.

#4: If your site’s colors or photos are dated

Colors and photos make the difference between an attractive and updated website and one that is unappealing and fails to inspire confidence. Regarding photos, out-of-date photos generally look dark and drab, while modern ones look light and bright. The photos that look older may not really be old, but they give that appearance. For example:

dated and modern examples of photos

Another tip: Make sure objects in the photos are still being used in today’s classrooms. For example, chalkboards are seldom used anymore; everyone has smartboards or at least whiteboards. And computer monitors are no longer huge and chunky but sleek and slim (or laptops).

examples of modern and dated computers

Regarding your website colors—avoid those that clash. Use neutral colors that complement main colors. Use bold/strong colors as the main color instead of as accents here and there. Graphic designers say we should ask ourselves if the website feels “heavy.” It’s okay to use bold colors, but today’s sites should still feel clean and light.

Consider your page background colors as well. Avoid using too many colors as backgrounds behind text, and be sure to include enough white space. The white space areas will help keep your site feeling clean and light. It also improves contrast, which assures that your site will be accessible and ADA compliant (at least in the area of contrast).

#5. If your website is difficult to navigate

Your website navigation can make or break the user experience. Having a clear, easy-to-use navigation will provide good customer service, keep potential customers on your site longer, and help visitors quickly find what they seek. The following are some areas to consider when creating intuitive and simple navigation:

  • KISS. Avoid trying to cram everything possible into your site’s primary navigation level. I realize your intention is to provide visitors with immediate access to all your page options, but fewer choices make it quicker to evaluate their choices and make a decision. So, be aggressive in editing your top-level navigation down to the fewest, most popular options possible and “keep it simple, silly.”
  • Frantic flyouts. Your site users are accessing your website from a variety of devices. Touch screen devices technically have no “hover” state, so it is important that you make sure your navigation links are still accessible to users regardless of their device. Along these same lines, you’ll want to avoid fly-out menus with three or more levels. It is more challenging to navigate menu systems that have fly-outs within fly-outs. Avoiding unwieldy menus makes navigation easier on all devices.
  • Be consistent. You sure don’t want to change your navigation menu once your site visitor figures out how to use it. Keep the same structure throughout the entire experience—from page to page and across devices. Your primary navigation should be set in stone to avoid confusion. Your users will appreciate your effort on their behalf.

#6. If your website is out of date

One of the most important aspects of a school website is that it is up to date. Your customers rely on your school website for useful information. Failing to provide them with current, timely information can destroy their trust. Being current and timely builds confidence. Your customers (your students and their parents) will know that your staff and administrators are highly engaged, and they’ll appreciate you for providing well-timed and accurate information.

I’m sure you’ve visited a website where the copyright is 2016 and the latest news article is from last school year, right? How did that make you feel? If their site—the public-facing image for their school—is outdated, you might question what the education and programs must be like. Don’t damage your credibility or put your professionalism in question by letting your site visitors read outdated information and think, “wait, that’s old news,” or “that’s not right.”

Pet peeves

#7: Some pet peeves

We asked our designers what some of their pet peeves were. What screamed to them that a site is dated? Here are a few that didn’t quite fit into the above categories:

  • Fonts. Avoid outdated or overused fonts. They specifically mentioned staying away from Comic Sans (which everyone should know to avoid by now), and now Papyrus is becoming a bit overdone.
  • Coming soon. Just don’t! If the page or information isn’t ready yet, don’t put up a sign saying it isn’t ready yet, and don’t activate the page until it is. It’s just bad form.
  • Flawed footers. Check your website footer. Is the information there still current, including the copyright date? These tend to become overlooked since they remain the same from page to page; when there is an error, it ends up on every page. So, check to be sure all the information there is correct.
  • Dreaded white box. Incorrectly saved logos and buttons so that they are surrounded by a white box are a sure sign of amateurish layout. Save the graphic as a JPG on a colored background that matches the site or as a PNG with a transparent background.

It’s an ongoing process

Because your school website is often your chance to make a great first impression on prospective parents, how you manage it is critical. It is important to put your best foot forward. An outdated website doesn’t positively represent your school or the education you provide to your students. 

Your website, its content, images, and layout should reflect the best you have to offer. Is it time for a tune-up? If so, please contact School Webmasters and let us help you make your school’s website the best example of all your school has to give. Request a quote today or give us a call at (888) 750-4556 and speak with Jim.


