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Effective School Communication During a Crisis
2020-03-24
Image of viruses

In the shadow of the emerging Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, silence seemed tempting to some school communications leaders. After all, you aren’t the Centers for Disease Control. How important could it be for parents to hear from you until major school-related action was required?

Turns out—very important. At School Webmasters, we’ve seen that districts who used early and consistent communication are faring better with stakeholders than those who took a wait-and-see approach until action was necessary.

Crisis is the WORST time to stop communicating—especially on the front end.  Those who were ahead of the game conveyed preliminary information, established expectations, and laid the groundwork for future critical communication. Those who didn’t ramp up early allowed uncertainty and even neighborhood gossip to lead the conversation around their action steps and how they might be implemented.

word cloud for crisis management words

If you dropped the ball on the early communication, that’s okay. But it’s time to dig deeper and improve your messaging moving forward. Now that most schools are closed (or likely will be soon), you need to focus on reliable communication to families. You’ve got to tell your story. You’ve got quite a story these days, don’t you? Focus on these six fundamentals to drive your messaging home and connect with stakeholders.

  • Convey Empathy
  • Take Criticism as Opportunity
  • Pick Your Pace
  • Stay Ahead
  • Highlight Your Heroes
  • Stay in Your Lane

Convey Empathy

Your team is working crazy hours, being forced to implement untested processes, and feeling anxious about almost everything. Just remember, your families are feeling it too. They are struggling with finances, futures, disruptions, and disappointments. What they need from you—first and foremost—is to know that you get it. That you are aligned with their values and focused on the issues they care about.  So everything you put out should have an air of support, togetherness, and compassion for everyone in your school community.

Handles cradling a heart to convey empathy

Remember, your families usually want to support you. It doesn’t always feel like that, but I promise it’s true. Feed their desire to have your back by reasonably sharing what you can and giving them timelines or thresholds for future decisions or actions. Do it all in a way that lets them know you share their overarching concerns.

Take Criticism as Opportunity

Let’s say your district had 36 hours to create a school feeding plan in the wake of closure. In fairness, it might not be perfect, right? Your plan may even seriously inconvenience certain families in major ways, and they might tell you about it. They want to be heard and included, and they aren’t wrong. But if you minimize them, you will be.

Look, of course, it wasn’t an ideal situation, and, we know your team is doing its best. But there is going to be room for improvement. So don’t dig in your heels and push back over minor details in a plan you weren’t all that excited about in the first place. Am I right? Even if the criticisms aren’t delivered in a positive way, take them as an opportunity to do better. Whatever the issues might be, work toward a solution. It might be easier than you think. At the very least, make sure folks feel like they were heard and that you care about their concerns.

Bonus points if you can use a line like, “Well, you bring up a good point. We thought of that, but couldn’t figure out a way to accomplish it. Do you have any ideas on how we can solve that?”

Pick Your Pace

Every day, this looks and feels more like a marathon than a sprint. Don’t overcommit to a communication schedule, but make sure that you at least have one sketched out. Will your updates be time-blocked or milestone-based? What communication tools (such as school websites) do you have at your disposal to integrate this messaging? How can you structure this so that families have the proper expectations for when and how you’ll be giving out information?

track runner keeping pace

At some points, such as initial school closures, you might need a heavier schedule of communications. At others, you might be able to back off. You don’t need to carve this in stone, but you should be cognizant of the need for intentionality and a structure for how messaging is dripped out over time.

Stay Ahead

Lead your stakeholders to the next milestones. That’s part of what went well for the districts that communicated effectively before the crisis struck. They did things like establishing the location of information, such as their designated school webpages. They also reassured families that they were aware of the issue and that planning was underway. Sure, nobody likes a worry-wart. But when you’re in a pinch, it sure is nice to be around someone who is prepared, right? Families appreciated having some early indications about general response posture, collaborative partners, and focus. It built trust.

That’s going to be true of future developments in this pandemic (and any other crisis as well). Even before the enemy is at the gates, aligning your stakeholders is important. So when you start to see shifting winds, determine how you can gently adjust some of your messaging in the right direction before you have to act. That will allow your school or district to more effectively lead everyone where you may have to go.

Highlight Your Heroes

It’s very possible that you’ve never seen this level of commitment from your team. These are special times, and we are seeing the incredible dedication of school employees. Reward them by showing them the love. At least once a week, your social media pages should be showcasing someone going above and beyond to make this crazy situation work.

woman with hands on hips and shadow showing a heros cape

Our inclination is often to put a group picture of everyone out and say “Our team is the best!” But what truly connects with your audience is the story of one person. Give a little bio info and get a quote from them about why they do it (spoiler alert: because they love the kids). People enjoy that type of storytelling, and illustrating the hard work of your team one-by-one goes much further than a kudos to the masses. Please, recognize them, starting now.

Stay in Your Lane

When there is a criminal matter on school grounds, you let local law enforcement speak to the issue, don’t you? Take the same approach on the specific public health issues around this pandemic. You are not a health expert and should not act like you are one. Don’t remind people to wash their hands. Accomplish the same thing by using approved content from the CDC or local health department. If you hold a press conference, have a representative from the health department present to speak to the health issues, while you discuss school issues. In the same way, coordinate with state and local officials, nonprofit partners, or other agencies to ensure information is properly sourced and shared.

