Integrity Is Everything

Posted 02/06/2019 by schoolpr
Categories: school PR, standards and ethics

IMG_8594 (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)Some Musings About Our Profession

My friend and mentor Ken Weir always prompts interesting discussions about our profession. He always makes me think more deeply about things.

Early in my career he noted that some people say that our job is just to make people look good — like rearranging a flower display so that the most beautiful and long-lasting flowers are front and center to pleasingly carry the “look” of the entire arrangement.

Sure, we all do that in various ways sometimes, but no more than a mother does as she straightens the collar of her son or pats down a stray hair or two before the photographer takes his picture.

Really, we all want our families and colleagues to look good. And if we can help in some way, that, too, becomes part of our job.

But sometimes making our districts look good or protecting their reputation can be high-wire act when it comes to some major issues in our school communities. Our personal integrity and professional code of ethics come into play, and we need to stand firm when unethical situations barrel toward us.

Let me give you an example:

Years ago — before the social media explosion, I received a call from a memb44743905011_5499891846_o-removebger in a suburban district. He was seeking counsel on this situation:

The kindergarten wing of the school district’s elementary school had just burned down and the plan was to move the kindergarten students to the high school.

The kindergarten parents almost revolted because they were worried about how their children would be treated. But the district assured the parents that their 5-year-olds would use separate entrances, would not be in harm’s way, and would never interact with the older students.

Shortly after the move, our member told me that a gun was found in a locker of one of the high school students and that locker was along the hallway leading to the kindergarten class.

He asked if he should disclose this finding to the elementary parents.

After questioning him a bit about the details of his situation (Who already knows? Were the police notified? Was the high school student apprehended? Was anyone hurt?), I told him that he needed to be transparent and authentic. He needed to treat the situation with the sensitivity and empathetic communication that a true pro like him could deliver.

Well, it turned out that his bosses felt differently. They never felt the need to communicate with the parents in their district. This situation never went public.

Such were the days before social media. Be forewarned: this incident would never happen like this today!

 

This story underscores the fact that one of the true hallmarks of a healthy profession is its code of ethics and how people in the profession practice it every day.

We hold NSPRA’s ethical standards high and expect that all of our members feel the same. Spin doctors, con artists, fake news advocates need not apply for membership in a professional association like ours.

Take some advice from one of our retired members. Judi Willis, APR, says it well:

“When you walk out of the office at the end of your career, the most valuable things you’ll take with you are your integrity and reputation. Protect them!”

— Judi Willis, APR

 

A maxim for all of us to remember as we put our ethics into practice every day.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo of child by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

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Creating a “My Kid First” Mentality for Customer Experiences

Posted 01/05/2019 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school choice, school communication, school PR

Tags: , ,

 

mkf1It’s a truth universally known: Every parent wants the best for their child, no matter the situation.

Critical to providing a positive customer experience is that school staff members understand that parents come with those high expectations. Staff should always be prepared to deal with the “My Kid First” (MKF) mentality when they talk with parents or host them at parent conferences and other gatherings throughout the year.

Parents want schools to treat their children fairly, provide a caring and nurturing climate, and leave them with a sense that their child is in great hands in your class and your school.

If parents don’t feel this sense of security, your schools will quickly be in jeopardy of losing students to private, charter, or other alternative programs that are now readily available in this era of school choice. So, as we prepare to interact with parents in our schools, we must always remember to provide staff with professional development opportunities so that they can make the most of their customer/parent experiences.

In NSPRA’s newest publication, Making/Marketing Your School the School of Choice, we offer a number of tools to boost the customer experience with your school including:

  • First Impressions Report Card — A look at functional signage, clean hallways and classrooms, displays of student art work, etc.
  • “Secret Shopper” Customer Service Checklist — A review of the timeliness of your responses, how you address questions and requests, how warmly you greet people, etc.
  • How Customer Friendly Is Your School? — Useful questions to guide your assessment: Can office signs be read from all approaches? Do all employees — not just office staff — take responsibility for answering phones because phones should not ring for more than 5 times? Have all employees been instructed on how to greet visitors and offer assistance?