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School Websites: Leader, Lemming, or Loser?
2021-05-11
drawing of a lemming

There are always leaders and lemmings in the world. Of course, you want your school website to be viewed as an asset and representative of your outstanding educational services. But often, unbeknownst to many respected educators, their school websites are lemmings, or worse, they are losers, and the school administrators are not even aware of it. 

What is a Lemming?

So, what is a lemming and why don’t you want to be one? 

A lemming is a small rodent from the family including rats, mice, and hamsters and are usually found near the Arctic. There is a longstanding myth that claims these little rodents jump off cliffs and commit mass suicide. Metaphorically being called a lemming means you might be following a leader who is either foolish or just has a lousy sense of direction.

In reality, lemmings have been known to make some bad choices because of their built-in migratory behavior. Some species migrate in large groups when their population density becomes too great. Because they can swim, sometimes they choose to cross a body of water en masse in search of a new habitat. This doesn’t always work out so well (sans Google maps) if the body of water happens to be an ocean or is so wide that the little guys exceed their physical capabilities. Lots of drowning follows.

business men walking off a cliff

What does it have to do with your school website?

So, how does all of this apply to school websites? Because the most common issue we see at School Webmasters with school website development is when administrators (or whoever is put in charge of the school website’s redesign project) assume other schools know what they are doing and blindly follow the poor examples when redesigning their own school’s websites. 

Basically, to be accused of being a lemming means you assume those other schools must know what they are doing because they are bigger, have been around longer, get good press, charge higher tuition (or have more funding), or its the way you did it in your last district, so you follow their lead. Unfortunately, like the poor lemmings, if you don’t know the desired destination and don’t have the right map to take you there, you could be headed over a cliff.* 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. Schools don’t want to make mistakes and are prone to play it safe and follow the lead of other schools that have managed to stay out of hot water or have received accolades. Often, this works. But occasionally, you will miss out on some valuable opportunities.

Is your school really a “business”? 

School personnel, especially those in the public schools, don’t think of their school as a competitive business. Education degrees seldom require courses in marketing or sales. But the business side of things is a reality in education. If we can’t convince parents to send their kids to our school, we don’t have the funding to hire staff to provide students with an education or the materials and equipment to deliver that education. So, let’s take a look at the differences between business websites and typical school websites. Maybe we can learn from companies whose very existence depends on the effectiveness of their website and the communication value it provides.

business man wearing super her cape

What business websites do well

A business website knows it is selling something. A business site provides proof in the form of customer reviews and testimonials. Effective business sites put a high priority on customer satisfaction and use storytelling, examples, and successes to influence and convince their site visitors. Their websites are a resource to get answers, place orders, and provide frictionless customer service.

A business website understands its customers’ needs and its website markets to those needs. A business recognizes it has competitors and strives to show customers why their services or products are going to meet their customers’ needs and tells them how. They know their products and services and provide proof to win customers’ trust in what they offer.

A business website knows if it fails, the business might fail too. Consumers have lots of choices, and if a business doesn’t give the customer what he needs, and quickly, they can always go elsewhere. This means the site needs to load fast and be easy to navigate so customers can find what they are looking for quickly and get answers to questions they have. They provide contacts and solutions to resolve problems quickly and efficiently.

A business website is reactive to the client’s needs. This is because most businesses are functioning very close to their funding source. As a business owner, if I lose customers because I’m failing to satisfy them, deliver on my promises, or provide poor quality services, the revenue disappears and I’m out of business in short order. The further a school or business is removed from its funding source, the less likely it is to be reactive to its customers’ needs. A businesses’ employees know the service they provide has a direct bearing on the success of the business and their continued employment.

school staff member giving thumbs up

What school websites should do well

A school website must recognize it is selling something. If your school website doesn’t recognize that fact, then you will miss out on a critical aspect of its goal. Your school website needs to highlight what you have to offer and show parents why their child’s needs will be met with your programs and services. Your site should provide proof and build confidence and trust that you can and do deliver on the promises you make. Your site must provide existing parents with continued proof they made the right choice and provide transparency to build trust and confidence and provide evidence you care about your students’ success.

A school website must understand its customers’ needs. Many school websites function as public service announcements. That’s well and good, but this approach doesn’t trigger an action on the part of your customers (parents). It doesn’t generate enrollment, encourage enthusiasm or pride, or build trust. Those must be some of the goals of an effective school website. Your site must provide customer ease and respect your customers’ time. It must make information convenient and accurate and save them time (online forms, access to staff, calendars, answers to questions, and rationale for the decisions your school makes that affect their lives and those of their children).

