Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion–separately and together–have become a highly trending topic in business and public education.

As one who studies trends and is also highly sensitive to “jumping on the trend bandwagon” instead of jumping ahead and posting my personal and business “Diversity, equity and inclusion statement” (as many have in recent years), I decided to observe what my clients are doing in this space, what I’ve always done in this space (and didn’t have a term or terms to describe it), and what businesses are doing in this space, so that I can get a better understanding of how I can best support my clients in their DEI initiatives.

Recently, I was asked about Sounding Board’s expertise is in DEI.  I am highly aware that as a white, blonde, blue-eyed business owner, I don’t necessarily look the part of someone who has a strong understanding and expertise in this space. However, I do want to provide some context and background: I was born and raised in San Jose, CA, where I ultimately graduated from college and started her career working for city councilmembers in one of the most diverse cities in the nation–—gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability status, socio-economic background, experience and more. These experiences provided me the opportunity to develop a strong foundation, deep respect, and cultural consciousness within the workplace and also through my work and approaches in public relations and communications.

I am constantly learning and growing in my understanding of DEI. I constantly find myself in a very humbling position where my assumptions and understanding are always being tested–something I embrace with deep gratitude.  As one who works with educators, my hope is that my openness and ever-evolving learning, quest for deepened wisdom and understanding is welcomed.  It is for these reasons that I will not claim myself as a DEI expert. To be clear: I am a communication, PR and marketing expert who uses best practices in my industry while infusing DEI standards into my work. There are a number of deeply talented, experienced and educated individuals who have dedicated their careers to this space, well-before this became a focus point for many organizations. I have a deep regard and respect for their research, knowledge and experience, and will readily refer clients to them if they need this expertise.

The DEI standards to which Sounding Board itself to when approaching client communications include:

  • We embrace the diversity of our clients’ employees, families and communities;
  • We will ensure that our client’s strategies will include fair and equitable treatment, access, opportunity, and engagement for all and will create an environment that respects and values all perspectives, especially ensuring that persons within historically underrepresented groups are included and represented;
  • We use the most effective and culturally-relevant approaches to best reach all of our clients’ communities and families, including the hardest to reach individuals, who may not have access to or respond best to technology;
  • We communicate and deliver communications in culturally-relevant and accessible ways; and
  • We incorporate and reflect the diversity and values of our clients’ communities and families  through our communications.

Every one of our communications that we create for our clients must incorporate these standards, and we only work with contractors who abide by these same standards.  These standards will evolve with my understanding and knowledge.

Relevant Work in DEI

 Sounding Board’s involvement in clients’ DEI initiatives include creating and manage the development of district reports, presentations, video, social media and website content and media relations to promote and communicate the progress and impact that school district clients are making in the areas of mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including:

  • Robla School District’s Resilience Program; 
  • Oroville Union High School District’s reduction in the suspensions and expulsions of students of color; 
  • Murrieta Valley Unified School District’s approaches to communicating employees’ gender identity changes; and 
  • Redwood City School District’s approach to increasing the diversity, inclusion and equity in restructuring a school for gifted students.

Each of these initiatives require incremental, long-term approaches that create impact and change.

Thank you, Teachers!

Nearly 20 years ago, I married a teacher. My husband and I began dating when he was in his first teaching assignment as a high school biology teacher, with an emergency credential, while he completed the last couple months of his credential program.  After we got married, we moved to a city with a lower cost of living so that we could afford to buy a home and plant our roots.  He’s in his 20th year as  a biology teacher at his current school, where he is also the science department chair, and coaches girls and boys golf.  And, as shown in the picture, he also takes his students on weekend field trips to learn about water management (Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management).  He has relentless energy and is so incredibly dedicated.

Seeing his sense of purpose and passion for what he does is one of the reasons why I wanted to work in school PR.  I know there are so many other teachers like him, inspiring students’ minds and enjoyment of learning each day, and those stories needed to be told 16 years ago when I first started working in school PR, and  we need to keep sharing those stories, especially in light of the increasingly negative and political environment about teachers and public education.

