How to Respond When Your School Board Members Act Like District Spokespeople

Do your school board members keep grabbing the district's microphone? We have solutions for that.

Over the past year, there has been a need for quick and accurate information. In a season of uncertainty, many have turned to leaders such as school board members and other important figures in districts to get answers. However, how do you respond when your board members overstep their boundaries and break the unity of one clear voice. Have they posted on social media before the district has had the chance to communicate its message? Are board members answering questions in a way that does not reflect the views of the district? All of these situations can contribute to confusion and disunity in districts. However, these issues often do not arise without a cause. Pinpointing and issues and finding solutions are essential to moving forward.

Brown Act and Social Media

Effective January 1, 2021, in California, new changes were implemented to the Brown Act in regards to board members using and engaging on social media. The changes do authorize individual Board/Council Members to engage in conversations with the public on an “internet-based social media platform to answer questions, provide information to the public, or to solicit information from the public regarding a matter that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”  Board/Council Members, however, are not authorized to use social media to discuss among themselves business within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.  Additionally, Board/Council Members are prohibited from responding directly to any post and/or comment that is made, posted, or shared by any other Board/Council Member of the same legislative body.” Additional legal information regarding these Brown Act changes are explained in this post by the legal firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.

Between the changes to the Brown Act and the need for one voice among board members, uniform and intentional communication is essential. 

Governing Guidelines

Governing guidelines and policies help to define board member collaboration and communication. 

Ensure that your Board and Administrative policies on community relations are updated regularly–including reflecting the recent Brown Act changes regarding social media communications–and that your board members are familiar with board policies about community relations.  In most California school districts, this policy usually begins with a clear statement such as this one:

The Governing Board recognizes the district’s responsibility to keep the public informed regarding the goals, programs, achievements, and needs of the schools and district and to be responsive to the concerns and interests of the community. The Superintendent or designee shall establish strategies for effective two-way communications between the district and the public and shall consult with the Board regarding the role of Board members as advocates for the district’s students, programs, and policies.


The California School Boards Association provides
policy services to member California school districts, including sample community relations policies.  Other state school board associations may also provide these types of policy services.  Sounding Board can also provide assistance in creating comprehensive community relations policies.

The California School Boards Association also summarizes the role of the school board is “…to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of their communities.” Ultimately, to best serve the district, communication must be uniform. The CSBA Professional Governance Standards for School Boards states “To operate effectively, the board must have a unity of purpose…” 

These guidelines and policies help in clarifying the role and responsibility of school board members in community relations from a governing standpoint.  However, that isn’t always convincing to board members who want to use communication to show accountability to their supporters.

There are also practical ways to help support board members in fulfilling their duties and provide guidelines to ensure their voice does not overstep their position to help encourage one voice.

Balancing Free Expression with Coordination

It is important to guide communications without restricting personal expression. Often if board members feel the need to share information or speak their mind, there is a motivating reason. Perhaps some changes need to happen within your district, or there are unaddressed issues below the surface. Either way pinpointing the source of the problem is crucial.

Let’s explore how to respond when your school board members act like district spokespeople:

  • Provide talking points: Encourage continuity and consistency through district communication and among board members. Talking points are a great tool. Having clear points will help to make the district’s position clear and help provide organization when board members share information and seek to answer questions. This also allows board members to express concern or offer changes to the notes before communication is shared. 
  • Reinforce the importance of one clear voice to avoid confusion: If there are challenges with Board Members overstepping their role and communicating their own perspective that is resulting in public confusion about the school district’s activities or decisions made, it is important to underscore the importance of speaking in one voice. If key figures share different and even conflicting information it can confuse parents, teachers, and give an image of the district that is disorganized. Facts need to be consistent even if peoples’ opinions on the decisions or outcomes differ.
  • Be transparent and listen: Often board members do not voice their own opinion or share information without motivation or a reason. Finding ways to be more open to board members can help get at the heart of the issue. There are multiple approaches to helping your district be more transparent and open to hearing different voices. Some simple approaches include:
    • A weekly communication to the board: Send the board a summary of district activities, issues being handled and any upcoming events that may interest the board.
    • Hold regular meetings with individual board members: Provide them a forum to raise their own questions, voice their concerns and receive information about matters that are of concern to them individually. 
    • Equip the board members with their own set of resources as a base to confirm the facts about matters that concern the board.
  • Separate personal opinion from official district positions, communications: If a board member feels the need to their express personal opinion, then they need to ensure there is a clear distinction between their own personal opinion and not the position of the board as a whole, or an official district position. If board members want to be transparent and show their opinion, it is important that this is made clear.  However, perhaps this is pointing to a larger issue that should be addressed. Does the school district need to respond more quickly, and be more transparent? Maybe the school board member is filling in the gaps that the district needs to fill. People normally have a reason for reaching and responding the way they do. 
  • Identify a solution: Lastly, once there are strategies to help improve communication, also look inward and evaluate your district communications performance. After connecting with board member, they may express concern or frustration over how your district has been providing information.
    • Does communication need to go out faster?
    • Does the district website and/or social media need to be updated more frequently?
    • Do parents feel there is not enough transparency or means to voice concerns and comments?

