Overcoming the “Viral Disruption of Pure Nonsense”

Posted 02/10/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, school communication, school PR

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

 

 

 

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Fake News and What Superintendents Can Do About it in Our Schools and Communities

Posted 01/06/2017 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, news, school media relations, Storytelling

news11“Fake news” used to be somewhat fun and usually harmless. It even gave me plenty teachable moments throughout my extensive communication career.

Here are two examples of what I mean:

  • Long before social media arrived, I tried to show how to shoot down the damaging effects of spreading school district rumors with various clerical support staff. In one workshop of 20 administrative assistants, I split the group into two sets of 10 and then read separately to the first staffer in each group a “juicy” rumor about the district or superintendent. Then confidentially, each person would whisper the rumor to the next person until the 10th recipient announced what she heard. Both groups finished with surprisingly different messages and more important, they both were so far from the “truth” of the original message. I would then read the original script, folks would laugh, and I would try to seize the moment to teach about veracity in rumors and what staff members should do when they heard rumors in their system. The exercise made a stinging point about how spreading fake news messages distorts the truth.
  • Another “Fake news” approach was to create fake headlines or postings to prevent leadership from making decisions that would not “play well” for staff relations or in the court of public opinion. I once counseled a superintendent to talk frankly and compassionately within legal bounds about an alleged rape at a high school. He refused to do so. I quickly mocked up a few fake headlines to drive home my point:

    Superintendent Smith Denies Alleged Rape at High School, But Police Confirm It

    High School Staff and Students Report Sexual Misconduct Incident; Superintendent Unaware

In this particular case, the fake news headlines did not work the way I planned. This superintendent ran away from transparency and didn’t take my advice — and then he was forced to run away from the district about 10 months after this incident.

So I used to use “Fake news” as a tool to “slap some practical reality and consequences” into the thinking of school leaders.

This Anecdotal Research and Insight May Help Superintendents

With the recent presidential campaign, I’ve learned from editorials, opinion pieces, and professional journalists’ analyses that dispense advice about the “war of information” and how to make sure people accept and understand your brand of truth.

Our quick research on the topic found an array of articles that were much too long for this piece. But seeing just a few excerpts from our findings may help us set the stage for lessons about what superintendents can do now:

“The press takes him (Trump) literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”Salina Zito in The Atlantic

RB: So we cannot report or act on what he actually says — not sure this is a good lesson for local, highly accountable superintendents.

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RB: To get my point this next segment, substitute education leaders when the author mentions journalists:

Journalists (education leaders) need to think politically about journalism (education leadership) itself, which does not mean to politicize it. Like it or not, the press (public education) is a public actor, currently in the fight of its life against forces that want to bring it down. This is a political situation par excellence, but nothing in their training or temperament prepares journalists (education leaders) to fight the kind of battle they’re in. They think they would rather chase stories, publish what they find, and let the politics take care of itself. But that won’t cut it anymore.

What I mean by “think politically” involves basic questions:

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 journalists (education leaders )? — Jay Rosen, PRESSTHINK, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University

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The distinction between “troubles” and “issues” was struck by sociologist C. Wright Mills in the 1950s. He said troubles were the problems that concern people in their immediate experience. “An issue is a public matter: some value cherished by publics is felt to be threatened.”

When the issues that get attention fail to connect to people’s troubles, or when common troubles don’t get surfaced and formulated as public issues… that is where journalism-as-listener can intervene, and earn back trust. Whenever troubles don’t match up with issues, there is trust to be won for journalists able to listen better than systems that are failing people. The author used the movie, Spotlight, as an example of turning individual troubles into public issues. — Jay Rosen, PRESSTHINK, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University.

RB: We all have to do a better job of listening to all people, not just to our usual suspects. In helping us chart the path for better performance and support for public education, authentic engagement strategies must come into play.

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David Ignatius, of The Washington Post, wrote a piece after the election entitled, The Truth Is Losing. In an interview with the State Department’s Richard Stengel, Ignatius offered observations and comments. A few are:

  • Stengle noted: “We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the market place 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 — as 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.

RB: In some of our larger school communities, this may be tactic to consider as we move forward.

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Strategies and Tactics to Help Superintendents Deal with Fake News

I offer these ideas as trial balloons for you and your team to consider in the year ahead. From my standpoint, the more global advice may work best as you consider what may work well for your community.

One thing is certain: The playing field has changed, and we need to be prepared for all forms of pushback. Increasing numbers of our residents feel more empowered than ever to chime in with their messages about our public schools.

We need to listen more in multiple ways

No matter the size of your school community, you can bet that pockets of parents, staff, community leaders, residents, and students feel disenfranchised as a result of decisions that have affected them. The recent election demonstrated resoundingly, I think, that we do not regularly connect with these groups. We need to genuinely understand their “troubles” before those troubles become major issues. Or even as I mentioned above, although people’s troubles may not be strictly district issues, they need to know that we are concerned about helping to solve them. We must demonstrate through communication and action that we are responsive to their concerns.

You should consider using a full arsenal of engagement and listening strategies ¾ from very simple feedback devices to more elaborate communicate responses to very focused engagement and collaboration strategies. You must bring community members together to work on problems or issues to validate your authentic concern that all people will be heard. By working together, you’ll build a better understanding in the community and that will begin to chip away at the notion that “our schools don’t listen to me.” Closing the communication loop is key.

Begin or revitalize a true Key Communicator Program

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.

Unfortunately over recent years, we’ve seen an increase of watered-down Key Communicator Programs that have turned into little more than a list-serv 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.

Remember, many parents and others may prefer to hear their school messages from respected leaders and neighbors rather than from a school official. If run appropriately, this Key Communicator process can help you develop credibility in this era of anything-goes social media. If your system is very large, you and your area superintendents should consider implementing multiple programs that cover all of the clusters in your system.

One last note on Key Communicators for now: People need to get to know you face to face. Only then 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.

May the truth be known: Setting-the-record-straight feature on websites and social media

We’ve seen districts dedicate a section on their websites or Facebook accounts to set the record straight. Even though research may show that fake news may still overcome this attempt, it’s often refreshing for school employees to know that someone is defending “the truth” about their schools.

My favorite story involves a budget task force that offered its community a survey on making budget cuts. The survey had a number of the usual items but also asked open-ended questions about possible cuts. Previously, a rumor in the community had sparked a controversy about the superintendent’s so-called $900 car allowance. That car allowance was the Number One response for what people wanted to cut from the budget — for a whopping savings of $10,800 from the $85 million budget. Truth is, it turned out that the superintendent did not even have a car allowance in that system.

Fake news strikes again.

Be prepared. Set up a process for staff to report fake news items to you so that your leadership is aware of what’s out there. Once you know, you can decide what to do or not to do but, some staff member who has good judgment should be responsible to monitor the fake new front on a daily basis.

Teach, preach, and model analysis tactics about fake news

In our schools, we teach students how to become analytical readers because we know that’s a critical skill in becoming more successful in life. We need to remind our staff, parent groups, and others to practice those analytical skills as well.

We need to ask: What is the source of the information? Who funded the study or report? What other items have been produced by the author or publisher in the past? How wide or small was the research? What can be done to verify this information? Where else can we find similar information?

You know the drill; we just have to remind our colleagues to practice it — often and diligently.

Think politically to move your agenda forward

All those questions we noted in our research really do fit for education leaders — especially in the area of vulnerabilities. Our critics or the budget advocates for vouchers and other devices certainly attack public education on performance, but recent studies show that many public schools actually perform equal to or better than some private institutions.

It’s time to assess all those questions mentioned earlier so that in the coming days you do not feel blind-sided by attacks from voucher advocates and others.

And, remember, it’s all about the kids

Most of us remember the line about keeping focused that staff used during the Bill Clinton presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, Stupid!” Well, for us, it’s really all about the kids.

Distraction through social media is what drives a fake-news approach to campaigns. We urge you not to fall for those traps. Stay focused on why we all entered the education profession.

It’s all about the kids and what we can do for them within the financial means and talent we can offer.

Keep asking how any of the changes proposed will make a difference for the students in your schools. What can they do to make your children better? What can they do to make the vitality of your community stronger?

Stay focused on the kids and proceed accordingly.

 

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Rich Bagin, APR

Executive Director

A Superintendent’s Gift That Keeps on Giving

Posted 12/08/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Education, General, school communication, school PR

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

Posted 11/04/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: school communication, school PR

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

Uncommon Accomplishments by No Ordinary Joe

Posted 10/06/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: tribute

joe-3-jpgBlogs give us permission to be more personal and opinionated. And this one is just that.

Last week we learned of the sudden death of a long-term NSPRA member, leader, and friend, Joe Krumm, APR. I am still a bit numb from this harsh reality, but I would like those of you who never had the opportunity to work with Joe, to have some insight to learn from this role model for our profession. Joe was a special human being who epitomized the soul of what a top pro can do for your entire school community.

Joe worked in the North Clackamas School District (Milwaukie, Oregon) since 1990. He started out as a one-person shop and grew it into a comprehensive program focused on all levels of engagement and social justice in his greater Milwaukie community. In August, my wife Carolyn and I hosted Joe and his wife Colleen for two nights during his east coast major league baseball park tour. They both appreciated MLB and their beloved San Francisco Giants.