 

Plus, a number of newer customer service books for business ventures have recently hit the market. Most address the attitude and flexibility of staff dealing with situations. As an example, Jeanne Bliss, a customer service industry guru just published, Would You Do That to Your Mother? Some school transferrable advice from Bliss includes:

  • Let your availability reflect how you care. Be there to answer questions and give guidance; don’t make customers hunt for answers.
  • Let your paperwork navigate customers to clarity and understanding. Avoid jargon as well. What is a blended learning and is it only in a blended classroom?
  • How you apologize is your humanity litmus test. Things will go wrong, that’s a given; handle them with empathy and compassion.
  • A graceful departure may lead to an eventual return. If you lose a student or parent to a competitor, be helpful and wish them well. They may just return next semester once they realize how much your school offered them.
mkf2

One additional takeaway on the newer approaches to customer service is that employees should have the authority to override policy from time to time when common sense or the “golden rule” should prevail. For instance, don’t let this scenario be the norm: “You submitted your application 9 minutes late for the scholarship because an accident backed up traffic, so we cannot accept it.” No, be reasonable! Accept the application!

Understand that people come to you with the “My Kid First” mentality and make sure that the importance of creating a positive customer experience always guides your actions.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

 

 

Stocking Stuffers for Every School Communication Professional

Posted 12/08/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: holiday, school communication, school PR

Tags: ,

15972909905_68db55cea5_o (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)You can hear it in the air: ’Tis the season for joy and merriment. I wish all who work in school PR a wonderful holiday season for you and your families as well as a great and healthy new year ahead.

We hope all your holiday wishes come true, but just in case they don’t, here are some stocking stuffers I’m tossing your way.

Feel free to “re-gift” those you can’t use.

 

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  • First, a stocking stuffed with a superintendent who “gets it.” One who listens, understands what little may be ultimately controllable, and one who gives you green lights and budgets to make a real communication difference in your system.

 

  • Cell phone batteries that never die.

 

  • A copy of the NSPRA classic, The Wit and Wisdom of PR Success. I could teach a full semester of a School PR course for superintendents just based on the valuable advice in this compendium by some of the best in our business. For instance:

“Don’t wait to be asked.” John BuddWit and Wisdom cover front (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)

“Public relations programs without effective internal communication are built on quicksand.”Buddy Price

“People want to be served, not sold — involved, not told.”Patrick Jackson

 

  • A “Go Bag” with battery extenders, extra phone chargers, nutrition bars, apparel and underwear changes, and a few photos of your special loved ones because you know it may be days until you see them again.

 

  • A copy of Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, a perfect fit for every school public relations professional.

do not disturb

 

  • A Do Not Disturb Sign or — maybe better yet — a Please Disturb Sign for your office door.

 

  • A stack of 25 small gift cards to hand out to staff and volunteers for doing a great job.

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  • At least 3 outstanding principals who serve as positive role models for building-level PR — one each for elementary, middle and high school.

 

  • A stash of 5 additional personal days that you probably won’t get a chance to use but at least you can feel good about having them in your back pocket all the time.

 

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  • A ticket to NSPRA’s newest member benefit, NSPRA Connect, where you can ask nearly 2,000 school PR pros for their helpful insights about your upcoming sticky issue or stewing dilemma or operational tool like what the best choice is for a mass communication system.

 

  • An extra night’s sleep — just because we all need to recharge once in a while.

 

2018 Washington logo--October 23, 2018

  • Tickets for both you and your superintendent in July for a chance to network with colleagues at NSPRA’s National Seminar in Washington, D.C.

 

  • A quiet moment to sit back, reflect and smile because you have one of the most meaningful and important jobs in the world. You help kids every day.

Those of us in our profession know how our work makes a difference in the lives of students, staff and our school communities. Savor those accomplishmgift-3ents.

Be sure to make some time to be good to yourself and your loved ones in the holiday season ahead.

Best wishes and happy holidays to you,

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Santa photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

What Does Your District Stand For?

