How Much Freedom Should Teachers Have with Their Web Pages?
Last week we started our series of education-related blog articles with my interview of Judy Steinbrueck (my mother) who has been managing a website for her second grade class for the last 5 years. This week, I’m keeping it in the family again by interviewing Melissa Steinbrueck, who is the wife of my brother and OCC’s Director of Marketing Services, Kurt.
Melissa has been teaching at Family of Christ Christian School in Tampa, FL for 2 years and finds herself in the challenging position of being responsible for managing a website for the entire school.
Paul Steinbrueck: Hi Melissa. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your school’s website.
Melissa Steinbrueck: No problem.
PS: What is your role with respect to the website?
MS: My role is to be in charge of keeping it up to date, getting information from each teacher, and putting it up on the site.
PS: How long have you been in this role?
MS: This past year was the first year. Last year the majority of the staff was new and so most of the teachers were just trying to keep their heads above water on other responsibilities.
PS: Do you know how long the school has had a website?
MS: I’m not sure, but I think before this year the school just had a page on the church website.
PS: What is the school’s goal with the website?
MS: Just to keep everyone informed. Though some parents just wanted to have [a paper] newsletter sent home in their child’s binder. Trying to keep the sports schedules on the website and put the school handbook on the site and to have information available for parents looking for a school. We’ve actually gotten a decent number of inquiries from people for both the preschool and the elementary school [via the website].
PS: How is it going so far?
MS: It has its moments. It depends on time of year and the teacher. It’s getting better. I think this upcoming year will be a lot better because all the staff has been together for a whole year and I won’t have to chase people down for information.
The challenge is that some teachers only do a newsletter every week, some every other week, and some once a month. The challenge is also in getting the information in the right format. So, we’re also trying to decide what we want to have on the website. A weekly newsletter? A monthly newsletter? A yearly curriculum? Just trying to figure out what the needs are.
PS: Have you tried surveying parents?
MS: Not yet, but this year I think we’re going to work with the PTL. We’re actually going to put in a money request to get a CMS (content management system) because it has a lot of features that we could use. But we have to wait until school starts so we can talk to everyone about it.
I think the eventual goal would be to enable each teacher to keep up their own section of the site that way each teacher can do what they want with their section. If one teacher wants to put more into their section and update it more often they can if it’s not as important to them they don’t have to put as much into their section.
PS: You mentioned a content management system, what CMS features in particular would you like to see on your school’s site?
MS: Parents to be able to fill out forms and pay for fieldtrips online. E-newsletter. We’ve been mailing out a nice newsletter and to be able to email it would save us time and money. A calendar. To have the handbook for parents and students to look through.
PS: Do you think the PTL will embrace the idea of a CMS?
MS: I think they will. The people who are coming in this year want to take that next step to make things easier on the teachers, the parents, and the kids. I think some parents will still want their paper copies, but as the word gets out more and more people will use it.
PS: I don’t know if you read the interview we published last week, but what do you think of the idea of creating an incentive for the kids to get their parents to visit the website?
MS: I think that is great! We would have to do something different because we don’t have a school store, but we could give a homework pass or some other incentive. My kids earn chips and get to go to the treasure box with their chips, so they could receive chips if their parents read the newsletter. Either each teacher would have to figure out their own incentive or we would have to come up with something school-wide.
PS: Do you have any advice for other school webmasters?
MS: My struggle has been to get information from everyone.
PS: How supportive is your principal?
MS: She is very supportive and is constantly asking teachers for information. It also gets complicated once you get to middle school because teachers teach a subject rather than a whole grade. The issue is whether the teachers want to do it, that’s why I think it would be great for each teacher to have his or her own section to update himself or herself.
PS: That’s a great point. It’s a totally different ballgame when a student has multiple teachers instead of just one. It’s also a different ballgame when you have multiple teachers with different levels of motivation who want levels of detail for their class on the website. It adds a whole new level of complexity. It raises issues like how much consistency do you want across all the classes vs giving teachers the freedom to do what they want.
MS: Yes, there’s a big difference between a school site and a class site.
PS: Thanks again, Melissa, for taking the time to talk with me, and I wish you all the best with your school website.
MS: You’re welcome.
So, when managing a website how much consistency do you (readers) think there should be in the information provided for each class? Should each class have the same information posted on the site? Or should the teacher have the freedom to post as much or as little as they want, updating their section as often as they like?
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