Through these conversations with your board members, seek out ways to not only improve board member communication, but also your district’s communication to help get at the heart of the problem. Identify the problem, work through the solution, and create more successful outcomes.

  • Engage Board members as communication ambassadors and partners: Through providing regular communication updates to the board–including an annual communication plan and evaluation of communication activities–the superintendent or communications department can ensure that the board is aware of the effectiveness of the district’s communication plan and strategies, and how the board can play a role in the success of the district’s communication.  Engaging the board members as strategic partners as communicators clearly defines their role versus leaving the board member confused about their role and taking matters into their own hands.

Consistency Matters

Uniform communication across your district can be a challenge but ultimately it helps distribute essential information, secure the trust of your district, and allows for open dialogue. If you want to improve your district’s communication strategies or are going through a season of disordered communication you do not have to figure it out on your own. Sounding Board offers services and resources to help you navigate your district’s communication. Sounding Board can help from launching a communication ambassador program to community engagement, and reputation management from the ground up. To learn more about services or a partnership program that best fits the needs of your district visit https://sounding-board.net/products today!

7 Step Evaluation of Why You Should Still Have a Social Media Presence

How the Pandemic Has Changed Social Media


Picture of smartphone with social media appsSocial Media Engagement

During this past year have you seen a decline in social media engagement, and are you wondering if you should continue to keep your organization present on social media? 2020 was a season where regular communication and interactions were transformed. Are individuals still active on social media? Are other forms of communication more effective for your school district or county office of education? Or is social media still an essential resource for your organization?

Social Media in 2021

In general, people are still on social media; they are just not as engaged. It is likely that your social media content is perhaps being seen, but just not interacted with. This raises the question: why does your district or COE continue to use social media as part of its communications platforms? If you are not getting the engagement you want, are there better options? A key advantage of social media is creating value through connection. It is an affordable and accessible resource that allows for relationships and interactions to take place in a unique and timely way. However, has the pandemic changed this? Do social media strategies and current practices need to be adapted? Here are 7 steps to evaluating the effectiveness of social media in your district or COE.

Define the Problem

In developing a solution to a problem it is first essential to understand fully what the problem is  Here are some ways to help define the problem:

  • What specific struggles or needs are you experiencing with your organization’s social media?  
  • Does this problem create insurmountable or expensive solutions or have a negative impact on the organization as a whole? 
  • Do current solutions to its handling of negative social media comments create a legal or public relations problem? 
  • Are you not receiving engagement on your posts? 
  • Did you have specific goals for your social media that you are not able to reach?

Defining the problem and taking a step back from the details of the situation are important in evaluating and clearly defining the problem.

Research

What is doing well on your social media, and what is struggling? Once you’ve defined the problem, then take a look at other district’s, COE’s and governmental entities that have faced this.  See if there are ways to adapt. Delve into which posts are generating the most negative comments (and the context of those comments). Determine if those are situational, such as concerts and frustrations around COVID-19 or based on other factors. Collect rules of engagement and approaches to handling negative comments. Perhaps hiding comments instead of deleting them could be an option. Are there better ways to increase positive engagement? Would implementing surveys in your Instagram stories or providing prompts, and clear calls to action help to improve immediate but helpful engagement?

The other part of the research is going back to the reasons why your organization is using social media as part of its mix of communication platforms:

  • What are your goals and what role does social media play in that? 
  • How should a social media presence be established? 
  • What are the best ways to manage negative comments? 

While social media has changed dramatically over the past decade–in good and bad ways–there is an important note that is consistent: Brand visibility can be attained through using negative comments as a customer service opportunity.  Social media presents a two-way communication opportunity with your audiences in ways that other communication media do not.

Picture of a desk with an open laptop computerBrand Visibility

One benefit to social media is growing brand visibility. Are you working to clarify your brand, rebranding, or simply looking for consistency? You are investing time and resources into your brand and it is a valuable one. One way to grow this investment is to branch into other forms of digital communication such as video and your website, each of which is promoted through your social media accounts. Social media can be a way to drive traffic and engagement to central platforms. Expanding your audience and your reach are ways to improve brand visibility.

Data

 After you clearly define the “why’s” then you should collect the data to support that.  What are the results of your social media campaigns and posts?  How has that resulted in positive outcomes for SCOE and advanced its goals?  This is so incredibly important because the data can really paint a solid picture of the impact of social media presence and use. It is through data that an accurate and realistic measurement of your social media’s impact and reach can be seen through analytics.

