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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camera filming a meeting

Before the event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl taking photos

At the event

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

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

After the event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Differentiators and Elements of Media Submissions

Media Alert

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

Release

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

Submitted Story

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

Greg Dorazio is a communications strategist with 15 years of experience as a reporter, editor-in-chief, and a school PR pro for both a rural and urban district. Now a communications consultant, he improves strategic storytelling through web, social media, design, and more for his clients in associations, public health, education, and small business.

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

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

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

Challenging Assumptions

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

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

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

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

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

what's your story

Always be storytelling

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

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

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

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

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

woman and man talking

Take time to talk it out

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

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

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

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

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


Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Rousseau

Make reasonable asks and be patient, regardless of outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Dorazio is a communications strategist with 15 years of experience as a reporter, editor-in-chief, and a school PR pro for both a rural and urban district. Now a communications consultant, he improves strategic storytelling through web, social media, design, and more for his clients in associations, public health, education, and small business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What: Story/Event selection

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

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

good news

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

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

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

woman reading to students  

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

Media outlet selection

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

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

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

TV News

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

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

Metro/Regional Newspapers

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

Alternative weeklies/Community magazines or monthlies

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

Community Newspapers

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

male student reading newspaper

Online news sources

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

News radio

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

What to send

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

press release

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

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

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

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

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

tell your school's stories

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

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

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

Check out Part 2 of managing the media!

Greg Dorazio is a communications strategist with 15 years of experience as a reporter, editor-in-chief, and a school PR pro for both a rural and urban district. Now a communications consultant, he improves strategic storytelling through web, social media, design, and more for his clients in associations, public health, education, and small business.

496447
Creating your School's Communication Plan
2019-10-22
images of people with arrows representing communications

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

What is a communication plan?

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

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

Why schools need a communication plan 

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

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

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

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

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

benefits of blogging

What’s stopping you (common roadblocks)

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

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

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

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

Drafting your school communication plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, give it a try

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how do you reach them?

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

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

school fans

Open Up Your Huddle With a PTO Page

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

Points to ponder: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need More Ideas?

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

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

Don’t Have a PTO Page Yet? 

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

How We Do It

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

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

fundraising map

Online Fundraising Is the Way to Go

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

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

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

512348
Instructional Videos—Good for Your Students; Good for Your School Marketing
2019-10-01
Instructional video as VHS

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

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

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

grandma knitting

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

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

  • Knowledge retention
  • Mastery
  • Accessibility
  • Evaluability

How Instructional Videos Benefit Your Students & Their Families 

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

Let’s look at the key benefits mentioned above. 

1. Videos promote knowledge retention.

female student thinking

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

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

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

Here are some interesting key points from this theory:

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

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

2. Videos encourage mastery.

student raising her hand

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

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

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

3. Videos offer accessibility. 

student working on homework late

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

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

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

4. Videos offer opportunities to evaluate.

teacher teaching

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

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

How Instructional Videos Benefit Your School Marketing Efforts 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Sure Where to Start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the idea—strategic school communication is difficult. 

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

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

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

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

Image of various communications strategies

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

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

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

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10 School Website Management Tips You've Never Heard Before
2019-09-17
woman at computer with thought bubble that says school website management

Just like the office of your school or school district, school websites are a hub of activity. The experience your website provides matters—to your visitors and to you. It's natural for your school to put a priority on physical upkeep—and we’re not just talking about current calendars and updated school news.

Is it hard to imagine welcoming visitors, including prospective students and families, to your front office if the whole area were in disarray? While school websites may be designed with good intentions, written with heart, and managed as much as possible, they may be in disarray and not visitor friendly. Your school website may be outdated, all over the place in terms of readability, and a pain for your school staff to manage.

Here are 10 principles you should be practicing along with all those other school website management to-do’s. 

#1. Watch Your Words 

Words matter to communicate information in various ways. Words help establish strong communicative relationships with your school community. There are three core principles to keep in mind regarding words on your website. First, use brief and to-the-point sentences to send your messages effectively. Second, thoughtfully format your text. Third, remember to engage your audience. Let’s look at each point: 

Consider the value of short sentences. 

When sentences are brief, the message is clear. Your school website’s Home page should not be wordy. Clean, simple, welcoming Home pages help direct traffic. Your site visitors can look at the categories offered and head where they need to go. A Home page with concise communication helps your school community find the information it seeks. You have 10 to 20 seconds to capture and keep your website audience’s attention; wordiness will not drive visitors deeper into your school website.

Watching your words on your website shows you value their time. Keep your homepage sentences “short and sweet.”

Thoughtfully format your text.

Unless your site visitor is vetting your school as the place to enroll their children, most visitors to your school website might not stay long. They are likely in a hurry looking for something they’re interested in or need. One way to engage them is to ensure you take the time to format your text properly. Your text must not only read well but look nice on the page too. Font, size, location on the page all matters. We also recommend using no more than two different fonts on your website to keep it consistent and professional.   

Engage your audience.

Take a tip from school marketers, and use calls-to-action (CTAs) to immediately engage your school website’s audience. Deliberate, active language effectively uses this approach. Here are a few examples: 

  • View this month’s photo gallery.
  • Watch the video from our assembly.
  • Read the full story.
  • Sign up.
  • Join us.
  • Subscribe.

CTAs help engage your visitors, driving them deeper into your school website.

#2. Incorporate the Power of Pictures

Images matter as much as (if not more than) words. Imagery is a powerful, deep way to communicate with your school community. Using imagery on your school website is important, easy, and effective in school public relations and marketing. 

The pictures you use on your school website will communicate a story to your school community. What story will you share? 

Consider Paramus School District, one of School Webmasters’ clients. The photos included on their Home page and subsequent pages convey positive stories about their school environment.

For more examples of how School Webmasters uses images to create phenomenal school websites, check out our school website portfolios. 

#3. Network Properly

Your school website not only offers direct connections through text and images, it also connects your community by successfully incorporating links. Links included on your website should be short, offer supportive and relevant content, and be accessible.  

Keep links short.

When your school website includes a link, be sure to avoid hyperlinks that are longer than one line. Including a link is one way to clean up a page and keep content short. For example, instead of including all your policies and handbooks as pages on a website, simply link to the documents. 

Offer supportive and relevant content.

If your school recently held an assembly with special guests, consider sharing supplementary links to related content. Your school community will appreciate it. Supportive and relevant content can also include community links to local businesses or other entities that support your school or that your community would find useful. 

Ensure your school website is accessible for all.

Is your school website in compliance with ADA guidelines? If your website is accessible, you still need to be careful that the pages to which you link are also accessible. Include descriptive alt tags with your links, and never use the phrase “click here.” Learn more about ADA guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium.  

#4. Show Your Visitors You Value Their Time

Each visitor to your school website hopes to find something valuable. When you design your website in an organized manner, visitors can navigate smoothly and not feel they are being given some type of run around. Be sure to perform regular quality control checks to identify broken or misdirected links and old, outdated information. 

In the case of emergencies, your school website should communicate whatever information is available directly to your site visitors. Communication is truly the key. When follow-up information is shared on your school website, it’s helpful to provide a thread of content for your visitors. 

#5. Use Web Analytics

These days, nearly everything we do on the web can be measured. Take the time to be educated in web analytics. Understanding more about the visitors to your school websites helps you improve what you offer them. User behavior can help you identify what aspects of your school website receive the most attention and what does not. It also can help determine when to schedule content updates. Successful school websites are never static. Understanding that what worked in the past may not work now is a step in the right direction to providing your community with a useful school website. 

#6. Don’t Worry about Extending Content below the Browser Pane

When adding or updating content to your school website, you may be tempted to try to cram it all in “above the fold” (i.e. the bottom of the browser pane). Do not succumb to such an outdated sentiment! Remember, scrolling is typical online behavior, and your visitors will not hesitate to read on or scroll further if you’ve given them good reason to do so. Just be sure to regularly evaluate your website content for navigation ease and readability. 

#7. Take Time to Manage Your School Website

The biggest challenge websites face is not the set-up but the upkeep, so you must have a strategic plan for ultimate success

To properly manage your school website, it will need a regular, delegated portion of your time. This can be difficult as core duties and responsibilities of educators and administrators leave little time to do so. Many school websites are set up without enough support to keep it current. In fact, the biggest challenge websites face is not the set-up but the upkeep, so you must have a strategic plan for ultimate success. 

#8. Use Your Calendar

Visitors to your school’s website expect it to be current. Planned, scheduled updates must be a priority. Plan ahead. Consult with those involved in your website management so you can provide regular updates. In the case of your school website, collaboration and preparation are extremely valuable. School websites should not just showcase events and information tied to the past but also current events on campus. 

#9. Realistically Examine Your School Website’s Effective Nature

If your school is concerned with enrollment, then SEO should be on your radar. In fact, every page on your school website should be SEO-friendly. Not all visitors to your website will enter through the front door (that is, your Home page). When content is high quality and targets the needs of the school community, your pages will help drive traffic deeper into your website. 

#10. Be Open to New Ideas

Working hard alludes to getting the job done right. When your school website symbolizes all that is good about your school, it is a good thing. Keep the following in mind when determining the time and effort you invest in your school website: 

Don’t try to do it all yourself.

Get an extra set of eyes to watch for errors, check for issues as updates to your website are made. Problems often surface as your website goes live even if they didn’t show themselves in the staging phases. Check links, images, and texts prior to publishing as well as subsequently. Also, consider what your school community might want to know rather than what you want them to know.

Try new things.

School websites are great because they can always be changed. If something isn’t working, evaluate and incorporate lessons learned into planned updates. It can be difficult to determine what needs fixing without testing things out. Be structured, intentional, and willing to measure your community’s response to everything in your website. Be ready to learn from what doesn’t work as well as what does. 

Conclusion

School websites can be hard to keep current. Your staff may likely be already overwhelmed with their core responsibilities. When managing your school website feels impossible, School Webmasters can help. 

School Webmasters handles all updates, changes, additions, and improvements to your school's website. We perform regular quality control checks and even send out reminders to designated staff members in order to gather the information and write content that will keep your site up-to-date. 

Your IT, teaching, and administrative staffs usually have their hands full with core responsibilities, and expecting them to be designers, writers, and managers of the site's content can be unrealistic. 

Let School Webmasters handle your school website management and provide you with the skill sets you need without overburdening an already busy staff. 

482691
School Public Relations is All About Influencing Perceptions
2019-09-10
magnifying glass zooming in on public relations

It might be time to take the temperature of your stakeholders' opinions about your school. Is it a bit cold out there among your constituents or cozy and warm? You can't change perceptions if you don't know what they are. 

As an educational leader, one of your significant challenges is to develop strategies that deliver a positive message about your school to the community. Good public relations and positive perceptions are critical aspects of a successful school (and a successful administrator). They are almost as important as what happens within the walls of the classrooms. Without buy-in and the trust of your public, it can be nearly impossible to provide quality education to students regardless of the value of your cause. How can you influence public perception? 

#1 Marketing Your School 

  1. First, find out what perceptions exist now. What do people know, or not know, about your school? Gather data from your staff and students as well as the community. You must find out what current attitudes are to affect change (or if a change is even needed). This can be as simple as posting a survey on your school's website and letting everyone know about it. Get Chamber of Commerce or other community organization members to complete it as well. Base your questions on the areas that are in line with your district's goals and mission. 
  2. Once you get a handle on what the attitudes and perceptions are, you can take a more in-depth look at how or where you are communicating those perceptions:
  • Are opinions being formed in the absence of readily available, accurate information (allowing rumor and gossip to run amok)? If so, give strengthening your communication channels top priority in your strategic plan. 
  • Are perceptions (negative or positive) being formed based on comments and opinions shared by staff, parents, students, or media? If so, work on improving trust and communication with your internal stakeholders (staff, administrators, students). 
  • Are perceptions based on personal contact with staff and administration? If negative rather than positive, take a hard look at whether or not you are communicating the importance of customer service with your staff. (How is your staff handling contact with parents, students, and community members?)

Your strategic marketing plan will focus on addressing the following critical questions:

  • What do you want perceptions to be?   
  • How do you want your school to stand out? 
  • What is unique about what you have to offer? 
  • How do you promote your uniqueness? 

Take steps to make sure your stakeholders are aware of the quality work that happens within the walls of your school. If you can communicate that effectively, you will create wholehearted support from parents, which will radiate out to the community at large. Positive perceptions will be established one day at a time, one person at a time. 

Then, if declining enrollment is an issue, consider adding inbound marketing to your processes using the answers to the above questions in your strategy.

magnifying glass looking at customer service

#2 Implement Outstanding Customer Service

Public relations is about your relationships with your public. Duh! But, what you might overlook is that one of the most important touchpoints with your customers is the level of customer service you provide. Excellent customer service is about having happy customers. Ideally, they are happy enough to sing your praises to their neighbors and friends who also have children who will be attending a school. But customer service isn’t just about your external customers; it includes how your staff interacts and treats one another. So, we’ll discuss a few obvious areas and provide links to more detail on how to implement great customer service in your school.

  • What are first appearances at your schools? Those first impressions, if poor, are tough to overcome. Customer service includes how your school maintains the grounds, how your buildings are kept up, how your signage signals your school’s attitudes, and even your parking lots can signal a welcome or unwelcome first impression.
  • Your front office staff often provides that crucial first impression. What kind of impression do they make? This includes how they answer the phone (if they answer it or let it roll to an answering machine). How do they greet visitors? With a sincere smile or an irritated frown? Do office visitors feel welcome or like trespassers? The expectations of school leaders often establish these standards.
  • Your school website is a vital customer service resource in your efforts to meet your customers’ needs when it is convenient for them. Be sure to populate your sites with any required forms parents need to complete; keep it accessible for those with disabilities; make sure it is responsive and easy to use from a phone; and be sure the most commonly asked questions are answered right there on your website.

#3 Message consistency

School branding and marketing consistency mean bringing a specific feeling to your customers through all of your messaging. This consistency includes the tone of your communications, the feeling you generate in your visuals and content, and the frequency in your messaging. A consistent and reliable stream of messaging across all your communication channels builds a strong, trusted brand.

A school brand, or any brand, is not a logo (which is only a visual expression of your brand). It is not a motto or slogan, and your school does not own it.

So, what is a brand? It is what people say about your school behind your back. It is the total of all the associations with your school and your staff. And, while it is not owned by you but by those who interact with your school, every contact matters. Whether that contact is online, in person, what they hear about you, what they read, and what they believe, your school is responsible for managing and protecting that brand.

If you allow multiple people at your school to control your messaging, you will quickly create flaws in your communications and content, which weakens your brand. The more consistent your messaging is, the easier it is for parents and prospective parents to recognize your brand and your strengths (without the need for excessive advertising or marketing).

Consistent branding and marketing messages bring you the following benefits:

  • Brand recognition and awareness: You’ll be easily recognized, will save money, and will build trust. We like to buy from and use brands that we recognize. When we are unsure, we often select what is most familiar. Consistent branding creates familiarity.
  • Memorability: Repetition works in marketing and in the classroom; think flashcards and jingles. The more often parents see consistent and frequent branding, the more memorable your school will be.
  • Increased enrollment: Brand industry experts tell us that maintaining a consistent brand increases value and revenue. We associate a strong brand with positive feelings, and we act on those feelings. So, when you have a respected brand, your school will attract more students, and private schools can even demand higher tuitions based on their brand reputation.

Develop a set of brand guidelines, and ensure that everyone representing your school or referring to your school adheres to them. This includes coaches, teachers, principals, and anyone creating any form of representation, including stationery, websites, logos, mascots, handbooks, uniforms, signage, forms, and so much more. Brand guidelines include standards for tone of voice, social media posts, hex code colors, and font choices. (Brand guideline example)

#4 Be prepared for the next big issue

One of the biggest worries schools face today is addressing the issues around student safety. From a public relations perspective, this includes real threats as well as false alarms. Both require speedy and precise responses. 

In an actual safety situation, the key is to deliver up-to-the-minute information. Parents and the media will expect your school response to be immediate and accurate. A crisis is no time to try to decide what to do next. You must have a clearly defined crisis communications plan in place long before an actual emergency exists. 

Everyone involved during a crisis should understand precisely what is expected of them. Avoid confusion and possible tragedy by making sure your staff knows their part in any school crisis (also should include drills and role-playing situations several times a year). If you need help with this, check out CrisisGo, which has established some effective solutions to get and keep everyone on the same page.

hand prints representing community

#5 Creating community support

Schools are often a central hub in many communities, especially in suburban and rural areas. But over the years, these interconnected relationships have taken more work to maintain. As birth rates decline, fewer and fewer families have connections with the local K–12 schools. It’s becoming more difficult to convince taxpayers to pony up for public school levies, bonds, and tax initiatives all while costs continue to rise, state budgets decline, and fundraisers deliver less revenue.

Building community support takes time and requires consistent, strategic processes. A school can’t wait until the need is urgent. You must plan ahead. Even private schools must attract students from their surrounding communities, so while they don’t depend on ballot initiatives, they do require a strong brand and community advocates.

One way to influence attitudes is to engage your local media. Find out who the education beat journalists are, and offer to provide them with a regular supply of stories. Don’t expect them to find you, but reach out to them. Invite them to attend special events, and show your appreciation for their attendance. 

Suggest story ideas that will resonate with their audiences (which will vary between print media, bloggers, radio, and TV). Consider writing articles for them, and invite them to edit them as needed. Be sure to include photos for them to use. Get to know their needs, and find ways to provide content they can use. Would a weekly broadcast by a school administrator be helpful? Would sending them a copy of your monthly newsletter help keep them in the loop and suggest topics the community would enjoy?

Today’s journalists are wearing many hats, and as print and radio budgets shrink, journalists must cover more and more beats. Become a valued resource, and watch your positive school coverage skyrocket.

Put public relations to work for your school

Public relations efforts are the unsung heroes for creating powerful influence. It takes time and typically isn’t inexpensive. Only the largest of schools, or more elite private schools, typically have a public relations specialist on staff. 

But what if you could change all that? What if you could have an invested member of your community wear that public relations hat for eight hours a week (or more)? Imagine what they could do while focused on creating a groundswell of influence for your school? 

This is now within your school’s grasp. School Webmasters has developed PR4 Schools. We hire, train, and consult with a member of your community to provide public relations services, focusing on the unique needs of your district. Affordable. Effective. Easy to implement. Because we take on the work of making it happen. If you are interested, contact us at 888.750.4556 and ask for Katie Brooks, PR4 Schools manager, to find out how this can work for your school.

480418
Fill Your School with Good Moms (and Dads)
2019-09-03
Image of actress from Bad Moms movie

I thought about titling this blog, Communicating with “Bad Moms.” If you haven’t had an opportunity to see the Bad Moms movies, actress Mila Kunis plays a mother, Amy, whose perfect life falls apart. Overwhelmed, she brings store-bought donuts instead of homemade baked goods to the school bake sale, which triggers one of the “perfect” PTA moms to turn against her. Amy unites fellow “bad moms,” rebels against the perfect moms, and—spoiler alert—becomes head of the PTA. 

While much of Bad Moms could be dismissed as exaggeration, I think the movie hits on a zeitgeist. Today’s parents are trying to have it all—serve healthy food in a fast food world, foster independence but keep up-to-date with their kids’ hourly assignments and assessments, be in the moment but also be on top of last-minute practice time changes, have fulfilling professional lives while managing the homefront. 

Oh, and it’s always your turn to bring a contribution for the bake sale. No gluten, peanuts, dairy, apples, or sugar, but you need twenty crepes by 8 a.m. Even with good kids, healthy parents, and a supportive partner, parenting these days is demanding. If you throw in a challenging child, an elderly parent, a job, a divorce, financial difficulties, or any number of complicating factors, as they say in New York, “fuggedaboutit!” 

Parents are stressed, and like the “bad moms” of the movies, even the best moms and dads in your district act like “bad moms” at some point. So what is the most effective way your school can communicate with the majority of parents?  

When I think about communicating with “bad moms,” I think about what my son’s AP physics teacher said during the September high school open house. He said he’d been passionately teaching physics for over a decade and was occasionally surprised by how frustrating even his top-level students could be. His students missed homework assignments or turned in sloppy work; they occasionally did poorly on tests; they fell asleep during labs; they didn’t read the lab report rubric and then were upset when they didn’t receive an A on the project. 

In short, their effort and physics results were inconsistent. This teacher said that it wasn’t until his own son became a high school junior that he came to realize everything his students had going on in any given day. 

The teacher realized that although AP physics was of great interest and importance to him, it was a sliver in the highly-packed high school junior’s life. He said he realized that his job as their physics teacher was to make his class easy for his students. He put more work into meeting them where they were in the classroom, to remembering all his own kids had going on at that age, and to trying to give those good students their best chance to deserve A’s in his class and do well on the AP exam with their overloaded plates. He was a fantastic physics teacher for my history/humanities/hockey-loving son. 

Father and son writing on whiteboard

I tell this story because I think it’s our job as school communicators, principals, and teachers to meet parents where they are, to make being a parent of a child at your school a little easier, to make them proud to be our school parents, and to remember that their kids’ school is just one sliver of a busy pie. Inconsistent effort or engagement from parents should not be shamed or dismissed as indifference. Sometimes, all they can do is bring store-bought donuts. It’s our job to help them become the best school parents they can be, given the full plate we all have in front of us. 

School Communication Tips for School Communicators

So, as school public relations advocates and school communicators, what are best practices for school communications? Think like my son’s AP physics teacher! 

happy parents waving
  1. Don’t assume parents read any prior communication. If we send a reminder that they need to complete a form, include the form in the email. Include the form even if they said they already completed the form and it’s in the student’s backpack. Even if it’s the tenth reminder, include the form. 
  2. Make the most of the time when parents are in front of you. Arrive at parents night prepared; be brief; be inspiring; and be inclusive. Even if this is your twentieth parents night, you have a horrible head cold, and your dog’s peculiar behavior is worrying you—please put thought into your presentation and be in the moment. In many cases, the parents have arranged a babysitter or taken off work to get to school, so make that night worth it to them. Use this opportunity to set the tone for the year. Prepare and practice. It’s important.  
  3. Assume that when a parent goes on your school’s website, it is the first time they have visited the site. In fact, many of the people visiting our school websites are not yet parents at the school. Often, people considering moving to the district will visit our site to learn more. Keep your school website up-to-date, welcoming, and ADA compliant, and celebrate your school’s successes. Testimonials from teachers and parents speak for themselves. Also, school accolades, pictures of recent musicals and sports championships are all good to have on the Home page. School calendars and lunch information are also essential items and should be easy to find.   
  4. Encourage your “perfect parents” to be patient with those who aren’t as perfect. Develop a good relationship with the PTA, and request they use inclusive language on all communications. Ask that the PTA offer parents last-minute volunteer opportunities as well as long term projects they could do primarily from home. And, ask that they realize many parents can’t help during the day, and to recognize that some parents will be more willing to help if they could also spend time with their children at the same time. Work with your PTA to set goals that inspire parents in the school to roll up their sleeves and help, to show school pride. Remember, we’re all “bad moms” at some point.   
  5. Highlight different students. Sometimes perfect parents raise perfect kids, and it’s tempting to make those students the docents at the art show, the Big Buddies on the school bus, etc. Sometimes we have to nurture quiet leaders, give the reluctant child the microphone during school announcements, and tell their “Bad Moms” what their children did well. If the students need a special outfit to do this, ask them to bring it in the week before, and then remind them until they do. Or don’t worry about the outfit.  
  6. Listen. This probably should be the number one rule. What are the parents telling you? And sometimes it’s important to “listen between the lines”—more on that in a minute.
  7. Finally, assume everyone is doing their best. Just like the AP physics students, “Bad Moms” want to do well and they need our help to succeed. Keep in mind the things the AP teacher recommended, and ask yourself:
  8. How can I meet parents where they are?
  9. What can we do to make being a parent of a child at our school easier?
  10. What do parents need to make them proud to be our school parents? 

A Cautionary Tale

I want to tell my own “bad mom” cautionary tale. After a tumultuous year, my town’s board of education decided they needed a communications committee—an idea that I fully endorse. For a little background, being on our school’s BOE is a very difficult job with meetings every other week at 7 p.m., right when every parent I know (including me) is driving kids to games and practices, trying to serve dinner, helping with homework, putting little ones to bed, trying to reconnect with spouses, walking the dog, or curled up in a ball on the couch. 

Being on the board of education is a huge, and at times, thankless job. And for those of us who can’t make it to the BOE meetings, they are recorded and put on Facebook. In theory, there is no excuse not be caught up on the latest BOE news... except, remember I work, I write, I try to exercise, I have three kids in three different schools, a dog, an elderly father and father-in-law, a husband with a demanding commute and job, friends, and family. You get the idea. 

Anyway, the idea was that the BOE communications committee would have regular open meetings to “listen” to people’s concerns. They met for the first time a couple of months ago during lunchtime on a weekday. This was great because this is when I have more flexibility, so I was able to attend, intending only to listen. I was transfixed by the BOE members’ knowledge of the intricacies of the transportation issues in our district and the difficult local legislation issues. It was fascinating! 

Then, I raised my hand to ask about a decision to replace the part-time school secretaries—who are my daughter’s favorite and this bad mom’s life-line. The response was curt. One member said, “We discussed this very issue at the last board of education round table last week.” I felt very small and probably won’t ever attend another “Communications Committee Listening Event.” 

You get the idea: just assume bad moms don’t read the BOE minutes. And if a question is asked that has already been covered in a previous meeting, try to kindly guide them in the right direction. Remember, as school communicators, we are building relationships with the key stakeholders of our schools. How can we make it easy? How can we create positivity? How can we help them succeed as parents and, in doing so, help our students and school succeed?

I think good moms (and dads) are made, not born. The way we treat our school communications and particularly our daily interactions with parents is an important part of creating a school climate where all parents can be slightly imperfect and still valued. And that’s good school public relations. If we understand that we are an important fraction of our parents’ busy lives and communicate thoughtfully, inclusively, and effectively, we will help create a positive school climate where perfect and not-so-perfect parents stay informed and engaged. 

481991
Does your CMS website software do this?
2019-08-27
Cartoon images of children holding up signs that spell CMS

Salespeople are calling and emailing with the list of great features their “easy-to-update” software platforms include. They have booths at conferences. They mail out brochures. They call again, often at your busiest time of year. If you had the time to take their calls, you’d likely see those touted features are definitely noteworthy and well functioning. 

Our technical capabilities have advanced exponentially in the past few decades. It is quite amazing to me that what once took a mainframe the size of the wing of a building to process data can now be done on the small device in my pocket. Our smartphones are now more powerful than the computers used to send the Apollo astronauts to the moon and back. Mind-blowing!

Today’s technology challenges

But, the abilities provided to us in this DIY culture have brought with it a new set of challenges. One of those challenges is that staying on top of all these awesome technology changes can be a bit overwhelming. 

The very thought of upgrading to a new phone makes me feel a bit queasy. I know what is involved with transferring everything, learning a new system, and relearning processes for my daily activities. It will take weeks before I’m comfortable again. I have so many programs I use daily that it takes another program just to keep track of the passwords to all those other programs.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all my gadgets and the programs that have revolutionized my life. As a woman in the 21st Century, I can raise a family, manage a busy household, run a small company, bake my own bread, be a professional writer, and sew on a quilt—all in one week. My grandmother had far less free time than I do, and it would have taken her a week to accomplish half of these tasks. And my grandmother was no slacker! She would’ve put me to shame if she’d had the same tools at her disposal.

In spite of all this good news, there is a downside when it comes to your school website content management system (CMS). Actually, it isn’t the CMS system that is the challenge; it is the skills, training, and knowledge required to make your school website as effective as possible—even with a jazzy CMS platform. 

What is your school website’s purpose?

Your school website, and basically the purpose of every website, is to serve your customers and your prospective customers. Some of these purposes include the following:

  • Marketing your successes and benefits to prospective parents
  • Informing, communicating, and engaging existing parents
  • Delivering transparency to the public, including community members and taxpayers
  • Providing up-to-date information on school events, activities, programs, and curricula
  • Serving your customers with the resources they need (forms, contacts, schedules, etc.)

Your website is your primary communications and marketing resource. When used strategically, it builds trust and respect and can attract quality staff and influence parent choices for student enrollment.

However, all of these purposes require information your staff must provide. The value of your website comes from the content on your website and the way it is delivered. To represent your school well, here are a few goals:

  • Communications that support your school’s mission and goals
  • Information that is timely and accurate
  • Grammar, spelling, and layout that is correct
  • Content, navigation, layout, and design that is website accessible (ADA compliant)
  • Consistent branding and style guide standards applied throughout the site
  • Strategic marketing efforts that are integrated (inbound marketing, enrollment forms)
  • Writing style and content that matches your school branding and goals

It’s all about relationships!

Communication in all its forms is about relationships. Whether it is developing them, nurturing them, or ending them. In order to be effective, communication should also be strategic and authentic. What does that look like?

graphic image representing relationships

Authentic communication

This one is simple. Just be honest. You provide evidence of your strengths on your website and in social media communications. Be real. When it comes to your weaknesses, again, be honest and let your audience know how you are working on turning those weaknesses into strengths and how you plan to do that. No one expects perfection in all areas, but your honesty about what your school strives to deliver will earn your school goodwill and trust.

Strategic communication

And by strategic, we don’t mean “spin” either. We mean considering your school goals and integrating your communication efforts with those goals. As an example, if you want to earn the reputation as a successful, effective school where all of your students feel valued and inspired to reach their highest potential,  your communication efforts should reflect that.

You’ll share stories of student successes (especially those that show overcoming obstacles and achievings goals). You’ll provide evidence of programs, curriculum, and teachers that lead to student success. Your communication will include information to teach parents ways they can support their student's educational efforts. You’ll want to create an annual plan where you will coordinate content on your website and social media supporting your communication goals for the year. It looks like this:

  • Establish your annual goals (these should be tied to your mission statement).
  • Create a strategic communications plan to include content supporting your goals for each month of the school year.
  • Coordinate content resources by including staff, parents, and students. This may include making assignments to staff for providing stories, descriptions of events and activities, photos, and videos providing interesting and engaging evidence.
  • Schedule posts, articles, events, and stories (with deadlines). 
  • Reward participation. When you get staff, parents, or students who will provide you with the content that helps you achieve your communication goals, reward them publicly, privately, and sincerely. Whether it is acknowledgment at a staff meeting for an excellent news article or story, a handwritten note of thanks, governing board recognitions, or kudos shared over the daily announcements, some form of recognition will encourage increased participation.

In order for this to be effective, everyone must understand and internalize your school goals and mission. Whether this means through annual training or visual reminders through signage, or an annual professional development training topic covering your school’s mission, be sure you are all working toward the same goal—which is to provide evidence of how you are delivering on your promises (your school mission). All of this will impact your school public relations, school marketing, staff and student morale, and even customer service levels.

While you can’t automate relationships, you can create a regular drip of goal-focused messaging that will build and strengthen those relationships. These efforts will have a positive outcome in every area of school communication. But, these efforts cannot be “other duties as assigned” to folks who are unaware of your district goals or your parents’ needs. It isn’t about a CMS platform or technology but about observing, gathering, and sharing the stories that build trusting relationships. 

Build a team

 A recent school/client of ours wasn’t doing a good job of helping us create content for their website and social media. They didn’t have a plan in place to gather stories that developed relationships or demonstrate they were delivering on their mission statement. We take care of all the posting, proofing, editing, ADA accessibility, and maintaining intuitive websites for all of our clients, but we still need the raw content that will engage parents and community members. However, an effective salesman convinced them that having a new, cool app platform that pushes notices to parents, would be the silver bullet and improve their communication efforts. It wasn’t.

graphic showing figures stacking blocks and working as a team

No matter how cool your technology or platform, it won’t have an impact if you don’t have dedicated resources gathering the content that builds a solid communications effort. Spending more money on a new platform won’t change a thing. It might make posting simpler, but without content and a strategy, nothing changes.

So, create a team within your school that drives and supports your communications efforts. Either hire or outsource the skill sets needed. Those communication skill sets should include the following:

  • Visually appealing graphic elements that support your content’s message (graphic design skills)
  • Engaging content that tells stories and uses a conversational and inviting style (writing skills)
  • Website accessibility maintenance with each post, including PDF attachments and required off-site links (website accessibility training)
  • Website proofing for grammar, spelling, broken links, layout issues, contrast problems, style guide consistency, and outdated information (copy editing)
  • Content and story gathering year-round (everyone who witnesses those great stories worth sharing—staff, parents, students, volunteers, alumni)

If you don’t have the resources (or funds) to hire for the skills sets we listed above, we can certainly do this for you and have been delivering these services for nearly 17 years now. But, as proud as we are of how we help our schools, we can’t do it unless they share the great things happening at their schools with us. That is the fodder fueling great results. 

Whether it is to improve a school’s marketing to increase enrollment, build a respected, trusted reputation, deliver outstanding customer service each day, or engage students and parents in the educational process to turn out successful and contributing adults, it is that glimpse inside the walls of your school that will convert and convince. This is what builds relationships, and that’s what matters in the long run.

Whatever CMS system or platform you use, put a strategic communications plan in place. Website management is a critical step in any communications strategy. 

If you need help, it’s what School Webmasters does. Let us know what platform you use, and we might be able to support your existing platform. If your website is in need of a redesign, we’ve got you covered there as well. Just request a quote, and we’ll call you to discuss how to affordably and strategically improve your school’s communication and marketing strategies.

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

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

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

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

The School Website Journey from Concept to Reality 

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

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

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

How Long does Website Development Take? 

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

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

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

Phase 1: School Questionnaire and Project Management

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

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

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

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

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

Phase 2: Design

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

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

Phase 3: Graphic Design

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

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

Phase 4: Copywriting and Site Maps

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

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

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

Phase 5: User Interface Design

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

Phase 6: Going Live and Server Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

481280
Celebrating Students' Successes in Schools
2019-08-13
successful students

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

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

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

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

Newspaper boy

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

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

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

Let your community know about your school’s successes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who should you recognize and how should you do it?

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

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

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

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

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

Do your students’ families feel welcome on your campus?

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

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

good news

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

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

How else can you deliver the message?

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

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


479103
School Websites: What's the Big Deal?
2019-08-06
dill pickle with thought bubble that says What's the big flippin' dill

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

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

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

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

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

4 Communication Goals Your School Website Can Help You Reach

#1: Improve Customer Service

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

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

#2: Provide Information

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

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

#3: Save Your Staff Time & Your School Money

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

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

#4: Improve Your School Public Relations

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

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

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

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


  1. News pages

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

  2. Interactive calendars

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

  3. Photo galleries

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

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

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

  3. Staff directories and profiles

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

  4. Documents and links

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

  5. Embedded video

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

  6. School blog

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

  7. Emergency pages

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

  8. Secure log-in pages

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

  9. Social media feed

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

  10. screen shot of Paramus School website

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

479080
Stop Hiring Developers Who Are Not Trained in ADA Accessibility Standards
2019-08-05
man at desk covering face and holding hand up to stop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Steps to Website Accessibility Success

Adults in classroom excited to learn about accessibility

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

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

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

What to look for in a development team

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

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

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

My website looks great, but my documents failed my audit

Lady upset that documents failed accessibility testing

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

Keep your school’s accessible website barrier-free

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

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

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

494847
Collaborate and Get Accessible Results
2019-08-01
Coworkers giving high five across table after collaborating accessibly

As administrators, teachers, and staff, it’s important to efficiently work together towards the same goal. Tools such as Google Docs offer convenient collaboration options. There is a good chance your school is already using Google Docs or a similar tool for collaboration. We aren’t going to get into the actual accessibility of the specific tools you use. We’ll leave that up to your school’s accessibility compliance team. Instead, let’s talk about the end product. After all, that’s what you are sharing with your school family, right?

Since you are a school and know you need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, how do you share your finished product in a way that is fully accessible? Your goal is to provide a document that looks the same to everyone, regardless of ability. The best option for providing accessible documents that maintain formatting and work on any operating system is a Portable Document Format, commonly known as a PDF. Lucky for you, your tool of choice easily converts your documents directly to a PDF. Sounds too easy, right? That all depends on the accessibility steps you take while creating your document and if you actually convert it correctly.

Test the PDF created from a Google Doc to confirm accessibility

Many of our schools use Google Docs for collaboration, so we will use this as an example. Let’s say you create your school newsletter as a Google Doc. After you’ve done everything to make your Google Doc accessible, you download it as a PDF. You run accessibility tests to ensure your newsletter is accessible. How do you test a PDF for accessibility? Use one or more of these options:

My PDF accessibility test failed. Now what?

Confused women because PDF document failed accessibility full check

If you downloaded a Google Doc directly to a PDF and tested it, you are now wondering what happened to all of the accessibility steps you took such as using heading styles, adding alternative text to images, and creating clean, easy-to-read tables for your school events. Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy. The tagging structure of an accessible PDF is not created when you download the Google Doc directly as a PDF. 

Here is the important step many people leave out. For the document to remain accessible, first export the Google Doc to an MS Word document. Then convert the Word document into a PDF. (If you use MS Word online and avoid using tables for layout purposes, you may be able to skip this step and convert it directly to a PDF.)

Depending on the layout you used in your Google Doc, you many need to make some slight adjustments in Word before converting it to a PDF. For example, 

  • add alternative text to images; 
  • add metadata such as a title; and 
  • confirm headings are labeled and are not just paragraph text, styled to look like a heading. 

These are just a couple of the most common examples of things that fail with the quickest fixes. 

Test again

You will want to run the accessibility checker in Word. Clearing errors in Word will simplify the steps you’ll need to take with your PDF. Once you’ve done all you can to ensure your original document is accessible, convert it and test the new PDF. If needed, the PDF accessibility checker mentioned above has a screen reader preview option. Not only does this option show how the document will be read to someone using a screen reader, but it’s also beneficial to help troubleshoot structure issues—especially with tables.

After you confirm your school document is accessible, you are ready to post it. If we manage your school’s website, simply upload your document through our customer service portal. We will post it accessibly for you right away. If you manage your own website, be sure to create a descriptive link to the document so both your website and your document remain accessible to everyone. 

Is there an easier way to ensure accessible documents?

Team of school personnel learning about document accessibility

Always remember that knowledge is power. The easiest way for your school to create accessible documents is to learn the accessibility standards and embrace them. Understanding why certain techniques are necessary and knowing how to implement them will make creating accessible documents second nature. The sooner you and your staff learn to think accessibly, the faster you will be creating accessible documents without second-guessing and wasting time with remediation. 

Of course, if your school needs training, we can help! We tailor our document accessibility training to fit your needs, including low-cost webinars, in-person training for small teams, and ongoing consulting. Request accessibility training information to find the best solution for your school staff.

My school doesn’t have time to remediate all our documents.

If your school staff is too busy teaching and doing what they were hired to do, we are the document accessibility experts you’ve been looking for. Take advantage of our painless process to give you the accessibility you need and everyone deserves. Our fully-trained document accessibility team works around the clock to provide accessible documents for schools nationwide. Find out more about our remediation services, and let’s get started making your school documents accessible right away so you can get and stay in compliance with federal guidelines.

496540
School Board Members: How to Help Your School Succeed
2019-07-23
Governing board member

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

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

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

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

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

Traits of effective school board members

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

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

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

Effective governing board members are good communicators:

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

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

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

5 communication strategies to achieve school goals

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

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

Step #1: Consistent communication

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

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

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

Step #2: Transparency in communications

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

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

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

Step #3: Sharing your stories

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

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

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

engaged parent with high school graduate

Step #4: Engaging parents improves student outcomes

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

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

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

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

Step #5: Rewarding communication rock stars

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

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

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

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

More school board member tips?

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


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

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

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

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

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

Marketing your school 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. Tell your school’s amazing story.

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

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

  4. Use inbound marketing.

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

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

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

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

  2. Be consistent, get it done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your school website’s first impression?

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

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

Put your best foot forward

#1 Put your best foot forward

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

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

#2 Be helpful

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

#3 Smile and talk about their needs

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

Manage your website strategically

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconsider your website’s long-term value

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

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

478022
Automated Testing for Website Accessibility - Is it Enough?
2019-07-03
Man at computer overwhelmed with accessibility testing

We wish we could say yes, but unfortunately, it is not nearly enough. It is vital to remember that while automated scan tools are beneficial to the audit process and can help you catch many accessibility issues, they are not capable of testing everything. For example, here are a few things an automated tool cannot do:

  • Test for keyboard accessibility
  • Tell if content order is logical
  • Determine if alternative text is accurate
  • Account for background colors or all instances for use of color, including hover and focus

Pricing for automated testing software can start at around $3K for the software subscription and increase to more than $9K or more annually, depending on the school size. Then, the school realizes they still have to do all of the corrections themselves. The actual cost of providing an accessible website now includes extensive staff training of every person in the school or district who touches the website or creates attached content (usually PDFs), remediation of the website, and (if the website isn’t remediated or someone notices a barrier) possibly legal fees for having to respond to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). 

If you have already purchased automated testing, we strongly recommend you ensure your website developers are fully trained on and understand website accessibility, including all the success criteria in both Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. Someone needs to know how to read those reports so you know which items are actual errors, right?

The end goal of an accessible website is not just to avoid legal action; it is to ensure equal access for everyone. In addition to having your IT team perform both automatic and manual reviews of your website, we recommend having disabled users review your website as well. Screen reader and keyboard only user testing is highly beneficial in website accessibility testing. If you do not have someone currently in your district to help with this, reach out to members of your community. 

If you find yourself at a loss, have no fear. We can help you with all of your accessibility needs. Our staff is fully trained on website accessibility and able to do everything for you from accessibility audits to remediation and accessible website management. Instead of overwhelming your staff, let us know how we can help you provide access for everyone. 

496522
DIY School Website Management
2019-07-02
slice whole grain bread

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

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

How baking bread is like effective website management

Are you salivating yet? I know I am.

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

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

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

homemade bread and butter

Grinding the Grain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixing bread dough

Mixing the dough

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

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

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

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

Letting it rise

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

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

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

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

homemade bread

Baking the loaf

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

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

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

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

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

Whole grain bread and honey

Enjoying the fruit of your labors

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

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

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

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

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

In summary

The steps we recommend to manage your school website are:

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

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

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

473724
What is poor customer service costing your school?
2019-06-25
canvas bag with a dollar sign printed on it

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

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

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

Let’s talk about school customer service!

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

Female student doing match at whiteboard

Step #1: Do the math

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

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

Fill in the blanks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step #2: Know what your customers want

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

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

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

Parents also want school staff to:

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

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

Step #3: Train, recognize, repeat

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

Consider these initial steps:

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

It’s all about the relationships!

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

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

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

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

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

Next steps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Lead by example and collaborate.

Students looking at laptops and tablets

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

#SavetheKids Movement

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

Digital Citizenship Education: DigCitKids

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

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

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

Media Literacy: NAMLE

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

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

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

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

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

My Digital TAT2

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

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

Your Role in Digital Citizenship

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

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

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

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How to Make an Effective Teacher Website
2019-06-11
Parent and teacher smiling in a classroom

These days, there is a wide variety of ways and means for educators to reach their target audience—students and their families. From emails to school websites and group texts to school social media platforms and apps, the options are nearly endless. So, how do you and your school decide which routes of communication are best for your school community? 

Teacher Sites Can Improve Teacher-Parent Relationships 

Your school and district websites are essential PR tools, but since they must reach a large audience that encompasses your entire community, they serve distinct purposes and functions. 

In contrast, the sole audience for teacher sites is current students and their families. You may ask, “Is a teacher website worth it for such a limited audience?” The answer is yes

Because parent-teacher relationships are so important for school public relations, they need constant nurturing. And because the audience for teacher websites is so narrow, teacher sites can focus on that ever-important public relations facet—nurturing teacher-parent relationships! 

We recently asked a group of parents what they wished schools would better communicate. Their answer may surprise you. Parents want to know more about opportunities to volunteer and participate at their kids’ schools, and, more than anything, they want to be kept in the loop of what’s going on in the classroom. 

Teachers dedicate the majority of their time to teaching critical lessons. A teacher sees students every day and has his or her finger on the pulse of the classroom. So, teacher sites are ideal grassroots communication tools. That is, they can advocate for parent engagement at the ground level. 

