Public schools are where small businesses were 10 years ago. They know internet marketing tools exist, some are dipping a toe in the water but most are not using it effectively.
Public schools get a lot of funding from local government. Residents vote on the budget. That means schools’ funding depends on how well the community supports its work.
Let’s talk about what the community, in particular parents DO find out online now:
- We read that public education is failing. We are turning out students who are not prepared for the work of today, much less tomorrow. Our public educational institutions move too slowly and use ineffective metrics to gauge performance.
- Taxes are high. Regardless of where you live, someone is shouting about the economy and taxes. Someone is saying that the community can’t afford any more.
- Though we may not be hearing it from the school, we hear what’s happening in the schools. Parents talk. We are on Facebook. The isolated negative conversation one parent had with the nurse is passed on to 30 other parents 10 minutes after it happened. Opinions about teachers are shared.
When it comes to budget votes, parents do what a lot of people do when it comes to any vote. We ask a trusted source and do what they do. We talk to our friend on the PTO or the one who always seems to know what’s going on. If they tell us a story we like, we vote yes.
Schools Need To Tell The Story
The question is not whether the community is hearing about the schools. It is whether the community is hearing the right information. The schools are in the best position to provide that.
What kinds of things should the schools communicate?
- The status of any key initiatives that were named in the last budget.
- Awards and accolades.
- Special projects and trips that show student initiative.
- A little bit of daily life – give the community an idea of what goes on day-to-day.
- Industry information. If a third-party report is issued that talks about class size (or technology, language, etc) and student achievement, share it. Parents are hearing plenty about what doesn’t work. Tell us what does.
- Anything that would surprise people. What are teachers’ hours really like? Who pays for classroom supplies? How are decisions made about the food served in schools, or hiring?
This is just a sample of the things schools should be telling their community.
Educators are (and should be) experts in education. Position yourselves that way. Show your expertise through thoughtful communications throughout the year, not just 2 weeks before the budget vote. Teach parents and community members all the things you wish they’d understand about your job so you can work together for our children.
The Tools Are There
As a parent, I can attest to the amount of PAPER that comes home from school every day. Please, do not send me a paper newsletter. I have a hard enough time just keeping up with art, graded work and classroom notifications that come home in the backpack every day.
So how should schools be sharing all this great information?
I am all for the schools having a website. But having a website that is out of date or hard to use won’t accomplish much. Content has to be easy to find and current. The frustration of giving parents the wrong information, or taking their time to look for something only to have to call anyway will not help you build trust and confidence. The website is never done. It should constantly be updated and improved.
Parents are on Facebook. In fact, they may have put classes or your whole school on Facebook whether you wanted to be there or not. Parents can easily create a group for a class or a school and there isn’t a lot the school can do to stop it. Schools can ask that it be made clear that these are parent communications, not official school communications. Regardless, your community is there.
I’m talking about both local searches on your website, and Google searches. What are people looking for? Are they finding it? What do you want them to know? Are you creating it? Your school probably ranks just fine for a search on your school’s name, or your town and “public school”. But what about other searches? People need to know a lot more than just your name and address.
It all comes back to money. The community is paying the bills. Schools need to be giving the information people need, in the way they need it to make informed decisions.
How does your school use the internet to communicate with you?
[Image credit: John Siebert]