Hopefully, these tips will help as you continue to tell your story through the pandemic disruptions. You are a leader in your community, and your voice is critical now. No matter what you’ve experienced over the past week, now is the time to move into the next phase with a spirit of community, confidence, and commitment to tell your story.

Greg Dorazio, School Communications Strategist

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


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Web Accessibility Testing: Keyboard Accessibility
2020-03-16
keyboard with blue assessment key

We all have our own way of doing things. Sometimes we do things differently just out of personal preference. Other times, we do things differently because it’s the only way we can actually do it. For example, when I complete an online form, I prefer to tab through each field rather than stopping to click on each field with a mouse and then returning to my keyboard to complete the field. That just takes too long. While this is my preference, for some users, it’s the only option because they can’t use a mouse. Whether it’s personal preference or a necessity, having a website that is keyboard accessible is vital to having a good user experience.

Keyboard accessibility may be the most important feature to implement when creating accessible websites. A website that is designed with keyboard accessibility is a website that allows you to get to every interactive element on a web page using only a keyboard. Keyboard access is how someone who cannot use a mouse will navigate a website.

Who needs keyboard access

keyboard accessibility with temporary disability

Oftentimes, when someone hears web accessibility, they will think it is mostly for blind users. However, web accessibility covers a wide range of disabilities. Here are a few examples of people who benefit from a keyboard accessible website:

  • Blind users
  • Someone with tremors that hinders their fine muscle control
  • Someone who has little or no use of their hands
  • Someone without hands
  • Someone with a temporary disability such as a broken arm
  • Someone who does not have access to a mouse or touchpad

In addition to helping those who need to use the actual keyboard, keyboard accessibility also benefits someone who uses voice control. Assistive technologies used for voice control also rely on keyboard commands.

How do I test for keyboard accessibility?

Since keyboard accessibility is a crucial component of an accessible website, we’re relieved that it’s one of the easiest accessibility tests anyone can perform on a website. Follow the steps below to experience a website without a mouse. Not only will these steps test the keyboard accessibility of your website, but it will also provide perspective on the importance of keyboard accessibility.

  • Click on the browser tab and then put your mouse aside. You may be tempted to grab the mouse, but resist the temptation.
  • Use the TAB key and begin tabbing through the website.
  • Each time you press the TAB key, you should be able to see where you are focused. The video below shows how a keyboard accessible website allows you to visually follow where your focus is with each tab stop. The TAB key is used to tab through each interactive element of the web page. Keyboard focus indicators are present.


  • When you come to an element such as the menu navigation or quick links where more options are available, use the SPACEBAR, DOWN ARROW, or ENTER key to expand the additional options. Once expanded, use the TAB or ARROW keys to navigate through the list.
  • Confirm that focus is brought to each interactive element on the page by looking for a focus indicator. The focus indicator should be more than just a color change since not everyone can see color. In the example above, you see changes such as text-underline, enlarging elements, and dashed imaged outlines.

If you do not see focus on an element, this means the element is not keyboard accessible, and you need to perform remediation to remove accessibility barriers on your website.

How do I fix keyboard accessibility errors?

If your website does not have any keyboard focus indicators present, the first thing to do is check your style sheet. Locate your CSS file and ensure you have a style set to add focus to links. You should find something similar to this: 

a:focus {
outline: 1px dashed #000;
}

This style indicates the addition of a 1px dashed black outline when a link is the focus. 

If you do not see any styles in your CSS for :focus, add the above style and try tabbing through your website again. This may resolve most of your keyboard focus issues. Depending on the colors of your website, you may need to adjust the color of the outline. While outline is not the only way to bring focus to an interactive element, it is one of the most popular techniques.

If, after adding the above CSS, you still do not see a visual keyboard focus indicator, it’s time to do some further investigating. View the HTML of your web page and look for instances of the attribute tabindex. Ensure elements do not have a negative tabindex (e.g., tabindex=”-1”). If you find a negative tabindex that can be removed without interfering with its intended functionality, remove it and test to see if this solves the issue. You may need to adjust some JavaScripts to allow scripting elements to receive keyboard focus.

Additional considerations for keyboard navigation

Besides ensuring each element receives keyboard focus, we need to consider additional techniques to improve keyboard accessibility. The following accessibility techniques are considered best practices in web design and development:

  • Include skip links
    • Use “skip to main content” links to allow users to skip navigation menus that are repeated on each page.
    • Use “skip list” links to provide a way for users to skip long lists of links.
  • Use a proper heading structure to allow screen reader users the ability to use keyboard shortcuts to navigate quickly to different topics on a web page.
  • Include ARIA landmarks and/or standard HTML5 structural elements (e.g., footer, header, nav, etc.) to allow users to jump to various sections on the page.

An accessible website is about more than just meeting a standard or complying with accessibility laws. A website designed and developed with accessibility in mind provides an inclusive user experience so everyone can access and enjoy all of the information on your website. 

Our DIY Website Accessibility Audit article provides additional information about testing your website for accessibility. Of course, if you need assistance conducting an accessibility audit, let us know. In addition to designing and developing accessible websites, we provide web accessibility services such web accessibility audits, web accessibility training, and document accessibility remediation. Essentially, when it comes to web accessibility, we do it all. Use the form below to contact us, and find out how quickly we can make your website accessible to everyone.

