Archive for the ‘Education’ category

Communication Is a Management Function

05/05/2017

 

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Quickly, this is the third edited excerpt from an acceptance speech I gave to superintendents when I received an Outstanding Friend of Public Education Award from the Horace Mann League. One topic I covered was the need to make communication a management function.

Here’s the edited excerpt:

By now, I hope you are beginning to see that communication should be a management function. You need to integrate communication into all that you do or you will risk losing the battle we now face. Having a strong communication function will help you advance your system during this climate of uncertainty that we are now facing.

As you can see by now when I talk about communication, I am not talking just about great publicity but about engagement, marketing, reputation management, ongoing internal engagement, and external communication programs.

You need to have someone who knows what they are doing to make your communication function be as effective as it can be.

Former vice President Joe Biden, (“Uncle Joe” to some of us), often says that he can tell an organization’s priorities very quickly by looking at their line-item budgets. Using Uncle Joe’s formula, I can tell you that communication is not a priority in most school districts right now. Our research shows that most NSPRA districts spend just one tenth of one percent of their entire school district budget on communication. One tenth of one percent — that’s .001% — really? Charter organizations are spending from 10 to 25% or more on their communication and marketing efforts according to our observations. Budget wise, this is not a fair fight!

Every year for our Annual Seminar, we receive proposals to run sessions entitled PR on Shoestring. During my tenure, we’ve never accepted any of them because that’s the wrong message to send if we want to make a management commitment to communication. And most of these shoestring programs normally trip over their own laces and die easily because the districts made no commitment to them. (Hint to NSPRA members: Change the “shoestring approach” to “low-cost and effective tactics to support your communication program.”)

Communication must be a management function.

Character Counts in Communication

And finally, in this fake-news, alternative-fact world, you need to bring integrity into this discussion. Character counts in our 2world of communication.

We see so much twisting of facts, just plain mistruths or half-truths sprinkled along with the fake news accounts. Your staff and community need to know that you stand for integrity.

Today, with a smart phone, anyone can publish any falsehood. But reasonable parents, staff, and others need to know what’s true, where you stand, and how you will lead your system. Don’t let silence create a vacuum — your critics will quickly fill it.

We have always said that the term “PR” really stands for 2 items:

  • Having a Public Responsibility to communicate
  • And developing Public Relationships.

That is where we build credibility and trust though authentic communication.

Please join me in making that happen. Because I ask: If we do not do it, who will?

We need to make that commitment at the local level now, more than ever.

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Insights When We Talk About Testing

05/08/2016

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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 increased authentic communication and collaboration 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.


Where commitments were made to early communication and collaboration, implementation was, for the most part, successful. And we all know the “rest of the story” when the value of two-way communication was ignored, critics filled the void that our collective inaction created.

 

Good News: We Still Have Time and New Insight to Make Good Things Happen

In early May, a new Gallup report, Make Assessment Work for All Students, was released. Commissioned by the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), it reveals 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.

Through Gallup, the NWEA surveyed more than 4,200 students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents. We urge you to use this new free resource because it will give you insight on what collaborative steps you can take within your district as well as well as throughout your state. The resource can also help drive some messaging when it comes to testing and communication in your district.

Last week a discussion about the survey took place at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, D.C. One of the findings in the report that was embellished during that discussion rings true for all  communicators: We know that our messaging has to be relevant for our audiences. In the 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 key findings from Make Assessment Work for All Students include:

  • Three in four students (75%) believe that they spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments, as do more than half of parents (52%). In contrast, 83% of teachers, 71% of principals. and 79% of superintendents say that students spend too much time taking assessments.

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  • More than 6 in 10 parents, or 61%, say they rarely or never have conversations with their child’s teacher about assessment results.
  • Data coaches are available in a relatively small proportion of schools and districts, but principals and superintendents who have access to data coaches overwhelmingly say they improve student learning (71% and 85%) and the quality of teaching (82% and 89%).
  • 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.

Local educators also need to 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.

To see the full report released last week, go to Make Assessment Work for All Students: Multiple Measures Matter  including findings and recommendations.

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Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

The Need for School Communication Solutions Is Becoming More Evident Every Day

03/05/2016

Building an effective communication program nearly from scratch can be an awesome challenge.

15646865853_cea8e2fca8_oIncreasingly, superintendents see the need to communicate in a transparent fashion to build understanding and support for their schools. They know that they have to do something about quelling the mounting social media attacks and growing overall criticism of their schools and staff before more damage is being done to the reputation of their schools and staff.

Experience tells them that things never used to be this bad. Sure, they had critics who would send a letter to the Board or local editor, but those occasional situations were far from the piling on we see today through social media. If this were a football game, a flag would be thrown for unnecessary roughness and rudeness.

Your first reaction may be to get into a social media whizzing match with the critics, but that tactic simply leads nowhere real fast. And as our current round of presidential primary debates vividly demonstrate, just combating attacks with facts really doesn’t seem to work anymore.

 

Time to Build a Public Relationship Program One Block at a Time

What you need in this environment is a planned communication program that is built to absorb critical hits without demeaning the impact of your schools and staff.

And these communication programs and efforts must directly relate to your “raison d’être” — to improve teaching and learning in your schools. If the communication effort does not find a way to support the core of your system’s everyday efforts, you must retool it to do just that.

Better programs also follow the standards of our school communication profession. Currently NSPRA offers its standards through our publication, Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures. It asks you to focus on 4 pillars of a communication program:

  • Comprehensive planning and structure,
  • Internal communication,
  • Parent and family communication, and
  • Marketing and branding communication.

A 5th pillar — crisis communication — is now being studied by NSPRA professionals.

This resource clearly gives you the insight about what you must do to set the building blocks of your program. Throughout each of the 4 areas, you’ll notice that most elements focus on building relationships with your key target audiences who can become ambassadors and reputation makers for local your school community.

If you want to learn more, NSPRA actually has 2 resources to help you get a PR program going:

  • The first is Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures mentioned above. Buy it at a minimal price at www.nspra.org.
  • The second is a free resource entitled, Communication E-Kit for Superintendents. Just go to Superintendents e-kit and download it.

 

The best way to turn reputation breakers into positive reputation makers is to build an ongoing, transparent program from the very start.

In this case, if you build it, the reputation makers will come.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Photo courtesy of Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

Authentic Communication Builds Trust

05/09/2011

“The trouble with quotes from the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine.” Abraham Lincoln

Chuck Becker, an e-communication consultant who now works with NSPRA, shared the above quote with me the other day. He knows that I enjoy using quotes to help tell a story, and he certainly hit the credibility nail on the head when it comes to using Internet sources. (Of course, I guess there could be a number of current people who are named Abraham Lincolns.)

Misusing quotes is just one credibility problem. Here are a few other problems we see happening more often than in the past:

  • Too often, it seems that some people cherry-pick the jewels of an article and use them, out of context, to help them make their point. Or they glean information from an Internet source without even confirming original sources or worse yet, without checking who funded the reported article or study. Before we start using information because it is a great fit for our persuasive articles, we need to do our best to learn its origin and funding sources.

For example, a survey of a taxpayer’s revolt group may only ask leading and biased questions about cutting the budget without ever asking residents whether they feel that paying a bit more to save their child’s programs would be a choice for them and their community. We see too many seemingly “overnight” organizations that are created to hide the funders and influencers about issues.

As a precaution, it is always appropriate to ask about the funding of these organizations (follow the money) and what the original survey questions were as well as the survey methodology to help you understand how credible the work really is. Now in a democracy, anyone has the right to give their opinions. It is the media’s role to check the truth of people’s rhetoric and point out discrepancies, but media’s budget cuts have diminished the “watchdog” roles of the past. It is now up to leaders like NSPRA’s members to point out what’s real and credible for their constituents.  It can be a tricky, shadow-boxing move to step into these rather political situations, but the truth needs to be told and your leadership team needs to feel empowered to do it.

  • The second example deals with school leaders establishing and maintaining trust with their staff and key publics. Many studies and reports give guidance, but my recommendation for the best recent treatment is The Speed of Trust, The One Thing That Changes Everything, by Stephen M.R. Covey. (By the way, Stephen M.R. is the son of Stephen R. Covey of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame.)

The book is a blueprint of setting values, building relationships at all levels, and walking the talk when it comes to core values of your leaders and organization. In our work in school communication, it naturally converts to the face-to-face and engagement tactics of building trust with community leaders, parents, and staff.

The book also answers the question of gaining trust back once you’ve lost it. It can be done, but it’s a long, uphill road. Two quotes by both Coveys help paint that picture:

“You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into.”   Stephen R. Covey

“No, but you can behave yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into … and often faster than you think!”     Stephen M.R. Covey

The real bottom line of the trust issue deals with the behavior of your leaders at all levels (superintendency, school board, principalship, teacher association and other employee groups, etc.) and whether they have developed a culture of mutual trust in your system. Communication is the ingredient needed to help create that culture of trust.

All your critical constituents need to know your system’s values and what they stand for in the everyday operation of your schools. The behavior of your leaders showcased by effective communication should remind your constituents that your district is the one to trust when it comes to the education of all children in your community.  Without authentic responsible communication, the Internet will once again fill the void created by school leaders who do not communicate on a regular, credible and strategic basis.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

Information Is Good;Too Much, Bad; Engagement Is Best

03/04/2011

Two great weekly resources for those of us who are serious about our field of school communication are Public Agenda Alert and New@PewResearch.org. Both regularly impart  tems of interest to school communicators and make you think about your own practice of school public relations.

