Families and community members want to know what’s happening in your district, and they want to know right now. There’s a huge need to educate the public about security, data privacy, curriculum, and all the rest, but you have to do it the right way.
We spoke Justin Martin, president and chief executive officer of Martin & Associates, a K-12 communications management consultancy, to see what districts can do to spread their good word.
1. Present information in the best format.
“You need to dole the information out in small, digestible pieces—don’t just attach a six-page report and ask people to read the PDF,” says Martin. “Put the important parts in the body of the email and, if there are supporting details, include those in an attachment.”
2. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
“We hear superintendents say, ‘We’ve been talking about this for five months and no one’s paying attention,’ says Martin. “You have to send the information several times, repurpose it, and continuously share it to keep people aware.”
3. Do not rely on one distribution channel.
Martin says that less than 10 percent of people get information from their local daily or weekly newspaper, yet district leaders assume that if they saw it in a paper, their families did too. Instead, post information everywhere you can: Twitter, Facebook, your website, the radio, on the PTO site, in blogs and emails from school leaders.
4. Conduct a communication research survey.
Ask families what information they want and how they’d like you to share it. “You may learn, for example, that people don’t care about principal initiatives; they only want to hear about students.”
5. Put together a strategic communication plan.
Drawing from the survey results, determine what type of information you’re sending out, where and how you’re sending it, how often, and who’s responsible. Be sure to look into data analytics to measure the effectiveness.
6. Make sure your website is easy to use.
“This is huge,” says Martin. “Too many district websites were designed by IT directors and not web designers; as a result, lots of them are hard to navigate for everyone except the person that designed it.” He says people often tell him they know a report is on the site but can’t find it. The worst thing is to have parents get frustrate and criticize you for not being transparent.
7. Don’t overestimate your reach.
Martin knows many superintendents who have 3,000 followers on Twitter and assume 3,000 students and families are getting their tweets. In reality, half of those followers could be bots. Another third may be people you met at a conference. For the most part, parents are on Facebook.
8. Internal communication is as important as external communication.
“Often, we see educational leaders make the mistake of telling the community before their employees,” says Martin. “Your employees are the best local spokespeople. When they run into parents in the grocery store, you want them to know what the district is doing.” He says to share information internally first, especially what happened at the Board meeting the night before.