Build Trust, Support Through Great School Bond Project Communication

Today, I’m so excited to launch a couple of awesome outreach efforts for one of my school district clients: one is a bond measure project communication campaign and the other is developing the district’s business partnership program.

I’m thrilled that each of these outreach activities will produce incredible outcomes for this client:

  • Increase transparency
  • Share the district’s story with the greater community
  • Exhibit the positive outcomes of the community’s investment in student learning
  • Engage local businesses in supporting and investing in student success
  • Showcase the value of public schools
  • Increase community trust and support for their community schools

I want your district or school to experience the same outcomes.  As much as I’d love to cover both of these topics in one post, they’re different enough to warrant their own attention.  So, in this blog post, I will provide you some key approaches to consider with school bond project communications—in a later post, I’ll outline the components of successful business partnership programs.

Elements of Great School Bond Project Communications

The first assumption that many school districts make is that if people are curious about school bond projects, they’ll just visit the school district website.  After all, there must be some reason for all of the dirt and construction trucks, right?

Keeping the community appraised about school district bond projects is more than posting pictures of construction updates—the community needs to know the story about what is happening in those upgraded facilities, what outcomes are being achieved, and how students are benefitting from safer, modernized schools.

Here are some key elements that should be included in effective school bond project communications:

Plan Ahead: Effective Communications Takes Planning

  • What big story do you want to tell about your bond measure projects?  Develop story content that supports your broad story, and then map out what stories you want to communicate about your bond projects over the next year and throughout the life of the bond.
  • Take a look at your opportunities to get in front of your audiences—do you have any upcoming events (either district-planned or ones that you are attending) where you can share an update about your bond measure? Map out all of your audiences and potential touchpoints. Be sure to incorporate these opportunities into your overall communication plan.

Take an Integrated Communication Approach:  Don’t Put All of Your Communications Into One Basket

  • Diversify your approach to maximize opportunities for your audience to see your stories.
  • Printed mailers, video, website content, and social media together are key to ensuring that these stories are reaching and being shared by your various audiences. Engage your email communications through providing bond updates in your employee, district and school newsletters.
  • Make sure you’re planning your content topics so that they all weave into a cohesive story about your bond measure’s successful outcomes.

Be transparent: Communicating Key Pieces of Information Builds Trust

  • Communicate the dates when certain major construction activities will be occurring, especially if those activities will impact road or sidewalk traffic, if delays might impact students access on campus, and if noisy portions of the project might affect the community.
  • Post the projects’ timelines on your website and in longer mailing pieces.
  • Make sure that key communicators in your district office and the school sites have talking points and information about the projects so that they can answer questions in person or over the telephone.

Remember, people are wary gaps in information (which they will seek to fulfill with whatever trusted individual will provide information, whether the information is correct or not) and they are appreciative of transparency.  People are also less likely to complain–when they receive a fair warning of adverse aspects of your projects, or if project delays occur.

Communicate Outcomes—Not Just Processes

Beyond the brick and mortar walls and fancy new equipment, what will the community’s investment in your schools achieve?

  • Capture stories and testimonials about positive student outcomes, safer schools, how modernized classrooms are helping teachers to improve the quality of education, how upgraded technology is leading to improved student outcomes—these are the reasons why your community supported the bond measure, so be sure to let them know the return on their investment.
  • Of course, the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies are a couple of obvious stories, but after the projects are completed, don’t assume that the story is over.  Showcase how the new science labs are being used by your students—and obtain some great testimonials to go along with it.
  • Be current and engaging: before and after pictures are a dated approach—time lapse videos are exciting and will engage your audience.

Remember, communication is about advancing your district’s relationships. Maintaining a strong, positive, and transparent relationship with your community regarding the millions of dollars that they are investing in your schools will pay off in dividends in terms of trust, reputation management, and even helping to secure taxpayer approval on future bonds for your district.

Does your district need assistance communicating your bond measure outcomes?  Contact us to discuss how Sounding Board can help your district share its compelling stories about how your community’s investment is generating positive student outcomes.

Have a blog post suggestion?  We love creating posts that will help you advance your organization’s marketing, public relations and communication objectives . Give us your feedback here.

