Essential Content That Every Teacher Should Have on Their Website

We are in the communication age—as such, most people will first seek to find information online.

Websites are an excellent way to provide information to parents in a 24-7 format, which saves you time in the long run.

Websites can be a natural extension of your classroom where worksheets can be downloaded, homework information can be posted, reminders and important dates are available, and more.

Tips for Success

  • Keep your content updated—this will encourage parents to visit more frequently.
  • Use images and photos to bring life to your website.
  • Let your personality shine through on your website, but balance this with professionalism.
  • Clearly communicate information in a succinct and easy-to-find format

Teacher Website Content Checklist

  • Welcome message (on home page)
  • Classroom Wish List
  • Student Supply List
  • Back to School Night Presentation (saved as a pdf so it can be downloaded)
  • Parent Teacher Conference Information
  • Daily Schedule
  • Classroom Policies and Expectations
  • Teacher Newsletters: Your website is a great place to keep an archive of these for the year so parents can easily re-locate the information
  • Grade and Homework Policies
  • Clearly labeled assignments (and downloadable assignments, where possible). Note to secondary teachers: organize this by periods/courses
  • Important Dates/Events
  • Link to School Calendar
  • Resources (based on the subjects you teach)
  • Helpful Websites

15 Back to School Content Ideas

School is back in for some school districts, and for others, the first day of school is a couple of weeks (or a month) away.  Planning Back to School messaging helps to save your office staff time answering the same questions that every parent is asking, and provides ways to build enthusiasm and excitement about the first days and weeks of school.  It’s a win-win for customer service, too!

Here are 15 Back to School content ideas that you can use on your website, newsletter, and social media–and yes, you should be posting to all three!

  1. Introduce new teachers, staff hired at your site, and any staffing changes
  2. Schedule of welcome back to school activities: when teacher assignments will be revealed, back to school coffee, special reading time for kindergarten students, etc.
  3. Remind parents when the first day of school is, and the beginning and ending time.
  4. Let parents know where to find useful school information: URL for Parent Portal, your school website.
  5. Orientation/Back to School dates–and include the URL to the webpage with this info
  6. Link for Transportation Department. “Find out bus schedules, fees, bus pass application, etc.here: URL for transportation department”
  7. Post first day of school photos!
  8. Back to school night dates, times at your school
  9. After Back to School Night, post pictures and/or video from Back to School Nights (showcases parent engagement, involvement)
  10. Info about free and reduced lunch and a link to the application
  11. Principal’s welcome back message
  12. Alternative Income Eligibility Form: “One simple form could increase funding for your school. Completing this form ensures more state funding for your school so your child can receive more student services!”
  13. A lot of schools have a Cool2BKind Week in the first month of school–share the dates and activities
  14. Picture day info
  15. Safe drop off and pick up tips

Back to school is also a good time to remind your teachers to update their web pages with key pieces of information.  Click here for more tips!

Build Trust, Support Through Great School Bond Project Communication

Today, I’m so excited to launch a couple of awesome outreach efforts for one of my school district clients: one is a bond measure project communication campaign and the other is developing the district’s business partnership program.

I’m thrilled that each of these outreach activities will produce incredible outcomes for this client:

  • Increase transparency
  • Share the district’s story with the greater community
  • Exhibit the positive outcomes of the community’s investment in student learning
  • Engage local businesses in supporting and investing in student success
  • Showcase the value of public schools
  • Increase community trust and support for their community schools

I want your district or school to experience the same outcomes.  As much as I’d love to cover both of these topics in one post, they’re different enough to warrant their own attention.  So, in this blog post, I will provide you some key approaches to consider with school bond project communications—in a later post, I’ll outline the components of successful business partnership programs.

Elements of Great School Bond Project Communications

The first assumption that many school districts make is that if people are curious about school bond projects, they’ll just visit the school district website.  After all, there must be some reason for all of the dirt and construction trucks, right?

Keeping the community appraised about school district bond projects is more than posting pictures of construction updates—the community needs to know the story about what is happening in those upgraded facilities, what outcomes are being achieved, and how students are benefitting from safer, modernized schools.

Here are some key elements that should be included in effective school bond project communications:

Plan Ahead: Effective Communications Takes Planning

  • What big story do you want to tell about your bond measure projects?  Develop story content that supports your broad story, and then map out what stories you want to communicate about your bond projects over the next year and throughout the life of the bond.
  • Take a look at your opportunities to get in front of your audiences—do you have any upcoming events (either district-planned or ones that you are attending) where you can share an update about your bond measure? Map out all of your audiences and potential touchpoints. Be sure to incorporate these opportunities into your overall communication plan.

Take an Integrated Communication Approach:  Don’t Put All of Your Communications Into One Basket

  • Diversify your approach to maximize opportunities for your audience to see your stories.
  • Printed mailers, video, website content, and social media together are key to ensuring that these stories are reaching and being shared by your various audiences. Engage your email communications through providing bond updates in your employee, district and school newsletters.
  • Make sure you’re planning your content topics so that they all weave into a cohesive story about your bond measure’s successful outcomes.