Classroom-level communication is too specific for a district or even a school website—but a teacher site is the perfect home for it! At School Webmasters, we believe it’s possible and vital for you as educators to successfully bridge the communication gap between you and your school community. Effectively using your teacher website will help you do it.

Best Practices for Teacher Sites

Teachers will want to use websites to help satisfy the common needs of their students and families throughout the school year. Here are some best practice tips when it comes to establishing a trusted teacher website. 

Keep it current. 

The biggest issue with a teacher site? Keeping it updated! This is hard for busy teachers, but consider this: What is your gut response when you visit a website that appears to be outdated? Calendars left empty, newsletters irregularly posted, or old photographs of past students scream “not up-to-date.” Your teacher website is like your professional resume, and keeping it updated is important to your personal brand.

Seek input. 

What are teachers most often asked? Where do communication issues most often stem from? 

If you’re not sure where to start with your teacher site, start with these questions. You can also seek input from parents. In fact, it’s smart to engage parents and meet their needs by sending out a survey and asking for their input. 

Keep a current calendar.

Calendars are a great way to share news and announcements as well as provide advance notice to help parents plan for participation in events. Classroom calendars can include due dates, important deadlines, student birthdays, and other class-related events like assemblies or field trips. 

Use photo galleries.

Images from the classroom not only speak a thousand words, but they also build school loyalty and strengthen your school’s brand. As teachers regularly post images from the classroom, parents feel more connected to their child’s education. Showing off student work and highlighting classroom successes brings the classroom home in a personal way. 

Teachers are incredibly busy and may feel they barely have time to keep a classroom website updated, let alone take and post photos. But think of your teacher site as a kind of “online resume.” It is to a teacher’s benefit to show the great things happening in your class. 

Post lesson plans.

Are there critical lessons you wish you had a bit more time to share with students? Help parents support students at home by allowing them to better understand the important concepts you are currently teaching in the classroom. Teacher websites are a great place to share added information about hard-to-tackle topics so families understand how to support their children in their journey to learn. Teacher websites are also a great place to fight jargon monoxide. Parents may not feel comfortable acknowledging that they don’t understand all of the educational vocabulary used at parent-teacher conferences or elsewhere on campus, and your teacher site can serve as a subtle education plan for parents as well.

Keep a homework page.

Depending on the age-level of the class, there will be varying degrees of need when it comes to providing homework help online. Many schools use resources such as Big Ideas, Canvas, and Aleks to turn in homework. While most school districts have parent portals to track student report cards and attendance, teacher websites offer easy access to homework tools for those common moments at home when a child forgets the assignment.

Father helping son with homework.

Share resources—links, research, etc.

Teacher websites can be a treasury of inside as well as credible outside resources to help connect students and their families. By so doing, teachers help bring the classroom and education into their students’ homes. Teachers can easily share an unlimited amount of information such as outside links or YouTube videos, which enhance or encourage further learning at home and at school. Teachers can also easily share valuable research information they would like students’ families to have access to—another way of connecting the two institutions and enriching students’ education. 

Publish class schedules.

When is lunch? What time is school out on early release days? Aside from the school district calendar, class schedules are in high demand in every home. When it comes to scheduling a doctor’s appointment during lunch, figuring out what time orchestra is so parents can drop off the forgotten instrument on time, considering when to show up at school to eat with their child, or a myriad of other reasons, making this information quick and easy for families to locate online is a must.

What Makes Teacher Websites Effective?

Teacher sites act as a specific and detailed service for teachers and parents. At the beginning of every school year, teachers communicate a host of valuable information and expectations. This shared information helps families to prepare better to support the school’s efforts to set students up for a successful journey throughout the school year. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, it can be a challenge for families to keep track of all this communication. They know they’ve seen or heard it before—maybe in an email, on a flyer, or at a parent-teacher conference, but where do they find that information now? 

With a teacher site, teachers can post announcements, classroom rules, lesson plans, permission forms, classroom wish lists, opportunities to volunteer, etc. Having communications in one dedicated place saves parents the hassle of keeping track of paper announcements and the stress of worrying they may have missed something. 

The content of your teacher site is most important. Here are a few other tips to make your teacher site as effective as possible: 

Make it mobile.

When it comes to successfully communicating with your school community as a whole and equitably, you have to meet them where they already are. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that communication via mobile devices is most likely to reach parents where they are. Teacher websites designed by School Webmasters are mobile-friendly both for teachers uploading and editing information as well as for parents and families looking for it. No software is required to use the website, and teachers can update from wherever they have internet access. 

Personalize it.

Teacher websites from School Webmasters are designed to simultaneously and easily reflect personality and professionalism. As teachers use various designs and images, they further solidify the school brand and contribute to a deeper connection between school and home. Do some families in your school district have children of various ages? Every teacher website should reflect the class grade level and the teacher’s personality.

Establish trust. 

Balanced, thoughtful communication will not only get your message across but will also help your students’ families recognize rewarding aspects of belonging to your school community, particularly online. Offering a wide variety of reasons for parents to seek out your teacher website and have it act as a portal to the district website will foster trust within your school community. Families will have a window into the classroom when they can see photographs of their children engaged in learning and access explanations of the key concepts that are being taught. It’s a win for everyone! 

Mother helping daughter with homework

Worth the Effort

Sharing details regarding various class-specific information on a dedicated site is more desirable to nurturing parent engagement than using the school or district website. Consider the cluttered mess a school website’s Home page would be if it were to post the goings and comings of every classroom! Following these principles will help you and your school offer students and their families an opportunity to be better connected.  

With the many school communication options to choose from these days, sagacious school educators will simplify their methods, thereby strengthening their school public relations. Rather than overwhelming students’ families with a barrage of messages via the internet and elsewhere, successful schools approach communication strategically and respectfully. 

Prudent school leaders recognize the varying schedules and situations of families striving to care for their children. They also help families understand the important roles school personnel play in the lives of the students. As schools actively communicate with families using resources such as teacher websites, schools build a respected rapport between home and school as well as a stronger school brand. Effectively and specifically communicating with your school community will bring about great results. Your school community will know where to look for answers. They will appreciate you. You will earn their trust and confidence.

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Ideal Components of Successful Teacher Websites
2019-06-04
Image of foot bridge

While working as an educational assistant, I helped a fourth-grade student struggling with math. As we worked on problems, sometimes this student complained, “Why did they have to change math?!” I could picture an adult in his life griping in a similar way while trying to help their son at home. As I worked with him, his teacher began explaining an approach to multiplication I had never seen before. As I watched her demonstrate this new technique, I couldn’t help but wonder how much it would help the student if his parents could see what we see in the classroom. How much would it help this student if the parents could reinforce this concept at home, helping him practice these new methods as part of his homework, instead of lamenting the old way we used to do math? 

Bridging the gap between home and school is vital to student success. 

Each year, visitors bravely cross the famous Capilano Bridge located near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This simple suspension bridge stretches 450 feet across Capilano Canyon and sits 230 feet above the Capilano River. Simple suspension bridges are held up entirely by anchors on both sides with no middle supports. The spectacular views, thrilling footsteps, and admirable design of the Capilano Bridge attract over 80,000 tourists each year.  

As educators, establishing solid foundational anchors and cables from your side of the gap will encourage a reciprocal move on the homefront—bridging the gap between learning at home and at school. Just as tourists flock each year to marvel at the Capilano Bridge, your school community will establish a reputation for strong home-school communication. One of the best ways to reach out to parents is through teacher sites. 

Teacher Sites: What They Are and What They Offer

Just as school websites provide necessary information to homes on a school level, teacher websites achieve the same on a classroom level in a personalized, professional way. 

A teacher's ability to communicate successfully with families is critical to the success of both the students and your school

A teacher’s ability to communicate successfully with families is critical to the success of both the students and your school. School Webmasters offers a simple teacher website platform that is an excellent tool for home-school communication

All teachers are a little different, and so are their communications methods—and that’s what makes teacher sites so fun! From themes and layouts to photo galleries and calendars, teacher websites are designed to suit the needs of every class. Designed to be user-friendly and simple to update, teacher websites from School Webmasters make it possible for teachers to: 

  • Post homework
  • Display lesson plans
  • Publish class schedules
  • Communicate with students and parents
  • Share news and announcements 
  • Display photos
  • Provide resource links
  • Create a class calendar

Also, you can coordinate teachers sites at your school with your school or district site design if purchased along with School Webmasters’ websites—coordination that helps strengthen your school brand.

Great teacher sites are an important and effective school public relations tool. We’ve heard many times that parents don’t care about the overall school or district—just about the classes their students are in. In fact, the best teacher sites help bridge the gap between the information parents want and their perception of your school. Let’s look at a few ways teacher sites provide added support to the bridge between home and school communication.

Great Teacher Sites Help Bridge the Gap to Understanding Concepts

Each classroom is different. Each teacher is different and prefers various approaches, methods, and tools. Regardless, students need support both from home and from their educators at school. Therefore, underlying concepts should be communicated home to better help students succeed. Teacher sites are a great place to share teaching methods and complex concepts. 

There are a variety of ways your school can do this. For example, many elementary schools have motivational programs encouraging young students to read regularly, master sight words, and master math facts. Like you, I have seen firsthand how these core capacities are essential to student success. Once they accomplish those key elements, they enjoy a smoother transition into each additional layer of education as they progress through the school year and each grade level. 

In contrast, if they struggle with core concepts, they are hindered; they fall behind quickly. Many times, teachers explain programs and curriculum to parents at the beginning of the year during Back to School nights or in the middle of the year at events like curriculum nights. While these approaches are important, often parents and caregivers can struggle to fully grasp important details or methods from infrequent exposure shared once or twice during the school year. With five children of my own, ranging from elementary to high school, I can attest to this wholeheartedly. Finding ways to send important conceptual information to parents and caregivers in a way they can understand (and on their own time) can greatly benefit your students. 

When your teachers use teacher websites to share concepts, they can look at the overall class and their needs. What would they like their students to better understand? How could parents support the students in their understanding? Perhaps teachers could include a video on their teacher website explaining a math concept. Or, perhaps providing a link to a Khan Academy video could help parents and caregivers as they encourage the students at home to do their math homework. 

Ridgefield Public Schools recognized the need to help parents understand the ways they are teaching literacy and math, so they hosted a “Let’s Play School” afternoon. With the help of the PTA and the school math and literacy specialists, parents learned the same techniques their children were learning. Because this event took place during the day, the school knew not all parents would be able to attend, so they asked their School Webmasters’ communication coordinator to attend and film the event. The communications coordinator created a video and posted it to the district’s YouTube channel, which allowed parents with students at all the elementary schools in the district to see and learn for themselves as well. 

The benefit of this type of communication is significant, and with the access we have to technology, it’s easy to reach students and parents in their homes in creative ways. Consider the ease of access to this kind of school communication: no matter when teachers add videos and other forms of instruction to their websites, parents can access it throughout the school year.

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, explains the benefits of teaching via video and its timeless benefits in his Ted Talk. Using videos differs from Back to School nights and other events that parents may not attend, therefore missing the instruction. Not so with videos. They are accessible anytime, anywhere. It saves the teacher time and energy, yet the gift of knowledge is available over and over again, and the gap to understanding concepts is overcome. 

puzzle pieces with the words bridge the gap and performance

Great Teacher Sites Help Bridge the Gap to Fostering Correct Principles

Teachers are a critical foundation of your school. All of the teachers at your school or in your district seek to educate their students through various ways and means. As they strive to do so, they are your boots on the ground for school marketing, school branding, and school PR. Consider these questions:

  • How is your school vision shared with students and their families on a daily basis? 
  • What is your school community’s impression of your current school climate? 
  • Is your community satisfied with the experience they receive from your schools? 
  • How do you establish unspoken evidence of your school or district’s mission? 
  • Do you share inspiring stories regularly with your students and families? 
  • How often does this happen? 
  • How do you seek parent input with the challenges you face such as with behavior or even technology? 

Perhaps your school incorporates Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). Its purpose is to promote a school climate where appropriate behavior is the norm. Home behavior is crucial to reinforcing those behaviors. In this way and others, how do the classrooms in your school model what is important to you? How can you better educate all parents about the importance of supporting their children in doing their homework? As you open the door to parents and caregivers through various ways such as teacher websites, you are helping, encouraging, and expecting them to see and understand the importance and benefits of your school’s core values. As you do so, you build a stronger school community. You market your school. As teachers consistently share this vision through their teacher websites, home becomes an additional “classroom” of your school, bridging the gap to fostering correct principles.   

puzzle pieces with the words listening, bridge the gap, and hearing

Great Teacher Sites Help Bridge the Gap to Individualized, Streamlined Communication

It can be difficult to make space for the school communication needs of everything going on in your district or at your school. For high school students, there is a multitude of enrichment opportunities available to many, as well as other opportunities available to only a certain few. Club meetings, test prep classes, game schedules, internships, and scholarship opportunities. 

How do you send certain communication out? What do your teachers wish their students’ families could understand? Good teacher websites can help communicate individual classroom needs. When communication is personalized, rather than sending out mass communications to the whole school, parents and caregivers notice this personalized approach, and they will be grateful for a school that tries to personalize messages. Whether your district or school is large or small, urban or rural, choosing to use teacher websites to communicate various types of information contributes to successful parent-teacher communication.   

bridge the gap speech bubble

When it comes to education, the communication gap between school and home can often feel like an intimidating, deep gorge like Capilano Canyon. Communication across the divide for the benefit of the student can be difficult. Particularly when support from home is lacking in various ways, the path your students travel for the sake of their education can seem treacherous and precarious. Not everything makes it across the divide. 

Teachers teach students principles, give them homework, and send communications home, encouraging home involvement. Parents and other caregivers, earnestly seeking to provide for the basic needs of the students, don’t often have enough time in the day to do much more. How often do your students receive instruction and information and successfully carry it home to their families? Do your students’ parents and caregivers understand the educational jargon used in teacher feedback and parent-teacher conferences? All of this effort is for the benefit of the student, now and in the long run. So, consider how your school could improve via minor adjustments, renovating or strengthening anchors and cables in your figurative bridges to homes around your school community. 

As educators and parents together commit to Improve communication, the home-school communication gap is overcome. The bridge between home and school becomes safer and more stable. The educational journey of each student is successful.

463214
Providing Links to Accessible Websites
2019-06-01

We often receive questions from our clients about the links they provide to websites other than their own. Are you responsible for the accessibility of the websites you link to? For example, do you link to a website providing information about your athletics program? Do you rely on a vendor to host your board documents? What if you want to provide information about a local community park your school families may want to visit? Does the park’s website need to be accessible?

These are all great questions! Let us help you understand what federal law requires you to do and what we recommend doing. In a recent conversation with the Office of Civil Rights, we were happy to hear them answer these questions with the same instructions and advice we already provide our clients: if you link to information outside of your website that you require your viewers to visit in order to obtain information about a service or program provided by your school, the website containing the information needs to be accessible to all users.

Below is a list of website examples we often see school’s link to and which need to provide accessible websites in order to keep your website barrier-free.

  • Teacher websites
  • Grading systems
  • Parent and student portals
  • Athletic services
  • Websites hosting board documents

Now you are probably asking yourself, “How am I supposed to know if a website is compliant?” We recommend requesting a statement of accessibility from the vendors or other websites containing the information you need to provide. This statement should show that their website follows federal Section 508 standards (which also requires compliance with web content accessibility guidelines, or WCAG 2.0). You will also want to be sure the website is monitored for ongoing compliance. If they periodically update their statement of accessibility, we recommend requesting they send you an updated statement whenever available.

Once you receive confirmation that their website is compliant with federal guidelines, we recommend performing a quick check for a few of the obvious items we often see fail accessibility testing. Our DIY Website Accessibility Audit article will help you do this. If you complete some easy checks and quickly find barriers, we recommend reaching out again to confirm accessibility.

What about websites such as a community park that you are simply providing as “extra” information but that does not contain information about a service or program you offer? We recommend only linking to accessible websites; however, the accessibility of these “extra” websites is not required in order for your website to be in compliance with federal accessibility guidelines.

Consider the following scenario:

Your school is having a field day at a nearby community arena for your elementary students. You link to the arena’s website because it contains directions to the arena as well as information on where to park and the amenities offered to your students while you are there. In order to keep your website accessible, the arena’s website needs to be accessible as well because it is providing information your viewers will need to know in order to attend the school-sponsored event. If the arena has services such as food trucks that you do not require your students to use and there is a link to the food trucks’ websites from the arena’s website, you would not need to guarantee the compliance of the food trucks’ websites.

Now let’s think about this from another perspective. Let’s say your child will attend the field day. You visit the link to the park to find out where you need to park. The map of the parking is color coded. This is a great way to help users quickly interpret information. Oh, but I forgot to mention one little thing. You are color blind. The map designates the area highlighted in red as the parent parking lot. You can see the map, but you can’t tell exactly where you need to park because you cannot distinguish the difference in the lots highlighted in red compared to the lots highlighted in green. When you arrive to the park, there appears to be more than one school having a field day at the same park. We sure hope you park in the right place and avoid having to walk an extra mile to your event like the other, non-visually impaired parents were able to do.

For more examples of disabilities affecting website used, visit W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative website. Their web accessibility perspectives page offers videos to help everyone understand the benefits of providing accessible content. This is a great tool to help your website developers understand and implement accessibility.

As you can see, you really need to think about what you’re linking to. We feel it is vital to provide everyone with the same resources. If you are only interested in providing enough accessibility to pass federal guidelines, you still need to consider why you are providing a link and whether or not it is something that is just “extra.” When in doubt, we strongly recommend confirming accessibility of every website before linking to it.

You will notice we always recommend erring on the side of accessibility. This is because we understand the importance of a barrier-free website. We believe everyone, including those who are visually impaired, cognitively disabled, hearing impaired, or disabled in any other way be able to access all of the same information as someone without limitations. If you need help ensuring your website is barrier-free, contact us today and let us help you navigate your journey to accessibility!

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Using school websites and social media to encourage parent engagement
2019-05-28
silhouette of parents with child

What if you could get your school’s parents more engaged in their child’s education? You’re undoubtedly aware of the research results on the benefits to student learning when parents are engaged in their child’s education. Some of those benefits include:

  • better student attitudes about learning;
  • higher grades and students who do better on tests, particularly in reading and math;
  • improved social skills, better behavior, and decreased truancy and skipped assignments;
  • higher expectations for students;
  • increased student self-confidence and feelings of acceptance and respect; and
  • lower dropout rates and increased graduation rates.

And beyond the benefits to students, more engaged parents also provide:

  • increased teacher morale;
  • improved school reputation;
  • higher opinion of parents by the teachers; and
  • increased parent confidence (feel more capable of helping their child, more comfortable being at the school, and increased confidence in their parenting skills).

Benefits of parent engagement include:

  • helping their child to set educational goals and encouraging them to achieve their goals;
  • staying informed about their child’s progress (through academic scores, visiting the parent portal, communicating with teachers); and
  • supporting and advocating for your school with the local school board, federal, state, and city governments.
Engaged parents create a win-win for everyone involved

As you can see, engaged parents create a win-win for everyone involved, from the student to the school staff. However, the most significant impact comes from the expectations or aspirations parents have for their child. Parents’ attitudes and influence within the walls of their own homes effect generations. 

The level of impact engaged parents have is powerful, regardless of the parents’ education, income, or other socio-economic factors. When education is encouraged at home, that influence is greater than any other single factor (teachers, social group, peers). So, why wouldn’t we, as educators, do everything we can to help parents become engaged and help them feel included as part of the support team so vital to a student’s success? Of course, we would. Our goal is to put every student in a position to be successful, right?

So, before we look at specific ways to encourage parent engagement using our school websites, social media, and one-on-one events, we must make sure parents feel welcome and valued, or our other efforts will fail.

How to make parents feel welcome and valued

First, we must acknowledge that every parent brings a variety of attitudes about school, based on their own experiences growing up, with them. That baggage, good or bad, has very little to do with our school, but perception is the reality, so we must begin by showing parents respect and begin to earn their trust.

Begin by looking at your schools’ customer service toward each customer group. How do you welcome prospective parents, newly enrolled parents and students, existing parents, and new staff members? What is their initial impression of your school and your culture? These interactions—whether online, over the phone, or in person—must be consistent with your desire to get parents engaged in their child’s education. 

Customer service breaks down barriers

If your customer service levels are lacking, fix it quickly. If that means training your staff in the customer service standards expected at your school, make sure your next few months of professional development training does just that (and include all your staff, not only teachers). If you are interested in on-site customer service training for your staff, we can help with that, too.

Need some ideas to improve your school’s customer service levels? Here are a few articles to get you started:

The following are some ideas that will help with your customer service, as well as inviting parent engagement:

  • Create a welcome packet for new families. PTO Today has some great welcome packet ideas, but the basics would be to provide the types of information new parents would need to know to be informed while being welcomed into the fold. It could be a single sheet or a fancy brochure, but what matters is what it says and shows. Be sure this information is also available from your website, and share it on your social media at regular intervals. Also, ask current parents to share it with friends and neighbors who are looking for a school for their children. Provide your welcome packet to local churches, real estate offices, chambers of commerce, and other community organizations who see new move-ins.
  • Establish a welcome committee. This could be as simple as a phone call to newcomers to welcome them into the fold. The call should not be to ask for help, but to offer support and find out what the parent's interests, needs, and concerns are and offer to provide resources to address them.
  • Plan casual parent-friendly events. When you keep face-to-face events casual and fun, you are encouraging increased participation. These can be a way to overcome fear or negativity by parents whose previous school experiences have been poor. Holding a BBQ, potluck, or ice cream social can provide an opportunity for parents to get to know one another and school staff in a relaxed, friendly environment. These can include parent/teacher conferences, home visits, meet the teacher events, open house activities, family fun nights, bring your parent to school days, game nights, heritage buffets, and movie nights. For many more ideas, take a look at these Parent/Teacher ideas.

Ideas to encourage parents to get involved:

I happen to love lists (check-lists, to-do lists, bucket lists, grocery lists), so here is one for you with some ideas you can implement to encourage parent involvement. Most of them include using your most powerful publication assets—your website and your social media channels:

  1. Video or article parenting series. Develop a series of videos or articles, hosted on your school websites and linked to from your various social media channels, that provide parenting information related to helping children succeed in school. Be sure you use your series to create enthusiasm and provide practical examples. Involve your staff for content, presenters, writers, and video production (you’ll get higher quality content and massive buy-in from staff that will improve the viral spread of your series). Example topics could include: homework helps for parents, where to get help if your child is struggling, helping build your child’s character strengths, reducing barrier to parent engagement, how to help your child prepare for tests, talking to your child, help your child use the internet properly, fun ways to read with your child, how to get involved in your child’s school activities, how to help your child succeed at school, setting your child up for a great school experience, family dinner conversation starters for parents, etc.
  2. Use online surveys to learn parents’ interests. Often we believe we know what our parents' concerns are, but the realities are often quite different. Why guess? Just ask them by providing an occasional online parent survey to find out. You can post these on the school website and use your school social media channels and parent notification systems to invite parents to complete the survey. You can also use creative ways to encourage participation (most completed surveys in a classroom or grade level are rewarded with a pizza party, etc.)
  3. Provide current, engaging website and social media stories. Your school website is your school-controlled media outlet. Are you using it as such? It should continually be updated with age- and grade-specific articles, student and staff success stories, event descriptions, pictures of activities, current event calendars, and relevant social media posts. Important Tip: All of your communications should include the “why behind the what” so your parents understand the purposes and benefits for what happens at your school. This builds trust and confidence and strengthens your school brand.
  4. Post online sign-up forms for easy parent participation. Make sign-up a convenient process for parents by providing forms online through your school website. Whether it is a volunteer sign-up, a field trip chaperone form, a classroom parent interest form, or parent permission forms, make the information available 24/7. It shows parents you are considerate of their time and busy schedules and that you care about their involvement (and value their help).
  5. Invite guest speakers. These can be guest bloggers, webinar hosts, classroom presentations, or for a video you are creating. You can also post them online so those who might not be able to attend could still view them later on your website. Consider using formats like Facebook live, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Every community has amazing resources among their parents. Use those resources and see your parent engagement increase.

School Websites: use them well!

Your school website, used in conjunction with your social media channels and parent notification systems, can help parents engage in their child’s education. Take a look at yours now, and see if it is designed with parents’ needs in mind. Make their needs a priority for your website design and architecture.

  • Dedicated parent section. Create a dedicated area where parents can quickly find the information they need most often. On our schools’ websites, we call this area the Quick Links navigational area, and we dedicate one of the categories to parents. It should include the common forms parents require with links to other pages important to parents. 
  • Website accessibility. Make sure all forms (including attachments and PDFs) are accessible by those with disabilities. This means remediation for forms and website navigation that meets WCAG 2.1 AA standards. Your website should also be responsive (mobile-friendly) for easy access from all devices, including smart phones.
  • Current calendars and events. Keep parents informed with current calendars, events, and articles. Use your social media channels, newsletters, and parent notification systems to remind parents about upcoming events, and link your social posts back to the detailed information posted on your website. Keep them in the loop with all scheduled events, including early release days and time, holidays, testing dates, parent/teacher conferences, kindergarten enrollment windows, and all events that affect parents and families. Use calendar programs that parents can synchronize with their personal calendars on their phones or computers (iCal, Google calendars, Outlook).
  • Highlight successes and promote greatness. Write follow-up articles with images and photos and outcomes on events and activities so that parents unable to attend scheduled functions will still feel involved, informed, and included. Schedule regular highlights that share successes and progress for students and staff. Share your school’s stories and create enthusiasm and school spirit at every opportunity.

Helping parents get and stay engaged, even when they might be hesitant or fearful, will help them help their child succeed. And helping their child reach their potential is what all parents want. Use all communication channels, including your website, social media, newsletters, and parent notifications to help parents support their children. When you do, everyone wins—especially your students!

Additional references: NEA Policy Brief, 100 Ways for Parents to Be Involved, Parent Engagement Trends, Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Children’s Academic Achievement, Parental Involvement and Students’ Academic Achievement, Parental Involvement in Education

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When Tragedy Strikes at Your School
2019-05-21
Road sign with the words Are You Ready?

It’s the kind of news we never want to hear—a tragedy has struck. Unfortunately, in our world today, the news media daily reports the reality of violence, accidents, and death, and our schools are not immune. 

A few years ago, I sat in a large audience in Arizona listening to the inspiring and heartbreaking story of Alissa Parker. Her daughter, Emilie, was one of twenty young students fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary. One of the images that still remains in my mind is the moment she described after finally leaving the area where she was waiting for news about her daughter. Exhausted and beside herself, she made her way past throngs of media to her car. What a long walk it must have been. As I listened, the struggle between free press and privacy for those involved in such crises was all too real.  

As a school administrator, there are three important mantles incorporated into your role in your school community:

  1. You are a leader.
  2. You are a communicator.
  3. You are a protector

When disaster strikes at school, be it a shooting, suicide, fatal injury of a student or staff member, or accident, these mantles weigh heavy. As you respond to tragedy and its aftermath, it is important that you—as a leader, communicator, and protector—have prepared yourself in advance to respond to the known as well as the unknown in the crisis. 

While we typically avoid dwelling on tragedy, remember the old proverb that says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take time now to examine how you are doing in the preparation and prevention department and perhaps what you could do better. 

How you choose to respond to tragic events involving your school community will determine whether your community views the school as a focus of healing and comfort or one of anger and blame. Schools must not be passive when it comes to responding to crises involving their school community. 

In this blog, we will look at specific principles to help you, as a leader and communicator, prepare for an unthinkable tragedy at your school. 

Four Components of a Successful School Crisis Communication Plan

What is your current protocol and communication plan as a school administrator for communicating with your school community and the media? We hope it includes the following.

Notebook image with blank response checklist

  1. Reach out immediately to families directly involved in the tragedy and maintain open lines of communication.

    When multiple students at your school are directly involved, it may be more complicated to honor the diverse wishes of each family. In such cases, it may be beneficial for able family representatives to consider the families’ various needs and help find common solutions.

  2. Consider the diverse audiences you will be facing, and adjust your message accordingly.

    Grieving staff, students, and families should take precedence over all other audiences. Others from outside of your school community will grieve and want to help in some way, so give them ways to be involved without overstepping. Don’t forget your role as protector, and protect those under your leadership.

  3. Use prudence when balancing the news media demands with those of students, families, and staff.

    The media will undoubtedly do all it can to get the story. School administrators who have faced tragedy on a large scale would likely agree that you will have more control over the way the story is covered if you cooperate rather than fight the media. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offers valuable advice on dealing with the media in the midst of crisis.

  4. Give place for your school community to find purpose and comfort.

    Healing is an important step after tragedy. Find ways to create physical or living memorials, depending on the circumstance. Planting a tree, establishing a scholarship, or producing a special program (for example, suicide prevention initiatives, head injury prevention, mental health programs, etc.) are some of the ways you can help your school community through the healing process. 

Guiding Principles of School Crisis Communication 

It’s impossible to conceive of every possible scenario your school community may face in the future. As schools around the country and the world share their stories of what they learned in the midst and aftermath of their tragedies, we will likely see common threads of guiding principles that help establish the school as a source of comfort and open communication. 

In Phi Delta Kappan, a professional journal for educators, two school psychologists worked with a professor of psychology to share their insights into how schools heal after a tragedy. The article asserts that it is crucial to be prepared before a crisis occurs and states, “It is not a question of if, but when, a school will be required to respond to a crisis.” 

Image of road toward recovery

The article advises the following principles for effective school crisis communication: 

  • Schools must be proactive, not reactive, in responding to tragedies.

    Knee-jerk responses are unprofessional and do not contribute to a strong school public relations, nor a healthy school brand. By having a school crisis communication plan as part of your emergency plan, you will help foster trust within your school community.

  • The way you respond immediately to a crisis directly influences long-term recovery.

    Many of our schools focus on encouraging students to make the decision to be drug-free long before they are offered drugs or alcohol. Why? Because we know having a plan in advance makes the hard decisions easier later on. In the midst of a crisis, there is little time to hem and haw about school public relations, the media’s place, support services, etc. The time to decide where you will stand in a crisis must be set long before it arrives at your door or in your hallways. 

  • Offering mental health support to the school community requires a balance of community and school professionals.

    When Thurston High School in Oregon experienced a mass shooting in 1998, the community rallied around the school offering support while being cautious about replacing school professionals who knew the students and would be there over the long-term. The community offered the school support from various community agencies such as churches, the Red Cross, the police, and county mental health professionals. The school district worked with over 200 counselors. This event prompted the community to support the hiring of the first school resource officers on high school campuses in that area of the state.

  • Schools must be prepared to meet varying reactions within the school community—not just for the short-term but also for the long-term following a crisis.

    A crisis team created at Thurston High School daily debriefed and evaluated the situation. School administrators took steps to reach out to students’ families, notifying them that their student may have seen a traumatic event and that the school was offering crisis responders to help. Voice messages were left and letters were mailed that included information from staff members with facts about the event and a detailed plan of offered support at the school for the coming days. Certain procedures added to an effective, smooth return to school activities. Students and staff were evaluated and supported following the crisis.

    Recognizing that traumatic stress may adversely affect academic performance, behavior, and mental health over time, the crisis team sought to recognize the needs of individual students and offer the proper support where needed. It’s clear that some students and staff members may develop severe challenges like post-traumatic stress disorder and require longer-term help. To help proactively combat future issues, schools are open to providing counseling and mental health services on campus with the expectation that staff and students will take advantage of their services. Schools in this situation can help by offering staff and students ways to utilize healthy coping strategies. Creating a database to monitor student and staff needs may be beneficial. Offering parent resources online or in person builds school public relations.   

  • Sensitively seek for a “new normal,” rather than foster a strict “move on; get over it” mentality.

    It can be comforting to return to the regular school routine. There can be a delicate balance, however, between sticking with the routine and making accommodations following a tragedy. School health professionals can help find this balance. Thanks to grant funding, Thurston High was able to hire two counselors trained in trauma support for three years.

    Memorials, living or physical, can support recovery and progress towards a “new normal.” Adversely, memorials can divide a community. Consequently, schools should be proactive in establishing guidelines on memorials (note: this link will download the PDF “Memorials: Special Considerations when Memorializing an Incident” provided by NASP), taking into consideration the situation involving the death as well as other sensitive matters.  

Will You Be Prepared If Tragedy Strikes? 

Alissa Parker co-founded Safe and Sound Schools, whose mission is “to support school crisis prevention, response, and recovery, and to protect every school, every student, every day.” The organization strives to provide research-based education, resources, and tools to support schools in their efforts to provide safe learning environments for the youth of this country. Safe and Sound Schools offers workshops, trainings, conferences with experts to bring all stakeholders together to improve school safety.

Will your school be ready to bravely and compassionately face the community as well as take steps to appropriately give place for the media? It will take a brave school administrator to courageously and carefully stand as the face of the school during the difficult times. If you do not take this route, however, what will it cost you and your school? 

Your school community needs you. In difficult times, they will look to you and expect a response. Will they find in you a school administrator who is not afraid to talk about the hard topics and communicate compassionately to the various audiences of staff, students, and families?

469845
It Isn't About the Nail
2019-05-14
blond girl drinking tea with a nail protruding from her forehead

Have you ever analyzed what it is about great books or movies that make them moving or memorable? You know, the ones you think about for days after you’ve finished them? If you’re like me, did you wish the book would never end because you loved having those characters in your life? Or, did you watch the movie three times and discover something new each time?

The reason these stories are so compelling is that, as humans, our brain loves a story. It is the natural way our mind works. Whenever we receive disparate bits of information, our brain gets busy turning information into a story because it is how our mind makes sense of information. 

There is also another aspect of the well-told story that attracts us. It is our intuitive identification with the story’s protagonist (hero). We vicariously live through their experiences, learn with them, experience joy, terror, or bravery with them, but without the consequence of death or pain or other experiences our hero endures.

Are you or your school leaders reluctant heroes?

school leader wearing superhero cape

One of the compelling aspects of great stories is what writers and directors call the story arc. The story or narrative arc is about a reluctant hero who is challenged to solve a problem to get what she wants. The next stage in the arc is our hero trying to achieve those wants, but failing each time. Finally, at least for the timeless stories, our hero is forced to realize that what she wants isn’t what she needs. If our hero is a true hero, she will accept this significant change and go after the need instead of the want, recognizing it as a better long-term solution to all her problems. The hero’s character evolves and improves. That is one reason you know a hero from a villain; the villain will never change.

This is a common dilemma in K–12 education today. Many school leaders are focused on maintaining the status quo (as the reluctant hero) because they believe they know what they want and those wants, when satisfied, will solve all their problems. They don’t recognize that meeting their needs provides longer-term and more rewarding results. 

Improvements can't happen in the status quo

Often this belief is based on “what others are doing.” However, doing the same thing we’ve always done (or what our peers have always done) won’t bring about change and is also the definition of insanity. Change is hard. Taking risks is hard. Causing disruption is hard. But improvements can't happen in the status quo.

What are your wants versus needs?

Have you ever seen the video called “It isn’t about the nail”? If not, check it out. The video’s purpose, while directed at communication challenges (arguably between males and females), is a hysterical clip about what I’m describing here about wants and needs.

It's not about the nail

In the video example, our troubled young woman is trying hard to express her “wants,” but her companion is trying to tell her about needs instead. If she’d only address her needs, it would take care of her wants. But alas, she is committed to having her wants heard at this point.

Of course, there is a time and place to vent about our wants. Been there; done that. Just ask my husband! However, this article isn’t one of those times.

So, what are the typical “wants” for many K–12 school leaders? Most of us would agree that we want:

  • Students to reach their learning potential
  • Parents to value and appreciate our school’s contributions
  • Communities that support our work
  • A staff who trusts its leaders; parents who trust their teachers
  • Publics who respect our profession and value our contributions to society (and pay us accordingly)

What’s the nail? It is all the things preventing us from getting what we want. Often, most of the things we want, or think we want, we believe are outside of our control. 

  • We want parents to support us so we can educate their children. But, we can’t force them to engage, even though we know it will help their children succeed. 
  • We want to be treated with respect because we know those who are respected have more influence (in areas like laws, accountability, public support, standards, and more). However, we can’t demand respect, and our side of the story seldom gets told. 
  • We want to be trusted, but influences outside of our control can erode that trust (i.e., poor examples from others get shouted about in the media and become accepted stereotypes, disengaged parents who do not carry their half of the load and who undermine our efforts, mandates and bureaucracy that make getting the job done even more challenging)

So, we focus instead on the nail. We talk about the nail. We complain about the nail. A lot.

What is the alternative, you ask? When you’re tired of venting, it might be time to focus on needs instead.

What are our needs and how are they fulfilled?

We need to focus on the areas within our control. What are those?

  • We need to earn trust and respect. Complaining we don’t have it already (even when we deserve it) is just focusing on the nail. We need to take the friggin’ nail out of our head and deal with the problem, which is our failure to earn trust and respect. It is all about effective communication, transparency, and relationships. It is also about meeting the needs of our customers.
  • We need to provide evidence for support. We see myriad reasons to command respect each day, but do our publics see it? No, of course not. We need to pull back the curtain and show them a glimpse of the great things happening within K–12 education. We do that through strategic communications, customer service, and school public relations and by marketing our successes. We must show evidence that we meet our customers’ needs.
  • We need to build relationships. Trust and respect are tied to relationships. We strengthen our relationships through honest public relations, excellent customer service, and current, timely communications that provide the reasons behind what we are doing and the benefits provided. We then become the go-to resource for answers because we are trusted. We build relationships with our customers as we meet their needs.

You may have noticed that each of these common needs falls under the umbrella of communications. This is also the topic of the above video but in a humorous way. However, it wasn’t outcomes-based (well, other than the temporary result of a more peaceful marriage). 

The kind of communications I’m referring to is under the school leader’s direct control. So, stop thinking about your wants and start doing something to meet your customers’ needs, and you’ll find you are now meeting your school’s needs and have become your own story’s hero. 

It’s all about communications!

I hope you are getting a glimpse of the power you can wield by making effective communications a priority. Don’t assume anyone outside of your own head will see or understand your perspective or appreciate your intentions. It is your job to communicate this information. 

Of course, being honest about the strengths and weakness of your school is imperative. You must continually work to strengthen any areas of weakness, whether it is staff training, parent engagement, or curriculum. And being transparent on your improvement goals will always work in your favor.

However, it is your areas of excellence that you’ll build your communications around. You’ll target the customers who want what your school has to offer and help them recognize how your school meets their needs. 

To use yet another storytelling example, anyone who has ever taken a writing class is told to “show don’t tell” if they hope to be believable. This is true for leaders too. What can you show?

  • Show evidence of student success. Whether in academics, college acceptance, scholarships, vocational skills, inclusivity, student safety, character building, life skills, or any other focus important to your audience, be sure to provide evidence of your school’s strengths.
  • Share relatable solutions. Every customer is trying to have a need (or want) met, solve a problem, or create an opportunity. Show them how your solutions meet those needs through caring staff, integrated technology, effective curriculum, etc.
  • Build trust and confidence. To establish your school as the experts, worthy of trust and confidence, you must show proof in the form of stats, stories, and testimonials. You must also share the rationale and reasoning behind your school’s offerings (the why of what you do at your school).

The school communications delivery model

To get your school’s needs fulfilled, you must first show your customers you can meet their needs. You communicate that information with every action and every interaction you and every person at your school makes. From the level of customer service provided by your receptionist and the way you write the school website content to the images and content posted on your school social media and the marketing and public relations strategies you create, you are either helping your school meet its needs, or you are failing to do so.

This can be done step-by-step, over time, or you can create a strategic communications plan up front to reach your goals faster. You can begin with website content, social media, public relations, customer service, or marketing your school. However, start by focusing on your customers' needs and the outcomes within your influence.

What do you gain when you meet your customers’ needs? 

  • Trust from parents, which makes your staff’s jobs easier and more effective 
  • Confidence from students who know you are committed to each of them
  • Belief in the expertise and dedication your school delivers
  • Standing and respect that attracts quality staff, motivated students, and public support

So, remember. It isn’t about the nail. It is about what you can do to make the changes you hope to see in the world (or at least for your school).

P.S. Not sure where to begin? Give us a call and tell us what your “needs” are, and we can recommend a starting point for your school. Call Jim at (888) 750.4556, Option 1.

Oh, and here are some more ideas to focus on your needs (and those of your customers):

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How to Tell Your School's Stories
2019-05-07
chalkboard with the words Those who tell the stories rule society by Plato

You hear it everywhere: “Tell your school’s stories.” You even recognize how important it is. You understand how impactful a story is on influence and understanding. You know how meaningful stories are to you personally, so you recognize the power a well-told story has on our culture, our history, and our attitudes. 

But, how do you go from understanding the value of sharing your successes through storytelling to being able to do it? That’s our topic for today.

Creating a story-gathering and storytelling culture

If you have teachers who teach literature and writing, they know the steps necessary to create engaging narratives. So, recruit those experts to the cause of becoming a storytelling school. They not only know how to craft stories, but they will understand their value for influence and understanding. These folks are also a great resource to provide some professional development training for all of your staff on the how-to, why, and when for storytelling. Done right, this type of training can be fun and engaging for all your staff and improve school communications and school branding both internally and externally. 

Also, consider using students as authors. A good segment on writing nonfiction narrative can produce a talented crop of writers for your storytelling school (and provide the students with their first crack at publication). Students are also great resources for discovering great story ideas that support your school’s mission and goals. They are privy to experiences your staff might not know about but support your storytelling purposes.

You want to get as many people involved as possible because gathering those powerful stories is critical.

There are so many wonderful successes happening in your school and your classrooms, but if you don’t become aware of them, they can’t make an impact on others. 

When story gathering becomes an integral part of what your staff does, they will soon see great stories all around them. As you begin to use those stories in your communications, marketing, social media, and website content, you’ll see effective branding, convincing marketing, and trust-building communications—a good thing for everyone, especially your students.

The power of storytelling in school marketing and communications

With a well-told story, we help others see things in a new way, create new relationships, change a law, or inspire a change. In your school’s case, you can help parents experience and relate to similar dreams they have for their children. You can help a highly-qualified prospective staff member see how our school would be a good fit for their skills. You can inspire parents to engage in their child’s education and support your educational efforts. 

A well-told story is irresistible to us because we are biologically and neurologically wired to connect with stories. It is the way our brains make sense of our world. When we don’t have answers, our mind will automatically begin creating a story to explain what it doesn’t understand. We see and hear stories everywhere, all day long. When we go to sleep, our mind continues to tell itself stories all night long. Stories help us make sense out of life.

The science behind the well-told story

Neuroscience helps us understand the magic behind our love of story. When a story resonates with us (we empathize with a character in the story), levels of the hormone called oxytocin increase. This “feel good” hormone boosts feelings of trust and compassion, encourages us to work with others, and inspires positive social behavior. We also get a dopamine bump, which helps us focus, improves our memory, and motivates us. If you can add a bit of humor and make people laugh, they get a boost of endorphins that will make them more relaxed, creative, and focused.

Stories have the unique ability to create connections between us and others. When we hear a well-told story, our brains mirror that of the storyteller. Our brains react as if we are experiencing this story ourselves because it puts us inside the story. Our empathetic nature and our shared emotions create a connection through the story. 

We are moved emotionally by stories, in some cases leaving us intellectually defenseless. A well-told story can change our beliefs and alter societies’ values. Think about the influence stories like Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on anti-slavery attitudes in the northern states. It is even alleged President Lincoln, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862 said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Are you beginning to recognize the tremendous power of telling your school’s stories to engage, influence, and build your customers’ trust? Check out the enlightening book by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind or The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall for excellent examples of the science behind story’s power.

Structuring a school story narrative 

Cartoon about storytelling

The basic structure for most narrative writing (whether nonfiction or fiction, short stories or novels) is the same. It is a great place to start when you are deciding how to take an event or an outcome and turn it into a story that will be far more compelling and enjoyable than providing a link to an event on a calendar or a writing a summary of an activity or program on a news page. 

The story type most engaging for school websites, social media, school success stories, and school marketing stories or videos is narrative nonfiction (sometimes called creative nonfiction, fact-based storytelling, or literary journalism). Unlike the typical newspaper or press release pyramid structure—boring and unlikely to keep the reader reading—narrative nonfiction contains most of the features used in fiction that keep our story-loving human brains compelled to continue reading. This proven structure draws us in, grabs us, and holds us there until we know the ending. 