A school website understands that if it isn’t effective, students’ education can suffer. Schools, at least most public schools, don’t feel the threat of failure if they don’t satisfy their customers. We’ve all heard of school districts that were failing for years before the state or district stepped in to take over and fix what was wrong (or before they were shut down). Unfortunately, such knowledge doesn’t provide much incentive to fix what is broken. Meanwhile, think of the students adversely affected when the quality of education drops. It would be nice if we humans were always motivated to do what was right just because it was the right thing to do, but sometimes the status quo wins—even when it isn’t working. 

A school website should be reactive to the client’s needs. Because school personnel are not functioning close to their funding source (since it comes in the form of tax revenue or tuition), job security is seldom threatened on a personal level. In fact, in some states and institutions, it takes an act of congress to fire school personnel. (Just ask California DOE how long it takes to get a poor teacher removed.) Businesses see an immediate impact to their bottom line when customers are unhappy, but if parents don’t have educational choices in their community and the school has no competition, there isn’t an immediate impact, so poor customer service may continue unabated. School employees tend to be further removed from their funding sources than typical business employees. If a business has a cranky receptionist, she won’t last long. In many cases, we can’t say the same about a school’s front office staff.

So, not to belabor my lemming metaphor, but with 18 years of school website development and writing the content for thousands of websites, when you are doing the next redesign on your school website, don’t merely look at neighboring school sites and focus on the colors and font selection, but consider the actual purpose of your school website. Don’t be a lemming and certainly don’t let your school website become a loser by not keeping it current and informative.

Remember, your website isn’t just for posting emergency notices when you have a snow day or the governing board meeting or agenda because state law says you have to. Let your school website lead the way:

  • You must provide customer service and market your services. 
  • You must market to prospective customers as well as the ones you’ve already got. 
  • You must make sure your site provides the information parents and students are looking for—and make it easy to find. 
  • You must provide parents a way to contact staff and administrators.

Don’t forget, if you want to avoid the whole lemming issue, you can always contact School Webmasters. We haven’t a single lemming on staff, and we strive to make sure your school website leads the way and helps you reach your goals! Call 888.750.4556 and talk to Jim or request a quote!

*One of the most influential (and tragic) examples of suicidal lemmings was the presentation of the myth in the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which even won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature and in which the producers threw the poor lemmings off a cliff to fake footage of a "mass suicide." 

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Using Surveys to Improve School Communications
2021-04-27
Survey

We often think we know what our parents and community think—and sometimes we’re wrong. The only way to find out how people really feel is to ask the right questions. If we don’t know what people currently believe, we can’t possibly improve communication, services, or perceptions. 

The next time you need to implement a change, add programs or services, or just find out what parents, students, or the community thinks about the school already, consider putting a survey on your school website or sending it through your school’s email lists. Even though a small percentage may turn them in, you’ll have a better understanding of the thoughts and perceptions that are out there.

Woman on couch with 5 stars over her head

Creating effective surveys

Here are some tips for developing effective surveys:

  • Keep your survey short. People are less likely to complete long surveys thoughtfully. Select only the essential questions that will get you the information you need.
  • Write questions that will elicit specific answers, not just generic responses. Try to avoid yes-or-no questions, and leave plenty of space for written answers. When you do have multiple choice questions, include “other” with a place for them to expand on their answer.
  • To encourage responses, offer prizes or incentives. For example, send students home with a slip with the URL (web address) to the online survey, and ask parents to sign the slip when they complete the survey. The first class with the highest number of surveys gets a prize. Or you could offer a prize for people who participate—each person who completes the survey gets entered into a raffle to win a gift card.
  • For parents who may not have access to a computer, let them know there will be a computer available in the office (or classroom) to take the online survey. Or, send home a hard copy of the survey if this is applicable (but response rates are lower on surveys that are sent home than those offered online).

Survey topic ideas

You will determine what audience you are targeting, of course, as you will create different survey questions for each audience. So, you’ll begin by selecting the topics you feel you need to understand from your target audience’s perspective. Some ideas you might consider include the following:

  • Parents: preferred methods of communication; topics to be communicated; social media platforms they use; questions regarding their involvement with their children; questions regarding the school climate fit for their child; preschool parent needs, high school parent needs, etc.
  • Students: feelings about the school, teachers, administrators; do they feel supported and respected; have they witnessed bullying or been bullied at school; areas for improvement; course evaluations; what activities or classes would they like to have available, etc.
  • Staff: how supportive is the administration; does the school give too much/too little/about right attention to standardized tests; do teachers collaborate well with each other; how safe do they feel teaching at this school; etc.

