Thanksgiving is the holiday reserved for taking stock of all the good that surrounds us. Freedoms, family, friends, good health, a bright future, and, of course, pumpkin pie. Your list likely includes some others, but for those charged with running a school district’s communications, I offer up six things every school communicator can be thankful for.
1. Outstanding parent engagement
Our first thankful item is the ultimate goal of any school communicator: parents engaged with the school and engaged with their child's education. The most significant influence on student success, parent involvement is the hallmark of a successful communications program. As the National Education Association (NEA) reminds us, a growing body of research shows that student success is most dependent on something that occurs mostly outside your building – parent engagement.
There are plenty of tactics for improving parent engagement, and Edward Graham, writing for the NEA website, offers up 10 Ideas for Engaging Parents Educators, in which he shares some great ideas for reaching and involving parents. Also, here’s a previous Campus Suite Academy article you might find helpful: Tips for Improving Parent Involvement as School.
2. An 'easy-to-use' website
There a few key drivers as to what constitutes a great website for a school district. It has to look great, it must have up-to-date, useful content, and it has to be easy to use for both the website visitors and those charged with managing the content.
Yes, ease of use for your school community means clear, simple design, easy navigation, and information that’s easy to get in just a few clicks. For the school communicator, ease of use means content management tools that even the most non-techie staff member can use to create, edit and publish web content. I encourage you to refer to Steve Williams’ Essential School Website Design Planning Checklist for help in creating a school website that’s easy to use for all and gives you the best chance of improving parent engagement.
3. Accessible school communications
When I say ‘accessible’ school communications, I am referring to both the broad sense of the word, and how the United States federal government defines accessibility.
First off, you need to give all your school community members – parents, staff, students and the community at large – a fair chance to access your school information and otherwise engage with your school. This means employing all the critical digital methods and channels used to reach your audiences. A school website serving as a communications hub, notifications/alerts, mobile app, email, social media, and video are musts in today’s school communications arsenal. For more on these, check out: 6 Key School Communication Channels and How to Use Them.
In addition, your web communications need to be fully compliant with the U.S. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes not only all your web pages but the many PDF documents that typically reside on or are linked to many school websites. Visit the School Website Accessibility Center and be sure to check out this free webinar on how to make your school PDF documents accessible and ADA compliant to assure accessible school communications.
4. Social media that’s responsive
It wasn’t that long ago that many schools not only didn’t have a responsive social media program, but had no program at all. Nearly half of the schools surveyed five years ago admitted either no social media or very little activity. As the preferred means for many members of your school community to access their news, information and entertainment, you better be sure you’re using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep a steady stream of school content flowing.
This article, 5 Easy Ways to Grow Your School Social Media Following, will help with engagement on your social media channels. Mix up the content with a nice balance of school news and event information, facts and figures, and human interest content. Also, be sure to stay current and engage your community. And while we’re in the holiday mood, check out this article on social media by Steve Williams, Don’t Go Cold Turkey on your School Social Media.
5. Supportive leadership
I had a conversation recently with a Campus Suite customer who had overhauled their website as part of a district-wide communications initiative. The catalyst for the new communications was a combination of consolidation, a new high school being built and a newly appointed superintendent who placed a high value on school communications.
Besides greenlighting the new website, the superintendent, school board and other school leaders approved a communications plan and empowered the communications leader to execute her comprehensive communications plan.
Some school communications directors and managers aren’t so lucky to have PR-savvy bosses. In those cases, you need to be sure to work extra hard by gaining influence by demonstrating victories and creating a results-driven plan. Be sure to read Trinette Hobbs’ two articles on building support for your communications planning: 5 Steps for an Effective School Communications Plan and 5 Steps to a Marketing-Driven School District Communications Plan.
6. A powerful brand
The final thing to be thankful for this holiday season is a strong school brand. To fully understand the importance of your school brand is to first know what it is not. It's not about just your logo or that cute mascot. Rather, your brand encompasses many facets of your school messaging.
When forming or updating your brand, factors in your audiences – primarily parents, students and staff. Your brand should build on your reputation (or help shape one) and may even take into account your district’s vision for the future. How you capture, define and articulate your district’s culture, values and personality make an important and lasting impression on members of your entire school community. I recently wrote an article that outlines the 5 Essential Steps to Building Your School Brand. It covers all the bases from planning to executing a powerful school brand.
For me, when I was a public relations specialist for a large urban district, I was most thankful, for example, for a graphics art department that rivaled many commercial agencies. My team members rocked and were dependable partners in helping conceive and create many parent-engagement vehicles for a very diverse school district. Few districts, however, are fortunate enough to have such resources.
Well, the days of overstocked and overstaffed communications resources have pretty much gone the way of the one-room schoolhouse, right? But there are still reasons to celebrate what’s good about your school communications. For some, these blessings may be more like a wish list, but either way, I offer up these six things every school communicator can be – or could be – thankful for, depending on whether you have them or not.
So what are you thankful for? And while you're thinking about it, pass the turkey.
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.