Archive for the ‘school communication’ category

Like it or not, political communication is now part of our jobs

06/09/2017

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There is no denying that our jobs have changed. The new wave of elected officials is empowered as a result of their recent political victories. Psychologically they seem to be on a roll and are trying to move their agenda items through as quickly as possible. So like it or not, we need to think like politicians—more than ever. It’s the world in which we now compete for better understanding of our school-related issues.

Writing for a New York University publication, Jay Rosen asked us to answer these questions if we are to think politically:

  • What do we stand for that others also believe in?
  • Who is aligned against us?
  • Where are we most vulnerable?
  • What are our opponents’ strengths?
  • How can we broaden our base?
  • Who are our natural allies?
  • What can we unite around, despite our internal differences?
  • What are the overlapping interests that might permit us to make common cause with people who are not (education leaders)?

The truth is losing

David Ignatius of The Washington Post, wrote a piece after the last November’s national election entitled, The Truth Is Losing. In an interview with the State Department’s Richard Stengel, Ignatius offered:

  • “We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today. Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

The article points out that going “tit for tat” in arguing with extremists through social media was not that fruitful. Stengel noted that by empowering others to be the messenger, they could make the case more emphatically.

  • “The central insight was that we’re not the best messenger for our messages because in the post-truth world, the people we are trying to reach automatically question anything from the U.S. government.”

With today’s climate, this may ring true with some of your local community audiences as well.

Have others tell your story: Begin or revitalize a true Key Communicator Program

In my 40 years in this business, I’ve never seen this tactic fail if executed correctly — Never!

Over the years, it has been watered down by some, but used correctly, a Key Communicator Program can be valuable.

Some key points are:

  • This trust-building tactic is critical in today’s instant communication world. You truly need a Key Communicator Program to inspire confidence in what you say and do. It adds credibility.
  • Unfortunately over recent years, as I noted, we’ve seen an increase of Key Communicator Programs that have turned into little more than listservs in certain communities. If you’re tapping the old and new power structures in your community, regularly meeting with small segments of your key communicators, and communicating with them electronically, you’ll be on your way to building a base of well-respected spokespeople for your schools. As David Ogilvy reminded us, Don’t count the people that you reach, reach the people who count.”
  • Remember, many parents and others may prefer to hear their school messages from respected leaders and neighbors rather than from school officials. If run appropriately, this Key Communicator process can help you develop credibility in this era of anything-goes social media.
  • One last note on Key Communicators: People need to get to know you face to face. Only after that can you can begin using your earned credibility through videos, Twitter, email, Facebook, etc. But first, you need to start with in-person meetings — otherwise people may just see you as another empty pitchman or woman for your schools — sort of like the ones you see on late-night insurance commercials.

Most of us did not start our education careers thinking that we will be dealing in the political arena. Any excellent communication program normally excels at developing positive relationships with its key audiences. So in some respects, we’ve been practicing political communication for some time.

It’s time to place an even stronger focus on the political leaders and influentials who can make or break your next education initiative. Step up and prove what great communication and engagement can do for your school community.

If we don’t do it, who will?

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Internal Communication Is Critical for Success

04/06/2017

tagline iconCreate a Culture of Communication in Your Districts

Recently, I spoke before a group of superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. I most appreciate that honor and I also used my acceptance to speech to share some messages with these leading superintendents who rally around public education.

One topic I covered was internal communication — one of the weaker components in schools that we often find when we conduct communication audits around the U.S. and Canada. What follows is an excerpt from that speech on internal communication:


As we complete communication audits for school districts across the country, we see that by far the weakest component is internal communication.

Ideally, we want all staff to become ambassadors for their schools, to vote in finance elections where it applies, and to become advocates for their schools, their children, and their communities.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens.

Lots of lip service is given to having internal communication, but it often breaks down quickly as pockets of staff have little knowledge or a feeling that they know what is really going on.

They report little authentic engagement — even when their input is sought on topics of mutual interest. Most school districts have a problem in closing the communication loop when it comes to internal communication.