This week’s Pew edition carried an article on a study completed in three cities (Macon, Philadelphia, and San Jose) to see how each city’s information systems were performing. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation asked the Monitor Institute to explore key components of local information systems with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Some of the findings, especially in surveys conducted in the communities, were notable:

  • Those who think local government does well in sharing information are also more likely to be satisfied with other parts of civic life. Those who believe city hall is forthcoming are more likely than others to feel good about: the overall quality of their community, the ability of the entire information environment of their community to give them the information that matters, the overall performance of their local government and the performance of all manner of civic and journalistic institutions. My take on this is that open communication breeds trust. 
  • Broadband users are sometimes less satisfied than others with community life. That raises the possibility that upgrades in a local information system might produce more critical, activist citizens. Or it may lead to even richer information to engage the community in decision-making.
  • Social media like Facebook and Twitter are emerging as key parts of the civic landscape and mobile connectivity is beginning to affect people’s interactions with civic life. Some 32% of the Internet users in the three communities combined get local news from a social networking site — 19% get such news from blogs and 7% get such news from Twitter. And 32% post updates and local news on social networking sites.
  • If citizens feel empowered, communities get benefits in both directions. Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.

More Information May Hinder, Not Help

This week’s Public Agenda Alert commented on the study by noting that there’s no question that an open government is crucial to civic engagement – but more information alone won’t do the job.

Their caution, however, is critical to us in school communication. It is important not to fall into one of the most common misconceptions about public opinion – that more information, all by itself, will help the public make better decisions.

Just how much is too much? When you are now explaining the budget shortfalls and what all the numbers mean to parents and community members, when do you say, “It’s all there, just figure it out for yourself?” Or do you make the time to guide interested citizens through the pages of information to help them understand these documents and the impact it will have for the children of your district?

Prepare for a Learning Curve on Issues

The dilemma continues as Public Agenda refers to Dan Yankelovich’s body of knowledge mentioning that the public has a learning curve on complicated problems. He has taught us that a lack of information can derail a policy or a budget. So can lots of other things: a lack of practical choices, mistrust, denial or just lack of urgency about the problem. He claims that all these things can get in the way, even when there is plenty of information on the topic.

Yankelovich notes that our publics need a way to sort out all the information and make sense of it. Public Agenda notes that the “put it out there and let people figure it out” is a good start as the Pew research demonstrates. But it’s only part of what’s really needed for change.

More engagement, dialogue and participation are needed to really solve the fiscal problems our schools are now facing. And that’s why school districts need communication professionals and other leaders to lead the way in developing strategies and tactics to engage more staff, students, parents, citizens, business leaders, and others in solving the fiscal problems we now face.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

What Is It That You Do for a Living?

06/28/2010

NSPRA members can attest that when they answer the question, “What is that you do for living?,” they normally have to answer a second question: “Why does a school district need a public relations professional, communication specialist, director of public engagement, or whatever title you have?”

You certainly know why, and the more people understand what you do, the more you will increase understanding of the critical role you perform for your school system every day.

The annual NSPRA Seminar which starts in just two weeks in Charlotte, N.C., is probably the only national gathering place where everyone understands what you do for a living. As Jim Van Develde, NSPRA’s Northeast Regional VP notes, the Seminar is the one place where everyone knows your “game.”

In NSPRA’s new 75th Anniversary edition of The Wit and Wisdom of PR Success, veteran Pam Bailey says she is a shipbuilder because she specializes in building relationships. Over the years, I even urged members to consider adding public accountability to their titles because it clearly focuses on a key ingredient of what a great communication effort should be doing for your school community.

We even asked, in twitter-like fashion, in our most recent NSPRA membership survey, “What are you doing now?” See how these responses begin molding a clearer picture of “what is it that you do for a living.”

  • Killing rumors and spreading the truth.
  • Strengthening parent ownership of my district.
  • Enhancing morale, promoting integrity, reducing inaccuracy — and it’s only 10 AM.
  • Teaching my Board that transparency breeds trust.
  • Making money for our district by recruiting non-district students into our schools.
  • Traveling the lonely road of convincing our leaders that engagement is more than saying thanks for doing it our way.
  • Trying to bring “objectivity” to our cabinet meetings and still keep my job.
  • Making it easy for parents to find the info they need.
  • Trying to convince school employees that I am not the district photographer and that I don’t control the media.

Two additional definitions also shed some light on answering the question:

“I give good people (staff and community) good information (accurate, timely, and clear) and help them have good conversations (engagement and facilitation) and they will make good decisions (support for district initiatives) that will increase student achievement.”

“Public relations — the way we practice it — is the glue that holds everything together and the grease that makes it all work. With tight budgets and constraints, it is needed more than ever.”

This list is just a start. We need to demonstrate what we do with results and we need to regularly share those results with key decisionmakers. Everyone in education is dealing with difficult budget situations. Our systems need clarity, understanding, and support now more than ever. Your position — regardless of your title — is the catalyst to make them happen.

And that really is a key answer to what you do for a living.

Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA executive director