As President and CEO of Digital Promise and Senior Vice President of Educational Partnerships at Discovery Education, we spend much of our time on the road, meeting with school leaders and teachers across the country. A common theme we hear is the importance and challenge of keeping stakeholders not only informed, but also engaged. This is consistent no matter the size or location of the district.
It seems the breadth of school stakeholders has grown over the past decades. When we were in the classroom, the list of key stakeholders who school leaders needed to keep informed about activities and plans was more limited to district staff, school boards, and parents. But, that is no longer the case. Today, the list of stakeholders who school leaders must keep apprised of their school activities and direction has expanded. Local elected officials, business owners, religious and cultural leaders, and a myriad of community organizations, as well as students themselves, are all critical audiences with whom effective and progressive school leaders are seeking to engage in an effort to support the success of all learners.
Every community is different and the leaders and stakeholders are unique to the fabric of the community. Engaging the influencers will come from an ever-deepening understanding of the community and where they get their information, as well as developing strategies for identifying, owning, and sharing the stories that showcase powerful teaching and learning in your district.
Stories have the power to inform, inspire, connect, and mobilize. Compelling stories can cut through rhetoric and show the reality of the world around us — successes, challenges, and everything in between. With many competing opinions on how to implement digital learning effectively, compelling stories can influence decision-makers and inspire people and communities to action.
What are some of the ways successful school systems are communicating with diverse audiences in their local communities? Here are seven and we invite you to leave other examples in the comments:
- Relationships – Build strong relationships with your local broadcast and print media. Collaborating with local media is an important and perhaps obvious avenue you can leverage to inform your community about your school system’s activities. Beyond press releases and media alerts, personal outreach and frequent communication can serve to share your district’s efforts to improve teaching and learning and explain how those efforts fit into the school system’s larger strategic plan. Building these relationships will likely result in good news and balanced perspectives alongside any difficulties you are encountering.
- Blog – Blog posts by superintendents, other school leaders, and community guest bloggers are also great communication tools. They can help convey news and opinions in a short, less formal, and easy-to-digest format that gives voice and personality to the district and school.
- Opinions – Write op-eds for your local newspaper. School leaders have a unique and valuable perspective on events impacting their community and school districts. Use your local newspaper’s op-ed pages to share ideas about teaching and learning with your community in a more formal manner. This will help you lay out the “big picture” of your district’s work and activities.
- Website – Drive stakeholders to your district’s website. For many members of your community, the school district’s website is the largest and most up-to-date source of information about your school system. Therefore, be sure to make your district’s website a one-stop-shop for up-to-the-minute information on learning initiatives, activities, and strategic goals and plans. Include video, a Twitter stream, your blog, and more. One example of maximizing the power of the district web page is Baltimore County Public Schools’ S.T.A.T. initiative.
- Social Media – So, you’ve got great news about your school system, a tremendous website, a succession of engaging blog posts, and have had your op-ed published in the local paper. Next up, amplify your message! In today’s splintered media landscape, more and more folks depend on specific social media channels for news and information. Be sure to post links to all your communications across your district’s social media channels so you can amplify your success stories to new, social media-savvy audiences. One great example of a school leader using social media to amplify their school’s communications can be seen in Spring Branch Independent School District Superintendent Scott Muri’s Twitter account, @ScottMuri. The 2017 National School Public Relations Association’s Communications Technology Award for Superintendents recipient, Muri effectively uses Twitter in addition to other communication tools to connect with families, colleagues, students, community partners, elected officials, and others with a stake in the success of Spring Branch ISD.
- Present – Creating a compelling presentation (telling stories) for your school board provides tangible examples of teaching and learning that can be told and retold. Include teachers, students, or even parents who can share their work and provide personal anecdotes and powerful stories of learning in your district. And, if your district’s learning initiatives are powered by technology, showcase the hardware and digital content students will be using, and if possible, provide your board opportunities to test drive these resources.
- “Show and Tell Nights” – Add “Show and Tell Nights” and community learning sessions into your district’s calendar of events. “Show and Tell Nights” can be powerful tools you can use to engage parents and community stakeholders in understanding how teaching and learning is both the same and different. It is most powerful if students demonstrate to community members the tools and technologies they are using. Providing hands-on opportunities for participants will deepen their understanding of the academic benefits of new tools, resources and strategies.
Educators nationwide are transforming their classrooms into dynamic digital learning environments that prepare students for success in an ever changing world. It’s up to you to lead your community with a compelling story, and remember, as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson once said, “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad.”