Do you remember your first day at Secondary School?

I’d don’t remember much of mine, other than feeling rather daunted and struggling to find my way around. The first few days were tough, but it soon got easier and I thought nothing of it.

I can’t believe my son has done a whole year at Secondary School already though. It seems like only yesterday that we moved house (to be in catchment area), filled in paperwork, bought his new uniform, pens, pencils, calculator, PE kit…. I won’t go through it all, but you’ll likely realise this is just the start of the list. Then we had the joy of homework, after-school clubs, and making sense of the timetable; and the nervous wait for him to phone on his way home.

It can be tough growing up, and just as tough if you’re the parent of a child who is growing up, but…

What’s all this got to do with WordPress?

I’ve worked with a few people recently who thought their online presence needed to ‘grow up’ in a similar way. They wanted to move on from the home-crafted webpage that had sort of served their needs so far, and get something a bit more powerful and flexible; or wanted to move to something where they had more control. No more Wix, Weebly or cPanel builders, they wanted a professional, grown-up WordPress website.

They usually felt just as daunted by the prospect as I did on my first day at school. They often found it a little confusing to start with – again, in the same way – but now find it completely natural and have never looked back.

There are far more similarities than that though.

 

School Timetables, databases, and WordPress

school timetableIt astounds me how schools manage to plan the week so that every child in every class, stream and set, gets the required amount of time for each subject; how the teachers are allocated the right rooms at the right time, and also given the right amount of non-teaching time; and how it just sort of, works.

It’s certainly not something you can work out n the back of an envelope. In fact, it would likely be a struggle even with an entire flipchart pad. I’m pretty sure there is some fancy-pants database that figures it all out given certain parameters and conditions and just spits it all out again in different ways. By teacher, by class, by room… databases would make this so easy, and the school have so much more control as a result and can see the data in pretty much any way they want to.

WordPress is similar.

The first website I created (over twenty years ago) was written in pure HTML, and uploaded on a dial-up modem (eventually! – Google it). Each page was independent of all the others, and when we changed our phone number or I wanted to add a new menu option to the top of the screen, I had to edit each and every page individually.

WordPress is database-driven. To add a new menu item on every page, you add it once. New phone number? Again, the chances are you need to only make a single edit and it will immediately show on every page… and no waiting for the dial-up connection. The database stores details of the site name, the pages you want, the text to show on each page – and many other things – and then spits the information out in the best way each time, in the same way that the school generates a different timetable for teacher and pupil.

 

A new uniform – working with WordPress Themes

school uniformOur local schools have a “Transition Week” in June, where all Year 6 pupils go to their new school, complete with the new uniform. Parents of course rush out the buy it earlier than planned, with even more spare millimetres in the sleeve to ensure it lasts the year-and-a-bit, in the hope that they grow into it around Easter. The children all set off in their new uniform for the week, before reverting back to their old one for the final weeks of term. It’s a very quick transformation on the outside, but really nothing has changed underneath: they’re the same gobby pre-teen they always were.

WordPress Themes are much the same. They change how things look on the surface – the layout of pages, colour scheme, logo, menu position – but underneath everything is still the same. The content of the pages doesn’t change at all: it just looks different. Underneath that uniform, the WordPress database pushes out the page content, the menu items, the social media links – whatever it may be – into whichever location and using whichever font and style that the Theme dictates. Want to try a different font? Don’t rewrite every page, just change a single setting in the Theme. Don’t like it? Change it back again.

 

Extra-curricular activity – adding content and value

So the basics are done. Timetable, check. Uniform, check. Found the form room, check. Time to add content and value.

Schools – especially the one we chose – love to encourage growth, new experiences, added value… They call it “extra-curricular activity”, but you may call it afterschool clubs and trips. It enriches the pupil’s experience and learning apparently, often at the detriment of our bank account. Space Camp anyone?

Do you want to enrich the experience on your website too? Thought you would. I mean, it would be a bit boring if there was never anything new on there. Worse than double science on a Friday afternoon, right?

Guess what? WordPress makes this simple. You can add content and value to your site at any time, and it’s really very easy once you know how. There are two main types of “content” on a WordPress site:

  1. A Page – usually fixed content that doesn’t change much. This would include your “homepage” but you may also have an “about us” page, a “services” page, a “contact us” page… you’ll usually see these all listed in the menu at the top of the screen.
  2. A Post – a snippet of information added at a point in time. It may be a “blog post” sharing a top tip, a “news update” letting your site visitors know about your holiday hours, or some random witterings comparing WordPress to secondary school…

You can add a Page or Post from the WordPress backend, but we’ve setup some sites so that Posts can be added to the blog/news page simply by sending an email to a secret email address. Posts will often show in a list, one after the other – it’s actually how WordPress was best known in the early days – a ‘blog’.

Unlike the school trips, this doesn’t need to cost you anything if you are happy to do it yourself. We even include instructional videos to help make it easier, but it’s really not that different to writing something in Word.

Well add part 2 next week – look out for the low-down on stuffed pockets, pencil cases, cashless dinners and – everyone’s favourite – homework
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