School websites should support the educational aims of St. Lucie Public Schools.
In producing websites the following goals should be considered:
- Introduce visitors to the school and its program
- Share the school’s successes
- Give a sense of what is unique about the school
The purpose of school websites
- Get Found – optimize it for your local search, which is relatively easy to do. Just be sure you include the names of the towns you serve. Sounds simple, but you would be surprised to learn how many school websites we see that don’t include the name of their town or state on their website. They will include just their name, which is the same as possibly hundreds of other schools throughout the U.S. If you serve several town or cities, be sure you reference them so that they are included in your keyword searches.
- Build Trust – The website is likely the first impression you will make. It needs to build trust. That means not only should the words you use build confidence that your school is doing a great job, but even the website itself needs to build trust. That includes consistent navigation, accuracy in links and information, well written content with no careless typos or grammar errors, and it MUST be current and informative. It can also include an outline of what your school has to offer, student success stories, testimonials from teachers and parents, and your school’s mission and how you achieve those goals.
- Educate – Does your website content help parents see how your school, your mission, your teachers, and your educational goals will help their child succeed? Do you provide examples so they can envision their own child’s success because they are given proof in your stories of other students’ achievements? Does your site give them examples of how your school has solved other students’ challenges? Your classes encourage, engage, and challenge. Your teachers are talented, gifted, and caring, and students relate to them and strive to live up to the faith their teachers have in them. Do your stories show it?
- Nurture – Does your website feed your visitors? They are looking for reasons to trust you. They are looking for information that provides solutions and solves problems. That is what you need to provide. There are many ways to do this effectively, including telling stories of success, keeping calendar information current, and providing parents with the background information about why you are making the decisions you are making. When done right, you nurture your shareholders in myriad ways, and your school reputation is the benefactor. This can also be accomplished via “call to action.” This means that you provide a clear way for your site visitors to act on their needs, get answers to questions, and solutions to problems, such as who to contact for various issues.
- Support – A public school website supports when it helps students, parents, and staff become advocates and ambassadors. This happens over time and requires consistency among all forms of contact they have with your school, including how parents interact with the front office staff, how students interact with teachers, and how clearly and how often information is disseminated to the community. Your messaging and branding, when consistent, builds confidence and earns loyal, enthusiastic proponents of your school.
Keeping your public school website current is a must! This becomes challenging when everyone is busy doing what they were hired to do—educate students. So, the trick is that you need to get others involved and enthused by helping them understand the value of an effective website and to understand your communication goals.
- Schedule regular website reviews to keep links active, correct errors (typos, grammar, layout issues), and check for accessibility issues to keep your website compliant.
- Recognize that once parents enroll their child, they are likely to use the school website as their go-to resource from that point on. That means, if only the district website is current and informative, it does your primary target audience no good. Their needs have changed, once enrolled, and now they want to know what is happening in their child’s world. So, keep that school site filled with news, events, stories, goals, and successes. Make sure they can access menus, calendars, and upcoming events right from their child’s school website, even if it just means you are linking to your district office website for those district-wide functions.
Importance of an Engaging School Website
Once parents enroll a child at your school, their needs change immediately. They are no longer interested in how to enroll their child or zone boundaries. Now they want to know the specifics that will affect their child’s daily life (and in turn theirs). They need information like the following:
- What specific activities and events are coming up at their child’s school, and what level of involvement do you expect of them?
- What is the process for communicating with the school, teacher, coach, or counselor at their child’s school?
- How can they stay in the loop and be supportive of their child’s education?
- How can they keep their child engaged so he or she will succeed at school?
- What are the school’s stories, successes, and challenges that might relate to their own child’s needs?
- What are the staff and administration at the school doing to help their child reach his or her potential?
- Does the staff care about their child, and what are the stories that provide examples of this to them?