Distribution and analysis

When you’re ready to send out your first survey, there is one more important step. You need to do a bit of pre-survey communication. If you alert your target audience that you will be conducting a survey, you can significantly boost participation. This communication can be a pre-survey postcard, an email, a notice on the website, or a phone call, depending on the type of survey you are using.

  • Explain the purpose of the survey.
  • Let your audience know how important their participation is to the school.
  • Let them know when to expect it and when it needs to be completed.
  • Tell your audience that you will let them know the results and how your school plans to use the information gathered by the survey.

You can either distribute a hard copy of the survey (realize, though, you’ll have to have someone gather the data for results) or use a survey program like SurveyMonkey or Google Surveys (they will gather the data for you electronically).

Once your results are in, the next step is to analyze the results. If you used a survey program like SurveyMonkey, the tabulation is a snap; the program will do it for you. If your survey was not online, you will need to tabulate the number of responses to each choice for each question and determine the percentage for each answer. We highly recommend using an online service; many are free for schools. It can improve your accuracy and eliminate the many hours of tabulation required for even a simple survey (especially one with open-ended questions).

survey results

Survey follow-up

Next, you’ll tabulate your survey and let your respondents know how their participation and input will be used. This will also help ensure greater participation with your next survey. It doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, depending on your audience, it probably should not be a bunch of graphs and charts, but rather, a personalized story relating what you learned from their input. If you used an online survey program, you can provide a link to the more technical results as well.

  1. Review your survey results. Where are the strongest and weakest areas? Put them into categories.
  2. Based on the results, in what areas can you implement changes that will make the most positive impact? Is there a problem you can address right away? Is there a misunderstanding you can clarify? List each item in the appropriate category, and then brainstorm some possible solutions.
  3. Create a summary (possibly by category) of the survey results, and write a story around those results. For example, let’s say your survey was about improving communication through the website and social media. Your story might start with why you want to make sure parents are getting the information they want in the way they want to receive it.
  4. Next, if you discovered that many of your parents don’t use the website very often (hopefully your survey also explains why parents aren’t turning to your website), then your story/article will tell them how you are planning to address their needs. Maybe you are integrating social media to push news to them and will link information directly to the website. Then you’ll include the link to join the fun.

Whatever you implement, be specific, and then keep your promises. Not only do you build trust, but you also show you are listening and you care about your stakeholder’s needs.

Remember, school surveys should be used to learn something, and that means listening to the opinion expressed. Then use the information to make the school better, strengthen weakness, and bolster communication channels.

If you have a website with us, we can post the survey directly on the website for you. While you can always choose to send home a paper survey, they don’t have a very good return rate and could end up being a waste of your time. Regardless of the way you choose to survey parents, getting their feedback can go a long way towards making sure your school or district is implementing the programs and addressing the concerns that matter to parents most.

Using internal polls and surveys for improved staff relations 

School administrators are in the business of communication. Reports state that school- and district-level administrators spend upwards of 75 percent of their time communicating—with students, parents, community members, and staff. So it should go without saying that in order to be an effective administrator, one must also be an effective communicator.

Communication is much more than simply relaying information to others. When it comes to staff members, it also involves the careful solicitation of ideas and feedback to make the process that much more effective. And if it’s done well, it’s a win-win-win for administrators, staff, and students.

Enter the staff meeting or Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting. As an administrator, you begin the meeting with the agenda in hand and are committed to “getting through” the agenda no matter the cost. After relaying the necessary information, you leave the meeting satisfied that your staff understands what to do and how to do it. However, your staff may feel slighted because the information was “given” to them. You didn’t seek their opinion; their opinion and expertise doesn’t count.

school staff

There is a big difference between communicating and disseminating information. Communicating involves soliciting and listening to opinions and guiding teachers and other staff members to make decisions, rather than telling and offering your own solutions. Unfortunately, soliciting feedback from others during a meeting can often slow down the meeting itself. But with technology, you can easily keep staff apprised of information they need to know, gather the thoughts of your staff quickly and efficiently, and come to your next staff meeting or PLC with feedback in hand.

