Archive for the ‘school communication’ category

This Is Public Education

09/09/2019

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Fresh clothes, new shoes, to-be-filled backpacks, and optimistic smiles make the first day of school festive and as welcoming as it can be.

The first day is normally full of joy and hope for students, parents and staff alike. Forgotten are some of the trials and tribulations of the past school year because as the saying goes, This is the first day of the rest of your life.”

This wonderful photo, courtesy of the Guilford County Schools, speaks volumes about the first day of school in our current world of public education.

Just Like Opening Day in Baseball

The first day of school is like Opening Day in major league baseball.

Records are wiped clean. Everyone is batting zero until that first pitch is thrown. Just about everyone can show that they have learned from their past experiences gleaned from last season. (Full disclosure: I am still an Orioles fan. Hope springs eternal.)

Opening Day is all about the thrill of facing new opportunities with a fresh outlook and conquering new challenges with beaming confidence.

At NSPRA, we think that we’re all lucky to be blessed with the countless opportunities that our local public schools give us. The question of every new school year is just how skillfully we approach those opportunities and how we choose to fully take advantage of them throughout the year ahead.

Looking Forward to Great Day, a Great Year, and a Great Life Ahead

And that’s why the Guilford County Schools’ first-day photo from Allen Jay Elementary School sparks such meaningful thought and emotion for me.

Catch the smiles on both the proud father and eager daughter as they cross the school threshold together. They’re looking forward to a great day, a great year, and a great life — brought to them in part by the opportunities given to them by our public schools.

If parents, students, teachers, staff and communities all do our part and help students take advantage of those opportunities, we’ll enrich our nation and we’ll be building momentum for a productive, culturally rich, and happy community one school district at a time.

Commit to Your “Raison D’être”

We need to remember that public education serves 9 of every 10 students today. That’s an awesome responsibility, but that’s exactly why most educators decided to enter this profession in the first place.

The first day of school is exactly the time to recommit to your “raison d’être.” Let’s welcome all of our students in this season of fresh beginnings and let’s keep the learning and smiles flowing throughout this school year.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo submitted by Nora Carr, APR, Chief of Staff, Guilford County Schools, North Carolina

 

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For School Communication Success, Heed These Executive Orders

08/09/2019

Picture3As I mentioned at our record-breaking D.C. Seminar last month, we may be in a climate in which issuing executive orders may be the quickest way to do either good or harm in the world.

So I took the liberty — with a bit-of-a tongue-in-cheek — to issue a few NSPRA Executive Orders to drive home points about making commitments and improvements for school communication programs throughout North America.

 

 

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Executive Order 1:

All mid-to-large companies shall allocate up to 5 hours of paid leave during every quarter for family members to visit their children’s schools.

Sanctions of 15% increased taxes shall be assessed on companies that do not comply.

Engaged parents make a difference.

We all know that communication normally works best face to face and we know that parental involvement is critical and their awareness leads to student success.

We need to find ways to motivate parents to meet with their children’s teachers, especially during the primary and middle school years.

 

 

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Executive Order 2:

All school district communication shall be prepared in clear, brief and understandable language for its intended audience.

Every school district must provide a professional jargon terminator or “Jargonater” to clearly communicate with its publics.

Recently, we learned of a curriculum specialist who opened a session with parents about a new curriculum on technology with the following introduction:

“We will cultivate competency-based technologies through the experiential-based learning process.”

We shudder to think that people are still using educational jargon in some of our schools today. Of course, we all know better than to do that, but we need to help prod our leaders to speak clearly as well.

At our Seminar, I urged the 1,100+ audience members to use this year’s theme, Advancing Education One Story at a Time, as an example. What a perfect opportunity for school leaders to tell a story to their parents about the new tech program and what it means for their children. Parents will understand the new program, and they will be proud of their local school for making it happen.

 

 

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Executive Order 3:

In all parent handbooks and school board meeting welcome pamphlets, you must include this sentiment:

“If you know nothing, say NOTHING.

Seek the facts before you spread your own brand of fake news.”

Most of us have sat through Board meetings or town halls where residents who know nothing seem to babble on and take all the people in attendance down a road of misinformation. What typically happens is that people on social media then pick up their misinformation and spread it like a prairie fire.

Often people may have legitimate perceptions and it’s our job to try to bring perception and reality closer together as best as we can.

But too frequently we are never asked what’s real — probably because some of these misinformation-spreaders have an agenda of their own which leads to seeding mistrust and eroding support and confidence in our schools.

 

 

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Executive Order 4:

Every school district shall allocate from 1 to 3% of its total operational budget for authentic communication services.

NSPRA research shows that NSPRA members’ school districts spend less than one tenth of 1% (that’s .001%) on communication services.

In contrast, most thriving corporations spend anywhere from 10 to 35% on communication and marketing. And large charter school companies spend upwards from 20-45% on marketing.

Show me any multi-million dollar budget entity whose growth and success depend on a good reputation that also spends almost nothing on communication, and I will show you a failing organization or one that is destined to fail.

You can tell a school district’s priorities by looking at its budget.

Check out how much is allocated for communication and you’ll see whether the district is just giving lip service rather than supporting a genuine communication effort.