Be transparent: Communicating Key Pieces of Information Builds Trust

  • Communicate the dates when certain major construction activities will be occurring, especially if those activities will impact road or sidewalk traffic, if delays might impact students access on campus, and if noisy portions of the project might affect the community.
  • Post the projects’ timelines on your website and in longer mailing pieces.
  • Make sure that key communicators in your district office and the school sites have talking points and information about the projects so that they can answer questions in person or over the telephone.

Remember, people are wary gaps in information (which they will seek to fulfill with whatever trusted individual will provide information, whether the information is correct or not) and they are appreciative of transparency.  People are also less likely to complain–when they receive a fair warning of adverse aspects of your projects, or if project delays occur.

Communicate Outcomes—Not Just Processes

Beyond the brick and mortar walls and fancy new equipment, what will the community’s investment in your schools achieve?

  • Capture stories and testimonials about positive student outcomes, safer schools, how modernized classrooms are helping teachers to improve the quality of education, how upgraded technology is leading to improved student outcomes—these are the reasons why your community supported the bond measure, so be sure to let them know the return on their investment.
  • Of course, the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies are a couple of obvious stories, but after the projects are completed, don’t assume that the story is over.  Showcase how the new science labs are being used by your students—and obtain some great testimonials to go along with it.
  • Be current and engaging: before and after pictures are a dated approach—time lapse videos are exciting and will engage your audience.

Remember, communication is about advancing your district’s relationships. Maintaining a strong, positive, and transparent relationship with your community regarding the millions of dollars that they are investing in your schools will pay off in dividends in terms of trust, reputation management, and even helping to secure taxpayer approval on future bonds for your district.

Does your district need assistance communicating your bond measure outcomes?  Contact us to discuss how Sounding Board can help your district share its compelling stories about how your community’s investment is generating positive student outcomes.

Have a blog post suggestion?  We love creating posts that will help you advance your organization’s marketing, public relations and communication objectives . Give us your feedback here.

 

Demystifying the kindergarten experience: Yes, it’s still fun!

kindergarten students

Kindergarten…it’s a time filled with memories of the smells of paste (who wasn’t tempted to eat it at one point in time), imaginary play (house, anyone?), learning how to sit still (I still remember my yarn place on the floor), and listening to stories.  I remember learning how to use scissors, writing letters, and even learning how to read.

Over the past couple of years, a number of stories about kindergarten have made their way around social media—many with a negative slant about the state of kindergarten in our nation, calling it “too academic” and with calls for more “play based learning”. I’m not arguing that play-based learning isn’t important, but such stories bring up images of  five and six year old children sitting in straight-backed chairs, repeating times tables and engaging in rote memorization activities.

As a mother of three children ages 13, 11 and five, I have struggled with these stories, particularly as I interact with younger mothers who have not had experience with the school system yet, and are afraid that kindergarten will suck the joy of learning out of their children.  These stories don’t align with my children’s kindergarten experiences from 8 and 6 years ago (my youngest starts kindergarten next year).

As a marketing and PR consultant for school districts, I also felt like these stories were off base—I have walked through a number of kindergarten classrooms throughout the state of California over the past few years and have found children engaging in art, some academics (for the record, children actually do enjoy learning things like math, science and letters…and savvy and creative kindergarten teachers make this learning fun and engaging), with a balance of play time and lots of social emotional learning time where students discover different ways to manage conflict, make respectful and responsible choices, and learn how to be independent and interdependent in different ways.  This hardly sounds like the stuff that would break children’s sweet spirits or ruin their love for lifetime learning.

Yes, kindergarten has changed over the years, and no, I’m not blind to the fact that every child’s and parent’s story will be different–there will be some who have incredibly positive experiences, and others who have negative experiences…and then there are all the stories in between.

Yet, the PR and marketing consultant side of me desired to highlight positive kindergarten stories from colleagues in districts throughout the state of California. And guess what? Kindergarteners still get to have fun, move around, be creative…and they even get more hands-on learning experiences than we did in school!

Before I provide some great examples of kindergarten classes from around the state of California, here are some tips on how to turn around negative or false perceptions of the kindergarten experience:

  • Create videos of your kindergarteners in action: Video is the best way to showcase the experience of busy and active students
  • Hold a kindergarten parent information night: Rocklin Unified held an excellent info fair for TK and kindergarten parents, and included booths from the school’s library and other services. See the video here.
  • Provide kindergarten parents an opportunity to tour kindergarten classrooms: Parents want to see a kindergarten class in action so they can visualize their child in the classroom.  This can remove the mystery of “what will my child be doing all day?” from their mindset about kindergarten.
  • Appoint a school ambassador to answer incoming kindergarten parents’ questions: Find a current kindergarten parent (or two) and a kindergarten teacher who would be willing to be the point of contact for incoming kindergarten parents.  Although your office staff can answer questions, they don’t always have the comforting voice of someone with recent experience in that classroom.  Also make sure that these people are scanning local social media groups for questions from parents and providing accurate answers.
  • Develop a kindergarten welcome kit: In addition to registration information, include a “What to expect in kindergarten” and FAQ page, along with contact information in case parents have additional questions.  Take a poll of current kindergarten families and ask for some shareable quotes to find out what they wished they could have known about kindergarten, and make sure you include those answers in your welcome kit, as well as some great testimonial quotes.
  • Consider adding a “New Kindergarten Parent” tab on your schools’, district’s websites: Make sure parents feel welcome and can find information easily on your websites–include the info that you would include in the welcome kit, a video, tour opportunities, and contact information.  Include an inquiry form that parents can complete if they want more information or if would like to request a tour.

Note: Ensure that these resources and opportunities are available to parents a couple of months before kindergarten registration.

Here are some great examples kindergarten classrooms across the state!  Many thanks to Harry Katcher of Poway Unified School District, Jason Scholl (formerly of Los Altos School District), and Diana Capra of Rocklin Unified School District for sharing these examples from their districts.

Hour of Code-Poway Unified School District, Chaparral Elementary

Who knew kindergarteners could learn to code?  Well, when your teacher helps you learn how to use a BeeBot to move to pictures and letters, you get to have a 21st Century hands-on learning experience!

Kindergarteners learning to code

Picture used with permission from the Poway Unified School District.

 

Los Altos School District: Offering an active and engaging kindergarten experience

Check out this video to see how kindergarten students move, create, experience outdoor gardening, lead, and thrive in a nurturing kindergarten environment.

 

 

Rocklin Unified School District: Singing Kindergarten Teacher at Breen Elementary

Winter Hungerford, a Rocklin Kindergarten teacher, engages her students with music. Winter believes strongly in using music to engage all students in learning. She also believes music is linked to improved cognitive function, increased language development from an early age, and positive social interaction.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

Rocklin Unified School District: Valley View STEM Lab for Kindergarteners

Instead of doing self-made science experiments by eating paste, these kindergarten students get to learn about science in their own science lab.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

 

If you have some examples of how your district makes kindergarten fun, nurturing, engaging and an overall positive learning experience for your youngest students, please send me an email!

Launching a Communication Ambassador Program

Ambassador programs have long been a successful approach for membership building among chambers of commerce, churches, and other organizations, including private schools.  The primary reason why these programs are successful is because people are key to building trust with other people–and when people talk with someone they already know, the trust component is incredibly high.  Real people will always trump social media and slick marketing materials–but, those components are important tools to a successful ambassador program.

Important note: While your Communication Ambassador Program may be districtwide, your efforts will be focused at each school site.  Parents–and school site staff–are tied to a specific school, and they will be most convincing and compelling speaking from their direct experiences with that school.  Remember, your schools are what make up your district, and your district will be well-communicated and marketed if its school sites are excelling with communicating through engaged ambassadors armed with great communication tools.

Before You Begin

Get your communication house in order

  • Branding: Ensure that your brand is strong, both visually, in messaging, and in practice.
  • Timing: The worst time to launch your program is in the middle of a crisis, but your communication ambassadors can be an incredible resource in reputation management following a crisis (just make sure that you choose–and train–your participants carefully).
  • Communication Tools: Make sure that you have well written and designed rack cards or postcards for each of your schools, talking points, updated website content, and great social media posts. You want to make sure that every person’s touchpoint with your communications is consistent, well-messaged, and visually appealing.

Set your goals

  • Define what you want your communication ambassadors to accomplish and measurable goals:
    • Do you want to reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community?  Do you want to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media?  
  • How will you know you are successful in these efforts: Make sure you define success in each aspect where you want to engage your communication ambassadors.

Decide who you want to approach as ambassadors

  • Parents: Parents are easy to target for some districts–and this may be a huge challenge for others.  Ensure that your parent ambassador base reflects your district population ethnicities, languages, income groups, and cultures.
  • Staff: Staff members’ roles as ambassadors might be different than those of parents, with some cross over (such as talking points, social media engagement,reaching out in the community).  Consult your district’s employee contracts and agreements, to determine whether their role as an ambassador may be considered voluntary or as part of their regular responsibilities.
  • Great communicators: In whatever language they speak, your ambassadors need to be great communicators who are also willing to further your district’s and schools’ messages and talking points.
  • Trustworthy: Remember, these people are an extension of your district and its schools.  When identifying participants (see more information below), ensure that you also understand peoples’ motivations for becoming an ambassador–if you sense someone has selfish or political intentions, steer away from approaching them.

Engage your principals

Your school site principals play a key role in the success of the ambassador program.  Engage them early in the goal setting and ambassador selection process.