Not sure how your staff will react to a campus-wide change? Need some in-the-trenches feedback on whether the new lunch schedule maximizes learning time? Rather than opening a can of worms at your next staff meeting or spending the time picking through emailed responses that mix with your regular email, Poll Everywhere provides a platform for soliciting and organizing staff ideas and opinions. Simply propose an idea, link the poll to your school or district intranet for staff members, and have them respond via the Poll Everywhere widget, a text, or Twitter. The service allows for true/false, multiple-choice, and open-ended responses that can be displayed in an easy-to-read format. Even better, the affordable service can be used in the regular classroom too! You can also set-up a poll or survey using Google forms if your school uses Google.

If you truly need to simply inform your staff of something or want staff to come to a meeting prepared to discuss a topic, group messaging services such as GroupMe and Fast Society allow administrators to quickly communicate information to staff members (or parents) via text. You can also use Google messaging if that is your school’s platform. So propose a question or topic for discussion, and meeting attendees can come prepared and ready to discuss it, saving time and reducing the likelihood you will need a follow-up meeting.

Of course, communication vehicles will change based on your purpose and desired outcome. For example, if you simply need to notify staff members of an important scheduling change, a simple email or a posting on your school or district intranet will suffice. If you’re conducting beginning-of-the-year trainings and meetings or simply want access to PLC meeting archives at a later date, record the meetings and install a video platform on the human resources page of your website or within your intranet. Staff and administrators will have ready access to this information all year long. 

So, whether you are using surveys and polls for your external audiences or your internal staff, take advantage of the knowledge you gather, and use it to improve your school’s communication. 

For more communication and marketing tips, check out our Marketing Your School toolkit and get a year's worth of marketing strategies you can use.

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Collecting Testimonials—a School Marketing Success Story
2021-04-13
Testimonials

In today’s social climate, people are all about sharing how they feel about companies, products, and services. In fact, folks are more inclined to trust another person’s opinion or experience over traditional advertising or marketing materials. That’s not to say traditional marketing doesn’t work; it simply means you also need to start gathering positive testimonials from parents and your community members. 

Businesses do it all the time and usually dedicate a whole page to customer comments or make a place for them on every page. What better way to show other parents what a great school you have than to let them hear it from other parents? Hearing (or reading) a testimonial from someone who has nothing to gain other than from a school employee with a vested interest always adds more credibility. 

Your school supporters want your school to succeed and will be happy to contribute to the school's success by showing their support. So, don't be afraid to ask for their testimonials! 

Testimonials given by people through thought bubbles

Make it Easy to Submit Testimonials

  • Encourage teachers to gather positive comments (they could make forms available during teacher conferences, send home an email questionnaire, etc.)
  • Have forms available to the school office for parents to complete—with a checkbox where they can check and sign an agreement to let you use their comments on the website or in a brochure. 
  • Provide a feedback form right on the website to collect parent, community member, or alumni testimonials. Let them also upload a headshot to place next to their testimonial. This adds legitimacy and a personal touch.
  • When you have an event or program, get a testimonial from parents whose children were involved, and include that with the article. 
  • Involve alumni. There is nothing more powerful than hearing from those who once attended your school and went on to accomplish their goals, crediting a teacher or school with their start on the right path. 
  • Get the PTA or PTO to collect testimonials—and use them on your website. You can turn these into graphic elements to use as part of the overall theme of the design. We do this for our clients, and it adds a professional touch to the school website. 

Just a brief one or two lines is ideal if used graphically; longer testimonials should be placed on a page of their own.  

Your opinion matters

Gather Testimonials With a Survey

With a simple survey or form on your school’s website, parents, teachers, and students can create a testimonial that you can use on your social media pages, website, school flyers, and even your marquee. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best), how would you rate our school?
  2. What are three things our school does exceptionally well? (Provide a list of programs you offer as well as space for respondents to write in their own ideas.)
  3. What is one area where you would like to see our school improve? (The point here is that your school isn’t perfect. And wouldn’t it be great to find out what is of value to your families so you can improve upon it?)
  4. How has your child benefited from attending our school? (Here is where you’ll get the meat for your testimonials!)
  5. May we use your responses on our website and social media pages? (You want to get permission to use someone’s words and name.)
  6. Be sure to ask for the respondent’s name and the grade level(s) of children at the school.

