This page is for notes from Open Space #3 in Salon D.

How to Engage Parents and Other Constituents with the Website and all it Offers
Conveners: Jane Ahrens, Associate Director Strategic Marketing and Communications, St. Luke's School & Ruth Hart Segal, President, RHS Communications

The questions were posed: How do we engage parents and others with all the website has to offer? How do we get them to comment on news stories, and what can we do to entice them to log in to the website?

To follow is a summary of some of the answers and ideas from the group:
  • One participant described her school's Campus Connect Page (portal) designed to be updated daily with middle school information in the left column and upper school information in the right column. Information at-a-glance (you have to log in to see it). Send pushpages every couple of weeks throughout the summer to keep parents engaged and interested, including new parents.
  • Another participant shared that her school is in its third year with WH. The first year, it was really hard to get parents logged in. The second year, they bit the bullet and forced parents to log in to re-enroll. They created cheat-sheets for those on the front lines fielding phone calls from frustrated parents. It was horrible but eventually, they all logged in. By year three, it was much better.
  • One school gave up trying to get parents to log into the WH site and only requires parents to log into Power School. The only thing they have to log in for on WH is the directory. "Parents go to the website more now because they don't have to log in."
  • A school rep shared that since they launched Academic Groups, they now use Academic Pages like classroom newspapers to let parents know what's going on - homework, lunch menus, portal links to frequently needed web pages, event registration for parent association events, etc. are all behind the password. "It takes time." They've been at it for three years. Every communications that is released encourages recipients to log in.
  • Someone mentioned the importance of having the administration on board.
  • Another said his/her school's faculty contracts specify required tasks regarding posting in Academic Groups, etc. It was suggested that we do the same thing for parents - make them responsible for logging in as a member of the school community.
  • Parents can be motivated to log in to sign up for conferences; Pick a Time requires logging in, but parents didn't return (or remember their passwords) after they signed up for conferences.
  • Updated athletic scores is a popular draw. Important for coaches to post the game score the night of the game. This not only gets your parents to the site, but sometimes those of the opposing team, if they are not on their own website.

Jane asked the group what schools are posting and how often. It's difficult to post news stories every day.
  • Someone suggested getting student groups involved. At St. Luke's, their student newspaper is going to be paperless in the new school year, and they're hoping to post some of the kids' stories.
  • Another school tried having students post athletic highlights; but they had to be approved and consequently weren't always posted in a timely manner.

Ruth asked if anyone had had success getting parents and others to post comments with news stories.
  • The answer was "yes on Facebook, not on WhippleHill."
  • Windward School started a Twitter feed on its home page. Throughout the day, the director of communications, athletic director and sometimes someone in the arts, tweet, including posting photos taken on a phone while out and about on campus. - This new content creates a reason for a parent to check into the website.

The conversation turned to getting faculty engaged with the website:
  • On the subject of using phones as cameras, one school said most of their administrators have iPhones or Blackberries. They take photos as they see things happening on campus and send it to the director of communications to post. Photos might be posted on Twitter, Facebook or News (sometimes on class pages; sometimes in all school news, etc.)
  • A participant suggested training faculty to take and send photos when they see something interesting happening. They're more likely to see interesting things happening than the director of communications, etc. It's important to develop a working relationship with members of the faculty. Someone suggested offering an incentive to get faculty to participate (i.e. $5 gift card to Starbucks, etc.)
  • Another way to get faculty involved is to require them to log in, read the employee handbook that resides there, and fill out a form that says they've read and understood the handbook. HR is responsible for making sure everyone does it.
  • Several schools seem to use Announcements to post important info for faculty and staff, and they have to log in to see it.

A few people were looking to the group to identify any documentation that schools might have developed to introduce parents and other constituents to web and mobile web.

The question was asked, what do you have on your portal when a user logs in?
  • One school has a post that's updated almost daily called "What's Up on the Hill?" It provides parents with ideas about what to talk to their kids about and fills them in on activities they might not otherwise have known (i.e. parents ask "how was your day?" and the response is always "fine."). The column is designed to give them conversation-starters. They also post the upper school daily schedule, links to frequently used web pages and a week-at-a-glance calendar.
  • St. Luke's portal (like most) recognizes the visitor by his or her roles - parent, faculty/staff, student, alum - and customizes content.

There was a discussion about how to inform and train parents or alumni to log in.
  • St. Luke's School presents information to parents at orientation, the day before school starts - and through e-news, parent coffees and training sessions.
  • Some schools help parents log in for the first time and provide them with a printed card on which they can write their username and password.
  • One school offers a "Got Questions?" button on its homepage and/or portal. The button leads to an online form, which invites parent questions and is sent to the director of parent relations for follow-up.
  • A participant said that she attends every parent association meeting with a different topic each month.
  • One school offers a "contest page" for alumni; log in, update your user profile and you might win a prize. You can check Handle Profile Changes to identify which alumni have done so within a certain time period.
  • Some schools train members of their parent association as content editors to populate PA pages and send PA pushpages (once a month).