Request Web Accessibility Information

Do you need: (check all that apply)
571416
Responsive School Websites Offer a Whole New World
2020-03-10
Aladdin's lamp

“Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” is a fairytale that never gets old. It’s a great story.  Even in its many versions, all of the Aladdin stories have some things in common: the lamp, three wishes, and (who could forget?) a genie. What is it about the story that readers and movie-goers like? 

As one of our family’s favorites, Disney’s versions of “Aladdin” created a genie that was full of personality as well as “phenomenal cosmic powers.” Something that makes Genie so likeable is his shapeshifting abilities that allow him to both crack jokes and adapt to his surroundings.

These days, just like the resilient Genie portrayed in “Aladdin,” your school website must have a responsive design that is adaptable based on the needs of your site visitors, whether on their desktop, smartphone, laptop, or tablet. Your school’s website must supply the information they seek in a seamless, convenient way. 

If your school doesn’t have a responsive website design yet, I’ve got bad news for you—your website is old and outdated! 

When it comes to technology, there is no place for old and outdated. For example, Microsoft is in the “End of Life” stage with Windows 7. In January 2020, the company will end support for any systems still running the outdated operating system. Apple does the same, dropping support for many older devices. Like it or not, when it comes to technology, it’s adapt or die. Let’s compare this to your school website. If your website hasn’t been updated in the last five years, chances are it may suffer from one or all of these issues: a lack of security, out of compliance with ADA requirements, or unresponsive. 

In this blog, we’ll focus on what responsive design does for your school website. As you provide full access to your website for all devices you expand, deepen, and fortify your connection with your school community. 

Let's look at some of the reasons responsive websites offer “a whole new world”—because by providing full access to your website on all devices, you are doing just that! 

Tiny house held in a large hand

“Phenomenal Cosmic Power, Itty-Bitty Living Space” 

For Aladdin’s genie, he was limited by his living space, but online there are no spacial limits. In our fast-paced and quick-to-change world, it can be tricky to keep up, technologically-speaking.  A responsive website design (RWD) is a product that makes an easy-to-view and navigable experience for your site visitors, regardless of the device they are using. The website design responds to the orientation and size of the visitor’s screen, so no matter what device your visitors are using, the design will help your school put its best foot forward and create a smooth, accessible experience.

School Webmaster’s Director of User Interface, Sarah King, explains, “Responsive design is thinking about the needs of the end user based on what type of device they are using, the size of that device, and what information is most important to see first based on screen size. For example, how do we maximize the use of the smaller real estate of a phone screen but still get all of the same information in an intuitive manner on each page?” Sarah continues, “One example would be the main navigation. The font would be super tiny and not very legible if we left it all in a horizontal row. We could put it into just a plain link list at the top of each page, but then it takes more scrolling to get to other information below it. Thus, the industry standard is to use a collapsible hamburger menu where this link list can be collapsed and hidden when its not being used.”

Layouts of a school’s responsive website may change from device to device, depending on the screen size and resolution. Websites lose the high bandwidth and slow-to-load elements, such as large photos, when a mobile-friendly school website is viewed from a smartphone where the navigation is simplified. 

Mobile-friendly websites require very little resizing, panning, or scrolling to get to the information visitors need. If a visitor is on a tablet or a desktop, your school website would automatically resize for those device sizes.

Here’s an example of how one school’s website changes depending on the device. 

Examples of responsive websites on desktop, tablet, and phone

Poof! What Do You Need?

These days, schools must be in the marketing business. One important tip to remember is that it’s not always about what you want others to know about your school. It’s about what they want to know. Schools that excel at public relations and customer service consider their prospective school community as well as their current parents and students. Your website's content is for them. 

Considering a topic? Think of them. Wondering how to word something or which tone to set with a certain communique? Think of them. If you’re not sure what they need most from your school’s website, talk to them and find out. Online surveys are a great way to reach a large group and gather in the information. 

Sit Down and Get Your Wishes

If you’ve been procrastinating a redesign because you’re not convinced it matters to your audience, please reconsider. Even if your school or district is located in a rural community with limited internet access, parents and students across the board demographically have internet access and devices, especially on smartphones. 

When developing a responsive website, be careful not to get too fancy. Tried and true website architecture works. It works because people know where to go to get what they are looking for. Use horizontal and drop-down navigation if needed. Quick links help target certain audiences such as students, parents, staff, and community. Categories should not be your primary navigational structure however, because not all your visitors will fit those molds.

Little boy in toy car with megaphone saying I will not be silenced

You Need Not Be Silent

In 2019, Naomi Scott moved audiences with the new song, “I Won’t Be Silent” in Disney’s live-action version of Aladdin. Your school website will stand up and speak out when it allows visually impaired users to view it without having to use zooming because of it’s responsive design that allows it to reflow when it’s resized.

A responsive design assists with accessibility standards. If you need to become accessible, consider creating a responsive design at the same time. Responsiveness and accessibility serve the same functions; the two are very complementary. It is ideal to develop both at the same time. The strategy involved in making a site that adjusts to various devices requires coding a site to standards that also move you toward website accessibility. Going responsive is a step in the right direction toward school website accessibility. 

Website ADA compliance is a requirement and at the heart of website accessibility. Fortunately, a responsive design, together with an ADA-compliant website helps ensure compatibility with the different devices your current and prospective students and their families use. It also helps to ensure the proper functioning of screen readers and other accessibility devices. 


a diamond in the rough

A Diamond in the Rough

To create a responsive website design, developers usually use a grid layout, which allows the resizing and rearrangement of specific elements to adjust to screen size. This is why responsive sites generally have a similar stacking pattern, particularly when seen from tablet and phone views. This is beneficial for your school because becoming familiar with the design and navigation of your website will be relatively easy. 