That’s all there is to it! A form embedded into your website provides a vehicle to gather testimonials year-round. Or, hold a drive for responses and offer classes a reward for the most completed surveys. Even if not all the responses are positive, you’ve taken a huge step in making your families feel valued—just by asking their opinion! School Webmasters can help you create a form for your website, or search online for one of the many online survey applications.

Increase your enrollment

Growing Your Enrollment with Testimonials 

Whether yours is a public or private school, chances are you would like to grow your enrollment. After all, more students mean more opportunities to make a positive impact on our country’s future. And higher enrollment numbers give your school more funding, allowing you to provide more services and resources to all of your students. 

But do you feel like you’ve done all you can do to try to market to new families? You’re using social media to build engagement, hosting events at your school to build community, networking in parenting groups and neighborhood events, and even advertising in the local news channels and on social media. While these are great ways to publicize and, as a result, grow your school enrollment, don’t underestimate the power of your current and former families to help. Studies show that there is far more influence from reviews and referrals than from any other form of marketing. Testimonials are a respected and valuable resource that schools don’t often incorporate into their marketing efforts—but they should. 

Testimonials are a great way to prove that your school climate is nurturing and effective. They provide first-account endorsements for your teachers, your curriculum, and your leadership abilities. And even better—they’re free. 

What better way to show other parents what a great school you have than to let them hear it from other parents? Your school supporters want your school to succeed and will be happy to contribute to your success by showing their support. Don’t be afraid to ask for their testimonials!

Get started using testimonials today. Oh, and encourage parents to also post their positive comments on parent evaluation sites like Great Schools. Invite those who provide positive testimonials to share their comments by giving them links directly to sites that review your area schools. New and prospective parents often use review sites to decide which school is best suited to their child’s needs. Make sure your school shows up and shines! 

Interested in more school marketing ideas? Check out these blogs:

Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 1 and Part 2

51 Ways to Market Your School

Storytelling: Your School’s Secret Weapon for Successful School Marketing

How Do I Market My School?

Looking for more school marketing ideas? Purchase our Marketing Your School toolkit for a full year's worth of marketing strategies!

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10 Brain Training Tips—rewiring for an attitude of gratitude
2021-03-23
Gratitude is the best attitude

It’s been a tough year. We can all agree on that. So, it’s probably time to look at what we can do to turn things around. We can’t control the world around us, pandemics, weather, or most economic conditions, but we do have some control over our perspective on our world and our lives. Gratitude is just such a control mechanism.

Gratitude is a powerful gift we can give to ourselves (and our staff and our children). Yes, it is not easy, at least initially, to rewire our brains for gratitude. It is complex. According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, our minds are Velcro for negative information but Teflon for positive. We have to make a concerted effort to wire our brains to default to gratitude. But like other brain training efforts, it takes practice and mental discipline. 

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), people who experience gratitude have more positive emotions, such as happiness, love, and joy, and fewer negative emotions, such as bitterness, envy, and resentment. Their relationships are improved. They have better physical health than people who don’t take the time to notice and appreciate the good things that are in their lives. 

One study shows that practicing appreciation adds 6.9 years to your life (That even beats the benefits from exercise!). When you focus on gratitude, it will shift the focus away from what you might feel is missing and onto what is already present—to notice what is right instead of what is wrong. Gratitude, proven scientifically, is as powerful as antidepressants and therapy and can even give you more energy. 

Periodically, we should pause to take a look at the things and people in our life we feel grateful for.  And since there’s no time like the present, now is an excellent time to incorporate some intentional gratitude within our personal and professional life. So, let’s get to it!

Always start with yourself first

First, start with yourself! 

1) For two weeks, look at the gifts you already have, not just the intangible ones like good health or love or your family or career, but the material ones—look closely at your cozy home, feel the comfort of your favorite T-shirt, or recollect the joy in that treasured dog-eared book you’ve read so many times. Give mental thanks for the objects in your life that bring you joy. Notice how it negates your desire to buy more ‘things’ you think you need. Or as Lao Tzu said, “He who knows enough is enough will always have enough.” 

2) Make recognizing your personal gratitude a habit. One way to do this is to simply list 10 things every day that you are grateful for. For example, it might look like: “my family is healthy; I have a job; the meeting today went very well; I ate homemade pie last night; my car runs….” Don’t believe it will make your day go better? Try doing the reverse for one day—list 10 things that went wrong and decide which day you felt more alive, more enthused to face the day? 

