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

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

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

Woman on couch with 5 stars over her head

Creating effective surveys

Here are some tips for developing effective surveys:

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

Survey topic ideas

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

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

Distribution and analysis

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

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

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

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

survey results

Survey follow-up

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

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

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

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

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

Using internal polls and surveys for improved staff relations 

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

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

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

school staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testimonials given by people through thought bubbles

Make it Easy to Submit Testimonials

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

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

Your opinion matters

Gather Testimonials With a Survey

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

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

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

Increase your enrollment

Growing Your Enrollment with Testimonials 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 1 and Part 2

51 Ways to Market Your School

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

How Do I Market My School?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always start with yourself first

First, start with yourself! 

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

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

10 things you are grateful for every day

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

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

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

Gratitude journal

Now, share with others! 

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

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

thank yous

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

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

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

Gratitude is the memory of the heart

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

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

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

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

people clapping

Consider all audience segments

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

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

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

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

Offer multiple support channels

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

people holding up cell phones

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

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

social media

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

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

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

happy woman looking at school website

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

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

positive school customer experience

In summary…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the customers you have

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

using friction to start a fire

Decrease the friction

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

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

school enrollment

#1. Enhance your website registration and enrollment sections 

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

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

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

video marketing

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

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

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

#3. Plan effective social media strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting and accomplishing this years’ goals

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

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

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

bulls-eye to hit your targeted goals

Goals that show you care

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

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

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

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

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

New normal

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

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

Video

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

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

Phone camera with tripod

It Doesn’t Have to Be Professional Quality

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

Video filming

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

Try Picture-in-Picture

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

Sharing

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

Hosting

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

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

YouTube

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

Vimeo

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

Wistia

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

SchoolTube

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

Communication tips

Communication—Help!

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

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

Set Up Office Hours

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

Set Up a Community Chat Box

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

Conclusion

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

Contact Us

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

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

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

Simple, Clean Graphics

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

Man shooting photos

Use Your Own Photos

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

Use Pleasing, Representational Colors

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

navigation

Simple Navigation

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

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

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

Quick Links

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

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

A Simple Welcome

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

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

A Message from the Principal

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

News Teasers

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

School calendar image

Calendar

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

Social Media

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

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

Resist the urge to crowd

Resist the Urge to Crowd More onto the Home Page

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

Contact School Webmasters

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

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Does Your School Website Need an FAQ Page?
2021-01-12

Does your school website need a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page? The short answer is yes. But let’s consider the reasons to include it and talk about how to create an effective FAQ page. Why does your website need it? What should it look like? What should it include? How can you create one? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.

Why?

Back in the day, whenever I had a question, I called Anne Marie. Happy, helpful, all-knowing Anne Marie, the office lady at my children’s elementary school. From what time my son needed his lunch to the details of sponsoring a booth at the school carnival and everything in between, Anne Marie had all the answers. She spent her days greeting and directing every adult who walked into the front office, taking care of students waiting to be picked up for a dentist appointment, tracking down children and teachers for various and sundry reasons, keeping her eye on the misbehaved student who was “sent to the office,” and answering the phones. From 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Anne Marie barely had time to grab a bite to eat or take a trip to the bathroom. She was utterly amazing.

Why?

Now, in hindsight, watching the scene that played out day after day and year after year through my School Webmasters eyes, I see how, as much as I appreciated Anne Marie, running her ragged and probably to full and complete burnout wasn’t necessary. If only the school’s website had done what it was supposed to do. The website was, frankly, inadequate. There were some nice photos of school children on a few of the pages, and there was a staff list that I would use to email my children’s teachers when I needed to, but that’s about all. It was seldom up to date and lacked the most basic information. As often as I hoped to find what I needed, I usually just gave up and called Anne Marie. How I wish I could go back and help them better utilize the school website for Anne Marie’s sake. Kudos to all school secretaries and office helpers who juggle the many responsibilities of running a school. Over time, with budget cuts and program changes, we have demanded more and more from all school personnel who do a difficult job amazingly well. But let’s face it, not every school is blessed with an Anne Marie who can do it all without losing her mind.