Superintendents can make a big difference in setting the parameters for the importance of communication at every level. Our experience tells us that communication accountability is rarely measured and that may be the clue to solve this disparity.

We need to hold principals, central office administrators, service personnel supervisors, and others accountable with a communication component in their evaluations. (What gets measured gets done.)

Some do a great job communicating internally, while others ignore it. I can’t tell you how many times we have heard from a staff member, “Well, I find out what’s happening around here by calling my colleague in another building because their principal tells her staff what is going on and why decisions are made.”

In many cases, staff actually want to know what’s going on and can’t get an answer without fishing for it.

It does not have to be that way.

As superintendents, you can begin by modelling an approach to start the process to make internal communication a priority. You can begin by planting the seeds for a culture of communication in your district.

All staff are part of your communication effort and, by making a commitment to communication awareness and with a bit of training, you can make it happen.

To make my point about the power of internal communication, one staff member recently reported from an audit of a school district with 25,000 students:

“When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”

Repeat: “When the district’s tagline is not believed by the frontline, this district is headed for big trouble.”


 

Let’s make internal communication a priority in our school districts.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

A New Strategy for Marketing in this Era of Choice

03/13/2017

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Recently, I spoke before a group of superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. I most appreciate that honor and I also used my acceptance to speech to share some messages with these leading superintendents who rally around public education.

One topic I covered was marketing in this era of choice. What follows is an excerpt from that speech:

 

Focus on the LOCAL SCHOOL, Not the School District Per Se

Now may be the time to take a different strategy when it comes to competing in this era of choice.

We can continue to whiz on one another when it comes to achievement results, graduation rates, college acceptances, etc. We also can brag about the fact that we teach ALL students — not just those who could be considered— in youth sports vernacular— the traveling squad of an elite under-13 b-ball team.

But, guess what?

Much of what we say doesn’t matter.

As much as that hurts me to say it, much of what we say doesn’t matter. But we do need to continue to say it — except with new approaches and different audiences.

Only our advocates and perhaps a few reporters seem to listen to us. So to return to this era of political communication, you can see that OUR base listens to us, while THEIR base obviously doesn’t.

I am asking you to consider switching strategies.

Focus on your individual schools because on the local level, your Snyder Elementary School is being compared to the ABC Charter Academy down the street.

It is time to talk about individual schools and not just your school district.

For most parents and decisionmakers, it becomes a SCHOOL versus SCHOOL issue.

I urge you take fresh look at this approach and begin a process of defining an identity program that is built by parents and staff at each of your schools. Your staff and parents need to believe that their Snyder Elementary School offers a great opportunity for their children and that your staff goes the extra mile and cares about their children.

Late this summer, NSPRA will be offering a guidebook on Making and Marketing Your School as a School of Choice. The booklet explains a process of getting staff and parents together, collaborating to solve some image problems that their school may have, and then developing a marketing plan to maintain and boost enrollment in their school. It also urges readers to look at the messaging of the ABC Academy on the other side of the street, see what they tout that may be attacking one of your perceived weaknesses.

Taking this School versus School approach allows you to play your comprehensive district’s card as a value-added benefit. All the auxiliary services and benefits that you provide — from counseling, the spectrum of Special Ed programs, co-curricular opportunities, and enhanced technology programs — all add up to a major plus when people consider choosing a school.

If what you offer is unmatched, say so with a checklist approach similar to a report card that clearly communicates what your competing charter doesn’t have. We need to be proactive about our attributes in this era of competition.

A commitment to this school-by-school strategy can benefit you in various ways:

  • It can reduce your need to focus on perceived Big Public Education problems. You know that past national surveys like the Gallup/PDK say that schools across the country are not doing well. But then they , for the most part, give favorable rankings to their local schools. You will be dealing with what’s really important to your local community, their kids, and their schools.
  • Our research over the past 10 years continues to reveal that school-based communication is often the most read communication offering in school districts today. You have always had the attention of parents. But now in this era of over-communication, it is more important than ever.
  • Believe it or not, in a single second, 2.5 million emails are sent, and in that same second:
    • 193,000 text messages are posted
    • 219,000 posts are added to Facebook
    • 7,2590 tweets are sent

 

To break through this clutter, you need an interested audience.

And you have it, for the most part, with your PARENTS.

Most parents and families have a vested interest in their child’s school — much more than in your school district. Take advantage of it and build support at the school level.

It will spill over into their next school in your district and continue through their entire time with your schools. You can then convert these parents into supporters for your schools. They understand your schools and will not believe the public-education bashing because their experience trumps all the negative rhetoric they hear.

But this will not happen unless we continue to be proactive in developing school communication programs at each school.

Begin looking at your individual schools and assist them in getting better and building an identity. And then make sure parents know of all the good things happening in their local school along with the value-added support provided by your district’s array of additional services.

We urge you to consider this school versus school approach as that’s how most parents and families approach their “choice” decision.

 

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

Overcoming the “Viral Disruption of Pure Nonsense”

02/10/2017

news-2Don’t know about you, but I’m getting less tolerant of the growing discussion of facts, alternative facts, and the fake news label. I previously offered my “fake news” advice in the last submission of  Always Something.

Communication organizations are wearing their codes of ethics, beliefs and core values as badges of honor to remind folks what we all stand for. See NSPRA’s bedrock of statements at https://www.nspra.org/nspra-mission-goals-beliefs and NSPRA’s code of ethics at https://www.nspra.org/code-ethics. And by the way, through NSPRA President Julie Thannum’s leadership, we are now embarking on codifying a set of core values for NSPRA.

In one sense, it is a bit sad that we still have to remind everyone where we stand on ethics and our beliefs. I firmly believe that the way we practice our profession easily “trumps” (sorry about that; couldn’t resist) the need to brag about our guiding principles.

Can’t help to think about the old Dragnet TV series (now on cable channels) with Detective Joe Friday who would ask direct questions and guide respondents with his almost patented, “Just the facts, Ma’am’” response. He was a no-nonsense guy who relied on facts to solve the case. He didn’t ask for “alternative facts” or “fake news” because he knew they were distractions to getting to the truth.

In that light, now we are seeing more of a push-back from journalists who are standing their ground, and even increasing coverage of governmental operations and policymaking. Jeff Bezos, the fairly new owner of The Washington Post, has used his Amazon success story to increase staff to follow the actions on the Hill and the Oval Office.

Famed journalist Ted Koppel offered the following in a recent column in The Washington Post:

It sounds dangerously undemocratic to argue against broadening the scope of the White House Press Corp. But we are already knee-deep in an environment that permits, indeed encourages, the viral disruption of pure nonsense.

The only appropriate response is an even greater emphasis on professional standards: factual reporting, multiple sourcing, and careful editing…. Rarely in the nation’s history has there been a need for objective journalism that voters and legislators alike can use to form judgement and make decisions.

He quotes John Adams with, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

 

As all this swirls around in Washington and state houses, local leaders need to stay committed to the facts in their messages as they explain what’s needed to become even better for their communities and children. We also need to reach out to the seemingly newly empowered segments of our community to show them what’s needed for their children and their schools as well as what the impact would be of cuts for those same kids and communities.

Here’s a real example in practice: My late brother, Dr. Don Bagin, once went to a local taxpayer’s group meeting and sat in the first row taking notes and asking questions which surfaced answers or non-answers unhelpful to the taxpayer’s group. At that time, he was the communications director for the local schools, and his presence helped to professionally disarm the messaging from that group in a local upcoming board budget vote.

Heed the call: Continue to stand up for what’s right for the children in your community.

If we don’t do it, who will?

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

A Superintendent’s Gift That Keeps on Giving

12/08/2016

gift-3Every superintendent needs one of these gifts to be successful. In fact, every school board member should make sure they provide the motivation and support to make this gift a reality.

So, what type of gift are we talking about?

It’s the gift and insight of a professional school communicator. Just look at the advice our savvy members gave when we created a poster a few years ago entitled NSPRA Members Know.

Here’s a peek at their wisdom:

NSPRA members know —

  • Tradition is a guide — not a dictate.
  • Experience allows you to ask the right questions.
  • People make mistakes and what happens next is the important thing.
  • Managing your community’s expectations is perhaps the most important thing you can do.
  • Stay organized and positive during the budget season.
  • Campaigns are not about issues, they are about voters.
  • That being strategic makes everything else fall in place.
  • That being there matters.
  • When to give the person being interviewed the high sign to STOP TALKING.
  • How to stay calm in a crisis and provide communication leadership.
  • Having a brochure and a video isn’t a communications strategy.
  • If you are not taking care of students, you’d better be taking care of someone who is.
  • Trust starts by being human, and builds by being honest.
  • The joy of seeing a child recognized, a parent helped, and a community proud.
  • That it is important to have communicators at the decision and planning table.
  • If we don’t stay in touch, we will soon be out of touch.

 

Most successful superintendents understand the true value of a seasoned communicator at their side. In today’s world of instant communication, fake news, and self-anointed expert bloggers searching for followers, they understand the critical role of a school communication professional.

It’s time to give superintendents the gift of a professional communicator. You can start with a free kit for superintendents on starting a program and follow it up with a free subscription to Communication Matters for Leading Superintendents. You can find both of these items on our website at www.nspra.org. And to continue to receive weekly advice in a clear, concise and brief format, become an NSPRA member or subscriber through our website.

We wish you all a great holiday season and brief respite from the stress of leading our schools through some perceived rocky political times.gift3

 

Together let’s make 2017 a year in which we continue to do what’s right for all our children and where we clear a path for more support of public education.

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing Tall for Public Education

11/04/2016

cheerleaderIn the past year, I noticed a few instances of people making a difference by standing up for public education.

No, I’m not talking about the campaigns to rally support because we need to wake up legislators at all levels so that they seriously look at how some of their initiatives harm our school children in local communities. The farther decisionmakers are away from everyday school life, the closer they are to making bad decisions.

We applaud statewide and local rallies, social media campaigns, and concentrated efforts to make positive changes for all children wherever we can. Many NSPRA members are leaders in these support-building efforts.

Creating a Culture of Support for Local Educators

I am talking about a powerful face-to-face local strategic tactic based on local leaders’ standing with and beside our education community. For example, this year alone I have learned about:

  • Business, government, and faith leaders of a local community who enthusiastically hailed high school teachers back to their school by forming a two-sided welcoming gateway. The video showed these respected leaders clapping and cheering the staff on to say that they are so important to their community. The video was then distributed for the community and school district employees to witness the stamp of approval given by these community leaders. Media coverage extended the impact of this seemingly simple tactic to help teachers feel good about what they do and to see how appreciated they are by these leaders.
  • This same approach was also implemented at middle and elementary schools, but this time parent group members recruited other parents to help with this welcome back and appreciation approach to instill support for educators in their schools.
  • At the student level, we have seen, via video streaming, high school seniors returning to their neighborhood elementary and middle schools and parading through the hallways garbed in their graduation outfits so that elementary students can see the older kids from their neighborhood who are happy and successful about graduating and proving that the youngsters, too, will be doing the same thing 4 to 10 years from now. Again, videos captured the excitement and smiles on the faces of the kids and are shared with parents in their communities. This tool motivates students to stick with their public schools as they can see first-hand just what lies ahead for them.
  • Younger students seeing themselves in their older peers can boost their self-worth and also helps keep your students in your schools. Often we lose students when they make the transition from elementary to middle or from middle to high school. So we have seen older students returning to their feeder schools to talk about what lies ahead for them. Often the older students wear athletic jerseys, cheerleading and band apparel as well as sharing other school club activity materials. It all helps to build excitement for the students’ next step in their systems.

 

Low-Cost Approach to Build Support

Creating a culture of support does not have to cost a great deal of money. It takes time to organize activities and the effort needs the cooperation of principals and other staff members to make events happen. For those educators who fret about students’ leaving our schools for other opportunities, giving back some time to build continued support should certainly be worth the investment.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Will ESSA Follow the Bumpy Road of Common Core? Or Will It Blaze a New Path?

08/08/2016

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State assessments and testing are often catalysts for discussions that can lead to bashing public education. In addition to privacy issues in some states and the regionalized opt-out movement in others, state testing will once again become an issue as states are now wrestling with their new approaches to their assessment program mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our prediction is that the new assessments will either sink or swim in the court of parent and public opinion depending on whether authentic communication and collaboration are effectively completed with staff, parents, and students.

If we want to see how implementing ESSA can fail, just take a whiff of the Common Core implementation where little attention and spotty consideration were paid to early communication and engagement with these same key audiences.

Today, graduate-level prep courses for aspiring superintendents should dissect the entire Common Core movement from inception to today’s testing and tomorrow’s reporting of those results. In those courses, what will surface are the glaring gaps in communication, collaboration, and engagement with educators at all levels, parents, students, and political leaders from all state and local government bodies.

Many years ago we sounded an alarm that Common Core will falter unless we commit to communication and engagement throughout the process. Most of the literature on organizational change clearly indicates that without two-way communication, effective change normally fails In the communication business, we can now add another example of Common Core to the PR maxim, Create a communication void, and your critics will be more than happy to fill it.

And Fill It They Did

The critics’ proactive approaches led to all kinds of dysfunction at state and local levels. Often the critics approach to defining Common Core had little to do with the original intent of the Common Core movement. By creating the communication void, critics had ample opportunities to drive their own brand of Common Core messages that resulted in making Common Core a toxic phrase that by political candidates at all levels echoed. Those critics may or may not have known what the Common Core movement was all about, but they knew it was not a phrase that will help them get elected, so naturally they trashed the initiative — seemingly the only position they ever offered on education.

Will Lessons Learned from Common Core Teach Us About Our Next Steps for ESSA?

Let’s hope so.

Unfortunately, early indications are not promising.

In  early May, a new Gallup report (Make Assessment Work for All Students— published in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) — revealed  that educators, parents, and students want a balanced approach to K-12 testing, using a variety of academic assessments with a strong preference for those that improve teaching and learning.

In that report, parents and students noted that “the assessments don’t have anything to do with us.” They said it was just used by their state to measure the schools and did not focus on student learning.

Additional communication key findings from Make Assessment Work for All Students include:

  • More than 6 in 10 parents, or 61%, say they rarely or never have conversations with their child’s teacher about assessment results.
  • Parents need more information about assessments.
  • Gaps in understanding of the purpose of assessments remain.

The report makes a number of recommendations and also touches on the opt-out movement and the need for more time to communicate, collaborate, and train staff at all levels.

Making the commitment up front to engage, collaborate with, and train all the relevant players will be key to making the new ESSA roll out successful. Otherwise we are headed for a Common Core Redux and another documented failure for public education.

We know that the fiscally strained state departments of education do not now have the capacity to commit to the communication, collaboration, and training needed to fully implement ESSA to make it a helpful force in their states.

By collaborating with local leaders and their selected staff members, much great work can be accomplished to pave the way for effectively implementing ESSA. In addition to staff, engaging parents also must be a priority early in the process so they are not left to fill in the blanks themselves when it comes to their state’s assessment program.

And finally, each state’s collaborative teams must honestly map a realistic timeline for the implementation. Rushing into the implementation without training and communication at all levels is a path leading to failure.

We urge states to hold their ground and seek waivers in developing their approved timelines for implementation. Having an effective implementation one year later than originally planned is so much better than watching the “dysfunctional dance” we saw with the Common Core.

Local educators also must get aggressive with their state departments of education and “shake some trees” to learn more about their approaches and commitment to collaboration and communication.

The time is needed to Get It Right so that education leaders can prove that we learned some lessons with the bumpy and pot-holed roll-out of the Common Core policies of a few years ago.

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Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District