Posted 11/10/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school communication

IMG_0066What does your district stand for?

What makes it different or better than other school districts?

What is your “elevator speech” when asked about your schools?

Over the years we’ve seen many approaches that school professionals take to help define their authentic response when they describe their districts in a compact and meaningful way.

Years ago, I even wrestled with creating NSPRA’s own elevator speech description and the result was our current tagline, NSPRA Is the Leader in School Communication. There are other ways we could have described who we are because we provide communication training, leadership, resources, and insight, but because NSPRA’s approach is comprehensive — and that is what makes us exceptional — we decided that our best descriptor was The Leader in School Communication.

Recently, Dr. Susan Enfield, Superintendent of the Highline Public Schools in Washington, and the current NSPRA at-large Board member representing superintendents shared her system’s approach to defining their school district with the development of the Highline Promise. (Highlineschools.org/OurPromise).

Along with her talented communication staff, she implemented the Promise after going through a strategic planning process. We decided to share just one element of their thoughtful approach.

In a nifty 4- by 3-inch accordion fold-out brochure that can easily be slipped into a pocket or pocketbook, the piece begins with:

The Highline Promise:

Every student in Highline Public Schools is known by name, strength and need, and graduates prepared for the future they choose.

It goes on in its brief style to list the District’s Foundation encompassing:

  • Equity: We will disrupt institutional biases and inequitable practices so all students have an equal chance of success.
  • Instruction: We will reduce achievement and opportunity gaps by using culturally responsive, inclusive, standards-based instruction.
  • Relationships: We will know our students by name, strength and need and have open, two-way communication with students, families and community partners.
  • Support: We will increase student success by supporting their social-emotional and academic needs.

But wait there’s more:IMG_0069

The little foldout even contains the 5 goals of the system on the flip side. Yes, I know the content is way too much for an elevator speech — unless you are on slow elevator in a Qatar, Saudi Arabia high rise. But the beauty of this small publication is that when you give it out to people, they now have a copy of what you stand for and what your district hopes to accomplish for all your children. It’s likely that they will share it with others because it hits its mark so effectively. They may even follow-up by going to the link to learn more about Highline. And it will be a conversation–starter about what makes Highline better because it focuses on the need, strength and name of ALL students.

So, well done, Highline Public Schools. You’ve taught us all a valuable lesson in just a small way.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple

Posted 10/07/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: marketing, school communication, school PR

apple poster

Outstanding past NSPRA President, Ann Barkelew, APR, commissioned this mini-poster during her tenure back in the early 1980s. It reads, “School Public Relations People Look at the Whole Apple.” After all these years, it still hangs on my office wall because it says so much to those of us who fully grasp the impact of our profession.

In my last blog, I focused on how important it is to get a seat at your cabinet’s table or as Lin-Manuel Miranda says in his acclaimed musical Hamilton, that you need to be in “the room where it happens.”

Another way of getting where you need to be is to follow Ann’s advice — look at the whole apple. To make an impact for your system, look at all of the operational and possible controversial potholes that you anticipate for your schools. If you consistently develop this insight, the practice can become a critical function of your job.

But here’s a heads up: You must have courage. Be ready for pushback because some colleagues may see you as “mucking around” in what they consider to be their turf, not yours.

As I have said many times, and immediate past NSPRA President Tom DeLapp, APR, recently told us, two school district jobs are more similar than others: that of the superintendent and the communication professional. You are both there to deliver the greater good, to identify what can be better, to protect the reputation of your system, and to assist others to make it happen.

So when you see or hear or find out about missteps or know of potential practices or inattention that can harm the operation and reputation of your system, it’s time to speak up.

Here are two concrete examples of where your insight could be valuable to the district:

  • School bus delays — When vehement parents call the “bus barn” and no one picks up the phone, the problem continues to fester. To solve it, you could suggest having some informed temporary customer service help be assigned to the bus barn. (Hint: Always offer a few solutions as possibilities to assist in “righting the ship.”)

