When it comes to managing their own websites, the most common complaint we hear from schools is that they struggle to get content from staff to keep their sites current, informative, and engaging.
Are you in the same boat?
You know great things are happening at your school, but if your website is an example of what your school is like, is the perception far less positive? There are many reasons why this challenge plagues the vast majority of K–12 schools. Let’s review a few common reasons and look at solutions to rectify the situation.
That’s not my job, man!
Yep, that is true. Everyone at your school was hired for a specific job, and it is likely that knowing and applying website best practices isn’t one of them. When you are wearing multiple hats and your days are full of mission-critical responsibilities, taking on yet another job isn’t likely to have a distinguished outcome. So, failing to recognize upfront that if you don’t make it rewarding to engage staff and keep information flowing so your communication channels (like the website and social media) are worthy of attention, then your efforts are doomed.
So, plan to succeed instead. Here are a few tips to make sharing not only expected but rewarding to those who participate.
Find or create examples of the quality and style of content you’d like to see on your school website and in your social media posts. These examples should model your communication goals whenever possible. Your staff may not have any idea what the expectations are or how important this type of content is to your school goals.
For example, let’s say one of your school’s goals is to “provide an environment for students and teachers that cultivates a shared love of learning by supporting creativity and inspiration.”
Your objective is to seek out examples of programs, experiences, and successes that provide evidence of your goal’s achievement.
Your goal is to show your customers (typically parents) that you are walking the talk and to provide your staff members examples of how to do it so they will also participate. Consider the following possibilities:
- News article, including photos, focused on the creativity evidenced by students at the annual science fair
- Quotes from enthused students about their experience—shared on social media and linked back to the articles and photos
- Video of what takes place in the classroom that prepares the students to participate or of an interview with science fair winners about what they learned from the experience and how they will use the knowledge in the future
You get the idea, right? Here is a cute example of a recent news article we wrote and posted on one of our schools’ news pages and social media about a new “staff” member.
Create a process to make participation easy
So, now that you’ve gathered and publicized a few good examples, you need to have a process that makes participation easy and clear for your staff. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Create a schedule for your staff so they are assigned a “story” or topic once a year. They can select the story or topic, but they will know what is expected in advance and can plan accordingly (or be on the lookout for a great one). Be sure to consider each grade level, subject level, and department. Sometimes the best stories come from the bus drivers, janitors, and food service folks.
- Make it convenient for staff to submit their story or idea for consideration and inclusion. This could be an online form they fill out (available only to the staff through a secure intranet or even a public form from the website where staff members know they can submit and invite alumni to participate as well). Make sure they know what types of content you are looking for, like photos, video, written details, and where and how to send the information. If you have one contact person to receive the info, make sure everyone knows who that person is.
- Identify your talent. If you have a writer on staff, or a wanna-be writer, who is willing to help others polish up their story for publication, let your staff know. Sometimes there are great experiences to share, but people hesitate to put it out there just because they fear the blank page or lack confidence about their writing skills. A bit of help from a willing wordsmith could get the stories out there and make them memorable.
Set expectations and standards
The second most common complaint we hear from schools (after not getting enough great content from staff for their websites) is how the content they do have looks on their websites. This is a training issue and one that we often overlook. It doesn’t have to be difficult with a bit of prior planning.
The bar should indeed be quite high for most school’s websites. You are educators, so it is expected that there should be nary a misspelling or grammar issue. Few typos. Never a tone of condescension. Your content should be accurate and inviting.
However, when you have lots of people editing your website directly on a CMS system, there are many opportunities to mess up if everyone isn’t trained on the technical “best practices” of website management.
We cover these topics extensively (some might say ad nauseam) on our blog, our website, and our eBooks. Still, you must provide consistency and professionalism to avoid being judged harshly by the very folks you are trying to impress.