10 things you are grateful for every day

3) Focus on what’s right. We are trained to mark the wrong answers, not the right ones. We study our mistakes to prevent them from happening again. But what if we marked the right answers? What if we spent our energy in relationships noticing the other person’s talents and strengths? What if we spent an equal amount of time looking at what is working and doing more of that? 

4) When difficult things happen to you, ask yourself: “If something were right about this, what would it be?” You’re looking for those hidden blessings in your challenges and how they are helping you grow. 

5) Start and keep a gratitude journal (2x weekly is actually better than every day). The stats for people who do are impressive: 25% happier, sleep one-half hour more per evening, exercise 33% more per week, lower high blood pressure by 10%, better at coping with stress, and enjoy increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor. 

Gratitude journal

Now, share with others! 

6) Avoiding regret, as in the kind that makes us grieve over what we wish we would have done or said, is possible. It means simply expressing our appreciation now, while we can. Have you ever wished you would have told someone how much you appreciated them but now it is too late? Don’t wait. Make a commitment to communicate your appreciation to those around you—as often as possible. This is a valuable component of establishing outstanding school customer service and internal support.

7) Teach gratitude to your children. Simply teaching them to say thank you isn’t teaching gratitude (although, I certainly encourage you to teach politeness as well). One idea is to create a bedtime ritual of asking your child to tell you one thing they did that they appreciate themselves for and one thing someone else did that they are thankful for. You may need to help them discover something to appreciate in themselves and others at first, but soon the thought process will become a life skill that will increase their optimism and hopefulness. (Don’t forget to do this yourself as well!) This is an idea that could also easily be incorporated into the classroom experiences.

thank yous

8) Count the number of “Thank you’s” you say during one day. The fact that you are turning your attention to them will likely increase your use. Skip the toneless, flippant “Thanks,” and keep your eyes open for opportunities and feel it when you say it, which will come through as heartfelt along with the spoken words. A great school leadership tip as well.

9) Every staff development meeting should end with a few minutes when staff can express gratitude for each other. Encourage teachers to include this in their classes as well, and watch the willingness to express gratitude spread. Be sure you are setting the example, of course. 

10) Create an “Appreciation Tree” for the staff lounge with the invitation for anyone to write a note of appreciation on a leaf to post on the tree. This can also be done in classrooms and in a family or on the school’s website where students, staff, and parents are invited to submit an appreciation via a website form that is then posted to the gratitude/appreciation page. 

Gratitude is the memory of the heart

At the core of practicing gratitude is memory. In fact, there is a French proverb that states that gratitude is the memory of the heart. Gratitude enhances nearly all aspects of your human experience. It’s simply a matter of learning to manage our mental and emotional states and feelings. So, start developing a grateful disposition today, and watch your world change before your very eyes. 

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Communication! It's All About Customer Service
2021-03-09
5 star customer service

Communication is the bedrock of customer service. Good customer service requires effective communications, and that requires listening to your customers' needs as well as communicating your own.

K–12 schools are far from exempt from this expectation. If anything, parents expect more from their child's school than they do from the local retailer. It's time to take inventory of how you are doing, especially with all the changes and challenges this past year has brought. Let's begin by looking at your strategy for school customer service for all segments of your audience.

people clapping

Consider all audience segments

Your most concentrated customers, of course, are your students. They are the reason we are all here, and meeting their needs is the priority of all educators. What do you have in place that identifies and responds to their customer service needs? How could you improve the various touchpoints with your students?

But your students aren't the only customers you have. Their parents are often the ones who make the decision about whether a student attends your school. What do you have in place to assure that their experiences with your school and your staff are exemplary?

Next, consider the customers who can have an impact on your school's reputation, like vendors, community members, extended family members, governing board members, community organizations, and local businesses.

Be sure to put customer service goals in place for each audience segment, as each has slightly different needs that you must understand and address.

Offer multiple support channels

Today's customers expect multiple ways to get the assistance they need from your school. 

people holding up cell phones

Phone support:
Make sure your school mans your office phones and that when you set-up your phone messaging service, it is working and intuitive. Be sure your staff understands that they need to respond to voice mail messages within 24 hours (or whatever standard you set) and that parents know what they can expect when they leave a message. There are few things more frustrating to parents than getting stuck in a never-ending phone system where no one ever returns a phone call or where the voicemail box is full. Stress the importance of good maintenance and set-up of your phone systems. For more tips on how your school’s front office can improve customer service enjoy, Is Your Front Office Staff Helping or Hurting School Enrollment.

