Every year, I pay close attention to the Phi Delta Kappa survey of public attitudes toward public education. This year was no different. I reviewed the 2017 results with great interest. In addition to the PDK Poll, I read a lot of public opinion surveys, and try to keep a pulse on the environment surrounding public education. (It’s not a secret that we live in a time of choice, right?)
After reading the PDK Poll, I began to aggregate other information I’ve found. When I look at the data, taken as a whole, I conclude that there are at least four key areas to focus a strategic school communication program.
The four areas are:
1. Attract families looking for a “school home”;
2. Retain current families;
3. Attract and retain employees with internal communication excellence; and
4. Build community relationships.
Luckily, I prescribe to the idea that not only do we need to understand what we need to do but also WHAT to do.
What to do
That’s the thing. We can either wring our hands and wonder what to do, or we can do something (after researching and analyzing the data, of course). First I want to be clear: I do believe we start and end with a communication plan. So please take the time to invest in that.
A strategic communication plan is not only rooted in why – in other words – research, but a great strategic communication plan sets out the what. Once you know the problem, as they say, you can admire it or get something done. I’m all for getting things done. (I help with that, too!)
In today’s information age, there are many choices about what to do. I also know that there is only so much time to go around. If you don’t have a dedicated staff member for communication, that makes it even tougher.
Therefore, your communication plan should consider your organization’s capacity for what you can really get done. I worked with one district that really wanted a very large plan. After one year, we realized they had the social and emotional capacity to do three tactics: a print newsletter, an e-newsletter, and social media. But you know what? We made it work, we got it done, on time, and we measured results for effectiveness.
I worked with another district and we quickly realized that internal communication was crucial. We spent two years making internal communication great, and then incrementally worked on external tactics, year after year.
I guess what I’m saying is – there is no one secret sauce. But we can get things done, if there is a plan, supported by commitment, to get it done. It does take time. Please don’t underestimate the importance of commitment and time to get the plan done.
So what will your plan be?
Are you going to do a social media campaign to attract families; hold an open house; or are you going to try to reach parents at the libraries and daycares in your community? What are you going to do, by when, and how will you know it worked? In the end, no matter what, I conclude that the data tells us – right now is the time to get started with effective school public relations and communication plans.