The sky is blue, the grass is green, and no one likes to be told to calm down. These are things we know. And yet, the other day as I was walking with Jennifer, a mother in my neighborhood, she described a recent email from her school district, which directed her to “find the silver lining” in her current situation at home with her children. “Be present with your children. Bake with them. Teach them household chores. Slow down.” Unsurprisingly, my friend – who is currently working from home, running an ad-hoc elementary school/restaurant, and simultaneously managing the health and well-being of her elderly parents – did not take well to this email.
Messaging is paramount during times of uncertainty – and the foundation of effective messaging is remembering your most vulnerable audience. For school districts, certain vulnerable groups are more easily identifiable than others – those who lack technology access, for example. But that shouldn’t prevent you from broadening your scope to include the Jennifer’s of your district. All parents are message carriers for your district, and at a time when charter and private schools siphon more students from districts than ever, how you communicate during this time can either improve your school’s reputation
Here’s a few best practices to consider as you continually communicate with parents during this unprecedented time:
Remember your most vulnerable audiences.
It’s a highly emotional time right now. Be as sensitive as possible. Your district should tailor communications to this audience, and when necessary, get on the phone with them.With many parents feeling guilty for not maximizing their uninterrupted time with their children due to work or family obligations, avoid language that will exacerbate these feelings. Consider a more refined approach with a communication that reads something like,: “To the moms, dads and caregivers who are working to battle this crisis outside or inside the home — know that many of the staff and educators of [ District X] are facing similar challenges. I’d like to share with you how I [or one of our leaders] have worked to empower my children to create their own in-house classroom.” Give parents a nugget of “aha” information that is relatable and shareable. Humanize yourself!
Be honest and authentic
We understand that the Pennsylvania Department of Education is sending mixed signals to school districts, leaving many confused on mandatory operational and enrichment requirements. If you find yourself in-between answers regarding a certain policy or guideline, be honest about the situation and reaffirm that you are doing everything in your power to get answers, and developing solutions wherever possible.
Be true to your brand
The Pittsburgh Public Schools – where many students live in poverty – created a grab-and-go operation where students are ensured a hot lunch. This is on brand with Dr. Anthony Hamlet’s focus on equity. What is your school’s brand? How can students be challenged at home — not just in reading and writing — but in creative ways to give back, make a difference, or exercise compassion? Are you a district that prides yourself on innovative, social communications? Consider a weekly blog from the superintendent that is focused on Covid-19/school communications and answers parents’ frequently asked questions. Do a live video chat with students every week and challenge them to journal about this historical experience (their grandkids will appreciate it one day!). Avonworth School District’s JAM club recently put up an online store to sell their #Bethekindkid t-shirts, with all benefits going toward the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
A note on Parent/Student engagement
Many parents are struggling with their new roles as temporary school teachers. What is your district doing to help them navigate this challenge? A school district in Texas is offering virtual training sessions for parents, as well as providing optional, engaging online activities to help keep their students on track. The Superintendent has strongly emphasized the importance of developing a support system for parents to ensure the students can thrive educationally. And Google for Education just added a list of free resources HERE that provide distance learning solutions free until July 1, 2020.
Our team of experts is available to review your current communications strategy, or to help you develop a new plan to meet the demands of today.
Contact us at [email protected] or (412) 219-9402.
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