As the director of communications for northwest New York’s East Irondequoit Central School District, I am proud to play a central role in sharing with various stakeholders the story of the tremendous positive impact the school system is having on the community.
My team and I use many tools to communicate school activities to our local community stakeholders. Through our online newsroom, social media channels, and a number of other mediums, East Irondequoit’s award-winning communication team is providing members of our community a window into the many great things happening in our district.
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While technology has given my team and I a number of great avenues through which we can communicate with stakeholders, the in-person classroom tour is still one of the best ways to showcase a district classroom initiative to VIPs. In particular, we’ve found the classroom tour is one of the best tools we can use to explain to visitors the impact our digital conversion is having on teaching and learning within the school system.
Our digital conversion ensures that every student has access to digital tools and resources by providing a computing device and high-quality digital content regardless of their background or socio-economic status. Through this effort, our students are becoming digitally literate as they learn and develop the 21st century skills they need to enter college or the workplace.
Thanks to our digital conversion, our teaching and learning looks different and feels different in the East Irondequoit Central School District. We love to host educators from other school systems, local business leaders, and elected officials to see the how we are supporting the success of all learners, and a recent visit from our local U.S Congressman prompted me to share some key steps other districts can take to make sure their in-person visits provide a high-impact VIP experience that educates guests about our efforts to provide students a 21st Century education. Here are those steps:
1. Make sure you communicate to all internal stakeholders who is coming, where they will be visiting, and what the goals of their visit are. This feels like it goes without saying, but a school system has a lot of moving parts and sometimes, not everyone gets the word that VIPs are visiting. Make sure that everyone from the receptionist to your superintendent is aware of the visit, has the schedule for the tour, and knows what role they play in the tour. Everyone has something to add that will make your VIP visit a success, so share the agenda widely and solicit the input of all members of your team.
2. Provide your educators the opportunity to practice the lessons they will be presenting. Your educators do tremendous work each day supporting the success of all learners. However, inviting a VIP to tour a classroom throws an element of surprise into the educator’s day. So if your tour includes a visit to classrooms, prior to the visit, make time to connect with the educators involved and preview their lessons. Make sure they understand the goals of the tour and provide them support to deliver quality instruction and provide an authentic representation of the amazing work your school is achieving.
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3. Provide visitors the opportunity to connect with students. Every activity in the East Irondequoit Central School District is targeted at supporting the student, so it only makes sense that a VIP visitor should have the opportunity to connect with students and hear what they have to say about our initiatives. We hear from our students that our digital conversion is having a tremendous positive impact on their preparations for life beyond the classroom. What better way is there to share this message with visitors than by having our students speak for themselves?
4. Lean on your external partners for support. Everyone in public education wears multiple hats and has many projects underway at once so finding time to prepare for a VIP tour can be challenging. Ask your external partners for help. Discovery Education has been a valuable partner that has supported our digital conversion from the beginning, so for a recent VIP tour of our district, I was able to connect with their talented public affairs team and gain additional support for our. Their experience in planning high-impact VIP experiences was tremendously helpful and their assistance in implementing our media outreach efforts helped drive positive coverage of our VIP’s visit.
5. Document the visit and share it with your local community. With your VIP’s consent, be sure to document your visit. Take great pictures and use them in your social media posts about the visit. Take video and place it on the school district website and air it on the school television network. Finally send pictures, videos, and a press release to local media so that your community can see the connections the district is making.
6. Make sure you create space in the schedule to set the context for the visit and provide time for reflection. One thing we learned from conducting VIP tours over the years is the need to provide visitors the context for what they will see before their tour as well as time after their tour to debrief with our staff what they saw. For some visitors to our district, our classrooms look very different then the classrooms of their childhood. So, before visitors see their first view of the modern classrooms created by our digital conversion, and we find it helpful to set the stage for what they will see.
Likewise, we make sure to gather everyone that participates in our VIP tours for a debrief afterward. We want participants to have the opportunity to ask questions about what they saw and we would like to hear visitors’ feedback on their tours. These pre- and post-tour briefings have been incredibly useful in helping us meet the goals of our VIP tours.
There are many other ingredients that go into making a great VIP tour experience, but I think these six will ensure a high-impact experience for your visitors. And of course, if you are ever in Rochester, stop in and say hello—I’d love to show you around!