If you believe that communication on shoe-string budget works, you’ll surely trip on those shoe strings and fail to compete along the way.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Some photos by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

 

One of the Most Important Skills to Cultivate: Clear Writing

06/09/2019

15416440957_57b12b8111_o.jpgWhich skill separates a job candidate for a professional communication position from the competition?

To me, it’s writing. That’s why we give an onsite writing, grammar, and usage test to all job candidates who apply at NSPRA.

I learned this the hard way by hiring a senior-level staff member who had more than 10 years’ experience in local school public relations. To my dismay, much of her writing had to be reworked and then edited again. All that extra effort turned out to be a real struggle for all of us working on projects with her.

There is no substitute for clear, succinct writing.

We all write every day in one form or another and many of us may not make the time to edit our own pieces. But we should, at minimum, ask a colleague to read them for typos and to make sure that they will make sense to their intended audience.

Improving writing makes you a better communication professional. It can be hard work unless you’re a “word nerd” who enjoys playing with words and making an impact with your copy.

One tip to help improve — or really to just to sit down with a good book — is to read the new resource, Dreyer’s English—An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Author Benjamin Dreyer is copy chief of Random House and his book is authoritative and yet amusing for those who deal with words for a living.

He covers the writing waterfront with dos and don’ts along with giving advice on what the rules are and when it may be okay to break them.

Here are a few examples from the insightful and entertaining book:

  • It’s okay to begin a sentence with and or but. But only if it strikes your fancy and you don’t overdo it.
  • Every once in a while, it’s okay to split an infinitive. He cites the original Star Trek series, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”
  • A lot vs. Allot: Unfortunately, we still often see “a lot” being used as one word, “alot.” And we’re not just talking about the loose approach people use on their Twitter accounts.

 

Consider keeping Dreyer’s English handy while writing your next project — sort of looking over your shoulder to make you a better writer. It’s also a nice thank you gift for an intern or staff member who, too, is headed for a future requiring concise, clear writing.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

How Do You Say Something When the Law Says You Can’t?

05/11/2019

zipperMost superintendents, principals and school communication professionals have been there before.

We all know that you can’t comment about specific disciplinary violations aimed at students and staff. We know that we are silenced by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Yet, when the “word” gets out about an incident, people think that the official “we-can’t-talk-about-it” response means that we’re sweeping the incident under the rug or even worse, that whatever it was is a routine occurrence at our schools.

And when people on social media begin to pile on, even school district staff members start to think, “I wish our leaders would do something to ‘have our back,’ and set the record straight.”

In the past 2 weeks, NSPRA members have been discussing this dilemma on our NSPRA Connect Open Forum. As always some of the best insights come from our communicators in the field.

 

Here are just a few thoughtful comments from our members:

We had a similar situation, and were very upfront in the interview about FERPA and student privacy being the reason for not commenting on specifics. I also stated that we work hard to resolve student issues within the school community. Social media is not the appropriate place to resolve issues.

Emphasize that it is the district’s obligation to investigate both sides of the issue and protect all students. Then switch the conversation to the policies and procedures that you do have in place to reduce and prevent these types of incidents. The goal is to diffuse the social media impact even though you cannot control it.

Michelle Karpinski, Portage Public Schools

When a parent takes to social media, we have the principal contact that parent immediately. Even though some state they don’t have to take their comments down, they usually do when they know someone from their child’s school is watching. When dealing with media, we flat out state there are always 2 sides to every story and we wish we could comment but can’t due to FERPA. Doing those 2 things usually helps things die down more quickly.

— Renae Walker, Bismarck Public Schools

I’ve often found the single most effective thing to say to get your message across without violating any laws, etc., is something like this: We would be happy to give you (the reporter) the entire story if you can get the mother to give us written permission to do so. We are completely willing, but unable to do so under the law without written permission from the mother. The media quickly understands that there is more to the story, that you are willing but unable to provide more information under the law without permission, and that there might be more to this story than the mother is telling.

Mary Beth Hill, Lexington County School District One

We are dealing with a very similar situation this week. The second time in 2 months at the same school… When parents directly attack a school or teachers and the facts completely contradict, I do think it’s important to show the school and staff you support them. So, I have started to go a bit further in my statements. When I am able legally — I dispute misinformation, and I ask the community to wait for the facts to be shared (via police or other reports). I explain that what they are hearing does not match what we are finding in our investigation.

I’m not sure if you have experienced this, but I am finding more and more that if we just sit back, say we can’t comment and wait for it to pass, it empowers parents and students to continue this type of tactic. I actually had a long conversation with our daily paper editor yesterday to talk about the damage done to our school’s reputation and how do we follow-up later to say, “Hey, this didn’t actually happen. The school/staff did the right thing.”

No easy answers, but I thought it would be good to at least open the door to have that conversation.

Stacy Tapp, APR, Racine Unified School District

 

So, like many situations that deal with communication, at least 2 or 3 answers may be right for you and your school district. Flirting with the high-wire act of disclosure and privacy of FERPA is a tricky maneuver and our advice is to stay within the law while trying to show support for your staff and schools.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

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

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.

 

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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.
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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