A School's Website Makes an Important First Impression

Management and Navigation of Website Information

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Bennett, Colette. "A School's Website Makes an Important First Impression." ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/schools-website-first-impression-7655. Bennett, Colette. (2017, February 21). A School's Website Makes an Important First Impression. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/schools-website-first-impression-7655 Bennett, Colette. "A School's Website Makes an Important First Impression." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/schools-website-first-impression-7655 (accessed September 21, 2017).
The school website is the virtual front door to the school and all information should be up-to-date and easy to access. Mel Longhurst/GETTY Images

Before a parent or student physically sets a foot into a school building, there is an opportunity for a virtual visit. That virtual visit takes place through a school's website, and the information that is available on this website makes an important first impression.

That first impression is an opportunity to highlight the school's best qualities and to show how welcoming the school community is to all stakeholders-parents, students, educators and community members.

Once this positive impression is made, the website can to provide a wide variety of information, from posting an exam schedule to announcing an early dismissal because of inclement weather. The website can also effectively communicate the schools vision and mission, the qualities, and the offerings to each of these stakeholders. In effect, the school website presents the personality of the school.

What Goes on the Website

Most school websites have the following basic information:

  • Calendars for school activities, school schedules, and bus schedules; 
  • Policy statements (ex: dress code, Internet use, attendance);
  • School news on individual student achievements or group achievements;
  • Information on the school learning activities including academic requirements, course descriptions, and prerequisite course work;
  • Information on school extra-curricular activities (ex: clubs and athletic program);
  • Links to teacher webpages and also staff and faculty contact information;

    Some websites may also provide additional information including:

    • Links to organizations or websites outside the school that support the school's academic program (ex:College Board-Khan Academy)
    • Links to software that contain student data (Naviance, Powerschool,Google Classroom)
    • Links to forms (ex: permission slips, course registration, attendance waivers, transcript requests, free and reduced lunch) that can reduce the costly reproduction of paper copies;
    • Board of Education resources such as contact information for board members, minutes of meetings, agendas, and meeting schedules;
    • District policies, such as those policies on data privacy;
    • Photos of students and faculty;
    • A forum or discussion page for teachers, administrators, students, and parents to exchange information such as news and calendars of events;
    • Links to school social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc).

    Information placed on the school website will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Therefore, all the information on the school website must be timely and accurate. Dated material should be removed or archived. In real time information will provide stakeholders confidence in the information posted.  Up to date information is particularly important for teacher websites that list assignments or homework for students and parents to see.

    Who Has Responsibility for the School Website?

    Every school website must be a reliable source of information that is communicated clearly and accurately. That task is usually assigned to a school's Information Technology or IT Department. This department is often organized at the district level with each school having a webmaster  for the school website.

    There are a number of school website design businesses that can provide the basic platform and customize the site according to a school's need. Some of these include Finalsite, BlueFountainMedia, BigDrop and SchoolMessenger. Design companies generally provide the initial training and support on maintaining the school website.

    When an IT Department is not available, some schools ask a faculty or staff member who is particularly technologically savvy, or who works in their computer science department, to update their websites for them. Unfortunately, building and maintaining a website is a large task that can take several hours a week. In such cases, a more collaborative approach of assigning responsibility for sections of the website might be more manageable.

    Another approach is to use the website as a part of the school curriculum where students are given the task of developing and maintaining portions of the website.

    This innovative approach benefits both the students who learn to work collaboratively in an authentic and on-going project as well as educators who can become more familiar with the technologies involved.

    Whatever the process for maintaining the school website, the ultimate responsibility for all content must lie with one district administrator. 

    Navigating the School Website

    Possibly the most important consideration in designing the school website is the navigation. The navigation design of a school website is particularly important because of the number and variety of pages that may be offered to users of all ages, including those who may be unfamiliar with websites entirely.

    Good navigation on a school website should include a navigation bar, clearly defined tabs, or labels that clearly differentiate the pages of the website. Parents, educators, students, and community members should be able to travel throughout the entire website regardless of the level of  proficiency with websites. 

    Particular attention should be given to encouraging parents to use the school website. That encouragement might include training  or demonstrations for parents during school open houses or parent-teacher meeting. Schools could even offer technology training for parents after school or on special evening activity nights.

    Whether it is someone 1500 miles away, or a parent living down the road, everyone is afforded the same opportunity to see the school's website online. Administrators and faculty should see school website as the front door of the school, an opportunity to welcome all virtual visitors and make them feel comfortable in order to make that great first impression.

    Final Recommendations

    There are reasons to make the school website as attractive and professional as possible. While a private school may be looking to attract students through a website, both public and private school administrators may be seeking to attract high quality staff who can drive achievement results. Businesses in the community may want to reference a school's website in order to attract or expand economic interests.

    Taxpayers in the community may see a well-designed website as a sign that the school system also well-designed.