- Consistent style. This includes guidelines for grammar, spelling, capitalization, tone, colors, whitespace, font choice, photo optimization, naming conventions, and more. We highly recommend developing a school-wide style guide for both design elements and content, so everyone is aware and is on the same page. For example, we’re big advocates of the Oxford comma, so we use it on all of our school sites to maintain consistency in comma usage (it’s part of our corporate style guide). Your school might have its own pet peeves—so, select the rules you want to follow, and then get everyone on the same page to assure a professional image. Your staff should use your style guide across all forms of communication, from your website and social media to emails, marketing, and blogs.
- Accessibility for all. Your content must be accessible (by law) to those with disabilities, and since nearly 20% of us have some form of disability, it just makes sense to be sure everyone has access to the information on your site. Some standards must be applied, including navigation without the use of a mouse, color contrast compliance, font scalability, alt text for images, and closed captions for video. Even the PDF documents you link to must be accessible (meaning they can be read with a screen reader). So, training must be done and reviewed every year. Once anyone who touches the website understands the requirements, it isn’t hard to maintain. Still, you must plan for it and be sure everyone receives website accessibility training (including secretaries and staff who create the documents you link to on the site). Check out our accessibility training options as well, which is only $249 per year for ALL your staff.
- Educate the educators. For both of the previous areas mentioned, you’ll need to provide training and ongoing reminders. In addition to providing training for those who “touch” the website, which would include style guide expectations, website accessibility, and your CMS software, also consider sending out reminders to all your staff about the important areas of communications focus. These could include tips on how to look for interesting stories (ideas, examples, goals), encouragement to submit content, or reviewing department pages for accuracy. We do this monthly for our schools by sending them a video or email with ideas for great content, how to effectively use their news page or their calendar, and other relevant areas that remind them to send us the good stuff!
Recognize and reinforce
What we are talking about is creating a culture at your school where everyone is on the lookout for great things happening all around them, or interesting things, or fun things, or just an engaging way to share a glimpse of what it’s like to be a part of your school. You want to reward the types of behaviors that make this happen.
Effective communication begins with gathering evidence for the outcomes and values your school offers—at least if you hope to get those parents as advocates and attract the students and staff you want.
So, don’t overlook the value of recognition and appreciation in driving the behaviors you want to encourage. From improving customer service to building a communication valued culture, recognition and appreciation carry a power punch of effectiveness. They are low-cost and high-return strategies to drive positive cultural values. Recognition means acknowledging specific accomplishments before their peers. Appreciation means expressing gratitude for their actions. Here are a few tips to encourage and build a dynamic and consistent communication flow:
- Include everyone. Give all employees (and even students) the chance to participate and be recognized for their contributions. You will recognize the various participants differently, of course, depending on their role, but open up the floodgates to include everyone with news and information that can expand your communications.
- Make it individualized. We humans enjoy appreciation for our efforts and contributions. But, we might enjoy that recognition in different ways. Some of us bask in the glory of public recognition, and others prefer to remain behind the scenes and would be horrified by any such basking. So, as a smart manager, you’ll want to consider the individual’s preferences before coming up with an across-the-board recognition process for the behaviors you want to encourage. For the introvert who submits good content for the website and social media, a handwritten note and a pat on the back might be a valued recognition, while the extravert would enjoy a shout-out about it at the next staff meeting.
- Timely recognition. The recognition for positive participation needs to be as soon as possible after the submission. Don’t give out awards at the end-of-the-year board meeting, but react as you go. If you want to see comprehensive and continued staff participation, give immediate feedback. Not only are you less likely to remember who contributed and in what way six months later, but the staff member won’t see that the effort was valued when it was given. So, provide frequent, specific reinforcement for the behaviors you want to encourage.
Take a look at what you have in place (or put something in place) to recognize and appreciate those who find and share the types of information that will support best practices for your communication efforts, especially your website and social media. Make it your top priority to gather the stories and information your website visitors or social media followers are looking for. You are their primary resource, after all. Make a visit to your website or social media platforms worth their time, and they will return again and again. They will learn to trust your school as a reliable resource (and not the rumor they heard from a neighbor or from some curmudgeon on their social media feed).
More tips for effect school storytelling? Check out these blog articles: