Archive for the ‘school communication’ category

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.

 

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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

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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

Persuasion Strategies to Make Your Messages Stick

02/11/2018

8268543370_da8c21bf81_oIf you don’t follow marketing guru Seth Godin’s daily blog, you should. It’s a quick scan that will make you think and possibly adapt his thoughts to planning your work. You can catch it here to subscribe.

Last week he offered his thoughts on what motivates people to take action. He called the blog, The Super Bowl Is for Losers. He pointed out that the people of Minnesota spent a half billion dollars to build the indoor stadium and make concessions to host the event now two Sundays ago. And he noted that they will probably lose money just like other cities have who built stadiums to demonstrate that they too were first-class cities.

He asks, “So why does it keep happening? “Why, despite volumes of documented evidence, do well-intentioned people spearhead new projects like this?”

 

How does Godin’s message help us?

Godin offers some insightful lessons on human behavior that I’ll try (in italics) to translate for those of us in school communication:

  • The project is now. It’s imminent. It’s yes or no. You can’t study it for a year or a decade and come back to it. The team (your local coalition) creates a forcing function, one that turns apathy into support or opposition. So in this era of “instant everything,” we may need to jump on that trend to talk about the wonderful new school you plan to build with pictures of the gleaming new building they will be visiting in the years ahead to represent their caring community.
  • The project is specific. Are there other ways that Minneapolis could have effectively invested five hundred million dollars? Could they have created access, improved education, invested in technology, primed the job market? Without a doubt. But there’s an infinite number of alternatives vs. just one specificWe need to be specific in our building campaigns as well. Providing new spacious, technology-enhanced safe schools for our crumbling school infrastructure is the specific goal we’re after.
  • The end is in sight. When you build a stadium, you get a stadium. When you host a game, you get a game. That’s rarely true for the more important (but less visually urgent) alternatives. We need to point to our immediate end of building a school and the results that the school will bring to students and the community.
  • People in power and people with power will benefit. High-profile projects attract vendors, businesses and politicians who seek high-profile outcomes. And these folks often have experience doing this, which means that they’re better at pulling levers that lead to forward motion. We need to capture some of these same powerful leaders to work with us in building what’s best for their children, grandchildren, and total community. It’s time to leave no generation behind.
  • There’s a tribal patriotism at work. “What do you mean you don’t support our city?” And what do you mean that you don’t support our children, grandchildren, and future taxpayers and leaders in our community? We’ve worked too hard and too long to give up on our children and our school community. We’re proud to be a member and advocate for all that our homes and families stand for.

 

Godin ends his blog by noting that in the face of human emotions and energy, a loose-leaf binder from an economist has no chance. And in his example, the stadium was built and the Super Bowl arrived.

And, as I have been saying for years that, “When facts and emotions collide, emotions win just about every time.” It’s time to lead with emotions and there’s no better way to tap those emotions by doing what’s best for all our children in all our respective school communities.

Once again, if we don’t do it, who will?

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School

 

 

 

 

 

Some Holiday Cookies to Munch On

12/10/2017

girl eatingAs we approach our holiday break, most of us are a bit frantic “to get it all done.” NSPRA member jobs are always busy, but when you add the layer of personal and family holiday shopping and home responsibilities, it may seem like we added just another stressful and unforgiving deadline we need to meet.

But we all need a break from the stress.

Let’s do our best to take advantage of being away from the everyday pressures of our school communication jobs and return from the holiday break refreshed to tackle the new challenges that we face for the remainder of this school year.

At NSPRA, we are planning to unveil a number of new products and services in the months ahead. Here are just a few:

  • A new collaborative software tool we are calling NSPRA Connect, where you can post your own request for assistance or counseling and hopefully receive numerous relevant responses from NSPRA colleagues. You will have access to more than 1,700 PR consultants who face nearly the same situations you face every day. The new system goes to the heartbeat of NSPRA — members networking to help one another. Watch for it later this spring.
  • We’ll also be co-publishing two books by respected NSPRA veterans, Kristin Magette, APR, and Trinette Marquis-Hobbs, APR. Kristin is updating her Embracing Social Media book and Trinette is working on a data-based approach to school communication. Our co-publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, is setting publishing deadlines. We are keeping our fingers crossed to have both publications by our Anaheim Seminar in July.
  • Plus, we’ll be publishing the second edition of Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice in time for the Anaheim Seminar. The book’s focus is to help school leaders make their individual schools winners when it comes to our era of competition, which seems to be growing through the advocacy of federal and state legislation and funding. Our plan is to have the book ready this spring.
  • Early in 2018, we will be offering a new collection of past webinars and EduTalk Radio shows in our Members-Only section of our website. Entitled Play That Again …, this section will be a collection of NSPRA members’ insights on a wide-range of evergreen issues and practices.
  • Also starting in January will be a new electronic version of NSPRA’s popular Wit and Wisdom, where members offer their brand of wit and wisdom to be shared through NSPRA’s Twitter account.
  • Finally, we plan to have a new communication review process to be available by the NSPRA Seminar in July. Targeted for smaller school districts, these reviews will give districts the use of SCoPE surveys and e-interviews and focus groups to help them set the course for effective communication practices in their districts. We’ve nearly completed two beta projects with NSPRA districts that will lead to the new service to be launched next year.boy-with-santa-hat.png

 

It is a busy year for all of us, but we should take pride in what we do every day for our students, their districts and communities. Nobody does it better on a consistent basis than NSPRA members and their districts.

Enjoy your holiday and let’s make 2018 a year of accomplishment for our school communication profession.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

Communication in Times of Disasters: Anticipate Your Next Steps

09/11/2017

32446708754_816985d897_oLike most NSPRA members we are all wondering what we can do NOW to help our districts and members in Texas and surrounding states as they just begin their recovery operations. Now we are also worrying about Florida and related areas as Hurricane Irma is creating her devastation and disruption throughout  the Southeast this week. And we realize that some families in the northwest and California have lost homes because of wild fires. It certainly has been one difficult month for many already this year.

Naturally, we’re thinking about all families who are hit by this destruction and, like others, we’re donating money because experts tell us that those monetary donations are the best way to help people at this point. The experts also tell us that we should avoid sending truckloads of school supplies, teddy bears, and even clothing for now as people are not ready to accept those wonderful gifts.

To play our part, NSPRA is giving readers examples of the best practices from districts who have been through similar tragedies. We’ve listed the examples at www.nspra.org. Normally, we reserve these membership resources for members, but we will open this section of our website for anyone who is looking for this type of assistance during the next few weeks.

Anticipate and Prepare

If your area was blessed by not being hit by weather-related storms, now is the time to think through how you would handle such destruction in your area school districts.

In my opinion, one of the top characteristics of a real PR professional is to anticipate situations so that you can be prepared for them if they do occur. If your crisis manual needs updating, do it.

If you don’t have one that is thorough enough to help you through these difficult situations, start creating one now. Seek samples from colleagues who are willing to share. Contact us at NSPRA for some materials.

Also consider buying NSPRA’s The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools — just updated a year ago by one of our industry’s major crisis gurus, Rick Kaufman, APR, of Minnesota.

Build Your Local Network

One quick hint is to start building a network of municipal officials (police, fire and EMT first-responders, government officials, etc.), ministerial and corporate contacts. Get their cellphone information as well as alternative contact information so that you have key data when you need it.

In the best of situations, you should also try to visit with them face to face if you have no organizational network that already does that for you in your community. The time to do that is now.

You also need to develop your state’s emergency contacts as well as those from FEMA. (One NSPRA member was once assigned to direct helicopters for relief locations as their storm progressed.)

Get the Message Out Any Way You Can

As an example of how to communicate with your community in as many ways as possible, back in my school district days, we had an elementary student nearly burn down his school. In our cabinet meeting immediately after the incident, we came up with a plan to move kids from grade levels to different buildings at all schools. Transportation and class schedules were a challenge, but the communication obstacles were also hurdles. In that pre-Internet age, we directly called parents we could reach, set up telephone lines just to help parents and students through this situation, and sent out radio and broadcast releases.

Realizing that churches were a naturally gathering place for many in our community, we also faxed (remember fax machines?) notices to the area ministerial group, called each in the group and asked them to announce the changes from the pulpit, and had many of them even put the schedule we provided in their bulletins. Before we had social media tools at our disposal, we had to creatively think about how to make the most of resources that were in our community.

Remember, anticipation and preparation are keys to running a successful communication program. We know that a school PR professional’s job is never done.

And that’s why we call this blog Always Something.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

P.S. Do donate to the appropriate helpful charity to help those who have been hit by the last month’s devastation.

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District