As we continue our focus on school websites during Back to School Month, today I have the privilege of introducing you to Debbie Steves, who is the newest member of the OurChurch.Com team. Debbie joined our team 3 week ago after teaching second grade and computer class for 6 years. During her tenure as a teacher, Debbie designed and updated a website for her class. I thought you might appreciate some insight from her first-hand web experience, so I interviewed her about that.
Debbie shared how she started the website, the response of the parents, as well as some of the obstacles that prevented more parents from using the website. A paraphrase of that conversation follows:
Paul Steinbrueck (PS): Hi Debbie. How are you doing today.
Debbie Steves (DS): Good, thanks.
PS: Remind me again, how long did you teach?
DS: 6 years
PS: Was the website you created for the school or for just your class?
DS: For my second grade class.
PS: Were you asked to do it or did you do that on your own initiative?
DS: On my own.
PS: What motivated you to do it?
DS: I liked the whole idea of having parents be able to look up what their kids forgot. Even though they had their planners to write in, students often didn’t write down homework assignments, and didn’t get the homework done. With the website parents who weren’t sure if their kids had homework could check the website to see.
PS: How did you get started?
DS: I taught myself HTML coding.
PS: What was on the website initially?
DS: A weekly calendar saying what homework would be due. There was also a link to comprehension questions the kids had every week. And I think I might have had their spelling list as well.
PS: What was the initial response? Did it catch on right away or did it take a while?
DS: The parents who used it really liked it. Especially for projects, which were assigned a month in advanced and often got lost. Putting it on the website really helped them.
I had about 20 kids in my class and some of them didn’t have internet, but I would say at first about 1/6 looked at it online. The other thing is in second grade it’s not too hard to remember what the homework is, so parents only used it when they needed it. I didn’t create an incentive to go there.
PS: Over time you obviously added to the site and developed it further. What kinds of other things did you add to it?
A definition list, some sight word lists, so parents could practice with their child at home, history and science study guides. Science was usually at the end of the day, and parents would often schedule doctor or dentist appointments at the end of the end of the day, so it was the most missed class… We might spend a week on China and a child would be gone the day I handed out the study sheet, but then the parent could get that online so the child would be ready for the test.
I also put on the site a link to the phonics curriculum, which would help them decode the rules. I also added a link to dictionary.com so they could look up words even if they didn’t have a dictionary at home. I also put links to some good educational sites.
PS: Over time did the number of parents using the website increase?
DS: Yes, by a few parents each year.
I also put birthdays, orientation, pictures, and other events on the website. And my wish list. All teachers have a wish list at the school. Parents would often ask me what I need, and I put that on the website so they could look it up.
PS: By your last year how many parents were using the site?
DS: About ¼ to ½ of them. A lot of parents didn’t have Internet or were families where both parents worked and didn’t have a lot of time to go online. The number of parents calling or emailing about homework assignments went way down and the number of students missing homework assignments.
I think another reason why a lot of parents might not have used it is because the site didn’t have its own domain name and the URL was really long. Some parents said they lost the URL or couldn’t remember it.
PS: When you were doing this did the school itself or any other teachers have a website?
DS: The school did, but no other teachers.
PS: Was that because the other teachers didn’t see the value in it or because they didn’t think they could do it.
DS: Because they couldn’t do it. They didn’t know HTML.
PS: Do you think other teachers would have created a web page for their class if they knew about an easy web builder like NE1?
DS: It would have helped. Now teachers are supposed to send information to the school’s web administrator who would put that on the school site.
PS: Does that work well or are their delays and other issues because of that process?
DS: A lot of teachers don’t send info because they have a lot of other things to do. The school gives teachers a huge list of things to do and it’s hard to get all of those things done not including proving information for the website.
PS: Sounds like the principle did not make having class updates to the website a high priority compared with other things they were expected to do.
Any other advice for teachers?
DS: When I first started out it was very time consuming. But I liked the fact that I could personalize the pages and make it fun by putting apples or pumpkins all over the page. I don’t like to not know what I’m doing up ahead, and this was a way for me to make sure the parents weren’t in the dark either. There’s not always time to contact parents individually and the website was a way I could at least make sure parents had information about homework and other things we were doing… It was fun for me because of the creativity I could put into it. And after a while it was not time consuming at all.
PS: That’s great!
It sounds to me as though having a website for a class is an effective way to keep parents informed and potentially a time-saver as well. But there are hurdles to overcome – the technical ability to create an update a site, the time to update it regularly, and the priority updating the website is given by the principle compared with other work.
Individual teachers can overcome some of those hurdles by building a website with an easy-to-use web builder like NE1, but that takes some time and initiative. An even better solution would be for a school to develop a website using a Content Management System (CMS) with which each teacher could update their own class pages with just a little training.
Debbie, thank you very much for your time and sharing with our readers the insight you gained from doing a website for your second grade class. It’s great to have someone with your knowledge and experience with school websites as a part of the OurChurch.Com team.