My husband has worn several hats over the years, in addition to coach and teacher–he’s also served as the interim athletic director and interim vice principal.  He earned his Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administrative Credential because he thought about going into administration.  The reason he didn’t?  He would miss his positive touchpoints with students, and teaching in the classroom.

When we share stories about what’s happening at schools, we also need to share the stories of people who continue to make the choice to be teachers.  In this age of the “Great Resignation” there are still people who choose this profession because they feel a sense of purpose and truly love what they do. I am thankful for each of those people for teaching my three children in elementary and high school.

And, I’m grateful to my husband who chose a career that positively impacts students’ lives, year after year.

Thank you, teachers.

Consolidating/Closing Schools & Communication: 8 Things To Remember

It’s no secret that California is experiencing rapidly declining enrollment. Look no further than Dan Walter’s recent article in CalMatters, “Declining Enrollment Clobbers California Schools” and John Fensterwald and Daniel J. Willis wrote about this in their EdSource article, “California K-12 Enrollment Plunges Again, Falls Below 6 Million.”  Districts in high cost of living areas were already feeling the declines at least three years ago, and now are dealing with steeper declines due to the exodus of families to less expensive areas, thanks to the increase in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While I’m working with districts on marketing activities to help boost enrollment, and I am also working with districts on school closure/consolidation community engagement and communication strategies. This process is definitely picking up speed again as districts forecast their budgets and future enrollment.

What does this mean for school communication?  

When facing a school closure/consolidation process, it’s important to put on your empathy hat first, when developing community engagement and communication strategies. School closures/consolidations impact the school community in different ways, and understanding how your staff, families, students and community think and feel about school closures/consolidations will greatly impact your messaging and messaging approaches.

While not an exhaustive list, I’m providing eight of the key considerations that leaders and communicators should focus on when building their school closure/consolidation community engagement processes and communication strategies:

  • School closures/consolidations are emotional processes.Schools are the central community hub, places where possibly generations of families have attended. There are memories, and relationships attached to schools. People make home purchase decisions based on the schools in the community, and the proximity of the school to their homes.

    Tip: Plan meaningful closure and welcome ceremonies so that students can say goodbye to their old school, and be welcomed to their new school.

     

  • School closure/consolidation processes raise more questions than answers. People want to know when decisions will be made, what process will be used, what factors will be taken into consideration, the timeline of the process, when people can provide input and where they can find more information.

    Tip: Create a frequently asked questions page for families, students, and community members, as well as one for staff members.

  • School closures/consolidations are disruptive. 

    When a school is closed, students and staff are reassigned to a different school–or multiple schools. Parents worry if friendship and support groups will be split up, they fret about the teachers they now don’t know at the school where their child will be reassigned, and that they will lose relationships with front office staff, the school nurse, the principal and librarian.Tip: Provide an opportunity to families to network with the families and staff at their reassigned school so that they can create a sense of familiarity and community.

     

  • School closures/consolidations impact routines. 

    Where it used to take a family five minutes to drive or walk to their school, now their child is being reassigned to a school 10 minutes away. Maybe a family was relying on grandparents that do not drive to walk their child to and from school, and are losing that option. Perhaps families had carpools, and those are now being split up. School closures impact the carefully crafted routines that were developed by busy working and at home parents, and create more angst in the process.Tip: Develop transportation options for families, such as busing, to alleviate the strain of this impact.

     

  • Community engagement must be a part of the school closure/consolidation process. 

    A school closure process cannot be rushed, and community engagement cannot be glossed over. Effective community engagement can take anywhere from 3-6 months, and should include an advisory committee comprised of parent, staff, community and student representatives, community information meetings, surveys and ongoing communication. Rushing through this process or skipping steps will result in a lack of trust in the process and the district as a whole.Tip: Use this as an opportunity to educate your community about the statewide decline in enrollment, share data about your district’s enrollment projections and that of neighboring districts, and answer questions with empathy.  Ensure that community engagement opportunities are conveniently-timed and located (consider a hybrid online and in person format) and provide child care, if needed. And don’t forget to have translators available, if needed.

     

  • Ongoing, clear and consistent communication must be a part of the school closure/consolidation process.Providing your community and the media ongoing and consistent information about the process, timeline, access to data, and information also ensures that you are being transparent, which keeps your district’s trust barometer high.  Make sure to include your local elected officials in your communication loop as well.

    Keep your information clear and consistent–don’t muddle the communications or community engagement opportunities with other information about district initiatives.  Keep the focus on the topic of school closures.

    Provide updates immediately following the meetings, preferably from the superintendent. The superintendent should be the face and voice of this process, and stand behind the process.

    Tips: Create a website dedicated to the school closure process, including timelines, FAQs, presentations and data. Also include a dedicated email address where people can send questions and receive responses.

     

  • Be forthright and clear about the intended outcome of the process.If the intended outcome is that a school will be closed, state that clearly at the beginning of the process.  I have seen where communication has been wishy-washy on this, which kept the door open to not closing schools, and has delayed the school closure process by years.  This results in further financial distress on the district and fewer resources available to students.

    If your district is looking for ways to keep a school open while opening a magnet or some other program that will cohabitate on the same campus, be clear about that as the intended outcome.  Whatever the outcome you are seeking, be clear and consistent from the beginning of the process through the end of the process.

    Tip: It’s not more clear than this: “We will be closing X schools at the end of this process. We know that this is not an easy process for our staff and families, and we will work together to make ease this transition.”

  • Provide options. 

    School closures/consolidations, on their own, are fraught with the fact that families don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. However, you can provide them options on: transportation, to which school their child will be reassigned, what will help ease the transition.Tip: Ask families, “How can we make this transition easier for you?”

While the final decision to close schools will be one of the most difficult ones that your school board will ever have to make, the process can ensure that your community is informed about the process, has opportunities to engage, and that they understand why the decision needs to be made.

Need help?
If your district is facing a school closure/consolidation process and needs assistance with community engagement and its communication, please feel free to contact me so we can discuss opportunities to partner for a successful process.

What’s going on at Sounding Board?

Someone recently asked me, “So, what projects are you working on for your clients?” I wanted to respond, “What am I not working on for my clients?”  It’s been a busy season, for sure!

I am incredibly grateful that my school district clients are in a position where they can plan ahead and grow their programs–having been in the COVID-19 journey alongside them, two years ago, we were sending out messages about schools being shut down, and then the quick transition into remote learning.  One year ago, we were finalizing school reopening plans (remember those?!) and sending out messages to transition students back into in-person learning. School and programmatic marketing campaigns were essentially on hold for two years….and now, like a machine kicking into gear, we’re ramping up enrollment campaigns for schools, universal TK, and more. And other districts are recommencing processes they put on hold in March 2020.  Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been working on over the past couple of months:

Marketing and Promotional Campaigns

I feel kind of like Oprah…YOU get a marketing campaign…and YOU get a marketing campaign..and YOU get a marketing campaign…because every client is involved in at least one marketing campaign, and some have multiple campaigns happening:

  • Dual Language Immersion Program marketing campaign: This campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media, and video), print (rack card and flyer) and outreach (parent information meetings) to promote the district’s Dual Language Immersion Program.  The video (produced by an in-house videographer) is currently being finalized, and click on the links to see the other marketing components.
  • Preschool marketing campaign: This campaign also involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media, and video), print (rack card and flyer) and outreach to promote the district’s state preschool program.  The campaign will also include a video (produced by an in-house videographer) and short video testimonials that can be shared on social media.
  • Districtwide marketing campaign: This campaign involves bringing the district to the community, as a way to re-introduce the district to the community after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. This campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media), print (school rack cards), lawn signs for every family in the district, outreach events, and sharing student and staff recognition with the community. This is key because many of the staff members live in the community and highlighting students and staff is a great way to show off the district’s best assets–its people–to the community.
  • COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics: One of my clients was selected by the California Department of Public Health to host vaccination clinics at each of its schools, from December 2021-April 2022.  This vaccination clinic campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, and social media), print (flyers) and outreach (parent meetings) to promote the clinics and educate families about the safety of the vaccine.  At the December clinic, I took pictures and collected testimonials from parents who had their children vaccinated, and then used these throughout the course of the social media campaign (see picture on the right).
  • Continuation high school marketing:  We worked with a videographer to complete a short-term marketing video (students were still wearing masks, so we used a combination of photography and video student testimonials), and I’m currently finalizing a promotional rack card that they can distribute to prospective students and in the community.
  • Districtwide school digital downloads: I’ve written and designed 21 digital downloads that describe key pieces of information about each elementary, middle and high school in my client’s school district.  The downloads describe each school, highlight what each school is known for, parent engagement opportunities, CTE programs and electives, and school activities.  These are intended for new and prospective families (this client is near a military base, so transition is common in this district), as well as realtors.

Issues Management and Community Engagement

I know it seems like we’ve been dealing with issues management for the past two years, but there are some issues that my clients put on hold that they are now revisiting:

  • School consolidation: With the state of California experiencing declines in student enrollment, there are some areas of the state–where costs for housing and the overall cost of living are higher– that are experiencing these declines more steeply, both before the pandemic, and even more increasingly since, due to the increase in companies allowing employees to work remotely.

    Prior to the pandemic, I worked with one client on the school consolidation issues management, communication strategy and community engagement, and now I am working with the same client on this process again.  This is a challenging situation, pre-pandemic, and after families have dealt with shifting to remote learning then returning to in- person learning, emotions are higher when facing another situation where children and families need to encounter yet another transition. As a result a parent protest occurred, and media relations went into full gear.Keeping clear and transparent communication, compassion and empathy at the forefront is critical.

  • Improving equity and diversity in a gifted and talented school: I am working with another client on facilitating the community engagement process around improving the equity and diversity of an existing gifted and talented education school.  This is a hot-button issue in areas like New York City and Oakland, where processes did not incorporate a solid community engagement approach.  There are a number of underlying considerations with schools that are meeting the needs of accelerated and gifted learners, and approaches to problem-solving cannot be done with blinders on.

Social Media Management

Social media management, when done consistently, is an excellent way to showcase what’s happening in a district.  With so many media stories and dialogues about controversial issues (whether real or imagined) in public education, a district’s social media posts can show their audiences what’s really happening in public education each day.

I’m currently managing two clients’ social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  For each client, I create consistently branded visuals, a voice that is unique to their district, and utilize a strategy that incorporated at least daily posts, and, on average, three posts per day.  One thing I keep finding is that when you highlight a district’s best assets–its people and students–its social media audience responds with support, encouragement and enthusiasm.  Building that positive affinity helps when less-than-positive matters (trustee by district, anything COVID-restriction related) need to be posted, as well.

 

So, what are your priorities, and what are you working on? Drop us a note in the comments below, or contact us if you need any assistance!

 

 

Communicate, You Will

Picture of Yoda with Communicate You WillI was paid one of the highest compliments at last week’s California School Public Relations Association (CalSPRA) conference: “You’re like the Yoda of school PR.”

Wow. As a Star Wars fan, I felt like I’ve reached a career pinnacle when hearing that.

But, like Yoda, I really needed to go within to process this. Because, what does being a Yoda of school PR mean? Here are some of Yoda’s greatest qualities: intelligence, wisdom, and skills. He also has the ability to absorb and deflect Force lightning, devoted to the light side of the force.

I realized that I was surrounded by about 300 Yodas of school PR at this conference. Working with a school PR pro means that you’re working with someone who has the intelligence, wisdom and skills directly related to school PR. Need someone to communicate the LCAP in understandable ways to your community? A school PR pro can do that. Need someone who understands the intricate and delicate relationships between labor and admin, and how to communicate without stepping on a landmine? A school PR pro can do that. Need someone who can write a statement or press release in less than 10 minutes, ID people to interview, and navigate relationships with the media? A PR pro can do that (and even deliver a whole story package to the media).

From bringing order to chaos, to calmly communicating about just about any topic, school PR pros have the intelligence, wisdom and skills to ensure that schools, school districts and county offices of education keep the relationships with their publics at the forefront of everything they do. And let’s just say that the past two years have been a constant state of absorbing and deflecting lightning and being a force of good. School PR pros aren’t just great story tellers–they identify which story to tell, how to tell it, who needs to hear or see it, and when.

There are approximately 600 Yodas of school PR who are members of CalSPRA–and many others across the country. And if your district or COE hasn’t already hired one–either as an employee or a contractor, your communications isn’t operating as well as it should (and you probably already know that). We can help you use the force of communication for good.

2022 California School Public Relations Association Conference-Connect. Elevate.Inspire.

Picture collage from the California School Public Relations Association 2022 ConferenceWhat a wonderful two days to connect with our hard-working and dedicated group of school PR professionals at last week’s CalSPRA’s Annual Seminar.  I definitely feel like I connected, elevated my PR skills and experiences, and felt incredibly inspired by the over 200 professions who attended.
When I first moved into self employment as a consultant, I always felt this weird push and pull as a former district PIO turned businessperson at this conference.
But it’s never been about business for me—it’s about serving through sharing best practices, experiences and mentoring. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to give advice to new professionals, share issues management and social media strategies and just listen, learn, and discuss ideas with other pros. I had the pleasure of presenting with Monica Gutierrez of Murrieta Valley Unified School District on the delicate topic of strategically communicating with care and protecting employees who are transitioning their gender; I accepted two awards for the strategic and creative social media work that I’ve done with the Oroville Union High School District, which has increased their engagement and following; I had to the opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues that I haven’t seen in person for two years.
Experiencing the growth of CalSPRA’s membership over the past 16 years, and the incredible changes to come, made me realize a few things that have never changed about this group: its mutual support, abundant helpfulness, and incredible friendships.
Thank you to incoming President Jessica Hull, Executive Director Trinette Marquis, MA, APR, the board and interns for their wonderful work on this conference!
Want to learn more about CalSPRA and how to join this amazing group of people?  Visit www.calspra.org!

Pictures:
Top left: With Matthew Jennings, President of the California School Public Relations Association.  I am holding two Awards of Excellence for my client, Oroville Union High School District.
Top right: With Monica Gutierrez, Director of Communications for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District. We co-presented on how to strategically communicate with care and compassion when an employee is transitioning their gender.
Bottom left: With Rebecca Leroux of B43Productions.
I partner with Rebecca on quite a few client video projects, and she is simply the best videographer for school districts, schools and COEs.
Bottom right: With Marci McFadden, Chief of Staff / Chief of Communications and Community Engagement, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.  I absolutely love connecting with Marci at these conferences and in life.  She is a thoughtful, kind and strategic communicator.

Celebrating 11 Years, With Gratitude

Today is Women Entrepreneurship Day, and it was 11 years ago that–with a prayer and my fingers crossed–I launched Sounding Board Marketing & Communications. I wanted to join my love for education public relations and communications with filling the need for proactive communications in our schools and school districts. I had a vision for where I wanted my business to go, and I can honestly say I’m fulfilling that vision, and more, everyday. As we head into the Thanksgiving season, I would like to share why I’m grateful to be a woman entrepreneur in the education PR and communication space for the past 11 years:
 
  • I’m grateful for my amazing clients–each one of them feels like family, and I am honored to be brought into the fold of their celebrations and challenges.
  • I’m grateful for what my business has taught me–probably the most important thing has been authenticity: authenticity to myself, my clients and my work.
  • I’m grateful to learn that my greatest challenges as a business owner and mother of three are also my greatest assets.
  • I am grateful that I can advance my clients’ goals through communication, marketing, and public relations: whether it’s advancing equity in education, supporting a non-discriminatory environment, cultivating safer and healthier schools for students and staff, facilitating issues and crisis management, improving community engagement, promoting community and business partnerships, and beyond, I will continue to advance what is right, true and just in public education for my clients.
  • I’m also grateful for my role as a cheerleader for the often-lonely-feeling role of our district administrators, especially, superintendents. Lifting up and coaching leaders is core to my work.
 
Thank you to each of you who have either brought me into the fold of your district’s or COE’s family, have referred me to others, or who I’ve partnered with on projects. May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family.
 

5 Steps to Making Engaging Infographics

Person sketching out graphs for an infographicPresent Complex Information in a Snapshot Format

As your district or COE plans for the 2021-22 school year, it’s highly likely that you’re elbows-deep into complex planning processes.  But, your internal and external audiences want–and need–to know this critical information. 

Here are tips for creating infographics to share important information about your plans. Whether you need to share LCAP survey results, budget information, in-person learning plans, or more, infographics are a great and modern way to share complicated or detailed information in a way that is scannable, organized, in an all-in-one visual overview.

Here are 5 Steps to Creating Engaging Infographics:

  • Don’t overwhelm the reader: It is important to remember that less is more. Start with a simple layout of information that needs to be included. Figure out different categories of data and information. Consider what needs the most spaces and how much. Determine if the information is better organized in halves, thirds, or fourths. It is important to not overwhelm the reader. The best way to help avoid this is with an intentionally clean layout.
  • Tell a story (but it does not have to include every detail): Consider the overarching story the infographic needs to tell.
    The nature of the infographic allows for important information to be shared without every single detail being shared. Consider the layout of your infographic like a story:

    • What is the journey you want the viewer to take?
    • What will they see first, what are they prompted to do next?
    • When thinking of the layout of the infographic, consider the flow of the graphic as well as the reader’s experience as part of the storytelling process.
  • Use layers/play with fonts to have top-level information and smaller fonts to include details: A unique feature of infographics is the ability to share details. However, it is important to not overwhelm the viewer. How can a lot of information be shared in a small space?
    • Implement layers so that top-level information is in large fonts and graphics. This is the most important surface-level information the viewer needs to immediately get an understanding of what the graphic is about at just a glance.
    • Next, implement more layers of detail using colors, images, and smaller fonts that may not be seen at first glance but become noticeable as the reader looks longer at the infographic.
  • Color: Color is a central part of an information graphic where it is to grab attention, organize information, or help with brand and logo association.
    • Organization: First, consider how color can be used to organize the information in your infographic. Perhaps there are three main categories in your infographic you want to include. Choose a specific color to be associated with that category. This will help the reader to quickly identify the different sections of the infographic at a glance. If they are looking for specific information they can quickly identify the color of the topic they need and search the graphic for that color.
    • Emotion: Colors have meaning and are able to communicate different emotions. Consider not only what colors are eye-catching and appealing but use them to help communicate the feeling you want to be communicated with the information being shared. For example, blue is associated with trust. Orange can be associated with energy and yellow with happiness as just a few examples.
      The shades of color used can also help express emotion. To learn more about the best colors to use in your infographic you can explore 99 Designs blog post about Color Meanings and the Art of Using Color symbolism
    • Brand: Lastly when implementing color, the most simple but effective is to implement your district’s brand colors. This helps to quickly associate the information with the school district. You can implement different shades of your brand’s colors to bring in variety while still staying true to your district’s existing brand.
  • Use Consistent Terms: Lastly, providing clarity to the reader is the goal of the infographic.
    It is important to use consistent terms and clear organization to help the reader follow the infographic. When necessary define terms and use them throughout the infographic. This will help build understanding and increase the potential for connection.

Free–And Time-Saving–Resources

Infographics are a great way to summarize and combine complex and detailed information into a format that is easily understood and shared. To get started on implementing infographics into your district’s communications you do not need to be a graphic designer. There are a variety of Free Resources to get you started on beginning the design for your infographic:

Canva

Beautiful Ai

Google charts

Google slides

Powerpoint

 

Need more help?

If you are looking to improve your district’s communications moving forward, Sounding Board can help you reach your goals. If you are wanting to revamp your communications goals for the upcoming school year, Sounding Board offers strategic planning services to meet the needs of your district. Get started on planning for the next school year today by sharing information that matters in an easy-to-understand format for each of your audiences.

 

3 Ways to Improve Your District’s Homepage

Looking to revamp your district’s website for the upcoming school year?