A simplified story structure is like this (think three-act play):

  1. Beginning or exposition. This is when you set the scene by introducing the characters involved, the setting, and the timeframe of your story. You are providing the who, when, and where part of the narrative.
  2. Middle or complication. This section introduces the events or activities where you expand upon the challenges or complications. Present the problem here. Schools always have a purpose that drives the delivery of any educational experience or training it provides, so describing the problem it resolves is critical. 
  3. Ending or resolution. You tackle the problem, resolve the complication, and make the benefits apparent. In some narratives, the outcome isn’t a happy one, but in most of your school stories, they will be (or the benefits gained still outweigh the goals failure).To show this in a bit more detail, a typical narrative arc (or story arc) includes six stages and looks like this:

To show this in a bit more detail, a typical narrative arc (or story arc) includes six stages and looks like this:

Story arc diagram

If you aren’t sure this structure is a proven one, pick a favorite story and look at it against the story arc model. Even successful TV commercials fit this pattern, like this Coca-Cola commercial. You’ll see each stage of the story’s arc in this 60-second commercial. 

Now, it’s your turn to put storytelling into action

So, what is a narrative? It is simply telling your audience a story. It can be written to motivate, educate, or even entertain. School websites and social media are an excellent medium for all three of these goals. For your school purposes, your narratives will be mostly nonfiction but with the goal of engaging and entertaining. 

For example, let’s say you want to share a student success story on your website. Your goal is multi-purpose in that you’ll use your story to attract prospective parents looking for the best match for their child’s particular needs or interests (marketing and recruitment). You’ll also use the story to acknowledge your staff and students for their roles in the success (public relations and showing appreciation). And a success story is also valuable in motivating others (encouragement).

Narrative structure example

So, let’s see how this looks in a practical way.

Julio is a typical, energetic, and outgoing young man with lots of friends. He loves soccer and writing fiction. But, he says it wasn’t always this way. When he first came to Ellsworth Elementary, he didn’t think things looked very promising at all. “I was eight years old when I started school here, and I didn’t know more than a few words of English. I didn’t think I would ever fit in.”

Thanks to caring teachers, encouraging parents, innovative technology, and Julio's hard work, his efforts paid off in an exciting way.

Julio says that besides being nervous about making new friends, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to catch up with his classmates or read at grade level. But thanks to caring teachers, encouraging parents, innovative technology, and Julio’s hard work, his efforts soon began to pay off in an exciting way. 

“Julio was shy at first, but willing to learn,” Ms. Sullivan, his third-grade teacher explained. “So, with his parents’ support, we made him part of the Ellsworth Excellence program. We partnered him with several other students his age, and they worked in teams on an online computer program designed to teach language skills using games and incentives. So, while Julio learned English, the other three students learned Spanish. Soon they were “language gaming” every chance they got, including after school and on weekends. It was great fun. They all learned together and are great friends to this day!” 

Now, only three years later, sixth-grader Julio is reading at an eighth-grade level. He wants to be a novelist someday. He may get his wish since one of his English assignments this semester was selected as a finalist in the science fiction short story category. It will be published in The Madison Majestic, the district’s literary magazine. 

Julio is also a student mentor in the bilingual class offered at Ellsworth three times a week to first through fifth-grade students. He teaches other students to learn a language the same way he did. Oh, and he says he can’t wait to go to junior high next year so he can try out for the soccer team! Go, Madison Mavericks!

Here’s the structural breakdown using the narrative arc:

  • Purpose: student success story (sharing student success and some of our school’s strengths)
  • #1: Exposition/background: Julio, typical 8-year-old starting a new school
  • #2: Conflict/problem: Language barrier, fear of fitting in
  • #3: Rising action: a sequence of events to address the problem
  • #4: Climax: computer games, team playing, fast and fun
  • #5: Falling action: the outcome for Julio
  • #6: Resolution: benefits and how things changed for Julio

Isn’t this more engaging than mentioning your school offers bilingual classes, tries to help every student feel included, or that you use technology in the classroom? Is this more likely to be read than a curriculum goals rubric? Your call, of course. But, I know what I would enjoy more!

What types of stories can you share?

According to Shawn Callahan, the author of the excellent book on effective storytelling called Putting Stories to Work, a few of the most useful types of stories you can use include:

  • Connection stories. These are effective for building trust, creating rapport, and providing evidence of character. They are evidence of what makes you or your school staff tick and how you are like them and can relate. They’re often used by school administrators.
  • Success stories. Like our example above, this type provides examples of how problems are solved (the kinds of problems your audience is looking to eliminate) and shares how it made them feel.
  • Influence stories. These stories can change a behavior, introduce new ideas, or dislodge an entrenched view.
  • Clarity stories. Use a clarity story to show the reason behind a decision. It describes future real-life illustrations of the goal.

Next steps

Of course, you’ll need to gather stories (from staff, students, and alumni), write those stories as we’ve described above, and use the stories where they will do the most good and have the greatest influence. For some suggestions for story prompts and where to use your stories, read Telling Your School’s Stories. Then, use what you’ve learned to put the power of storytelling to work for your school.

457252
Website Accessibility is Hard! Wait—What?
2019-05-01
confused man sitting at computer scratching head

In December 2018, I posted an article about giving the gift of accessibility. However, there is one small detailed I failed to mention. Creating accessibility is hard. It takes time and training that most document and website authors did not plan for. If you are in the depths of trying to figure out how to make your content accessible, you are probably thinking, “No kidding!” 

We see Section 508 Success Criteria, WCAG A, AA, and AAA guidelines, VPAT requirements, PDF/UA conformance, and many other acronyms and references quickly mentioned every time we ask the all-knowing Google how to make something accessible. To top it all off, if we don’t know what all of the standards are and what they mean, we must not really care about everyone’s needs, especially those with disabilities, right? While I’m not here to tell you that accessibility is actually easy (of course, unless we do it all for you), I will say that just because you haven’t mastered the art of WCAG doesn’t mean you don’t care about your cubicle partner who can’t hear the latest candygram circling your office due to a hearing impairment.

Conquer the Feat

So what do we do about this laborious feat we must take on and conquer or else find a new career?  We begin. We begin by having a positive attitude. We begin by creating a plan. We begin by accepting the challenge with confidence. Let’s take these suggestions step by step.

Step 1: Have a positive attitude

hands with scissors cutting paper so it says I can do it instead of I can't do it

Having a positive attitude brings optimism, which allows you to be more productive. Since there is a vast list of accessibility features to learn, setting a goal to increase your productivity level may be the most important goal you set this year. To help develop and keep a positive attitude, I suggest empathy training for you and your team. Find ways to understand why accessibility is important. Learn what types of disabilities affect someone who views digital content. Reach out to someone who uses assistive technology such as a screen reader or voice activation to navigate the web, and try to understand it from their perspective. 

Once you understand the importance of accessibility, raise awareness and ensure your teams understand it as well. This first step will improve every step that follows. Remember to repeat this step often so your productivity levels remain high.

Step 2: Create an accessibility plan

person sitting at desk getting organized

Yes, I know this is usually the first step others suggest. However, if you already have a positive and empathetic attitude, you don’t need me to explain why it is the better choice for a first step. Secondly, though, create a handy accessibility plan that uses terms the people in your organization understand. At minimum, your plan should include the following:

  • Written accessibility policy
  • List of responsible parties for each task
  • Accessibility budget
  • Initial and ongoing review process
  • User feedback
  • Remediation procedures
  • Reporting requirements

Step 3: Have confidence

lady showing arm muscle

The more you immerse yourself in accessible thinking and apply it to everything you develop, the more confidence you will have. This is key, especially for your organization’s accessibility leader. Your accessibility leader sets the bar for accessibility expectations and attitudes. If this is you, stand tall and leave no doubt about the importance of creating accessible content.

One of the best ways to develop confidence is to work directly with users of assistive technology. As you watch someone successfully use assistive technology with your content, your confidence will grow quickly. Also, seeking their input and perspective will add to empathy training and show exactly what needs to be done to ensure accessibility.

What about WCAG and all the acronyms?

Don’t worry about them! Oops! Did I say that? I don’t actually mean don’t ever worry about WCAG. Let me explain. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It offers an extensive list of suggested techniques to make digital content accessible. The keyword here is “suggested.” We can use any technique we prefer as long as the content is accessible to everyone. This is where the testing part of your accessibility plan comes into play. Test, test, and test again. 

I personally love WCAG. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of creating accessible content. Why rewrite the book when WCAG already tells us how to do it? While learning and understanding WCAG is a course in itself, it is one worth taking. Keep WCAG 2’s quick reference bookmarked in your browser. Yes, you may laugh a little at the term “quick” used in this reference, but all things accessible considered, it is the quickest WCAG reference you will find. 

But It’s Still Hard!

Yes, it is still hard. It’s still overwhelming. This is where we come to the rescue. Our developers, UI/UX designers, team leaders, basically everyone on our organizational chart from our CEO to our interns train, think, and develop accessibility. We take pride in creating accessible content and will ensure your organization’s content passes the accessibility tests you outlined in your accessibility plan. 

Set your accessibility goals now, and consistently raise the bar. Contact us to find out how we will ensure your content is accessible to everyone. 

526439
Create a Public Relations Plan for your School
2019-04-30

With the current state of public mistrust in the media, and journalism in general, the words “public relations” often don’t inspire feelings of confidence today. But let’s look a bit deeper at the real intention of this thing we all call PR and find out what it is and how it works (or should work).

Public Relations, or PR for short, is simply a strategic process to help position your school in a positive light with your publics. My favorite explanation to help schools understand where public relations fits in the scheme of things is: 

“When you pay others to tell parents how awesome your school is, that is advertising. When you tell parents why your school is awesome and show them how your school can help them achieve their goals, that is marketing. When someone else tells parents how awesome your school is, that is PR.” 

School public relations carries more clout than advertising or marketing—and it’s often less expensive. Done right, that means your strengths are highlighted, your positive stories are shared, and your heroes are applauded. Everyone can root for the winners and is happy to be a part of the winning team (school), which turns into trust, loyalty, and pride.

Why does PR matter for your school?

Public relations, especially in our digital age, is a critical aspect of school communications. Or, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” 

If your school doesn’t select the words and the stories you share, someone else will. But, you may not like the result. PR is all about choosing how to present your school. It should be done with a strategy in mind. In a perfect world, you promote your competencies and successes while continuing to work on and strengthen your weaknesses.

Typical school public relations goals are to help your customers (parents, students, staff, community members, and alumni) to feel proud that they are associated with your school and to trust in your expertise and experience. You want their support, and they want to be a part of a school where great things are happening. However, the only way they will know about those great things is if you provide them that information. 

Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad. - Richard Branson

Effective school public relations establishes trust, builds a respected brand, and establishes your school’s expertise. It is a powerful tool in your marketing and communications arsenal, so put it to work for your school.

The challenge for most schools is that they seldom have the staff to dedicate to the tasks required to create or manage a PR plan. However, we’ll show you how to start gradually by creating a plan and implementing those strategies over time until, before you know it, you have a solid school public relations plan that makes a difference.If you care about your relationships with the public, then school PR matters. It includes all the interactions you or your school staff have with the public (in any capacity). It begins with every interaction, including those first visits to the website, phone calls, or the first office visit. It is an ongoing project and part of effective communications. Public relations should be a major focus for every school leader.

Developing a PR plan

There are several steps to getting started, so let’s jump right in.

Step #1: Define your school’s mission

Take a look at your school’s mission statement. Is it still relevant? Does every single one of your staff members know what it is and what their role is in making that mission a reality? It should clearly describe what your school stands for and its values. It should be the guide for the behaviors demonstrated daily by your staff and students. 

This may require that you involve staff, students, and parents in developing your mission statement (if yours needs some work). Avoid jargon. Write it so your goals and culture are clear. Here are some ideas for developing an effective, sincere mission statement. Where is your school going?, ASCD Developing a vision and mission, 5 keys to an effective school mission.

Step #2: Select initial goals

There are a lot of options for public relations and communications goals, but if this is your first attempt at a strategic plan, then be sure your goals are important to your school at this time (something that will provide immediate benefits). Select goals that are realistic and quantifiable. We recommend creating SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (and results-based), and time-bound. Some examples of common PR goals that produce noticeable, positive results include:

Step #3: Develop a campaign

Any good PR plan is going to have three common elements, an objective, a target audience, and key messages. The objective is the simple, long-term goal for what you want to achieve. This will drive your plans moving forward. Here are a few example objectives:

  • Establish and maintain a social media presence for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram including weekly posts and responses to comments.
  • Gather and promote classroom and student success stories using our website and social media channels.
  • Develop four videos this year to help communicate our mission, vision, and values with evidence of how we apply those values in our school.

Each target audience will have different needs, which our campaign must reflect. Some campaigns will be directed at staff, others target existing parents, another targets prospective parents. It is critically important to identify and understand the concerns and needs of your audience in order to design an effective strategy. This may require focus groups, surveys, or other methods of learning about their specific concerns.

Your key messages are what you want your audience to remember. They should be repeated in all your communication, written and verbal. They help ensure your message’s clarity and consistency. All messaging should be open, honest, and support the communication plan objectives while being aligned with the school mission. Using key messages will give your school one unified voice, which will help you manage your school’s image, brand, reputation, and culture.

Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing. John D. Rockefeller

Step #4: Create deadlines and assignments

Once you’ve selected your campaign goal, drill down to the specifics. You’ve already determined the objective, the target audience, and your key message, so now you need to decide how to deliver those messages. You will use a multi-prong approach and incorporate as many channels as available. This could include your school websites, social media, school newsletters, local media, video, online ads, parent messaging systems, brochures, parent groups, or any other resource you have. 

Now, look at your school calendar to see what recurring events or activities you could utilize to support your goal. Are there synergies you can take advantage of in furthering your goals—like an open house, back-to-school night, awards assembly, or meet the teacher event? Anchor those dates on your calendar and use them to frame your campaign task deadlines. Now make a list of all the tasks involved to complete this campaign, including writing copy, graphic design, photos or images to gather, new articles to write, social media posts to compose, and give them realistic completion dates.

Step #5: Pick your partners

Select those who can help assure your PR plan’s success, and recruit them to your cause. Provide them with the information they need. Show them how they can help and how their help will benefit them or the school. Make assignments and provide deadlines. Then, be sure to recognize their contributions and the success they help to create all along the way (and let others know about their contributions as well). Sharing the glory of a successful PR campaign will go a long way in future campaign recruitment.

These partners can be staff members, parents, community members, or anyone who can contribute. This might be as simple as asking for a testimonial you can use on the website or social media that supports your campaign objective (from students, parents, alumni, staff, etc.). It could be someone who can help you edit a video, create a graphic, or take photos. Maybe it is recruiting teachers who will start gathering their best classroom stories for you to use (including pictures). Help can come from many places, so keep your eyes open for possible resources.

Get everyone on board with your school’s PR efforts

Remember that your school’s public relations efforts are in fact the combined public relations efforts of everyone at your school. From your friendly, welcoming receptionist to your passionate, incredible teachers to your engaging, caring principal and your knowledgeable, outgoing superintendent, make sure everyone is aware that the relationships they build are a reflection of your school and your school culture. 

Everything you do or say IS public relations.

Get everyone on board with your efforts to share positive news and accomplishments happening on your campus with your staff and students.

One of the biggest problems facing our schools today is not necessarily a lack of information or knowledge about what to do to make your school shine and how to do it; it’s finding the time, manpower, and budget to get it all done. Your focus is (and should be) on education; at School Webmasters, our focus is on providing the manpower and experience to help you with the communications and public relations support at a price to fit your budget. So if all of this seems daunting, give us a call at 888.750.4556 or email Jim@SchoolWebmasters.com.

454532
The Changing Role of K-12 School Websites
2019-04-23
Blocks spelling out the word change

Every year the number of families that have a choice about where their child attends school increases. Not only are public school districts offering parents more choices at their existing schools, but there are more alternative choices as well. There are options like online schools, homeschooling, private schools, and charter schools from which to choose. 

Could the information on your school websites influence parents about the choices they make for their child’s education? It can and does, whether you want it to or not!

Parents traditionally cite academic factors as their most important considerations when choosing a school, but when looking at the choices they actually make, other influences often take the lead. They include values like geographic location, school safety, extracurricular activities, and student composition (including proficiency rates, race, and ethnicity factors) in their priorities. 

One study also shows that parents’ social networks have an impact on their choices (their social circles influence them when they share their own experiences of satisfaction or dissatisfaction). So positive and negative influence matters, even from those who don’t have students at your school.

Impacting school of choice

But how do parents get the information to make the best decision for their child? Sometimes it is by word-of-mouth (social circles, friends, neighbors, family), often it is online research using sites that rank the various school choices by geographic location, test scores, and reviews, or it is your school’s website. Regardless of the source, your goal must be to create a positive impact on how customers perceive your school at each touchpoint.

So, how can your school make a positive impact and influence parents' choices?

  1. Be transparent. Aim to attract those “ideal” students to your school. By that we mean the students whose needs (or their parents’ needs) will be a match to what your school’s strengths are. If you offer great vocational programs, you will target parents/students who are seeking excellent foundational training for jobs in these fields. If your claim to fame is safety or inclusivity or college-bound or athletics, you want to emphasize these strengths to attract parents/students with matching goals and values. 
  2. Be targeted. If you try to be all things to all people, you will satisfy no one. And yes, this does apply to public schools as well. It doesn’t mean you don’t educate everyone who comes through your doors, but every school has a focus, strengths, and some areas of excellence. What are they at your school? When you know that, shout it loud and proud. You will have greater success with the students you enroll when both your school focus and the parents’ goals are aligned. 
  3. Provide proof. Deliver evidence that what you claim to provide as your school’s strengths are, in fact, succeeding. Depending on your strengths, it could be anything from test scores, word-of-mouth testimonials, alumni evidence, scholarships earned, graduation rates, racial or class integration, or just happy, engaged students. Use videos, testimonials, statistics, awards, stories, interviews, or other methods to provide evidence of what you claim. Basically, you must support every criterion that a parent puts as a priority with evidence, either statistic data or with emotional, human-based, proofs. Also, how you display that proof on your website can have an impact on the influence it provides (see Education Week’s How website design can influence parents’ school choices). 

School marketing and brand management

If all of this sounds like marketing to you, you’re right. That is precisely what it is. If you don’t take steps to influence your school’s brand and reputation, you are leaving the outcome to the mercy of others. That can be a big mistake and not something any school leader should allow. Be proactive in all the avenues available to you. Let’s look at a few of those touchpoints:

The information you provide on your school website should meet the needs of each audience

  • School websites. Consider your school website as your personal media outlet. It should be the primary go-to source for information about your school or district. If it isn’t now, it is because you haven’t used it as such, so it isn’t a trusted resource for your community to use. If parents or community members go there and it is difficult to find what they are seeking, it is out of date, it is unprofessional, or it is unengaging, they will leave and never return unless you provide a reason for them to do so.

    Your school website should be the primary resource for potential parents, current parents, community members, taxpayers, staff, and local media to be informed, enthused, and engaged. The information you provide on your school website should meet the needs of each of these audiences. To find out how you can get it there, check out some of these articles by topic: Best Websites for Schools, School Communications, School Marketing, School Social Media, School Public Relations, or School Customer Service. Or partner with the experts who can get and keep you there (that would be School Webmasters, of course).

  • School ranking lists. If parents are looking at ranking lists online (sometimes called school shopping directories), shouldn’t you be taking proactive steps to be portrayed accurately? Is your school’s data accurate and current? Are there areas you could improve upon that would influence your rankings on these sites? Some rankings are out of your immediate control, like test scores, but others are not. Focus on what you can impact. For ranking sites that allow input, you can encourage parents to post reviews that mention the areas of your school’s strengths and successes. Maybe you don’t have the highest number of ivy league scholarships, but you do have excellent graduation rates and alumni who are successful and productive—so that is what you highlight.

    Remember, not all parents want the same thing for their children. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to those with similar values. Take pride in what you do well and share that pride. Some of the school ranking lists (besides the ones in each state’s department of education) are School Digger, GreatSchools, or School Grades. Each ranking site uses different criteria, but test scores are predominant.

  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty. What happens after a parent selects your school? What are you doing to validate their decision and earn their continued trust, loyalty, and support? As we discussed earlier, some of the most compelling influence is from trusted friends and family, so what steps can you take to improve your customer relationships? As with everything else, it often boils down to effective communication as well as customer service. These two areas are the primary job of your school website in a digital age. This requires having a dedicated communications strategy for the parents of your currently enrolled students. It also means developing reliable, consistent website management that supports your communication goals. We’ll go into a bit more detail below.

What makes a good school website?

Aside from the obvious requirements of a school website (a fast-loading, mobile-friendly, attractive design, ), there are the too-often ignored requirements. Let’s discuss them one by one:

Easy to use. Your website must be intuitive so users can quickly get to the information they need. Keep the navigation simple and intuitive. We recommend basic, clearly marked top navigation, and to accommodate specific audience focused needs, we also provide what we call “category” navigation for each audience group, such as parents, students, staff, and community. The category navigation often links to those areas of the website that are commonly accessed information by that group’s areas of interest.

Audience-focused. Some websites, particularly private schools and large public school districts, often focus on one audience to the detriment of another. Many private school websites almost exclusively focus on attracting new students, so their sites are marketing focused, failing to address the needs of parents whose students are already enrolled. Public schools tend to do the opposite and focus on the needs of parents of enrolled students, ignoring valuable marketing opportunities. Your school website is perfectly capable of serving the needs of both audiences (as well as that of attracting quality staff). Consider all of your audience needs, and plan your website accordingly. The audience of school-level websites is definitely the parents of enrolled students expecting to find information that pertains to their children. How does your school-level website deliver? (If you need help, contact School Webmasters.)

Engaging content. Take a look at your website content from your customer’s perspective (or if you can’t be objective, get someone else to do this for you). Is it visually attractive? Is the written content engaging and informative? Is the tone inviting? Is it easy to scan (using bullet lists, sub-titles, etc)? Does it provide content that talks about your audience needs (not just about what you offer, but what they need)? Do you use stories to share real-life examples? Do you use multiple forms of presentation for your content, including videos, social media, quality photos, and testimonials? All of these important areas will provide your site visitors with engaging content, build trust, build a strong brand image, and provide authenticity. 

Online forms. Customer service is one of the biggest advantages of a school’s website. You can make access to information, forms, events, payments, and student information available with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger 24/7, whether you are in session or not. When your customers, parents, vendors, and community can find what they need, complete required actions on their own time and without requiring your staff’s time, that is a big win-win for everyone. So, put it online. That includes providing forms that your school requires for enrollment, job applications, calendars (that they can often merge with their personal calendars with a few clicks), and much more. You’ll be providing excellent customer service and saving your school money and time.

Accessibility. Every year, the percentage of users accessing websites primarily from their mobile devices increases. How does your school website look and function when accessed from a smartphone? It takes some planning and management, so don’t ignore this aspect of your website. Also, speaking of accessibility, remember that the law requires your website to be ADA compliant and fully accessible to those with disabilities (and that includes PDF attachments, online forms, videos, and other 3rd-party sites that you link to for access to required information like grades). 

For more tips on what makes a good school website, check out these articles as well:

How are you using your school’s website?

So, the question is, has your school’s website changed with the times? Is it still a static “brochure” that only gets updated once a year when you post a new calendar or the occasional state-mandated notice? If so, you are costing your school thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars (in wasted staff time), and you are severely limiting your customer service opportunities.

Today’s parents, many of whom seem to have been born holding a cell phone in their hands, expect to be able to access the information they need anytime, day or night, make decisions based on the research they gather, and resent EVER being inconvenienced. You are doing a terrible disservice to your staff and your community if you are not taking advantage of all the services your school website (combined with social media channels) can provide. 

Even five years ago, I would often hear administrators say that their parents didn’t have the internet or cell phones, so their website wasn’t a critical aspect of their communication strategies. I call hooey on that today, no matter where they are located and what socio-economic population they serve. According to Pew, in 2018, 89% of all adults were using the internet. Parent usage of the students you serve is even higher with the usage of 18–29-years-olds at 98% and that of 30–49-year-olds at 97%.

Lifestyles have definitely raised the bar on how school communication takes place in today’s schools. By utilizing your website to its fullest advantage, you will make your job easier, earn higher trust, see increased enrollment, and improve your reputation (while saving staff time and school dollars). It is SO worth the effort. If it seems a bit overwhelming, just contact the experts. We’ll make it happen painlessly and affordably. 

If you aren't currently a School Webmasters' client, we also provide website management services for other CMS providers as well. So, contact us at 888.750.4556 to learn if we provide management and website update services for your platform and stop worrying about website accessibility issues or out-of-date website content!

453414
6 Risky School Communication Tips
2019-04-16
Name tag with the words Risk Taker on it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Worth It? 

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

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

I would say, yes. Here’s why.

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

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

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

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

 Cartoon: We want someone who is willing to take risks

Parents appreciate school administrators who willingly share and gather information.

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

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

Parents appreciate school administrators who adapt their means of communication. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Your School Website

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

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

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

Share Your Social Page URL Wherever You Can

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

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

The QR code for our Facebook page looks like this:

example QR code

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

Follow Other Pages

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

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

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

Whom to Follow

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

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

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

Try Running a Social Media Campaign

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

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

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

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

Teach Your Followers to “See First”

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

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

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

Facebook See First example

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

Keep the Audience You’ve Built

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

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

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

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

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

Need Help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Well-Known Academic Risk-Takers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enemy of Achievement

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

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

Right arrow = future, left arrow = past

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

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

Be a Risk-Taker

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

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

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

The Secret to Success

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

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


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Automated vs. Manual Accessibility Testing
2019-04-01

We receive many questions about automated accessibility testing. According to Section508.gov

“Automated testing and evaluation tools are not sophisticated enough to tell you, on their own, if your site is accessible, or even compliant. You must always conduct manual testing to ensure full compliance with the Revised 508 Standards.”

We find automated testing tools beneficial during our review process. However, because we know what it takes to make a website accessible, we also know that machine-generated accessibility reports cannot test everything and often include false positives and negatives. The best option for testing accessibility is to combine both automated and manual testing.

The lists below show some of the testing you can perform with each option.

Manual Testing

  • Distinguishable links
  • Accurate alternative text
  • Actual color contrast
  • Use of color
  • Keyboard accessibility
  • Accurate form labels
  • Form error messages
  • Consistent navigation
  • Text resize
  • Timing
  • Use of sensory characters

Automated Testing

  • Empty links
  • Presence of alternative text
  • Basic color contrast
  • Presence of page title
  • Presence of document language
  • Presence of form labels

Since evaluation tools can sometimes provide false or misleading results, once you perform automated testing, you will need to know how to interpret the report. Below are some common false negatives including why they are not accurately reported.

Non-distinguishable links

Non-distinguishable links are one of the most common false negatives we see. WCAG success criteria 2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context) require links to be distinguishable by either the linked text alone or the linked text together with the immediate surrounding content.

If your web page includes the same link text in multiple places, an automated tool will mark it as an error if the URLs are not exactly the same. Often links are redirected and will actually bring the user to the same place. 

To manually test each link, simply visit each link that includes the same text and confirm they are linked to the same place. 

Color

Automated testing does not account for graphics with background colors since they cannot see the color of the graphic. If you receive a color contrast error, you will need to test the foreground color (text color) against the actual background color you see—not just the background color named in the website styles.

Additionally, if a graphic contains text, you will also need to manually test the color contrast ratio since it is not something automated testing can check. 

Alternative Text

Automated testing is great for finding missing text alternatives. However, automated tools cannot determine if the alternative provided is accurate. 

To determine if alternative is correct, you will need to review the alternative provided and confirm it is an accurate description of the non-text content it is describing. 

Use of Presentational Attributes

Sited users perceive the structure of a web page and relationship of the content on a web page using various visual cues. For example, headings are often larger and list items may include bullets. We use HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) such as h1, h2, h3, etc. to distinguish text as a heading. 

Since an automated scan cannot understand the purpose of content, it also cannot determine if a web page uses proper structural layout. 

If you receive this error, you will need to review the page and determine if the presentational attribute such as a heading is accurate for the text it is related to.

As you can see, an automated tool cannot guarantee a compliant website. Be sure your webmaster team is fully trained in accessibility and able to conduct both automated and manual testing. Of course, if your team is not already trained, we can do it for you. From training to testing, we can do it all! Contact us today to find out more. 

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

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

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

What is “Jobs Theory” anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at school websites

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

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

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

Functional jobs

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

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

Social and emotional jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communications

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

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

Marketing is communications; communications is marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Research supports the use of testimonials. 

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

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

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

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

2. Testimonials are economical. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make submitting testimonials easy. 

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

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

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

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

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

Public Relations for Schools
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Accessibility: More than Luck
2019-03-17
Man crossing fingers for luck

Are you holding your breath every day, hoping you’re the lucky one whose website doesn’t receive a federal complaint because of inaccessibility? We will be the first to tell you that’s not a good plan. Accessibility is more than just luck or a one-click fix. Accessibility includes research, knowledge, skill, and testing. If these are skills you or your team do not currently have, it’s only a matter of time before your luck runs out. 

The number of federal website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled in 2018 compared to 2017! Over 2250 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA in 2018. Also in 2018, we saw the Department of Justice (DOJ) update its processing manual that slowed things down for a bit. Numerous website accessibility cases were luckily dismissed only to have luck run out and be reopened later when the DOJ rescinded the edits to the manual. 

What do we learn from this roller coaster of accessibility lawsuits? If you’re counting on luck to keep you flying under the radar of federal law, you need to also be ready to go through discovery, summary judgment, and possibly trial. We believe it’s best to avoid accessibility lawsuits altogether and get accessible now.

As mentioned previously, research, knowledge, skill, and testing are all necessary elements for providing accessibility. Let’s briefly discuss each one. 

Research

If you’re still reading, good job! You are already starting your accessibility research. Many websites provide information about digital accessibility, but how is one to know which one provides the most accurate information and techniques? The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the internet. W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), so if you want to know what the standards are, we recommend going straight to the source.  

Now that you see where to find the information, begin looking a little deeper into accessibility standards and techniques. First, learn why accessibility is important. This will help you develop empathy and create a desire to learn more. Then, learn accessibility standards, and take time to understand each standard’s purpose. In my experience, “because I said so” isn’t great motivation for implementing or understanding how to apply the standards. But learning the whys of accessibility from the beginning will provide greater success for learning, applying, and maintaining accessibility standards. Finally, learn how to apply accessibility to digital content including websites, apps, and electronic documents. 

Knowledge

Once you have a good understanding of why accessibility is vital, what standards we must comply with, and how to apply those standards, it’s time to put your knowledge to use. Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” To earn the interest from this new found knowledge, remember that knowing about accessibility has no value until you apply it. 

The best time to implement accessibility is during the website development process. We find it’s much easier to apply accessibility while writing digital content than having to remediate it later. The more you create accessible content, the more your knowledge of standards and techniques will increase, and the easier it will become. It’s also important to remember that just as the World Wide Web continuously evolves, so do accessibility techniques. Continue to increase your accessibility knowledge by staying up-to-date with new standards. (Tip: Subscribe to our news feed to help you stay informed.) 

Skill

Research equals knowledge, and knowledge puts you on the path to gaining skill. Again, apply your knowledge, and apply it continuously. Skill takes repetition and time. A skilled accessibility developer is not a part-time job. A little time and luck are not equal to the sustainability of skill. Additionally, to continuously maintain accessible digital content, it takes a team of skilled developers. For example, to provide our clients with complete digital accessibility, we ensure all our teams continuously learn how to apply accessibility, including our

  • project coordinators;
  • copywriters;
  • programmers;
  • graphic and user interface (UI) designers;
  • content and graphic updaters;
  • document remediators;
  • essentially, everyone!

Testing

You’ve done the research, increased your knowledge, and developed skill. How do you know if you did it right and your content is accessible? The only true way to evaluate accessibility is to test for it. Testing requires both automated and manual techniques. Additionally, we recommend using a team of disabled users to get true results during your manual testing process. Our Automated vs. Manual Accessibility Testing news article will help you understand the importance of both techniques. 

Once testing is complete, test again. As mentioned previously, accessibility is a continuous effort. Test your content each time it’s updated. This is another reason why it’s important to ensure all your teams are trained in accessibility. Spread the wealth of knowledge, and watch the interest you earn from your accessibility success grow.

Contact us before your luck runs out!

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. Unless you are actually in the business of web development, we’ve learned that no matter how much we attempt to simplify digital accessibility, it’s always better to leave it to the experts. That’s where we come in. Our expert teams will develop your new website and make sure your content is accessible day in and day out. Imagine the relief your IT department will have when you tell them you have someone to handle all things accessible so they can focus on the network skills they were hired to perform in the first place.

Has your luck already run out? Do you find yourself in the midst of an accessibility lawsuit? Of course, we can help you with this too! We can provide you with an accessibility audit and the tools you need to remediate your digital content so you comply with current ADA laws, increase SEO, and create peace of mind knowing you are doing the right thing.

Contact School Webmasters today to learn more!

526441
The Changing Role of the School IT Director
2019-03-12
Female student living dumbells as being empowered

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

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

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

What to look for in a K–12 CTO

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

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

Be a continuous learner

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

Be a problem solver

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

Be an excellent communicator

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

Be curious

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

Be tenacious

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

A seat at the leadership table

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


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

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

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

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

What your CTO should NOT be managing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps to CTO leadership roles

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary…

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

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

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

The Dinner Table Tradition

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

Why is Connection Important for Schools? 

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

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

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

Why Do Schools Blog, Anyway?

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

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

School Website News Page

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

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

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

Social Media Channels

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

Blogs

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

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

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

School Blogs: A Powerful School Marketing Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

School blogs should accomplish the following: 

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

Examples of Effective School Bloggers

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

Ithaca City School District

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

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

Vancouver Public Schools

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

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

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

School Blog Best Practices

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Connect With Your School Family?

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

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


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

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

School marketing can and should work the same way. 

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

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

What is inbound marketing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narrow the gap between the plan and the goal

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

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

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

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

Beginners guide to inbound marketing

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

Step 1: Select your primary goal. 

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

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

Step 2: Develop your customers’ personas

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

Step 3: Document your customers’ journey

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

Step 4: Select your keyword phrases

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

Step 5: Create a persona and journey-specific content

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

Step 6: Document your plan

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

Step 7: Work your plan

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

Step 8: Delighting for retention

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

Just DO it!

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

Happy Marketing


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

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

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

Face-to-Face Etiquette

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

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

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

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

Online Etiquette (Netiquette)

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

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

Here are some reminders when it comes to written communication.

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

Crafting Emails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Recipe for Active Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central aspects of active listening:

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

Taking Criticism

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

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

Delivering Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

happy people jumping up

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Are Your Customers? 

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

Intentional School Communication

Emily Dickinson wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Welcoming Phrases

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

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

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

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

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

2. Courtesy Phrases

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

“Please.”

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

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

“You’re welcome.”

Thank you for your support

3. Making Recommendations

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

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

“Oh, yes! And we could also….”

“What I CAN do is...”

4. Expressing Empathy, Regret, or Apology

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

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

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

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

5. When Follow-Up is Needed

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

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

hand opening a door

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

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

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

6. Phrases of Appreciation (Especially in Closing)

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

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

7. Dangerous Phrases

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

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

More dangerous phrases include: 

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

Word Choice on Your School Website

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

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

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

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

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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Parents Will Engage When Students are the Ambassadors
2019-02-05
Mother and father holding child's hand

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

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

Shared Interest

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

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

Schools successful in engaging parents start by going beyond narrow definitions of involvement. They don't just count the number of parents who attend the spaghetti dinner or volunteer at the book fair. They don't focus on requirements such as having parents sign reports cards. Instead, they start with a belief that student success is a shared interest of both school and family, envision parents as partners in the learning process, and then identify concrete ways that partnership can be activated. 

So, how should schools engage parents? By getting their students in the game. Here are four ways to reach out to your students, build positive relationships with them, and enlist their help to market your school.

Don’t Put Students On the Bench

When students are not key players in your school, you can bet that your parent support will be minimal. Consider ways to place your students in starting roles at your school. How often do you recognize students at your school? Is it only your star athlete or top academic student? What about the rest? Do their efforts, successes, and ideas matter and deserve school praise? As a parent, I will walk, swim, bike, or drive to recognize my child’s triumphs. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have a ribbon or trophy simply for being there, but I believe our schools have the potential to recognize student successes much more often than they do these days. Recognition doesn’t even have to be grandiose either. It can be as simple as positive communication from the principal or other school faculty recognizing the good in a student. I love this video from Glenbard District 87 where teachers shared positive words with their students. Clearly those students are the star players! 

Effectively getting your students on board with school marketing is no small task. So how can your students help market for your school?  Three core principles are at the heart of properly marketing to your students so that they, in turn, market for your school.

kids on a bench

1. Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

One of my memories of high school is running into my principal during the few times I was out in the hallways during class. I don’t know how often he was in the halls, but he always seemed to be when I was there. Mr. Waite, a high-ranking officer in the National Guard, never seemed to miss a chance to reach out to his students—even in passing. 

As a school administrator, regularly evaluate your overall communication approach. Consider your interactions with others and the overall tone of these interactions during a typical day in your busy schedule. There are many ways we communicate with others throughout the day. Are you interacting with students negatively or positively? Directly or indirectly? How often? Communication goes beyond daily interactions with students and others. Our relationship with others throughout the day work on a form of banking; if you constantly withdraw from your interactions with students or others in a critical way but very rarely deposit praise, that interaction will not inspire a student to speak well of you or anything else related to your school. 

2. Establish a School Brand That Your Students Care About

I hesitate here because I worry that administrators might read that and think, “Why does it matter if our students care?” Students are in school because education is important. And educators do their best to provide high-quality education. Lost in the midst of that, sometimes, is whether or not the students are invested in the school. Student investment and engagement go hand-in-hand in establishing positive public relations for your school, and, in the long run, marketing your school. 

As a high schooler, I hated my high school. I thought it was cliquish and the administration's highest priority was the football team. I had no school pride. Now, as an adult, I wouldn’t send my children there, and I wouldn’t recommend the school to others. That’s not the kind of relationship your school wants with your students and alumni. By establishing a school brand that cares about your students, and, in turn, your students care about you lay the foundation for good school PR and positive school marketing.

A Lesson from Fast Food

fast food french friesOne valuable principle I learned as a PTO president was this: if you manage to effectively enthuse students about an activity, parent engagement follows. Parents attend events, volunteer to participate, and provide support when their children encourage them. We call this “McDonald’s marketing.” 

Why do kids ask to eat at McDonald’s? Because the brand appeals to them—from the meal that comes in their own personal little box complete with a toy to the indoor playgrounds. Consider this: What do parents get out of the McDonald’s experience? Sure some may just love the menu options, but most of us take joy in watching our kids happily play in the playroom or enjoy their delight over that cheap little toy. The fact is, the result of a happy child outweighs whether or not the parent prefers other restaurants. Your school brand needs to appeal to your students if you want it to appeal to their parents as well.

3. Be Original

As you work to establish a brand your students care about, remember to be original. It’s no secret that millennials value originality, and it behooves your school to put effort into providing a fresh take on education. 

There are many ways and platforms on which to be original these days without breaking the school’s budget. A school that values originality sets itself apart from other schools. Consider the various platforms you have available: school social media, your school website, newsletters, spirit weeks, etc. 

Consider your school’s priorities in what you want to offer your school community. How can you put an original spin on it? No ideas? Involve your students and get a fresh perspective. Apart from student councils, do you include students in your other meetings at school? Students today want to be engaged, and engagement fosters loyalty. Consider involving students in brainstorming meetings or having student focus groups contribute their thoughts on important topics. As you allow your students to contribute, you help them catch your vision as well as take an ownership in that vision and band. As you engage students, they will naturally become advocates and help your vision succeed

It Makes a Difference

Your efforts in these three areas will make a difference. Here are just a few school categories that are impacted by effective school marketing

    • Student enrollment

    • Funding increases (taxes, tuition, fundraising) 

    • Quality teacher recruitment

    • Parent engagement and support

    • Student performance

    • Staff morale

    • Student spirit

    • Building trust and confidence

    If a student and his/her family feel a sense of rewarded satisfaction for their time and effort, you are on your way to establishing earned trust from your community. As your school repeats this over and over in your school community, that trust grows, strengthening your school brand. 

    Basically, if my child believes in it—I’m for it. If the school succeeds in giving my child the vision, it’s going to be difficult to keep my family from participating. Make your students your star players by getting them involved and invested in your school. Parent engagement will naturally follow.  

    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
    396240
    DIY Website Accessibility Audit
    2019-02-01

    You are in need of an accessibility audit. Now what? You have two options: hire a seasoned auditor who is fully trained in accessibility (us) or DIY (Do It Yourself). To help you decide which option is best for you, consider these questions:

    1. Do I understand and know how to conform to Section 508 and WCAG 2.0 guidelines? 
    2. Do I understand and know how to apply WAI-ARIA techniques?
    3. Do I have the know-how and experience to use a screen reader?
    4. Do I know how to navigate a website without a mouse and test for keyboard accessibility?

    If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you are ready to complete your own audit. If your answer is no to any or all of the questions, we suggest either hiring an expert like School Webmasters or completing comprehensive accessibility training so you understand the what, why, and how of website accessibility.

    My school spent a lot of money on an automated testing tool. Isn’t this enough?

    We wish we could say yes, but unfortunately, it is not nearly enough. Do not assume that just because your automated scan does not show errors that your website is accessible. We have performed many audits for schools that were using automated scans alone to determine website accessibility, and yet they still received a complaint from the Office of Civil Rights for an inaccessible website. What went wrong? 

    It is vital to remember that while automated scan tools are beneficial to the audit process and can help you catch many accessibility issues, they are not capable of testing everything. For example, here are just a few things automated tools are not capable of testing for:

    • Keyboard accessibility  
    • Logical content order
    • Accurate and sufficient alternative text
    • Accounting for background colors or all instances for use of color, including hover and focus
    • Timing
    • Distinguishable Links

    As you can see, an automated testing tool cannot guarantee a compliant website. Many organizations use WebAIM’s WAVE tool for automated testing. WAVE is free and one of our favorites. Because WebAIM understands what is actually machine testable, they have purposely designed their tool to only display 15 types of errors. (Yes, there are many more!) Be sure your webmaster team is fully trained in accessibility and able to interpret machine-generated accessibility reports and conduct manual testing.

    I get it and I’m ready to conduct my own audit!

    If you are ready to complete your own audit, here are some basic steps to get you started.

    You must first develop a methodology for completing the audit and staying organized. Consider using a methodology similar to WCAG-EM or develop your own. Once you have decided which methodology you are going to use, you are ready to begin testing. 

    While testing, you may notice elements that are compliant in one area but non-compliant in another. For example, if your links are descriptive, they will pass WCAG 2.4.4 - Link Purpose. However, if your links are only distinguishable by color and do not pass contrast ratio requirement, they will fail WCAG 1.4.1. Additionally, if they are descriptive and pass color contrast testing but the focus effect of the link is not visible, your links will fail 2.1.1 - Keyboard. As you can see, each element needs to pass multiple success criteria in order to conform to standards and actually be accessible for all users.

    Our WCAG 2.0 checklist will help you get started with conducting your own audit. 

    A final thought…

    Now that you have completed the testing of your actual website HTML content, don’t forget to test your electronic documents such as PDFs; they are also required to comply to accessibility guidelines. Just as a website requires manual testing, your documents require the same testing. For the items you can test with an automated scan, check out the following two tools we use to check the compliance of PDF documents:

    • PDF Accessibility Checker - This software is free to download. In addition to checking for compliance, it also provides a screen reader preview. We find this tool very handy, especially when troubleshooting errors. 
    • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC - Adobe DC gives you all of the tools you need to create and remediate documents. 

    Of course, if any of these items are things you need assistance with, we are accessibility trained and ready to help! Contact us today to take the easy route, and let us help you provide accessibility for all!