Identify participants

A Communication Ambassador is a selected member of the your district’s affinity-building team. Chosen because of their passion for the schools, credibility among peers, connections in the community, and desire to advance the school and district, Communication Ambassadors are instrumental to expanding the reach of the school and district in the community, growing school enrollment, and increasing affinity among parents currently in the district.

Work with principals and directors in your district on helping to identify these individuals.

Invite Participants to a Launch Meeting

Once you have identified your ambassadors, you will want to invite them to a launch meeting. You will want to send a personal invitation to the parent and then call to follow-up. It is important for them to know that they are not committing to this program for life. It is always a good idea to include a description of the communication ambassador program so that the invited participants have a basic understanding of what to expect.

The meeting should be informal in nature, such as a brunch, lunch or BBQ, and schedule meetings in the morning and evening to accommodate parents’ schedules. The key is to schedule what works best for your district and parents.

Inspire Communication Ambassadors at the Meeting

During the launch meeting you will want to inspire the participants by sharing with them the importance of their role as word of mouth ambassadors. Realizing that they are already in the role of an ambassador, your goal is to increase their involvement intentionally in key areas.

Every communication ambassador will be encouraged to “nudge” two to three friends to consider the district’s schools. In addition, every communication ambassador will help with open houses and mentoring relationships with new families.

Initiate Efforts in Focused Areas

Remember the goals you established? Once you have inspired your communication ambassadors and discussed the roles mentioned above, you will want to highlight other areas of focus. Communication Ambassadors can help you reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community, as well as help to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media.

By highlighting these areas, you can ask your communication ambassadors to select an area that they would like to focus on during the year. Then, ambassadors will be able to form teams based on their area of focus to help you expand your reach in the community.

Involve Communication Ambassadors

Once you initiate the efforts of your communication ambassadors, you will need to facilitate their involvement throughout the year. However, make sure that you do not make your program about a bunch of meetings. Instead, the communication ambassadors can be encouraged to be involved in their area throughout the year through personal contacts and team meetings. In addition, it can work well to set up a closed Facebook or Google hangout group for your ambassadors to connect in real-time. You can use this as a tool to encourage their involvement throughout the year.

Need more help?

Need help launching your program?  Sounding Board can help your district with any or all of the steps with this process.  Give us a call at 916.673.8868 or email Heather at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net.

We like to give credit where credit is due–this blog post was inspired by The Enrollment Catalyst.

 

Tips for Communicating with Families Experiencing Homelessness

The plight of children experiencing homelessness typically becomes front of mind for most people during the holidays.  During the months of November and December, giving trees, toy and canned food drives, blanket drives, and other types of resource collections abound, and many organizations benefit from individuals seeking opportunities for end of the year tax deductions.

Source: EdSource

Students and families experiencing homelessness are on the top of my mind, as well–but, for different reasons.  I am currently working with a school district client that has 25% of its students experiencing homelessness, and a couple of its schools have this rate at 38%.  This experience–joined with an increasing number of homeless children across the state of California, and the families displaced by fires in Santa Rosa/Napa/Sonoma–made me consider whether schools are doing enough to connect and communicate with families experiencing homelessness.  One cannot assume that the district’s regular communication channels will reach parents experiencing homelessness to ensure that schools remain connected to families in crisis.  For this reason, I pulled together several resources to develop these tips for school communicators, principals, teachers and administrators to use when communicating with families experiencing homelessness.  Your district should also have a staff member appointed as the homeless student services liaison, and they may also have additional resources.

Families experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness have unique needs that go beyond those of parents with secure housing. Families need security, trusting relations, positive mental health, and the key supports for functioning such as food and clothing. The key is supporting homeless families in achieving these needs without undue barriers. From a communication perspective, schools can streamline paperwork needed for registration or other input procedures. Further, through collaborative relations with other community groups schools can create effective but efficient channels for referrals or related supports.

Having interactive communication with families in continuous ways enhances this process of meeting needs and empowering families to take ownership of their lives.

Establishing contact with families who are homeless or in other high-risk situations is the initial challenge for educators. Some strategies include:

(1) Interagency links: Having connections with agencies in the community who are likely to have contact with homeless families is a starting point. Referrals, partnerships for training and resource sharing, and other such activities often highlight the needs of families who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless. These contacts also provide a schema for planning together to meet these needs and to keep the community apprised of these needs.

(2) School and district initiatives: Through staff development efforts, use of school liaisons, school-community awareness activities, and promoting a family friendly school culture—the venue for reaching homeless families is strengthened.

(3) Teacher and staff observations and initiatives: Teachers and other school personnel have many opportunities to initiate contacts with children and parents who are homeless.

Lean on other experts

Source: EdSource

As a principal, you are not expected to be the expert about students or families experiencing homelessness.  Being empathetic and compassionate are two of the best approaches that you can take.  Utilize other experts and seek input from local liaisons, school counselors, and social workers about positive communication strategies and about statements and actions that may be perceived as offensive or threatening to a family experiencing homelessness.

