As Schools Reopen, Communicate With Clarity, Not Confusion

Jan 3 / Dr. Amanda Holdsworth, APR

Nothing feeds the rumor mill more than incorrect information—unless, of course, there isn’t any information at all.

Now that we're halfway through the school year, it is imperative for schools to communicate with clarity and confidence. Sure, we are not sure what the rest of winter and spring will bring in this COVID-19 era, but families and students are looking to school and district leaders for information.

If they don't get it, they'll look elsewhere, which tends to cause problems with misinformation--problems you'll have to clean up.
Working with schools and districts throughout the U.S. and Canada, I’ve seen some do a fantastic job of being as open and honest as possible with key stakeholders…even if the communication has been as simple as, “We cannot promise the children will be in school throughout the year, but what we can tell you is what we are doing to make the school environment as safe and healthy as possible. Here’s how…”
I’ve also seen some schools and districts hesitate with their communication to families because they don’t have the answers to most of what’s being asked of them. On one hand, this is completely understandable, as erroneous information is dangerous. On the other hand, some key stakeholders mistake silence for not caring or not doing, which can feed that ominous rumor mill that those of us #schoolPR dread.

What families (and students and staff) need to understand, however, is that their concerns are heard and are being addressed in due time. There are few things more frustrating to a parent than when they have a question related to their child.

For example, back in August, I overheard a local mom express her frustration that her daughter’s school could not tell her what the process would be for welcoming kindergarteners to school since both the Kindergarten Orientation and Back-to-School Picnic were both canceled. Because her daughter was the oldest child in the family, it was their first experience with the school, and she was panicked about putting her five-year-old on the bus and “hoping for the best” when she arrived at school. She said she reached out to the school and district four times and was only told, “Don’t worry, we have a plan.” A week before school was to start, she pulled her daughter from the public school and enrolled her in a private school, 20 minutes away because, as she put it, “They showed me what the school looked like, what the procedures for Kindergarteners would be, what the plan was in case they went fully virtual again. We just felt safe and reassured there.”

This mom is not alone. For the first time, parents are scrutinizing all the educational options available for their children: public school? Private school? Charter school? Home school? Virtual learning? Private tutor? Teaching pod?

And yes, communicating to families and stakeholders is yet one more thing for school administrators to do on top of everything else you’re being asked to add to your plate. But, here’s the thing: if you aren’t communicating to those you serve, who is? The rumor mill? The town’s Facebook page? A parent’s worst-case imagination?

Communication is SO critical that it can’t be ignored. I encourage you to share the great things happening in your schools, even if they don’t feel so great to you. I know you’re stressed to the max, but, if you look at what’s going on around you, you’ll be pretty darn impressed:

  • The new remote or virtual curriculum your team put together (snap some pictures of the teachers behind the screens).
  • The cutting-edge tech skills your team learned throughout the summer an fall (livestream a “Tech Sess With Mr./Mrs. _____”).
  • The cool, new masks with your school logo that the administrators are sporting (host a “Guess-Who’s-Behind-The-Mask” Facebook mask giveaway).
  • Highlights of the fall term--whether you were in-person, remote or hybrid, you and your students surely accomplished something awesome, so tell a story about it (try to stay away from too many Zoom room screenshots).
  • If you are headed back to school, in-person, record a virtual tour using a couple of teachers and a phone and send it out to families in a, "Welcome to 2021 at XYZ Elementary" email.

    Don’t forget that YOU can shape the narrative through clear and consistent communication.
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