 

  • Growing negativity of parents about your middle school programs — Parents who have choices leave your system as they approach the transition period after elementary school. Even more depart as high school looms. What to do? Just present the data you have and note that you need to start focusing on this departure pattern sooner rather than later. Your curriculum and instructional folks surely know that this type of exodus may be apparent. Gather them as a team to talk about viable steps to take to begin finding solutions.

 

These are just two instances of how looking at the whole apple can help you become a catalyst to move your system in the right direction.

Of course, none of this should happen unless you and your superintendent are on the same page and your superintendent supports the approaches you’ve identified. Typically, you can discuss preliminary approaches with cabinet colleagues; a collaborative approach creates a smoother path as you move forward. No one should ever be blindsided at a cabinet-level meeting.

I urge you to look at the entire apple and share your thoughts about potential solutions with your superintendent. It’s one thing to be in the room where it happens, but it’s a major step to be in the room and to make it happen.

 

Creating a Wall of Fame as a Motivational Tool

Previously, we highlighted how one school — Bensalem Township School District in Pennsylvania — started a high school wall of fame to boost a positive and substantive image in its community. Just two weeks ago, the second group of outstanding graduates was installed at a special Saturday afternoon ceremony.

wall

 

Naturally, friends and relatives of all of the inductees attended the event, but one exception in the audience was a current high school student along with his parents. They had just moved into the community.

You might ask, why would they go to this ceremony?

At the high school’s annual Back-to-School night held just a few days before, the parents and their son saw the wall of fame display as they entered the hallway. They stopped to read about the accomplishments of some 24 graduates. They all were so impressed with what they read — a Pulitzer Prize winner, renowned scientists and doctors, and successful entrepreneurs among them — that they decided to come with their son to the ceremony. They thought it would be an opportunity to be inspired and understand what Bensalem High, combined with their son’s hard work, could do for their son in the years ahead. Stirred by the speeches of how their high school experiences and teachers contributed to their paths in life, the son leaned over to his parents and said, “Someday I’m going to be on that wall.”

Strategically, the wall’s mission was to boost the image of Bensalem High School. And it looks like that plan may just be working. In this case, at least one student at a time.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

You Must Be in the Room Where It Happens

Posted 09/10/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: Professional Development

39668350535_0ac8c2b774_o-2018_04_16-11_18_18-utc.jpgThe Room Where It Happens, a song from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, describes the situation of  wanting to be a “player” to influence the decisions and actions that the leaders of our country made back in the era of 1776.

That sentiment is still relevant today in our own professional lives. To make a worthwhile impact, you must be in the room when key decisions are made. (As an aside, if you can ever find a way to see this show, you will be so glad you did—even when ticket prices rival the cost of the NSPRA Seminar.)

 

How to Have a Seat in Your School District’s Cabinet?

New NSPRA members often ask me and other vets how to gain access to their district’s cabinet.  When I started out in this profession, I was the coordinator of school community relations for a medium-sized district and I was not a member of the cabinet. Within 10 months though, I started attending the meetings and by Year 2, I became a cabinet member.

My decades of experience in school public relations taught me a few things I’d like to share. Although every district and superintendent have differences, many of these tips may help you.

You Must Work to Gain an Admission Ticket to the Room Where It Happens

  • Remember that you have to earn your way into a cabinet position. It’s not an entitlement. You have to earn your stripes by providing solid counsel to your superintendent and cabinet members. Make sure you do that as best as you can in a proactive approach so you start building a credible track record in advising.
  • Build that credibility by writing brief “thought joggers” for your boss dealing with anticipated situations where intervention and increased communication can help avoid controversial miscues in the future.
  • It helps to report directly to the superintendent. If you do not, work with influential cabinet members “who get it” when it comes to understanding the total impact of your communication function. Try to have that person pave the way with your superintendent. Use the rationale that you can be much better in developing messages if you understand fully why and how decisions are made. Otherwise, a void exists and that lack of connection makes your job harder. Your district is at a higher risk when you are not aware of the big picture.
  • Offer to audit each meeting and craft a succinct summary of every meeting in a grid-like format that notes actions taken, next steps, and who does what. (I started this practice to gain entry and by my second meeting, cabinet colleagues started asking, ”Rich, how do you see this playing out in our community?”
  • For many years, I’ve said, “Our best school PR pros have one foot in the schools and one foot in the community, and the stretch marks to prove it.” Where possible, prove that maxim is true by how you practice our profession in your school community. Know the pulse of your community.
  • Read Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor. It’s one of the best bits of advice on this topic. You can buy it through NSPRA here.