Also, your students and families experiencing homelessness may be living or encountering situations that are not safe.  Talk with parents, students, and staff at the previous school about potential dangers, and develop a safety plan together.

 

Build their Sense of Self

Approach the parent in a way to builds their sense of self. Effective parents also need a strong sense of self. Studies have shown that a strong sense of self encourages nurturing and warm behavior in parent-child relations, which in turns promotes higher attentiveness, satisfaction and happiness in parents, and harmonious lives for both the parent and child.

Unfortunately, homeless parents face many stressors that erode their self-esteem and reduce their ability to parent effectively. Victims of harsh judgment, homeless parents have lost control of their daily ritual, often have a history as victims of violence and struggle with substance abuse. Many homeless parents lack socio-educational skills, literacy skills, economic and psycho-social control, positive parenting role models, and supportive adults.   Homeless parents will often avoid the “school culture” because of negative past experiences or fears related to their homeless situation.

Teachers, counselors, and schools can support parental self-esteem by:

  • Communicating in nurturing, non-judgmental, responsive, caring, empowering ways.
  • Involving homeless parents in identifying their needs.
  • Encouraging parents to stay positively involved in their children’s lives.
  • Working with shelters and other community groups to encourage activities that enhance parent self-esteem and increase community awareness.
  • Fostering a school culture that values parents who are homeless as important people in the learning community through school and district initiatives

Schools can:

  • Provide Adult Education: Provide adult education that enhances parental competence and confidence.
  • Offer Job Training: Partner parents with parent-mentors who support parents gaining new skills, educational and job training, linking them to empowering services.
  • Maintain an Online Log: Maintain secure, private online log records of family needs for teachers to share and report on specific needs they observe.
  • Accept Alternative ID: Allow for alternative forms of identification such as letters from shelters or motel receipts to facilitate quick entry into schools.

Suggested Activities to Engage and Communicate With Parents and Families Experiencing Homelessness

Discussion Group

Build trust through discussion groups with other parents or one-on-one conferencing.

Focus Group

Conduct focus groups with parents and observe the strengths of each parent. Meeting other families allows parents to see that they’re not alone and creates a forum to problem solve as a group.

Storytelling

In one-on-one discussions or group discussion, have parents tell stories about the things they enjoy doing.

Journaling

Have parents keep a journal that highlights their achievements and strengths. Have parents chart their most successful activities.

Guest Speakers

Have successful parents return to tell other parents how the program strengthened their skills. 

Interactive Journals

Service providers can communicate with partner parents through interactive journals which students take from home to school. Interactive journals give both parents and teachers a vehicle to understanding the child’s in-school and out-of-school lives while opening up gates of communication. 

  1. Provide a blank journal for the student.
  2. Ask parents to write notes to the teacher or provider in the student’s notebook on what happened with the child/student at home.
  3. Respond to parent’s notes by jotting down what happened at school that day. Possible notes could include: an interesting insight the student made, positive progress the student is making, an upcoming project that the class is working on, or an upcoming school or community event that the student may be excited about.
  4. Initiate regular “Love Notes” that let the parent know when their child accomplishes a difficult task, masters a specific skill, behaves well in a challenging situation, supports a peer, demonstrates kindness to others, or shows another positive skill or behavior.

Survival Kit

Work with parents to create “survival kits” with parent and child IDs, and school and medical records. Survival kits can help reduce stress when this paperwork is needed for school or other services.

Because homeless or transitional families struggle to keep track of their personal and school paperwork, creating a survival kit of important personal paperwork can help reduce stress for families and social services personnel.

  1. Provide a shoebox or other container for the student to store personal paperwork.
  2. Personal paperwork can include:
    • Documentation of recent medical check-ups.
    • Documentation of immunizations received.
    • Report cards from previous schools.
    • A birth certificate.
    • A social security number.
    • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of family members, both local and those who live in other locations (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, others).
    • A history of schools attended, places lived, friends at each place/school (with contact information), accomplishments in school, accomplishments outside of school.
  3. If student drives a car:
    • Driver’s license.
    • Car registration.
    • Car Insurance.
  4. If families no longer have this paperwork, work with students and families to identify the agencies they need to interact with in order to obtain the paperwork.
  5. If possible, assist families to complete the forms required to obtain the paperwork.

Sources:

Dill, V. (2015). Homeless–And Doubled Up. Educational Leadership72(6), 42-47.

Mohan, C. & Shields, C. M. (2014). The voices behind the numbers: Understanding the experiences of homeless students. Critical Questions in Education, Special Issue, 5(3): 190-202. doi

Swick, K. J., & Bailey, L. B. (2004). Communicating Effectively with Parents and Families Who Are Homeless. Early Childhood Education Journal32(3), 211-215.

Swick, K. J. (2009). Issues and Strategies Involved in Helping Homeless Parents of Young Children Strengthen Their Self-Esteem. Early Childhood Education Journal37(3), 183-187.