Different strokes for different folks
As you can tell from the list above, it would be very difficult to share interesting and engaging information to all parents without knowing their specific needs. Those needs are influenced by the ages and grade levels of their children. What interests the kindergarten parent is usually not of interest to the parent of a student in his second year of high school. The tone, language, and topics need to reflect the needs of your audience, and with such a wide age range, that varies greatly. The following are a few suggestions based on typical age groups:
Parents of elementary students
- They like individual progress about their child. How is my child getting along with others? How is he/she progressing in school? What do you expect my child to learn this year? These questions can’t be answered on your school’s website, but how the parent can find this kind of student-specific information should be.
- They want to know what the homework and grading policies for their child’s class will be.
- They want to know what is scheduled in their child’s life, such as testing dates, early release days (and why the early release), what you’re doing to ensure their child’s safety, what the disciplinary consequences are, changes in the daily schedule, etc.
- They like to know what is available to their child, including extra-curricular events, clubs, special interest groups, tutoring, sports, social events, meetings, etc.
- They NEED to know how what you are doing in school is going to help their child succeed—as a well-adjusted individual, a responsible citizen, or just an all-around happier person. There is a rationale for nearly every program that takes place in a school, so make sure your parents understand that rationale and how their child (or they) will benefit from it.
Parents of middle school students
- They are particularly interested in how their child is adapting to growing up, making friends, getting along, fitting in, and what options there are for them to integrate well.
- Like the elementary parent, they need to know about schedules, events, deadlines, activities, expectations, and requirements. It’s tough being a tween, and helping a student make this transition will win over their parents.
- Middle school parents need to know deadlines so they can help their children learn to meet them (reminders help parents succeed at this as well).
- Just like the elementary parent, and maybe even more critically, middle school or junior high parents need to know the reason (rationale) for the requirements you are placing on their children. You’ve got excellent reasons for all that you do, but you need to share it with the parents and win over their cooperation. If you don’t have a good reason for it, then stop doing it.
Parents of high school students
- Parents of high school students most often want to know how to best communicate with their child’s teachers. Do they seem inaccessible (which translates to uncaring) or available (which translates to caring and professional)? Let parents know how to gets answers and navigate your school’s internal processes (without making them feel unwelcome or inadequate) just by providing the steps on your website. Sometimes it is as simple as providing teachers’ e-mail addresses or a block of time they can be reached to schedule a meeting or phone call.
- They want information about graduation and course requirements (and any changes in those requirements when they happen).
- They NEED to know why your requirements matter to their child. Why do you have those particular graduation or course requirements? If it’s only a state or federal requirement, tell them that. If it will help prepare them for the real world and you can give specific real-world examples, do so. When we know the “why” of something, it makes it much easier to get on board. If the parent is on board, the student is more likely to succeed.
Why should you care that your individual school website engages?
It is to your school’s (and your district’s) benefit to have engaged and supportive parents. Here are a few reasons why:
- First of all, we know children whose parents are engaged in their education do better in school. Children will rise to the level of expectation of those most important to them—their parents. When your students’ parents believe in and support the value of education, you have the most important tool in your educational arsenal that you could ever hope to have.
- When parents are informed, they learn to trust. They feel that you can be counted on to be transparent and that you are more likely to have the best interests of their children in mind. We LOVE those who love our children. Show them that love, and demonstrate it by sharing relevant stories and examples in your school communications.
- When you show respect for a parent’s time and resources, you in turn earn their respect. The school’s website is open for business 24/7, and no matter what parents’ personal work/life schedules are like, if they can get what they need to simplify their life or to participate in their child’s education, they will appreciate it.
- When you make things convenient and accessible and are responsive to parent needs, you save your staff time. By letting your teachers and office staff stay focused on their primary functions (rather than answering repetitive questions, handling phone calls, or correcting misinformation), you’ll enjoy a smoother run school and see better teaching taking place.
In order for all of this to happen, your school’s website must be focused on the specific needs of the parents and students attending that school. Is your school website doing that? It’s a win-win. The students benefit from engaged parents, your staff enjoys fewer repetitive tasks, and your school gains a reputation of which you will be proud to be a part.