    526426
    Is Your Front Office Helping or Hurting Your School Enrollment?
    2019-01-29
    Happy school secretary welcoming parents

    One major challenge every school office faces is the expectation to provide a variety of services to many different people. A school office is a high-traffic area for parents, students, and staff coming in to see counselors, principals, nurses, other students, etc. As if that wasn’t enough, the workload is high, and that includes juggling a wide range of priorities amidst those nearly constant interruptions. 

    School office personnel—including principals—have an unpredictable, sometimes difficult job. Just like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’re going to get in a school day! School offices never know who is going to walk in throughout the day, from the time those school doors open until they close. Especially these days, your front office has an important gatekeeping position at school buildings, and you and your office staff are to be admired. Among your various responsibilities, your front office staff often gives a critical, lasting impression to current and potential students and their families. 

    How do your visitors feel when they enter your school’s front office? Do they feel valued? How successful is your office staff at prioritizing positive impressions and first-class customer service? Your school’s front office staff plays a remarkable, yet sometimes overlooked role in school communications and student enrollment. It's no secret that quality customer service helps your enrollment. Period. Poor customer service, failing to meet your customer’s expectations, and subpar communications hurt your enrollment. 

    Here are some simple ways your school’s office personnel can contribute positively to your student enrollment efforts. 

    Stop and help

    Most everyone in and out of your school understands that your front office is a hub of goings and comings. Most recognize that school office staff is plenty busy even before adding interruptions from whoever walks through the school doors. So, what is your school policy for your open door? Is your school’s office staff trained to understand the many facets of their front-line role, including that role as communicators? Can they stop what they are doing and help someone right in front of them, ideally with a smile on their face? 

    People will walk through your doors when it isn’t convenient. It’s inevitable. But they are part of your school community. People tend to feel grateful and cultivate a sense of loyalty when others show them they are important. You send this message when you stop what you are doing to go above and beyond to help them.

    stop sign

    Greet visitors within 30 seconds of their arrival

    Have you ever frequented a business where the customer service was subpar? Did it revolve around the way you felt they valued you and your individual needs? One of our human needs is to be acknowledged, particularly when we are seeking various services. Your school visitors should not have to wait long before office personnel acknowledges and helps them. 

    As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, our family has moved many times. Each time my husband’s job transfers, we’ve started over with new towns and new schools. During one particular move, I visited a potential school and was unpleasantly surprised by what happened. I walked into the front office to ask for some general information. I expected to be met with a bit of excitement about a new student joining their ranks; the reaction I felt was the opposite. Two office staff members sat at their desks; there was no one else waiting to be helped—just me. Both nonchalantly continued to talk on their phones and did not give me any form of acknowledgment. I stood there waiting to be helped for likely just a little less than two minutes, but it felt like forever. I felt invisible. I decided to leave. It was the worst first impression of a school I have ever had. 

    Even if your staff is busy on the phone, eye contact, a smile, and a nod go a long way. That acknowledgment says, “I see you. I’ll be right with you.” 

    A note about phones

    Not all customer service interactions take place face to face. Remember, businesses that strive to please customers generally aim to answer phones before the third ring. 

    Smile

    Your non-verbal communication is just as important as your verbal school communications. Turning the frown upside down is worth the effort every minute of every day, as it affects everybody. Besides dressing professionally, it really is true—you are never fully dressed without a smile. According to research, the act of smiling lifts our mood, boosts our immune system, and lowers stress. Among these diverse benefits of smiling, it also sets a friendly tone for those you encounter every day, no matter who they are. A smile can open doors that otherwise might remain closed. 

    Families looking for a new school are looking for a positive school environment in which to enroll their child. If the first faces of the school look upbeat and welcoming with a natural smile instead of dismal and subdued visages, their impression of your school will be a happy one. Help your office staff members understand the vital role they play in the atmosphere of your campus. 

    5 hands painted with smiley faces

    Learn names

    You and your office staff see parents and guardians as they come in and out of your office. Take the small moments to see them as team players. Learn their names. Connect in some small way. You will not regret it, and you can bet that they will not forget it. 

    In recent years, research found that of the adults surveyed, 63% had moved to a new community at least once. Also, 23% U.S.-born adults say the place they consider their heart-home is not where they live now. What this tells me, is that there is a substantial number of parents in your school community who may or may not feel at home with the local area. This is your school’s opportunity to shine! This is your moment to let them know they can come to your school and you will recognize them and their children. Isn’t it truly nice to go somewhere where somebody knows your name?  

    Treat newbies and oldies the same

    As a parent, I enjoy going to the school when I trust that I am going to be welcomed by a friendly office staff. Your school’s office should focus its positive attention not only on the new students and their families, but also on your current students and their families. Remember not to take any students and their families for granted. All front-office interactions are building blocks of impressions of your school. 

    So, how is your school doing in that field? Do students and visitors want to stay, based on how your school handles the small interactions like those in the front office? Remember, both current and prospective students and families need to feel valued and acknowledged in little ways, otherwise they might see right through the disparity.

    Aesthetics matter

    Be sure your school’s office has a welcoming atmosphere. Have you ever walked into an office or business and, based on the amount of signs posted on the walls and counters, get the feeling that they would rather have you read their signs than actually talk to them? 

    In your school communications, signs have their place and can be helpful. However, if your office staff is tired of sharing the same thing over and over and choose to create a type of “absent guide” through printed papers with instructions all over the office, it sends a message that may not display the best public relations. It says, “Help yourself, I’m too busy.” Or worse, “I don’t care.” 

    People like to be acknowledged. Find a happy balance between necessary posted signs and the willingness to share information and instruction the old fashioned way—with your voice. And, if people are talking positively about the little things your school does consistently, it will turn more than one head. Word of mouth is the quickest, simplest, and economical form of communication to get your school brand out to the community, and you can bet your enrollment is connected to those perceptions.  

    How successfully does your office staff juggle the priority of giving a positive first impression to current or prospective students and their families? Your school’s gatekeepers in the front office have a multitude of tasks on their plate every day. This includes the opportunity to leave a lasting impression with each person who walks through your front door. Will visitors to your school feel valued in your front office? Will they feel acknowledged, thankful and loyal because of the way they are treated? Your front office staff and the way they treat their important recruitment position affects your student enrollment. The quality customer service they render directly correlates with your student numbers. Train them. Value them. Working in a school’s front office is a tough job but, someone’s gotta do it and do it well. 


    How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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    Responsive School Websites Offer a Whole New World
    2019-01-28
    530459
    Telling Your School’s Stories
    2019-01-24
    Students with backpack and the words what's your story

    Telling deeply satisfying, meaningful stories isn’t just a tool or device to use once in a while; it’s an essential strategy in communication and in marketing your school. If you want to build trust, enthusiasm, and loyalty that is ingrained with your school’s brand, storytelling is the answer.

    Our brains are predisposed to think in terms of story. Story is how we create meaning. Studies show that a listeners’ brain responds by mirroring the teller’s brain responses—think Vulcan mind meld—so we intuitively pay closer attention when we hear a story. We tie stories we hear to our own memories and past experiences. We engage. A compelling story impacts us emotionally. We’re both imagining what’s happening and analyzing the story for content, information, and key messages. So, we are more likely to remember and internalize a story and act upon it.

    Why should you care about storytelling? Because, as an educator, part of your job is to convince parents that entrusting their children into your hands is a smart choice. You want them to spend their resources, both time and money, on your school (through taxes, vouchers, tuition, or by volunteering). You also want to build trust, confidence, and unity throughout your school. Stories are the key. Not only are compelling stories remembered, they are shared. A compelling story will:

    • Engage all of the senses
    • Reflect and connect with people’s needs and emotions
    • Embed themselves in people’s subconscious
    • Make data and information believable
    • Convey and demonstrate your values
    • Create engagement and trust
    • Differentiate your school from its competition
    • Help people imagine a future that’s worth achieving

    Think about the memorable stories you’ve heard. They inspire. They transform. Stories elicit actions like:

    • Increasing enrollment. Stories help your target audience identify with your solutions, so they can see themselves (or their children) being successful in that environment.
    • Highlighting differentiators. Stories provide real-world examples of how your school differs from other schools and helps you attract those whose interests and needs are a match.
    • Increasing website traffic. Using stories on your website adds keyword rich content, so you will be found. When used in conjunction with social media, your stories can go viral, and your school’s brand and reputation surge.
    • Strengthening your relationships. When you tell a great story, it will be shared by the parents and students within their own circles, leading to increased enrollment and enhanced reputations. You can build spirit, pride, and loyalty by sharing engaging stories.
    • Creating staff engagement. Sharing stories with staff will build a strong school culture. Stories create shared realities and put both vision and values into practice, thus creating positive behaviors.

    How to gather stories from your staff:

    Use a story prompt to get the wheels turning and help people recall their best stories. But just asking questions isn’t enough. You won’t get a story; you’ll get an answer. To elicit a story, your story prompt will be in two parts. The opening will be in asking, “Tell me about….” or “Tell me a story about…” or “Share with me a memory about…” or “Visualize a time for me when….”

    The closing portion of your story prompt needs to be very specific to help the person select a story to share with you. So instead of saying, “Tell me about a recent classroom success,” you should rephrase it to say, “Tell me about a very rewarding experience for a student in one of your latest classroom projects.” Or, switch it up and put the specificity of the prompt before the question, like this: “I heard you had wonderful student success in one of your classroom projects this month. Tell me about your experience.”

    Story prompt ideas:

    Why did you decide to work here? (for staff)
    Story prompt: Tell me about a specific event that helped you make your decision to work at this school.

    Have you ever received exceptional mentoring? (for staff)
    Story prompt: Paint me a picture of a time when you received mentoring and it felt truly memorable.

    Describe a time when you saw one of our school’s values in action.
    Story prompt: Pick one of our school values or goals that has a lot of personal meaning to you. Tell me about a time when you saw this value being demonstrated in an amazing way (by a student or staff member).

    Describe a student success at our school.
    Story prompt: Tell me a story about a student whose successful efforts or a challenge overcome demonstrated their strength of character. If applicable, tell me about how their efforts have influenced others.

    Describe a teacher success you’ve seen.
    Story prompt: Share with me a memory about a time a teacher in our school had a huge impact on the life of a student or another staff member.

    Describe an alumni success.
    Story prompt: Looking back, tell me about a time when someone at had an influential experience on you that helped you to become the person you are today. Tell me how you feel about that person or experience and his/her effect on your life. How did that person represent our school’s values?

    How can you use story prompts to generate stories? 

    From Staff:
    You can ask for help from staff at a staff meeting and explain how you intend to use these stories to better represent the school and its successes and values in your marketing and communication efforts. Start by sharing one of your own stories at the next staff meeting as a model to follow. Or try one of these triggers to get people thinking:

    • Hold up a photo or image, ask your staff to look at the image, and then tell about (or write about) a memory it triggers. Remind them to include all the sounds, emotions, and smells/tastes that come to mind.
    • Use music or an audio file to trigger memories, and ask your audience to communicate (either to a partner you’ve assigned or by writing it down) the first memory that comes to mind when they hear the recording.
    • Share a metaphor, and ask for a story about whatever memory comes to mind when they hear it (especially as it relates to your school, their roles in the school, or their reason for being in the role they have chosen). You could say something like, “Tell me about a time when the expression “Have your cake and eat it too” held a strong meaning for you. Others might be, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “point of no return,” “heart of gold,” or “reap what you sow.”
    • Provide an online form for staff to make submitting the basic information you would need to craft a non-fiction narrative story. Then make an annual story assignment schedule (by grade level or department) so staff can be looking for stories all year long.

    From Students:
    Consider having a contest, and reward the best stories received by recording the winners telling their story on video in spotlight stories for your website. This could also be an assignment in an English or literature or communications class. Be sure to have some good example stories to use as models for the students to understand how an effective story can compel their interest far more than merely stating facts. Involve teachers in the story gathering.

    From Alumni or Parents:

    If you have a blog and are an administrator, what a great topic to write about and invite parent and alumni participation. Ask for participation from parents involved in your parent organization. Invite board members or directors to participate as well.

    Remember, one or two good stories can be a model for others and will also trigger other memories. So, make story gathering an ongoing effort, and before long you’ll have many wonderful examples of the qualities and successes that represent your school.

    And, last but not least, always keep your ears open for good stories. Savor them. Collect them. Listen delightedly as others share stories (make eye contact, lean in toward them and let your genuine interest show with your body language and facial expressions). Don’t fill pauses with words unless they are “Go on,” or “What then?” Ask reflective questions, and then give appreciation to others who share their stories. Tell them what you liked most about the story and how their story affected you. Then, thank them again.

    Additional Information

    Where can you use stories? 

    • Website and social media 
    • Staff meetings
    • Back-to-school events
    • Board meetings
    • Presentations
    • Public relations like press releases, media relations, and crisis management
    • Customer service (and customer service training for your staff)
    • Mentoring programs
    • Interviewing job prospects and recruitment efforts
    • Implementing change
    • Enhancing teamwork and professional development
    • Newsletters
    • In the classroom
    • Local media (newspapers, radio, podcasts, blogs)

    Types of stories 

    • School’s founding or history
    • What we stand for
    • What we do
    • What we value
    • Success stories
    • Overcoming barriers
    • School’s customer stories (students, parents, alumni, staff)

    114026
    Parent Engagement
    2019-01-22
    Come in, we're open sign

    Do you ever feel like your school public relations plan is missing something? Take a look at your school-parent community partnership. How often do your students’ families come to your school? Do they have reasons to look forward to their time on your campus? 

    While living in Anchorage, Alaska, some years ago, our oldest child attended kindergarten at Northern Lights ABC Elementary School (NLABC). Once a month this school would invite students’ families to attend an assembly. During the first half of the event, there would be a performance by one of the grades based on a patriotic theme. During the latter half of the assembly, the principal would present academic and citizenship awards to students. We enjoyed their reading program awards, and my daughter worked hard to meet checkpoints during the year in order to finally get a special t-shirt for reading over 5,000 pages.

    My husband and I enjoyed going to the school to watch our daughter receive an award or perform in an assembly. At the assemblies, we met our daughter’s friends as well as their families. We also marveled at how much the school managed to fit into a kindergarten day. Since that time, we have had children attend seven different schools in three different school districts. To be certain, every school has its strengths and weaknesses, but every time we move, I can’t help but compare our new school to NLABC school. Their parent engagement was exemplary.    

    According to Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University, there are six types of involvement in a school-parent community partnership: parenting, learning at home, volunteering, communicating, decision making, and collaborating with the community. A successful partnership offers a broad range of school, family, and community opportunities that engage all parties and, most importantly, meet students’ needs. Epstein affirms that these partnerships are not add-on programs or independent projects—they are effectively integrated with school goals and overall district goals. 

    Creating frequent opportunities at the school to engage parents (and grandparents too) refreshes your school public relations, helping families feel connected to your school. In general, parents enjoy supporting their children by attending events in which they were involved in one way or another. According to Epstein, parent, family, and community involvement means different things to different people. Here are some ideas of activities you can hold at your school that will foster parent engagement.

    Six Typical Ways to Engage Parents

    The Usual: 

    1. Open houses: These are typically well known, expected, and pretty much a staple on any school calendar. These events give families a chance for school orientation at the beginning of the school year. 

    2. Assemblies: As I mentioned above, assemblies give schools a chance to strengthen school brand and public relations by showcasing combined efforts of faculty and students, sharing a wide variety of messages with the families and classmates—either through spoken words or music. These events can vary based on age group, but all schools benefit from well-run assemblies. 

    3. School tours: Try offering monthly tours on a set date. Benefits of establishing a set time for tours limits disruptions to classroom time, allows for your office to professionally direct prospective students and their families, and shows that you set a priority on welcoming in new students.  

    4. School lunch: Be sure your students’ families know they are welcome to join their students for lunch during school. This is a great opportunity for parents and grandparents to feel connected to your school. If your school isn’t open for lunch, schedule a special day to invite parents or grandparents to join their child for lunch.

    5. Student presentations: This is a great chance to showcase artwork, research projects, or classroom projects. Some schools do “waxless museums” as an event where students share their research on a historical figure or host a “Greek night” after their sixth-grade class has finished their unit on ancient Greece. 

    6. Thank volunteers: Encourage volunteering by hosting an appreciation luncheon. At the end of the year, take time to thank volunteers by hosting something, such as a luncheon, for them at the school.staff member writing a note-Thank you Volunteers

    Eleven Exceptional Ways to Engage Parents

    The Less Usual:

    Alright, here I’m going to break off from the traditional hum-drum ideas with a variety of ideas for school events for all ages. This is not a comprehensive list because honestly, the sky's the limit with the possible events you could host to strengthen parent engagement at your school. 

    1. Host a new parent event: Have you ever heard of “Cookies and Kleenex?” This type of event invites parents of kindergarten students to gather together just after they’ve dropped off their students for the first time. Parents visit as well as meet the school’s PTA or PTO board and administration. As parents meet and bond with other parents, you can use this time to encourage volunteer work and participation.

    2. Plan for dinner at the school (food trucks or cafeteria style): If there is one thing that brings everyone together, it’s food! Meals can be a great way to foster a sense of community. Maybe plan a spaghetti night coupled with an evening STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) performance, or ask the PTO to bring in pizza to sell at a planned math night. Our local elementary hosts food trucks during parent-teacher conferences, and the whole community loves it! 

    3. STEAM nights: Check out this announcement and upcoming event example from NLABC in Alaska:

      “Alex Zerbe, The Zaniac, will kick off the NLABC February Science month with STEM shows for students grades 1–8 during the day. That night the theme will be different, and you won't want to miss it. Bring the family and join us for a special Evening Show focused on Arts & Literacy that is just plain fun! Seating is limited, so order your place in advance using the form available. You can preview Alex's Zany Show @ http://www.amazingschoolassembly.com/come-alive.html or by Googling for ‘The Zaniac!’”

      This is a great example of a school that understands how to create a marketing buzz for school events.  

    4. Community enrichment events: School public relations are built on positive school-community interactions. Here are a few ideas of ways your school can participate and facilitate community events
      • Free Adult English Classes—Some school districts offer free community classes. Would your community benefit from free adult English classes? As part of his undergraduate requirements at the university studying Spanish, my husband volunteered as a class instructor in such a class. We both loved it. This is a fantastic way to bring in parents of ESL students.
      • Group volunteering—Consider organizing a school service project that helps contribute something to the school (such as a new coat of paint) or in the community (such as a night serving dinner at a homeless shelter).
      • Parent Education Events—The PTSA for Ridgefield High School partners with Ridgefield Public Schools and the community to host parent workshops for “Parenting the #Selfie Generation.” These events are open to all parents and are a great way to form positive relationships with parents. 
      Local Dentist visiting a school

    5. Invite parents (and grandparents) to teach:
      • Professional volunteers —Schools usually host assemblies by local professionals, such as dentists who share tips on proper dental care. Here’s the news page snippet about a recent event at Ridge Ranch Elementary School at the Paramus School Public Schools district: 

        You don’t have to stick to dentists either. Why not take a survey of the professions and experiences of your students’ families to discover what other knowledge could be shared at the school?  
      • Art class volunteers— Some school districts have elementary art classes taught by trained volunteers who teach in individual classrooms for about 40 minutes each month. It is a beautiful way to involve parents while opening up the world of art to students.
      • Guest speakers— What better way to start or end a unit on World War II than to invite a veteran to come and speak to the class? Networking with families and community members can create lots of opportunities to bring real-world experiences into any classroom. 

    6. School enrollment events: Certain events can serve the primary needs of your district, such as events that promote enrollment. In our experience, public schools don’t take advantage of enrollment events to market their schools the same way charter and private schools do. But, as a public school, you’re fighting for enrollment just the same as they are. Events targeted toward prospective students help your school showcase your school’s strengths, bringing in potential students and their families all at once. 

    7. Dances: These events are great for socializing and bringing school community and family together in positive, fun ways. My daughters especially enjoy these events every year at all levels—elementary, junior high, and high school. Our local elementary school hosts a daddy-daughter dance in February around Valentine’s day. The girls love getting dressed up, and it’s a wonderful way to get dads and other father figures to visit your school campus and show their support. Other examples of school-hosted dances could be:
      • Youth dance 
      • Family dance
      • Sock hop

    8. Talent shows: Host your very own “Our School Has Talent” show. These can be low-budget but high-yield when it comes to your school marketing and public relations. Watch students come out of their shells and comfort zones and be amazed at how this event brings the community together. Added bonus: Videos or live stream from your talent show even makes for great posts on your school social media pages.

    9. Engineering night: Many parent engagement ideas center around the arts like concerts or plays. Here a couple of unique ideas for bringing parents and students together on your campuses.
      • Lego challenge night
      • Straw roller coaster activity

    10. Exercise/outdoor activities: Schools that focus on the child as a whole know there is more to education than the core curriculum. Let your physical education teacher take the reigns and organize an activity for students and families that will get their hearts pumping. Here are a few ideas: 
      • Yoga or Zumba Night
      • Archery event (contact your state’s game and fish department for information)
      • Obstacle course activity (indoor or outdoor)

    11. Games or movies: In addition to parent engagement, these events and activities can be ways to fundraise for your schools or participate in community service. In my experience, movies and games are a great way to bring people together. Here are a few more ideas for parent engagement that you could tie together with a larger purpose for your school
      • Game or Checkers-and-Chess night (admission could be a classroom-needed donation or a new book for the library)
      • Carnival (host game booths and a raffle to fundraise for your school)
      • Movie night (admission could be a non-perishable food item for local food pantry)
    dice and game pieces on a table

    Because of the importance of parent engagement, the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) has recognized over 600 schools since 1998 for their programs and practices that encourage community and family involvement resulting in students’ increased success in school. Project Appleseed challenges school communities to ask school boards, city councils, mayors, state representatives, or governors to issue proclamations recognizing National Parental Involvement Day, which is on the third Thursday of November. 

    Among the multiple benefits of active school parent engagement is the following hallmark statement based on research from Child Trends: Students with parents who are involved in their school tend to have better academic performance and fewer behavioral problems. They are also more likely to finish high school. According to KidsHealth.org, students whose parents and families take an interest in their education get the message that their scholastic efforts are of value. 

    Every school looks for new and better ways to help parents catch the vision of being involved and invested in their school. If you feel like your school’s parent engagement could be better, seek input from your staff and school community. What events would they like to see at the school? 

    As you engage parents, you build stronger relationships. The good times they have on your campuses translates to good will toward your school. Remember, as your school offers consistent events for parents (and grandparents too), it renews your school public relations and helps families feel connected to your school. 

    396245
    Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 2
    2019-01-15
    Inbound marketing for schools

    We’ve covered the first five steps to school inbound marketing in Part 1, so now you’ve come to the real “rubber meets the road” steps. If you missed Part 1, please review that first, and then jump right into the next steps below.

    Step #6: Develop your plan

    You can document your plan with a formalized template, a spreadsheet, or just a document that outlines your goals and the strategies you intend to use to reach those inbound marketing goals. Whichever format you choose to use, follow the steps described in this section of the blog. Step #1 is selecting your primary goals. You will then use them to develop a written plan, which will be your unifying document for your inbound strategies. Include realistic deadlines for each step, make assignments as necessary, and assure that each step focuses on your inbound goals, which should be tied to your school’s mission. Your plan provides you with both your long-term vision and the short-term goals that will motivate you to stay focused. For a step-by-step worksheet to develop your plan, use our School Inbound Marketing Template.

    We recommend:

    • Start by optimizing your website. If your school website is poorly designed (unintuitive, out-of-date, not mobile-friendly, not website accessible), then begin there. 

    • Research your keyword phrases. There are typically a few keyword phrases (common search terms) that are used to drive people to find your website and your particular educational programs. Knowing those will help you create content that will increase your site traffic and possible prospects. Learn more at Making SEO Part of Your School Marketing.

    • Review and rewrite your website content to include keywords and information you discovered in the buyer journey process. Your school website will be your primary resource in nearly every aspect of inbound marketing strategies. Each page of your school’s website is an opportunity to create useful and informative content (as well as improve your SEO).

    • Create branded social media channels for at least Facebook and Twitter. If you have the resources, add Instagram as well. Some schools show higher engagement from Facebook and Instagram, so don’t hesitate to switch it up if necessary. If these channels are set-up already, but they have not been used consistently, consider a refresh to include images, content, and posts focused on your keywords and selected goals. Schedule posts, link to informative content, be engaging, and think strategically.

    • Start a blog. This is one of the most effective ways to add valuable marketing content to your website and draw potential customers to you. It is also one of the best ways to boost your SEO rankings on a regular schedule. Blogs are also an excellent way to tell your school’s stories in a personal and engaging way. Oh, and don’t forget to include a call to action (CTA) on each blog post as well, since it is highly likely that your school gets found from one of those captivating blog posts.

    • Develop content to share. This can be time-consuming, but having at least one useful download that will encourage prospects to share their contact information with you will make it all worthwhile. If you are focused on just one persona, your content will focus on their priorities and needs. If you have multiple personas, you will develop content targeting each persona’s unique interests. You should tie each piece of content to the overall goals of your school.

      You’ll begin this task by looking at what marketing assets you already have so you can repurpose those when possible. This will also tell you what new content you need to create to address your persona’s interests. You will also organize and catalog your old and new content so it is easy to retrieve and repurpose. Be sure to catalog each piece of content by title, persona target, buyer’s journey stage, targeted keyword phrases, and content format. HubSpot provides a helpful worksheet for tracking and categorizing your content that you can modify for your school’s needs.

    • Create conversion points. These are simply places where your site visitors can take action. They are website forms to download content, get more information, schedule a tour, subscribe to your blog, or enroll at your school. But also create CTAs for those folks who are still in the looky-loo stage.

      Consider checklists (to help them plan or decide), webinars with a school counselor (even pre-recorded, on-demand webinars work). What about a quiz to help them decide on the right school for their child or eBooks, videos, Facebook Live, “Day in the Life” videos? There are so many creative ways to be there with influencing content, but be there you must.

    • Create an email nurturing campaign (segmented by the targeted audience and their needs). You will eventually create relevant content for each targeted persona’s interests and needs, providing content they can use along the way, depending on where they are in their journey.

      For example, if you were a private Christian school, you might create a quiz called, “Is a Christian school right for your child?” for the awareness phase, then offer a video showing the “Day in the Life…” where visitors can see what a day in your school might include so they can envision their child fitting in. Finally, for those in the decision phase, provide an eBook about “What to look for in a Christ-centered, K–12 curriculum,” that includes a sample course of study highlighting your well-rounded, comprehensive, and challenging curriculum. A similar approach works for public schools, independent schools, and vocational schools, with downloads written for our targeted persona interests.

    Step #7: Work the plan, creating a workflow 

    Consistency is the key to inbound marketing success. Create a schedule and stick with it. This can include blogging, social media posts, website content, downloadable content, videos, Facebook ads, and so much more. But, start with the basics and add other strategies as time and resources permit. As we outline above in #6: Developing your plan, we’ve listed what is typically an order for implementing and working your plan. 

    This is where your organizational skills and planning are critical. If your school has done no previous inbound marketing, your plan might begin with updating and creating content for your website and social media that supports your marketing goals. This might mean creating an area on your school website that provides information directed at those in the awareness and consideration stages. One easy way to address this is to add a section to your website for just this purpose. You can create a main navigation area for “Why Choose ” and from this landing page, you can link to the topics that prospective parents need to know. Check out Whipping Your School Website into Shape for some page content ideas. We recommend this step first because your website will leverage the rest of your inbound marketing efforts.

    Often you will see the term “workflow,” as it pertains to inbound marketing efforts. It refers to the automated or manual process that you create to respond to specific actions taken by any of your prospects. This usually begins with a nurture campaign (which is the term for the steps to bring those interested in your school or the information you provide closer to the final goal, which is often to select your school for their child). To give you a simplified example workflow for a nurture campaign for your school, the steps might look like:

    1. Select the ideal customer (parent/student/staff) you want to attract with this campaign. This is usually one of the personas you developed earlier. You must understand their needs and goals to address their concerns.

    2. Create your free download. This is the information you create to provide your personas with the information they seek. It could be an eBook, a video, an infographic, a checklist, or anything your persona will value. You are doing this to begin building a relationship, so be sincere about your intentions. In order words, it should NOT be a sales pitch for your school. Make sure the title for your download is clear about the information it contains. Concise and unambiguous is more important than clever if you expect them to give you their email address in exchange for your content.

    3. Develop a landing page on your website that introduces your gift (informative download for your targeted persona). This is assuming your website is one you are proud of, so if they check you out, you aren’t a disappointment. If your school website isn’t intuitive, attractive, and informative, either contact us to make sure it is, or create a separate landing page.

      It will contain a page title that is clear and body copy that lets them know exactly what your download will deliver. Bullet points are easiest to scan, so use four or five bullet points rather than paragraphs. Your landing page will also contain a simple form that requires their name and email address in order to receive your free gift. You can ask for more information, but you do so at your own risk. If you get pushy, you will hurt your relationship before it ever gets started. It is also smart to remove most other navigation from this page except for some links to share it on social media (so they can tell their friends about this excellent information you created for them). However, if your school website is well-designed and intuitive, also provide a link back to the marketing area of your website so they can see what you have to offer their student.

    4. Use an enticing call to action. This form, and the information you so willingly provide, is what is called your Call to Action (CTA). You can share this opportunity on other pages of your website where appropriate (do so tactfully, of course). It can be in a sidebar on the marketing area; we call this the “Why Choose Us” pages, on a blog page where you are talking about some of your strengths, or even in the footer of your main/district website. Just use a headline for your “button” or link that will pique the interest of your targeted personas.

    5. Develop a thank you page. Once your site visitor fills out the landing page information, you will want to redirect them to a thank you page. Ideally, you will redirect them to your thank you page and also email them the download link to their inbox as well. Your landing page tells them how they can get the information (free gift). Usually, that is just clicking on a “download” button or checking their inbox for the link to the download.

      You can also use your thank you page to include the next step in your offer. If you offer a useful eBook as your first download, maybe a virtual tour or on-demand webinar would build trust and they can sign up for it from either your landing page or from the email you send.

    6. Send your email follow-up. Once they have downloaded your content, they will need a follow-up email. This, as mentioned above, could include the link again to the download (your free gift), and you could also offer the next gift of helpful information. The goal of your next informative content is to build trust.

    7. Begin the ongoing nurture campaign. You will continue to contact your targeted persona with a gradual email series (often called a drip or nurture campaign). This will give them access to more downloads or will send them blogs or newsletters related to their interests or needs. Provide them with useful information, be helpful and continue to build trust, and you’ll stay front-of-mind when it comes time for them to make their decision.

    Step #8: Delighting for retention

    So, your inbound marketing has brought your outstanding educational services to the attention of more parents and students looking for exactly what you provide. You are meeting your marketing goals; you gradually see success. Good work. Keep it up. But now what?

    One common marketing weakness many schools ignore is the failure to focus on existing customers. This is a mistake. 

    Probably the most effective school marketing strategy is word of mouth. People are more likely to choose a school (or make a purchase of anything for that matter) based on the recommendation of a friend than from any amount of marketing dollars you spend. We trust those who have the same needs and interests we do, so their good experiences make following their lead an easy decision. From a marketing standpoint, it pays to delight those K–12 parents whose children attend your school. (Or, if your goal was to recruit quality staff, then it pays to delight your existing staff so they will share their joy with others in their profession.)

    Marketing to existing customers includes providing great customer service, putting real value on strategic communications, and giving parents frequent reasons to feel good about their choice of selecting your school in the first place. We highly recommend that once you have several inbound marketing campaigns set up for your school and the various audiences you are targeting, take a look at retention efforts. We fully believe that the first step is ongoing and effective school communications. 

    You need to be communicative, transparent, and consistent. Use your website, social media, newsletters, open houses, parent/teacher conferences, back-to-school efforts, and staff development training to support retention efforts strategically. Take a look at your school customer service. Here are some thoughts on customer service: From Good to Great: School Customer Service, Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes, and Roll Out the Welcome Mat at Your School. How do you rate? If not great, then fix it fast!

    Then take a look at the various causes retention suffers, and address any weaknesses that exist. Some of these areas of possible weakness (why you lose students) might be:

    • Parent satisfaction
    • Competition
    • Reputation
    • Faculty and staff
    • Quality instruction
    • Student outcomes
    • Price
    • Location

    We’ll cover this important topic in greater depth in future blogs, but in summary, look at your school and select the priority topic pertaining to your retention challenges and address what you can, then implement ongoing communications strategies for retention. Retention is the true test of parent satisfaction, strong relationships, and trust. Parent satisfaction is the number one priority for retention. It is more cost-effective to retain a family than it is to try to recruit new ones (the same applies to staff). An additional benefit of happy parents is they will share their satisfaction and sing your praises to others, and you’ll soon have even more enrollments. What can you do to improve your current retention rates?

    Who’s on your team and skill sets you’ll need

    Many companies and nearly all schools fail to formalize their approach to inbound marketing. They tend to use a reactionary approach and come up with a spur-of-the-moment strategy when there is a crisis that forces them to do so. It isn’t wrong to apply a strategy when there is an urgent need, but with a well-planned, consistent approach there will be fewer critical needs, so your efforts will be more effective (and much more affordable than hiring an expensive advertising agency in a desperate attempt to stay relevant).

    However, to implement inbound marketing, because it is a long game, plan ahead. You will need someone to act as the marketing strategist, someone to develop content (a content writer and a designer), and help from your school website developer. If you are working with School Webmasters, we actually can help you in all of these areas. You will fill the role of marketing strategist and guide us in your school’s goals while we implement the strategies you select to achieve those marketing goals. If or when you need our help, School Webmasters is here for your school. Just give us a call at (888) 750.4556 and ask for Jim or Bonnie. Or, if you want information about how we can implement an inbound marketing plan for your school, complete the School Inbound Marketing Assessment form today!

    424676
    Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 1
    2019-01-08
    Inbound Marketing or Content Marketing for Schools

    Marketing has changed radically in the past decade. Whole industries are either gone or dying primarily because of the changes brought about by the ubiquitous presence of the Internet. Another change-causing factor is that “interrupter” advertising that rules our favorite TV shows has increased from four minutes per hour in 1952 to nearly 15 minutes per hour in 2018. Because of this deluge of interruptive advertising, most of us have become quite intolerant of it all. 

    We live in an age of easy-access information. The Internet has allowed us to get the information we want when we need it. But we want this information on our terms. We don’t appreciate being “sold” to, particularly if we’re interrupted when we’re busy or engaged in something we enjoy. 

    This has left advertising agencies, cable and network television, radio stations, and a slew of other industries feeling the pain as customers make a mass exodus to other, less intrusive forms of entertainment. I switched to Dish satellite services from cable because I can record prime-time shows that will automatically skip commercials. I pay for Netflix because there are no commercials. I even upgraded my Pandora account to bypass music interruptions. Many of my friends and my adult children have canceled cable and satellite services completely, switching instead to services like Roku, Hulu, or Netflix, for the same reason.

    We also tend to ignore ads in other mediums. Studies show that in a majority of Internet searches, users skip the ads, even when they are relevant to their search request. One study shows that 40% of consumers use ad-blocking on their laptops and desktop computers. We instead click on the organic results. On web pages, studies of eye tracking show that we often skim right over ads there as well. TV ads (which most school’s can’t afford anyway), radio spots, billboards, and magazines, while quite expensive, similarly don’t give us the leads that would warrant the expense.

    Common sense also suggests that we seldom trust ads. They are typically companies bragging about how they are “best in class” and other such claims. Many ads are simply untrue, and I’m sure we all have had experiences to prove it. I mean, when was the last time you saw an ad where the company told you that their product or service was just mediocre?

    Outbound marketing

    What we’ve been discussing is known as outbound marketing. It is a traditional marketing that includes any method a company uses to initiate the conversation and blast its marketing message out to an audience. Sometimes, in fact a majority of times, the audience receiving this information is not even one that is currently interested in the topic of the message. Think of it as “pushing” your message out hoping that through sheer volume it will draw some of the right customers in. 

    Common outbound methods are sales calls, email spam, tradeshows, and advertising in its many forms (TV, radio, print, flyers, brochures, catalogs). One of the downsides of outbound marketing, besides it being expensive, is that it is difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI). It is also difficult to know if your costly outbound efforts are reaching your target audience.

    So, if advertising doesn’t provide the ROI that it used to, how do companies (and schools) get the word out about their services and products? The answer involves a multiple prong approach, but the good news is you don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company or a well-endowed private school to be competitive any longer. Even a small school can get in the marketing game today.

    Inbound marketing is the process of attracting prospective customers to your school using content marketing in conjunction with social media marketing and search engine optimization. Click to Tweet

    Inbound marketing

    Besides outbound marketing, there are other strategies for marketing your school, including pay per click (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO), blogging, social media, opt-in emails, digital marketing, and content marketing. These methods, considered inbound marketing, are also referred to as “pull” marketing because it is intended to pull customers to you when they are looking for what you offer. It involves earning their attention organically and not bugging or begging.

    In this blog, we’ll talk about inbound marketing (also called content marketing and digital marketing), what the benefits are, and how schools can make use of this marketing strategy to increase enrollment and establish a respected school brand. 

    The advantages of inbound marketing are that it is typically easier to measure the results and, according to Demand Metric, content marketing costs 62% less and generates 3x more leads than outbound marketing. HubSpot’s 2018 report says that 72% of marketers say that relevant content creation was their most effective SEO tactic. In fact, HubSpot also reports that schools using inbound marketing are 7x more likely to report higher ROI than schools using outbound marketing efforts. 

    Inbound marketing stages

    Inbound marketing is the process of attracting prospective customers to your school using content marketing in conjunction with social media marketing and search engine optimization. The goal is to create valuable experiences at each touch point, particularly your school website and blog, by providing helpful content that is relevant to those prospective customers’ needs.

    Inbound Marketing Funnel

    Steps for inbound marketing typically include the following:

    1. Attracting: Pulling in targeted visitors. You will use strategies like content marketing, social media, videos, and blogging.
    2. Converting: Turning those visitors into leads. This can be as simple as having them complete a form with their contact information to gain access to content or information they need. 
    3. Nurturing: Turning those leads into customers. This requires that you nurture them as they progress through the decision-making stages. Your goal is to give the lead the necessary information to learn the facts and make a conclusion. It also needs to deliver the emotional evidence to feel you are the right choice for them.
    4. Closing: Taking the sale. If your goal is enrollment, it is when the parents complete the student application. If you are trying to attract quality staff, it is when the applicant sends you their resume. If you are looking for donations or volunteers, it is when they send you a donation or sign up as a volunteer.
    5. Delighting: Delivering on your promises. Once they are a customer, you must delight them through the services you provide, the education you deliver, and the student success they enjoy. When you do, their students will stay with you; they will refer you to their friends and neighbors, become advocates for your school, and often become alumni who donate to your school and your causes long after their children have moved on.

    So, where to begin?

    This can all seem overwhelming if you are a small school with few resources, but you can do it with planning. Assuming you have picked a primary marketing goal as a starting point, you’ll want to develop a consistent plan of action, consistently apply those actions, and then evaluate the outcomes. Here is a sample inbound marketing plan to get you started:

    Step #1: Select your primary goals 

    • What do you need your school inbound marketing to accomplish? To attract the right visitors to your school website (where most of your inbound marketing will play out), you need to select a purpose for the effort. 
    • You’ll want to be sure your marketing goal is a SMART goal. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
    • Most of the time, a school’s marketing efforts center around increasing enrollment or improving the quality of your applicants (attracting those ideal students or applicants). Other common inbound campaign goals are for recruiting quality staff, educating the public to pass a tax levy or bond election, or strengthening a weak school brand. What is your inbound marketing goal? 
    •  Download the Goal Planning Worksheet for K–12 Schools.

    Step #2: Develop your customers' personas

    A persona is a composite of your existing (or ideal) customer’s characteristics. They will be the foundation for all of the content you will develop for your inbound marketing. By understanding your ideal customer’s characteristics and needs, you become the right solution—the best match for them.

    • Create personas for your target audience. You may have more than one target, and as they have different needs, this will require different messaging. Detailing each one will let you create a personalized marketing approach. Creating a persona for each target is a common practice. 
    • If you are just getting started with inbound marketing, try to keep this step to no more than two or three personas as your primary targets. You can add others later. 
    • The personas you develop can and should be highly customized. If you are a school serving K–8 students, you will ask very different questions to flesh out your personas than if you served high school age students. This applies to private versus public, faith-based versus vocational schools, etc. You need to understand what your personas' needs are, the problems they must solve, and goals they have in mind. Basically, you want to know what job they need to hire a school to do, or maybe why they are firing their current school.
    • Download our Persona Development Worksheet to get started. Or, check out this list of a variety of persona templates from the complex to the simple.

    Step #3: Document your customer’s journey

    Marketers call the process that someone goes through before deciding to purchase a product or service “the buyer’s journey.” For our purposes, it is the process a parent (your customer) goes through before selecting a school for their child (or possibly before firing their current school and selecting a new one). There are four stages in their journey:

    1. Awareness stage: they realize they have a problem.
    2. Consideration stage: they mentally define the problem and research options to solve it. (Spoiler alert: school websites and a Google search are primary options for this research.)
    3. Decision stage: they choose a solution.
    4. Delighted stage: they are your customer and are delighted with their decision.

    It is during the buyer’s journey that you will discover possible triggers that will push them from the awareness stage to the decision stage. A simple example might be a parent whose child will be turning five years old, and it will soon be time to register for kindergarten. Before this, they were curious about what was available, but now they must make a choice and enroll their child. Your content should include the type of information that will be that call to action to move them toward a desirable conclusion. For a more detailed explanation, use the Customer’s Journey Worksheet.

    Step #4: Select keyword phrases for search engine optimization (SEO)

    Now that you created target personas, you better understand their problems and concerns. So, what content can you create that will address their concerns or that your solutions will alleviate? What types of information are they looking for that you can deliver? You’ll need a list of possible topics that your school is uniquely positioned to answer. For example, if you are a small school competing against larger neighboring schools, create answers to questions on your website and as content in a video download, eBook, or checklist called “Big Benefits of a Small School.” Or, if you are targeting students with specific interests, consider content that engages the parents of your ideal student, like “How to Match Your Child’s Interests to the Right School Choice.”

    Consider what parents or students would put into an online search to get the answers they need or to solve their problems. Those are the keyword phrases that you will use on your website so they will find your school. You will use the targeted keywords on your website, social media posts, emails, landing pages, and content downloads. Start with a list of 100 or so relevant keywords. Those keywords will NOT be the name of your school or your programs. Use keywords and phrases related to the interests you have identified in their personas. Your content should provide information about those interests and topics. If you aren’t sure, ask your existing students’ parents what information they used, or could have used, when they were deciding on the right school for their child.

    For example, you will use identified keywords in longer phrases (called long tail keywords) for which your ideal personas might search:

    “How can high school prepare your student for a medical career.”
    “Rewarding technology careers and foundational courses students need.”
    “Starting your child’s education strong; begin in kindergarten.”

    Step #5: Create persona- and journey-specific content

    Now, begin to create informative content that provides answers to problems your ideal customers need. Help them become knowledgeable. Remember, your content shouldn’t be about you, but about the customer’s needs. You want to position your school as the experts to do that, but not by a hard sales pitch. Use stories, examples, and valuable tips to help them see your school as a possible match, or provide them with information that lets them form that opinion through your content.

    You are providing this helpful information in exchange for their contact information. You are using the keyword strategy we discussed above to uncover and create interesting and useful content ideas. You’ll use these keywords in blog titles, meta-tags, collateral, and content downloads. As part of your inbound marketing plan, you’ll calendar a regular schedule to create additional content. Need some more marketing ideas? Check out our 51 Ways to Market Your School blog.

    To be continued…

    You’re halfway there. You have a basic understanding of what inbound marketing is and why it matters for every educational institution. But keep reading and learn about the rest of the process in Part 2 of Inbound Marketing for Schools.

    Or, if you'd like to get more information about what it takes to begin a marketing plan for your school's inbound marketing, just complete our Inbound Marketing Assessment Form today!