Total Number of Homeless Students Enrolled in LEAs with or without McKinney-Vento Subgrants – Total: 2013-14. Ed Data Express: Data about elementary and secondary schools in the U.S.http://eddataexpress.ed.gov/data-element-explorer.cfm/tab/data/deid/5353/sort/idown/

US Department of Education Press Release (July 27, 2016). Education Department Releases Guidance on Homeless Children and Youth. Accessed December 8, 2016 at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/education-department-releases-guidance-homeless-children-and-youth

 

 

20 Creative Social Media Content Ideas

I don’t know about you, but developing ongoing creative content for social media can become a challenge sometimes.  We know that creative content grabs your audiences, encourages them to act, and drives results for your organization, but sometimes we get into a rut.

Our friends over at Buffer created an awesome visual (see below) that provides 20 great social media content ideas.  You could seriously produce over a month’s worth of content with these ideas!

  1. Turn a blog post into a video:  We know that video captures peoples’ attention and results in more shares than most other social media posts.  Why not repackage a blog post into a video?  Why not use Superintendent’s welcome back message, and, rather than getting a picture of the Superintendent at his or her desk, why not get some great B-roll of your students, teachers and staff engaging in activities that support your superintendent’s message, and use the message as the narration?
  2. Create a how-to video: As YouTube has shown us, people love how-to videos.  If you have a non profit organization, maybe you can create a how-to video on donating or contributing to your organization. Here are some video ideas for you:
    • Tips
    • How-to guides
    • Customer stories
    • Behind-the-scenes
    • User-generated content
    • New service announcements
    • District/organization announcements or milestones
  3. Go live: Facebook’s “go live” feature is a great way to bring the news to your followers as it’s happening. Non profits–this is a great way to capture footage at an event as it’s happening; schools can capture real-time “first day of school” activities and more.
  4. Interview someone (live):  Go out to one of your district’s schools during an anti bullying week, and play the role as the roving reporter that asks each student about how they will prevent bullying.
  5. Post 360 photos or videos: Buildings and campuses look pretty cool in 360 degrees!  So do groups of people–inside or outside.
  6. Attach a GIF: What is it with GIFs? Somehow they capture the essence of a thought or mood in familiar and silly ways.  “How principals feel on the first day of school” with a fun (and positive) GIF is one way to capture people’s attention!
    An idea to try: Buffer suggests using Animoto (or your favorite video-editing tool) to turn one of your recent blog posts into a short 30-second video.
  7. Curate user generated content: Curate photos that people have posted on your social media accounts, or, experiment with a short user-generated content campaign (and you can decide if you want to continue with it after the experiment).
  8. Use a self-explanatory image: Self-explanatory images can fully explain a concept or an idea without people having to click on the link and read an article. On the other hand, quality stock photos are usually too abstract to convey the message.An idea to try: Try answering these three questions (thanks to Buffer for these ideas!) the next time you want to share an image on social media:
    • Would this image make sense with no caption at all?
    • Does this image contain relevant or insightful content?
    • Would I share this content myself?

    If you answer “yes” to at least two of the three questions, you have likely found yourself a self-explanatory image.

  9.  Use charts or graphs: Another type of explanatory image is charts and graphs. Use a graph or chart to illustrate key information about student performance, expenditures and more.
  10. Share a relevant infographic: Using an infographic creator, you can easily explain the nuances of school district budgeting, how test scores work, and more!
  11. Partner with another organization: One of my favorite tactics to build into my clients’ social media strategies is the idea of leveraging partnerships–mutually-beneficial partnerships will help you reach new audiences and grow your social media following.  Maybe you have a partnership with a large non profit or a business that is helping your students.  Work together on content that leverages both of your organizations.
  12. Do a social swap: Similar, but simpler that partnering with another organization, in a social swap, two organizations exchange relevant content regularly and share the other company’s content on their own social media accounts. With a social swap, you get great content to share on your social media accounts and benefit from having another organization share your content.
  13. Organize a social contest: This is another tactic that I love building into client’s social media strategies–a contest.  First, people do not expect school districts or non profits to hold a fun social media contest!  These posts also generate the most engagement from followers.  This is a way to actually let your organization’s fun side show.  Use anniversaries, a new program launch, or another cause for celebration to create a basis for your contest.  Here are a few things you can invite your followers to do to participate:
    • Comment
    • Tag a friend
    • Share a post
    • Tweet with a hashtag
    • Post a photo and use your branded hashtag
  14. Poll your audience: People love sharing their opinions, and you can use the poll as a means to collect data from your audiences.
  15. Ask a question for help: People love to help, and if you ask people about their favorites (what is your favorite school event? What can our district do to better serve your child?), preferences, etc. this is another way to help you better understand your audiences and their motivations.
  16. Pull interesting stats from a blog post:  Using a statistic in your introduction is often recommended as a way to “hook” your readers and keep them reading. If the statistic is relevant (and shocking) to your followers, they might be more intrigued to read your blog post or watch your video.  Use this as an opportunity to share statistics that help your organization or can help parents with their child’s educational experience.
  17. Pull a meaningful quote from a blog post: This is a great way to summarize the information from the blog post, and you can also use it as a way to engage your audience (do you agree, disagree, why?)
  18. Create a list in the caption: Provide a picture that draws someone to a list of information on your website.  Use a portion of your post to include this list, but a teaser to bring them to your website for more information.
  19. Add emojis or symbols: Emojis have become quite popular with audiences–in fact, 6 million emojis are shared on social media each day! I hesitated on whether or not I would support this idea, but here’s the first rule of thumb-consider whether emojis are consistent with your brand and image.  Here is some great info on shortcuts and how to use emojis in your social media posts.
  20. Share or retweet your followers’ posts: Don’t you love it when someone retweets your posts?  Well, do the same for your followers!  Retweet blog posts, social media posts, and more–it shows you appreciate what they are doing, as well.