While unique school website design ideas are sometimes lost with this familiarity, it’s important to remember that when your site visitors access the website remotely, they aren’t there to exercise their tech savvy web skills. They’re there to find information fast. They’re looking for bell schedules, lunch menus, calendars, teacher’s email addresses, and other important information. Don’t worry if your mobile design doesn’t create exciting, new experiences for your visitors. Such simplicity for mobile devices is evidence of the value your school places on considering the community’s needs.

Having a responsive website design helps you avoid certain navigation problems. Static sites viewed from a mobile device often have usability issues like non-clickable links, tiny text, and navigation too small to read, images that take up the whole screen, and various scrolling problems. A responsive website design allows your school to present itself in a crisp and clean way. In other words, your site can shine in any situation.

Own the Place

Your school website’s responsiveness emits confidence to your school’s community. It also means your approach and care increases your chances of being ready to support tomorrow’s technology. Stay current and confident. 

Since responsive website designs are fluid and flexible, they are more likely to adapt to whatever becomes technologically available in a few years, regardless of size. We all know how quickly technology changes. Avoid being caught with an out-of-date school web design that will no longer meet your audience needs.

Also, more and more people access the internet from their smartphones. If you’ve checked your Google Analytics in the last few years to see your audience and the types of devices they use to access your school’s website, what have you seen? How many come from mobile devices?

Did you know that for nearly five years, Google has been giving higher ranking on their search engine to responsive websites? In order to increase enrollment, hire new teachers, and demonstrate all that is good about your school, it’s important to invest time and effort into a responsive school website that will help your school be found.

Up until just recently, schools actually created a separate mobile website, basically another version of their school website designed separately for mobile devices. Rather than one site to be managed, schools had two. Keeping two websites on two web addresses/URLs updated meant twice as much work. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Google penalized schools for their duplicate content because such content raises a spam flag. The second website actually hurt the school’s Google rankings. Thankfully, responsive school websites do away with that redundancy.  

Wondering If Your School Needs a Mobile App?

While apps are great to for specific needs, apps are limited in their design to replace a complete school website. Many schools find that a responsive website design gets the job done and eliminates the need for an app, saving your school time and money. In our opinion, school apps create more work than they are worth. Think about it: between your school website and a school app, it takes twice the work to maintain and update important information in two places. 

See how parents can create a shortcut to your school website on their smartphones: 

Make it easier for your students and parents to stay connected by having an effective responsive school website. By making this a priority for your school, you open ways of communication, recognize visitor needs, and help your school’s reputation. Take the time to connect. There are affordable template designs for schools on a tight budget as well as customized options

Is your school website design resilient? Is it ready to give your visitors the answers they seek in a smooth and professional manner? Take time to evaluate your school website’s effectiveness. Don’t forget; we are here to help! At School Webmasters, we are committed to offering our clients a product to be proud of. Download our Website Redesign Checklists to help guide you along. Visit us at www.schoolwebmasters.com, or call us at 602-750-4556. 

530489
How to Turn Your Entire Staff into a School News Army
2020-02-25
two female teachers looking at a cell phone and smiling

When it comes to managing their own websites, the most common complaint we hear from schools is that they struggle to get content from staff to keep their sites current, informative, and engaging. 

Are you in the same boat?

You know great things are happening at your school, but if your website is an example of what your school is like, is the perception far less positive? There are many reasons why this challenge plagues the vast majority of K–12 schools. Let’s review a few common reasons and look at solutions to rectify the situation.

That’s not my job, man!

Yep, that is true. Everyone at your school was hired for a specific job, and it is likely that knowing and applying website best practices isn’t one of them. When you are wearing multiple hats and your days are full of mission-critical responsibilities, taking on yet another job isn’t likely to have a distinguished outcome. So, failing to recognize upfront that if you don’t make it rewarding to engage staff and keep information flowing so your communication channels (like the website and social media) are worthy of attention, then your efforts are doomed. 

So, plan to succeed instead. Here are a few tips to make sharing not only expected but rewarding to those who participate.

Show me, don't tell me written on chalkboard

Share examples

Find or create examples of the quality and style of content you’d like to see on your school website and in your social media posts. These examples should model your communication goals whenever possible. Your staff may not have any idea what the expectations are or how important this type of content is to your school goals.

For example, let’s say one of your school’s goals is to “provide an environment for students and teachers that cultivates a shared love of learning by supporting creativity and inspiration.” 

Your objective is to seek out examples of programs, experiences, and successes that provide evidence of your goal’s achievement. 