    School Marketing in the Digital Age eBook
    424597
    ADA Accessible Documents
    2019-01-01

    Where is the first place someone will look for information about your school? There is a good chance they will pick up their phone and not call, but head straight to your website to find what they need. This means, it’s your job (unless you are one of our clients, in which case, it is our job), to ensure your website has everything everyone needs at all times and that the information is available to all viewers, regardless of whether or not they have disabilities. Whether the information is directly on your website or linked to as a PDF or another website, accessibility is mandatory. Accessibility is the law and more importantly, the right thing to do.

    While visiting a friend, I saw her daughter, Jenny, attempt to access her school’s website to find what she needed. Unfortunately, the result was not very favorable and honestly, it was a little hard to watch. Jenny is a smart and independent student who does not see herself as someone with a disability. Of course, that is, until someone makes her feel that way. 

    troubled student at computer

    Jenny is a seventh-grade student struggling with a science assignment. As we would expect most seventh graders to do, Jenny went to her school’s website to access the instructions her teacher provided in a PDF document. After receiving assistance from her mom to find the document (we do not manage her school’s website, which is not set up in an organized fashion), she opened the document only to realize that it was not very helpful at all. 

    Jenny suffers from a visual impairment called coloboma. With this condition, there is a cleft or gap in some part of the eye. In Jenny’s case, the gap is in her retina, and as a result, it’s as if she is viewing the world through a pinhole. Jenny often uses a screen reader to help her navigate the web. Unfortunately, however, the PDF document she needed to read was not created accessibly, and Jenny couldn’t find the information on her own.  

    This is just one of many examples of an accessibility compliance failure. Jenny needed the information to complete her assignment. If all of the other students in her class could access the information on their own, shouldn’t she have been able to as well? Don’t let this happen to your students. Be sure your teachers and staff are trained on how to create accessible documents. 

    More Training?

    Now you are probably wondering how you are going to train them, when they will have time to complete the training, and what it will cost you to train them. Then, you will begin to think about all of the documents already on your website such as registration forms, bell schedules, newsletters, and every other document you thought you could just simply link to. So now you are wondering, “Can’t someone do this for us?” We can answer all of those questions for you!

    If you prefer to have your staff do their own training, we offer affordable document accessibility training that everyone in your district can access. Yes, you read that correctly. Everyone in your district can access the accessibility training for one low price. Since the training is provided online, your staff can complete it any time of the day or night. (Note: If you are a School Webmasters website management client, this service is already included for free.)

    Simple Affordable Solution

    Document ComplianceIf you realize your staff does not have the time to master document accessibility, we can handle it all for you. We offer document accessibility services that you can personalize to fit your needs. Whether you would like us to just remediate all of your current documents or manage your documents on an ongoing basis, we can take care of it all for you. Contact us today to find out how we can provide you the document accessibility services you need at an unbeatable price!


    526427
    School Public Relations: Do You See It?
    2019-01-01
    Mother and daughter meet with teacher.

    Recently I met our 8-year-old daughter’s teacher for the typical parent-teacher conference. My daughter enjoys this teacher and her class. As the teacher shared insights into my daughter’s school performance, I appreciated her pleasant and professional approach. What impressed me most was how the teacher pointed out something that surprised her about some of our daughter’s test scores. We discussed it and both made notes to check in on the matter at a later date. 

    Two weeks following the conference, my daughter brought home a graded assignment with a “parent signature required” stamp at the top. Immediately, I knew why the teacher had requested my signature. This homework allowed me to see something the teacher noticed per our conference. In the hectic every day, I may have missed it had the teacher not respectfully called my attention to it. As I signed my name on the page, I could picture the teacher saying, “Take a look at her progress. Do you see it? Let me know you see it.” 

    Sitting at my kitchen table that day, I felt excited. I felt a part of the process. I feel like I’m helping my daughter succeed in her education. 

    In this fast-moving world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by duty and possibility. As a school administrator entrusted with the education of youth and fostering a positive school brand to current and potential families, your job is not easy. Take comfort in the reality that powerful components for your school’s success already exist in your school—the valuable relationship of teachers and parents. 

    Healthy Parent-Teacher Relationships

    Your teachers are the boots on the ground every day. The relationship between them and parents is at the core of your school public relations. Do you see it? 

    Here are five ingredients to healthy parent-teacher relationships and how they relate to public relations for schools.

    1. PR-friendly teachers establish communication lines. 

    From the moment children enroll in your school, communication between parents and teachers arguably becomes the most important form of school communication. Classrooms full of children with different backgrounds all deserve to be honored and respected. E-mail addresses, other contact information, and understanding the parent’s communication preferences are helpful in establishing links between school and home. Faculty and staff are the ones to bridge the gap between families—the home base for their students. This connection establishes an expectation that all have a role to play in the student’s education.

    2. PR-friendly teachers set and meet clear expectations. 

    When people have an accurate idea of and purpose for the road ahead, the value of the journey is apparent. As educators, you benefit from parents who catch your vision. The more engagement you can get, the better. According to Meredith Bleak, a second-grade teacher in Arizona, “Parents, teachers, and staff must all adopt the idea that every child is their child and work together to help them in the best way possible.” 

    All children are at the school to increase their quality of life, and as their cheerleaders, we need to be united in the “why” of their education. A few years ago, Megan Hall, 2013 Minnesota teacher of the year, gave a Ted Talk focused on the parent-teacher relationship. She points out that every day she tries to remember that the students she teaches are “the meaning of someone’s life.” You and your teachers set the tone with clear expectations and instructions. As you do so, you improve your school public relations as parents feel hopeful and engage in their student’s progress. 

    3. PR-friendly teachers point out successes! 

    Our 1st grader’s teacher recently emailed me to point out impressive progress our daughter had made. Though she has struggled with reading, in one test she showed significant progress. We’ve been changing up how we support her learning path as a 6-year-old. The teacher’s e-mail gratified our efforts at home! Her two-paragraph e-mail took a few minutes to write, if that. I was happy for my daughter but also appreciated the fact that the teacher is on my team, and together witnessed this moment and celebrated together!

    4. PR-friendly teachers recognize and share concerns. 

    Anyone with a garden will tell you that weeding is much easier when the unwelcome plants are small and their roots less grounded in the earth. Similarly, when concerns about a student’s behavior first arise, or when challenges to a student’s education are smaller, teachers who reach out early face fewer barriers as they work to address those issues. Parents and teachers can work together as gardners, to help a student by weeding out, or recognizing concerns, instead of letting them grow and take root. I’m not sure there is anything more frustrating than to be contacted with bad news about something that is too late to do anything about.

    5. PR-friendly teachers recognize the long-lasting relationships with parents—for better or for worse. 

    Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, your school’s good image isn’t either. It’s built brick by brick, one positive experience after the other. As the first line of communication charged with the heavy mantle of the education of their assigned students, teachers’ interactions with students and parents either build or demolish your school’s reputation. Bleak points out, “If parents in a neighborhood hear good things about a teacher, they are likely to not only request that teacher for their child but also assume great things about the school. If a parent hears bad things about a teacher, then the opposite is true.”

    Healthy School-Teacher Relationships 

    Because teachers affect your school’s public relations through their individual roles, it is crucial to recognize your part in their success (and the school’s). Consider the three following ideas:  

    1. PR-friendly schools create a respectful, healthy school environment. 

    What surrounds the students at your school? Does your school environment foster learning, respect for self and others? ”The climate of a school and specifically a classroom,” Bleaks says, “has a lot to do with the relationship between parents and teachers. If the classroom and the school are clean and welcoming places, parents feel eased by leaving their children there all day. If the classroom is chaotic and the school grounds are dirty or the office staff is nasty, parents assume the worst and are hesitant to give teachers the benefit of the doubt.”

    2. PR-friendly schools seek input. 

    Did you know that a competition to design the doors of the St. John's Baptistry in Florence is often credited for the beginning of the Renaissance? It’s amazing what a little public input can do! Teachers who ask for participation from students and their home-based educators can strike a powerful match creating synergy of various kinds. For example, sending home a survey asking how parents believe their children learn not only gives you a chance to learn more about your students, it also gives parents a chance to evaluate how well they understand their children's strengths as well as identify areas for improvement. (See the sample surveys from Week 2 of your Marketing Your School Toolkit for examples).

    Reaching out can take all kinds of forms. Imagine the possibilities for connection if a teacher sends a brief e-mail each day to one student. By the end of the month, twenty families roughly would have had at least one positive, individual connection. Such moments are crucial in curbing wildfires and building positive school public relations. Reach out!

    3. PR-friendly schools send in reinforcements to teachers! 

    Teachers are at the grass-root level of education in our country. Without them and their efforts each day, we would be in big trouble. Their duties are many; the pressure is high. As a school, if you want to strengthen your school’s public relations, you cannot do it without your teacher’s support. Help them. Support them. Encourage them. Train them. Most importantly, thank them. Their shoulders are the footstool of the future.  

    Help your teachers recognize their power as public relations liaisons to your parents. Recognize staff that go the extra mile and support them in their efforts. The word will spread. Efforts at your school and the resulting success stories fall down like rain in the desert. You won’t always see it, but you will see its effects. 

    As a school administrator, isn’t it comforting to know that in a school choice environment, you possess your most valuable tools for public relations already? If you’d like to know more about how to do more with less, check out Ridgefield Public Schools for more school PR and marketing tips. 

    Public Relations for Schools

    396224
    Don't Let Jargon Monoxide Poison Your School Communications, Part 2
    2018-12-21
    Parents clapping and looking happy

    To be an effective educator, you must be a good communicator. To be a good communicator, you must break your messages down into their simplest form and change the way you talk about programs and educational systems. Let’s commit to replacing jargon with more relatable language and compelling, authentic stories.  (You can read Part 1 here.)

    Identify Your Specific “Edu-Speak”

    The first step to eliminating jargon is to identify what qualifies as your school communications “jargon.” One of the best ways to do this is to ask a parent.

    Dahlia Lithwick, a parent and Ivy League-educated lawyer and journalist, described her fifth-grader’s back to school night in these words, “The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year’s system. Which I also didn’t understand. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I understood significantly less at this open house than I did at my sons’ open house during a sabbatical last year, when it took place overseas and in a foreign language.”

    Gather a focus group of parents and ask about the terms and phrases the district and schools use frequently. See if they understand what you mean by those phrases and how they relate to district and school communications.

    Another approach is to “test” your audience to see if your messages are clear. You can do this by creating a survey of some of your common topics and the words you use when describing or talking about programs. Ask your audience to define the terms. For example, you might ask “what does cooperative learning mean to you?” 

    Dehlia also said, “I felt as if I were toggling between a business school seminar and the space program; acronyms alone—seemingly random sequences of letters like MAP and SOL and EAPE—were being deployed more frequently than actual words.”

    Acronyms count as jargon too. In education, there are a lot of acronyms. Do parents know when you say, “stem” you mean “S.T.E.M.—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics?” By the time students reach high school, parents should be very familiar with S.T.EM. But depending on the educational background of a parent whose student is starting kindergarten, it may be the first time they’ve been exposed to S.T.E.M.

    One tip is to include a list of common acronyms and other definitions on back-to-school night to help orient parents to the language of your district. Give these acronyms and definitions a home on your school website so parents and the community can easily look up a reference they may not understand.

    Be Clear and Define Terms

    One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. In the movie, one of the characters, Vizzini, uses the word “inconceivable” several times (five to be exact). After one exclamation, another character says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

    Clarify your message by making sure your audience knows what you mean.  

    According to Kathy Klotz-Guest, “Clarity is the communicator’s burden, and busy people won’t take the time to decode your message. They shouldn’t have to.”

    This means that you can’t make assumptions when you communicate. Don’t assume your audience knows what you mean when you talk about “21st-century skills” or “growth mindsets.” It’s on you to define those words and phrases. If you want to talk about social-emotional learning, within the first few seconds, you should offer a definition. 

    William Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine, offers this advice when it comes to replacing jargon: “Words matter—in business and in life. I’ve always found that companies that aspire to do extraordinary things, leaders who aim to challenge the limits of what’s possible in their fields... offer rich and vivid descriptions of what they hope to do, where they hope to get, and why it matters.” 

    What do you hope your program will do? What exactly will the students learn? Why is it important? Use language that is relatable, engaging, approachable, and personal. 

    A word of caution: When providing clarity, be sure not to belittle your audience by telling them you’re going to provide clarity. I recently heard a story of a district leader who sent out a memo to parents letting them know she was going to translate a new district policy into “mom language.” Remember, the only reason they don’t understand edu-speak is because they are outsiders to your profession. Your parents may be doctors, lawyers, or educators themselves, but it does not exempt them from being able to understand educational jargon. What the district leader meant, and what she should have said, was, “We’re going to cut through our own jargon to make this more understandable.”

    Make Your Message Accessible 

    While we’re giving jargon the ax, it won’t hurt to simplify all our vocabulary. 

    I came home from babysitting one day and said to my husband, “I am not watching that kid again. He was absolutely incorrigible!” 

    My husband laughed and said, “What does that mean?”

    “Oh,” I said, “you know, he was really naughty!” The dictionary definition is “persistently bad” but he got the idea.

    I love words! My husband is a math-guy. We frequently do this back and forth where I’ll drop a ten-dollar word and then need to go back and give him a definition. He doesn’t mind it because he learns new words; I don’t mind it because it makes me think about my everyday vernacular. 

    I know I’m not alone in my love of ten-dollar words; however, it is important to consider your audience. If you are talking to a room of teachers and other educators—go ahead and use those sesquipedalian words! But when you’re speaking to parents and the community, never use a ten-dollar word when a one-dollar word will suffice.

    According to Kathy, “Big words may sound important; they’re not. Real experts know how to make the complex simple. …You’re not dumbing down your message; rather, you are making it more accessible to more people when you speak plainly to busy people.” 

    Improve Your School Public Relations With Good School Communications

    Remember the superintendent who suffered from the curse of the expert in Part 1? As soon as we realized that the community was struggling with her messages, we put our communications coordinator to work helping to break down the district jargon. 

    In speaking with this district recently, we learned that the communication coordinator is “able to interpret school jargon and help the decision-makers better talk so the public will understand.” As she sits with the administration, the communications coordinator will say things like, “Now, what do you mean by that?” Or, “Do I understand this correctly?” She then takes what she learns from the administrators and turns it into something everyone in the community can understand for the website and district newsletter. 

    Having this outsider’s ear to help the district identify their specific jargon is helping to improve their public relations by making their school communications more accessible. 

    When you understand what your audience may struggle to understand in your message, and when you take the time to be clear and deliberate in your language, you will build trust and credibility with your audience. 

    If your district struggles with the curse of the expert and your community is suffering the effects of jargon monoxide, School Webmasters can help. Complete this questionnaire to learn more.

    396133
    Don't Let Jargon Monoxide Poison Your School Communications, Part 1
    2018-12-18
    Parents looking confused and frustrated

    Hockey has been my favorite sport since I turned eleven years old. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly popular here in my desert state of Arizona. So, if I start talking about breakaways, five-holes, slapshots, and dropping the gloves to the uninitiated, eyes glaze over, and I can tell what I said didn’t make sense.

    The same thing often happens when I start talking about communications. I get excited and start tossing around words like strategic communications, public relations, target audiences, SWOT analysis, and marketing. Sometimes I’m met with nodding heads of understanding (because they’ve heard many of those words before), but it’s usually accompanied with a furrowed brow, and I can tell I’ve caused a little confusion. 

    Vacant expressions, glazed eyes, confusion—these are all classic side effects of “jargon monoxide” poisoning. 

    “Jargon monoxide” is a brilliant term popularized by Kathy Klotz-Guest to explain the effects jargon has on communication. Just like carbon monoxide can poison the air we breathe, jargon monoxide poisons our messages. 

    By definition, jargon is special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for others to understand. I dedicated six years to earning a bachelors and masters degree in mass communications, and all that “mass comm” jargon is like a second language to me. 

    As academics and education professionals, there are terms and phrases that you use on a daily basis to which you possess a much deeper understanding than others outside educational circles. 

    Why does this matter? In Kathy’s words, “[Jargon] hurts you and your credibility because it pollutes your message and dilutes any chance for clarity and differentiation you have.” 

    The Harmful Effects of Jargon Monoxide

    As educational professionals, many of you are also long-time academics. Because of your background, you may not even realize when you use words and phrases that are beyond your audience. Even when your audience members are highly educated, using jargon can hurt not only your message but your reputation as well. 

    One journalist who has been covering education for over 25 years labeled educational jargon “Edu-speak.” She explains that edu-speak “often wind[s] up sowing confusion or rendering important ideas incomprehensible.”

    Here is a real-life example of what I’m talking about. A certain district I frequently work with has a wonderful superintendent. The superintendent is very intelligent, highly qualified, and cares deeply for the students, teachers, and staff in her district. 

    An example of something she might say at a board of education meeting is, “[We focus on] learning that produces cultural proficiency, global awareness, higher order, and rigorous thinking… Students will achieve social-emotional learning via dynamics of 3D design, earning them their digital citizenship.” 

    Maybe you’re already familiar with a lot of those terms. But for people like me and the parents in your community—cultural proficiency, global awareness, digital citizenship, social-emotional learning—those phrases don’t mean anything.  

    Sure, we can figure that digital means technology, and citizenship means being a member of a community. So “digital citizenship” must mean that students are going to learn how to use technology to be responsible members of society. But the truth is, very few members of your audience are going to let their brains think that deeply on one phrase. Instead, they will gloss over it and miss your point. That’s the best case scenario. The worst is that using terms your audience doesn’t understand will make your audience feel stupid. As humans, we don’t like to be wrong, and we don’t want to feel stupid. When we are made to feel like we don’t understand, we disengage, become frustrated, and sometimes even get angry.

    Back to our real-life example: A letter to the editor in the local paper brought the issue of the superintendent’s jargon monoxide effect to our attention. The community member wrote, “These phrases are smokescreen double-talk no one can understand. [The superintendent’s] unintelligible words seem to me like a tool to diminish others; namely, parents and taxpayers.” 

    Don’t Be Defensive—Be Willing To Change

    The author of the letter to the editor was clearly frustrated and angry. I’ll be honest, when I first read that letter to the editor, I was offended on behalf of the superintendent. She would never “double-talk!” Nothing she says is a “smokescreen!” Then I got it. The author said, “unintelligible words.” That is the key. The community member felt talked down to because the superintendent was using jargon! 

    Recognizing and reacting to jargon requires the know-how to step back and analyze your communications. It means making a change in how you present your information to your audiences in order to boost clarity. 

    Often, by using jargon we are attempting to establish ourselves as experts and develop a trust with the audience. But the effect is opposite. Yes, we appear to be experts because we “sound like we know what we’re talking about.” But in the end, jargon erodes trust, as you can see from the above example.

    Jargon erodes trust because it excludes “outsiders.” The author of the letter to the editor felt like the superintendent was diminishing the parents and taxpayers of the community by talking “above” them. In other words, she felt stupid.

    The author let us know what communication was important to her as she continued her letter asking, "Where is the joy of learning for our students expressed? Where is the student’s responsibility to family, community and country encouraged? How are ethics, courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness explored and developed with our students?"

    Little did she realize the superintendent was talking about those things. However, the language the superintendent used caused confusion in her message. When we are experts in something, other people don’t know what we’re talking about. This is sometimes called, “the curse of the expert.” And in school communications, if we don’t clarify our messages, we run the risk of being misunderstood and alienating our stakeholders. 

    In the next blog, we’ll look at how to avoid the curse of the expert and give you some easy-to-follow steps to filter out that deadly jargon monoxide.

    Jargon Monoxide - Part 2

    396125
    School Communication Best Practices: 13 Tips for Newsletters
    2018-12-11
    Street signs with the words boring and exciting pointing in opposite directions

    Every week it comes—a plethora of papers and school communications from my children’s schools. They come home via colorful backpacks, fabulous apps, and informative e-mails. My personal favorite delivery method is the reminder pinned to my child’s sleeve! 

    As a parent in a busy family, one of my greatest struggles is getting the messages sent from schools. My children attend high school, junior high, elementary, and preschool, and staying au courant in our home is no small feat. So, if you can get my attention, you’re really doing something right.

    First, I am proud to say I am a fan of the oft-underrated mode of communication called newsletters. 

    I think newsletters possess a fabulous potential for rapidly connecting your school to the multitude of homes your students return to each day. This school-to-home connection is immeasurable when considering your students’ individual needs. 

    However, newsletters and I have a love-hate relationship. I either really love them, or I completely ignore them. If you want me (a typical busy parent) to take time to read your newsletter, you need to make it worth my while.

    Ultimately, it’s all about content, design, and format. Here is a compiled list of best practices for any school newsletter from a busy parent’s perspective. 

    School Newsletter Tips

    1. Have a purpose. What is the purpose of your newsletter? Ask yourself often, am I accomplishing the goals I had when the newsletter first started? Ask your readers for feedback. What are they looking to gain by reading your newsletter? Does your school newsletter engage its readers? Does it inform in a creative, entertaining way?

    2. Content is still king. You may get many to read your first new school newsletter; however, if you want to hook them from edition to edition, you must constantly fill it with valuable information. As you consider what this type of information might be, think about your school mission and goals. Using this powerful tool helps you publish supportive evidence of the school’s values and all the exciting things happening!

    3. Create enticing subject lines to increase readability. If sending your school newsletter via e-mail, mix up the subject line. I receive an e-mail newsletter every week with the same subject line. At first, I opened it, but then I gradually started skipping over it. Even though the content probably changes, the stale subject line makes me think it will be just the same old news. Keep it fresh!

    4. Consider your audience. It might not just be parents who read your newsletter. When considering your audience, remember the students. One lesson I learned as a PTO president is that McDonald’s has a great marketing plan. Even if most parents don’t want to eat there, they go. Why? They go because the children are asking for it! McDonald’s doesn’t just reach out to parents in their marketing; they market directly to children. I’m not sure any school marketing plan can be truly successful unless it includes its students as part of the audience the school is striving to reach. If you reach the children, they will market for you too!

    5. Give them the full picture. Since your students’ families do not participate in all school events, bring the school events to them by sharing some highlights from a variety of school activities—the every day as well as unique. Why does this matter? As you share these highlights, you bring the activity to the students’ families in story form. Sometimes parents grapple with understanding the full scope of what their children experience at school from the child’s perspective. One of your newsletter goals should be to increase readership as well as include parents more in the educational process. It helps parents to have a chance to be like “flies on the wall.” Ask yourself, “How can I better, more accurately share the perspective of the positive and necessary school experiences with students’ families?”

    6. Be personal. Don’t be afraid to express your feelings with your school community. It’s not likely you have the chance to share all of your thoughts with those in your school community through conversations alone. When you see something good going on at your school, share it! Share it often! As you add your enthusiasm to your message, families will notice. 

    7. Write it well. If you want to draw your audience in, try hard to avoid using passive voice. You engage your audience by using active sentences. For example, check out the difference between the following sentences:

      a. The solar system was explained on Wednesday, and on Thursday, models of the planets were made.

      b. Ask your children to share interesting facts they learned about the solar system! On Thursday, students created their own solar system models. Watch for them!

      Does one phrase engage you more than the other? While both sentences contain important information, the second sentence is engaging, inviting. There is an underlying message of reader inclusion, an invitation from the educator to the parent. This should be an important aspect of any school communication. Even if writing does not intimidate you, consider including The Elements of Style, aka “the little book” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, in your personal library. The book contains simple and direct writing tips and continues to earn credibility through the years.

    8. Keep it brief. Newsletters should look more like an infographic than a novella. Busy parents don’t have time to read lengthy newsletters. Make it look good, simplify messages, and provide a link to the school website where they can get more information. Rather than a wordy page explanation of the things you are talking about in your classroom, consider showing them. White space is critical.

    9. Share the good around you. Everyone appreciates sincere recognition for their efforts. Newsletters can be a great place to communicate these feelings towards faculty, students, school staff, and their families. When your students and faculty achieve certain milestones, post their pictures prominently in the letter. Don’t limit the achievements to one certain category. You may feel strongly about how important academics or sports are, but keep your horizons open. Recognize all students!

    10. Don’t worry about repeating yourself. If you share information in a variety of ways, you are increasing your audience. Don’t just copy and paste your message, however; as you share repeated information you might consider dressing your message up in different ways based on the means of communication.

    11. Be creative! Engage your audience by formatting your newsletter with an attractive visual approach. Imagery is key to getting your readers’ attention! What images could you use to enhance your message? What if you were to use GIFs and emojis to catch parents and students’ attention in places they don’t expect it—like a newsletter? Use color! It’s economic these days, especially if you are sending your newsletter via e-mail. Imagery adds depth to the message you are sending.

    12. Pass the mic! Allow others to share their thoughts. Think about ways to open your newsletter to include the voices of your school community. Involve varied voices—include students. My high school newspaper had a section with a question answered by random students in the school—topics ranged from current events to holidays or getting-to-know-you questions. Consider implementing something small into your form that you can easily add that personalizes each newsletter and makes people look forward to the next edition.

    13. Think mobile. Many folk open e-mails on their phones these days. What happens when they open your newsletter from their phones? How does it appear? How can you ensure that your newsletter is mobile-friendly? One easy way to make your newsletter mobile-friendly is by driving traffic to your website. A school district in Ridgefield, Connecticut, sends out its monthly newsletter with story snippets that link back to the news page of their website for full articles.

    Newsletters strengthen or weaken your school brand and can be a valuable public relations tool. As an effective form of school storytelling, use newsletters to publish all that is good and necessary. I’m confident that making the minimal extra effort to follow these tips will go a long way toward increased readability of your newsletters, which will translate into a well-informed and active school community.

    396118
    The Joy of Giving Accessibility
    2018-12-04
    laptop screen showing two hands holding heart with text below that says Give Accessibility

    Charles Dickens wrote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” At this time of the year, we often look for ways to lighten the burdens of those around us. Have you ever thought about giving the gift of accessibility? Think of it as simply holding the door for a stranger. When you provide digital accessibility on a website or a document, you are holding the door for a friend and a stranger to let them enter and enjoy the same valuable information every other person visiting your website or reading your documents enjoys.

    How do I give the gift of digital accessibility?

    As with any gift as grand as accessibility, you first need to have a plan. To develop this plan, we have compiled a list of questions we recommend asking yourself (or your tech guy). As a bonus, we have also provided answers. Everyone loves an open book test, right? 

    Is my website developer trained in accessibility?

    If you already know your developer is trained in accessibility, you have most likely already had some type of discussion with them about providing an accessible website. If an accessible website was promised and your website is complete, you are ready to test it to confirm it is actually accessible. Note: If you are a School Webmasters client, your answer is yes. Our development and management staff are trained in accessibility and have made sure the content on your website is accessible.

    If your developer is not trained in accessibility, you can pretty much count on the fact that your website is not accessible. If this is you, stop and contact us right away before you are known as the Scrooge of the season!

    If you are not sure, this is the first sign you most likely do not have an accessible website. Developers who are trained in accessibility do not hide this amazing skill. We shout it from our desktops. We know how important it is and, we have spent many hours learning what it takes to create and maintain an accessible website.

    Are all staff who submit content for and manage my website trained in accessibility?

    computer accessibility training

    In addition to your website developer and website management teams, you want to be sure anyone creating and submitting content for your website understands and has completed website accessibility training. At a minimum, this training should include what website accessibility is, who it affects, why it matters, and how to create accessible documents. 

    If you are a School Webmasters website management client, we provide free accessibility training for all your district staff. You have the ability to view and print reports to show who has completed training. If we do not manage your website and you are interested in training, visit our Website Accessibility Training page for more information. We are sure you won’t find it for a better price anywhere else.  

    Have I tested my website for accessibility?

    A trained website accessibility auditor uses both manual and automated testing procedures to verify the accessibility of a website. Additionally, we recommend using people with visual, auditory, cognitive, and/or other disabilities to determine the actual accessibility of your website. 

    If you have not already tested your website, W3C offers a list of automated tools you can use to test web content for accessibility. While these tools are extremely valuable and will give you a general idea of how accessible your website is, it is important to remember that automated testing alone is not sufficient to determine accessibility. You will still need to perform manual testing to actually ensure accessibility. Since W3C’s list includes numerous tools, we recommend using the filters provided to help you decide which tools will work best for you.

    How do I fix accessibility errors?

    female working in code on desktop

    The answer to this question depends on who manages your website. If you provide all of your website services, including development and updates, then the first step to correcting accessibility errors is training. Once you are trained on how to create accessible web content, be sure you have access to the HTML, Javascript, CSS, PHP, and any other programming used to make your website looks and functions as it should. Since most accessibility is handled in the programming and styles of a website, that’s where you will make your corrections.

    If you outsource your website services, we recommend providing a detailed list of errors to your website provider. You will need to work closely with them to ensure every barrier is removed. After barriers are removed and remediation is complete, test your website again to confirm accessibility. 

    If you are a School Webmasters client, great news! We do it all for you. In addition to developing your website accessibility, we will keep it accessible day in and day out. Our quality control team continuously reviews our clients’ websites for accessibility. There are no extra fees or hidden costs for our accessibility services. We know the importance of accessibility and include this with all our website packages

    Are my PDF and other documents accessible?

    Document Accessibility ADA Compliant Certified by School Webmasters badgeRemember to test the documents you link from your website also. What good is a lunch menu if someone can’t actually read it? Be sure every document you link to that has information about your services is accessible, including menus, board documents, registration forms, handbooks, classroom policies, etc. If the content on your web pages is accessible but you have failed to supply accessible documents, the web page that includes the linked document is not completely accessible. 

    As with the content on your website, the best way to handle document accessibility is during development. This means creating accessible documents rather than remediating them later. Of course, this will also save you money. If you do not have access to original documents, it will be more difficult, but it may be possible to remediate them in their current format. If you are not sure how to do this, let us know. We offer document remediation services to help you with all your document accessibility needs. 

    Do I have a statement of accessibility on my website?

    Whether you are in the process of remediating your website, developing a new website, or have already verified accessibility, we recommend providing a statement of accessibility. The content of your statement depends on where you are in the process. If you are in the process of remediating your website, state this. This lets your users (and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights) know that you are aware of the barriers and are working to correct them.

    We also recommend providing a form (an accessible one, of course) so your viewers can easily contact you in the event they experience a barrier. This way you can address any barriers right away.

    I’m not sure I have the budget for website accessibility.

    employee worried about accessibility budget

    We know paying for website accessibility is not always something schools originally plan for when creating a budget for their website. However, we also know that not including accessibility means you may be facing a much bigger budget item when someone does not have access to your content. In addition to the cost of remediation, you must consider the legal fees you will encounter should you receive a letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

    Think of your accessibility budget as your emergency savings account. If you plan correctly (with School Webmasters), you will never have to actually use it. Planning ahead allows you to include accessibility during every phase of website development and management without hurting your budget. It allows you to keep your website accessible. If you are our client, you don’t even have to buy expensive accessibility monitoring software. We do it all for you!

    Don’t be the person giving the belated gift. Give accessibility now!

    girl giving a gift

    Let’s get started today! We will help you feel the joy of giving as you provide digital content accessible to everyone. Contact us to see how easy it is to not only provide accessibility but also meet all the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act, Section 504, and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines!

    Create my accessible website today!

    526442
    Where are you spending your school website budget? Sales or Support?
    2018-12-04
    Handful of colorful piggy banks representing website budgets

    Let's discuss where schools typically choose to spend budgeted website funds. There are basically three choices when it comes to the school funds spent on their websites.

    1. Pay staff to develop and manage a free or open source CMS platform.
    2. Use a pre-developed platform (CMS platform) that is already created to serve the school’s specific needs and pay staff to manage it.
    3. Pay someone with expertise in the field to develop and manage the school website.

    You might, at first glance, assume that choice #1 is the more affordable, and the costs go up from there. In reality, you might be surprised to learn that is often NOT the case. But, in order to do get the facts, let’s look at it as a business owner would. The business owner would weigh all the costs, those he or she tracks and that have a line item in the budget, as well as the costs buried under those categories of “other duties as assigned,” as in staff costs.

    Let’s be honest. If you hire IT staff to take care of your technology needs (which are myriad) and then you assign them to learn and manage tasks that are communication-related, you are unlikely to create efficiencies or productivity. If you require teachers or principals or secretaries to learn software, maintain website accessibility compliance, and implement good communication practices, all of which are outside the skills and training for which you hired them, you might find some deficiencies. However, there is a cost involved. Every hour your staff spends on website management is a cost (tracked or not). 

    As the saying goes, “there is no free lunch.” If you want them to do the job right, it is going to take time and training, which means a cost is involved. If that is where you want them to focus their time, then that is awesome. Just provide them with the training and tools they need to do the job well. If you expect them to do the job because “well, someone has to do it,” then don’t expect much, and don’t complain when your website fails to accomplish your goals.

    Option #1 and #2: Content managed system (CMS) websites

    Whether you use an open source or vendor-provided CMS platform, the process is the same. The costs are also equivalent, in spite of the fact that an open source software doesn’t require a licensing fee. The open source software requires a level of expertise not needed for a vendor provided CMS. To understand a few of the challenges of any open source platform, read our article on WordPress. The staff costs can quickly outweigh the costs of using a vendor platform. You may not be aware of it simply because you aren’t tracking it. It is buried in staff salaries and not a line item that stands out.

    As a typical example from my own life, my assistant superintendent husband’s previous school district assigned a willing staff member to manage their website. They happened to be using a vendor provided CMS, so it didn’t require server management, security updates, and coding knowledge. The idea was that this staff member would spend a few hours a day doing website updates. This included adding content to just the district-level website (other staff members managed each school website). Over time, as the requirements of website management became more complex, this person was spending 60% of his time updating the website. When you factor in an experienced staff member’s salary, that meant the district was actually paying around $40K a year, plus the cost of the CMS platform, for just their district-level website management. If you factor in the time and training required of each person at the school levels also assigned these tasks, you can see that website management costs far more than a line item on the school’s budget.

    It’s those hidden costs that need to be acknowledged and addressed. They are real and they are necessary, but do they need to be so expensive? And, are you getting the quality that you deserve for the money spent? Are you really getting what your school needs?

    Option #3: Professional website management

    This is most typically the option used by very large school districts, large corporations, and those who can afford and need a dedicated communications team. In order to do an effective website management job, this effort needs to coordinate and support the goals for marketing, communications, public relations, customer service (customer retention), and customer recruitment (sales). They simply hire professionals trained in public relations and communications, and this team manages the school websites as part of their overall strategy. And the website is usually the hub of these communications strategies. The staff they hire are trained in all of these fields, can advise the school administrators, help with media relations and crisis management, and are key players in marketing your school. These folks know their stuff and deserve a seat at the decision-making table. Listen to them!

    But, what about the vast majority of schools that are not large enough to warrant this type of investment (even if they would definitely benefit from it)? They simply can’t afford that. What options do they have?

    Professional school webmasters

    Yep, there is such an option. Bear with me a bit longer as I explain how it works when a school wants its website to be more than just a place to hold required notices and a school calendar.

    • We design a website to fit your needs and budget. The cost can be as low as $1200 and includes all the graphics, copywriting, layout, and strategy that is required to deliver a turn-key, mobile-friendly school website. Our website development prices are similar to most CMS platforms, but theirs won’t include the consultation, copywriting, and sometimes not even the layout for your new site. Check out our video describing our development process.
    • In about six weeks, we take the website live and move you to the website management phase. We encourage our schools to provide access to anyone who would be a good resource for providing information, news, stories, or updates on what is happening at their school. They have access to our easy-to-use customer service portal where they send us any information they’d like us to add to the websites. They don’t need to have any training since we do the actual work of updating the sites. This means they don’t need to learn about website accessibility or best placement of content for readability or usability. We even review their requests for typos or grammar issues before placement.
    • The typical cost for this service is $149 per month (per site). We do your updates quickly and accurately (24 hours for sure, but usually the same day). We handle urgent requests even sooner. The staff doing your updates are all trained in website best practices, website accessibility compliance, and quality control, and they will even make suggestions about how to incorporate public relations, improve communications, and better utilize your website.

    As you can imagine, it would be very difficult to pay your staff members such a small amount and expect this level of training and expertise. This price also includes top-tier hosting and security for your websites. (Learn more about selecting school website hosting services.)

    Where does your money really go?

    If this sounds too good to be true, let me explain how we can do all of it for prices that are competitive with other providers who only offer CMS software. 

    First of all, when you hire a CMS vendor, the initial cost primarily goes to paying a sales commission. The development costs, if using a typical template system, are relatively small, but in order to get the word out about their company, they hire sales folks who get paid a commission. So, the actual development costs, unless you are paying for a fully custom website, are actually quite minimal since it doesn’t include the costly services of copywriting or consulting.

    At School Webmasters, we don’t have a sales team. It is just Jim, one of the owners (and the founder’s son). So instead, what are typically revenues going to sales staff, our revenues go directly to the staff who do the work for you. Who are those people? Well, again, we’re quite unique. Our staff of around 58 people are nearly all women who have left their careers to raise their children. They are copywriters, UI designers, graphic designers, coders, public relations professionals, project managers, teachers, proofreaders, and others who are working from home offices all around the United States. Their goals include continuing their professions (or in some cases, establishing a career) under their own terms so they can balance family and work. We allow that flexibility, and our business model sustains it quite well. They are simply amazing, which you’ll see as soon as you work with School Webmasters.

    Over time, schools needed more help with public relations and social media to make their websites more effective. So, we also offer services similar to those provided by a communications team. Even when you can’t begin to afford a full-time communications professional, we’ve got you covered. You can have a part-time communications coordinator, which we will hire, train, and manage from within your community for around $16K a year. You can have fully-managed social media support as well. Basically, we’re an affordable, professional communications resource for schools that value the power of effective school communications and website management.

    In summary…

    Whatever you decide to do, whether to stay with the process you have or make a change, set some goals for your school website. Use it as the communication powerhouse it is meant to be by keeping it current, informative, interesting, and accessible. And then do the math and figure out what you are really paying for your website management process, including your staff costs in time and training. Knowing the facts will help you make the best decision about how to manage your school website.


    400620
    3 Steps to Expert School Website Management
    2018-11-27
    3 steps drawn on chalk board

    Your school’s website is that critical intersection between public relations, customer service, marketing, media relations, communications, and branding. Website management is the process that makes it all work.

    In addition, website management ensures that your website servers, software upgrades, site performance, and security are continually monitored and maintained.

    Your website goals would, of course, include:

    • keeping your customers informed and engaged;
    • showing potential customers what you have to offer;
    • telling customers why they want or need what you provide;
    • building trust and confidence in your services; and
    • validating your brand and reputation.

    In addition to the aspects of effective school communications listed above, you need the practical applications of an attractive school website design, intuitive navigation, up-to-date and engaging content, and a fully-accessible, mobile-friendly site. And delivering in each of these areas requires a variety of skill sets, skills rarely possessed by just one individual. It often takes a team to make it all happen.

    How does your website measure up?

    Sound a bit more complicated than you imagined? Thought you could assign a few staff members to add occasional updates to the website calendar or post a few attachments and call it good? Unfortunately, that is precisely what many schools do. 

    There is a better way, but like anything worthwhile, it involves knowing your goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan.

    When this is the case, parents can’t rely on their child’s school website for information. They are forced to call the office, usually in frustration, because they don’t know about something that is scheduled or they don’t know about a policy or requirement that affects them. They complain about the school’s failure to communicate. They feel disengaged and often unwelcome. Far too many schools’ reputations, public schools in particular, suffer from this situation.

    There is a better way, but like anything worthwhile, it involves knowing your goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan.

    Step #1: What is your school’s website purpose?

    I imagine you want to use your school website (or any website for that matter) to obtain multiple goals. So, begin by listing and then prioritizing them. You may not be able to put them all into play at once, so what is your top priority? Here is a list of possibilities to get you started thinking about your school’s priorities:

    • Contact information (where we are located or how to reach us)
    • Parent information (letting parents know what is happening at your schools, including the when, where, and why)
    • Attract students (marketing to increase enrollment or finding the students with the interests and goals that relate to your school’s strengths or specialties)
    • Recruit staff (finding the most qualified and dedicated team who matches your school culture and goals)
    • Change perceptions (correcting negative, maybe faulty, public opinions about your school or possibly education in general)
    • Build a strong brand (establishing a respected school brand and a trusted reputation)
    • Engage parents (helping parents to feel included and engaged in their child’s education to improve student outcomes)
    • Create community support (gaining the respect and support of community members, parents, taxpayers, and local media)
    • Fulfill legal requirements (maintaining state and federal laws for notices, postings, access, etc.)
    • Establish trust (using communications to earn trust through transparency)
    • Tell our stories (sharing your successes and progress through stories, videos, and news to give people a glimpse inside your school)
    • Seek donations or volunteers (to encourage donations to worthy efforts and causes or to find willing volunteers to share the load)

    Depending on what your school priorities and needs are, you would begin by focusing your website content on the needs and interests of those particular audiences. For example, if you chose to focus on increasing enrollment this year, you would:

    • Make sure the strengths and specialties your school offers are prominent on your website. 
    • Highlight the primary reasons prospective parents select your school. 
    • Present your school strengths in a variety of ways, including video, stories, testimonials, stats, or infographics. 
    • Review your enrollment processes, streamlining the application steps to make it easy to submit. 

    If you do all of this and then share your great content on your school social media channels, the local media, and with local groups like the Chamber of Commerce, real estate agents, and parent organizations, your website is supporting your goal of increasing enrollment. Great!

    Now, move on to the next goal on your priority list and tackle that one. Eventually, as you focus on each goal, you will have a website that is helping to accomplish each priority of your school communications and marketing efforts. The key is to begin.

    Step #2: Creating a project plan for each website goal

    #1  List Goals

    List all the school goals you hope your website should or could support (even if you aren’t sure how you’ll do it yet).

    #2 Prioritize Goals

    Now put them in the order of what will bring you the most benefit or is a pain point that you need to remove quickly.

    #3 Select and Strategize

    Select one of these priority goals, and analyze ways you can deliver on that goal considering each of the delivery methods (story, information, interaction, visual, etc.) and how those ideas would be practical considering the areas of school marketing, communications, public relations, and customer support.

    #4 Calendar and track

    All of this can feel like a lot to do, but if you take it one bite at a time, you can accomplish it over time. Whether you do it using an hour a week or a project a month, depending on your resources and your available time, schedule the steps into your day.

    #5 Determine evaluation criteria

    Decide how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. You might begin by adding analytics to your website to see if traffic to those pages or content increases. Look at conversion, for example. Do you get more enrollments and are they handled more smoothly? Do enrollments save staff time? Are errors decreased, or are parents asking fewer questions about the process? Each goal might require a different evaluation, but decide how you will determine if your changes have moved you closer to your goal.

    Step #3: Applying the process

    Next, your daily website management processes should support your established goals. That goes without saying. But how does the actual process look? What is a consistent process to keep your school websites effective, informative, accurate, inviting, and accessible?

    #1 Gather stories that support your goals

    Every member of your school’s staff, from the custodian to the superintendent, sees successes, improvements, and examples daily. Create ways and establish expectations (even if it means making assignments to your staff) to submit these great happenings. Then turn them into news, stories, examples, videos, photo ops, and social media posts for your websites. 

    #2 Recognize and reward those who provide this information

    Make it a habit of showing your appreciation for staff engagement. If you do, it will encourage more engagement, more stories, and more great content you can use. You can do this at staff meetings, at governing board meetings, or with handwritten thank you notes, but whatever method you choose, show the staff that you value their efforts.

    #3 Create quality website management processes

    These include making it simple for staff to submit news, information, events, and photos to your communication channels. Website updates should be checked for quality control, typos, grammar, tone-of-voice, and consistent messaging. Develop a content style guide that anyone who touches the website knows they must follow. Assure that website updaters maintain website accessibility standards for both those website updates and for any document you link to from the website (PDFs, Word, Google Docs, etc.). Remove outdated information quickly. Make sure your website is always current. Schedule regular checks to remove or fix broken links, and review the site layout in multiple browsers and devices.  

    We realize this is a relatively high-level overview of what effective website management entails. To accomplish specific goals throughout the year, particularly as it relates to school communications, marketing, and school public relations, you’d need to create a detailed project plan or campaign for individual events or goals. 

    For example, you might develop a campaign for back-to-school events that would integrate the website, social media, video, photos, stories, interviews, and perspectives from parents, staff, and students. It would include details for each aspect of the activities, developing content for parent notifications and invites, wording and images for postings on social media, content to pitch to the local media, assignments for the event itself, and all of this tied to due dates. Here is a simple project plan you are welcome to use as an example.

