Archive for the ‘school communication’ category

On-the-Street Interviews with School Board Members

04/04/2019

poster 5 12052017The setting is the exhibit floor of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) held in Philadelphia on March 30-31.

If you’ve ever worked an exhibit booth at a national convention, you may understand how difficult it is to grab the attention of the passing parade of board members who meander through the miles of exhibits in the cavernous hall.

Some major corporations provide lots of food and close-to-circus acts to capture their 15 seconds of possible face-to-face interactions that might lead to sales of school buses, school safety enhancements, food service, maintenance materials, software, and more.

Each year at our NSPRA booth, we hope to lure passersby into our discussion by offering them a timely free resource or by asking a question. This year, we took the question route, hoping to help them realized how improved communication can help them prevent and solve problems.

 

The Question:

Do You Need Help with Some Communication Issues?

Here’s a sampling of the responses we heard:

  • We may be beyond repair. We’re looking for a new superintendent as we speak.
  • Doesn’t everybody? And if they say they don’t, they’re lying.
  • We’re in good shape. Our superintendent was just named one of NSPRA’s Superintendents to Watch.
  • We don’t communicate together, let alone with the public.
  • That’s a loaded question ….
  • No, but I’m new.
  • They don’t tell me anything.
  • [With a smirk on her face] We always communicate clearly, properly, and with no miscommunication.
  • No, we’re good.
  • Not at this time.
  • Sure, we need help with parents’ not reading the messages we send them. And then they complain that they’re not aware of what’s going on.

 

Now after we captured their somewhat guarded attention, we asked a few more questions and then offered some specific advice that may help them when they return to their district. We also armed them with NSPRA information on the benefits of becoming a member district or a subscriber to NSPRA. We introduced them to all of the solutions we offer at our upcoming seminar, through the new NSPRA Connect service, as well as by completing an NSPRA audit or Communication Review.

Each year, we can trace a few audits to the first encounter we made at the exhibit booth. We also see an increase in membership and participation in our Seminar. The biggest take-away may be the fact that a sizeable number of interested Board members focused on communication and discussed it with NSPRA anywhere from 15 seconds to 15 minutes.

These teachable face-to-face moments don’t come that often from our national office. We eagerly seize the chance to spread the word and enjoy the professional opportunities whenever we can.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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Caring About the Common Good

03/10/2019

15768879767_9628b7b8b1_oRecognizing Public Schools Week

 

It’s time to bring back the idea of the common good.

We need to make considering the common good a priority in our school communities. We seem to be drifting to the idea that what’s good for me is much more important than what’s good for our entire community. A quick example is the anti-vaccination movement. It’s baffling that we can no longer bring peanut butter cupcakes to our school celebrations (a common-good approach), but we’re not as concerned that we allow the unvaccinated to freely spread measles to our vulnerable populations.

We have to remember that we’re all in this together, although sometimes in our fractured world, we feel like we’re all in it alone.

We’re not alone.

And that means we have to get back to thinking about the common good in our communities. We can’t rise as a community or a country until we consistently think beyond ourselves.

We have to look up from our phones and out of our cubicles and start looking at people, start talking to people again, start asking how we can make things better for all of us — rather than just for ourselves. How can we look long range and work together as a community to truly make life better for the next generations?

We know there’s no such thing as a silver-bullet solution, but we also know that public schools come as close as anything to be the steroid-type enabler for raising the bar by considering the common good. Yes, public schools are as close we can get to achieving a viable solution.

 

Public schools reach millions of students

Public schools teach 9 out of 10 students enrolled in education today.

That’s 50.7 million students — all individuals who will eventually add to or detract from the future and well-being of our communities and our lives.

Just think what our total communities would be like without public schools.

Sure, alternatives would pop up, but there’s no way that any of these alt-systems could scale up to provide what is needed for the vast array of today’s students.

 

Celebrate Public Schools Weekpublic-schools-week.png

March 25-29 has been set as Public Schools Week. It’s a great time to take stock and celebrate how your public schools pave the way for the common good in your school communities.

Take a look at all you do for your students and how your schools and staff make your community better. And when you point out this major plus of public schools to your community members, work in an engagement component to seek support to make your public schools even better.

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As a member of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), NSPRA is joining with other major leadership organizations to celebrate Public Schools Week. We encourage all interested supporters to use the LFA toolkit which gives you practical messages, templates, social media feeds, and graphic elements to save time and give ease for your promotions. Click here for ideas and resources.

Here’s hoping that these resources will help motivate you to join the celebration and to remind our communities about the integral role that public schools play in providing for the common good for all in the years ahead.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

 

 

 

 

Creating a “My Kid First” Mentality for Customer Experiences

01/05/2019

 

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

12/08/2018

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.

 

enfield duo (2018_01_11 18_36_47 UTC)

  • 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.

gift3

 

  • 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.

 

connect 1

  • 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?

11/10/2018

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

10/07/2018

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

 

A Half Million Respondents Confirm What NSPRA’s Auditors Have Consistently Heard for Years

03/10/2018

Personalize Your Direct Messaging

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NSPRA again tips its hat to the annual results of the partnership of the Speak Up Research Project, Project Tomorrow and Blackboard, Inc., for capturing the latest trends in home-to-school communication. The partnership has been conducting this valuable research since 2003.

You can review the results at Blackboard’s Trends In Community Engagement report. For the full nifty infographic which is great for quickly sharing much of their findings, go to Parents share expectations for K-12 communications in new report at Blackboard’s blog.

 

Listen Up to a Half Million Voices

The survey reported feedback from more than 514,000 K-12 students, parents, educators and community members. It even tapped the wisdom of school communicators between Octobers 2016 and January 2017.

Some key findings include:

  • Parents would like information to be conveniently pushed directly to them instead of having to seek it out.
  • At the same time, parents are busy and don’t want to be overloaded with messages. Schools should send timely, highly impactful information.
  • Email is the best way to reach them no matter their child’s grade level or whom the communication is coming from (teachers, school administrators or the district).
  • Personalization is a key thread of expectations concerning communication. Personalized emails, text messages, voice messaging, direct phone calls, and face-to-face meetings scored well in expectations from parents.
  • A disconnect for many parents was the use of Facebook for district messaging. Parents were not enthralled to use Facebook for their school messages. They wanted a system to be more personalized. The authors even noted that principals and school communicators seem to be leaning more to Facebook for messaging —  which is not parents’ preference.

 

NSPRA’s Communication Audits Confirm These Findings

Our NSPRA Communication Auditing process seeks to learn the preferences of parents, community leaders, school board members, and staff at all levels about content, frequency, channels of communication, formats, etc. We, too, hear that people prefer personalization and directly pushing messages to them as their top priorities in communication.

When we ask people about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media channels, those vehicles are normally not even close to the preferred messaging format.

But Here Comes the But

But things may be changing rapidly.

You won’t really know for sure unless you ask your preferred target audiences (parents and others) about their preferences. Simple feedback devices at the building level can tell you a great deal about your parents and teachers’ preferences. The same approach can help you be more effective and efficient with district messaging as well.

Just make the time to ask or to learn more about your specific needs by completing a communication audit for your district. (Contact NSPRA if you want more information about an audit.)

As more of our parents have grown up in the digital world, they may want us to do more with Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. But our bet is that you will need to weave in the personalization factor as best you can in every new approach that you decide to take.

We are all fortunate to have this annual research to give us an indication of where home-to-school communication may be heading.

But it is up to us to find out what’s real in our own school communities.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director