• Public School District
Digital Communication Tips for Districts During COVID-19 Closures
Mia Major

Now that the initial shock of extended school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic has worn off, the importance of exceptional school communications is sinking in. Never before have digital communications been more important for public schools. Having a strategy for effectively utilizing your website, mass notifications system and social media channels will be critical for your school district as closures extend into the spring. 

Here are some tips for utilizing your existing digital communication tools to share important information, build trust and continue education during COVID-19 school closures. 

Tips for Using Your Website

You may have noticed (and probably expected) that your website is getting more visits than ever before. Parents are seeking information about your school district’s plans during the closure, and expect to see organized and up-to-date information prominently on your website. 

Here are a few suggestions for utilizing your website during the COVID-19 closures. 

1. Use the pop-up feature on your homepage to broadcast your latest updates. 

Many districts are utilizing this feature to share that schools are closed. Take it one step further by updating it daily with the latest announcement, email or information shared with families. They will appreciate having it in such an obvious location, without having to scroll around your site to find information. 

LaPorte ISD in Texas is using the pop-up feature to profile the latest on meal pick-up and device distribution for students, which are the two most pressing tasks the organization is facing currently. The district is updating the feature frequently as new information becomes available. 

page pop on laporte ISD website

You may also want to use a PagePop to direct website visitors to a page on your website that you’re keeping up-to-date, as Spring Lake Park Schools in MN does on their homepage.

Quickly adapting to the needs of its community, Jackson County Public Schools in NC uses a PagePop to direct website visitors to pages for requesting immediate help.

Highline Public Schools in WA takes a similar approach, using the PagePop to display important quicklinks for community members.

If you’re using Finalsite’s PagePop tool, you can make different PagePop notifications for different pages. This can help you, for example, display a different page pop to parents in their parent portals, versus faculty in their faculty portal. See this example from Enumclaw School District

2. Create a COVID-19 webpage to house everything related to the issue. 

Developing a landing page for COVID-19 information is a great way to stay organized and keep your community informed. Populate the page with information about school closures, distance learning plans, health department news and district communications.

The organization and readability of the page is important. The page should include the following content:

  • Latest updates for your district community
  • Answers to FAQs
  • Helpful resources from reliable sources, such as the CDC
  • Links to email communications 

Keep the page simple and easy to read, with the latest updates appearing near the top of the page. Develop an FAQ section for quick access to the most commonly asked questions and comments. 

Eanes ISD’s Coronavirus page includes a resources box, latest updates, archive of communication and a robust FAQ section. 

It is recommended that you make this page easy to access at all times, which means adding the page directly into your district’s navigation, as Highline Public Schools does on their website.

3. Use your staff Intranet 

This situation presents uncharted territory for your staff and teachers, too. Don’t forget that they will also have many questions specific to their roles and expectations. Use your staff intranet to build a COVID-19 page just for staff, including a staff FAQ, links to any distance/distance learning materials they will need, and links to past communications shared with them. They will appreciate having the information all in one place. 

Spring Lake Park Area Schools sends staff to a COVID-19 resource page just for them from their staff intranet.

If your district doesn’t have a staff intranet, you can create password-protected pages with this information that you want to keep private. For districts using Composer, this can easily be done in the page settings. Toggle “access control” and add a password.

Tips for Using Your Notifications System

Districts are leaning heavily on their notifications systems during the COVID-19 pandemic to deliver important messages to their communities. Parents appreciate frequent communication from the district while schools are closed. However, as your parents, students and staff crave connectedness during this time apart, it is important that your district’s communications go beyond mass notifications.

Here are some tips for improving your messages to parents and staff.

1. Create video messages to build trust

Video communications take a bit more time and skill to create, but can help your school or district build an immense amount of trust with your community. Especially during times of crisis, people value hearing and seeing their leader, rather than simply reading a written message. It provides a human element that many are craving during this time of isolation. These videos don't need to be fancy or well-edited. Even something filmed from your superintendent’s computer or phone will be appreciated.

Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly created a simple but impactful video message, addressing the community about the district’s response to COVID-19. This video was easy to create. It doesn’t include any music or editing, making it simple for anyone without a video background to develop.

video thumbnail from dare country schools of the superintendent sending an announcement

Creating a video like this takes only slightly longer than writing the message itself and adds an important element of connection for your community. (The video can be found here on their COVID-19 information page.)

2. Structure or “chunk” your newsletters

Information about COVID-19 and school closures is changing quickly. Schools are churning out a great deal of information to their communities, which can be difficult to digest all at once. 

Breaking down your newsletter content into sub-categories makes them easier to read, and more understandable to your parents. This also applies to letters from the superintendent of principal that are longer than just a few paragraphs.

Simply adding headlines between each section, or paragraph, will help to make your newsletter or email content easy to scan when there is a large amount of information to share — like Eanes ISD does in their community newsletter.

If you aren’t already producing a staff-specific newsletters, now’s the time to start. Staying connected with your staff is extremely important right now, and they will value having a structured newsletter with new information specific to staff every week. 

tippecanoe school corporation covid-19 staff update

 

Staff newsletter content ideas include distance learning updates, work expectations and tips for staying connected while buildings are closed. Creating a staff-specific message from the superintendent will improve confidence in their leadership through the closure, too. Consider a weekly video or written staff message to boost morale and provide updates. 

Click here to download a webinar recording about creating great district email newsletters

3. Encourage principals to send a daily morning message and end-of-week wrap up email

Communications go beyond the district level — and just as you would when school is in session in person, you should rely on principals and other school leadership to keep students at their school engaged and informed.

Students are used to hearing from their principal every morning with announcements and updates. This practice should continue during distance learning. Encourage principals to send a daily email with regular announcements and any additional information families need to know for the day. 

We recommend sending the message at the same time school would normally begin to provide a sense of “normalcy.” You can even get creative and record your announcements as a video. Free tools like Vidyard GoVideo and Soapbox require absolutely no video editing skills, and are very easy to use. 

In addition to a daily morning message, try sending a weekly wrap-up email to parents and students that highlights what happened during that week.You can include photos that parents and faculty have shared, and also forecast what’s to come the following week.

Tips for Using Social Media

Your social media pages are a great way to share information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and students are craving connection, and what better way to do so than through social channels?

1. Post videos of your staff reading or teaching

Your social media pages are a great way to share information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and students are craving connection, and what better way to do so than through social channels? 

Consider having your teachers and staff record themselves teaching a lesson or reading a story, and post the videos to Facebook or Instagram. Your parents and students will love seeing the staff, and it provides another learning opportunity for students to participate in at home.

The Woods Academy, a private school in Maryland, is posting its morning announcements on its Vimeo page to provide a friendly face and a sense of normalcy for students. 

Woods Academy example of a morning announcements video

Other districts are offering bedtime stories, afternoon math lessons and other unique ways of engaging with students from a distance. 

Don’t overthink it - just record and post!

2. Go live on Facebook or Instagram

Live video is always engaging, but especially when people aren’t able to connect with others in-person. Holding a live Q&A or live chat with your superintendent is a great way for your community to ask questions and hear them be answered right on the spot. They will appreciate your transparency and attention to their needs. 

Also consider live streaming your Board of Education meetings to Facebook and on your website, to encourage residents to stay home while still staying engaged with Board activity and action. 

3. Continue posting regular content

Although we are living through unprecedented times, people are craving a taste of their normal lives. Sharing content that isn’t specific to closures or COVID-19 is okay, and appreciated by your followers! Looking for ideas? Consider forecasting ahead to preview summer or fall events, or highlighting a staff or student. We’ve also created a list of 21 inspiring social media posts from schools around the world, here.

Key Takeaway

Digital communications has never been more important for schools and districts. Utilize your website, notifications system and social media to stay connected with parents and staff during prolonged COVID-19 school closures. 

click here to visit the covid-19 communication strategies hub for schools and districts


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's director of demand generation, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.

  • COVID-19
  • Crisis Communications
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