Friday, March 9, 2012

The nightmare of classroom websites and what to do about them

Note to Readers: We could use everyone’s insight and wisdom on this issue. Even if you are not involved with the world of independent schools, please read on and comment with your best advice.

Classroom websites and e-newsletters represent an enormous challenge for marketers of independent schools and are a potential source of communications horror stories.

Often times I draw on my experience in the business world as a source of solutions for situations encountered in independent schools. But this is a communications phenomenon for which I can’t think of a business parallel.

Here’s the situation. Stronger home-classroom partnerships clearly lead to better learning outcomes. For that reason, teacher-parent communication is regarded as a pillar of educational success. That communication takes many forms including parent teacher conferences, individual meetings with parents, written communication and of late, classroom e-newsletters and websites.

The point is this. Teachers may not be fully aware of the school’s mission, vision and philosophy (MVP). They may not be able to articulate the brand. As a result, there is great potential for teachers communicating something that is at odds with the schools policy or persona. Misaligned messaging and broken branding lurk every time the publish button is pushed.

We know that web-based communication can be shared at lightning speed and passed on with germ-like ease. So, an e-communications misstep by a teacher is not likely going to be kept quiet and could cause embarrassment and confusion to an entire school community.

In the business world this is akin to a company allowing every customer service rep or salesperson to have their own website with which they communicate with their customers and for which they independently create the content. That’s a disaster waiting to happen and to my knowledge would not be tolerated in any corporate organization.

But the demand for classroom websites and e-newsletters increases daily. Parents love the communication. So solutions must be found. In that spirit I offer some practical advice.

Overall Measures
  1. Ensure that teachers are brand and MVP aware and can articulate what distinguishes the school
  2. Provide teachers with clear communications guidelines that include sample statements and nomenclature they should be using in describing the school.
  3. Because administrators are the front line supervisors, ensure they are fully fluent with the brand
  4. Create tight templates for websites and e-newsletters to ensure consistency in messaging and even aesthetics.
  5. Every classroom website or e-newsletter should have a link to the main school website
Specific guidelines for teachers
  1. Ensure that content has been proofread carefully and is grammatically correct. Nothing has the potential for more embarrassment.
  2. Address parents in a customer-centric manner that respects the realities of choice and tuition.
  3. Amplify the classroom-home partnership by clearly telling parents how they can help their children with specific projects
  4. Avoid pedagogical jargon (I call this edu-speak) and use simple language     
  5. Assume that students will be reading and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want them to know
  6. Find a balance in communication that conveys personal concern and involvement but on the other hand is not too informal or friendly
  7. Be positive. Criticism has tremendous potential to be misunderstood
This is an issue that’s not going away. So it would be great to share ideas and solutions. And I said in my introduction, it would be interesting to hear how those from the business world would approach this. Please comment.

Maybe together we can turn this potential nightmare into a communications dream.


  1. This is fantastic. It should be mandatory reading for all school professionals.

  2. Excellent advice and I fully agree with every bit of it. But I wonder why you (and many others) see teacher websites and newsletters as potential horror stories. When social media marketing came into independent schools, many people said the same thing - they were afraid of letting others have control of the message. But I think we've come to find that the opposite is true. Letting others contribute to our school's message builds a fuller, clearer picture of our mission.

    Our teachers are excellent brand advocates. By increasing communication with parents, they create more open communication, trust and loyalty with the school, regardless of minor spelling errors. What's important is that the marketing office has a great opportunity to expand its reach and have more personalized communication with parents.

    As with social media, I would argue that the benefits of teacher websites and newsletters far outweigh the potential risks. With the proper guidance, using your advice, teachers can be highly beneficial to an independent school's marketing efforts.

    1. Cassie,

      Thanks for your comments. I absolutely agree that teachers can be excellent brand advocates - and in some ways more compelling than parents. But the concern isn't "minor spelling errors." It's the potential to undo any of a school's branding or positioning efforts in one poorly conceived e-communication. In many ways this issue is just an extension of the reality that teachers are the strongest (or sometimes weakest) link in all our marketing efforts. The difference is that when errors are made on line, they can be shared faster and farther than any parking lot chatter. In the end I agree that particularly with the right training, the benefits outweigh the risks.

  3. It's pretty interesting,i should recommend it to my freinds.