How EIPS Empowers Schools to Take Ownership of their School Websites
Like many large school jurisdictions, Elk Island Public Schools (EIPS) relies on school staff to maintain their school websites. As school staff have various amounts of time and levels of technical knowledge, it’s a big challenge for EIPS to ensure all of their 38 school websites are up to Division standard. EIPS needed a way to inspire school-based users to take ownership of their websites.
The solution? #WebsiteWednesday, where school users connect online for Division-led website training and support. At Rally, we recently had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Baranec, Communications Networking Specialist at EIPS, to learn more about her #WebsiteWednesday initiative.
What is #WebsiteWednesday?
#WebsiteWednesday is a way to encourage school webmasters to take ownership of their school website. It began with 30-minute virtual training sessions where school webmasters can learn more about how to use the Division’s Content Management System (CMS),Rally. Karen knew she wanted to do sessions throughout the school year, so she took a critical look at the Division calendar and came up with a list of topics. Her list for 2023, with sessions running bi-monthly from January to June, included the following topics:
Customizing Your Home Page
Managing Site Settings
Understanding Your Home Page
Updating Content: Pages and Articles
Connecting Social Media Accounts
Updating the Online Contact Form
Updating the Calendar
Interpreting Website Google Analytics
The sessions are recorded and housed on the secure EIPS intranet, StaffConnect, for users to review later. With so many staff in different areas, virtual sessions also make it easier for staff to attend. By choosing sessions that are relevant, Karen ensures staff have the skills and knowledge to update their websites for the coming season: “It’s about creating a sense of ownership with the school websites and making it as easy and straightforward as possible.”
Who attends #WebsiteWednesday?
When Karen first started planning #WebsiteWednesday in late 2021, she was sending website guidance to staff through an internal weekly newsletter. She knew school staff needed more focused website training, so she reached out to identify key website administrators at each EIPS school. Some schools had up to six people who could update the website, but there were always one or two people who were doing most of the routine updates. Karen made a shortlist of these school staff members and engaged with them directly.
Her key school contacts had a wide variety of roles in their schools: librarians, secretaries, you name it. So, her first challenge was finding a time to host the sessions that worked best for everyone. She began with a survey that identified 3:30-4 p.m. as the best time for most people to attend. Recording the sessions provides an opportunity for those who couldn’t join live to still receive the information and training at a time that worked for them.
Some staff had been with the Division for many years, while others were new to their roles. Everyone was still encouraged to attend #WebsiteWednesday. “Some users came to freshen up their skills and see new updates. Others were learning the system for the first time,” Karen said. For new webmasters, it’s a great way to learn the system and the Division’s standards for school webmasters, while long-term users can learn about new updates and features.
More importantly, all webmasters have a chance to connect with Karen: “It’s always helpful to put a name to a face. And, I want staff to know they can always come to me for help—whether it’s something related to a recent training topic or something completely separate on their site.” While school users can submit support tickets directly to Rally, Karen also helps school users with questions.
How are schools supported in ongoing website management?
Providing training sessions is one thing, but ensuring the work gets done is another. Once again, Karen turned to her school contact list to ask the best way to support them in ongoing website management. The result is a #WebsiteWednesday task list sent out on the first Wednesday of each month.
The list details 2-3 tasks that each take 5-10 minutes to complete. Schools can do the work throughout the month. With tasks like document clean up, reviewing the website user roles assigned to staff members, and contact form updates, Karen provides guidance for schools to complete the work without overwhelming them.
She’s even throwing in the occasional prize to encourage schools to follow through: “We encourage schools to use a broken link checker to identify any broken links on their website. For a recent contest, schools identified and fixed all broken links and sent me screenshots showing there were no broken links on the school website to be entered in the draw.” This list helps school webmasters stay on track with timely tasks, while giving them the freedom to complete the work on their own time.
Finally, Karen has implemented #WebsiteWednesday Working Sessions, where staff can connect with her on a drop-in basis throughout an afternoon and get her help with something they’re working on. With a mixture of in-person and virtual Working Sessions, staff have the opportunity to ask for help and advice as needed. The sessions are driven by staff need—there’s no specific agenda for each session, and staff can work on any one or more areas or modules of their websites during that time.
How has #WebsiteWednesday impacted EIPS?
While there’s no expectation that all key website contacts or all schools participate in #WebsiteWednesday training or tasks, the goal of the project has been to provide school users with one or two more tools in their website management toolkit. “While all of this same work could be completed for schools at the Division level, that’s not feasible in a division our size,” Karen said.
“We wanted to find a way for schools to feel comfortable and confident in this work themselves.”
- Karen Baranec, EIPS
The feedback Karen’s received so far has been positive: “We had 19 out of 38 school enter our broken link contest, which is great, and I’ve had direct emails from staff sharing their appreciation for the step-by-step monthly task list.”
What can other districts learn from #WebsiteWednesday?
If your district relies on school webmasters for regular website updates, #WebsiteWednesday could be a great fit. Start by identifying your expectations for school websites within your division. What content should be there year-round and what seasonal content needs to be available on key dates? Then engage your school webmasters. Find out what works for your district and staff, whether that’s virtual training sessions, task lists, working sessions, or a combination.
Follow Karen’s methodology, and start by identifying your key school webmasters, then ask how you can support them. Review your analytics for your school websites and see what areas could be improved upon. Plan out what seasonal information needs to be on school websites so parents and students can access the information they need for things like back to school, parent-teacher conferences, and graduation. Then ensure your school webmasters have the tools and skills they need to make those changes.
“My best advice is to ask what might work for your staff and be open to running with what they ask for—even if it’s outside your comfort zone,” Karen said. “While they may need suggestions to get the idea ball rolling, it will hopefully point you in the right direction for a good path forward.” A little guidance and support can go a long way. Even if you don’t have time to develop and run virtual training sessions, a monthly task email can be a great way to offer schools some support.