School Daze- Communicating the “On Again” and “Off Again” in this age of coronavirus

Like all of us in the profession, school communicators have their work cut out for them. In this age of coronavirus when Crisis communication plans are being updated in real time it’s easy to get carried away to address the tyranny of the urgent.

As a public relations consultant and a former public school district leader,  school communicators need to keep these items top of mind when developing and distributing school communications:

Keep it simple. Some educators simply love the jargon. Pedagogy, rubrics, ESEA, Title 1, NSLP mean something to educators and administrators. However, parents might need some additional insight or a cheat sheet. If you feel like you are getting lost in jargon, take a step back and read it from a perspective of someone who might not have graduated from high school.

Consider your target audience. If you are focusing on parents of school age children, consider creating a mini review panel consisting of elementary, middle school and high school parents. This provides a mini-focus group to ensure your messages are relevant to this key group.

How are you reaching your target audience.  One of New Mexico’s urban school districts recently took out a series of full page ads in the local newspaper. The messages were all focused on recipients of free and reduced lunch. Reading the advertising, I wondered how many parents in this demographic can afford and/or read the newspaper. Pushing this information out through the schools or by way of a district wide tool (i.e. website, social media, e-mail) will provide cost effective results.

Provide a glimpse to your school/district’s decision-making process.  In New Mexico, where I live, the Governor’s office sets the agenda for public education.  Having your school leadership share their plans for either in person, virtual or a mix of educational offerings will provide needed insight for parents and the community.

Create information that can be shared by teachers.  Based on our annual Garrity Perception Survey, teachers are one of the most trusted people and professions.  Providing information for them to share with their students and parents will help expand the reach and credibility of your messages.

Links, links and more links.  Engaging and empowering parents to become part of the information solution can be done by providing links and identifying what kind of information is available with a click of the mouse.  Be sure your social media, email and websites have links to a handful of school district controlled pages/narratives that share important information. This can be as simple as a school schedule/calendar, where to pick up lunch and a phone number of a school counselor.  Be the resource for information.

As state and local governments update and/or pivot on policies and schedules to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, school districts can provide their parents peace of mind through clear, consistent and transparent communication.

Tom GarrityTom Garrity is president of The Garrity Group Public Relations, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and represents the Albuquerque and El Paso Markets for the Public Relations Consultants Group. In 2001, Mr. Garrity served a two year term as the Superintendent of Advancement / Chief of Staff for the Albuquerque Public Schools.  More information about The Garrity Group can be found at . Tom Garrity can be found on twitter @Tom_Garrity