How and why
How do you encourage parents to visit the school’s website, and why should you even want to?
Let’s take the second question first. Even though you may be sending out text messages and emails to parents, there may be times when you need to ensure that information is available to parents from anywhere, at any time. That’s where the school’s website comes in — not as an alternative to sms messages and emails, but as an addition.
Now, you might think that this suggestion is redundant, but as you may know from your own experience, mobile phones can run out of juice when you don’t have a charger handy, and emails can go into the spam folder. By putting crucial information on the school’s website you are at least helping to ensure that even in worst-case scenarios, parents can check information from home, work or even an internet cafe.
This kind of failsafe solution is even more important in winter, which can involve transport disruptions and school closures.
But to maximise the likelihood that parents will take the time to look at the school’s website, you have to almost train them to get into the habit of doing so. How do you do that? Here are some suggestions.
Have a special ‘latest information’ section on the front page of the website
This doesn’t have to be huge, but it does need to be kept up-to-date. In bad weather, you may want to post something like ‘No school closure planned, but listen to Radio X for bulletins’. At other times you might post ‘Parents evening for Year 5 next Wednesday’.
Have a school blog
A blog that is updated two or three times a week will keep the website refreshed and up-to-date. That should encourage parents to ‘check in’ every so often, and hopefully at least once a week.
Have community information on the website
Most school blogs don't feature much, if anything, that happens beyond the school walls. But if you regard the school as being part of a local community (and who doesn't?), then the school blog should really be far more outward looking.
The best way to do this is to think 'local', rather than only 'school'. Think about what your school's locale probably offers as rich content for blog posts.
For example, is the area a Neighbourhood Watch area? If so, who's the contact? Could they be invited to write an article giving advice about keeping your valuables safe? If your school runs a bring your own device scheme, do they have any suggestions about avoiding being mugged for your laptop on the way to school?
What advice do the local police give about personal safety?
As well as providing editorial for the school blog, these sorts of connections could have other benefits, for both the school and the wider community. For example, notices of Neighbourhood Watch meetings could be posted on the school's website as a way of serving the local community. Perhaps local businesses could advertise on the school's website in much the same way as they do in school brochures. This could have the happy side effect of bringing in a bit of extra money for the school.
Clearly, a big danger here is that the school would lose focus. Its primary role is to educate its pupils, and the primary role of the school blog is to keep parents informed and to keep the school in the public eye, not to act as the communal hub for the area. So you will also want to …
Create a login area for parents
Make it possible for parents to login to see what is being taught at the moment, and to comment on their own child’s work. If the link to the parents’ area is on the main school website, that will provide another reason for them to keep coming back.
Rather than regard things like messaging parents and the school website as separate entities, consider them to be part of a wider ‘ecosphere’ that helps to keep parents informed and engaged.
You can enhance this by implementing Xpressions, which gives parents an up-to-date stream of information about what their child is doing.
Maintaining a vibrant website also means that you have something else to add to any messages you send to parents. A sentence like "See the school blog for photos of the local nature reserve", or "How to be safe on the street: see our blog for advice" is bound to keep people interested — and coming back.
To download a free ebook on parental engagement, go to www.groupcall.com/parental-engagement-ebook.