Your goal is to show your customers (typically parents) that you are walking the talk and to provide your staff members examples of how to do it so they will also participate. Consider the following possibilities:

  • News article, including photos, focused on the creativity evidenced by students at the annual science fair 
  • Quotes from enthused students about their experience—shared on social media and linked back to the articles and photos 
  • Video of what takes place in the classroom that prepares the students to participate or of an interview with science fair winners about what they learned from the experience and how they will use the knowledge in the future

You get the idea, right? Here is a cute example of a recent news article we wrote and posted on one of our schools’ news pages and social media about a new “staff” member.

room of staff with arms raised enthusiastically

Create a process to make participation easy

So, now that you’ve gathered and publicized a few good examples, you need to have a process that makes participation easy and clear for your staff. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Create a schedule for your staff so they are assigned a “story” or topic once a year. They can select the story or topic, but they will know what is expected in advance and can plan accordingly (or be on the lookout for a great one). Be sure to consider each grade level, subject level, and department. Sometimes the best stories come from the bus drivers, janitors, and food service folks. 
  • Make it convenient for staff to submit their story or idea for consideration and inclusion. This could be an online form they fill out (available only to the staff through a secure intranet or even a public form from the website where staff members know they can submit and invite alumni to participate as well). Make sure they know what types of content you are looking for, like photos, video, written details, and where and how to send the information. If you have one contact person to receive the info, make sure everyone knows who that person is.
  • Identify your talent. If you have a writer on staff, or a wanna-be writer, who is willing to help others polish up their story for publication, let your staff know. Sometimes there are great experiences to share, but people hesitate to put it out there just because they fear the blank page or lack confidence about their writing skills. A bit of help from a willing wordsmith could get the stories out there and make them memorable.

Set expectations and standards

The second most common complaint we hear from schools (after not getting enough great content from staff for their websites) is how the content they do have looks on their websites. This is a training issue and one that we often overlook. It doesn’t have to be difficult with a bit of prior planning.

The bar should indeed be quite high for most school’s websites. You are educators, so it is expected that there should be nary a misspelling or grammar issue. Few typos. Never a tone of condescension. Your content should be accurate and inviting. 

However, when you have lots of people editing your website directly on a CMS system, there are many opportunities to mess up if everyone isn’t trained on the technical “best practices” of website management. 

We cover these topics extensively (some might say ad nauseam) on our blog, our website, and our eBooks. Still, you must provide consistency and professionalism to avoid being judged harshly by the very folks you are trying to impress.

  • Consistent style. This includes guidelines for grammar, spelling, capitalization, tone, colors, whitespace, font choice, photo optimization, naming conventions, and more. We highly recommend developing a school-wide style guide for both design elements and content, so everyone is aware and is on the same page. For example, we’re big advocates of the Oxford comma, so we use it on all of our school sites to maintain consistency in comma usage (it’s part of our corporate style guide). Your school might have its own pet peeves—so, select the rules you want to follow, and then get everyone on the same page to assure a professional image. Your staff should use your style guide across all forms of communication, from your website and social media to emails, marketing, and blogs.
  • Accessibility for all. Your content must be accessible (by law) to those with disabilities, and since nearly 20% of us have some form of disability, it just makes sense to be sure everyone has access to the information on your site. Some standards must be applied, including navigation without the use of a mouse, color contrast compliance, font scalability, alt text for images, and closed captions for video. Even the PDF documents you link to must be accessible (meaning they can be read with a screen reader). So, training must be done and reviewed every year. Once anyone who touches the website understands the requirements, it isn’t hard to maintain. Still, you must plan for it and be sure everyone receives website accessibility training (including secretaries and staff who create the documents you link to on the site). Check out our accessibility training options as well, which is only $249 per year for ALL your staff.
  • Educate the educators. For both of the previous areas mentioned, you’ll need to provide training and ongoing reminders. In addition to providing training for those who “touch” the website, which would include style guide expectations, website accessibility, and your CMS software, also consider sending out reminders to all your staff about the important areas of communications focus. These could include tips on how to look for interesting stories (ideas, examples, goals), encouragement to submit content, or reviewing department pages for accuracy. We do this monthly for our schools by sending them a video or email with ideas for great content, how to effectively use their news page or their calendar, and other relevant areas that remind them to send us the good stuff!
staff member shaking hands in appreciation

Recognize and reinforce

What we are talking about is creating a culture at your school where everyone is on the lookout for great things happening all around them, or interesting things, or fun things, or just an engaging way to share a glimpse of what it’s like to be a part of your school. You want to reward the types of behaviors that make this happen.

Effective communication begins with gathering evidence for the outcomes and values your school offers—at least if you hope to get those parents as advocates and attract the students and staff you want. 

So, don’t overlook the value of recognition and appreciation in driving the behaviors you want to encourage. From improving customer service to building a communication valued culture, recognition and appreciation carry a power punch of effectiveness. They are low-cost and high-return strategies to drive positive cultural values. Recognition means acknowledging specific accomplishments before their peers. Appreciation means expressing gratitude for their actions. Here are a few tips to encourage and build a dynamic and consistent communication flow:

  • Include everyone. Give all employees (and even students) the chance to participate and be recognized for their contributions. You will recognize the various participants differently, of course, depending on their role, but open up the floodgates to include everyone with news and information that can expand your communications.
  • Make it individualized. We humans enjoy appreciation for our efforts and contributions. But, we might enjoy that recognition in different ways. Some of us bask in the glory of public recognition, and others prefer to remain behind the scenes and would be horrified by any such basking. So, as a smart manager, you’ll want to consider the individual’s preferences before coming up with an across-the-board recognition process for the behaviors you want to encourage. For the introvert who submits good content for the website and social media, a handwritten note and a pat on the back might be a valued recognition, while the extravert would enjoy a shout-out about it at the next staff meeting. 
  • Timely recognition. The recognition for positive participation needs to be as soon as possible after the submission. Don’t give out awards at the end-of-the-year board meeting, but react as you go. If you want to see comprehensive and continued staff participation, give immediate feedback. Not only are you less likely to remember who contributed and in what way six months later, but the staff member won’t see that the effort was valued when it was given. So, provide frequent, specific reinforcement for the behaviors you want to encourage.