Not only would a more effective website have helped Anne Marie, but parents would have been much happier as well. Of course, there will always be those who prefer to pick up the phone and hear a friendly voice answer their questions, but most parents today want to find the answer on their phones, at the instant they think of the question. No longer can any business, and let’s face it, that’s exactly what your school is. And that business will not garner respect if it doesn’t have an attractive, well-thought-out, easy-to-navigate, well-written, informative website. And a good Frequently Asked Questions page is, in particular, part of that effective website.

What It Is and What It Is Not

So, let’s talk about what your school’s FAQ page should include. We’ll assume that you already have a beautifully designed, responsive, ADA-compliant website. It has an easy-to-navigate structure that allows site visitors to quickly find the information they’re looking for. The content throughout your website is friendly and informative and doesn’t read like the thou shalts and thou shalt nots of the parent-student handbook. It has lovely photos that represent your school, its values, and your student body. That’s excellent! (If this isn’t the case, please contact us right away.) The FAQ page should not replace any of that. The idea is not to create a long list of questions and answers that replaces information throughout the rest of the website; the FAQ page should be a quick guide to information. It should contain succinct answers with links to more fleshed-out information that exists elsewhere on your website when possible.

This page is not a marketing brochure. Though it might be tempting to write in a way that touts all the wonderful things about your school, the FAQ page is not the place for that. Such an approach is not helpful to your audience—your students and their parents, grandparents, guardians, and caregivers.

The FAQ page is not a dumping ground for the things you can’t put anywhere else or a grab bag of random items.

This page should not be a page of collections of every question you’ve ever been asked—or that you wish you had been asked, either.

It should include the questions you hear most often. It should include the questions and answers to the information your audience is seeking. I’ll bet if we were to ask Anne Marie, she could, off the top of her head, come up with five to ten questions she was asked over and over again.

Example Questions

Here are a few examples:

  • What are the school hours?
  • When does my child have lunch?
  • What are the meal prices?
  • What if my child requires medication during the school day?
  • What do I need to do if I must pick up my child early from school for an appointment?
  • What do I need to do if my child is absent from school?
  • Do you enforce a school dress code?
  • Can I volunteer in my child’s classroom?
Helpful Tips

More Helpful Tips for Effective FAQ Pages

Organization

Try to refrain from randomly throwing out your list of questions. Similar questions should be grouped together. In the examples above, we started out with the beginning of the school day and worked our way through the day, put a couple of the more similar questions together, and ended with the outliers. If there will be several questions, organize them in groups or categories, perhaps with subtitles to separate the groups, so site visitors can easily find what they’re looking for. Site readers tend to scan the page, looking for the question they have in mind. Grouping and appropriate subtitles will help make it a pleasant experience.

Language

Keep it friendly. School speak, or “educationese,” can seem like a foreign language to  non-educators. And generally speaking, the typical school handbook, with its do’s and don’ts, its actions and consequences, is not inherently friendly. So, to maintain great public relations and garner support from your customers (your students and their caregivers), it’s imperative to use a friendly, conversational tone, avoiding acronyms and other education-specific language that might make your answer confusing.

Keep It Simple

Don’t overdo it. If you load your page with too many questions, it will overwhelm your readers and do exactly the opposite of what you intend. Remember, the purpose of this page is to help your customers find what they’re looking for quickly, easily, and without stress. Too many questions will undo all your good intentions. Keep it simple. Stick to those questions that really are the ones they ask most—not the ones you want them to ask. Only give them what they want and need.

Focus on your customers

Focus on Your Customers

No longer can schools rely on the number of school-age children within their boundaries to fill their classrooms. Educators must go the extra mile to make sure they offer top-notch services and experiences to all students and their families. Your website is your face to the public—it is how you make a great first impression. Using it effectively helps you keep your customers happy. We applaud you for making the education and welfare of your students your first priority. You’re doing a fabulous job. Focusing on the needs of the people who make tremendous efforts to support them and help them succeed should be your second priority. And one simple but powerful way to do it is by creating a friendly, informative, concise, and well-organized Frequently Asked Questions page.

