It’s summer. Are you enjoying the quiet hallways, catching up on paperwork, and working on your summer maintenance? Taking time off for some outdoor adventures on your bucket list? I recently hiked to Havasupai in Northern Arizona with my family. We were short on some ointment and bandages. Luckily our hiking buddies lent us some of theirs. Gathering materials and resupplying necessary tools such as first aid kits and other hiking supplies before your adventure is much like updating your school website during the summer. It can likely be the stitch that will, in time, save you nine.
Is it really necessary?
It’s important that your school website is up to date and easy to navigate so parents, students, and community members will use it early on as their first source of information. Create a website you want to use. Schools generally struggle to communicate with stakeholders such as those mentioned earlier. Parents and guardians are both a part of the community and authority figures raising the children entering your school each day. One of the surest ways to reach them these days is through their desktops and mobile devices. Keeping your marquee and message board updated is not enough. Online resources with valuable information regarding the student is a powerful tool.
It doesn’t have to be complicated
In the long run, updating your school website may not be as complicated as you think. Using current technology and online tools available as well as effectively publicizing necessary items, you can increase your school’s online visibility and provide a valuable resource to your school community. This summer remember, while your school is getting whipped into shape with new coats of paint and clean carpets, your website needs a little TLC as well to help make next school year a success.
We’ve designated three hacks for keeping your school website up-to-date.
Help parents trust your school website as much as a phone call
First, when updating the message on your school website home page, it’s important to keep your audience and your mission in mind. Have you received feedback from faculty or parents, positive or negative regarding a strength or weakness in the overall message or your school website? How can you improve your overall message? Spare the busy parents a phone call to the office by having an online resource they trust to get their children ready for the first days of school. Show them that your school website is a valuable tool for them anytime, anywhere. Parents are likely to return to the school website during the school year if they have been able to find useful and timely information outside of school business hours early on.
Provide online copies of student and staff handbooks
- Handbooks An easy-access, online copy of your handbook is a valuable tool. Parents are inundated with papers throughout the days leading up to first days of school and beyond. Make handbooks accessible for reference anytime, anywhere.
- Forms Remind parents about any forms they need to complete and turn in prior to the first day of(like updating contact information or immunization records). Put important forms on your website for easy access, and link to them from the article in a checklist format.
Find ways to incorporate the media in your message. Does your school have a presence on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Weave those feeds into your website for consistent messaging. Media can be a huge asset to your school and, if you are located in a small community, you likely already have a relationship with a local reporter or photographer. Further develop that relationship by regularly sending information about upcoming events to the reporter, especially those that involve students and are visual in nature. Many large metropolitan newspapers have community or education features, and reporters are always looking for fresh pieces to place here.
When possible, take the opportunity to comment on issues such as Common Core, ADA website compliance, AIMS results, redistricting, or even national educational issues. You don’t have to be controversial, just vocal and active. Not only can the media help get your school’s name in print and in front of parents, but it can also help you promote your upcoming programs and events. Parents love to see their child’s name in print after positive events, and it goes both ways as the media love the increase in users to their services!
Update your school website to Include current lists and dates
Second, don’t wait until April to give your office staff a gift they will thank you for over and over. Update information on the website to give the school’s stakeholders quick, at-your-fingertips information, which will save your staff time and energy on the phone. This also helps make your school a welcoming place.
Provide a variety of ways for the school community to collect information about scheduled events and important lists such as:
- Calendar Update your school website with current calendar events for the upcoming school year (and years if possible), even if not all dates are set in stone just yet. Flesh out the school year as much as possible to encourage the school community to revisit the calendar once the first of the year has passed. Some parents’ work schedules are not as flexible as others. Informing them early of the school functions, particularly big events in advance will foster trust and gain you another fan for the school website. Don’t forget to include a link to the current year district calendar from the school’s website. Your school community needs access to the yearly calendar to plan for teacher in-service days, holidays, and parent/teacher conferences. Remember to let the school community know when “Meet the Teacher” opportunities are scheduled, and encourage them to attend and to bring their children.
- Lists Life is full of lists. Provide a link to pertinent information as a reference tool. Here are a few suggested lists:
- School supplies Save families time and money by providing a link to each grade level’s school supply list. Your students will likely come to school prepared with the supplies they need earlier in the school year so learning can begin on day one. Whether your classes have individual supply lists or all of your classes are in need of the same items, provide a link to supply lists for parents online. Prepared parents and procrastinating parents alike will appreciate you.
- Staff Lists Change in school faculty is inevitable. As parents and students learn of their upcoming room assignment, have staff lists and up-to-date bios for the current school year. Parents like to know how to contact their child’s teacher, so be sure to update your staff lists with e-mail addresses, current pictures, and links to necessary social media and phone extensions if applicable.
- School menus Students want to know what to expect on the first day of school, so tell them! Then when they ask, “What’s for lunch?” as the first bell is ringing, they’ll already know what’s on the menu.
Make sure the website for your school includes helpful tips and suggestions
Lastly, communication is king for successful school communities. Consider the important spoken and underlying message you wish to convey. Parents and guardians appreciate when schools make the entire community aware of great opportunities instead of finding out too little, too late. It’s all about customer service, so make sure your website contributes to the quality of your school’s services.
The following is a list of suggestions to consider when updating your school website:
- Most schools hold regular events to get parents to the school, such as conferences, carnivals, and awards assemblies. You must promote the events to get participation. Use your website to accomplish this. Welcome parents to your school, provide plenty of opportunities for them to volunteer at their convenience, participate in site councils, and offer information to help them get involved in parent-teacher organizations. If your school is home to a high ELL population, ask bilingual staff to help with this. If your district doesn’t offer it, consider reaching out to local colleges or organizations to bring in volunteers that offer nighttime English classes for parents and guardians. You can also host family nights to spotlight student work or to educate parents in helping their child at home. Just be sure to make the parents as welcome as possible by holding events at times convenient to working parents and offering translation if necessary.
- Consider a message on your website encouraging parents to move bedtime back to an earlier time a few weeks before school starts. It will make the transition from summer break to early morning rising less challenging.
- Give parents some suggestions about putting a positive spin on going back to school (like the fun things they will learn, the friends they will see again, and the new friends they will make).
- Encourage parents to prepare a homework routine that includes a well-lit, quiet place to work. Suggest they establish a regular homework time without distractions from TV, the Internet, or mobile devices.
The effort truly pays off!
In the long run, communication with your school community via your school website may not be as difficult as you think. With current technology and an effective website, your school community will be more united. Remember, communication opens many doors for schools. And, the further your door is open, the more you will likely get in return from parents and your other stakeholders.
So have a great summer, and enjoy your upcoming fall! Remember, preparation for upcoming adventures is key. Taking time this summer to do a bit of school website management will be a valuable investment. Helping your school community get ready for the new school year will send a message that your school cares about the success of the students and faculty at your school. Your updated school website is just one more way to improve school communications and build trust—both integral aspects of healthy public relations.
If you find you’re short on time to do all that you want to do, never fear. Your hiking buddies are here! School Webmasters believes that updated, resourceful school websites are crucial in today’s world of educational options. If the task of updating and managing your school website seems too much to handle, School Webmasters can help!
Emily Boyle, Content Specialist