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With the school year fast approaching (or in some cases already here!), it’s normal for new website admins to be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Faculty and parents are bombarding you with questions about first-day paperwork, event dates, deadlines, new staff procedures, how to access content, and even where to park — all the while you’ve got your own first-day jitters to deal with. Let’s mitigate some of that confusion and frustration! Here are five tips and resources to hit the new year running without a hitch.
1. Take Inventory and Set a Baseline.
For every “what” that your new position entails, there’s a corresponding “how.” In a perfect world, your predecessor meticulously laid out all of the tools of the trade and provided detailed instructions for each resource you will be using on day-to-day. All you’ll need to do is log in and get going right? Doubtful.
In the likely scenario that nobody left you all of the answers in a neatly-organized FAQ, you’re going to want to take make some time and get a feel for the state of things. Make a list and familiarize yourself with your content management system, messaging tools, social media, and any other tools that might be critical in communicating with your school community.
This is a great opportunity for you to get an understanding of what your school’s communication strategy is, and how they’ve gone about accomplishing it to this point. It’s also a time to consider your own goals for the year and make sure you’re equipped to accomplish them. Are you looking to improve retention? Recruit faculty? Increase enrollment? Whatever challenges your school may be facing, it’s important to know how you’re stacking up.
If you’d like some help taking inventory, Finalsite offers a free website audit where we will work with you to assess your current website, taking into account design, content, functionality and search performance. You’ll receive a copy of your grade with notes for which elements can be improved upon and which are working great.
Need a free website checkup?
2. Eliminate Backpack Postal Service.
I hope it is not received as an attack on anyone’s character when I suggest that, maybe, a third grader isn’t the most reliable courier for important parent information. In today’s day and age, school-to-home communication needs to be (and easily can be!) far more direct. A reliable communications system will allow you to automate correspondence with your constituents, and improve your messaging as the school year goes on. When we can reach parents directly with clear and concise messaging, it eliminates confusion and contributes to an overall more efficiently running community.
For schools and districts, the likely solution is email newsletters. Finalsite Messages allows you to track email campaigns and subsequent parent engagement. It displays email engagement analytics in an easily digestible activity log, including important email stats such as open rates and click-through rates You can even dive in to see exactly who opened or clicked in an email.
This allows you to refine your messaging and see which emails resonate most with parents and garner the most engagement. Additionally, you can see which parents need a follow-up reminder or even a phone call for more important paperwork at the start of the school year.
If you’d like more coaching on improving school-to-home communications, download this webinar where Keith Parker, Digital Communications and Middle School Director at Dare County Schools, modernized the strategy for one of the top districts in North Carolina.
3. Go Mobile First.
Education is considered a desktop-centric industry, as students and teachers spend most of the day behind the computer for one reason or another. As the digital landscape evolves, however, this is becoming increasingly uncommon. Nearly 77% of adults are using phones as their primary means to browse web content. Recently gathered Pew Research data suggests almost half of low income households don’t have a computer. It’s now a requisite to have all mobile-responsive pages, and taking a mobile-first approach to design is best practice for school sites.
Schools who take advantage of Finalsite's Mobile App enjoy the convenience of an all-in-one solution for mobile communication. The app notification system, Swift K-12, empowers administrators to communicate more effectively with parents, students, and staff in the event of an emergency, and it’s easier than ever for constituents to get real-time updates for school events and social media.
4. Address Your Sub-Communities Specifically.
Once upon a time (any year before 2013 really), principals and school administrators sent out a “welcome back to school” letter that was more akin to a state of the union address. It was a sweeping “to whom it may concern” which tried to cover everything at once. In addition to being inefficient, this isn’t really necessary anymore.
As a website admin, it’s in your best interest to get rid of inefficient communication. Let the principals of your school communicate directly to families with community-specific portals. Families will thank you for the personalized messaging, easy-to-access information and one-stop-shop of paperless downloads. Plus, you’ll declutter the homepage of your website and be able to highlight content that’s more engaging than the weekly lunch menu!
Families can easily access the Shrewsbury International School constituent portal at the top right of the page.
One example of how to effectively provide resources for the beginning of the year comes from our friends at The Hotchkiss School, a Finalsite client, who begin the new student journey with a "Welcome to Hotchkiss!" portal page featuring: a video from the Head of School, a resource download to help new students along the registration process, highlights of important dates to remember, and dozens of quick links to other useful resources and pages.
If you’d like to learn more ways to use portals to your advantage, this blog by Andrew Martin offers best practices for using them to improve communications and optimize your school website.
In addition to constituent portals, consider starting a school blog! A weekly or monthly “from the principal's desk” blog post is easy for parents to access, easy for you to store as a reference, and best of all, easy to promote on social media! It’s a win-win for everyone in the community.
5. Stay Active on Social Media.
Even if you have previously managed a Facebook page or Twitter account, the logistics of social can be very different as you step into this new role for your school. At its root, social media is quick, easy, and oftentimes preferred by parents as a means of communication. Using it to your advantage is an easy way to keep your website evergreen with fresh content.
One of the bigger upsides of social media is that it lends itself to community engagement. Consider finding individuals within your parent community and faculty who enjoy photography or writing and enlist them to maintain an active social presence. A great example of this in action is at Ellington Public Schools. They’ve gotten nearly 100% of their teachers to tweet about what is happening in the classrooms throughout the day. The district then uses Finalsite Feeds to pull in this content to the district homepage, and individual school pages.
As with the other aspects of your role, it’s important to get a feel for how your school’s social media presence is performing. I encourage you to watch the 2019 Social Media Tune Up for Districts & Charters on-demand webinar. Finalsite’s manager of Consulting Services Red Abbott gives concrete advice on how to audit your social media presence and offers small changes that can have a big impact.
- Be proactive to familiarize yourself with the communication tools at your disposal.
- Consider how your community will access information.
- Formulate a communications strategy to put your constituents in the know and prepare them for a smooth transition into the new school year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony graduated from The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU, and joined Finalsite’s business development team at the end of 2018. Though he’s a broadcaster by nature, he is happy to occasionally return to print and write about school districts and charters.