Contact Us

If any of this seems a little overwhelming or you simply don’t have the time to worry about it, please let us do the work for you. With almost two decades of school website experience, the folks at School Webmasters know how to do it. We create eye-catching, easy-to-navigate, informative school websites throughout the country. (We even have a few outside of the U.S.) Our company goal is to delight our clients, and it would be an honor to help you achieve your website goals.

Exceptional School Websites eBook
643361
Keeping it Positive
2020-12-08
Stay positive

Throughout my sassy teenage years, my mom often told me, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And I agree with her—most of the time—if we’re speaking face to face. In writing, what you say is just as important as how you say it since it’s difficult for others to hear your tone of voice—especially if you don’t use just the right words. Some marketing writing makes me cringe. My internal editor alarm goes off as I think, “If only they had said it differently…”

It’s the Little Words: “But” vs. “And”

For example, we write websites for several small, rural schools. Frequently, I see, “We may be small, but…” I shudder. Right off, they apologize for being small. Then they explain that even though they’re small, they have great programs and many advantages. What’s so bad about that? Well, why not skip the apology and say that because we are small, we have many advantages and great programs? The change could be as simple as “We are small, and…” The simple “and” in place of “but” completely changes the tone. The list of small-town advantages is long and varied, from a tight-knit community to small class sizes and individualized learning and much more. Own it; don’t apologize for it.

Negative: “Ms. Jones, can we go out to recess?”

“Yes, but we need to get our math lesson finished first.”

"Ugh, okay. I’ll do my math."

Positive: “Ms. Jones, can we go out to recess?”

“Yes, and we can do that as soon as we get our math lesson done.”

“Yay! I’ll hurry and get it done!”

What about rules?

What About Rules?

Obviously, you want to make sure everyone understands the rules so there is no chance for misinterpretation of your expectations. You might ask, “What’s wrong with writing ’We do not allow…’”? “Do we really have to be upbeat and positive all the time?” Why yes, some things do require an iron fist, and you may want to make sure there is no question about the severity of your meaning. But these situations are probably a lot less often than you may think.

For example, we see student handbooks from schools from the east to the west coast and everything in between. They all have the same general rules and standards: dress standards, bus rules, cafeteria rules, tardy/absence rules, etc. And though they come from myriad schools with varied student body, staff, and community situations, almost all present the rules as “thou shalt nots.” Wouldn’t it be great to see a handbook that spouts all the great things students can do, what they can wear, and how they will rather than won’t behave? 

Focus on the Positive—What You CAN Do

You can create a positive, encouraging, and supportive tone simply by using positive, rather than negative, words. Every time your sentences take a negative slant, identify the negative word(s) in your sentence, and rephrase with positive words and ideas. 

Here’s what a positive spin on the rules might look like:

  • Because we respect ourselves and each other, this is how we dress.
  • This is what we do.
  • "We are the Spartans, and..."

Focus on solutions

Focus on Solutions

Shine a light on the solution instead of the problem. Tell us what we can do and what will happen when it’s done rather than on the things we can’t do and the consequences of our failure to comply. 

Let’s take a look at this approach:

Negative: “I cannot meet with you this week.”

Positive: “I can meet with you next week.”

Negative: “We know many students may feel uneasy, but, unfortunately, parents may not walk their children to their classroom on the first day of school.”

Positive: “To ensure every student’s comfort and safety on the first day of school, our teachers and staff are available to help them to their classrooms.”

Use Antonyms to Remove the Word “Not”

Using antonyms whenever the word “not” appears is a simple trick for turning the negative into something positive.

Negative: “The office will not be open.”

Positive: “Our office will be closed.” 

Negative: “We will not be holding our school carnival this year.”

Positive: “We have canceled our school carnival.”

Avoid negative words - two woman miscommunicating

Avoid  Negative Words

Stop and think before writing (or saying) these common, negative, words and phrases:

Negative: “Although we can’t meet in person, we’re excited about our new, virtual platform.”

Positive: “We’re excited to meet with you via our powerful, virtual platform.” 

Negative: “No problem.”

Positive: “My pleasure.”

Another trick of our trade is to shift the focus to what we do want rather than on the negative outcome (what we don’t want). It’s as easy as getting rid of the word “don’t” at the beginning of a sentence. For instance:

Negative: “Don’t forget to bring your library book back on Friday.”

