7 ways to put parents first when designing a school website

You know how important that first parent-teacher night/open house of the school year is. Starting off on the right foot is critical so parents can familiarize themselves with the teacher, the classroom, school building and all the resources you want them to use to help their child succeed.

The last thing you want to do is confuse them, give them bad directions or the wrong information. (See the bewildered look of lost parents roaming the halls looking for their child’s classroom or the auditorium.)

Well, I want you to think of your new website as that first parent-teacher night/open house. You want to put a priority on parents being able to navigate around, find exactly what they want, and engage the people they need to engage. Here are ways to put parents first when designing a school website.

1. Focus on what parents need

When you set out to design or redesign your school website, it’s important to prioritize just who it is you’re trying to engage. So often, school communicators use too broad of a brush stroke when creating their websites. Many schools do a poor job at organizing information in an intuitive manner. As you proceed with planning your next site, be sure to organize it so that it is more useful for primarily your parents.

Sure, your students, faculty, staff and the broader school community are also very important audience groups, but my experience is that all too often parents get short changed as websites try to be all things to all people. It’s important to survey your all user groups – including parents – to get up to speed on what they’re looking for in a school website.

While there are going to be certain mandatories and trends across just about any school website, don’t assume you know all the answers for yours, and don’t assume you know what parents want in a website. Informed and engaged parents, after all, can improve outcomes.

2. Build a dedicated page for important forms

There are a number of forms that are required for parents to complete each year. By dedicating a page that houses all of the forms, you can simplify the search process for your parents.

Your website’s content management system should have some sort of form builder feature built right in. If yours does not, be sure to include the type of file (PDF or Word) and any clear instructions on what to do with it upon completion.

Remember too that all PDFs – like the website as a whole – must be ADA compliant meeting the WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standard. Be sure to include contact information to reach the appropriate person should your parents have any questions about the form.

3. Create a quicklinks section on the homepage

Just like those aisle signs in the supermarket, dedicated quick links on the homepage can make it quick and easy for parents to find what they need.

This is valuable real estate on the homepage, so make the most of it. Parents don’t want to have to dig around through multiple clicks, and they shouldn’t have to if the info they seek is frequently accessed.

One way is to take the Google approach and create a “How do I…” section for the most common subjects and concerns. Visit this article on tips for improving your school website homepage for more ideas about making the most of the sacred ground we call the homepage.

4. Promote events with banners on the homepage

Events are some of the best ways to boost parent engagement, so it’s critical to promote them on your website. Not just list them, but promote them and make it easier for them to participate.

Your website can help increase attendance at events too. If you’re using email, for example, to drive parents to your website, then either through a landing page or a prominent feature spot on your site you can seal the deal. You can even include a direct link to online registration using a form embedded in your web page. Make it easy for parents to attend your school events.

5. Dedicate a parents section on the website

Many schools are creating sections on their sites dedicated to parents. Even if you link to other sections of the website, it will make it easy for the parent to find the information they need.

A parent section is a great way to keep all the content parents seek very organized. You can have links to the following:

  • Parent handbook
  • Resources
  • Calendar links
  • Lunch menus
  • Fees and registrations
  • Link to SIS for student records and transcripts

6. Synchronize personal calendars with school calendars

Time waits for no one, so you better be doing all you can to grab some of your parents’ valuable time. So, get your school on their calendars. Literally.

The school calendar is one of the most frequently accessed parts of any school website, so why not ‘automate’ that process for your parents by synchronizing your school calendars with their personal calendars? Calendar page visits to a typical school website can represent as much as 30% of the site traffic.

Standard downloadable formats such as iCal allow the user to import your school calendar into their mobile phone calendar or personal calendar. What’s more, you can allow parents to tailor the calendar content that suits their interest. For example, a parent can choose to just receive information that pertains to their child only (e.g., certain clubs, classes, groups, sports, etc.)

To make it easy on your parents, create a dedicated page with instructions on how to download and import calendar files to different personal calendars – Google calendar, outlook, yahoo, etc. For more info, check out this article: Is Your Online School Calendar Making Parents Happy?

7. Make teacher and staff directories useful

Right up there with calendar access is the staff directory – a very popular spot on any school website. Your parents need to be able to access their child’s teacher or other support staff quickly and dependably. The best way to do that is to have a searchable online directory.

Many schools simply list teachers and a few administrators in alphabetical order. Go a big step further and organize your directory by grade and departments. Also, there is nothing worse than omitting a teacher or staffer from the directory or having stale content, so make sure you keep it up to date with current email addresses, phone numbers and class websites.

Put parents first when designing a school website

One of the biggest considerations when designing that next great school website ought to be your school parents. Your website design team must take into account that this group is the most critical if you want to keep them informed, engaged, and participating in the school’s mission.

Don’t confuse them with your website. (Don’t let them wander the halls aimlessly.) The steps outlined above and the links below should serve as good initial steps to design a school website that serves the needs of parents and helps your school or district meet its communications objectives.

Do you have any ideas on how to make parents a priority when designing a school website?

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As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.

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