We are so glad for that visit because we had the leisure time to engage in wonderful discussions about national politics, School PR, and future endeavors. We laughed over those two days as Joe and I realized that we both had led our first NSPRA sessions on the “one-person shop” early in our careers.

Joe Served on NSPRA’s Board Twice

Fortunately for us, Joe served two tenures on the NSPRA Board: First, as a  Northwest Regional VP (2000-2003), and then as NSPRA President in 2012-2013. We worked closely together during his presidency and that’s when I learned first-hand about his love for his family and his parental priorities and his deep feeling of the need to do more for all Clackamas children.

Joe was a force who never stopped thinking and working on behalf of his family and community.

Comments and testimonials continue to flow into NSPRA on Joe’s passing. Here are just a few examples:

  • Joe’s reach was far and wide locally, regionally, and nationally. You didn’t need to be with Joe for more than a minute to know his deep love for his family, his music and his community. Joe was the foundation for building strong collaborative relationships between the District and students, their families and the community. His leadership for social justice and equity for all students was always as the heart of his work — to help each student succeed. Matt Utterback, North Clackamas Superintendent
  • Joe was one of the best PR pros I have ever had the opportunity to sit with and discuss our profession and its impact on children. Joe’s musical talent for performing helped him to not take himself so seriously — it is what preserves sanity for those of us who have done this for a few years. Joe also understood his role in impacting the future for children and he played that gig to the fullest as well! Tim Hensley, APR, Past NSPRA President
  • Joe was always so gracious, kind, unassuming as a leader and friend. What a tremendous loss to the NSPRA family, his own family and his school district. Susan Hardy Brooks, APR, NSPRA Past President
  • He was no common Joe, but a tremendous man of uncommon accomplishment and capacity. Rich Bagin, APR, NSPRA Executive Director
  • He was determined to make public relations a valid, no-spin approach to getting information to people who were interested in the schools. He really held the community together in ways that are going to be difficult to replicate. I can’t believe that he’s not going to be around to joke with and hear play his drums. Lew Frederick, Oregon State Representative
  • He was an amazing person, and when you met him, you knew you had just met one of the kindest and most generous men you will ever know. Laura Edmonds, President North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce
  • Shoes and a little boy ball cap; contemplative, kind, enigmatic, dedicated — deeply dedicated; played drums like he was pounding our troubles into dust. Jim Dunn, APR, Past NSPRA President

 

Red Shoes, Good Music, and Accountability Connections

During his first tenure on the NSPRA Board, Joe used to bring his computer and portable speakers to play music. I remember more Board members looking forward more to the musical break than to covering the items on our agenda.

Joe loved his family so much in so many ways. But I especially remember his glee when he was telling us about the stand-up comic jokes of his son, Martin. And they were really funny jokes!

Joe was known for his penchant for red sneakers and music. He actually gave elementary instruments to the NSPRA Board members as his thank-you gift when his term had ended. In recognition, discussions are already underway about how NSPRA members may have a red-shoe tribute throughout our San Antonio Seminar next July.

Some say there is little connection between student achievement and a comprehensive communication program. Joe tirelessly demonstrated tangible connections and helped NSPRA with its benchmarking project to prove that theory wrong. During that project, we both collaborated about the accountability issue and reminded anyone who would listen that our raison d’être was the improvement of teaching and learning in our schools.

My personal last memory of Joe was during our August visit to attend a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and his beloved SF Giants in D.C. Before the game,  we had a chance to stop off at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; the photo above shows Joe walking into the memorial with his Willie McCovey shirt and red shoes. If you look a bit ahead, you can see Colleen in her scooter beginning to scan the wonderful social justice quotes depicted throughout the memorial. It was a meaningful morning, but the only thing missing was Joe’s drum set. You can bet he’s now playing his social justice “set”  for us in the next steps we all take in our profession. Joe taught us well and now it is up to us to continue the beat of this one highly respected and admired man.

Joe’s wife of 32 years, Colleen Murray, has said, “I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection for how they saw Joe and I appreciate it very much, because that’s exactly how I saw Joe.”

Colleen, that’s how we all saw and knew Joe as well.

 

A memorial service for Joe Krumm is scheduled for Sunday, October 23, at 2 p.m.:

Rex Putnam High School, 4950 SE Roethe Road, Milwaukie, OR 97267

Donations in Joe’s memory can be made to North Clackamas Education Foundation:

6031 SE King Road, Milwaukie, OR 97222 or online at North Clackamas Education Foundation.

In addition, NSPRA members may also want to honor Joe with a donation to NSPRA’s foundation. Just go to www.nspra.org and follow directions to contribute to the Foundation for the Advancement of Education in Joe’s name. The funds are used for member scholarships to the NSPRA Seminar.