Positive: “Remember to bring your library book back on Friday.”

Negative: “Don’t talk.”

Positive: “Quiet, please.”

Common Negative Words to Avoid

Stop. Think. Banish these negative words from your writing:

  • no
  • however
  • unfortunately
  • problem
  • unable
  • never
  • although
  • not
  • but
  • bad
  • waste
  • wrong
  • regret
  • error
  • mistake
  • should
  • shouldn't
  • difficult
  • can't

Say This, Not That

Substitute those negative words with these happy, positive words.

  • yes
  • and
  • easy
  • simple
  • please
  • now
  • fast
  • strong
  • powerful
  • effective
  • will

I'm sorry, but..."

Since my pet peeve word, “but,” is already on the negative list, allow me to interject another argument to stay away from it in your writing and speech. Consider “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you’re getting completely off track.” Are you truly sorry? The simple word “but” negates your entire apology. Let’s try that again: “I’m sorry to interrupt you. Let’s get our conversation back on track.” Phew! Now doesn’t that sound better?

Use “I” Instead of “You”

“You” can often sound accusatory. “You forgot…” “You didn’t…” “You should…” “You never…” “You always…” So, when faced with a difficult issue, think “I.” Let’s practice:

Negative: “You are always late.”

Positive: “I get frustrated when we begin after the scheduled start time.”

Negative: “You forgot to send the attachment in your email.”

Positive: “I am missing the email attachment.”

Placement Matters

We’ve all said it, “Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” Even when you take care to write positively, not everything is going to come across as great. So, always give the good news first, and then approach the bad news softly (while still phrasing it as positively as possible). And always finish up with more positive.

Using the examples above, here’s a positively-positioned paragraph:

“We’re excited to return to school and to see our students’ smiling (even if mask-covered) faces. To keep our students safe and make sure they are comfortable on the first day of school, teachers and staff will be available to help them find their classrooms. Our teachers are prepared with teaching tools and lessons that will empower your children and prepare them for an exciting future. Let’s do this!”

In a nutshell

In a Nutshell

In our speech, in our attitude, and especially in our writing, there’s power in being positive.

  • The simple, three-letter word “and” is one of the easiest ways to convey an upbeat tone. That little word can change your marketing efforts from mediocre to phenomenal. And being aware of positive wording will change the way you talk to and treat others, how you make them feel, and how it makes you feel.
  • Writing the solution, the “can do,” is a great positive writing tool. If you start to apologize or defend yourself for things that cannot or did not happen, pause and take a moment to think about what can happen or about what you will do to make things right. Then write that. 
  • Use positive words.
  • Avoid those “but” sentences.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Soften the not-so-good (you know, the stuff that the Debbie Downer will latch on to) by padding the front and back ends with the positive and upbeat.

The words you choose really matter. I once heard of a man who received a letter laying him off from his job. The phrasing was so positive, he didn’t even feel bad or get angry. Now that’s good writing! So, Mom, you were right. How you say it is important, and what you say matters too. A lot.

Need some help with your website content, tone, and positivity? Request a quote! We've got nearly two decades of experience to help you out.

Exceptional School Websites eBook
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5 Tips to Upgrade Your School's Image
2020-11-24
Time to Upgrade

With so many issues to worry about when managing a school, foremost of which is educating students, worrying about your school’s first impression might seem like a rather petty problem. However, first impressions are critical because people tend to become attached to their initial impressions (people and organizations). We find it very difficult to change those initial opinions, even when presented with facts and evidence. 

To make it worse, this means that earning parents’ trust and confidence usually begins before they ever set foot within the doors of your school. While we’d each like to believe we form our impressions based on logic and evidence, psychologists and social scientists tell us this is seldom the case. Our intuitive first impressions can and do predispose our opinions.

So, let’s look at a few areas that contribute to a positive first impression, each of which we have considerable control over.

School Logo

Logo

Your school’s logo, and please tell me you have one, is the first indication of your values. It communicates ownership of your goals, which are the outcomes of your products and services. Yes, a school has products and services. The products are your curriculum, teaching methodologies, and communication strategies. Your services are how you deliver on those products—how effective your teaching staff is and how customer-focused your employees, volunteers, administrators, and governing board members are.

