Coordinating a student website that produces two, three or even five pieces a week, plus pictures and design, for the entire school year sounds like the undertaking of a madman. Especially, when the writing has to be passed by senior management and reflect well on the school, while also appealing to the students. However, I can vouchsafe for my partial sanity.
Here are five steps to creating a successful student website, without losing your mind:
- Lay the groundwork
If you are not organized from the start, your keenest students will soon drift off into the canteen. So, before you recruit the next Polly Toynbee or Hunter S. Thompson, make sure the website has a structure. Discuss your idea with a member of senior leadership and get their blessing. Next, establish an editing regime. I do the first edit of all pieces but then hand over proofing to my fellow English teachers and office staff. Then, find a design website. We use www.wix.com, but there are many free website builders available.
- Establish your team
You will need writers, sub-editors, photographers and, possibly, a manager. I approach students who I know have ambitions in writing and they help to recruit others. I have had limited success through posters and bulletins, but speaking directly to candidates results in excellent recruits. At the start of the year I invest £10 of my hard-earned cash into some cakes and pop for the first meeting, which always helps to foster team moral.
- Don’t launch, just yet
Make sure you take the time to train up your cub reporters to avoid abysmal, time-wasting copy. Spend a couple of lunchtimes teaching news writing and profiles. I hand out short guides. Don’t forget to get some opinion pieces written, too. You can also do Podcasts, which can be created using editing programmes like Garageband and linked to on soundcloud.com. Find somewhere central to place work, either on DropBox or Google Drive. You can even create short videos using Vimeo or Youtube. Ask your team about what they can do. If you see any proficiency, then promote. When the site has a cache of sparkling content, get ready to launch.
- Make your launch impressive
Set a date and tell everyone. Book an assembly, organise an event in a large space, advertise via Parentmail or your school’s equivalent, even ring up the local paper. Most importantly, encourage students to take ownership of particular roles – the more they do this, the more likely they will commit.
- Establish your routine and delegate
We meet every Monday to discuss our four pieces for the week. Use this time to agree a structure for the pieces (rewrites take far too long) and coach students through the writing process. Five minutes now will save 30 minutes later. Delegation is the key to bringing it all together. I am lucky to have a Year 13 student who is an excellent manager, but I still train up the next generation. No one in the team is irreplaceable, not even the teacher.
Ben McDermott is coordinator for www.ktsnewsknight.com @ktsnewsknight and www.vimeo.com/ktsnewscast @ktsnewscast and an English teacher at The Knights Templar School in Hertfordshire. NewsKnight won Best Online at the 2016 Shine School Media Awards.
You can find out more about the Shine School Media Awards and how your school can enter at shine-schoolawards.org.
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