 

The Key Is to Build a Positive Relationship

One of the keys to making all this work is your relationship with your superintendent of schools and your superintendent’s perception of the value you add to your district’s leadership.

If you are not a cabinet member, seek your superintendent’s advice about what steps you must take to become one. Together, measure progress to see what still needs to be done to make it happen.

Measure progress and expectations and you will most likely clear your path to be in room where it happens.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive  Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Expose the Negative Education Rhetoric for What It Is: Our Critics’ Brand of Propaganda

Posted 08/11/2018 by schoolpr
Categories: democratic society, Education, school choice

logo-anaheim-2018-sample-girl-10012017.jpgIn late July, we just concluded NSPRA’s very successful national Seminar in Anaheim, California, where more than 1,000 participants (local school communication professionals, superintendents, association leaders, corporations, and other school officials) rallied around our theme of Proving the Value of Public Education.

In my opening message to our audience, I noted that we’re in the midst of the strongest competition we’ve ever faced in our lifetime — a roiling political climate that gives short shrift to the importance and worth of public education, and one that supports half-baked privatization solutions that are based on an approach of  “leave-no-fat-wallet-behind.”

My point was that all of us at the Seminar — alongside the more than 10 million others working in schools across the country — need to stand up and become both active and reactive whenever and wherever we see public education being bashed.

 

Time to Squelch the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” Crowd

We have so much to be proud of, but yet we continue to let those who vociferously rally behind the “If-You-Know-Nothing, Say-Something” banner when they talk about public education.

We can’t stay silent when ignorant talking points become the norm in our communities.  It’s time to let people know how wrong these hollow critics are.

The more of us who join in letting folks know just how wrong they are, the better chance we have of making a significant difference in our local communities.

Leadership organizations have offered their Stand Up for Education Campaigns and we applaud their work. But we need more of a “ground game” that confronts these false accusations in a forceful but civil way. Reach down and muster up the feelings that made you become an educator, and use that forceful emotion to verbally prove why public education is better now than it has ever been.

Here’s a start:

Check out this video from East Aurora School District 131 in Illinois. In a positive, moving manner, it clearly demonstrates the value of our public schools.

video screen shot

EASD 131: Personal Grad Walk – Diego Terrazas

 

As you just saw in the video, like East Aurora, in the normal course of our business every day, we take struggling students at a tender age and teach and nurture them to become successful in school and in society. It’s one of the best attributes we have to prove that public education is one of our local communities’ most valuable assets. I often say that our students can tell our story better than we can. Follow the video’s example and strive to find ways to develop UNFORGETTABLE stories about the impact that public education has on your kids and your community.

Those of us in this profession have the fine-tuned skills, the professional judgment, and the strong-held beliefs that can begin turning our communities into believers and advocates for public education.

 

One More Point — and It’s a Four-Letter Word

Day in and day out, we all need to roll up our sleeves and do our part to overcome the pervasive negativity about public schools. But there’s a four-letter word that can help put us on the right path and change the destructive tide that’s seeping in everywhere.

And that is — VOTE! 

Start with yourself. Then work within your communities with voter registration programs to set a climate that practicing citizenship can make a difference.

We can talk and lead, but in the end, we all need to vote.

 

Who’s for Kids and Who’s Just Kidding?

As a 501(c)(3) organization, NSPRA can’t tell you how to vote, but we can urge you to vote. In any election about every candidate, you just need to answer this question: “Who’s for kids and who’s just kidding?”

The answer should make your choices crystal clear.

 

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director