Your logo is the visual representation of all of that as a whole. It makes a strong first impression by grabbing attention, making your school memorable, and separating you from the competition. It represents what you stand for and puts that representation front and center.

Your logo should help people relate to what your school aspires to and how that makes them feel. A good logo can trigger positive recall about your school, your values, and your successes.

Your school is a professional organization, delivering professional services, striving to earn respect and credibility while educating this country’s youth. Doesn’t the image that triggers positive impressions need to be representative of those goals? Do more than copy what other schools are doing, but dare to be different. A well-designed school logo or mascot can communicate your culture (fun, academic, artistic, traditional, etc.) to your mission (college-ready, character development, inclusive, reaching potentials, etc.) and show how you stand out from other schools. With myriad educational choices, your school needs to stand out in a good way! Start by taking a serious look at your logo. For an affordable, professional design, we can help. Check it out.

Color wheel

Colors

There are tons of studies validating the power of color on first impressions and branding. One study by the Institute for Color Research says that people make a subconscious judgment about a product or environment (yes, that includes your school organization) within 90 seconds of their initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

So, if you haven’t done so already, put some real thought into your school and district’s color scheme. Once selected, keep it consistent and don’t change it with every new administration change. It’s about your customers (parents and students) and not the color that your latest superintendent likes or doesn’t like. It is part of your brand and should represent what your school stands for, and unless what you stand for has changed radically, your branding shouldn’t either.

Remember, your school brand is not just your logo or mascot or even your school colors. Your brand is the idea or the image that people have in mind when they think about your school and the services you provide (both emotionally and physically). This brand includes your school name, logo, and all your visual identities, staff, educational offerings, facilities, and marketing. Your school colors are a part of that brand identity, so make them count.

Colors have value because they can increase your brand recognition by up to 80 percent (according to a University of Loyola, Maryland study). In addition to recognition, we all have specific reactions to colors (although that changes depending on things like age, gender, and nationality). Accepting the psychology of color when choosing your school colors can help your audience (parents, students, community members) know who you are and what your school values. The wrong colors can also drive them away.

Knowing your school brand personality can help you select colors that reflect that personality.

  • You’ll look at tone. (Is your brand playful and fun or serious and focused?) 
  • You’ll look at value. (Is your brand inclusive and affordable or elite and exclusive?)
  • You’ll look at the targeted age. (Is your brand youthful or mature? This will depend on your target students, as an elementary district would have a different branding than a high school district.)
  • You’ll look at energy. (Is your brand loud and busy or calm and subdued?)

Next, you’ll want to factor in the traditional meanings for common colors. Studies tend to put the following associations to these primary colors:

  • Red: strength, energy, urgency, excitement, passion 
  • Yellow/Orange: fun, cheerfulness, warmth, joy, optimism, and creativity 
  • Blue: calm, reliability, stability, tranquility (popular color for men)
  • Green: nature, freshness, health, simplicity, harmony, wealth, decisiveness
  • Violet: royalty, wisdom, magic, and aristocracy
  • White: purity, cleanliness
  • Black: authority, power, intelligence

This infographic by Marketo can give you an overview of what colors mean to most people. See where your school might fit in.

True Colors: What Your Brand Colors Say About Your Business by Marketo

Just remember that school colors are about your audience and the feeling you want to invite. Smart branding will take into account the known psychological effects of colors and use the information to attract customers and leave them with a positive impression.

school website layout

Template (layout)

What constitutes a great layout for your school’s website? That depends on your website’s purpose. In the case of a school’s website, it is serving two purposes. One goal is to keep students and parents informed and engaged with what is happening at the school and with their children. The other purpose is to be a resource for parents and students looking to select a school and help them decide. Let’s discuss the existing parent needs first.  

Here’s a quote from a parent that describes what most parents are looking for:

“As a parent, I appreciate being able to find what I need quickly and easily. Too much clutter on a home page is overwhelming and makes things harder to find, so a clean, streamlined design with lots of white space is ideal. A professional-looking website makes me feel like the school has it all together, where something that looks like the 5th-grade computer class put it together causes me to lack confidence in the information.”

