Every August and September, schools witness an incredible surge of energy. The back-to-school season is brimming with excitement — the chatter of students reuniting after the summer break, the excitement of parents finally getting the kids out of the house…Parents, students, and staff are all abuzz.
However, as the initial thrill fades, keeping that energy is challenging as the year progresses. The enthusiasm of day one starts to wane, replaced by the pattern of assignments, emails, and daily routines. School marketing and communication professionals are presented with a challenge that's arguably tougher than gearing up for the first day: How do you capture and sustain that initial spark throughout the school year?
This is where strategic community engagement at your school plays a pivotal role— setting standards and putting your communications tools in play can help keep the momentum going and make day 100 feel like day one.
Family and Community Engagement in Schools
Engaging families isn't just about first impressions; it's an ongoing effort. Continuous interaction between your school and its community creates a vibrant school spirit. Imagine a school where the energy of the first day persists throughout the year: 100% email rates and more likes and shares than you know what to do with – that's the power of sustained engagement.
When your families feel part of that journey, it truly becomes a community partnership.
- Involve Your Students: Encourage students to contribute to your school's blog or newsletter. It allows them to share their experiences, accomplishments, and perspectives. It's a fantastic avenue for showcasing talent and ensuring the content resonates with a significant segment of your audience.
- Teacher Spotlights: Regularly spotlighting teachers and staff provides a glimpse into the classroom, creating a sense of connection (and appreciation) for your community's educators.
- Alumni Stories: Engage with alums and share their success stories or how the school shaped their journeys. This motivates current students and reinforces your school’s positive long-term impact.
Ongoing Community Engagement Strategies for Schools
Repeat and Reinforce
Thanks to your fantastic back-to-school website, parents are now used to having a page with everything — all the tools they need, neatly organized in a digital toolbox. A hub might seem like a lot of work for a brief moment in time, but the good news is that your back-to-school hubs and portal pages can be a treasure trove of information, repurposed for the entire year — a one-stop shop for important resources and communications.
Glenbrook North High School’s Back-to-School Hub can be refreshed with content and links that families can use throughout the year, like information about family involvement, contacts, and resources for new families joining mid-year. With Composer’s Shared Elements, content can be created once, placed on your back-to-school page, and still used throughout the site.
Keeping a website fresh and updated is a bit like tending to a garden – it requires regular maintenance to ensure that content is relevant and current, and enhances user experience. And to do that, you can use your school’s communication tools to your advantage.
Communication Tools to Engage
Families were frequently on your school website before classes started, but as the year progresses, remember to draw families back into your site with reminders and alerts through page notifications, messages, and calendars — important tools for engagement.
Draw attention to new content
Make your time more efficient — page notifications can draw attention to new content deeper in your site and use page pops to alert the community of what’s new or expiring. With Composer’s Messages, you can create folders of reusable communications and schedule messages ahead of time. Prep those annual announcements that need to be posted throughout the year!
Consistent communication channels
Regular newsletters detailing school events, achievements, and upcoming opportunities keep your community in the loop. But set the standard now — don’t falter on your weekly or monthly newsletters; if parents expect them on Friday afternoons, for example, keeping that schedule for the remainder of the year will help set expectations.
Flagler Schools, for example, has regular video messages from its interim superintendent and calendars highlighting upcoming events for its district and individual schools.
Tech-Savvy Outreach: Utilizing a Digital Engagement Team
It can be tough to keep the energy going without a team or even just a few tech-savvy individuals dedicated to online engagement. Burnout is real, and it’s even more of a reality for a team of just one or two.
Make sure your office teammates have enough training to assist with web updates. Providing live training sessions, giving clear roles, and sharing professional resources can ensure your school's digital front remains engaging.
- Digital Training Sessions: Embracing technology means nothing if the community isn't on board. Offering training sessions for admins can bridge any existing gaps. If you're a Finalsite user, don't forget about the live training events throughout the year!
- Web Admin Support: When web administrators know what's expected of them, they're more likely to succeed. Additionally, offering office hours for support can be a lifeline for those facing challenges or who are new to the role at the start of the year.
- Live Q&A Sessions: Hosting regular live sessions addressing common questions or discussing tips and tricks can be an interactive way to involve your colleagues.
Long Beach Unified School District offers support and training for web admins. Dual-purpose pages like these aid your school's staff and help unify the district’s admins confidently under one platform.
Being Open to Change
Change is the only constant. Schools must be proactive about change, staying updated with any updates or upgrades to their platforms. And while change can be daunting, it often brings new possibilities, making the online experience even better.
- Suggestion Boxes: Digital suggestion boxes can be a goldmine for understanding what the community really wants.
- Feedback Surveys: Periodic feedback from parents, students, and staff provides invaluable insights. It’s a two-fold advantage: the community feels heard, and your school can adapt to serve them better.
- Feedback on Events: After hosting an event, always seek feedback. It helps understand what went well and what can be improved, ensuring future events are even more engaging.
Howard-Suamico School District collects feedback on its website, suggestions for improvement, sharing stories, and more with a simple online form embedded on its site. It’s a great strategy to collect feedback throughout the year.
The back-to-school rush is just the starting line in the marathon of an academic year. Remember, engagement is a journey, not a destination. By innovating and involving the community, your school can make every day feel like the first day of school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.