Email response:
Make your email system available (whether you use a website form to provide email access to parents or you share email addresses). While IT departments don't enjoy dealing with spam issues, it is poor customer service to make it impossible for parents to reach the staff through email. Not all parents have questions only during school hours, and email is convenient and provides a copy of the answers. As I mentioned earlier, be sure to set school-wide standards for how quickly staff responds to emails.

social media

Social media:
It is helpful for parents to stay abreast of the latest news and upcoming events via your school's social media posts. But remember, these posts don't remain active and will scroll down in their feeds, so your website must be the reliable, current resource parents and the community can always access via your social media links. For more tips on improving your school social media check out Six Things People Actually Want to See on Your Social Media Pages.

Websites:
Your school website should include access to all contacts (including departments and staff) and be accessible from any other page of your site. This could be in your main banner navigation or in the footer of your site. Also, be sure to include links to your social media platforms, phone numbers, and email addresses for your main office and establish time-frames that your staff should respond to requests. For example, ask that your office staff answer the phone rather than letting it roll to voicemail (nothing is more frustrating than being dumped into a phone tree hell and then waiting days for someone to respond). Request that staff responds to emails within 24 hours, etc. Stress to your staff the importance and value of their response time toward improving your school's customer service and your customers' experience.

To further facilitate good customer service, be sure your website is current and informative. Put a priority on keeping the information easy to find (using intuitive navigation and keeping it simple). Encourage your staff to funnel information and content to the site (or to whomever manages the content on your site) and to include events, photos, successes, goals, and news regularly. Find ways to encourage these contributions, and the benefits will be improved communications, increased school spirit, and a strong school brand. Check out School Websites: What’s the Big Deal.

happy woman looking at school website

Surveys:
Once you have established these channels of effective customer service, you'll want to evaluate how they are working regularly. One effective way to measure your success is to survey parents and staff and use their feedback to improve or revise your customer service efforts. Surveys can be created and shared at parent-teacher conferences, on the website, in parent groups, and at PTA/PTO meetings. Be sure to share with those you've surveyed how you've used the information they took the time to provide, and you'll encourage future participation as well.

In addition to the usual channels of phone, email, social media, and the website, you may want to consider adding a chat feature to your website. There are free options available; you could assign office staff to monitor this feature during school hours. It isn't likely your chat feature would require much of your staff time, but it would add a valuable convenience to your customers.

positive school customer experience

In summary…

While schools aren't precisely businesses, there are similarities, one of which is the requirement of a customer-service mindset to have happy customers. Our customers are parents and students who have many choices about where to receive an education. Whether we offer public or private instruction, maintaining and increasing enrollment is essential. To succeed, we must have students, which means we have to continually look for ways to improve our services, including our customer service. So, take a look at each touchpoint in your school, whether the face-to-face opportunities or the online ones, and see where you can raise the bar.

Need some help? Remember that School Webmasters not only manages school websites, but helps keep the content customer-focused and intuitive. Let us help you get and keep this primary customer service channel in top form. Contact us today for a quote!

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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4 School Communication Goals for 2021
2021-02-23
road into the future of 2021

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

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

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

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

Keep the customers you have

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

using friction to start a fire

Decrease the friction

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

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

school enrollment

#1. Enhance your website registration and enrollment sections 

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

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

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

video marketing

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

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

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

#3. Plan effective social media strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting and accomplishing this years’ goals

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

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

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

bulls-eye to hit your targeted goals

Goals that show you care

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

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

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

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

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

New normal

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

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

Video

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

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

Phone camera with tripod

It Doesn’t Have to Be Professional Quality

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

Video filming

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

Try Picture-in-Picture

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

Sharing

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

Hosting

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

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

YouTube

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

Vimeo

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

Wistia

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

SchoolTube

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

Communication tips

Communication—Help!

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

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

Set Up Office Hours

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

Set Up a Community Chat Box

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

Conclusion

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

Contact Us

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

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

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

Simple, Clean Graphics

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

Man shooting photos

Use Your Own Photos

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

Use Pleasing, Representational Colors

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

navigation

Simple Navigation

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

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

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

Quick Links

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

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

A Simple Welcome

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

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

A Message from the Principal

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

News Teasers

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

School calendar image

Calendar

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

Social Media

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

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

Resist the urge to crowd

Resist the Urge to Crowd More onto the Home Page

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

Contact School Webmasters

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

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