 

Launching a Communication Ambassador Program

Ambassador programs have long been a successful approach for membership building among chambers of commerce, churches, and other organizations, including private schools.  The primary reason why these programs are successful is because people are key to building trust with other people–and when people talk with someone they already know, the trust component is incredibly high.  Real people will always trump social media and slick marketing materials–but, those components are important tools to a successful ambassador program.

Important note: While your Communication Ambassador Program may be districtwide, your efforts will be focused at each school site.  Parents–and school site staff–are tied to a specific school, and they will be most convincing and compelling speaking from their direct experiences with that school.  Remember, your schools are what make up your district, and your district will be well-communicated and marketed if its school sites are excelling with communicating through engaged ambassadors armed with great communication tools.

Before You Begin

Get your communication house in order

  • Branding: Ensure that your brand is strong, both visually, in messaging, and in practice.
  • Timing: The worst time to launch your program is in the middle of a crisis, but your communication ambassadors can be an incredible resource in reputation management following a crisis (just make sure that you choose–and train–your participants carefully).
  • Communication Tools: Make sure that you have well written and designed rack cards or postcards for each of your schools, talking points, updated website content, and great social media posts. You want to make sure that every person’s touchpoint with your communications is consistent, well-messaged, and visually appealing.

Set your goals

  • Define what you want your communication ambassadors to accomplish and measurable goals:
    • Do you want to reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community?  Do you want to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media?  
  • How will you know you are successful in these efforts: Make sure you define success in each aspect where you want to engage your communication ambassadors.

Decide who you want to approach as ambassadors

  • Parents: Parents are easy to target for some districts–and this may be a huge challenge for others.  Ensure that your parent ambassador base reflects your district population ethnicities, languages, income groups, and cultures.
  • Staff: Staff members’ roles as ambassadors might be different than those of parents, with some cross over (such as talking points, social media engagement,reaching out in the community).  Consult your district’s employee contracts and agreements, to determine whether their role as an ambassador may be considered voluntary or as part of their regular responsibilities.
  • Great communicators: In whatever language they speak, your ambassadors need to be great communicators who are also willing to further your district’s and schools’ messages and talking points.
  • Trustworthy: Remember, these people are an extension of your district and its schools.  When identifying participants (see more information below), ensure that you also understand peoples’ motivations for becoming an ambassador–if you sense someone has selfish or political intentions, steer away from approaching them.

Engage your principals

Your school site principals play a key role in the success of the ambassador program.  Engage them early in the goal setting and ambassador selection process.

Identify participants

A Communication Ambassador is a selected member of the your district’s affinity-building team. Chosen because of their passion for the schools, credibility among peers, connections in the community, and desire to advance the school and district, Communication Ambassadors are instrumental to expanding the reach of the school and district in the community, growing school enrollment, and increasing affinity among parents currently in the district.

Work with principals and directors in your district on helping to identify these individuals.

Invite Participants to a Launch Meeting

Once you have identified your ambassadors, you will want to invite them to a launch meeting. You will want to send a personal invitation to the parent and then call to follow-up. It is important for them to know that they are not committing to this program for life. It is always a good idea to include a description of the communication ambassador program so that the invited participants have a basic understanding of what to expect.

The meeting should be informal in nature, such as a brunch, lunch or BBQ, and schedule meetings in the morning and evening to accommodate parents’ schedules. The key is to schedule what works best for your district and parents.

Inspire Communication Ambassadors at the Meeting

During the launch meeting you will want to inspire the participants by sharing with them the importance of their role as word of mouth ambassadors. Realizing that they are already in the role of an ambassador, your goal is to increase their involvement intentionally in key areas.

Every communication ambassador will be encouraged to “nudge” two to three friends to consider the district’s schools. In addition, every communication ambassador will help with open houses and mentoring relationships with new families.

Initiate Efforts in Focused Areas

Remember the goals you established? Once you have inspired your communication ambassadors and discussed the roles mentioned above, you will want to highlight other areas of focus. Communication Ambassadors can help you reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community, as well as help to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media.

By highlighting these areas, you can ask your communication ambassadors to select an area that they would like to focus on during the year. Then, ambassadors will be able to form teams based on their area of focus to help you expand your reach in the community.

