Three Paths to a Great School Website

Almost every school has a website, and if your school doesn’t let me know we can help with that, but only a few school websites really hit a home run.  Sometimes this is because districts just don’t know features or options are available, sometimes there simply isn’t the budget to accomplish the goal, and sometimes unfortunately it is because districts don’t have web technologies at their forefront.  Every school website can be a homerun, and each school has different needs from their website, but here are 3 surefire paths that make a school website excellent.

They Have Easy Access to Information

Schools deal with the same struggles gaining their audiences attention as really everyone, except they have, for the most part, a pre-engaged audience.  A key to a good school website is to make sure that information is easily accessible to parents, students, and teachers.  Everyone is looking for something different when they visit your schools website.  Teachers might be looking for human resource information, students might be looking for a teacher's email address, and parents might be looking for a lunch menu.  These are just some examples of the different types of material people seek when they visit the site.

Schools who spend time developing detailed ideas of what different users are looking for in a site create insightful experiences for their visitors, and attract their attention.  Users who can’t find what they are looking for are going to move on, that is a fact that every website deals with.  Developing a plan for how users can quickly find this information, without simply putting a link to everything on the homepage, is one thing that can set school websites on the top tier. 

They Drive Parent Interaction

Every teacher dreams of one thing at night, or at least I did when I taught, and that is to have meaningful interaction with parents.  That meaningful interaction can come from so many different places, and unfortunately isn’t all that common in our schools today.  Using the web to drive positive interaction with parents is, in my mind, one of the most important things that a school can strive to do with their website.  This can come in many forms such as e-grade cards and gradebooks, school and teacher newsletters, homework reminders, direct contact with the teacher through a chat or message function, or volunteer sign ups. 

Imagine how much more effective your PTO could be at driving parent interaction if parents could be kept up to date with PTO functions without having to attend a PTO meeting.  One of the most innovative ideas for parent interaction is behavior reports emailed or available electronically to parents.  Sometimes it is difficult for a parent to know whether the teacher is observing behavior problems because the information doesn’t get relayed to the parent appropriately (we all know students jump at the opportunity to tell parents when they get in trouble don’t they).  With this level of parent interaction, teachers and parents can work to solve these problems early.  Some colleges use and “early alert” system to allow faculty to notify advisors of behavior and academic concerns, this type of system can be a great tool at the primary and secondary level as well. 

They Drive Student Interaction

Student interaction is very difficult to do with a schools website.  They are constantly immersed in the school’s happenings, so they are typically very aware of school news and events, they live the policies and procedures everyday and despite what they say know them inside and out, and they usually know better than anyone the progress that they are making in classes.  Because of this student interaction can sometimes take a different direction.  Student interaction can go as far as voting in student government elections, presenting information on clubs to be a part of, but perhaps the most important in my eyes is expanding the resources for them to use in their classes.

Teachers posting notes, practice problems, links and other information is one way to do this, so one way to increase student interaction is to drive teacher interaction with the site in terms of making and updating their own personal sites or pages.  Keeping this information up to date and current is an excellent way to expand student interaction with your site.  Another way, and perhaps the greatest tool the internet has brought us (besides dancing cats on YouTube of course), online research libraries.  A well integrated online research portal, using single sign on, is to me the best way to increase student interaction with your site and with your tools. 

Baby Steps are OK

So there you have it, 3 key things that set great school websites apart from just regular school websites.  These don’t have to all come at once.  Build the necessary tools over time, piece by piece, but develop an integration plan that will bring you the interaction that your school website deserves.