Take a look at what you have in place (or put something in place) to recognize and appreciate those who find and share the types of information that will support best practices for your communication efforts, especially your website and social media. Make it your top priority to gather the stories and information your website visitors or social media followers are looking for. You are their primary resource, after all. Make a visit to your website or social media platforms worth their time, and they will return again and again. They will learn to trust your school as a reliable resource (and not the rumor they heard from a neighbor or from some curmudgeon on their social media feed).

More tips for effect school storytelling? Check out these blog articles:

How to tell your school’s stories

Celebrating students’ successes in schools

Your most powerful school marketing tool

What makes an effective school website?


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6 Tips to Improve Your School's Newsletters
2020-02-11
smiling woman listening with hand to ear

A school’s regular newsletter can be a centerpiece of a communication strategy that helps to create a vibrant and engaged school community. Families can find out about upcoming events. Administration highlights process and volunteer opportunities. Staff members see their hard work recognized.

The goal of the newsletter is to collect a variety of great and relevant content and then use it to create a readership experience that connects stakeholders to your school community. Sadly, many schools and districts do not capitalize on the opportunity newsletters offer. Even the resurgence of newsletters in email marketing from the private sector hasn’t seemed to help educators recognize the value of the format. Rather than being used as a focal point of longer-form connection, school newsletters are often an afterthought, consisting of random pictures and clip art laid out poorly and distributed inconsistently. 

Would you like to improve your school’s newsletter? Are you intrigued by the idea of making it a pillar of your overall communication plan? I can help. I spent seven years in school communications after working my way through eight years in community journalism. Really, a newspaper is just a big newsletter for a community, so I can give you some great value as you think through this option. Here are my six tips for making an awesome newsletter for your school community. 

  1. Go Digital. Push Print.
  2. Make it the Centerpiece of Your Communications Plan
  3. Pictures are King
  4. Totally Skewed
  5. Calendar is Key
  6. Never Ever Miss Deadline
newsletter

Go Digital. Push Print.

Many school administrators wrestle with the question of whether to distribute their newsletters through email/online or to print a hard copy version that goes home in backpacks. Honestly, the most correct solution is tailored to you and your stakeholders. What will be best received by your audience? What works in a plan that you will consistently implement? 

Those issues being equal, my suggestion would be to go digital. You simply can’t beat putting a nice-looking piece directly into your families’ inboxes. Links are right there to be clicked on, images look great, it gets them back to your school website efficiently—it’s just a good approach. Sending home a print newsletter might help families who aren’t as tech-invested. But it also means everyone will have no choice but to get the backpack-abused version of your newsletter, all crushed and crumpled. This is not the look you want, and this approach doesn’t necessarily get that information to those particular families either. Plus, you just burned through a ton of ink and paper! 

The compromise? Design and distribute in digital. Then print a few copies for your front office counter and give them a nice display. They should not be just another flyer up there. Consider going above and beyond and letting families know they can request the newsletter be sent home. Maintain that list, and then make sure those kids get a printed version each time. It’s easier, cheaper, and way more effective than sending one home with every kid in the school!

Make It the Centerpiece of Your Communications Plan

We want to create a great and consistent experience for your families. But, your newsletter is very much like your school website; it’s the place your stakeholders can go to find information. Try to think of your newsletter like a snapshot version of the most timely elements of your website—and your social media storytelling. There should be a great deal of overlap between all of these. 

For example, let’s say you have a Family Math Night event coming up next week, and your school sends out a newsletter every Friday. This Friday’s newsletter should include all the need-to-know info about the event—who, when, what to bring, etc. Of course, you should already have a page on your website about the event, so you would want to pull out some highlights to put in the newsletter and then link to the webpage. That link will no doubt be on social media as well. 

Immediately after the event, you should be telling the story on social media. Ideally, a gallery of images on your website would also be great. For next week’s newsletter, the event should be featured prominently—along with pictures and a link to the gallery. You can also pull comments from your social media page to highlight the fun people had in their own voices.

But this strategy isn’t just for events. There should always be a great deal of content overlap—use and reuse between the newsletter and your other channels of communication. The newsletter can bring together different channels into one packaged space to create the readership experience. That regular and defined communication piece (with some nice production value) is an infinitely better way to build authentic engagement than one-off tweets when you have the time and inclination.  

Pictures are King

happy students

You know that a picture tells a thousand words. So why would you ever put out a newsletter with no images from your school? 

Stakeholders want to see your spaces, your cool instructional activities, your team members, and especially their kids in your newsletter. That’s what community is. Community is not horrible clip art. Ever. If you use those horrible clip art pieces, I will find you and I will be big mad at you.

Stock photos can have a place in your newsletter effort. But steer clear of face shots, and only use detail shots to add visual appeal. 

One final note—do not blame your lack of pictures on “Do Not Publish” restrictions. Are there students whose images you cannot publish? Yes. Guess who keeps the records of those students? You do. Figure out who’s fair game and who isn’t, get some pictures together, and get them in your next newsletter.