    Here’s a video outlining what goes into the school website management processes we provide to our clients. Feel free to use our methods, or better yet, hit the easy button, and let us do this for you as well!

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    Server and software management

    In addition to the processes you create for managing the website content we describe above, if you host your own website, which is common with open source platforms like WordPress, you’ll need to establish scheduled processes for website software or server maintenance. All systems vary, so have someone with expertise in this area audit your processes to assure you aren’t missing some critical aspect that could put your website in jeopardy. 

    For example, typical server maintenance includes steps like: verify backups are working, check disk usage, update your OS, check application updates, check server utilization, change passwords, check system security, and monitor timetables for service packs and patches. Keep up-to-date with the latest security threats and make sure that your systems are patched and current with the latest software releases to minimize vulnerabilities. 

    Once you have the basics covered, you'll want to look at some of the new trends in infrastructure, with auto-scaling servers, next-generation disaster recovery, threat protection, and advanced load balancing. Take all the necessary precautions to stay current and secure.

    Great school communication = strategic website management

    It all boils down to making your school’s online communications efforts a priority. We live in a digital world. Simply put, do not neglect school website management. If you fail to develop and implement a communications plan, of which your school websites are an integral part, you will do so at the risk of your school’s reputation, you’ll hamper parent engagement (which can affect student learning), and you will be creating uphill battles for your staff that can be avoided by implementing these processes. You will also be missing out on those invaluable opportunities to market your school and earn a respected school reputation.

    If you’d like to learn more about other topics that affect school communications, check out these articles:


    400524
    Think Twice Before Moving Your School to a WordPress Site!
    2018-11-20
    Image of the WordPress logo

    All schools recognize the necessity of a school website today, although many might not utilize the full value of it as a communications and marketing dynamo. But an up-to-date school website is indeed a requirement in today’s highly-connected and digital world.

    How and why we manage school websites as we do

    Historically, when the Internet first blew into all our lives, the typical school website was developed and hosted in-house by the school’s IT department. Initially, this was a necessity because of the technical requirements of this new and complex innovation. As development progressed, it became more cost-effective and secure to use systems and programs like content management systems (CMS) that were designed and hosted outside of the school. These sites were easier to update and didn’t require the need to know HTML, CSS, server technologies, or programming languages.

    Then, in the United States, a federal program called E-Rate began to reimburse schools for a percentage of the costs of website technology. This monetary incentive allowed more schools to outsource their school website design and hosting services to professionals in those fields. Sites became more robust, more secure, and easier to manage. This also freed many school staff IT departments from the responsibility of managing the communications and public relations purposes of the school sites.

    However, a few years ago when eRate funding for school websites was discontinued, school IT departments had to come up with the previously funded money in order to sustain their school’s websites. Some schools decided they would not reallocate funds to cover this cost but hoped to eliminate the expense by bringing the website design and development back in-house.

    One of the many systems available for the DIY website system is WordPress. This is an open source program that anyone can use, and since it doesn’t belong to anyone in particular, there is no cost for the basic platform. While it was initially designed as a blogging platform, it is currently the most widely used content management system on the web, with over 50% of CMS market share.

    All of this sounds like a possible solution, given most schools’ meager budgets. If that were the only evaluation criteria, it might be right. But, is a line item in a department budget enough of a reason to return to the methods we used in 2000? Before you make your next website choice, let’s look at the most commonly used DIY choice—WordPress.

    Disadvantages of WordPress

    Security. WordPress sites get hacked. In fact, according to 2017 stats, WordPress was the most infected website platform with 83% of the sampled sites. While WordPress advocates will tell you that is only because they are ubiquitous and are easy targets, the real reason is often due to improper deployment or management. Sometimes it is the needed plugin or theme that is poorly coded, but since schools don’t have any option but to use the many plugins, the opportunity for hacking is obvious. As an open source platform, the plugins and themes are developed by different people and companies without any oversight or monitoring—so they can contain bugs, malicious code, or security breaches. To counter this known issue, you can also use plugins to beef up the security. That means you must know what you are doing up front, or you won’t know what you need to add to keep your school sites secure. So, now you need an expert, and you are likely expecting your IT team to handle that as well, right?

    ADA website compliance. This is a hot button for schools since they are required by law to make sure their school websites are accessible. There is a lot involved in making that happen, and the complexities increase exponentially when you must develop the site in-house. Once you’ve added the appropriate WP Accessibility plug, you need to understand the requirements of WCAG 2.0 and how to apply them to your site.

    Performance. In addition to not having any built-in caching (at the server or browser level), unless you really know your stuff, far beyond what yet another plug-in can provide, there will be page load issues. Also, the use of all the plugins required to make your WordPress site usable will affect site loads as well. If all of your school’s parents are on high-speed Internet, you don’t use many images, and you don’t care how long it takes to load on a mobile device, this might not be an issue. But if you care about search engine optimization (SEO) and your website rankings, you will need to care.

    Development. WordPress isn’t an out-of-the-box solution for schools. In addition to the many plug-ins required, you may also need to write complex code for some functions and posts. You’ll require more technical skills than with fully-developed CMS systems. If you need to intensify your website graphics, you will also need to learn some CSS and HTML coding. But, if you would revel in learning some PHP or CSS, you can edit some of the themes and plugs to tweak to your needs.

    Updates. Depending on how many plugins you must use, and there will be many, WordPress updates can often make parts of your theme or some of your plugs unusable. Updates will create compatibility problems, so frequent adjustments are required to maintain a functional website.

    Management. Unlike a system that is designed to meet all the needs of a school website for a turn-key solution, you get to build your own system. That means someone needs to know what they are doing. That could be you (and you can learn all that goes into best practices of school websites, ADA compliance, intuitive navigation, content development, tone of voice, communications strategies, and more), or you can hire a developer to create a WordPress site for you. In the case of the former, if your passion is to become a website developer and webmaster, great. In the case of the latter, you will have to pay someone to develop that site and will be stuck dealing with all the other issues we mentioned earlier.

    No Support. Nope. WordPress doesn’t provide technical support. You can find various support forums where others trying to solve issues have posted questions and responses. Unfortunately, sometimes these forums can leave your problem unsolved and you more confused than ever. If you are a beginner, without in-depth technical knowledge, trying to customize your WordPress platform to fit your needs will be nearly impossible.

    Advantages of WordPress

    • Compared to other DIY content management systems, if you are looking for a simple website, it is relatively easy to implement.
    • Because it is open source, if you are a developer, you can modify, distribute, and use the code without having to pay license fees.
    • Like all CMS, you don’t need to be familiar with programming languages (assuming you are not looking for customization of your website).
    • WordPress allows you to rapidly create a website using a pre-designed theme and various plugins.

    You will notice that some of the advantages also are disadvantages, depending on your school’s needs. If you love the idea of developing your own website, have the staff to manage and update it, don’t mind staying on top of the updates and changes, site load times aren’t a concern, and you have the budget capacity to pay staff to do the job, WordPress is a viable solution.

    But, should you decide to go the DIY route for your school’s website, be sure to factor in the actual costs. Don’t be fooled into looking at a single line item called “website hosting.” Include all of your staff’s time, even if they are not receiving a stipend for this “other duties as assigned” work. If they are doing the work of school website management on school time, you are paying them for it and possibly at the cost of whatever else they were actually hired to do. 

    Other factors to consider

    Regardless of whether you choose an open source CMS like WordPress, where you will host and manage all aspects of your site in-house, or you a choose a website provider whose products or services provide security, support, and customization, there are some priorities you need to implement. As yourself a few questions:

    • First, consider the purpose of your school website. What is the job it is being asked to perform? 
    • Who will manage your website long term? 
    • If you have a single individual handling the management, what happens if they leave? Is there a single point of failure in your process? 
    • Will training be required each year and if so, who will provide that? 
    • Will those being asked to fulfill these jobs have the requisite skill sets needed, like optimizing images (graphic design), copywriting (grammar, punctuation, tone, word choice), ADA compliance training, public relations, marketing, and the other knowledge required? 

    The answers you provide will influence the choice you make in choosing the best website platform for your school. 

    To provide today’s parents and your other stakeholders with the level of communication they have come to expect from your school, you need a plan. Your school website can save your school or district thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, by saving your staff time, improving parent engagement, building trust, providing better customer service, and helping your school earn a respected reputation. It can also increase student enrollment and attract the highest quality staff. Your website platform is just the first step. Handle this wisely and the next steps can move your school toward the ever-important goal of educating our nation’s youth. The communication strategy you implement, of which your website is the central hub, will help you succeed.

    The disclaimer 

    With 15 years of school experience, we are unashamedly biased in what we recommend to schools. We believe, and have the evidence to back it up, that effective school communications can make or break your educational efforts. We don’t use WordPress for our school websites for a variety of reasons. But, we also don’t ask our schools to do anything at all on their websites that they don’t want to do. They don’t need to be trained on CMS software or know how to make and keep their website accessible, follow website best practices, or even write content. They also don’t worry about staff turnover or the skillsets or training and retraining maintaining their own website would require. 

    But hey, that is just us. We are not a CMS; we’re a service. Our ideal school clients’ goals are to keep their school staff focused on their areas of expertise, and they expect us to stay focused on ours. And we believe we can do it for far less than you can keep all of it in-house and with none of the headaches. If this sounds like something your school needs, we hope you’ll reach out to us. Call Jim at 888.750.4556 or request a quote.

    School Website Redesign Infographic & Checklist Offer
    396795
    Building a Positive School Culture
    2018-11-13
    Image of students and adults interacting

    We’ve all worked in places where the culture was memorable. Possibly it was memorable because you worked in a toxic environment where stress, mistrust, and playing CYA were the daily norms. But, I hope you’ve at least had a few experiences where the culture was one in which people felt valued, trust abounded, and it was a joyful place to work. If so, you’ll know what a school with a positive culture feels like.

    When staff and students feel valued, they work harder and enjoy the experience. Students who feel as if their teachers respect them will do better academically and behaviorally. A positive culture promotes kindness, civility, and respect. Your school’s culture exists because of the people, not the programs or curriculums. 

    What’s your school culture like, from a staff perspective?

    In many schools, if you were to ask 20 people what your school culture was, you’d get as many different answers. Consider spending some professional development time (but include all staff, not just teachers) to find out what your school culture currently feels like to those who live it. Ask some questions, and then share the responses:

    1. Do you feel everyone here is treated equally (staff and students)?
    2. Are rules followed and consequences and follow-through consistent? (If so, staff will feel more supported and trust will increase.)
    3. Do administrators, classified, and certified staff lead by example? Are there role models who stand out, and are they recognized and valued for their examples?
    4. Does your school celebrate victories and praise progress (both the large and the small successes) on a regular basis? In what ways?

    Now, after you share the outcomes to your questions (you can also use a survey), find out how they would describe the perfect school culture. Are those values a part of your school’s mission and goals? How can you work toward making these values a reality for both your staff and your students? Pick one and work to implement or strengthen that value over the next year.

    What’s your school culture like, from a student perspective?

    Now that you have a better understanding of how your staff views the culture at your school, find out what the students think. It is true that when role models value one another, students will tend to emulate their example. But knowing what the students feel now will help you see how far you’ve come once you’ve focused a bit of effort on building a positive school culture. How do they feel now? Ask them.Do students feel they receive positive feedback from the school personnel? How do teachers talk to students? How do teachers treat students when they are struggling?

    1. Do students feel like they could get help from a staff member, both academically and personally, when needed?
    2. Do staff members show kindness and appreciation for one another and to students?
    3. Do students feel safe while at school?
    4. Do students feel pride in their school? Their teachers? Their educational progress?
    5. Do students feel respected by the school staff and teachers?

    Analyze for improvement

    There are a few areas that most agree are essential to improving a school’s culture. 

    • Relationships: Since a healthy school culture boils down to the strength of relationships, especially those between teacher and students, value and extol the virtues of those role models demonstrating quality relationships with students. 
    • Consequences: The rules and appropriate consequences for breaking those rules should be very clear and adhered to consistently. Be sure the consequences make sense for the infraction. For example, consider restorative justice and making amends for a bullying incident. Rather than isolation, have them find a way to make amends.
    • Problem Solving: Teach student problem-solving skills. Check out, for example, at the Boys Town Training method they call SODAS
    • Praise and recognition: Be generous with praise where it is earned. Kids know when they’ve earned your kudos or not, so avoid the “every kid gets a trophy” mentality, but be generous with praise when they deserve it. Be specific and avoid the generic “Good job!” comment, but compliment their specific behavior or choice to reinforce and encourage more good choices.

    Have some fun!

    To create and maintain a positive school culture is an ongoing process. But it should also be fun. Here are some ideas to support and energize your school’s positive culture:

    • Behind Your Back: It’s a fun twist on gossiping. It can be done at the start of a staff meeting or as a professional development exercise. Greater Good Science Center has provided a Behind Your Back example.
    • Gratitude Board: Create a place in the teachers’ lounge or in the hallway where people can post notes expressing their gratitude for each others’ actions. 
    • Sunshine Committee: Create a social committee at your school where a few “volunteers” find ways to build staff morale and create positive events or activities throughout the year for your school personnel. It can be simple ways of showing appreciation, building trust, and adding fun to the day. A quick visit to Pinterest will provide hundreds of ideas to tweak for your school’s needs.
    • Student Council Coffee Cart: We found this example at PrincipalsDesk.org and thought it was worth sharing. Just decorate a book cart with a tablecloth and a vase of flowers; add fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and pastries. Have your student council students go from classroom to classroom treating the teachers. For less than $50, you will make all of your teachers’ morning.
    • School-Wide Rallies: Consider celebrating achievements, creating traditions, or reinforcing school values and personal student goals. It can build school spirit and unity as well as showcase individual and school successes and strengthen school culture. Get some ideas from this Edutopia.org article about daily assemblies.
    • Toot That Horn: You’re all aware that much of the media gives more coverage to the negative than the positive. Unfortunately, it tends to get more attention. So, if you want to improve your school culture, you must become a school success advocate and make injecting positive school stories a goal. The positive stories that reflect the successes happening in your classrooms every day are all around. Find ways to collect them; catch good things happening, and make sure these stories make it into your school social media and onto the news page of your school websites, and send them to the local media education reporters. Your efforts can counter negative coverage (that you have no control over) and help both staff and students recognize that their efforts are seen and valued.
    • Communicate Well: Look at each of your communication methods, including your school website content, e-mails, phone messages, newsletters, social media, electronic signage, and media contacts. Are you keeping parents, staff, and the community informed? Are you telling them the “why” behind decisions that affect them, including the benefits they can enjoy? Doing so will build trust, improve perceptions, and show transparency. If you don’t communicate, your audiences will fill in the blanks with guesswork. Control the message and build a positive culture.
    • Encourage, Inspire, and Motivate Daily: Educating is tough work. You're responsible for outcomes without any control over the influences existing in a student’s life. But, it is well-documented (and the reason people stay in the profession) that high-impact schools are the ones that foster positive relationships between teachers and students. That means having teachers who know how to listen, are empathetic, and who care. Most do. But, regular and deliberate encouragement, recognition, and motivation can raise the boat when the river’s flow slows. Use weekly e-mails, staff meetings, professional development, staff blogs, or other opportunities to encourage and remind your staff what matters and why they chose the careers they did. This applies to classified staff as well. Use links to TED talks, motivational quotes, and inspiring books; write notes of thanks, and recognize excellence publically among your staff. Start with the TED Talk; Every Kid Needs a Champion by Dr. Rita Pierson. Uplift. Your efforts will have an impact on your school culture.
    • Keep Enemies Close: If you struggle with vocal opposition, one way to help your school culture become strong and stay that way is to invite a few of those typically opposed members to provide their opinion before you implement any new initiative. You may see that this early involvement turns opponents into proponents. These may be community members, governing board members, or even staff members. Give it a try!
    • Help Parents Get Involved: An effective school culture needs parent engagement.  However, school personnel often misunderstand the challenges that keep parents from getting involved or even showing up at school events (like parent conferences). A few common challenges might be the following: 1) Problem: they feel like no one ever listens to them. Solution: survey your parents to find out what is most valuable to them—what obstacles they face. 2) Problem: they are too busy with multiple jobs and children in several schools. Solution: ask them how they prefer to be contacted, and use whatever works, including phone calls, texting, or a home visit. 3) Problem: no one at the school cares about my problems or my child. Solution: To overcome past negative experiences, plan a “get to know you” event early in the year. Make it a fun, less formal activity like an ice cream social that gives parents a chance to meet teachers in a positive setting. 
    • Build Student Ownership: To involve students in building a strong school culture and letting them leave their own positive mark on it, check out these ideas from School Leaders Now called 12 Ways to Build Student Ownership of School Culture.

    We hope some of these ideas will help you start building a positive, rewarding, and effective culture in your school! It is worth the effort. Oh, and use your progress and successes as fodder for stories in your school communications. When you’ve got a positive school culture, be sure you let your community know about it through the stories you share on your website and in your social media.

    396268
    School Calendars: Your One-Stop School Communications Tool
    2018-11-06
    Image of laptop showing school calendar

    As school marketers, we sometimes become distracted by all the wonderful tools we have at our disposal—the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever the next new social media trend will be—that we sometimes don’t give one of the most efficient tools in our arsenal the attention it deserves. I’m talking about your district and school calendars. 

    The district and school calendars have tremendous potential for not only parent engagement but also for community relations and school marketing! Let’s look at a real-life example.

    Snowflake Unified School District #5 serves the Northeastern Arizona communities of Snowflake and Taylor, and the effective use of their websites has always been impressive. 

    Tohna Rogers is the administrative assistant to Hollis Merrell, superintendent of Snowflake USD, and she is largely responsible for the exceptional online impression made by her district. The quality control manager at School Webmasters recently spoke with Tohna to learn her secret for keeping the website and, in particular, the district and school calendars up to date. 

    When asked what strategy she uses to keep her community informed without burying them in too much information, Tohna replied that she asks herself this crucial question, “If I were the parent, what would I need on my calendar?” 

    We love Tohna’s response. It captures, in essence, one of the most important goals of school communication—parent engagement. What do parents need and want to know? The information to answer that questions ought to be readily available on your school websites, and there is no more logical place than on the school calendars.  

    Managing District and School Calendars

    Although they may seem simple and straightforward, school calendars can sometimes become one of the most challenging aspects of school communications. While our goal is to make sure everyone knows about events and activities, calendars can become convoluted and overwhelming. When balancing a district calendar with multiple school calendars, important events can sometimes be forgotten or duplicated. Here are a few helpful tips for managing a district calendar along with several school calendars: 

    Tip #1: Any district-wide event goes on the district calendar. Any event that specifically relates to the school goes on the school calendars. 

    It seems like a simple rule, but you would be surprised how much confusion this can clear up. Schools don’t need to worry about posting holidays, school closures, professional development days, board of education meetings, etc. because all of that information is on the district calendar. Instead, schools can focus on adding events and activities that showcase the wonderful things happening at school. 

    Tip #2: What should be on your school calendars? Make sure the following are listed and up to date on your school calendars throughout the year: 

    • Open houses, meet the teacher nights, orientations
    • Parent-teacher conferences 
    • Parent workshops
    • Block schedules
    • Commencements
    • Coffee with the principal or other meet-and-greet events
    • Activities and events
      • Assemblies
      • Athletics tryouts and events
      • Picture day
      • Field trips
      • School plays
      • Club events

    Tip #3: What should be on your district calendars? Include the following on your district calendars: 

        • First and last days of school
        • Late start and early release/professional development
        • School closure dates
        • Holidays observed
        • Testing dates
        • Graduation

        Tip #4: Know your community and know your parents. Tohna explained that the key to answering her crucial question involves both knowing her parents and her community. 

        To explain, she gave an example of one of the big high school events. Every year in October, the high school puts on a homecoming parade. One might not expect kindergarten parents to care when the high school parade begins, but the parents in her community do want that information. Tohna knows that the roads surrounding the kindergarten pickup location get congested on parade day, and parents will need to adjust their travel time depending on when the parade begins. So, Tohna places the high school parade on the district calendar—it’s not a district event, but it will affect all parents in the district. 

        Because Tohna knows the needs of the parents and the community, she can make their needs her top priority when making school calendar decisions. 

        Bonus: The district calendar can also be a wonderful way to market your schools and encourage good community relations. Tohna applies this additional strategy to her calendar decisions. She uses the district calendar to judiciously highlight individual schools throughout the year. She believes everyone in the district needs to be aware of the excellent activities that take place in the “other” buildings. 

        Using the calendar to promote bigger events and highlight the exceptional activities at select schools is an effective way to build community support and pride! Use this tactic judiciously, and don’t forget to invite the local media to those kinds of events.

        It’s important to note that parents rarely visit the district website because they are often only interested in news relating to their child’s school—and that’s okay. Many school calendar tools will allow you to display the district items on the individual school pages. For an example, see Snowflake High School’s calendar. It shows both the district events as well as school events. But even if your school calendar tool doesn’t transfer information, don’t feel like you need to duplicate all the events from the district calendar on all the school calendars. Trust that active community members will know to check the district calendar for things like board of education meetings. 

        The Benefits of an Interactive Calendar

        At School Webmasters, we use interactive calendars on all our websites. The interactive functionality means the website visitor can view the calendar in different formats, sort by the different schools, and have reminders of events sent directly to their Outlook or Gmail calendar or phone. 

        We’ve partnered with Trumba to bring our clients one of the most feature-rich interactive calendars available on the market today. When asked what Trumba feature Tohna finds most useful, she did not hesitate. Mixed-in calendars was her answer. Tohna knows that in her community, many families have students in multiple schools. Those parents can go to the district calendar page and choose all the schools their children attend. They can easily see the activities of their elementary, middle, and high school students on one calendar. 

        But how does her community know to do this? To make sure Snowflake parents are aware of the features of the Trumba calendars, Tohna provides Trumba demonstrations during Parent Night. Parents are not the only ones who use the mixed-in feature–being able to click the mixed-in calendars on and off also makes it easier for staff to plan and attend events throughout the district.

        Tohna added that community members inside and outside the school count on their Trumba calendars. For example, the community Head Start program staff regularly consults the district and school calendars when planning their schedule and events.

        Because Snowflake USD uses their calendars as an efficient school communications tool, the community trusts and depends on their district and school calendars. Managing your calendar might seem like a menial task but don’t underestimate its power as a public relations tool. As Snowflake USD demonstrates, your school calendar can engage parents, unify the community, and market your school. 


        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        396114
        Web Accessibility Affects Surfers
        2018-11-01
        ocean wave

        Do you spend your spare time at the beach surfing the waves until the sun sets? Maybe you prefer to watch the surfers as you enjoy basking in the sun. Maybe the beach isn’t your “thing” and after a hard days work, you prefer to channel-surf to clear your mind. We all do some type of surfing. In reality, there is a good chance that we spend more time surfing the web than we do surfing anything else. This is where web accessibility strongly affects surfers—web surfers (in other words, all of us).

        We keep hearing our websites and documents need to be accessible. We are told users with disabilities will benefit from an accessible website and that it’s a violation of civil rights laws not to give equal access to every individual, but how do we do it? We recently met with some of our friends at the Southern Association for the Visually Impaired (SAAVI). In the video below, SAAVI staff members Jeremy and Shannon share their thoughts about how many of us are affected by website accessibility. 

        Of course, the examples SAAVI provides are just a few of the ways an accessible (or inaccessible) website affects website users. To see someone actually be affected by web accessibility, check out the video below. The University of California, San Francisco shared an example of a blind user surfing the web. You will see how adding elements to a web page will either completely confuse someone such as a blind user or if added accessibly, will give them the same experience as a sighted user. 

        Keyboard Accessibility

        Although blind users may be the most common disabled user referred to when talking about website accessibility, there are many other types of disabilities affected by website accessibility. For example, someone with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease may have limited or no ability to use a mouse. If your website is not keyboard accessible, finding what they need will be difficult if not impossible. And did you know that accessibility features such as keyboard navigation affect more than just disabled users?

        Have you ever tried to view a website on your mobile device but were not able to tap the button on the link you were attempting to access? You may have tried to zoom in on the link only to find that the page wouldn’t actually zoom in enough for you to click the link. This would be a total wipe out. Zooming in to make the button accessible is actually an accessibility requirement. An inaccessible website affects many disabled users as well as a wide variety of others. 

        Color Contrast

        Color is another accessibility feature of a website that affects many users. I have a cousin who goes by the nickname of Red. Red obtained his nickname because of his red hair. Ironically, Red is color blind, so he can’t actually see the color red. Red told me how confused he gets when he comes across a horizontal traffic light.

        Normally, when Red is driving, he knows if the top light is lit, he needs to stop and if the bottom light is lit, he may proceed. As you can imagine, a rare encounter with a horizontal traffic light makes for quite a nervous ride for both Red and the other drivers at the intersection.

        Now let’s imagine Red is visiting a website and trying to win an all-expense paid trip to the beautiful island of Maui where he can avoid traffic lights and spend his time surfing waves instead. All he has to do to win this much-needed vacation is to select the red button. Here are the buttons Red sees to choose from:

        two gold buttons

        If you are not color blind, the buttons look like these below:

        one red button and one green button

        How unfortunate is it for Red when he selects the button on the right! This may be an extreme example; however, the same concept applies when we use color on our website or in a document.

        Video Subtitles

        Video subtitles is one of the most obvious examples of an accessibility feature required by accessibility guidelines. Subtitles are an amazing feature to have. Whether you are deaf, have kids, or view video content in public places, you have most likely used this feature numerous times. For a deaf person, it’s the only way to view video content. For a parent, it’s extremely convenient when your children are busy giggling (no one wants to make happiness be quiet, right?). For college students trying to watch an instructional video in the library, it shows respect for others who are trying to cram for their exam that starts in 10 minutes. Oh, and be sure those subtitles are accurate! Don’t just rely on automated captioning. We wouldn’t want that student failing his class because the subtitle said the answer was x but the audio said the answer was y. 

        Can all of your users access everything on your website? Are your colors hindering their ability to navigate your web pages effectively? Is everything accessible using only a keyboard? Do your videos include subtitles or transcripts? If you answered no or I don’t know to any of these questions, you need to call School Webmasters right away! 

        Be sure your website is like a party wave that allows all users an opportunity to hang ten. 


        512825
        How to Engage and Connect with Busy Parents
        2018-10-30
        Sticky notes on a car steering wheel

        An Olympian recently visited our local elementary school. Students heard inspiring stories and took turns pole vaulting with the help of the visitors. My daughters came home completely excited, and I thought, “How cool for them.” 

        A few days later, while scanning my Instagram feed, I noticed the PTO’s Instagram post with pictures and a short video clip of the activity. As I watched the video, these were my exact thoughts: “What a great thing for us! I’m so glad my children did that. I’m so glad they’re at that school!” Because of those pictures and videos, I felt my connection to the elementary school grow at that moment. 

        Why does this matter?  

        As a mother of six with a husband whose job transfers us often, my school loyalties don’t come easily anymore. While others feel tied to local schools, we have changed schools enough that we don’t connect to schools because of traditions or histories of excellence. It’s the little, everyday, positive experiences that really matter to my family. How this experience with my daughters and my experience with these pictures posted on Instagram affected me is exactly why schools should never underestimate the power of imagery in school marketing. 

        What is imagery and why is it a big deal? 

        Imagery is a timeless form of communication that engages audiences in various ways. Whether you recognize it yet or not, seeking to increase your use imagery as part of your school marketing is important, easy, and effective. Let’s look at the value of concrete imagery, such as pictures either on a printed page or screen. 

        According to Discover Magazine, the mechanics of sight are “by far the most powerful and complex of the sensory systems. In the brain itself, neurons devoted to visual processing number in the hundreds of millions and take up about 30 percent of the cortex, as compared with eight percent for touch, and just three percent for hearing.” Millions of fibers carry signals inside one of your two optic nerves. In comparison, your auditory nerves only carry 30,000 fibers each. Apparently, we learn a lot through these fantastic bundles of the human eye’s optic nerves.

        There was a difference between my thoughts from when I heard my girls tell me about their exciting day at school and then when I saw the experience for myself. Seeing for myself, connected me to the event in a more meaningful way, and I felt proud to be sending my kids to that school.

        Why is imagery an effective tool for engagement?

        Imagery is powerful. Images convey abstract and complex concepts subtly and rapidly. They are universal, reach across communication barriers, and help tell your school stories. As your school community sees the imagery you use, they will be much more likely to relate and connect with your school. Incorporating visuals into your school marketing plan is a beautiful and effective way to brand your school. 

        Increase readability and promote change

        Have you seen the acronym TLDR? It means, “Too long, didn’t read.” In all school communication, one of your school’s goals ought to be to increase readability. What can your school do to increase readership? 

        Imagery adds depth to the connected words of a story. For example, think about children’s books. Images in illustrated books help convey the message of the text and engage young children in reading. Images can do the same for adults. Imagery allows a reader some creative direction. Similarly, imagery used in various forms of school communication adds depth to your school brand and message fast. You’ve heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The truth is, you don’t need a thousand words when a picture will do. 

        History has its eyes on us and lessons to share. Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln both used imagery based on gathered data to inspire themselves and others. Nightingale created a historical pie chart to display the correlation between mortality rates during the Crimean War and poor sanitary conditions. While she may not have been the first to use statistical graphs, she may have been, as historian Hugh Small writes, “the first to use them for persuading people of the need for change.” 

        Abraham Lincoln used a three-foot parchment paper to display counties of the southern states. It visually represented the number of slaves by county, in varying degrees of tone connected to the number. He referred to this map many times. These two historical figures understood something we sometimes forget in our communication: people don’t have all day. 

        Images allow the “reader” to glean information at a glance and have the power to persuade. In all of history, it has never been easier to include images in our communications! 

        Embrace technology: practice digital citizenship 

        Thanks to advances in technology, it’s easy and economical to use visual images in your various school communication settings. While using imagery has become easier to implement into the everyday, the technology of our world has become increasingly intimidating because of it’s potentially long-reaching effects for better or for worse. While this is true, remember, your school exemplifies digital citizenship to your community as you choose your policies of engagement regarding online communications about school activities. As you face this task carefully and bravely, your school models pro-social, responsible, and creative social media use. 

        What pictures and images should you consider using? 

        Parents and guardians of current and prospective students will always be your audience when considering decisions regarding your visual approach to school marketing. There are a few simple, vital ways to engage your students and their families that can be easily overlooked, especially when we live in a time of an overwhelming amount of sources seeking our attention. 

        Think of your favorite moments that inspire you and make you happy. Show current and prospective students and their families what you care about through the visuals you use in school communications. Perhaps it’s watching the class engaged in a lecture, attentively listening to their instructor or students enjoying free time at recess or working together on a project. Maybe you enjoy seeing them gathered and participating in a school assembly. Sharing pictures from the school that inspire you will likely be met with a positive response by the school community. 

        How to use imagery to benefit your school marketing plan

        Thanks to technology, it has never been easier to engage your current and prospective school community. Here are some ideas:

        • Welcome students and other guests to your school with relevant images on the walls of your front office.

        • Consider what the walls of your school say with the imagery represented on them.

        • Expand your back-to-school nights by recording a message from the principal to play for everyone in the first class of the evening. 

        • Make video rather than an email to introduce a specific school program to your targeted audience.

        • Encourage your team to Include imagery (photos, clip art, charts, etc.) in the following forums: classrooms, weekly newsletters, and emails to parents.

        • Actively share your school’s stories using images shared via social media sites. (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)

        • If your school has a fundraiser, use pictures connected to the fundraiser.

        • Don’t forget to include close up photographs of students smiling—they love their school!

        • Invite faculty and parents to use class, PTO, or school social media activity. Have them share regular posts and contribute their favorite pictures from latest events.

        • Update your school website with pictures of current students and faculty. For ideas, see some of the websites School Webmasters updated most recently. For tips on what and what not to include on your school website, see School Webmasters’ inclusive list. 

        • Consider more options with the production of school videos (video marketing), a powerful use of imagery for reinforcing your school brand.

        Making decisions regarding your school’s online communication and social media activity can be daunting. Fortunately, as time goes on, there is more and more information at your fingertips to help make informed decisions. 

        Nervous about how to approach social media? Consider researching an informative list of do's and don'ts about safe sharing in your school as well as ways to protect privacy. At the beginning of the year, many schools include a media permission slip among the forms provided to parents. Permission to use pictures of students at your school is vital to your school marketing. 

        Can the use of imagery help strengthen your school brand similar to that of commercial brands who choose to use little green geckos? Absolutely. One action item for any school marketing plan ought to be specific plans to give your school’s visual approach a facelift. As you share visually compelling images, you reinforce your school’s message, mission, and values. Oh yeah—one last thing: don’t forget that abstract imagery, storytelling and other ways of sharing your stories, is just as valuable. Using a variety of imagery connects your families. It is truly a reformative mode of school communication and marketing. 

        For great tips and guidance on using images on your school website, visit School Webmasters’ blog post on the topic, and download the free photography checklist for schools. For all you Marketing Your School toolkit owners, this checklist has been added to the online resources under Week 36—ENJOY! 

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        395964
        51 Ways to Market Your School
        2018-10-23
        Image of the number 51, representing 51 ways to market your school

        Marketing your school is essential in today’s competitive educational environment. The good news is that there are so many effective ways to do it—you just need to get started. So, here are 51 ideas to get you moving in the right direction.

        Invite them in: Create a virtual video tour of your school. Make sure you film it when there are students and staff present and viewers can see the activity and enthusiasm present. Include students, staff, volunteers, and support staff, and show their smiling faces and grab some quotes that reflect the values your school represents. This is also a great video for the marketing area of your school’s website. (You could also do this with static pictures.) You DO have a marketing area, right? Let a tour bring your school to life for those prospective visitors.

        Put that website to work: Your school website is the communications and marketing hub for your school, so make it count. It should be mobile-friendly (responsive), accessible to those with disabilities (ADA compliant), current, informative, engaging, conversational, and easy to navigate. It should have the forms and instructions available to register, the answers to all the most common questions (ask your office staff if you aren’t sure what those are), calendars, and contact information. You should have information for both your prospective site visitors (a robust marketing area) and the parents of your enrolled students (current engagement and customer service). We can help you with this area, so reach out to us, but in the meantime subscribe to our blog and gets lots of great information twice a month. Also, check out these blog posts: “School Websites—The Swiss Army Knife of Influence & Communications,” “Does your School Website Help you Become a School of Choice?” and “How a Website can Help a Struggling School.”

        Tell them a story: One of the most effective tools a school has is the ability to share its stories of its people and programs. You want your audience to see their children succeeding and thriving at your school, so give them real-world examples to envision. Be specific. Show successes. Describe dreams that come true. People relate to people, so give them something to relate to. Use these stories on your social media posts as well. See “Storytelling: Your Most Powerful School Marketing Tool” and “Telling Your School’s Stories.”

        Gathering stories: Provide incentives to gather stories that you can share in your marketing efforts (website news stories, videos, social media posts, blog posts, local media human interest stories). Rewards can be as simple as a verbal recognition at a staff meeting or a candy bar for a student who shares the success of a fellow student, but make it part of your school’s culture to gather stories that represent your school’s strengths and values. Let your staff, students, and parents know you value the story-sharers among them, and you’ll have plenty of great stories to share. See “Telling Your School’s Stories” for ways to gather stories from your staff.

        Highlight your families: Invite families to tell their stories, and share them on your school website, linking to them from your social media. It’s as simple as asking families for answers to a few questions that will provide social validation to other prospective families. Let your existing parents help prospective parents make the decision to select your school! See great examples at St. James Episcopal Day School or see video stories at Santa Fe Christian School. Do this also with students, staff, and alumni as well!

        Highlight your programs: Create an area on the marketing pages of your school website where you tell the stories behind some of your most effective programs or projects. Do you have certain programs you do every year (often you’ll have one or two in each grade)? Take a picture or two and tell the story behind it. Why is it effective? What do the students learn? How does it broaden their educational experience? Why is it so effective and yet fun? These stories are a great way to highlight your school's strengths and what makes you stand out.

        Post those testimonials: Collect testimonials from parents, students, staff, and alumni at every opportunity. In addition to a page on your website to be used as part of your marketing and enrollment information, these can be used as graphic elements throughout your website, in social media posts and memes, and in other marketing collateral you create. Collect these via a form on your website, during parent/teacher conferences, or from social media channels, and keep some handy forms for parents to leave comments in the front office.

        A day in the life: To help prospective parents get a real feel for what it is like to be a student at your school, walk them through a day in the life of “......” (select a student at the various grade levels). It can be as simple as a slideshow with captions or a video. Select a student from the elementary grades, one from the middle school, and another from the high school to show the variety of opportunities. Be sure to include lots of smiling faces, quotes from the student and others they interact with, and how the student you are shadowing feels about his/her day. If yours is a boarding school, consider a “week in the life” of a student as well.

        Community-wide events: Can you establish a once-a-month event to which you invite your targeted prospects? For preschool or kindergarten students, what about a day to visit and get a preview of your programs (parents get to see their own child interacting)? For upper grades, invite a parent to let a current student be their guide as a “Day in the Life.” Provide a campus tour with coffee and donuts and be sure any feeder school parents are aware of the event. Create a “story time” on a Saturday in your school’s library and get creative with a variety of programs (stories, art, visits from local professionals or businesses). Have a unique offering, then expose other students by holding a “friend day” and letting students invite a friend for the day. Use social media and your website to publicize your events.

        Horn tooting infographics: Create a page or section on your website (and create a digital version you can use on social media or as a flyer as well) that highlights your school’s best qualities. You can use a simple Infographic program or pre-designed icons to keep it simple and clean, but a simple image and a few words announcing your strengths can be quite memorable. Some common stats are: grades served, student/teacher ratios, college placements, technology use ratios, average test scores, diversity percentages, scholarship percentages or amounts awarded, community service percentages, enrichment offerings, athletic programs, groundbreaking programs, and after-school programs.

        School blogging: The goal of a blog is to connect with other people interested in your topic. Your purpose would be to connect with parents, students, community members, and those ever-important prospective student families. There are many advantages, see “The School Marketer’s Dilemma: to Blog or Not to Blog,” with the time commitment being the biggest challenge. However, it can integrate well into your annual marketing goals, be used on all your social media channels, be linked to on your school website, help you keep rumors at bay, help the media cover your good stories, help you brand your school, and help your target audience get a real feel for the human interest side of things.

        Rhyming campaigns: Use rhyming or alliteration in your next marketing campaign theme for memorability. Studies show that people see rhyming phrases as more accurate than non-rhyming phrases. It could be because they are more memorable, likable, and repeatable, but regardless of the reason, it seems to help. Can you come up with an accurate but rhyming title for your important marketing effort? Sometimes it is as simple as some alliteration in a hashtag like #WelcomeWednesdays, but give it a try and see the benefits of adding this element to your next marketing event.

        Bystander effect: The more people who are around, the less likely someone will take the lead and take charge (diffusion of responsibility). This applies to a marketing campaign where it is obvious you are sending your request to lots of people (everyone thinks it is the responsibility of everyone else to respond). So, send your requests out individually (like survey requests, community feedback, parent requests, etc.) when you want to be sure your message is valued and especially if you want people to respond to it.

        Hand-written notes: Because nearly every communication these days is digital, sending a handwritten note will really stand out. There are also ways to do it right that include sincerity, specificity, brevity, being personal, and proofing your note. Learn more on our “Telling Them Thank You” blog.

        Every penny helps: When seeking donations, does the wording matter? Yes! Richard Wiseman, the author of 59 Seconds conducted a study with Barnes & Noble to identify the best of the following phrases: “Please given generously.” “Every penny counts.” “Every dollar helps.” “You can make a difference.” And the winner was “Every penny counts” with 62% of all contributions. “Every dollar helps” came in last place with only 17% of the total. Why? Putting a small amount in the box might have made them look cheap, but the “Every penny helps” title encourages even the smallest contributions. The box asking for a dollar didn’t encourage lesser amounts and people don’t want to look cheap, so fewer people contributed and gave nothing at all. The color of the box mattered (the red box did better, maybe because it appeared more urgent).

        Inbound marketing:  Parents put lots of research into selecting the best school for their child. You want your school to be part of that process. This will not only establish your school as an expert—establish your credibility, but it lets parents know you are there to help. You can do this by creating content to help them make the best decision for their situation. It can be an eBook with questions to ask themselves or the school's admissions department, checklists for parents during the selection process, college preparation tips, parent or student guides, and other resources parents can download for free. They provide their e-mail information, and your school can then nurture that prospective parent with additional updates and information over time. Admissions information. Tip: keep the information you request on your “free download” form to a minimum (name/e-mail) or they won’t fill out the information. For some example topics of content, here are some title ideas:

        • Questions to Ask When Selecting a School for Your Child
        • Selecting a High School for Your < insert son/daughter/child>
        • 5 Steps for Selecting the Best School for Your Son
        • Choosing the Best Private/Independent/Public School for your Family
        • Top 20 Questions About Life at
        • Big Benefits of a Small School
        • How to Match Your Child’s Interests to the Right School Choice
        • Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten
        • Beyond Grades: the Importance of Leadership and Community
        • Athletics: More Than Trophies
        • Arts: Educating the Whole Child
        • How to Prepare Your Child with Life Skills for Future Job Markets
        • Top 3 Things You Should Know When Choosing a Preschool (elementary/high school/etc)
        • Preparing Your Student for the College of His/Her Dreams (career of their dreams, etc.)

        Lead nurturing: When a school gets a request for information about enrollment or tuition or attendance boundaries, don’t let the contact end there. Create what is called a “nurture campaign” that will continue to inform this prospect with additional tips and information. It will help your school stay relevant and front-of-mind so when they are weighing their options, your school stays on top. This could be a series of e-mails with tips and information, links to additional downloadable topics, or videos that highlight areas of interest. There are many programs to make this process easy, like MailChimp that offers a free version or GetResponse with a low-cost version.

        Webinars: Private schools will sometimes do webinars during the year to educate and engage prospective parents. We’ve seen topics like: “How to afford a private school education,” “Helping your child study,” “Helping your child transition to high school,” “Guidance for the college-bound student,” “Kindergarten: The Next Step,” and “Helping without helicoptering.” What a great way to engage parents, whether prospective or already enrolled! Adding value will set your school apart, which is the whole idea for marketing your school.

        Search engine optimization: Many schools, unless they are boarding schools or online schools, want to attract students from their local areas. This means that your search engine optimization (SEO) must be localized to include the cities or towns you serve. In order to find and convert the right students, you must be found in a local search. Your school address can help you show up in a local search for the same town, but what if you serve students in the next town over as well? This is where optimization must come in. Some of the areas that will contribute to successful SEO, especially for local schools, are claiming your business (school) on Google, securing inbound links, responsive design (mobile-friendly), accessibility, target keyphrases, reviews, etc. Learn more with “Make SEO a part of your school marketing.”

        Landing pages: If you are doing any Facebook Ads or Google Ads, you will want to send those who click on your ad directly to a page that discusses the topic of your ads. Don’t make the mistake of sending your hard earned visitor just to your school’s homepage. If they are not taken directly to the information they were interested in, you’ll lose them. Create a landing page and a Call to Action (CTA) for that page, being to gather the information that will let you continue to market to the site visitor with information you already know they care about.

        Text messages: While you don’t want to overuse this method, it is very helpful for reminders or for sending a link to something important and timely. Most schools have some sort of parent notification system for enrolled students, but don’t overlook this method to include prospective parents as well. If you have an open house coming up, why not let them know as well? Write up a brief invite that tells them you have not forgotten them and that they are welcome. Have a webinar you offer? Let them know that as well! Texting is often the preferred method of communication with parents of younger children, and the open rates are much higher than with e-mails.

        Surveys: Be sure you are aware of how your various audiences feel about their relationship with your school. Are they advocates or begrudging? Is there something they are dissatisfied with, and what do they think you should do about it? The very act of getting input can provide support and cooperation, so don’t miss this valuable opportunity. Can you include other community members as well as those without students in your school? What is their opinion, and what impact can you have on them (or do you care)?

