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Show and Tell for Parent Engagement

Two simple principles to make sure your website is supporting your school communication goals

happy students with teacher

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

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

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

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

Show

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

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

1. Share photographs of your students.

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

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

2. Share stories on your News page.

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

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

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

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

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

Tell

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

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

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

1. Keep parents informed.

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

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

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

2. Use the calendar.

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

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

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

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

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

3. Find your own way.

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

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

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

Image of colorful paper cut-out of hands

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

Hungry for more? Check these out!

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