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Rich Bagin, APR

Executive Director NSPRA

Pat Jackson’s Place on PR’s Mount Rushmore

Posted 09/12/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Uncategorized

pat-jackson-1-full-crop-shortened If there were a PR Mount Rushmore, Pat Jackson, APR, would be there along with Edward Bernays and two others. From my experiences, both people have had a lasting impact on our public relations and communication profession. (During my career, I was fortunate to have worked with both of these luminaries.)

And if there were a Museum of Public Relations, Pat Jackson would certainly deserve to have his own exhibit.

But wait, there is such a museum, thanks to the folks at Baruch College in New York City. And now a month-long exhibit about Pat is on display until September 30th.

On September 8th, I was honored to be a panelist for the launch of the exhibit and NSPRA was one of the sponsors for the special evening. NSPRA Board members Vicki Presser and Evelyn McCormack also attended. It was great to have a chance to give back to Pat because he gave so much to NSPRA for nearly 20 years in many ways unknown to our members.

NSPRA Connection Through Anne Barkelew

In case you are unaware, Pat was a major force in our profession. In 1956, he founded his own firm Jackson, Jackson & Wagner (JJ&W). His firm started out as a public interest firm and then expanded its scope to providing service to major corporations, nonprofits, and government organizations. His real connection with NSPRA came in the early 1980’s when he was president of PRSA and Anne Barkelew, APR, was NSPRA President. These two leaders collaborated with other PR organizations to form a council to tackle major issues in our collective fields.

A Credible Advocate for the School PR Professional

Pat was one of the first major PR gurus to fully understand how truly substantive, talented, and experienced NSPRA professionals are. As an example, in our own archives, we have audio files of Pat speaking about many new communication pros who start at corporations like Motorola and who may become pigeon-holed into working only on internal newsletters for 10 years, while NSPRA’s school PR pros may write and edit both internal and external newsletters, deal with teacher strikes, face a major life-threatening crisis, and also help pass a bond referendum after just being on the job for 18 months.

Pat Jackson “got us” and promoted our work wherever he could. And during his monumental career, he gave more than 4,000 speeches over 26 years alone.

Pat Was Always the Go-To Session at the NSPRA Seminar

Throughout the years, Pat’s Seminar sessions were always jam-packed with people sitting on the floor and others standing near the doorway just to catch a few of his teachings. He is known for his behavioral process of making public relations a vital and necessary function for any organization.

He also firmly believed in doing low-cost, “dip stick,” actionable research to shape your PR activities. Pat translated the statistics of public opinion research into messages that stuck with our members. We all found that we could actually use his translation to sell new programs to our bosses.

He believed in going around the gatekeepers and building relationships with the public opinion leaders in the school community. During his career, Pat work with schools in 41 states and 4 Canadian Provinces. He taught us so much about behavioral research and the practice of PR. Plus, Pat gave back to NSPRA by never charging us for his presentations as we only picked up his expenses for these annual events.

Best of All, His Advice Still Works Today  

As I reflected on Pat’s work in preparing for this recent panel, I focused on some take-aways from Pat’s teachings that demonstrate his relevance to us today:

  • Go directly to the stakeholders that are important. Cut out the gatekeepers.
  • When recommending a new PR tactic, always ask, “Why are we doing this? To what end?”
  • Risk analysis has to be part of what we do. Assess the risk potential of misunderstanding the problem or the risk of bad messaging or no messaging at all. (Use this strategy to sell new strategies or tactic to your decision-makers.)
  • People want to be served, not sold. They want to be involved, not told.
  • People who attack us often take charge of the issue. No, we need to take charge of the issue. (Think Common Core.)
  • Preach to the choir and call choir practice.

I Saved the Best for Lastsponsorpage

Each year Pat produced with his team 50 issues of pr reporter for 26 years. As a young professional, I found it to be the one newsletter that quickly became a “must-read” in my life.

And now you too can learn from that very publication because Stacey Smith, APR, of Jackson, Jackson & Wagner announced at the exhibit launch that all back issues of pr reporter as well as other items like Pat’s papers and presentations are continually being updated on a new website at www.PatrickJacksonpr.com.

NSPRA still sells an audio collection of Pat’s presentations at the NSPRA Seminar and the proceeds go to the Pat Jackson Scholarship Fund which enables a member to attend our National Seminar. Just go here at nspra.org.

I thank Stacey Smith and all the folks at JJ&W for completing this project so that we can share more of Pat’s career and counsel with our members.

Rich Bagin, APR

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NSPRA Executive Director

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

Posted 08/08/2016 by schoolpr
Categories: Communication, ESSA, school communication, testing

Tags:

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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.

Rich Signature-bold cropped

Rich Bagin, APR
NSPRA Executive Director

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District