As the school year comes to a close is your district looking to refresh your website for the next school year? Your website homepage is the most essential part of not only your website but your district’s online presence. The website homepage functions as a home base for not only your website and social media, but also for search engines. It is the 

Picture of a person sitting with a laptop computer

place where individuals come for resources and make judgments about the district as a whole.    

It is important to have a clear and navigatable homepage. It is the place viewers go for information, the ho

me base to understand the values of the district, and the launching point to finding information and resources that they need. Are you looking to revamp your district’s website for the upcoming school year? Here are 3 ways to improve your district’s homepage.

1. Design that Aligns with the User Experience (known as UX)

Picture of website framingPutting the user at the center helps to guide homepage design. Putting the user and their navigation experience at the center of design decisions will help in determining the best layout and design practices. Overall user experience is taking the hand of the user walking them through the website making it clear where they need to go to fulfill their need or their goal.

  • Consider the user’s journey: The home page helps the user navigate to their next step. Are they trying to get a specific question answered? Can they use the homepage to navigate to the answer? Are they visiting the page for the first time and want to know more about the district? What overall impression does the homepage leave them with? Ensure that headers and topics are clear so that users can find what they are looking for. Ensure that–through content, media, and overall branding–a clear message and purpose are quickly conveyed so that someone new visiting your website knows exactly what your organization is about in the first second of entering.
  • Navigation bar: The navigation bar helps maintain a clear and navigable hierarchy to your website. In seeking to not overwhelm the user, ensure that the navigation bar provides access to top-level subpages (this is “website speak” for the pages that you want them to click on) that can help give further direction and guidance.
  • Uniform Colors: Use uniform colors to organize information and make the site understandable at a glance. Colors can help to organize different sections of a page and help to make sections of your homepage understandable and identifiable at a glance.  

For more information and resources on website UX design, you can visit UX Studio Team’s blog website.

2. ADA Compliant Websites

In addition to creating a homepage that puts the user’s journey at the center of the design. It is essential to implement effective ADA-compliant standards to ensure that the design of the website and the homepage is accessible. Below are important design considerations to implement in your homepage for more comprehensive ADA guidelines you can use their toolkit and checklist for more details.

  • Media Descriptions and Support:  Include accompanying image alt tag descriptions and video transcripts. This allows media to be accessible to a broad audience.  Providing image and media descriptions along with video transcripts allows for individuals to access and gain an understanding of a website when they use tools such as text to speech or text to braille.
  • Consider Color Implementation: Avoid colors and texts that are dominating and compliant for color-sensitive users. Having defined fonts, and colors allow for users that have color or light sensitivity to adjust to reading and accessing information on the homepage.

3. Website Content Development

From media to copywriting, homepage content is what makes the user stay or leave in a matter of seconds. While information may be important to a district it may not be the content that should be on a homepage. The homepage serves a very specific purpose to be the door and the guide for the user to find the information that they need. It is the portal to enter rooms specific to their needs. 

  • Hot button topics: While it is important to address current issues and relevant information, its place often is not on the home page. It is important to not overwhelm the user with information on your home page and expect the user to know where to find that information. It is more important to guide users to get to the information they need. Consider using links or previews of headlines to help guide users to the hot button topics they want to learn more about.
  • Using links to other web pages: Links are a powerful way on a website to help guide users without overwhelming information. Links and headers can be used to direct users to subpages on your district’s website in addition to useful outside sources as well. Links can be used to create connections with social media, maps, and other content-rich resources.

The homepage is central to your district’s website and is the key resource that guides and prompts the users towards the information that they need. A homepage that is navigatable and can be understood in the first few seconds of opening the page allows for first-time users to quickly understand your district, your brand, and an understanding of your culture. It can help to showcase up-to-date and timely designs that establish the relationship and trust with the user. Considering the design, experiences, and accessibility of your homepage is essential in creating a central and key resource.

If you are looking to reimagine your district’s website–from design (we have some great vendor partners), copywriting, or content–Sounding Board can help. Sounding Board offers resources that fit your district’s needs. You can discover services to help school districts navigate communicating strategically. To learn more about communication services that best fit the needs of your district you can explore Sounding Board Marketing & Communications Strategic Services. Schedule a 30-min consultation today and discover proactive communication to help fuel a positive and impactful transition to in-person learning.

