Walking through the halls of any school building, you’ll find endless material for a brag-worthy blog post or newsletter. Instructional scaffolding. Innovative thinking. Technology integration. Cooperative learning. 21st century skills in action. And the best part? The smiling kids.
Headlines and media attention often capture a different narrative of education – what schools are doing wrong and what’s amiss from teaching, (like the cursive debacle) – but any educator will argue otherwise. The Pattonville School District in Ann, Missouri found an upside realizing 70% of parents rely on school information from personal accounts rather than from news sources. Parents value what they see and hear themselves.
The problem is schools can’t seem to churn out all the good news fast enough. Strapped budgets and limited resources are to blame, but you shouldn’t let that be an impediment to your school communication strategy. Whether you are a large school district or a single school, communication needs to be an integral part of school leadership. Delegation is the essential ingredient. You need to learn how to master the art of delegating school communications.
A built-in school PR team
Everything you need, you already have in place.
Would you believe that every school has a de facto PR team? These are the people who are always in the know and seen as trustworthy sources.
We’re talking about teachers, counselors, parents, students and other stakeholders who are skilled in filling the airways with accurate information about your school. They have more friends than anyone else on social media and they are privy to the latest scoop. They listen, ask good questions and tend to be in the right place at the right time.
As unofficial spokespeople, they are already doing the legwork, but by building a partnership with them you’ll gather valuable intel. This will help you be proactive and strategic with all of your messaging. You would be remiss not to tap this team of savvy communicators.
While that may feel a little unnerving to involve so many parties, enlisting these key communicators provides opportunity to rev up positive school communication. Information sharing will become more consistent, thorough and widespread if you delegate school communication to the right people.
Parents value what they see and hear themselves...The problem is schools can’t seem to churn out all the good news fast enough.
Using insight from these communication foot soldiers, you can provide information and clarity before questions have a chance to be asked. And even with the advent of streamlined electronic communication, parents still value person-to-person interaction. They want a face behind a text message or a point of contact in a blast email.
Trained communication ambassadors are the answer. Pattonville School District provides a handy guide for educators to build a successful communications plan highlighting information sharing that is concise, frequent and built on collaborative partnerships.
Recruit communication ambassadors
To get individuals on board, you’ll need to promote the concept of communication ambassadors by giving credence to the role and function. Get creative and make it appealing. Utilize all channels available to promote a call to action for communication ambassadors. Create a landing page to garner interest and a submittable form to apply for the role. How about a banner on your website, a scrolling message on your marquee and a host of clever social media posts: #Communication #ambassadors wanted. Have students make a promotional video on what you are looking for in communication ambassadors.
Give the position authority, and people will come. Trust me, you’ll get so much interest that you can be selective in who becomes part of your team of communication ambassadors.
As a starter, choosing individuals who have social sway, credibility and eloquence are ideal to serve as influential messengers. Here are some examples of strengths and characteristics to look for when seeking out communication ambassadors:
- Social media presence (positive & robust)
- Strong writers
- Community involvement
- Public speaking
- Strong social skills
- Consensus builders
Once you have a team of communication ambassadors, you’ll want to be strategic in who does what. Like in the classroom setting, differentiation capitalizes on the strengths of each individual. Here we will break down the strategy for the various communication ambassadors.
Tap top school leadership
While administrators like superintendents and principals are charged with making official statements and getting in front of crowds, there is some valuable communication work that can be done behind the scenes.
Because of their visibility and following, top level administrators can stay connected to the community they serve by launching a blog. To spur blog engagement, captivate readers by telling stories, showcasing student accomplishments and using photos. You can even have a weekly photo contest to be featured on the superintendent's blog. What parent wouldn’t hurry to load that page of their child’s picture? You’ll just want to be sure to create a consistent blogging schedule whether it’s weekly (ideal), monthly or each grading period.
A classroom of kids = perfect PR
If you were to film a commercial to feature all the amazing things going on in your school, it would start in the classroom, right?
Sometimes educators can be wary of having an online presence of their classroom, but if it’s something you encourage and model, teachers will follow suit. Just give them guidelines and templates. Encourage teachers to develop their own classroom websites and to create professional social media accounts to showcase their work.
Encourage teachers to have a hashtag contest to encapsulate what students learned that day. Teachers can anonymously feature the student hashtags on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram.
Let the student voice ring out
Students may be the most overlooked component of your communications plan, but perhaps the most valuable. They are the everyday link between home and school.
Student communication ambassadors have tremendous power to shape and influence the school culture. By selecting a small cohort of student communication ambassadors, they can create campaigns for school-wide initiatives, deliver information in a kid-friendly way and create a welcoming school climate for new and prospective students.
Parents as communication ambassadors
Parents trust other parents so it’s wise to include a number of them in your communication strategy. Parent Teacher Organization meetings are a great place to solicit their involvement and support.
They can offer valuable insight into how parents prefer to be informed about school happenings and the issues that are most critical. Through their lens, parents can also help you anticipate the responses you’ll get after delivering out information.
Because of parents’ connectedness to the community, they can offer school-sponsored workshops in places where parents already congregate like sporting events and civics organizations to help increase parent involvement and promote your school in a positive light.
Bring in the experts
By partnering with subject matter experts, you can offer deliberate programming that meets the needs of your school community.
For example, if your school had a number of students with substance abuse and mental health concerns, your school counseling department could team up with a mental health practitioner to provide resources and information to parents. Let’s suppose a number of parents are concerned about college readiness, then invite an admissions official from a local university to conduct a question and answer session with parents.
This model using subject matter experts can also stay within your building. One example is having your Health and P.E. teachers sponsor a family wellness fair by providing resources of exercise, healthy eating and managing stress. By offering workshops that appeal to all people, you make an entire family feel connected to your school.
Delegating school communications now
Your school communication plan is probably more widespread than you realized, but that’s to your advantage. School communication and public relations go way beyond a press release statement and standing at the podium in a crowded auditorium. Good leadership means other people are on board with your vision and will help you promote that vision. Invest your time in communication ambassadors.
School communication starts with anyone who is plugged into your school and has reason to care. Don’t let the headlines take over public perception of education. Your school can shift the narrative. Use your allied forces to spread the word about all the ingenuity and excitement that’s going on at your school. The more voices you use in promoting your message, the stronger your school communication plan will be.
What ideas have you come up with to build a team of communication ambassadors? How will your communication plan improve as a result of enlisting the support of communication ambassadors?
Other related articles:
- 7 Signs your School Communications Plan is Weak
- Steps to Creating a School Communications Plan
- 6 tips for Back-to-School Communications
- How to Create a School Blog to Boost School Communications
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him @jay4schools.