        Customer service: An often overlooked aspect of effective marketing is your school’s customer service levels. This includes everything from the first impressions people receive (by visiting your school, clicking on your website, or perusing your social media posts). How would you rate? If you don’t rate an A+ in these areas, it is time to rethink how important this aspect of marketing really is. Check out Parents: Raving Fans or Raging Foes? and Roll Out the Welcome Mat to get some ideas for improvement and to download our customer service eBook.

        Creative signage: Beyond the digital outdoor signage, think out of the box a bit and enliven your school with signage that supports your brand and values. It might be as simple as adding the colors of your school to your hallway walls or attaching colorful banners to the exterior of your school for special events. Are your values highlighted where staff and students are reminded daily? This can be from inspirational quotes to posters of staff and students living those values. When a guest arrives at your school, is it clear where they need to be, and is that message welcoming or dictatorial?

        Back-to-school or open house marketing: Before school begins (over the summer and even the last few months of the previous school year), begin to engage your staff, parents, parent organizations, and students in your recruitment efforts for the upcoming year. Before new parents make a decision, be sure you make your presence known using your social media, summer events, open house events, social media contests, website refresh, and so much more. Make sure parents can register online. Get some more ideas at “Starting Each School Year Strong.” Don’t forget to reach out to local pre-schools, churches, realtors, and others who can share your school’s information with those kindergarten parents as well.

        New family night: Invite prospective parents to mingle with the staff, tour the campus, and meet your community. Since this event will cater specifically to new families, you’ll want to enlist a team of parent ambassadors to conduct campus tours and facilitate a social hour. Use PTO/PTA, alumni, or current students and their families. Connecting new parents to a community will build their budding sense of camaraderie with the school. Hold your New Family Night in the spring to correspond with the registration season. If possible, a personal phone call to invite or thank new families shows that you care about your school family on an individual level.

        Meet the teacher night: Parents have high expectations of your faculty. They want to feel informed, heard, and considered. While the primary focus will be on the individual classrooms, featuring the best qualities your school has to offer (programs, facilities, and activities) is sure to excite the community. Arrange for the school band, orchestra, or choir to entertain your strolling crowds. Have the local Girl or Boy Scout troop hand out water bottles. Enlist your student council officers or PTO members to organize a spirit wear sale. Show parents that your school is a community with multiple facets. (Don’t forget to take some video to use later on your social media and website!)

        Information packets: Develop an information packet (usually mirroring the information on your up-to-date website) that includes a flyer highlighting you school’s strengths, success stats, contact information (including your school’s website URL), and even the phone numbers of a few parents who would be willing to answer questions from prospective parents. Include registration dates, tour dates, office hours, parent, student, and alumni testimonials and lots of good photos. Put these packets in the hands of local neighborhood associations, churches, realtors, chamber of commerce, feeder schools, preschools, daycares, and youth clubs.

        Student marketing club: If you have a junior high or high school in your district, encourage some creative entrepreneurship by inviting a local marketing or communications firm to help students develop and implement some marketing strategies to increase school enrollment. Not only will the students receive some great hand-on experiences, but you’ll be engaging community members and benefit from some practical and effective marketing efforts. Effective outcomes have been student-developed marketing videos, word-of-mouth and social media campaigns, and a big increase in school spirit to boot!

        Community service events: Using your parent organizations and your student clubs or organizations, plan several community service projects for during the year. Be sure that the events piggy-back on your school’s values as well as some of the educational focus happening during the year. Create a series of articles for the local newspaper and radio highlighting these student service projects, their purpose, and the benefits to those serving and those receiving the service. Take lots of photos and use them in all your marketing channels.

        Befriend your local reporters: You need to help local media reporters help you. They have busy schedules and are spread thin, possibly over more than one beat. Make their jobs easier by providing them with all the materials they need to cover your school and its successes and challenges. You will want to get to know the local reporters long before a crisis erupts. Invite them to sit down with you and get to know their needs, deadlines, best times and people to contact, preferred format for materials, and any pet peeves they want to share. Give them a school tour, share your school’s mission and values, introduce them to key administrators, and develop a rapport. Then, return their phone calls promptly (building trust), be honest (if you don’t know an answer, tell them you’ll find out and then do it), and expect to available for both the good times and the bad. Building relationships can make all the difference!

        Social Media Marketing Ideas:

        #TeacherTuesday: Highlight a different teacher every Tuesday on your social media posts. Share a fun picture and tell who they are, what drives them, what they love and value, and let your followers get to know them. Link to a profile page or a news article on your website where they can learn a bit more.

        #Ilovemyschool: Ask students what they love about your school, and have them write and draw their answer on a large sheet of poster board. Have them hold it up; snap a picture, and you’ll have some great social media posts you can use all year long! Oh, and why not do it for your staff and administrators occasionally as well?

        #JustFactsMa’am: Use a social media post to share some of the great statistics at your school. What are you known for? Share it socially. Low student-teacher ratios? Post it. What’s the number of scholarships awarded last year? Make a fun graphic and share your successes. Lots of highly-qualified teachers? Share that percentage and encourage your followers to do so as well. Be sure to include a fun image or graphic, of course. 

        #ThrowbackThursdays: Reach back into your school’s past and find some great archived photos and stories from past yearbooks, and use those for social media posts. It’s fun to see, will bring the history of your school to life, and might even highlight some past alumni who are now parents of students in your school. Or, post a baby picture of a different staff member each Thursday, and ask your community to guess who it might be to engage them and create more interaction with social media.

        #Countdown: Use photos to do a countdown to some event at your school. Maybe it is a post with a student holding up a sign or drawing of the number 10 and your post says “Only 10 days until school is out!”—pick a different countdown number and event occasionally. This is also a great way to remind your followers of upcoming events like graduation, holiday breaks, back-to-school events, testing days, teacher recognition day, and so much more. Have the students and staff get clever with the images and ways they display the number, and see how creative they can be.

        #GraduationCountdown: Ask high school seniors what they will miss most when they graduate, and use their answers as social media posts (along with their senior photo) during the last month of school. It’s a great way to let seniors share their perspective with lower classmates and add a bit of school spirit and enthusiasm to the end of the year.

        #InspirationalQuotes: Combine a great picture with an inspirational quote, and you have the perfect social media post. Use your students as much as possible for your photo, and watch your social media engagement skyrocket as their parents share these posts on their own social media channels.

        #SchoolTagline: What is your school’s tagline? Let students respond to that question in a social media post. They can write it out, use artwork, hold up a photo, or whatever works, but have them respond. For example, if your school tagline is “Every student matters, every moment counts,” ask the students to respond to how they know they matter and how they make every moment count. What a great way to incorporate a tagline into their life and internalize its meaning.

        #ADayintheLife: Use Instagram to post a series of photos that represent a typical day for a specific student or staff member. Vary it each week with different grades or staff (include support staff like secretaries, crossing guards, custodians, and food service folks as well). Make this a once a week project!

        Facebook Live: School videos, especially live video, are a great way to boost engagement on your school's Facebook page. The most updated Facebook algorithm favors video, and while it's still more than fine to post pre-recorded video on your page, going live with Facebook Live will get your video ranked even higher on your followers' news feed. And the videos stay on your news feed after your live broadcast ends, so followers can continue to interact with your video later on. Additionally, your willingness to go live as a way of giving your learning community a chance to see behind your school walls is a great way to demonstrate transparency. From Q&A sessions and presentations to school pep rallies, FB Live is a great way to share your school's stories in an engaging way. Check out how Bayshore Christian School uses FB Live to showcase their positive campus culture.

        Facebook Ads: We all know that your parents are using social media—daily. So what better place to marketing to those prospective parents? Assuming you already have a Facebook page for your school, creating a Facebook Ad is pretty simple. Select your purpose (for example, if you want to increase enrollment, you’ll run some ads over the summer targeting your desired audience), write some content that is engaging, fun, and relevant (your school’s unique strengths, how you can help their students, etc.), and include a visible call to action button (like scheduling a tour or requesting more information). You can even use Facebook Ads to remarket to these visitors on Facebook later!

        Facebook Groups: Facebook Groups are a great way to create micro-communities within your school population. Looking for a way for alumni to connect? Working on a special project that merits regular updates? Facebook Groups are a great way to offer meeting places for like-minded individuals within your learning community. Facebook allows business users (which schools are) to create groups that branch off their page, so a group can focus on a particular topic and still be a part of the greater whole. Check out how Ridgefield Public Schools uses the Facebook Groups feature to foster communication among interested parties regarding their School Start Times Project.

        School videos: There is one strategy that seems to get lots of engagement with school marketing, and that is creating a video. There are so many schools creating fun, engaging, and informative videos that you don’t want to be left out. To learn how and to get started, check out our blog called “Creating a School Video that Won’t Break the Bank.” We’ve listed a few ideas below, but then be sure to snoop around and see what other schools have done that is creative and effective, and join the fun. You can have students create your videos, involve your staff and administration, and as technology advances, it gets easier and easier to edit and create professional quality results (well, at least professional enough to get the job done). Have fun, but give it a try and see the increase in traffic and engagement you’ll garner.

        Video Marketing Ideas

        Perspective videos: To see a great example of a school showing student’s progress through their years of school, visit www.htacademy.org and click on the “Start Here. Go Anywhere” video.  It’s fun to create and very effective in bringing the school experience to life for someone checking out your school.

        History videos: Grab those old archived pictures of your school along with original staff and administration, and put together a slideshow video of the history of your school. If possible, interview some of the original teachers or administrators or students and get their perspective and memories as well. A history can show your school’s longevity, dedication, achievement, and consistency in delivering an outstanding education to its students over the years.

        One-Minute videos: Create a series of one-minute videos that highlight a different aspect of your school. Include any and everything that your school excels at or that you are proud of. A great example is the One Minute Video Series produced by Eastern Christian School. They highlight everything from performing arts to athletics to STEAM to their faculty and then use the videos in their social media posts and marketing efforts.

        101 reasons: How many reasons can you come up with for why parents should enroll their students in your school? Linfield Christian School came up with 101 and displayed them all on their school’s website. Turn it into a contest with staff, parents, and students participating, and see how many unique answers you ge—then highlight each one. Turn each reason into a social media post, of course!

        Teacher/student-produced videos: There are lots of clever videos out there on YouTube, Vimeo, and SchoolTube, so just do a search to get some great ideas. Here’s one called “Welcome to the 4th Grade” of a teacher’s back-to-school rap to introduce himself to his new students. A video by students in Australia tells the incoming students what school will be like for them. This one is a heartwarming video about that first day of kindergarten from a parent’s perspective. 

        Videos to address sensitive topics: Schools are also using videos to address uncomfortable topics in thought-provoking and engaging ways. Instead of running for cover with the next big public relations challenge, face it head-on with a video. “We See You” shows that teachers care (in response to local teen suicides). Here’s one about student bullying. Do a search and see how other schools are handling topics important to your school. These videos can be used both internally (for your students and staff) and externally on your website and linked to from your school’s social media channels. Who knows, maybe yours will be the next big viral video to bring your school some great positive public attention!

        Whatever school marketing strategy you try and whatever needs your school needs to address, just jump in. If you don’t let your community know what you do well, how will it know? Make marketing a part of your yearly plans, and see what a difference it makes in your school reputation, brand image, loyalty, and trust. 

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        You Won't Believe What Happened When I Rang the Bell for Service
        2018-10-16
        Image of school office staff at desk

        Recently, I went on a trip with my mother and sister-in-law to Billings, Montana. Yes, in November. Yes, it snowed the whole time. This was our first trip to Billings and we weren’t sure where to stay, so we selected a place with a good deal and positive reviews on Expedia.

        When we arrived at the hotel, no one was at the counter to serve us. Instead, we were greeted by this sign: 

        “Please RING the BELL for service. We really don’t mind! Sometimes, we are multi-tasking in the side office or in the laundry room. We are so glad you’re here!”

        Were we annoyed no one was there to greet us? Not at all! The sign had a wonderfully friendly tone, and explained why no one was manning the counter. We patiently waited just a minute to see if anyone had seen us come in, and then I rang the bell. 

        Right as I pushed the button, a concierge walked around the corner. The bell wasn’t a simple ding… It was a long, drawn out doorbell tune that played up a scale and then back down. I grimaced and looked at the concierge’s face to see if I had annoyed her by ringing the bell—I could just imagine how hearing that tune every day may grate on her nerves. 

        Can you believe it? She wasn’t even a little annoyed that I had rung that bell just as she appeared. She came up to the front desk smiling and welcoming us! I hurriedly said, “I’m sorry for ringing the bell, I didn’t see you coming.” And she said, “Oh don’t worry about it! I don’t mind at all; that’s why we have it there!” And you know what? She meant it.

        Once we were checked in and ready to head off to our rooms, I turned around and snapped a picture of that service sign. Not many “ring bell for service” notes impress me enough to take a picture. Let me explain why this one stood out.

        A Friendly & Inviting Tone

        First of all, I love the line “We are so glad you’re here!” Just reading it made me feel welcome and appreciated. At your school, how a visitor is greeted is a clear indication of whether visitors are seen as intruders or welcome guests. 

        There are lots of ways you can create a friendly, welcoming environment everywhere, from your front desk to your school website. Keep in mind that eye contact, a smile, a wave, a handshake, or a “good to see you” or “how are you today” go a long way in setting a welcoming atmosphere for your schools. 

        As parents and community members visit your campus, remember that first impressions are lasting impressions, and little things make a difference. Providing helpful instructions instead of “thou shalt not” rules and using polite instead of commanding verbiage (please sign in versus visitors MUST sign in) help your guests feel comfortable and welcome at your school. A simple note reminding your visitors that it is “for the safety of our students” will help to quell any annoyances about policies or procedures that might seem complex or cumbersome. 

        Make a Promise and Back It Up

        Have you ever noticed that sometimes a first impression can be misleading? For example, imagine how we would have felt if the hotel employee had come out irritated that we had taken her away from what she was working on in the office or said, “I’m coming!” when I rang the bell? 

        The hotel’s “ring bell for service” sign made a promise (“we really don’t mind… we’re so glad you’re here”), and then the actions of the employee backed it up. That is really what excellent customer service is about—making a promise and then following through. 

        How do you envision the welcome desk on your campuses or at your district offices? Do your staff and teachers seem to mind when a parent or community member interrupts their day with a visit or a phone call? Is every one of your employees on board when it comes to providing excellent customer service? 

        That last question is essential. Imagine: a parent calls the front office to let them know they will be bringing their child’s lunch by later that day. The parent gets a happy, helpful voice on the phone that let’s them know it’s not a problem and explains where they can drop off the lunch. But when the parent shows up at the school, he/she encounters a grumpy curmudgeon at the front desk who sighs deeply and grudgingly says he/she will get the lunch to the student. 

        When your school makes a commitment to provide a friendly, welcoming environment, you’re making a promise to your publics that once their children are enrolled in your school, you will continue to treat them with respect and provide excellent customer service. When you follow through on this promise, it builds trust and loyalty. When you don’t, it creates disillusion and uncertainty. Simply put, it leaves a bad taste in the customer’s mouth.

        A Bad Example

        Let me tell you about the time a restaurant chain made a promise it didn’t back up, leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth. The tagline for this particular restaurant is, “When you’re here, you’re family!” My friend chose this restaurant for her birthday dinner several years ago. You know how most restaurants sing you a song and bring you a complimentary dessert or scoop of ice cream on your birthday? This one didn’t. When we asked about it at the end of our meal, the server told us, “We don’t do that here.” I was genuinely surprised and said, “Wait, aren’t we supposed to be like family when we’re here? That’s the motto, isn’t it?” The server said, “I’m sorry, we’ve never done that. It’s company policy.” 

        I don’t know about you, but I get dessert from my family on birthdays. And, for me, there was a definite disconnect between what this restaurant chain purported in their tagline and the actual experience at their restaurant on a special occasion. I’m glad to report their policy on birthday desserts has since changed; however, because of that experience, I rarely return to that restaurant and, despite its policy change, I certainly don’t choose it when I’m taking my friends and family out for birthday dinners or special occasions. 

        How It Translates to Marketing for Your School

        Consistently creating and providing a welcoming, friendly environment is the key to great customer service. But why does it matter? 

        The short answer is that it is not enough to provide excellent education service; we must also create relationships and emotional connections with parents, students, and community members. That’s what we mean when we talk about school public relations

        Public relations is often a misunderstood concept in the overall stratagem of communications and marketing. School public relations can be defined as the development and maintenance of a favorable public image. Your school’s public image consists of your school culture, reputation, and brand—all of which have ties to your school customer service. 

        I told you about my great experience at the hotel in this blog; I even wrote a review for them on Google where I mention how wonderful the customer service was. I also told you about the less-than-favorable experience I had at a restaurant, and I tell that story every time a friend asks me why I don’t want to eat there. This is word-of-mouth marketing, and it happens every day in personal interactions, online, and in social media. Your customer experiences translate directly to school marketing.  

        In our increasingly technological society, our social interactions and simple acts of courtesy and kindness are more important than ever. Even one person’s attempt to provide above-and-beyond customer service to those with whom they come in contact can radically improve your school culture and your school’s reputation and brand. Imagine getting everyone on board!


        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        What Private Schools Do Right that Public Schools Suck At
        2018-10-09
        Image of shopping cart filled with the words school shopping

        If we were to tell you just one thing that private schools do right that most public schools don’t bother to do, it would be to market their school’s differentiators. Maybe public schools see themselves as ubiquitous and feel they don’t offer anything different than every other public school in the country. However, I’m pretty sure that isn’t true. It is no truer than every private school offering the same services as other private schools, but they go to great lengths to prove otherwise through their marketing. Maybe public schools should follow their lead.

        So, let’s begin there, with the importance of marketing your school.

        School marketing

        All top tier private schools begin by creating their school’s marketing plan. A simplified process looks similar to this:

        • What are your marketing goals? What do you hope to accomplish in your marketing efforts? Your goal might be as simple as increasing enrollment, or it could be complex and involve branding, targeting specific audiences, or working for a particular purpose like a tax levy or bond override.
        • Whom are you trying to reach? In most cases, for a K–12 school, that would be parents since they typically decide where their children will attend school. Then, depending on what grades you teach, how would you describe the typical parents in your target audience? What are their ages, educational background, concerns, and interests for their children? Those target audience personas will vary a bit since the parent of a kindergarten student has different concerns than that of a high school student.
        • Outcomes? What do you want each of your target audiences to do? Enroll their children? Tell their neighbors? Get excited about how awesome your school is? See their children being successful and fitting in at your school? Volunteer? You need to determine specific, time-bound, and measurable goals.
        • What platforms? What channels and methods will you use to market your school? In days gone by, that included advertising (TV, billboards, radio, magazines), but today they are better served (and you’ll spend far less money) by focusing on school websites, school social media, local newspaper articles (not ads), inbound marketing, blogging, search engine optimization, and content development. It means going where your target audience is to get your message out and make available the information they need to make a decision.
        • Getting it done! Once the strategy is decided upon and a written plan is in place, the rest involves getting it scheduled and accomplished. Typically this is a year-long plan, sometimes multiple years. There are often campaigns tied to each goal of your marketing plan as well. You'll make assignments and establish deadlines so you hit all your targets.
        • Analyze, revise, and repeat. Yep, you get to do it all over again each year. You’ll want to figure out what was effective and what was not. You’ll also factor in any new goals your school might have for the next year and go back and do this process again. You’ll learn from each unique experience and will factor in this knowledge to improve each year’s efforts.

        Any private school that is trying to increase or maintain enrollment makes their marketing strategy a priority. Public schools seldom do, even when they are losing students to other schools, homeschooling, or online schooling. And it’s a big mistake. Parents are out there searching for the best fit for their child, and if a public school doesn’t provide the information necessary to make their case, they will not be in the running. Moreover, it is no one’s fault but their own. 

        Marketing strategy is step one. Then using the following methods to implement your plans are the next steps.

        Inbound marketing

        If you aren’t a hardcore marketer, you probably don’t even know what inbound marketing is. However, what you do know, if you have tried other marketing efforts for your school in the past few years, is that marketing methods that worked ten years ago are not as effective today. Oh, don’t get me wrong, some advertising agency will still try to tell you it does, but the return on investment (ROI) is not there. Buyers (parents) needs have changed. They don’t want to be interrupted with your ads; they want to get the information they need to make a decision when it is time to make that decision. That means, sticking up a billboard (for thousands of dollars per month) is unlikely to be worth the investment. So, what to do?

        Buyers make a purchasing decision to solve a problem or meet a need when that need arises. You have to help them see how your school can do just that. However, unlike methods like advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook ads, TV or radio spots, buying e-mail lists), inbound marketing is a strategic process where you focus on creating quality content that pulls parents toward your school through materials you’ve developed to help guide their decision. Your content must answer your prospective parents’ questions and meet their needs. The goal is to attract inbound traffic and then convince them to select your school. However, for that to happen, they have to find you and learn how your school best meets their needs.

        Step #1: Attract

        The first goal is to attract customers who are seeking what your school has to offer. That might be information about how to select a school for students whose interests are specific to one of your strengths whether art, music, STEM, sports, or college prep programs. It could be information to attract new teachers who are looking for a mentorship relationship with experienced, highly-qualified teachers. Whatever your marketing purpose, the goal is to provide the right content when they need it (which is when they are searching for such information through an Internet search or social media marketing).

        Step #2: Convert & Close

        Once you’ve attracted a prospective customer (parents or maybe staff) to your website, where they can download your informative and valuable content, you get their e-mail in exchange. They get the information they are seeking, right when they need it, and you get their contact information so you can market specifically to them. Your goal is to be helpful, informative, and stay top of mind so that when they are ready to make a decision (like where to enroll their student), your school is the one that stands out as the #1 choice. To close, you must have a call to action (CTA) so they take the step to make the decision. Every page focused on marketing (whether for student enrollment or staff recruitment) should include a CTA. Make it easy to choose you!

        Step #3: Delight

        You might think that once you’ve converted a prospect into a student or a new staff member you've completed your work. You would be mistaken, of course. You will continue to engage them through ongoing content in the form of news articles, social media information, videos, and stories that consistently confirm their right choice in selecting your school over all the other options available to them.

        To maximize your efforts with inbound marketing, you’ll want to consider how you will promote your content. One of the most useful options we’ve seen schools use is social media ads to expand and broaden their reach while still engaging the current parents. Invite your parent and student followers to share your content on their Facebook and Twitter pages as well. Just a few “shares” can exponentially expand your visibility. Another highly effective method is judicious use of your school websites. Search engine optimization, great storytelling, engaging videos, and new articles with a human interest angle will be worth their weight in platinum.

        Blogging

        Developing a school blog, or even considering doing so, might strike fear into the heart of even the most intrepid school administrator. Our experience has been that they tend to want to stay out of the line of fire and fear that such a public forum might make them a target for those who are aiming. However, when it comes to marketing your school, blogging can be one of the most effectual tools available. 

        One of the benefits of blogging is that it improves your school website’s search engine rankings. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the use of specific keywords or keyword phrases used in an Internet search that will take the user to your school website. A blog is a natural way to grow your online presence and feed information to the ever-voracious search engines looking for new and relevant content. If a parent is looking for tips to help their child get into a respected engineering program and you have a blog post about your school’s outstanding program, why it works, and which universities seek out your students might be precisely the relevant content they were looking for. Now you are in front of the very audience you want to see all your school has to offer.

        Another blog benefit is that it gives you excellent opportunities to tell your school’s stories. Not just from a news story perspective but from a human interest perspective. You can highlight individual student successes, make your staff relatable to your community members, and bring a level of transparency to your audience that only a first-person viewpoint can provide.

        When your blog posts are entertaining, informative, and engaging, you also have an opportunity to include a call-to-action (CTA) where they provide you with their e-mail so you can continue to market to them. By allowing comments, even if you choose to moderate them, you also have an excellent chance to see concerns or resolve misunderstandings before they become a public relations issue; you can nip those in the bud with a response or clarification. 

        You can also use your blog to invite guest bloggers to share their experiences and opinions on topics of interest to others. For example, you could ask alums to write about how attending your school helped them succeed in college or their career. A graduating senior could write about his or her most rewarding experiences and how it prepared him or her for the next phase of life. Get staff members to share their most memorable teaching moments. Your blog can also provide background and perspective on current topics that have the community all abuzz, providing the rationale for decisions that may affect them while building trust through transparency.

        A blog, done right (which means it isn’t all about the author but about your audience’s interests) is a win-win for your school brand, your staff reputation, and your successful school communication strategies. Oh, and don’t forget to use your social media channels to link to your blog posts and encourage additional engagement.

         For some more tips, read “The School Marketer’s Dilemma: to Blog or Not To blog.

        Storytelling

        Whether we like to admit it or not, we make most of our decisions based not on logic and reason but on emotion. The best way to influence and engage emotion is through storytelling. The neuroscience behind how this works is fascinating and well documented. To better understand the benefits and uses, check out Telling Your School’s Stories.

        The next step to implementing good school storytelling is to make story gathering a part of how you do things at your school. Your staff need to understand that those stories are valued, so gathering and recording them takes place. We all have stories and get new ones every day. The problem is, we don’t record them. But you make it an essential part of your communication and marketing efforts, you will see a tremendous positive change in your school culture, and your school culture has a direct effect on your school marketing. To implement storytelling at your school, you must:

        • Reward and recognize good stories. This means using stories in your own leadership style or your teaching as an example to others. It also means sharing others’ stories during staff meetings or governing board meetings and giving credit to the story-sharer. What you value and reward (even if just through acknowledgement) your staff will copy and implement.
        • Use story prompts to gather stories. There are prompts available in the article we mentioned called Telling Your School’s Stories. Share this with your staff at the next staff meeting, and see how many stories you can gather. Then, teach this method to them, and have them gather stories from their students as well. Not only will you gain some excellent stories, but you will also all learn so much from one another in the process and be rewarded with some positive emotions as you see the great things happening at your school.
        • Record the stories you gather. You might try using a simple spreadsheet with fields for the topics and the essential elements of the story to jog your memory. Others use OneNote or Evernote and tag their stories. I use a Google Sheet and ask everyone in our company to add to this shared document. By doing this, the next time you need a story to make a point, write a blog, change an attitude, or add support to your message, you’ll have a resource at your fingertips. 
        • Make it a habit. Use stories every chance you get. Need to make a presentation? Add a story. Teaching a class? What story will make this lesson memorable for your students? Talking to your own children about something important? What story supports your message? The best speakers, the best TED talks, the best communicators know how to use storytelling to influence, engage, and convert. Learning to use stories in your communications will take your school marketing from “meh” to “magnificent.”
        • Want more information? I learned so much from Shawn Callahan’s book, Putting Stories to Work. He takes you step-by-step through what a story actually is. Everyone these days is talking about the importance of storytelling, but Shawn’s book shows you how to use this powerful communications tool.

        Customer Service

        You might not think that customer service belongs in an article about school marketing, but from talking to parents, you will quickly see what a huge impact it has on the choices they make for their child’s education. Many years ago, my son and I (our business development director) took a road trip through several states to visit schools. We learned so much from the experience, but when it was all said and done, our most shocking takeaway was the radical differences in the customer service levels between schools. At some, they greeted us with smiles and a welcoming attitude. At others, we were an unwelcome interruption (even though they had no idea why we had walked in their front doors). From the front office staff to the signage and curb appeal, the differences were significant. Moreover, those differences weighed in favor of the private and independent schools. 

        Private schools seemed to put more importance on that first impression, and their office staff was apparently trained to be welcoming and friendly. Why should a public school be any less so? Where would your school rank?  

        If you aren’t sure where you would rank, you need to find out from an objective, unbiased third-party. Try the secret shopper approach and have them report their impressions. Then, take steps to provide customer service training to your staff if necessary. Take a look at your curb appeal, the wording on your signage, the parking you provide for visitors and parents. Then look at your internal customer service. How does your staff treat one another? How does it treat students? What is on the walls of your hallways? All of this reflects what your school values. Does it appreciate civility, kindness, and engagement? Are your parents raving fans or more like raging foes?

        Here are a few more ideas to help you improve your school’s customer service:

        For more marketing ideas, purchase our Marketing Your School toolkit for 50 weeks of marketing ideas. Use the coupon code "success" and take $100 off the purchase price!

        Benefits of getting started

        There is much information here, and you can’t apply all of this immediately, but you can pick one area and get started. Whether you are a private school, an independent school, a charter school, or a public school, you MUST care about marketing. While word-of-mouth is the most crucial factor for your school’s growth, with declining birth rates, school choice, online schools, and homeschooling options, you need to get the word out. If you don’t share what makes your school special, all of the great things you are doing every day will remain unknown to those outside of your classrooms.

        If you need some help knowing how and where to begin, we hope you’ll contact School Webmasters at (888) 750.4556 or e-mail Jim. We’re here to make your job easier and your school communication more effective!

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Red Ribbon Week
        2018-10-02
        Red Ribbon Week: School Marketing at It's Easiest

        October is Red Ribbon Month, and schools typically celebrate Red Ribbon Week during the last week of October. This year, Red Ribbon Week is October 23–31. Whether your school pulls out all the stops for Red Ribbon Week or you’re throwing together a last-minute plan, don’t miss the opportunity to market your school. 

        Why do we classify Red Ribbon Week as an opportunity to market your school? Because your key stakeholders—parents and community members—care that your school is providing a well-rounded education to students, and that includes, among other things, how to make responsible decisions. Another element of marketing also includes encouraging parent engagement and community involvement. The National Red Ribbon Campaign makes it easy for schools to incorporate drug prevention education into its curriculum and engage communities to participate. 

        Many of our public schools (and even private and charter schools) make “Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)” a big deal. Frequently in education, as we’re speaking with parents and the communities, we rattle this phrase off as if everyone understands what we’re talking about. SEL framework starts with principles taught in classroom instruction, relates it to schoolwide practices and policies, and then encourages family and community partnerships to reinforce those principles. Red Ribbon Week is an opportunity to tie a big event to that amorphous phrase to help our stakeholders understand what we really mean when we say, “we’re invested in the social emotional learning of our students.” Red Ribbon Week can be an excellent example in action. 

        Plan Your Red Ribbon Week

        The National Family Partnership (formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth) works hard every year to bring ideas, resources, and material to help schools conduct a successful Red Ribbon Week. The 2017 National Red Ribbon Week Theme is, “Your Future is Key, so Stay Drug Free.” There’s no point in spending time and resources on additional school marketing material for this week when so much has already been done for you. Visit the RedRibbon.org website for a host of free downloads. You’ll find a planning guide to help your school plan activities and involve your community, an infographic and fact sheet to share important information, and even curriculum suggestions for all the grade levels. 

        On the RedRibbon.org website, you’ll also find activities and contests. Because the organization has 30+ years experience, your school can easily find activities to engage your school community on the activities page. There is a photo contest that you can participate in as a school or encourage families to participate in on their own. If your school enters the 2017 Red Ribbon Photo Contest, winners could receive an iPad and $1,000 for their school. And you can encourage your students and staff to enter the theme contest for next year’s Red Ribbon theme.

        If you have the Marketing Your School toolkit, refer to week 13 for step-by-step guidance in making the most of our your Red Ribbon Week plans.

        Other Campaigns & School Marketing Opportunities

        The National Family Partnership and Red Ribbon Week is by far one of the most recognizable campaigns when it comes to helping to keep youth drug free, but there are other programs and campaigns your school can use to not only keep students healthy and safe, but to also engage parents and the community and market your schools. 

        Drug & Alcohol Prevention

        Natural High’s mission is to inspire and empower youth to find their natural high and develop the skills and courage to live life well. They specialize in powerfully told stories and lessons aimed at changing the lives of youth by helping them to stay drug and alcohol-free and find their “natural high.” 

        Bullying Prevention  

        National Bullying Prevention Month is also in October. It is a nationwide campaign founded in 2006 by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. 

        StopBullying.gov also provides resources for bullying prevention at schools. 

        Online Safety

        NetSmartz Workshop, created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, is one of the best websites with resources for keeping students and children safe online. See week 35 in your Marketing Your School toolkit for more on school online safety.

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Why Transparency Matters in Your School Communication Strategies
        2018-09-25
        Are your school's communications transparent?

        In today’s highly-connected world, it is more important than ever to establish trust. One of the main contributors to trust is creating a culture of transparency. To most of us, being transparent means you’re hiding nothing. You’re letting others look through a window into your world, throwing the blinds wide open. 

        Now, that doesn’t mean that anyone expects complete transparency, all the time. There are issues that cannot and should not be shared publicly. There are personnel issues, student privacy issues, medical situations, and security issues that must remain confidential by law. But what the public doesn’t trust is when public issues that are not addressed. Then, when they hear about it and don’t understand why some decision or another was made, they speculate. Their speculation may lead to the assumption that it was a cover-up and not merely an oversight.

        Excluding politics, which has its own set of conspiracy theories and hidden agendas, and in spite of what some media outlets say, most schools do not deliberately hide or cover up information. Often times, it might not be shared because “we didn’t think anyone would be interested” or “it was kind of boring.” And they might even be right. It might be boring or not pertain to most people. But failing to share is where the problem comes in. Your public wants to decide if it is boring or of interest. If the blinds are closed, they can only guess what is going on behind them. That’s when doubt and mistrust creep in. But, if schools try to share all the minutiae, the overload of information will soon have no one listening to anything at all.

        So, what’s a school to do? 

        Tell them what, and then tell them why

        Nearly all the school leaders we work with put tremendous thought and planning into every decision they make. Few determinations are made on a whim. There is a purpose, a value, a goal behind every major decision. There is also a “why” behind each problem to be solved or improvement to be made. When that “why” isn’t shared, that one failure can cause more trouble than any other communication oversight. 

        Create a transparent culture in your community. Develop trust, and during the tough times (budget cuts, school closings, lower test scores, etc.), that earned trust will carry you through. When the community understands the facts and the factors you had to weigh in order to come to a decision behind any given situation, mistrust is more likely to evaporate. 

        Your information will trump the rumors and gossip that is sure to surface—if you get it out there. However, you must be proactive, not reactive. Sometimes you don’t have a choice and must react in an unexpected crisis. But when you maintain consistent transparency, those times are the exceptions. You will have proven to be trustworthy, caring, and conscientious educators with your students best interests in mind.

        Some more tips about maintaining transparent communications strategies:

        • Be consistent: Establish reliable channels of communication that are continually updated and informative. Your school website should be the communications hub from which everything else radiates, including social media, newsletters, parent notification systems, local media articles, employee intranets, governing board meetings, parent e-mails, staff e-mails, local TV channels, etc.
        • Watch your tone: Know your audience and talk to them, not at them. Your messages should be conversational and friendly. Avoid jargon and educational terms that the community and parents wouldn’t know. Avoid passive voice. Write with your audience needs in mind. Remember, it’s about them, not you.
        • Provide evidence: If you have facts and stats, that is great; be sure you share them. But don’t forget to tell your stories. Talk about the people and situations behind the decisions, how it affects them, what differences these changes will make in their lives or in their education. Create school videos; let people tell their stories and speak their truths right into the camera. 

        School leadership matters; be that leader

        Your school’s leaders typically set the bar. If they are focused on keeping the staff, students, and community informed, they are more likely to be trusted and followed. If you’re lucky, your school leaders demonstrate integrity and honesty. They don’t demand it; they live it. When this is the case, the school’s staff know to what values they are expected to adhere. These standards become the expectation. When this is the expectation, going from integrity to transparency is a short trip and will be easy to implement.

        However, maybe you’ve worked in a school where a leader actually lowered the bar. His or her behavior was less than stellar and certainly not something to which you personally aspired. When a school environment is littered with the minefields of mistrust, gossip, and innuendo, the culture becomes toxic. No one does their best work in a toxic environment, so students don’t receive the best education possible. Certainly, this is not ideal. But you can effect change, from right where you stand.

        Regardless of the leadership in your school, we are all leaders. We each have our own sphere of influence. As teachers, our sphere of influence is not only our co-workers and our students but our administrators. As support staff, we influence teachers, students, and parents. 

        For example, I have a co-worker who believes in being loyal to those not present. He doesn’t backbite, gossip, or criticize behind anyone’s back. If he has a concern, he takes it to the source. He has set the bar and doesn’t lower it, even when it is convenient to do so. Because I’ve witnessed this value in action, I also know that he’s loyal to me in my absence. His example, the standard he’s set, helps me to do likewise. This value is another form of transparency, and it is just one example. 

        What’s your superpower of transparency? Integrity? Honesty? Loyalty? Trustworthy? Keeping confidences? You have that same powerful influence, no matter your role. 

        Become comfortable with pushback

        Some people avoid transparency because they hope by saying nothing, no one will notice and they can avoid any conflict. The problem with this approach is that when someone does notice, they may assume you are hiding something. Otherwise, why wouldn’t you have communicated this information? What are you hiding? If this happens very often, those assumptions and that mistrust will become difficult to overcome.

        If the typical communications approach, especially during a crisis, is to duck and cover and hope the media doesn’t get wind of it, you’re playing a dangerous game. You won’t build public trust if your methodology is to circle the wagons against any challenge or question. Your strategy should be to get out there first and state the facts. Tell your story or take the risk that someone else will tell a far different version. Trust me, they will. You’ll be on the defense instead of the offense.

        How to deal with pushback:

        • Recognize that pushback gives you a chance to show the thought and planning that went into a decision. Give the reasons and strategy behind it. You can share the advantages you’ll gain and the challenges you’ll face with other choices or if you don’t make any decision at all.
        • Take the opportunity to listen. Ask questions instead of doing all the talking. We often make faulty assumptions about what a concern might be if we spend more time talking than listening.
        • Share how the school’s vision and goals tie into the decision. Tell them who wins and why.
        • Explain the situation and ask for ideas. You might hear the perspectives and solutions you had not even considered. If nothing else, you will have shown the public what it is you have to work with so they can see what the challenges are. 
        • Communicate each step along the way. Articulate the why and answer questions.

        Incorporate transparency in your school communications plan

        Effective school communications is about building trusting relationships. It can’t be faked in the long run. It requires that you believe in the value transparency can bring to your school’s culture and your community. It means you need to value the importance of working collaboratively with staff, parents, students, and community members. It means you value such qualities as:

        • Respect: Treat each person as an individual, and don’t make assumptions. Let others tell you their ideas without interruption.
        • Listening: First, pay attention. Focus on what is being said, and maintain eye contact. Ask open-ended questions. Know when to be silent. Remember we have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
        • Courtesy: Greet others with a smile or a “hello.” Say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome” or my personal favorite, “my pleasure.” Express appreciation. Treat others with dignity by being thoughtful and receptive. Give others the benefit of the doubt (as we do to ourselves).
        • Honesty: Be truthful while being considerate. Avoid absolute language like “never,” and “always” (they evoke defensiveness and lack credibility). Check your motives before criticizing. Get the facts before repeating rumors/gossip. 
        • Integrity: More than just being honest, it means consistently keeping promises, being trustworthy, and acting ethically. It is holding to your moral standards. It is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.

        Take your community members and parents behind the scenes. Let them see these qualities at work in your planning, strategies, decisions, and solutions. Inviting them in and sharing valuable background information removes doubt and builds trust in your school and its leaders. 

        To create a simplified school communication strategy that incorporates transparency and school public relations, consider this simplified approach:

        • Communication objectives: What communication goals do you want to achieve this school year (or maybe for just this one project)? Be specific and quantify those goals. (I want to establish a school social media presence of 1500 Facebook, 500 Instagram, and 500 Twitter followers. I want to incorporate transparency strategically.)
        • Target audiences: Who are you trying to reach? What are their primary concerns? (There may be more than one target audience.) 
        • Desired action: What concrete action do you want your target audience to take? (Comment? Attend? Think you’re awesome? Understand a purpose or change? Become supportive? Donate? Respond to a survey?)
        • Which platforms: List the platforms you intend to use. (Examples might be: website, social media, newsletter, local media coverage, signage, parent notifications, group meetings, e-mails, videos, etc.)
        • Article topics or themes: What stories, examples, or information will support your goals and objectives? Be sure to include transparency as one of your article goals. (Articles, blogs, or posts for your website, social media, newsletters, local media, meetings, videos, etc.)
        • Key recurring events: Does your school have annual recurring events or dates? How can these projects or campaigns support your school’s annual objectives? (Open house, back-to-school events, tax levy or bond override, kindergarten enrollment, school marketing, fundraising campaigns, etc.)
        • Success measurements: How will you measure the success or progress of your school’s various projects or campaigns? (Facebook followers, newsletter sign-ups, blog subscribers, website analytics, enrollment numbers, parent volunteers, etc.) Set intermediary goals, end goals, deadlines, and metric goals for each project.

        Incorporating transparency in your strategic communication’s plans is worth the effort and will pay off by building trust, strengthening your school brand, and marketing your school and its strengths. You will avoid more misunderstandings and quash rumors because your community, staff, and students will learn to trust that your school can be relied upon to keep them informed and included in the decision-making processes your school leaders make.

        Start simple, if necessary, but don’t be afraid to share the motivating factors behind the choices and plans your school implements. Trust is something you want to earn every day.

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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        Meaningful Social Media for Schools
        2018-09-18
        Image of students clasping hands

        Social media is a wonderful school communications tool. At a minimum, your school should be using social media to keep parents and the community informed about the daily routines at your school—late starts, early releases, snow-days, etc. Ideally, your social media should connect you with your community and engage parents.

        This month our social media team reminded us that school social media can (and should!) be so much more than the same old, tired news post or calendar reminder on our social media streams. With a little extra investment and the courage to be personal, schools can turn their social media into a truly unifying force with their overall community. 

        Adding Meaning to Social Media

        Anna Nolan personally manages the social media for several schools while also directing our Social4Schools service line at School Webmasters. Here are her insights about how school social media managers can invest a little more humanity into their efforts to better connect with the community: 

          This past week, I've spent more time than usual on one particular client, Bayshore Christian School, as they were on hurricane watch while they waited for Irma to make landfall.

          Over the past two years, I’ve developed a great working relationship with Tara, my contact there. This week, I exchanged a few e-mails and texts with her regarding announcements we need to make about school closures, and I've been watching the news to hear how Tampa has been faring.

          Aside from simply announcing when school was canceled, knowing what was going on in their area has affected what I will write in each of their posts for the next week. It's got me to thinking how important it is that we're making an effort to follow not just what's going on at our schools but also how events in their communities at large might be affecting them.

          I imagine myself in the shoes of the parents in that community in order to imagine what kinds of posts might be most helpful or encouraging to them. They deal with hurricane season every year, but as you can imagine, this one has disrupted their community more than others have. With all of that in mind, I’ve been able to schedule out a week's worth of everything from safety kit recommendations from the state and activities to help keep the kids distracted while they wait out the storm indoors to sharing encouraging stories about how community members are helping one another deal with these events.



          Now, I'm just waiting to hear from Tara about re-opening the school and returning to more business-as-usual posts (upcoming school news & events, etc.).

          Having the events relevant to their community on my radar has made a real difference in my tone and content choices all week, and the posts are getting very positive interaction (likes, shares, etc.), which tells me that the school community appreciates the information and encouragement coming from their school.

        School Social Media Management Tips

        In addition to this great example of going the extra mile in your school communications, Anna shares a few school social media tips for school social media managers about posting when dealing with a newsworthy disaster or tragedy in your community. Here are Anna’s tips:

        • Don't make assumptions. Send an e-mail to your school or district administrator to understand and gauge the school's official response before you begin posting.

          I e-mailed Tara back on Wednesday to let her know I was aware of what was coming and to ask if there was anything I needed to know about posting over the next several days. Her response helped me better understand how the community was being affected so I could post appropriately. You don't want to ignore an important conversation that might be happening in your learning community, but you also don't want to create an issue where there isn't one. Tampa doesn't often experience too much damage from these storms because of where they're located, so I didn't want to start sounding off alarms without approval—that would just create panic where there was none before.

        • Be sure you're following local news on your school's News feed. Monitoring local news is an important part of managing social media for schools. A lot of these cities have Facebook pages for their local news channels or online newspapers, and watching those posts can help you stay current with how the community is faring (just beware of the tone the media sometimes takes just to sell stories). These community pages can also provide you with relevant news stories to share on your school's page where appropriate.

        • Add positivity to the mix.

          There was plenty I could post about the importance of emergency kits and sandbags, but I made a point to include articles like keeping the kids busy while they were stuck indoors and, because this is a Christian school, I shared a few encouraging Bible quotes. Try to provide a balance between providing important information and being a voice of comfort and support.