 

How to Share the Good in the Midst of the Storm 

Keeping the focus on the human side of your organization

This past school year has meant many challenges and changes. Knowing what communication is appropriate to share with your district during times of struggle or hardship can be a challenge to navigate. What messages are appropriate and timely? What are the best platforms and methods to share them? However, having the right message at the right time can make an enormous impact in the lives of individuals. How can your district work to share the good in the midst of the storm? 

There are specific kinds of content that can be a focus to create positive messages. Ultimately it is essential to keep a focus on the human side of your organization. What are the stories and individuals that make up your district? These stories are worth telling as a source of encouragement and inspiration. When the focus is put on the human side of your district to balance out the news and information stories, connection can take place in a meaningful way. 

Here are 6 tips for sharing good in the midst of the storm:

  • Focus on empathy, not information. How can your stories highlight those who are showing and expressing their empathy for others? Look internally within your organization and externally in your district to discover the positives to showcase. Through using a lens of empathy, you can find stories that show how your people are helping others in their struggles. An excellent example of this is from one of our clients, the Evergreen School District. They have a custodian who missed seeing students on campus because of distance learning.  He created and painted wooden cut outs of students playing, and placed the cut outs around the campus. These brought him cheer, and the many people who would walk over to the campus each day.  We helped them share this story on their social media and their local media, and here’s one example of the coverage they received on their local television news station.   Find messages to share that go beyond factual information. Look for stories of individuals that can create connections.
  • Try to see the larger picture while addressing the concerns of the present. It is essential to not lose sight of today’s concerns. However, your content seeks to give a larger perspective outside of the present. Address the challenges of today but do not stay stuck there. Find ways to showcase the qualities and takeaways that will be here to stay. How have teachers, students, employees overcome this current situation? How will they apply those same skills moving forward?  An excellent example of this can be found with another one of our clients, the Oroville Union High School District.  Once a week, they showcase a staff member or teacher who is providing excellent services or instruction on their social media and website, and also include these stories in their bimonthly newsletter.  This allows your audience to see that despite the challenges of the present circumstances, the people in your organization are still striving to provide an excellent education and educational experience for your students.
  • Looking outward to find ways to serve rather than feeling stuck looking inward. Encourage safe, but impactful community service and support in your district as a way to help share helpful ideas and prompt positive actions. Are there safe community service opportunities students can participate in, or opportunities that they’re harnessing to serve the community? Consider fun challenges, activities, or virtual events that individuals in your district can try that will not only serve others around them but help to prompt positive and productive experience.
  • Celebrate the little things. Look for national days, fun events, and memorable traditions to showcase on your district’s social media. There are many holidays and events that can be found online that can help bring joy and prompt light-hearted reflections throughout the month. This is a great way to create content if you are feeling stuck on the best positive stories to showcase. Finding holidays that celebrate students, employees, athletes, and others can be a positive way to celebrate individuals in your district.
  • Find ways to showcase students and alumni. Find stories from both the past and present of cute, fun, or encouraging stories of your district’s alumni. Does your district have a Hall of Fame? Use this as a starting point to share the lives and stories of those individuals on social media. This can be a positive way to showcase your district’s history while encouraging individuals in your district.
  • Utilize multiple kinds of media. Video, pictures, gifs, are all different kinds of media. This is a good way to create engaging content in multiple ways. Choosing the format and method to share a message is so important in creating messages that provide connection. Do you have images of notable alumni put together a video slide show? Do you want to have pictures of current student-athletes? Find stickers or interesting graphics to make your posts interesting and eye-catching.

Creating ways to share fun but meaningful messages that leave a positive impact is one approach to share the good in the midst of a storm. Finding ways to engage, entertain, inform, and inspire your district during times of struggle makes a large impact in your district.

Do you want help in finding positive messages to share in the midst of the storm? A Sounding board can help! Discover content planning and social media promotions that fit your district’s needs through Sounding Board’s services.