 

Want more inspiration and examples?  Visit Buffer’s blog post on this topic.

20 Creative Ways to Share Your Content on Social Media

Image courtesy of Buffer social

Branding—A Personal Point of View

Branding be like a mysterious journey…so often, we equate branding with logos, colors, typefaces and taglines. But, branding is really about what makes a company or organization special, what differentiates it from all others. It drives the customer to make a decision to purchase…or a person to donate to a cause…or parents to choose a school for their child.

Since launching Sounding Board Marketing and Communications eight years ago, I decided that I wanted my company’s brand to be centered around its mission, values and philosophy:

Mission: Sounding Board Marketing & Communication’s mission is to increase public confidence in public education and improve opportunities for education non-profit organizations to suc
ceed through proactive communication and marketing.

Values: Sounding Board Marketing & Communications believes in collaboration, respect, professionalism, honesty
and integrity, and delivering high quality results to every client.

Philosophy: The name “Sounding Board” has two meanings: the client is the expert for their organization; and the consultant is the sounding board upon which the client can have their ideas and expertise translated into messages that will resonate with their audiences. Sounding Board Marketing & Communications spends time listening to its clients, then brings forward ideas to address the client’s needs, collaborates with the client throughout the project, and develops and implements results-oriented, effective and successful strategies that bring measurable results and outcomes.

Over the past few months, I had an opportunity to test Sounding Board’s brand, and I learned quite a few things. One of the most important things I learned is that while Sounding Board’s brand encompasses its mission, values and philosophy, these elements by themselves do not define my company’s brand. Ironically, I tell my clients this all of the time—but, as an emerging business owner several years ago, I leaned on these to define my brand while I let my business take shape. I took my time to find out what differentiates my business from others. I listened to my clients’ feedback on my services, and began focusing on what I do best for them. I studied my competitors—and reaffirmed that the work and outcomes I deliver to my clients are not only outstanding, but also an incredible deal.

In 2009, I was transitioning from an employee to a consultant. Eight years later, my consulting practice has guided school districts, county offices of education and non-profits to incredible outcomes that have increased enrollment, public trust, passed bond measures, increased membership numbers and more.

So what is Sounding Board’s brand?

Impeccable, clear, and timely customer service: Clients receive the best of care, timely responses, and clear communication of deliverables throughout the course of any contract. I never want any client to ask, “When will this be done?” I always ensure that clients know what, how and when deliverables will be completed, and strive to meet or beat your deadlines.

High quality, creative, powerful and captivating messaging and marketing: Your schools, your district, your program or organization are unique. I capture the best assets of your organization and I partner with some of the best and cost-effective graphic designers, website developers and videographers to deliver creative print and online media and videos that rival those of more expensive firms. Cost-effective doesn’t have to look or sound cheap.

Authentic guidance…with the right dose of humbleness: My clients seek my expertise—and I deliver that expertise with a thoughtful leadership approach. It’s why I named my business “Sounding Board”—I respect your knowledge, expertise and experience with your organization. I know I haven’t lived in your specific organization, and I will always take a thoughtful approach in developing strategies, public relations and promotional approaches that take your input, feedback, and organizational culture into consideration.

Results-driven: You hired me for a reason and with specific outcomes in mind. Whether you’re seeking to boost enrollment, increase engagement, reputation management or more, I will strive to achieve the results that you are envisioning for your organization.

Best and most ethical practices: As a professional who has earned an Accreditation in Public Relations, I am demonstrating my mastery of strategic communications practice and my commitment to lifelong learning and ethical standards. Attaining this valuable distinction is a professional achievement exhibited through successful completion of a peer-evaluation readiness process, successful completion of a rigorous exam and ongoing commitment to the development of other practitioners.

Nimble and Indispensable: Being a small business, I take on enough clients to keep Sounding Board sustainable…but also keep myself nimble and indispensable to avail myself to anything my clients need.

