There is no denying that return-to-school planning, with all the changes, uncertainty and more changes, is fraught with difficulties for everyone involved: school administrators, teachers, parents, – and, oh yeah, students. But some school districts are doing a fantastic job in helping ease the anguish and pain.
We’ve selected some exemplary digital communications examples and methods schools are using for engaging parents.
Let’s start off with your superintendent’s blog. Wylie (TX) Independent School District’s hip superintendent Dr. Dave Vinson has a very engaging blog he’s using to highlight key return-to-school info in an upbeat manner that’s no doubt consistent with his personality. Superintendent blogs are excellent communication vehicles for conveying your brand, and Dr. Dave and the district with its theme “The Wylie Way” are doing it with style.
How can you NOT love this super?
As my friend Andrea Gribble at #SocialSchool4Edu says, “You CAN have an awesome presence in less than 1 hour a day.” Social media, fast becoming the preferred channel for parents to get just about all their news, can work in concert with other digital channels to keep your parents up to date on your return-to-school news. Here’s some of the best and brightest 2020 back-to-school social media she and her team have helped create and manage.
Online parent and staff surveys
It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of your parents and staff during these times of change. Online surveys are the perfect way to stay on top of gauging their needs. Google Forms is hard to beat. It’s built right into Google for Education and is simple to use. Many schools use other popular online survey tools such as Survey Monkey. This article contains a eLearning and communications parent survey template that’s built using Google Forms.
Speaking of surveys, Campus Suite recently conducted a survey over 125 schools and it’s no surprise that most school administrators are looking for more effective ways to communicate, and video is the next frontier. Norris School District (CA) is one district down with Youtube. They not only have a Youtube channel, they’ve assembled an impressive ‘network’ of channels that are categorized by schools and athletics teams. Pretty sweet. And, of course, they’re using their channel to keep the community up to date on COVID info. Check out this article on how to create a great YouTube channel for your school.
Website remote-learning page
Your website is the communications hub for all your digital channels. Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township (IN) features a tidy Urgent News Update Center on its homepage. It features easy-to-pinpoint important links (e.g., reopening plans, remote learning registration, superintendent’s messages, etc.) all ‘above the fold’ so there’s no need to scroll down to search for what parents are seeking most.
Decatur Schools also has created an icon-rich return-to-school index on the homepage to serve as a very friendly hub of COVID-19 plans and policies.
I wanted to single out this social media gem, for it’s woefully underutilized by school districts. Beech Grove (IN) City Schools used a Facebook Live broadcast, which of course, they automatically archived and posted for later viewing on the school Facebook page. For help in launching your first Facebook Live broadcast, check out this article, How to Use Facebook Live at School.
Yes, email. Let’s not forget email, the original digital communication and still the workhorse of methods for reaching your parents. It's a reliable channel for delivering official school information to your entire school community. But many school administrators aren’t up to speed on email best practices to assure their emails are opened, read and – let’s not overlook – message delivered.
For tips on making the most of your emails, read this article on 5 ways to improve school emails during school disruption.
A slide show? Yes. Because information can become outdated days if not hours after it's published, some schools are utilizing Google Slides so they can upload updates as soon as school administrators learn about it. In the case of Grand Rapids Christian Schools, community engagement director Jana Hoglund and her task force team just today (Aug. 6) emailed a link to all parents and staff to a Reopening Plan Google Slides presentation, so “They wouldn’t be downloading a PDF that would be obsolete come the next changes that are sure to happen,” said Hoglund.
The presentation link was also embedded on the district website along with a live document of FAQs.
In addition to the innovative real-time Google Slides tactic, Grand Rapids (MI) Christian Schools also utilized a video library of 10 segments that details the various aspects of that district’s reopening.
Virtual learning centers
Common Sense, a nonprofit organization that serves as an independent clearinghouse for families needing education resources, has assembled tools to help schools set up an effective virtual learning environment. Their editors came up with Wide Open School which is a handy place for curriculum directors, teachers and families to find tools to move at the same speed at which these remote-learning challenges are popping up. Check out their curated list of top picks for virtual and distance learning tools.
Some consider these old school, but infographics can be very informative and engaging when done right. One school district created a bi-lingual infographic to help reassure parents that this fall won’t be a repeat of last spring’s blindside blow to learning.
New school year means new tactics
With most schools’ spring learning experience inconsistent and often frustrating for families, it’s important that you not only implement changes in delivering education, but optimize how you communicate with students, families, and staff.
Reaching parents has never been more critical as they and the rest of your school community are hungrier than ever for updates on where things stand. And while a certain degree of frustration and pain is inevitable, the antidote for the suffering is a steady flow of communication.
Do you have any great ideas to share?
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.