Here’s another quote from a parent not quite so happy with her school’s website:

“Our district’s website is terrible because half of what I need is on the district site, but it is impossible to find. And, the school sites have practically NO information that is valuable.” 

As you can see, your students’ parents want to find the information they need as quickly and intuitively as possible. This means a clean, logical layout (or template) for your school website(s). It also means that your school-level websites must also have information that applies to the parents and students going to those schools. Often the school communications folks only focus on the district-level website, and existing parents aren’t likely to search for relevant information for their students on a site dedicated to the business and marketing aspects of education.

One way we improve the logic on our client site’s layout and navigation is to include an area for “quick links.” It provides an area, in addition to the main navigation, where you can provide common links for targeted groups like students, parents, or community. You can provide quick access to the most commonly needed information like calendars, staff contact information, latest news, etc., and all only two clicks away. Parents can go quickly to the area they need without wading through dozens of pages and hundreds of links only to become frustrated.

Another thing to remember is that from your school's perspective, you don't have to start from scratch to have a clean, easy-to-navigate school website. For our clients, we give them everything they need to have a well organized, informative, yet uncluttered home page and website from the get-go. All they have to do is fill in the blanks, and they have an extremely effective website. If you’re on your own and aren’t looking for a new website vendor, reach out to us, and we’ll have one of our copywriters put it all together for you.

Exceptional School Websites eBook

New video (marketing)

Think of a school marketing video as a shop window. It is that first look to see if what you are offering is what a parent is looking for. Studies show that an engaging video on your school website’s homepage increases conversion by up to 80%, so to include a video that represents your school makes good sense. Even public schools in an area with little competition for students should consider the value of using video to create a positive perception and generate pride and trust in your school.

You don’t have to have a professionally edited video either. Parents and prospective parents enjoy seeing everyday life at your school. You have engaging content all around you that you can easily edit using basic tools. Some ideas that are useful resources for interesting content include:

  • Sporting events
  • Proms or other dances
  • Class trips
  • Award ceremonies
  • Student performances and concerts
  • Student or teacher interviews

To make good use of a marketing video (a video where you are showing what you have to offer) might include the following:

  • At the end of your video, you can link to your enrollment page and a sign-up to get a school tour.
  • Reuse your marketing video in other locations like YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and other social media channels. 
  • Use your video on other pages of your site, beyond the home page, like your site's enrollment areas. We recommend areas targeting prospective parents and students like a “Why Choose Us” section.

If you haven’t created a good quality video for your website (and other uses), put it on the list of upgrades for your school’s image now. If you need some tips, check out our blog article on how to “Create a School Video Without Breaking the Bank” and “School Video Marketing Ideas.”

school website photos

Photos

There are many reasons to ensure your website is visually appealing, and nothing is more visual than a photograph. So, while it may be tempting to cram as much information on the page as you can, don’t overwhelm your site visitors with text-heavy pages, but use images to reinforce your messages. The right photos can turn an ordinary school website into one that is engaging and memorable.

You don’t have to have an expensive DSLR camera to take good photos any longer. Most smartphones are now equipped with some amazing high-quality cameras. It is likely you can even recruit students with an interest in photography to help you out. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Make sure your images are relevant to the topic on the page. In other words, does the photo help your site visitor understand the point you are trying to make? Does the image create emotional appeal?
  • Use photos of real people whenever possible. A/B testing studies have shown a significant increase in conversion and engagement when a happy, smiling person is part of the page content, particularly on main landing pages.
  • Use images to reinforce the message you want to convey. For example, if you want to stress your extra-curricular programs' strength, then be sure to include photos of students happily engaged in those activities.
  • Be sure to optimize the size of all your photos and images to avoid increasing the load time on your web page. You don’t need to have images that are larger than 72 dpi on your site, so always check the resolution size before uploading.

For more helpful tips for taking and using the best photos, check out our article, “You Don’t Always Need 1,000 Words; Just a Few Good Photos.” Or download our free photography checklist by following the link below:

Now is the time!

With the disruption in education this past year, and with the increased competition from online education, it is critical that you put your best foot forward to recruit, enroll, and retain students and staff. These five small areas of focus can help you do that. Don’t forget, School Webmasters can help

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