We all think we’re excellent communicators. I mean, it’s our job, right? But just as we encourage our district students and our own children, we can always learn more, become better, grow. Of course, there are countless ways a person can do just that, but here are six ways that we, as school communicators, can become even more strategic, dynamic and efficient in our day to day.
1. Connect with your peers
Repeat after me: I’m not in this alone. Sure, chances are high that you are a one-(wo)man team, but there are a lot of one-person teams out there who are doing the same thing you are, working in school communications. There are 13,506 public school districts in the United States, so, yeah, you’re not alone. There could be an informal group of your local peers that meets monthly or simply emails regularly. If you can’t seem to find this resource in your area, take the initiative to make the connections yourself – your peers will thank you for it. You can also connect with your peers through state and national organizations. In Ohio, for example, there is the OHSPRA – the Ohio School Public Relations Association, which is part of NSPRA – the National School Public Relations Association. Both provide ongoing training, resources, conferences and other ways to help you grow in your profession, connect with your peers and celebrate accomplishments and great work.
2. Ask for input
This can be done formally or informally. And it sounds so simple, but many of us forget to do this. Ask your superintendent for constructive verbal feedback; create a survey using a tool like Google Forms (it’s free!) and send it to your team; or survey the community about their communications preferences and perceptions. There are also companies out there, like Leadership Excelleration, Inc., that provide leadership training. If you’re fortunate enough to work on a team that chooses to seek the services provided by a company like this, soak. it. up. This is an incredible opportunity to grow, reflect and receive a 360-degree assessment of yourself as a teammate and a leader.
3. Look to see what others outside your industry are doing
Sometimes we get stuck in the education sector of our job. Hey, it happens to all of us, regardless of our industry. Fresh perspectives are key, as is staying ahead of the pack. Receive an engaging annual report in the mail from a nonprofit? Ask yourself: What caught your attention and how can you apply it to a communication piece for your district or institution. Troll the websites of some of your favorite companies, see what kind of materials they’re putting out and think of how you can adapt them for your needs. Visit your printing vendor and ask them to see some of the other pieces they’ve created for other clients.
4. Participate in webinars
Like you need another reason to eat lunch at your desk…again. But webinars are free (or usually fairly inexpensive) ways to connect with the pros and you’ll probably learn a thing or two along the way. And it might just keep you from incessantly and unnecessarily scrolling through Facebook while scarfing down last night’s leftovers or succumbing to yet another impulse buy from Amazon simply because it will arrive the next day. Campus Suite hosts "Academy Professional Development Webinar Series", which is flush with current information and trends. To receive email updates about these learning opportunities, click here.
Like I mentioned in #1, organizations like OHSPRA and NSPRA provide annual conferences, which are great platforms for connecting with school communications peers and gaining fresh perspective and insider tips from industry experts. But don’t stop there – search for communications workshops and conferences in your neck of the woods. Sure, they won’t be specific to school communications, but I’m 99% sure the techniques and tricks will still apply.
6. Read! Read! Read!
Just like your mom probably gave you Pepto (or hot toddies, like my…friend’s mom used to) to address all of your ailments, or your coach used to tell you to “just brush it off” even when there was a bone protruding out of your arm, reading truly is a cure-all for filling the professional development void. According to the extremely legit-sounding website unbelievable-facts.com, being a reader means you’re more likely to learn something new every day and that you are more likely to vote, exercise and be more cultural. It also says reading can be more therapeutic and who couldn’t use a bit of free therapy?
Even though we are working in the education industry, we must take our education as communicators into our own hands. Just as the great Jedi Master Yoda says (and I swear I’m not a Star Wars junkie, but this quote has kind of become one of my life mantras): “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Josephine McKenrick is the director of communications for Mariemont City Schools, a four-school district in Southwest Ohio. She's a firm believer in and practitioner of digital communications for her district, and is a board member for the Ohio School Public Relations Association and a member of the National School Public Relations Association. You can reach her at JMcKenrick@mariemontschools.org.