Involve Communication Ambassadors

Once you initiate the efforts of your communication ambassadors, you will need to facilitate their involvement throughout the year. However, make sure that you do not make your program about a bunch of meetings. Instead, the communication ambassadors can be encouraged to be involved in their area throughout the year through personal contacts and team meetings. In addition, it can work well to set up a closed Facebook or Google hangout group for your ambassadors to connect in real-time. You can use this as a tool to encourage their involvement throughout the year.

Need more help?

Need help launching your program?  Sounding Board can help your district with any or all of the steps with this process.  Give us a call at 916.673.8868 or email Heather at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net.

We like to give credit where credit is due–this blog post was inspired by The Enrollment Catalyst.

 

Tips for Communicating with Families Experiencing Homelessness

The plight of children experiencing homelessness typically becomes front of mind for most people during the holidays.  During the months of November and December, giving trees, toy and canned food drives, blanket drives, and other types of resource collections abound, and many organizations benefit from individuals seeking opportunities for end of the year tax deductions.

Source: EdSource

Students and families experiencing homelessness are on the top of my mind, as well–but, for different reasons.  I am currently working with a school district client that has 25% of its students experiencing homelessness, and a couple of its schools have this rate at 38%.  This experience–joined with an increasing number of homeless children across the state of California, and the families displaced by fires in Santa Rosa/Napa/Sonoma–made me consider whether schools are doing enough to connect and communicate with families experiencing homelessness.  One cannot assume that the district’s regular communication channels will reach parents experiencing homelessness to ensure that schools remain connected to families in crisis.  For this reason, I pulled together several resources to develop these tips for school communicators, principals, teachers and administrators to use when communicating with families experiencing homelessness.  Your district should also have a staff member appointed as the homeless student services liaison, and they may also have additional resources.

Families experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness have unique needs that go beyond those of parents with secure housing. Families need security, trusting relations, positive mental health, and the key supports for functioning such as food and clothing. The key is supporting homeless families in achieving these needs without undue barriers. From a communication perspective, schools can streamline paperwork needed for registration or other input procedures. Further, through collaborative relations with other community groups schools can create effective but efficient channels for referrals or related supports.

Having interactive communication with families in continuous ways enhances this process of meeting needs and empowering families to take ownership of their lives.

Establishing contact with families who are homeless or in other high-risk situations is the initial challenge for educators. Some strategies include:

(1) Interagency links: Having connections with agencies in the community who are likely to have contact with homeless families is a starting point. Referrals, partnerships for training and resource sharing, and other such activities often highlight the needs of families who are homeless or at risk for becoming homeless. These contacts also provide a schema for planning together to meet these needs and to keep the community apprised of these needs.

(2) School and district initiatives: Through staff development efforts, use of school liaisons, school-community awareness activities, and promoting a family friendly school culture—the venue for reaching homeless families is strengthened.

(3) Teacher and staff observations and initiatives: Teachers and other school personnel have many opportunities to initiate contacts with children and parents who are homeless.

Lean on other experts

Source: EdSource

As a principal, you are not expected to be the expert about students or families experiencing homelessness.  Being empathetic and compassionate are two of the best approaches that you can take.  Utilize other experts and seek input from local liaisons, school counselors, and social workers about positive communication strategies and about statements and actions that may be perceived as offensive or threatening to a family experiencing homelessness.

Also, your students and families experiencing homelessness may be living or encountering situations that are not safe.  Talk with parents, students, and staff at the previous school about potential dangers, and develop a safety plan together.

 

Build their Sense of Self

Approach the parent in a way to builds their sense of self. Effective parents also need a strong sense of self. Studies have shown that a strong sense of self encourages nurturing and warm behavior in parent-child relations, which in turns promotes higher attentiveness, satisfaction and happiness in parents, and harmonious lives for both the parent and child.

Unfortunately, homeless parents face many stressors that erode their self-esteem and reduce their ability to parent effectively. Victims of harsh judgment, homeless parents have lost control of their daily ritual, often have a history as victims of violence and struggle with substance abuse. Many homeless parents lack socio-educational skills, literacy skills, economic and psycho-social control, positive parenting role models, and supportive adults.   Homeless parents will often avoid the “school culture” because of negative past experiences or fears related to their homeless situation.

