Looking for a sure-fire way to improve your school communication program?
Focus on parents — one of the most important audiences you have.
If you connect with your parents and they trust that your schools are preparing their children for life as an independent, productive, and successful adult, you are way ahead of all the political banter of critics and others. Aim your communication at the sweet-spot of most parents — the success of their own children.
We covered these findings and more in NSPRA’s PR Power Hour last Friday when Dr. Dave Clayton, vice president; and Rich Neimand, president/creative director of Neimand Collaborative, discussed the results of the research they completed in North Carolina. For more about Neimand Collaborative, go to www.neimandcollaborative.com.
My years of experience in our business tell me that their findings and advice ring true for many school districts in North America. Here’s a look at some of what they said. Plus, I’ve added a few of my own comments:
- Education may look like a political issue but it really is a consumer issue and will be fought and won on that basis. Former NSPRA Executive Director Dr. John Wherry, APR, used to tell us that public relations is primarily educators doing a good job and then making sure that everyone tells others about the good job we are doing for their children and their communities.
- Their research told us to talk about the needs of parents and children first — not the needs of the system. Then you can talk about the supports necessary to help each child and family achieve their goals. For instance, we often talk about funding for our new one-to-one laptop initiatives, but we don’t demonstrate what it all means for our children and how the initiative will help children achieve success in school and in their future careers. We must describe the benefits of what our work will do for them — not what it will do for us.
- We must prove our value by demonstrating how we advance everyone — from the top to the bottom, and all those in between. Years ago while working with the Oklahoma State Department on career tech issues, we talked about creating an Instructional Education Program (IEP) for each child. Avoiding getting bogged down in the legal entanglements of special education regulations, this new IEP would take a snapshot of each student and describe what teachers and parents could do together to make their children successful. Progress is the key issue, giving parents a better sense that we are focusing on their children rather than on our system.
- We must say that quality teachers are the key force of public education and having them results in better outcomes for students. And in the midst of attacks on teacher evaluations and tenure, we must also demonstrate that you weed ineffective teachers out of your system. For instance, relay a message like:
A master teacher coaches our other teachers so that they get better each year. If some teachers don’t improve to meet our high standards, we release them. In the past 2 years, we released 5 teachers.
This type of research gives communicators the direction we need to create effective messages. One caution: Every school community is a bit different, so it is critical to learn about your parents’ thoughts when it comes to your schools. Basing your messages and programs on effective feedback will save you money, make your program more effective, and build confidence in your school district.
Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director