You can run an all-out technology-based classroom as a broke teacher… even if you don’t have computers or Chromebooks.
All you need is a classroom website.
Why a website? Websites are where our kids are used to getting information. That’s where we go to first. There’s not much I’ll buy, look for, or do without checking out a website–that’s the culture kids were born into.
You should have a classroom website.
“But I don’t know much about tech.”
“But I’m broke!”
There are many reasons to put this off–none of them are good.
You’d never accept excuses from students. The Broke teacher rejects your excuses. Your “I can’t” will be a victorious “I CAN AND I WILL!” You’ll be proud you did.
Follow these tips and your site will be ready to teach, inform, and connect–all the things a good classroom website should do.
First, decide on the mission
What you want your site to do? Will your classroom website be for students only? For families? Will it be a portfolio site to show off student work? Will it be sharable around the web? Would you rather scrap the classroom website idea and start small with a teacher or personal blog while you learn?
The sky’s the limit, but don’t get too complex if this is your first site. Start with something simple and have fun as you develop your ideas.
Name it well
This is one of the most important things I learned about websites. You will want to decide on a great name and then buy the domain name.
There are plenty of free sites out there that will give you a site in return for their name being part of your IP address. This can get clunky and hard to share.
It’s better to spend the twelve dollars to buy your domain name so you don’t have to be thebroketeacher.wordpress.com or thebroketeacher.blogspot.com. Make sure the name you buy is easy to spell, not overly clever, and that anyone can understand what you’ll be writing about.
If you feel finding an available name is hard, it is. Naming websites is harder than writing them, incidentally. I used Lean Domain Search to name my first blog. I put in a word that represented what I wanted to write about, and it searched all available .com addresses, making the naming process fun.
- Start with a domain name that is available, short, and catchy. Make sure it’s not too clever or no one will be able to spell it.
- Buy your name. .com is best, because it is the standard. On a bad day, this’ll cost you $12.99. There are often domain name sales as low as $.99.
- Just for fun–check the other versions of your name. Is there a similar name or a .net, .org, .co, or other common ending that isn’t wholesome? Years ago, there was a version of the name White House that extremely Rated R, so I had to be very careful about sending kids to the real White House website. You don’t want a mixup like that with your site.
Set up the Site:
- Set up your website with somewhere like WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or SquareSpace or Blogger. I use WordPress, but I also have a site on SquareSpace because the design templates are modern and stunning. SquareSpace charges a monthly fee, so is outside the scope of the Broke Teacher classroom budget, but if you create a business website on the side–it’s worth it.
- Choose a design template you like. There are plenty of free and simple WordPress templates. Start with one of these. Don’t worry if you make a mistake setting things up, even if you’ve published it. Nothing you break can’t be fixed. There are some really great tutorials out there for setting up your blog. You’ll be up and running in no time. If you get stuck, turn to Twitter and ask–WordPress people especially are passionate about helping, and someone will rescue you.
- Point the blog to the domain name you bought. Wordpress, will set up your blog at their site. By default it’s Yourblog.wordpress.com. We don’t want that. It looks clunky. We want to go to yourname.com. This is called “pointing” the website to the new address. These instructions are for getting your pointing your WordPress blog to the address you bought. Note: Blogger doesn’t allow this, which means even if you bought a domain name, it always shows yourname.blogspot.com. This makes me cranky. I like to have control over how my blog shows the address.
- Get permission slips. If you are showing students, you probably need permission slips. A trick to this: Don’t make “Yes/No” permission boxes. Say instead, “YES! I want to feature my child and his/her achievements on the class blog!” or “No, I am not comfortable featuring my child or his/her work on this blog,” or “You may feature my child’s work but do not show pictures of my child.” Phrase it in a way that shows the positive work you want to showcase. If you have a very strict situation, you might even set up a members-only section to keep the security level high. You should also post your policies for sharing, commenting, and using the information on the blog.
- Tell the world about your blog! Start using your blog. Add posts, pages, and menus. Share what you do with the world. The sky’s the limit.
Research professional sites
Take a look at your favorite websites. Look at the design and flow. What fonts are they using? What are the calls to actions? What do the color combinations, buttons, and flow look like? Use these principles when designing your blog. These sites probably aren’t education sites–that’s okay. Chances are they have big money behind them. Why not learn from the best and make your site shine?
Too many classroom websites are filled with clutter–links, pictures, ads even, conflicting and contrasting design. I find myself getting anxious and clicking away.
Keep pages and posts short, break up the text with headlines, space, and photos, and write in short paragraphs so the reader enjoys the site.
Separate your Sites
You may love your classroom website so much you want a personal blog, too. Set up a second site.
This way, your readers will understand what the mission of the site is about and will know what to expect.
Respect your reader: offer value
“Respect your reader!” It was the best advice I ever got as writer. Know your audience–whether it’s a kid who doesn’t want to do your homework, advice for teachers or a reader going to your personal blog, make sure you’re offering value. Good websites are never about you, they’re always about giving to the people you serve.
Teachers sometimes focus on the mission: “Must…teach…this…stuff.” If your delivery is entertaining your audience will see the value. Test question: Would a reader–student or adult–choose to click on this link, page, or material on their own?
If so, you’ve offered value.
Above all, have fun!
You should love your classroom website. Give the experience time–you will feel comfortable blogging and people will look forward to using your classroom website. Keep it updated and you’ll see the excitement as kids, colleagues, and families look forward to your next post. It’ll turn your class into a focal point for community learning.
With a little learning and setup, classroom websites and blogs are valuable experiences for everyone involved. The key thing is you don’t have to bleed cash to set it up–you can set up your classroom on a broke teacher budget.