        • Follow up. At a certain point, all communities will feel ready to start talking about something else after a tragedy, especially one that's all over the news like this one has been. Touch base with your client after you think things have calmed down, and stay sensitive to the fact that not everyone in the community might be back on their feet. Gradually get back to business-as-usual as appropriate. 

        So there it is! Social media managers for schools have a unique opportunity to engage parents and help the community get to know our schools on an even more personal level than they might if they were just viewing their school websites. In fact, if you had visited Bayshore's website these past two weeks, you would never have known any of this was happening! School social media is where the real connection happens.

        If your school struggles with social media, you’re not alone. For tips and advice about how to improve your school communications, be sure to subscribe to this blog for Marketing Your School and the School Webmasters blog. If you’re looking for an affordable solution to manage your social media, drop Anna Nolan an e-mail, and she’ll tell you how easy it is keep your social media updated with Social4Schools

        How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
        395413
        3 Steps to Improving Parent Engagement
        2018-09-11
        Parents engaged in child's learning

        Nearly every educator will agree that positive parent engagement improves a child’s educational outcome. Besides making common sense, many data-driven studies are proving what we all know intuitively.

        We are each formed within the framework of our families. It is here we receive our initial education. Schools and teachers continue the process and expand our knowledge and education. But lucky is the child whose family supports and engages with their schools. Student success and achievement increases. Students graduate prepared to be productive, contributing, and successful citizens. Students with involved parents, regardless of their background or income, are more likely to attend school regularly, earn higher grades, have better social skills, enjoy a more positive attitude toward school, and show improved behavior. School culture improves, and everyone wins—especially students—when home-school-community collaboration takes place.

        So, what are the barriers to promoting family engagement? What challenges and obstacles do you need to remove?

        Step 1: Determine family & community involvement needs

        Before you can create improvements in your school’s home-family engagement, you’ll need to assess where the needs are now. One effective and popular way to do this is to survey your parents. This will give you a glimpse of what parents feel are your current strengths and weaknesses. You can then move forward with the information, correcting the weakest points and highlighting your strengths. By gathering the insights of the very people you hope to engage, you can see any challenges from their perspective (which is likely to be very different from your own). And, when parents participate in completing a survey, it is more likely they will become interested in its outcome and results. Check out this example K–12 parent survey and another on school communication preferences that might get you started creating your own. Another excellent survey resource is Family-School Relationships Survey, available from Panorama. Some example questions you might want to include, as related specifically to parent engagement might be:

        • Do you listen to your child read or read aloud to your child? Often / Sometimes / Never
        • Do teachers suggest homework activities for you and your child? Often / Sometimes/ Never
        • Is the school reception staff friendly and helpful? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Are your child’s teachers easy to talk to? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Is the school’s principal easy to talk to? Yes / Mostly / No
        • Have you attended any school-sponsored meetings to help parents understand and work with children? Yes / No
        • Would you be interested in attending meetings or workshops for parents on parenting skills if offered (child development, discipline, helping children learn)? Yes / No
        • Are you currently involved with the school as a volunteer, room mother/father, aide? Yes / No
        • If you have not volunteered at school, please indicate why. Never been asked / I don’t know how / Work schedule conflicts / Other children to care for / I don’t feel comfortable / Not interested / Other
        • How many parent-teacher conferences did you attend last year? None / 1 / 2 or more
        • How often do you communicate with teachers about your child’s performance? Often / Occasionally / Never
        • Have you participated in any school councils, committees, or PTA/PTO meetings? Yes / No
        • Does the school seek ideas from parents in these organizations regarding school-related issues like student achievement, improving communication, or developing programs? Yes / No / Not sure
          • If yes, have you ever shared your ideas or advice on any of these issues? Yes / No / I’ve not been asked.
          • If yes, do you feel like your opinion was taken into consideration when it comes to decisions made? Yes / Not sure / No
        • Would you like to participate in decisions reached on school-related issues? Yes / No 
        • Do school personnel encourage or assist parents and communities in becoming more involved in the schools? Yes / No / Not sure

        Step 2: Analyze and implement communications strategies

        Once you have gathered some data, look at how you can implement strategies that will improve your current communication levels. You will want to factor in the following challenges:

        • Avoid overwhelming parents with an unmanageable volume of communications. We are all inundated with massive amounts of information each day. So, be selective and wise with your communications. Be brief. Be specific. Be interesting. Be consistent.
        • Avoid complicated reports. Deliver your information in digestible bites. If you want to share something complex, tell a story that explains it and keeps it interesting. You want your audience to relate to your information.
        • Use a variety of resources. Not everyone has access to the same tools. They also have different preferences. By using a variety of communication channels, you will avoid excluding anyone. 

          Channels of communication:

          Personal Contact

          By far, the most effective way to engage parents is that personal touch from the teacher. This is one reason that parent-teacher conferences can be so valuable. So, putting extra effort into such events as back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences is vital.

          However, personal contact can be challenging in a large school when a teacher has 150 students during the day. Many teachers are using notification systems to engage parents and students. Some of the common programs (some are even free) include Remind, Class Dojo, SeeSaw, and many others. Another way to produce a good outcome is by texting a quick message or reminder. A simple “Reminder: John needs to study for the test” or “Oops, attendance has slipped. Everything okay?” can be very impactful. Texting also has the advantage of reaching most parents; even low-income families often have phones capable of receiving texts. 

          There is evidence that specific, rather than general, teacher-to-parent communication is much more impactful and valued by parents. It is also important that this communication takes place for both positive and negative aspects of student behavior. If a parent only hears from a child’s teacher when something bad happens, a trusting relationship isn’t likely to develop.

          Websites

          To use your school websites effectively, parents need to feel they can rely on it to keep them informed. Your school website management is a critical aspect of good communication strategies. Always make sure that all scheduled events and activities are on up-to-date calendars, you populate the news page with engaging articles and success stories, and easy access to forms and parent resources is just a click or two away. Then, consider adding a section geared at encouraging parent engagement. Many universities have been doing this very successfully for years. Follow their examples, and create a parent guide page on your school sites that include some of the following resources:

          • Share the facts with parents about how important their involvement is to their child’s education. Show them the data. Share some personal stories. Once they understand the value their engagement brings, they’ll be more likely to get involved. (FAST study, CPE study, Rice U Study)
          • Provide information on how to become a volunteer at your school. Include what those needs are and how students benefit from parent participation. Be sure to include some quotes, testimonials, or a school video sharing other parents’ positive experiences. Highlight a parent volunteer each month on your school’s website.
          • Schedule a series of workshops that parents can attend. Topics can be selected based on your school and parent needs, but popular areas are parenting and discipline, helping students develop good study habits, building self-confidence through success, nutrition guidelines, improving parent/child communication, character development, teaching responsibility, etc. Consider partnering with local businesses and experts to sponsor or assist in developing the classes.
          • Provide a survey to let parents see where they score in their current level of engagement in their child’s education. It can encourage them to raise the bar and set personal standards. Check out the great example at Project Appleseed.
          • Provide information about all events parents are invited to attend. These might include meet and greet tables at school concerts, open houses or back-to-school night, parent-teacher conferences, school board meetings, or PTA/PTO meetings.
          • Describe how parents can schedule a meeting with their child’s teachers, and explain the process in detail. When they understand how it works, they will feel more welcome and be more likely to reach out, ask questions, and get involved. 
          • Make sure you have mobile friendly, ADA compliant websites that ensure easy access.

          Social Media

          Your school social media channels, working in conjunction with your website content, is the way to celebrate your school’s areas of excellence, recognize the things that make your school unique, and engage your parents and community. The key here is to make it a coordinated effort with your school’s current communication needs and goals. The following are a few tips for creating engagement, especially in light of Facebook’s new algorithm:

          • Post school photos. Parents love them. Encourage parent comments with your post by asking fun or engaging questions they can answer.
          • Add “events” on Facebook for upcoming events and activities. This will take your post beyond just a reminder.
          • Post tips. Include anything from study tips to movie recommendations or best books the whole family might enjoy. Ask parents and students for their feedback.
          • Share favorite recipes. Get students involved. What is a favorite healthy breakfast? Most remembered school lunch ever?
          • Create a video. Ask the students to help (or let them create it). Want parent engagement? Then make the topic one they can’t resist, like having students answer, “What makes my Mom awesome” on Mother’s Day or “Why my Dad should be president” for Father’s Day. Try having students or even parents share stories about their favorite teacher and then asking others to share their comments as well.

          Parent Notifications and Alerts

          Many schools use parent notification systems to contact parents via e-mail or text or phone for reminders, attendance notifications, or events. For a majority of parents, this is a welcome technical change. The other benefit is that it encourages parents to stay engaged with their child’s education on a regular basis and add their support and encouragement to their child’s progress every step of the way. Many platforms that make these notifications easy to manage are available.

          Media Relations

          One very successful avenue for parent engagement is to use the local media to make your case for you. That means providing your local radio, newspaper, and TV stations with articles and resources that will help parents recognize the importance of their involvement in their child’s education. 

          You can write articles, citing data-driven studies. Be sure to include stories that validate those studies. You are sure to generate interest from your local media. If you have some good local stories, create a video and interview a few of your engaged parents, letting them share how their engagement helped their child succeed. Invite the newspapers and TV stations to attend the volunteer recognition event where you honor those parent volunteers. If you offer workshops for parents on study skills or parenting, be sure to invite your local media to attend, or provide them with quotes from parents (or a video clip from attendees).

          Step 3: Reevaluate

          Once you’ve identified the most important aspect of engagement for your school and tried a few new strategies, you have to be patient. It takes time to change attitudes and habits. You may tweak and refine what you are doing, but don’t give up. Then, send out your survey again the following year, and see what has changed. What improved? What is worse off? Then, do it all again.

          What are some best practices to help you on your way?

          • Create a welcoming school climate. Do you give a welcome packet that includes information about your community and available services to parents visiting your school? Is your office and reception staff trained in customer service? Is the entry experience at your school welcoming and friendly?
          • Hold an open house or back-to-school event before the first day of school. Let parents meet their child’s teachers, tour the school, meet other parents, and become familiar with your school’s methods of communication. (Tell them how to follow the school on Facebook and Twitter. Give them the URL of the school’s website.)
          • Partner with local agencies and provide workshops on parenting, study habits/learning skills, nutrition, and other areas of interest. Provide materials for parents on how to improve their children’s study skills.
          • Ask teachers to make regular homework assignments that require students to discuss with their families what they are learning in class.
          • Create roles to include parents on advisory committees. Help those parents become spokespeople for the rollout of new policies or changes.
          • Create volunteer recognition events or activities, certificates, and thank you cards. Be sure you share your thanks to your volunteers through your website and social media.
          • Consider establishing a network that links every family with a designated parent representative.
          • Establish school-business partnerships that will provide students with mentoring, onsite internships, and experiential learning experiences.
          • Develop a survey with parents to identify volunteer interests, talents, and availabilities that matches these resources to your school programs and staff-support needs.

          So, go forth and engage! Your students will be the winners.

          359080
          Storytelling: Your School's Secret Weapon for Successful Marketing
          2018-09-04
          Telling Stories printed on small chalkboard

          Last fall, I listened to a teacher relate the following experience about my uncle, a retired principal in California:

          As she walked back to her classroom one day, she noticed a man running from her room carrying her purse. She ran to the office to tell my uncle. He quickly set off with the school janitor in pursuit of the thief. The teacher described my uncle running down the road dressed in his suit and tie. He caught the man soon after and retrieved this teacher’s stolen purse. The teacher joked that while the purse probably only had about five dollars in it, it meant a lot that her principal would make such an effort for her. Then she asked, “How many principals do you know who would run two blocks in a suit to save a teacher’s snatched purse?” While this story exemplifies one man’s character, it also sheds light on the culture and atmosphere of the school. 

          Telling school stories that inspire, excite, entertain, and encourage your school community is at the heart of successful school marketing. Stories educate, inspire, and entertain us. They carry with them underlying themes connecting us to the organization and people involved. Storytelling and its scientific background affirms its relevance as a powerfully simple tool in school branding. Let’s look at how you can use this tool in your school.

          Using Storytelling in Schools

          As a school marketer, I’m sure you enjoy hearing your school’s success stories. When you witness or even hear about a moment that inspires, encourages, excites, or entertains, be careful not to just listen and go on with your activities. Take a moment to record the experience. These passing moments embody your school brand, demonstrating good things happening at your school. They are actual evidence supporting your school brand! Pass the good word along to your school community! 

          Gatekeeping is a process through which information is filtered. Journalism students learn that journalists are the “gatekeepers” of the news. It’s a sad-but-true fact that sometimes our schools don’t receive the coverage they deserve because the “gatekeepers” don’t think it’s “news.” But don’t despair! You are the gatekeeper of your school website! Fill your district news page with stories from around your district and your school news pages with stories from your classrooms and hallways. Then you can use your social media to drive traffic to your website where your audience can read those stories. 

          Your School Website is the Best Place to Share Your Stories

          Your primary communication platform needs to be your school website. However, sometimes schools neglect their online home. If you take anything away from this blog today, let it be this: Your school website is the best place to share your stories, your way! Social media should not be the only place you tell your school stories. In fact, if anything, your school social media should serve as a secondary platform for your stories. 

          Ridgefield Public Schools does an amazing job of this. The school’s part-time PR4 Schools communications coordinator fills the news page on their district site with events, news, and stories from around the district. The stories support the district’s mission and illustrate the actual events taking place on a daily basis that contribute to their vision. The district makes sure its community never misses a story by sending out a monthly newsletter that drives traffic to the website to read the whole story. 

          School Marketing Potential

          There are a variety of ways schools can share their stories. Allison Anderson, an educator in Oregon, lists current and practical ideas for sharing stories with your school community on her blog. Your school strengthens its public image as it shares stories along the following themes:

          • School’s history
          • What we stand for
          • What we do
          • Success stories
          • Overcoming barriers

          Bonnie Leedy, CEO of  School Webmasters, affirms that sharing your school’s stories is vital for school marketing for the following reasons. First, stories encourage enrollment. Your target audience relates with the solutions in your stories. Readers envision themselves (or their children) successful in that environment. 

          Second, stories help indicate differentiators. They provide authentic evidence of how your school differs from other schools, attracting those with matching interests and needs. 

          Third, stories encourage website traffic. Sharing stories on your website adds keyword-rich content, helping Internet users find your school website. When coupled with social media, your stories can get a lot of attention, and your school’s reputation and school brand surge. 

          Fourth, stories strengthen your relationships. When you tell a great story, parents and students will share it within their own circles, leading to increased enrollment and an enhanced reputation. You can build spirit, pride, and loyalty by sharing engaging stories. 

          And last, but not least, stories create staff engagement. Sharing stories with staff builds strong school culture. The result? Shared realities and embodied vision and values exemplified, thus fostering positive behaviors. 

          Science Behind Storytelling

          In a recent TEDx talk about storytelling, David JP Phillips explains how stories affect us physically. Phillips describes the positive effects of storytelling using three components of storytelling. 

          First, make them laugh.

          When you tell jokes and stories that make people laugh, you’re not only giving people a chuckle and a smile, you’re giving them something more. Listening to humorous stories increase our endorphins. Increased endorphin levels lead to increased creativity, focus, and relaxation.

          Second, get them excited. 

          As human beings, we are programed to tune in to stories. As you share stories, your listeners get excited. If your story contains an exciting element, it will fuel their focus. Listening to this type of story increases levels of dopamine and affects your audience. Just by telling a story, your listeners experience an added measure of focus and attention as well as increased memory and motivation. 

          Third, don’t be afraid to share.

          If you are willing, expose vulnerable aspects of yourself by sharing times when you experienced difficulty or stories of others in tragic situations. The effects on your audience lead your listeners to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity; they also feel more relaxed. Listener’s level of oxytocin increase. Phillips explains that the listeners feel “more human.”

          There is an opposite to these story ingredients. Phillips warns against creating emotions resulting in unproductive feelings. Stressful situations, irritating noise, or negative feelings increase our levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which fosters feelings of intolerance, irritability, cynicism, poor decision making, impaired memory, and lack of creativity. Not a desirable result! 

          Functional storytelling—storytelling that builds trust, encourages relationships, improves memory and recall, and relaxes and focuses your audience is done using the three elements. You don’t need all three components in every story—but make sure you incorporate at least one in your school stories.

          Tell the Stories

          As you work to market your school, consider one game-changing mindset shift: become a detective at your school and gather stories directly connected to your school brand (in other words, those that relate back to your school mission statement). 

          If tackling school storytelling seems too daunting, consider School Webmasters’ PR4 Schools, website management, or other service lines. Think of the possibilities! With your full schedule, it may be easy to overlook school storytelling as “one more thing to do.” However, as you open up to the power of its potential, telling your stories truly could become your greatest school marketing tool. 

          So, what’s your story? How are you going to tell it? And who’s going to hear it? It’s time to invest in your school’s stories.


          395412
          All You Ever Wanted to Know about School Website Accessibility
          2018-08-28
          image of keyboard with access denied key

          Website accessibility compliance has become front and center in the past few years for both schools and businesses. The history of the Americans with Disabilities Act started in the 1960s, but only recently have the Office of Civil Rights and lawyers focused on website accessibility. Basically, if you have a website, you need to make sure it is accessible to those with disabilities. That means it must be readable by screen readers (which reads the content to those who are visually impaired), must be navigable with a keyboard (for those who cannot use a mouse), images that contribute to the content of your site must have alternative text that describes what the image provides, certain levels of color contrast ratio must be adhered to, and closed captioning must be on your videos. These are only a few of the 12 required categories but are some of those most commonly mentioned.

          The only way to know if your website is meeting these standards is to do an accessibility audit of your website. In the U.S. these standards are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and they provide various methods you can apply to make your website compliant. So, we'll get right to it and begin by telling you how to perform your own website audit.

          Do-it-yourself website accessibility audit

          If you want to do your own audit, you’ll need to understand WCAG 2.0 guidelines. We also recommend understanding Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) techniques. WAI-ARIA assists with making dynamic content and advanced features available to people with disabilities. You’ll also want to be familiar with how screen readers work.

          If you have no idea what all these acronyms are about (and don’t ever care to know), then just contact us and we’ll do your audit for you. But, if doing your own website audit sounds intriguing, please continue.

          Step 1: Scan your website

          The first step is usually to do an automated accessibility scan of your website. A free tool is WebAIM’s WAVE tool. We like their tool because they really know accessibility, and their tool displays the 15 error types that are particularly accurate with an automated scan. 

          Some of the other accessibility scans are expensive and provide so many false positives that we find them quite problematic, creating a lot of unnecessary work checking so-called errors that don’t actually exist. For example, some of the things automated tools are not capable of testing are keyboard accessibility, logical content order, timing, distinguishable links, accurate alternative text, consistent navigation, accurate form labels, text resizing, school video captions, and all instances of use of color like hover and focus. An automated scan can check for empty links (if there is alternative text present—but not whether it is accurate), the presence of a page title, and the presence of form labels (but not label accuracy). 

          So, don’t run out and spend thousands a year on automated testing expecting it to determine your site’s accessibility. An accessibility tool can only assist you in doing so. All automated scans still require that you do manual checks and manually fix any errors. Pricing for some of the more aggressively marketed automated scan subscriptions start at $3K and increase to more than $9K annually, depending on your school size. Sadly, many schools have been talked into making this large purchase, only to realize later that they must still make all of the corrections themselves. 

          If you decide to purchase automated testing, make sure you understand the reports provided so you will know which items are actually errors and which are not. You will also want to be sure that your website developers and updaters are well trained on the success criteria in both Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. So, be sure you understand automated vs. manual accessibility testing. If you’re still anxious to spend thousands, remember that you will need to budget enough to pay the people who must correct the errors as well. The actual corrections are more critical than any report.

          Here is a list of accessibility evaluation tools. You can even filter them by guidelines, language, licensing, and other criteria to find the one that best fits your needs.

          Step 2: Select your method

          The next step is to decide what method you will use to complete your audit and to stay organized. You’ll want to decide upon a process for consistency in your website review and corrective action. W3C provides an evaluation methodology (WCAG-EM) that is very detailed and includes best practices. It also provides a WCAG-EM reporting tool that uses its methodology.

          Step 3: Get started

          Now it’s time to dive right in. However, an introductory way to begin (sort of a swimming lesson, if you will) is with W3Cs easy checks. These simple steps will give you a feel for the types of checks you will need to make. It is a bit like swimming where your feet can still touch bottom when diving in looks a bit intimidating. 

          We also provide you with our WCAG 2.0 checklist to help you get started on your own audit. Download your copy below.

          Once you begin testing, you may see elements that pass compliance standards in one area but fail in another. It is important to understand that each element may need to pass multiple success criteria to be accessible for all your users. For example, your links are descriptive, so they pass WCAG 2.4.4, which is Link Purpose, but because they are only distinguishable by color, they then fail WCAG 1.4.1. As you can see, each element requires a different standard to meet a different need.

          Step 4: Remediate documents

          Once you’ve checked your actual website HTML content, you’ll need to test the electronic documents such as the PDFs. Every attached document must also comply with accessibility guidelines. These will also require manual testing, but with regard to the items you can test with an automated scan, the following are some tools we use when testing PDF compliance:

          • PDF Accessibility Checker - This is a free software. We like it because it also provides a screen reader preview, which is quite handy when troubleshooting errors.
          • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC - This program, which isn’t free, gives you all the tools you need to create and correct documents.

          Step 5: Create a process and use it

          Now that you’ve finally made your school website compliant, you must keep it that way. What does that look like?

          • Make sure everyone who touches the website is trained on the requirements of website accessibility. That includes how to use your CMS software so that each update conforms to standards. The training will need to be repeated, probably at least annually. Make sure your training provides a way to check updates for a while to ensure that the website users are using compliant methods on a daily basis. This should be part of your processes for your school website management.
          • Check the website periodically to assure that errors are not being introduced. This will look like a mini-version of the DIY audit we describe above.
          • Make sure anyone who creates a document that you link to from your website is trained in accessibility. Typically, this includes secretaries, receptionists, and even students who might be contributing to website content through a newsletter or another attachment. (We provide affordable accessible document training for only $249 annually for your district personnel if you are interested.)
          • Provide information on your website so site visitors can request assistance if they struggle to access any information on your school website. We recommend you link to an accessibility page in the website footer so it is available on every page of your website. Include a form to describe what information they need and where it is on the site. Be sure, of course, that this form can be completed using only a keyboard. Include a contact phone number as well. 
          • Your newly created accessibility page is where you can also post your accessibility policy. If you don’t have one, you’ll want to add it to your list of things to do. This policy describes the standards to which your school adheres. Here’s a friendly version and a formal version as an example, but be sure to check with your school attorney to comply with your state laws as well.

          Step 6: Those off-site links

          What about existing software or websites you link to from your school website? Well, that depends upon the off-site link use. If you link to a solution or site that is required by your site visitors, that software or website solution must be accessible. Need some examples?

          • Student information system (SIS). If you link to a student information system and parents or students need to use that site to get student grades or homework, then that SIS software should also be ADA compliant. 
          • Staff required resources. If you have internal software that teachers or staff must use to get to information your school requires, that site or software must be compliant. An example might be your human resource software or a secure intranet. 

          You’ll notice that the above are all resources that are sponsored, supported, or required by your school to get to needed or required information. So, they will be expected to provide the same level of accessibility as your school website. However, if you provide links just as useful resources, but you do not require your students or staff to access those sites as part of their education or employment, your school is not responsible for assuring their ADA compliance. More examples?

          • Community resources: you might provide links to community resources like the local parks, chamber of commerce, library, or museum—not required, but helpful.
          • Educational resources: you provide links to educational resources like National Geographic, Smithsonian Learning Lab, or tips for parents—not required, but fun.

          However, the caveat here is that if you now require students to use one of those websites to complete their homework, then it becomes part of the “supported” websites, so it must now be ADA website accessible.

          Step 7: Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

          The Office of Civil Rights, at least on some of the complaints filed against schools, is asking that schools identify the vendors used to design, develop, and maintain the content and functionality of the website. If the vendors have provided documentation (commonly known as a VPAT) or other assurances that their services and products will help you meet your underlying compliance obligations, OCR requires schools to describe them. 

          So, what is a VPAT?

          VPAT is a template that was developed by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) and the Government Services Administration (GSA) to allow companies to provide an analysis of their conformance to accessibility standards. Because Section 508 mandates that any product or technology used by federal employees must be compliant, vendors whose products are being used by anyone directly or indirectly federally funded, must also adhere to these regulations. 

          Since public schools and many private and independent schools receive federal funds and must provide accessible websites, the VPAT can save the school time in assessing the various vendor solutions and products. This applies to any other software or online presence your staff, students, or parents use, including your website CMS provider (if you manage your own school website). If they can provide you with a VPAT, it will help you see any possible deficiencies that you will need to address or to which you must provide a workaround solution. 

          When it’s more than you CARE to know

          This is probably WAY more than you ever wanted to know about school website accessibility, right? If that is the case, we have a solution for your school that is unlike any other website provider around. We’ll just do it all for you. Yep, we’ll design a compliant website and manage it on a day-to-day basis (meaning no staff training ever required). We’ll complete the quality control checks needed to maintain a compliant website, and if you need us to, we can even remediate your documents. Bonus? That we can do it for you for less than it would cost to have your school staff do it. Let us show you how all this is possible. Call us at 888.750.4556 or request a quote. It might sound too good to be true, but for 15 years we’ve been helping schools put the impossible within reach.

          Do-it-Yourself Website Accessibility Audit
          375539
          What Makes the Best School Websites? Part 2
          2018-08-21
          Smiling man giving a thumbs up gesture

          The best school websites serve many critical purposes. To accomplish those many objectives, they must also be functional, usable, and accessible (which we covered in Part 1). Once you have fulfilled the required functional aspects of the best school websites, you need to turn your focus to the day-to-day website management of accomplishing the most important communication goals of your school. Here we’ll not only cover what should be on a school website but how to target and satisfy your various audiences.

          Two of the most common goals of any school website are:

          #1. Engage and inform your existing students, their parents, and your staff. 

          #2. Market your strengths and successes to potential students and staff

          These two goals target different audiences with different needs. So, the best school website will address both. What we commonly see on high-end, private school websites are sites devoted to marketing and enrollment goals, but little else. We sympathize with this need since attracting new students each year is critical to a school’s continued existence. No funding = no school. This is also the most common approach for university and college websites. However, we see the opposite approach in much of the  K–12 market, particularly public schools. They tend to ignore marketing efforts altogether.

          The reality is, whether you are a local public school, a charter school, or an independent school, you must attract new students and their parents AND if you expect to earn and maintain a parent’s trust and loyalty, you better do more than just that initial sales pitch. You better prove you are worthy of their loyalty and trust day in and out through all of your communication efforts.

          No worries. You can accomplish both goals. But you must use your school websites effectively. Let’s start with engaging and informing the parents of your enrolled students. These are the folks with whom you must build long-term trust and confidence.

          Engageability

          One of the most influential factors in a student’s academic success is parental support and encouragement. So, engaging parents in their child’s education is vital. One way to help parents get and stay engaged with your school is to keep them in the loop. However, this can be quite a daunting task, depending on what a parent’s personal experience was when they were in school. If a parent had a negative school experience, their biases might be difficult to overcome. But, there are some effective options. Here are a few:

          • Show the love. Every parent, regardless of their own bias toward schools, will love those who show they care about his or her child. When you can demonstrate you have your students’ best interests at heart, you’ll win the hearts of their parents, in spite of their own childhood experiences. A personalized approach is necessary and will likely come from each child’s teachers. Notes home, especially positive ones, are a great start. Every teacher should have had positive contact with each student’s parent before contacting them with a problem. A teacher website, a phone call, or a personal note are all easy ways to begin showing the love. Principals, secretaries, and support staff can also have a powerful impact on a parent’s perception of your school’s sincerity.

          • Tell your stories. There are great stories, successes, moments of wonder, ah-ha revelations, enthusiasm, spirit, dreams dreamt, and personal growth happening every day in every classroom, playing field, and hallway in your school. The trick is to recognize them for what they are and share them. Share them in the teacher’s lounge, let them make the news on the school website, post them to your school social media, contact the local media, create school videos, and record personal testimonials. Then, reward the staff and students who help you gather these stories so you can share them. When the school leaders make this a priority, you’ll see more of these wonderful and true stories to share. Set up an internal process to 1) gather stories, 2) share those stories, 3) reward those who share, and 4) repeat often.

          • Quality and engaging content. Your website and school social media channels are the ideal channels to engage parents and students. Excite them. Incite school spirit and enthusiasm. We all want to be on the winning team, including the parents of your students. Let them know when they are on the winning team by sharing successes (and not just of the school as a whole, but individual student stories carry possibly more weight than a school-wide recognition).

            We all like to see ourselves or our children as the possible hero of stories, so share your school stories liberally! You should fill your website news pages with them. Spotlight your teachers and support staff. Spotlight your parent volunteers. Spotlight your administrators and governing board members. Not by listing some boring ol’ bio, but share their humanity, their dreams, their interests instead. The personal touch lets you relate to them as fellow dreamers, engage your community, and turn any foes into fans.

          • Readable website content. There are certain formats that make reading information from a website far more enjoyable. You’ll want to apply these strategies when writing your website content. 
            1. Use short paragraphs. It is easier to read and encourage people to keep reading. If their eyes fall upon a large block of text, they tend to skip over it, whereas a smaller paragraph won’t seem overwhelming.
            2. Use informative, brief subtitles. This will help readers stay engaged. It will tell them immediately what the topic is, and they will be able to scan the content quickly when looking for a specific area of interest.
            3. Bullet points and numbers. Use bullet points or numbered lists to help organize the information and let the reader quickly get to the meat of the topic when they are scanning.
            4. Avoid industry jargon. If you are using terms only your peers would know, you are not only creating content that will be uninteresting, but you may inadvertently come off as condescending. Avoid educationese.
            5. Keep it short, sweet, and conversational. Never use a big word when a small word will do. Sometimes a bigger word is the perfect choice, but be aware of your audience and don’t make them drag out a thesaurus. Remember you are having a conversation, not writing a dissertation. Keep it conversational. Feel free to use conjunctions. Avoid passive voice. Be positive, inviting, and friendly. Imagine the person you are speaking to as you write to help you hit the right tone.

          • Engage parents. Both district websites and school-level websites are the norm for many schools. Traditionally, public school websites will have a district website or the main office site that contains all the business aspects of running a school; it serves a wide range of grade levels. The district website content contains information about job postings, hiring processes, department contacts, contact and location information, enrollment forms, district-wide bus routes, administrative and board of education leaders, etc.).

            Then there are the grade-level school websites. These typically focus on a specific school facility that serves certain grades. For example, a public school district might have a district office website and three individual school sites, all linked from the district website. There might be one for the elementary school, one for the middle school, and another for the high school.

            This is a useful website best practice for many reasons. Each school website is often created to reflect the interests and needs of those students and their parents. This is not only intuitive for parents, but it allows principals and staff at those grade-level sites to focus on their unique audience needs and interests.

            As a parent who just enrolled my child in your school district, where I used the district website to learn about your district’s strengths, programs, values, and how to enroll them, now I care most about my child’s day-to-day activities. I don’t necessarily want to wade through a news page or calendar highlighting the high school students’ successes and upcoming activities when I have a kindergarten student. This is where the grade-level school website shines.

            A savvy school principal can create a respected and trusted school brand just by providing the type of information the parents whose children attend his or her school want and need. Not only will the website be much smaller, so it is more intuitive and simple to navigate, but the colors, images, and stories will all reflect that school and its students. Those great stories you are gathering, those videos you are creating (or having students help you create), those student and parent testimonials, those teacher spotlights you created—are for just the right audience. For many more tips for grade level school websites read, “Don’t bench your grade-level school websites.

            Marketability

            Now comes the information that targets the interests of the prospective parent or staff member. We touched on this above, but let’s get serious and talk about school marketing. If I am new to the community, or maybe I’m trying to find the school of choice that will meet my child’s needs, I’m going to shop around. Your website should influence those selection choices.

            • Create targeted content. We encourage our schools to create an area of the website specifically for student enrollment efforts. Consider a “Why Choose Us” category, and use some of your best stories there so prospective parents can envision their child being one of these happy, successful, students who fit in and thrive in your school. Show off your strengths here as well. At what does your school excel? What are your differentiators? Parents are looking for the best match for their child’s interests. Let parents visualize the possibilities through the stories your website tells, and continue to promote them through your school social media content. This marketing section is typically located on the main office or district website. Keep it front and center so first-time site visitors will notice it quickly.
            • Integrate and promote through school social media. Your school social media channels will take your messages and stories to your audience. And your audience is on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, so be sure you are there to engage them. This means your school social media strategy should be part of your school marketing plan. It should be a focused, coordinated effort. It should be used to drive visitors to your website, where you have “the rest of the story” to engage them further. It should ask questions and gather information from your audience (surveys, comments, engagement). It should be used to recognize and congratulate your staff and student successes and progress. And, nearly every post can support your school’s mission and its marketing goals for the year. Get more school social media ideas at School Social Media Management 101, Part I and Part II or This is not the end of Facebook.
            • Build strong school public relations. What is PR for schools? It is your deliberate, strategic communications efforts focused on building relationships. Ignore public relations at your peril. If you don’t manage it, it will be managed for you and not often in your favor. Done right, public relations will establish and strengthen your school brand. It will create a positive connection with your community. It supports your school marketing plans. Public relations means listening to your publics (surveys, parent advocacy groups, etc.), establishing relationships with the local media (supplying them with articles, stories, videos, being accessible to them), and planning messaging and goals to support your school’s mission. Need help? Check out PR4 Schools.   
            • Create school videos. Creating engaging and informative school videos is a powerful way to market your school. It is visual, quickly conveys lots of information, and helps the viewer identify with those at your school. It turns your school from a cold, uncaring institution into real people with whom they can relate. It is one way to break through the onslaught of information bombarding those you need to reach and get your message heard. Learn more at “Creating a school video that won’t break the bank.
            • Train for customer service. Here at School Webmasters, we believe having high customer service standards is a tragically overlooked aspect of successful school marketing. How we treat others, what respect we show, what words we use, and how we live our values (each as representatives of our school’s mission) speak volumes. The expression, “What you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say,” applies here. Your staff’s actions speak far louder than your marketing messages. When your marketing and the actions of your school personnel match up, you have a winner! You need to ensure  all your school staff know what it looks like to live the promises your school’s mission makes. Check out “Parents: raving fans or raging foes?” and “Choose your words wisely...it matters!” or download our free eBook “How to Create Sensational School Customer Service” for some school customer service tips.

            What to avoid

            There are some things you’ll want to avoid (no matter what someone on your staff thinks might be cool).

            • Avoid background music (especially when it autoplays).
            • Don’t use Flash (but I’m sure everyone knows this by now).
            • Avoid a splash page (where you have to “Click to Enter”) unless it is a secured, member-only area.
            • Never grab an image or content from any other website. This is plagiarism or copyright infringement. If it is “published” elsewhere, you can’t use it without permission unless it is royalty free or the owner indicates you can use it.
            • View this article for more tips about what to avoid, “20 Tacky School Website Practices Schools Should Avoid.

            So, there you go. Now you have plenty of ideas to make sure your school has one of the best school websites around. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it! (If you don’t like the hard parts, we hope you’ll partner with School Webmasters. We make it easy and worth it!) 

            How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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            California Schools: Know Your State's Website Accessibility Requirements
            2018-08-15

            Beginning July 1, 2019, California law requires state agencies and entities to post a certificate of accessibility on the home page of their websites. California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 434 into law on October 14, 2017. 

            If you haven’t already heard about this new law, you definitely need to keep reading since you may already be behind. The required certification confirms your website complies with specified accessibility standards, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The California Department of Technology provides this certification form to download, complete, and post on your website. In addition to posting this certification by July 1, 2019, a new certification must be obtained every two years. 

            Although laws will often begin a process, accessibility is not about the law. Accessibility is about individuals. It’s about giving everyone equal opportunity. 

            Accessibility is not a new topic. We use accessibility every day without even realizing it. Many of us look at accessibility features as conveniences. Consider these scenarios:

            You walk up to a building with your hands full, and no one is around to open the door for you. Then you notice there is a button to press that will automatically open it for you. Isn’t it convenient? 

            You need to complete forms to register for school and participate in various school functions. First, you have to print the form. Of course, this means buying more ink because your printer is always out of ink. You then manually complete the form and send it to school with your student (which means it may or may not make it to the right place). Isn’t it nice when you can just fill out the forms online and press the submit button?

            While these are just two simple examples of conveniences for many, it is a necessity for many others. We often do not realize the accessibility features at our fingertips. Can you imagine not having access to the Internet? California’s new law is another step to ensuring no one is without access to everything on the web.

            What steps do I take to provide access to everyone and remain ADA compliant with this new California law?

            Now that you understand it is important to provide an accessible school website, let’s talk about what it takes to provide this day in and day out. The steps below will help you meet your accessibility goals. If your website is already accessible and compliant with accessibility standards, you are ready to certify your website and can skip step one below. Of course, if you are already a School Webmasters client, we have already confirmed you have an ADA compliant website, and you can begin at step two. 

            Here’s a quick outline of the initial steps you must take:

            1. Perform needed website remediation to make sure yours complies with accessibility standards.
              If accessibility guidelines are like a foreign language to you, this may seem overwhelming, but whoever manages your school website must be trained in accessibility. If this is not already the case, you have quite a bit of catching up to do and don’t have any more time to lose. Call us today.

              We strongly encourage you to start this step right away. If you are going to tackle this on your own, great! Don’t waste another minute. Or, you can take the easiest and most inexpensive route and have us do it all for you. Since we’re way ahead of the game, we can do it for less than the cost of training your own staff. Let them do what they do best—educate our country. And call School Webmasters to do what we do best for you. Don’t wait until June 2019 only to discover you need a complete website renovation; that would make it very difficult and most likely impossible to meet the July 2019 deadline. 
            2. Perform both automated and manual human testing to certify compliance. 
              We wish we could say automated testing is enough. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. Our Automated vs. Manual Accessibility Testing article explains why you must use both forms of testing to ensure accessibility. Manual testing is vital. 

              When you are ready to begin manual testing and are qualified to certify each accessibility standard, we recommend keeping the standards in front of you as a reference to ensure you do not miss anything. As an accessibility auditor, you also must know how to use assistive technology, such as a screen reader. If knowledge of accessibility standards and the ability to use assistive technology is not something you already have, contact us and we will provide you with the accessibility audit you need. (We can usually provide this service to our website management clients for free.) 

              Oh, and be sure not to skip the documents attached to the website. They must be reviewed for accessibility also. 
            3. Once you certify your website is accessible and compliant, you are ready to add a certification on your Homepage.
              Again, if we already manage your website, this is something we can do for you. We will place a certification seal on your website and link it to your Website Accessibility Certification form. 
            4. Ensure your website stays accessible.
              Now that you’ve worked late nights and long weekends to provide an accessible website, we know you want to keep it that way. Rendering your new website inaccessible with the very first update would be traumatic! Our accessibility trained designers, developers, and updaters take accessibility seriously. We maintain the websites we manage in a way that allows everyone access to all information all the time so we can provide continuous compliance. We can do it for you if you’d like. 
            5. Update your accessibility certification every two years.
              The law states that you must recertify your website for compliance every two years. However, we strongly recommend you keep your website accessible at all times. We feel this is the intention of the law. Doing this ensures every teacher, parent, student, and community member is able to access all the information you provide, all the time. Of course, you will also have peace of mind knowing you are in full compliance with the law.

            If you have read this far and still have no idea what we are talking about, simply take the obvious route and contact us now. Let us explain how we can handle all of your accessibility needs. Here at School Webmasters, we take accessibility seriously. We know how important it is for everyone regardless of ability to have access to the important information on your website.

            Not only do we offer accessible websites, we also provide a wide range of other website accessibility services. This includes document accessibility training (free for our website management clients), document remediation, accessibility audits, and consultation. Essentially, we have everything you need to establish and maintain accessibility.

            *Please note that School Webmasters does not claim to offer this or any information as legal advice. We recommend contacting a licensed attorney for legal advice about this or any other accessibility-related topic.

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            What Makes the Best School Websites? Part 1
            2018-08-14
            And the winner is...what makes the best school websites

            This is a question every school leader should ask. A school’s website is one of the most effective tools a school has to improve communication, engage parents, market its strengths, and build a solid, trusting reputation within its community. These are all benefits that improve education for our nation’s students, which makes achieving them worth the effort.

            There are typically two primary purposes for any school website. One is to provide timely, engaging, and current information to your current parents, students, staff, and community. The second purpose is to attract new students (through their parents or guardians) and to recruit quality staff. So, that means your school website must both inform your existing customers and market to potential customers. Because those audiences have slightly different needs, it can be tricky. But, no fear. It can be done right with a bit of planning. 

            Let’s start with the basics that apply to both audiences—the necessary functions required of any great school website. In our next blog, Best School Websites Part 2, we’ll cover how to fulfill the requirements for school websites to both market and inform so that all of your audiences will benefit (and it will be your students who are the real winners). 

            Functionality 

            A functional school website provides easy-access to solutions and meets its audience’s needs. There are quite a few factors that go into website functionality. Try to keep all of them in mind as you consider your own school site:

            • Clean, uncluttered design with a visually appealing balance of images, text, and white space. White space is a key here. Be generous with that. (Hint: whitespace does not mean actual space that is white, it means there is space for the eye to rest and an absence of text or images. It maybe very well be a color, but it will provide space between blocks of text and images.)
            • Convenient, time-saving features. This includes online forms, accurate calendars, areas for targeted audiences (like prospective parents and students). Think of it this way; is there anything a parent or student should be able to get on your website that will save them the inconvenience of coming to or calling your office? What about enrollment forms? Staff applications? Schedules? 
            • Uncrowded home page. Don’t try to cram everything onto this one page. Instead, create logical categories where site users can easily identify where to look for the additional information or resources they need. (See our detailed recommendation under Usability, below). 

            Want to see a few nice examples of intuitive functionality? Try these school websites:

            Usability 

            All website developers will debate the most intuitive navigation and favored approach to provide the highest usability satisfaction. And, to make it more challenging, each industry is a bit different, with different user needs. We’re no different, and we have what we consider a proven and logical structure we recommend for schools. (Sometimes our school clients listen to our advice and sometimes they don’t. But, of course, the client is the boss.) 

            One way to test your site’s navigational effectiveness is to do your own usability study. Remember, the goal is to get users to the information they need as quickly as possible. A simple test is to ask a variety of users (not those already familiar with your school website) to see how easy it is for them to accomplish a given set of tasks. For example, have them register a kindergarten student, find certain events on the school calendar, locate the school lunch menu, or any other frequent need your site visitors might have. Have them rate the experience on, 1) how quickly they could accomplish the task, 2) how easy it would be to duplicate this task later, and 3) their level of satisfaction with the experience. This will let you adjust any areas that might need to be improved.

            Navigation is key to usability
            Keep it as simple and concise as possible. Be consistent in your navigation layout from page to page, or you’ll lose your site visitors. Stick with the traditionally intuitive over the creative for school websites. They are there to find information quickly, not to be impressed by an edgy, cool style. 

            So, what should be on a school website? Effective, logical main level navigation might be Home, About Us, School Info, Events, Departments, Helpful Links, and Contact Us. Then add a few audience targeted buttons like parents, students, and staff. However, we discourage using only audience specific navigation as the main navigation bar. A few schools have started doing this because it is has a clean look. But, if not careful, the user experience can turn into a nightmare when users are forced to choose between parent and staff categories as their only choices—especially on large, district websites. 

            If I’m looking for the lunch menu or meal pricing payment and I can only choose between parent, student, or staff, I’ll then arrive at another navigation level for another set of choices. I’ll find it, eventually, but it will take me a few extra clicks and more time than clicking on departments and then the food service page. It can work, but weigh the pros and cons to see what works best for your school. If you are forced to choose between aesthetics and usability, we recommend favoring usability. 

            Easy to find
            Are news, events, menus, staff contacts, e-mail addresses, and other frequently accessed websi