Totally Skewed

distorted image

You need pictures—not distorted images. Skewing a picture is incredibly painful to see, and it reflects very poorly on your presentation skills—the same ones you evaluate your students on. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Ok, here’s some Design 101 for you: When you add a picture, sometimes you need to change its size. There is a way to do this that keeps the picture proportional. What you cannot do is drag the corners around willy nilly until you make it fit by making faces long and distorted. Have you done it before? That’s ok! Now you know that skewing pictures is not ok. To learn how to avoid it, find some helpful tutorials in your design program or do a basic Google search.

Calendar is Key

calendar with hourglass

Arguably the most critical part of the newsletter is the calendar. If you were only going to put one thing in the newsletter, the calendar would be it. Your principal’s message is nowhere near as important, just in case you were wondering. Dates for events must be accurate. Anything that includes a change to the typical schedule, showing up in the evenings, bringing something to school, dressing some particular way, etc. must be on there. Do not leave out anything major. Cross-check all of your school’s various calendars to make sure you haven’t missed anything. To help prevent any issues, be sure to also add a link to your school’s website Calendar page. Add a message like, “For the most up-to-date calendar and event listings, you can always visit the calendar on our school website at…”

We need to get this right because this calendar is a critical piece of a family’s planning for the next week or month. They can take a few concentrated moments with your calendar and the family calendar to sync up activities and schedules. It’s a primary use of your newsletter, and, in many ways, it’s the core of the experience. This gets everyone aligned. It starts with the calendar and carries over into engagement.  

Never Ever Miss a Deadline

Your newsletter will probably never truly be done—at least not the way you envisioned it. You will have elements you planned on having that didn’t come to fruition, pictures that didn’t fit, and write-ups that never came. 

Publish it anyway. 

When you get to the deadline, do your best to make things as comprehensive as possible (starting with the calendar!), and then ship. 

Why send out less than your best? You need to respect your families and their need to have reliable and consistent messaging. It’s actually worse to miss the deadline than it is to put out a product that’s a bit rough around the edges (total train wrecks not included). That said, if you do distribute one edition of a lower-quality newsletter, you need to review your process after the fact and ensure that you have those issues resolved for the next publication date.

Conclusion

It’s a simple thing, but a newsletter is a powerful communication piece. It funnels a wide range of content into one space, adds some production value, and is distributed consistently to create a reader experience that aligns your community with your mission. Much of the content should already be created, but it does take some extra time to put together. Consider that effort an investment in family engagement and elevating your school’s reputation. 

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.

539852
Digital Marketing for Schools in the 2020s
2020-01-28
female using tablet for digital marketing

It will be the decade that artificial intelligence takes center stage in how we operate our schools. From hiring to firing, to project bidding and fundraising, an AI platform will predict a looming problem, solve it, and let you know about the predictive outcome. I touch on what this will look like for marketing and admission folks in a blog I wrote one year ago

But until Skynet takes over your marketing and admissions office, recruiting and retaining mission-appropriate students, the buck stops with you to get their attention, build trust and rapport, compel them to take action, and maintain the highest level of value. And the way you do that is through their devices and the platforms they frequent on those devices.

I’m not going to cover every inch of digital marketing in this article. What I will provide are some tips, hacks, and trends so you can stop managing enrollment and start designing it for a prosperous decade.

Create Compelling Content

If you are going to get the attention of potential families, you must do it BEFORE they need you. To accomplish this, you should know what they want, need, and value. Here are three tips on how to create such content and how to deliver it to the right people.

  1. Show Off Your Expertise

    You work in education, so you should have some level of expertise in, well, education. Recently, Google has been putting more emphasis on “quality content from reliable sources” as a ranking signal. So, if you or someone at your school is an expert in a particular area or discipline (the niche-ier the better), write or vlog about it. But great content won’t stand on its own. Once created, it’s important to ensure people will see it. This is where proper tagging and building powerful backlinks will advance your search engine optimization (SEO). Plus, if the content is compelling enough, give it a pay-per-click push via search engine marketing (SEM) and social media marketing (SMM).

  2. Depth > Breadth

    Dovetailing off the above tip, experts write “quality content” —long, detailed pieces rich with research. Now, in the past, I’ve pushed heavy on the breadth and light on the depth since people don’t have time or attention span to read a 10-minute blog on the advantages of spiraling curriculum. However, Google is tired of quick-hit jobs simply in the name of site traffic, so higher organic rankings will go to content that displays the highest quality.

  3. Specialty Videos (SMM & SEO)

    I’ve been harping on this for a few years now. Your 4-minute school promo video and a few concert videos are not what people are looking for. You need to have content that provides value for prospective and current families, can be easily searched for, and be optimized for the platform it runs on. Why? Because Cisco says, online video will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021.

    Let’s say that you are a K–12 school trying to ensure you have a robust enrollment from the get-go. How could you ensure right-fit families know about your school? Get niche-y with it! What does every affluent parent need for their child? A BOB stroller, of course, but those things are so hard to fold. Oh wait:

    Practically Speaking

    What you say is important. It’s now a storyteller’s world, and the best storytellers are going to get the most interest in their school, but where, when, and how you tell your school’s story is important too. Here are some tips on how to deliver your compelling story to the right people at the right time.

  4. SEM > SEO

    Despite the push to get your SEO in the right place as I did above, I firmly believe that in a get-it-now world, you need to show up above the fold in any search. If you are focusing on SEO alone, that is not going to happen.

    For example, I just ran a search for “private schools near me,” the first organic, single listing school result was the 12th snippet. Even the most optimized school website is not going to surpass the paid ads, national search sites, or articles written about private schools in widely read news outlets.