Teachers, counselors, and schools can support parental self-esteem by:

  • Communicating in nurturing, non-judgmental, responsive, caring, empowering ways.
  • Involving homeless parents in identifying their needs.
  • Encouraging parents to stay positively involved in their children’s lives.
  • Working with shelters and other community groups to encourage activities that enhance parent self-esteem and increase community awareness.
  • Fostering a school culture that values parents who are homeless as important people in the learning community through school and district initiatives

Schools can:

  • Provide Adult Education: Provide adult education that enhances parental competence and confidence.
  • Offer Job Training: Partner parents with parent-mentors who support parents gaining new skills, educational and job training, linking them to empowering services.
  • Maintain an Online Log: Maintain secure, private online log records of family needs for teachers to share and report on specific needs they observe.
  • Accept Alternative ID: Allow for alternative forms of identification such as letters from shelters or motel receipts to facilitate quick entry into schools.

Suggested Activities to Engage and Communicate With Parents and Families Experiencing Homelessness

Discussion Group

Build trust through discussion groups with other parents or one-on-one conferencing.

Focus Group

Conduct focus groups with parents and observe the strengths of each parent. Meeting other families allows parents to see that they’re not alone and creates a forum to problem solve as a group.

Storytelling

In one-on-one discussions or group discussion, have parents tell stories about the things they enjoy doing.

Journaling

Have parents keep a journal that highlights their achievements and strengths. Have parents chart their most successful activities.

Guest Speakers

Have successful parents return to tell other parents how the program strengthened their skills. 

Interactive Journals

Service providers can communicate with partner parents through interactive journals which students take from home to school. Interactive journals give both parents and teachers a vehicle to understanding the child’s in-school and out-of-school lives while opening up gates of communication. 

  1. Provide a blank journal for the student.
  2. Ask parents to write notes to the teacher or provider in the student’s notebook on what happened with the child/student at home.
  3. Respond to parent’s notes by jotting down what happened at school that day. Possible notes could include: an interesting insight the student made, positive progress the student is making, an upcoming project that the class is working on, or an upcoming school or community event that the student may be excited about.
  4. Initiate regular “Love Notes” that let the parent know when their child accomplishes a difficult task, masters a specific skill, behaves well in a challenging situation, supports a peer, demonstrates kindness to others, or shows another positive skill or behavior.

Survival Kit

Work with parents to create “survival kits” with parent and child IDs, and school and medical records. Survival kits can help reduce stress when this paperwork is needed for school or other services.

Because homeless or transitional families struggle to keep track of their personal and school paperwork, creating a survival kit of important personal paperwork can help reduce stress for families and social services personnel.

  1. Provide a shoebox or other container for the student to store personal paperwork.
  2. Personal paperwork can include:
    • Documentation of recent medical check-ups.
    • Documentation of immunizations received.
    • Report cards from previous schools.
    • A birth certificate.
    • A social security number.
    • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of family members, both local and those who live in other locations (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, others).
    • A history of schools attended, places lived, friends at each place/school (with contact information), accomplishments in school, accomplishments outside of school.
  3. If student drives a car:
    • Driver’s license.
    • Car registration.
    • Car Insurance.
  4. If families no longer have this paperwork, work with students and families to identify the agencies they need to interact with in order to obtain the paperwork.
  5. If possible, assist families to complete the forms required to obtain the paperwork.

Sources:

Dill, V. (2015). Homeless–And Doubled Up. Educational Leadership72(6), 42-47.

Mohan, C. & Shields, C. M. (2014). The voices behind the numbers: Understanding the experiences of homeless students. Critical Questions in Education, Special Issue, 5(3): 190-202. doi

Swick, K. J., & Bailey, L. B. (2004). Communicating Effectively with Parents and Families Who Are Homeless. Early Childhood Education Journal32(3), 211-215.

Swick, K. J. (2009). Issues and Strategies Involved in Helping Homeless Parents of Young Children Strengthen Their Self-Esteem. Early Childhood Education Journal37(3), 183-187.

Total Number of Homeless Students Enrolled in LEAs with or without McKinney-Vento Subgrants – Total: 2013-14. Ed Data Express: Data about elementary and secondary schools in the U.S.http://eddataexpress.ed.gov/data-element-explorer.cfm/tab/data/deid/5353/sort/idown/

US Department of Education Press Release (July 27, 2016). Education Department Releases Guidance on Homeless Children and Youth. Accessed December 8, 2016 at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/education-department-releases-guidance-homeless-children-and-youth