We are in an era of choice and challenges…it doesn’t mean that school districts, county offices of education and established or emerging non-profits should flounder. There are incredible opportunities to shine a bright light on how your organizations are the schools and organizations of choice for your stakeholders. It’s why Napa Valley Unified School District, Redwood City School District, Align Capital Region, Associated General Contractors of California and others have chosen Sounding Board to resonate their messages.

Thanks for supporting Sounding Board over the past eight years—I look forward to working with you in the future.

To Your Success,

Heather

Branding…What it IS and what it ISN’T

I am so excited to kick off not one, but THREE re-branding processes for three different clients—one is a new International Baccalaureate school, and two are existing organizations that need their branding to align with their current and future vision for their organizations.  With each client, I am taking the time to clarify some of the confusion surrounding branding.

In this day and age of highly visual communications, most people think that branding is just designing a new logo. And, while new logos are certainly a part of the branding process, they are NOT THE only element of branding for organizations.

There are a lot of great articles that talk about the history and evolution of branding (this one from Forbes, What is a Brand, Anyway?, does a great job of this), but I know your time is limited, so I would like to give you the quick and encapsulated version of Branding 101. I could spend a lot of time on this, but here is what branding is and isn’t, in a nutshell, and some steps you can take to develop your organization’s brand.

collection of brand logosTake a look at the image to the left: You are likely to recognize most, if not all of the company logos you see.  At the same time, you probably also remember something about each company, beyond the actual physical product they sell: maybe it’s a certain feeling, perhaps it’s a certain quality offered by the company, or possibly you are recalling the company’s tagline or services.  Strong branding doesn’t happen by mistake–it is the result of a well-researched strategy and approach.

So, first let’s talk about what branding IS:

  • What your audiences think of of when they hear or see your brand name
  • Everything your audiences think they know about your name brand offering—both factual and emotional.
  • What sets your organization apart from other organizations—it defines what makes your organization different and what makes it special…and what makes it valuable.

Here’s what branding ISN’T:

  • A new logo or a logo refresh
  • New typefaces
  • A new website

While the above-listed outcomes are ways in which to convey a new or refreshed brand, they are not, by themselves, branding.

Without clearly defining your organization’s product and what makes it special and valuable—through new and consistent messaging, improved customer service and organizational services that are consistent with your new messaging, AND a powerful visual identity– then your organization is not engaging in branding, but just re-writing website content, putting a pretty new logo on existing publications…and missing an incredible opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with its audiences.

You’re probably asking where you should start with a re-branding process. Research is an important component: start by obtaining stakeholder feedback on your organization’s value proposition and services. Utilizing focus groups to obtain feedback on new branding messaging, services, and the visual identity is also an important part of the research process. Be prepared to spend a few weeks (or months, depending on your organization) on this valuable process and developing its outcomes—you will be glad that you took the time to be purposeful and thoughtful in your approach in developing a strong and sustainable brand for your organization.

Need more help in developing your organization’s brand? Contact Sounding Board Marketing & Communications for more information about our Branding Strategy and Implementation Services.

Going the Extra Mile With Communications Helps Students and Families Reach For the Stars

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss and provide counsel to a number of school principals regarding their school outreach approaches. These hardworking principals are busy, wear many hats, and have the success of their students at the core and purpose of what they do every single day.

It is in this work that I have noticed a few patterns….now, there are studies that will back up everything I have to say here, but I know that real world examples speak volumes to those who are seeking inspiration for their day to day work. So here it goes:

  • All principals are busy
  • The principals who take the time and make communication a priority see major gains in parent engagement, particularly with bilingual parents
  • The principals who try reaching out to parents, but give up when they don’t have enough participation are probably quitting too soon
  • Regular, positive two-way communications goes a long way in increasing trust and a positive school climate among parents and
  • Principals who are too busy to proactively communicate typically have more conflicts to resolve and have a more difficult time getting buy in, participation and support from parents and staff members on new initiatives.

stars-shootingSo, why wouldn’t you communicate? Why wouldn’t you take 30 extra minutes each week for home visits or to invite parents and students to meet with you in a positive environment?

Okay, for those of you who are more analytical, here are the studies that back up these thoughts: According to a 2006 National School Public Relations Association White Paper, How Strong Communication Contributes to Student and School Success: Parent and Family Involvement, the research is clear that communication plays an important role in the type and quality of parent/community involvement. In A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement, Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp examined 51 research studies conducted between 1993 and 2002 and found there is a positive and convincing relationship between family and community involvement and improved student academic achievement, including higher gradepoint averages and scores on standardized tests, more classes passed, higher enrollment in more challenging academic classes, better attendance and improved behavior at home and at school. This holds across families of all economic, racial/ethnic and educational backgrounds and for students at all ages

I can’t think of anything more difficult than climbing a mountain alone. What if you need someone to pull you up? What if someone can help find an easier path? The opportunities that come with communication and outreach are endless. You don’t have time not to do it.