    Sorry for making you squint, but two full scrolls it took to get to an optimized organic result. 

  1. Match Game
    When it comes to the language you use, unique is not good. Yes, you want your school to stand out from the crowd with amazing school communications and school public relations, but if the crowd is searching online for a “private elementary school” and you refer to yourself as an “independent school” and grades K–5 as your “lower school,” then the internet is not going to like you, and people won’t find you. The less comparable your keywords and ads are to the content on your landing page and site, the more money it will cost to get a high-valued placement.

  2. Start with SEM, finish with SMM

    When parents start searching for independent schools, 90% of them start on Google, according to Junto. Now, you know, and I know what sites parents eventually find and use—Niche and Private School Review, to name two—but parents new to the process don’t know that. So, unless they are in the 10%, your first impression will be made on a Google search.

    Depending on what you consider to be your admission season, put more money behind search ads early, and shift more of your digital spend to social media and display-based marketing along with more compelling calls to action. By then they know who you are and hopefully understand what you can offer their child. But even if it’s a good match, people still need a push and a reminder. I mean, just think of the things you’ve purchased after “window shopping” on Amazon and seeing it advertised on other sites’ ad bars day after day. We suggest you give School Webmasters a call if you need help with the social media side of things. Their terrific Social4Schools packages may be just what you need.

    IF IT SOUNDS CREEPY, IT’S ACCEPTABLE NOW

    We in the independent school world have cringed at the idea of using “fringe” tactics to get people to take notice. I remember in 2008 at the school I worked at, the marketing committee decided lawn signs would be an excellent way to promote an open house. As head of marketing at the time, boy did I get a lot of flack from current families, ‘Only plumbers and sleazy sales people put signs by the side of the road. This is beneath a private school.’ 

  3. Text Me

    92% of the US population owns a mobile device capable of receiving text messages. Wow!
    90% of text messages are opened within the first three minutes. Double Wow!!

    You are likely familiar with text marketing or SMS marketing. While most of the ones I get are from complete spammers, the ones I get from organizations and entities I know do get my attention. But I’m just one person. What about everyone else? According to Blue Compass, 63% of the US population sees texting as a “private experience,” but 83% of the same population prefers to get “important” information via text. And what is more important than their child’s education?

    Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting through spam filters or emails getting thrown in the social or promotional folder. And no more voicemails going unheard because the person doesn’t know how to access their vmail anymore—seriously, who still leaves messages?

  4. Get the MAID to do it

    MAID stands for Mobile Advertising ID. MAIDs are essentially like a cookie for your phone that allows advertisers to not only know what you are doing on your phone but where you are doing it. Plus, unlike home computers and desktops that get used by multiple people in the family, typically, mobile devices are for one person. Also, information from a device gives you a clearer picture because we use our phones for work, email, social engagement, texting…everything! Oh, and in 2015, internet use by mobile devices surpassed all other forms combined, so…

    So, you are looking for the elusive, full pay families that live by the bay. Well, it just so happens the 17th Annual Pre-Teen Regatta is coming up. With MAIDs technology, you can tag the marina and everyone who comes inside of it during the Regatta. Any active mobile device in the area can be tagged and fed ad-based information from then on. It’s a powerful way to target.

  5. Talk to me, Goose!

    If you follow me on LinkedIn or have spent 5 minutes talking shop, you know I’m bullish on capturing your voice-first real estate on Alexa and Google Home Assistant. There are two avenues schools can take great advantage of voice-first tech for free or next to nothing. The first is, create content and brand it.

    You: Hey Alexa, what’s a good way to remember the noble gases on the periodic table.

    Alexa: Here’s Truth Tree Academy science teacher, Trevor Waddington, with a great mnemonic device to remember the noble gases…

    Or, if you want to be more practical, you can create a flash briefing for your school.

    You: Hey Google, open Truth Tree Academy.

    Google Home Assistant: Welcome to Truth Tree Academy, what would you like to do today? You can choose from the following, today’s news, lunch menu for the week, or sports schedule.

The decade is already underway, and the coming avalanche of new tech to help your school thrive is already out there. My advice, take the one you think will have the biggest impact at your school and dive in deep.

By Trevor Waddington, Truth Tree Academy CEO

553827
Do you have an OCR complaint against your school website?
2020-01-14
Worried about ADA website compliance for your school website?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man looking at multiple doors with words Need an alternative

An alternative solution to managing ADA website compliance

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

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

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

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

Implement a process that assures ongoing website compliance

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

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

Are you compliant?

Beware of the bad faith players

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear not and remember the goal

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

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

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

For more tips, check out these articles:

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

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

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

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

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

Show

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

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

1. Share photographs of your students.

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

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

2. Share stories on your News page.

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

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

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

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

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

Tell

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

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

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

1. Keep parents informed.

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

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

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

2. Use the calendar.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Find your own way.

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

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

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

Image of colorful paper cut-out of hands

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

Hungry for more? Check these out!

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

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

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

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

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

Step #1: Pick a blog purpose

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

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

Step #2: Create a blog schedule

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

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

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

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

Step #3: Create a blog process

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

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

Step #4: Create a blog content calendar

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

Example of school blog content calendar

(Sample blog content calendar)

Step #5: Share and promote your blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to blog about?

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

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

In summary…

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

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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.

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