In working with clients around the globe, we know many schools create a great first impression with their website, social media, and digital advertising. But if you ask most school marketers one area they want to improve, internal communications with current parents and staff is often at the top of their list — and for good reason.
Since poor communication is one of the leading causes of why families and employees leave a school, improving your school’s internal communications shouldn’t just be a priority for your marketing and communications office, it should be a large focus of your school's retention efforts. Parent, faculty, and staff satisfaction are all tied back to how you communicate important ideas and logistics about your school's mission.
It can seem overwhelming to take on the task of revamping your internal comms, but it doesn’t have to be — whether you’re a team of one or a team of many, you can make simple changes that will improve parent satisfaction and support retention. Key points to consider include:
- Learning from other schools
- Evaluating and reviewing current internal communications
- Assembling a team to set goals and create a plan
- Implementing your strategy with the best tools for school communications
- Communicating the changes
Learning from other schools
International schools, including many PreK-12 schools with multiple divisions of diverse communities, offer a good reference point for tackling the complexities of internal communications. With a high attrition rate, in addition to their size and scope, they need to educate many new families every year about how their school communicates with its families, many of whom are comparing their experiences to their previous school.
Taipei American School recently shared that the key to creating a successful, manageable approach to internal communications lies in the creation, implementation, and commitment to clear communication protocols, and that starts with gaining support from leadership.
With a new head of school, a new strategic plan, and parents telling them that their communications were “like drinking from a firehose,” they embarked on a year-long project with the Finalsite Advantage team to assess and improve their internal communications.
During a session at Finalsite University, they detailed their processes and lessons learned. This recording is a true behind-the-scenes look at a school’s approach and offers great advice for other schools looking to tackle such a project.
Evaluating and reviewing current internal communications
Letting parents know what to expect, where to expect it, and when to expect communication is a must. Clear messaging and strategies help eliminate unnecessary problems. And don't forget — it’s important to keep the “5 Cs” of good communication in mind throughout the process: clear, concise, courteous, consistent, and compelling. Parents are not looking for a dissertation from you, but understanding and documenting your current internal communications is an important first step.
Audit your current school communications
Who, what, where, when, and why? It’s critical to conduct an audit on how your parents are currently receiving content. Remove the guesswork by creating a spreadsheet that tracks emails and newsletters and also reviews content on your website, like handbooks, forms, news, and event information.
|For digital communications, include:||For website content, include:|
|What is being sent||Where do people go for information?|
|How often it’s sent||What audience is it for?|
|When it’s being sent||What format is it in?|
|On what platform||How do they access it?|
|In what format||Who keeps it updated?|
Once you have it all documented, you can then evaluate and determine if you are sending information too frequently, in too many formats, or if it could be more personalized. It’s a good time to determine which information you need to send digitally versus which information parents can access on their own via your website or a portal.
Determine driving factors for improvements
What is the reason for tackling internal communications? Are you undergoing new branding, or introducing new technology like a portal, an app, or a new newsletter tool? Or is new leadership bringing in new ideas, is your competition doing a better job, or have your parents demanded it? Whatever the reasons, being honest and transparent is critical for success.
Listen to your parents
Assembling a team to set goals and create a plan
Once you have evaluated and assessed, you need to establish a team and begin to make a plan.
Assemble a team
When putting together a team to improve internal communications, it's important to include key community members, typically admissions and marketing, as well as the website administrator and IT. You might also have contributing voices from parents, faculty, or division heads.
Establish goals for the whole school
Establishing SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) is the foundation for success.
Taipei American School’s goals were comprehensive and offer a framework:
- To establish an agreed platform and structure for school-to-home communication that ensures a consistent experience for parents irrespective of the Grade/Division that their children are attending.
- To dramatically reduce the amount of ad hoc communications that parents receive.
- To establish a clear pattern of frequency for communications to help ensure parents aren’t overwhelmed with the volume of information sent.
- To gain greater parental engagement with communications as parents learn what to expect, from whom, and when.
- To provide parents with the ability to access information after it has been sent via the Announcement Archive in the newly redesigned Parent Portal.
- To create a clear delineation between news and announcements.
- To create a model that is scalable and decentralized — allowing faculty/staff to contribute information directly, while still ensuring the Communications Office has overall control of approval and publishing.
- To display actionable content that is linked to and in synergy with the parent portal and digital calendars.
Create a timeline
Once you have your goals, set a plan and craft a reasonable timeline for completion. Consider the busy times of the year and set aside some time when you’ll be able to focus. Using an online project management tool like Asana will help you move your project along through project tracking, assigning tasks, milestones, timelines, and reporting.
Implementing your strategy with the best tools for school communications
Set your plan in motion with the essential communication tools that support your new approach, including revamped sections of your website, parent portals, family newsletters, and a mobile app.
Your School Website
Current parents visit your school’s website often to find the lunch menu, class information, student calendars, and so many other resources on a daily basis. Consolidating the most popular information for families into a non-password-protected parent section of your website is a practical first step in putting the most sought-after resources within reach. With Finalsite’s content management system, your team can easily and quickly update content and eliminate confusion and frustration.
Taipei’s revamped Parent Zone is designed to make it easy for parents to find information quickly, without having to log in. It also links to past issues of the weekly bulletin and highlights the latest announcements.
Portals, and password-protected pages on your website, are one of the most effective methods for keeping parents informed and connected. They enable you to personalize, centralize, and streamline school-to-home communication while consolidating relevant content into one secure place. Parents don’t need to rely on push communications — instead, they can access the portal at any time.
Sounds like double or triple the work? Not true! Finalsite’s Create Once, Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) capabilities allow schools to create a piece of content one time, and then publish it in many places. For example, a district might publish a news article that updates all the school websites and the district site and also publish another article that only updates the high school websites. Content can also be tagged so users see information such as calendars, news, blogs, and directories personalized just for them.
Most schools have newsletters but often they are not optimized, targeted, or consistent. It’s one of the first steps in improving internal communications. We're all busy and get dozens of emails every day, so creating a weekly newsletter that contains only the most important high-level information is essential. Don’t include everything because then it becomes white noise — just the highlights that encourage readers to link back to your website to read more. This will improve open rates and engagement quickly. If you or your team would like to dig deeper into email newsletters, Finalsite’s free online newsletter course for districts is a great resource.
We know families are on the go and spending a lot of time on their mobile devices, so it’s not surprising that most schools and districts see more than half of their website traffic coming from mobile devices. Using a mobile app can increase engagement and improve communications by putting your school’s directories, calendars, resources, and the latest news all within a few taps. Combined with the C.O.P.E capabilities mentioned above, you can push content to an app at the same time you update your website.
Communicate the changes
Once your team has completed all your hard work, it’s important to share these changes as well as the benefits of these initiatives with your community. Let parents know you plan to improve school communications by implementing a new portal, a revised newsletter, and a new app, your timelines, and what you expect to be improved. Host parent meetings to show them how to use the portal or the app, create a video of your new portal, and be creative! TAS shared their changes with their parents showcasing the reasons and benefits of their revamped portal.
Be ready for feedback, too. Make it easy to submit comments by creating a form on your website, just as Taipei American did. Make it easy to gather feedback from parents and community members to help assess the effectiveness of all your efforts. It’s an ongoing process that will need to be refined over time, but with a strong foundation in place, making small tweaks will be easy.
Internal communications are as important as your external marketing and messaging. Engaging current families with convenient and easily accessible information is a critical step in your communication and retention strategies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 11 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.