Compare Alternatives

Additionally, you can consider alternatives to social media. Develop some ideas, and estimate costs around how you would substitute another approach to reach your audiences in the ways that social media is already doing this. Digital media is, by far, the least expensive form of advertising and communication. Maybe your research is showing that your district’s social media presence isn’t making much of a dent into anything, and your other communication approaches are doing just fine. Develop ideas around how you will further improve and leverage those approaches. Consider tangible methods to measure and track your outcomes.

Implementation

After you’ve collected all the research, develop your case and plan. It is important to have clear rules or guidance and engagement on your social media accounts. Are you experiencing negative comments? or simply feel that content is inconsistent? Consider legal counsel for your district to be able to provide some advising on what can and cannot be deleted. While you are forming this consider implementing some new approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of these tactics. Consider mapping out tangible goals for developing content and measuring interactions on social media.

Evaluation

Evaluate the effectiveness of new approaches to rules of engagement and handling negative posts. Determine how you will define success for this. Maybe success means a reduction in negative comments, increased resolution of problems, and improved engagement during a pandemic. Having realistic and tangible goals helps in clearly measuring and evaluating success. Choosing specific kinds of engagement from likes, comments, and tags as ways to measure interaction. During a season of COVID-19, working to promote and engage connection is essential. Social media provides a space for individuals to connect where otherwise there has been separation.

Why Social Media?

One of the main goals in using social media is to develop your district’s trust. Social media is relational communication and the best way to establish a connection is through a regular and engaging way. However, it is important to consider the platforms and kinds of social media that your district is implementing. If, after compiling this self-evaluation, trust is not maintained or grown through social media then it is time to rethink some different strategies. Ultimately social media is a powerful tool that has the ability to personally touch, inspire, and inform your followers. It is important to consider the best way to implement this powerful tool. 

You Do Not Have to Do it Alone

If you are feeling stuck on moving forward with your district’s social media content and presence, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help. To learn more about communication services that best fit the needs of your district you can explore Sounding Board Marketing & Communications’s Strategic Services. Following these steps to evaluate your social media are just one way to improve your district’s connection and visibility in a digital world impacted by the pandemic.

4 Steps for Battling Misinformation During a Pandemic

Overcome the challenge of misinformation in your school district by applying these steps to your communication strategies.

 

Picture of laptop computerA Changing World

As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be a part of 2021 effective and clear communication is essential to sharing crucial information. Without a doubt, 2020 was full of fluctuating, and at many points, inconsistent communication. In a world of interconnected platforms, finding accurate and informative information can be a challenge. Adapting to the impacts of COVID-19 and the dynamic information that comes with these changes, require careful evaluation. Unfortunately, in a changing sea of information and shifting tides, it can be difficult for audiences to establish what information is true and who to trust.

 

As a result, this overload of sometimes conflicting information can lead to misinformation. As more students return to campus for in-person learning, now, more than ever, COVID-19 information and procedures continue to be essential for families, employees, and schools, underscoring the effectiveness and essential nature of communication strategies and stakeholder relationships.  Misinformation has been a part of navigating through this pandemic. But is this an inescapable challenge for school districts, or are there methods to combat the effects of miscommunication?

 

Taking a Closer Look at Misinformation

First, what is misinformation in terms of mass communication? On its face, yes, it is false and inaccurate information however it does not have to be intentionally malicious. Misinformation is sharing content regardless of fully knowing its accuracy or impact. Sadly, sometimes misinformation happens organically in trying to navigate sharing information during a pandemic. When individuals are desperate for details, information is often complicated, and the stakes are high. The purpose of sharing information is to keep individuals informed on what is true so they can be aware of changes and safety procedures that impact their lives. When there is a breakaway from the truth, this breaks down the relationship and trust school districts have worked so hard to develop. Confusing information, rumors, and even simply inconsistent terms causes breakdown of understanding between school districts and the individuals depending on them.

 

Taking a Step Back

It is clear that misinformation can have detrimental effects. While there will always be a risk that misinformation will occur, there are methods for both minimizing and combating its effect. Ultimately, it is not about battling misinformation head-on with opposing messaging, but looking at the bigger picture to evaluate the best way to respond and engage. Having steps and a process in place for misinformation strategies can help prompt a positive and clear relationship with your school district and your audience. With that being said, let’s explore four steps for battling misinformation during a pandemic.

1. Find Out Why

Identify the Issue

An essential first step in considering misinformation is determining why it occurred. In order to solve a problem, it is first necessary to know what the problem is. If misinformation has spread within a school district the first step to combat the issue is understanding the source and the cause. This will not only help in solving the immediate issue but can help prevent future similar problems. 

  • Was the information not clear?
  • Were individuals experiencing information overload?
  • Did people get trapped into group thinking without checking factual information?
  • Were stakeholders not involved in key phases of the process, such as providing input before major decisions?

 

Insightful Responses 

Now that the source is identified it is essential to understand why it occurred and why people believe it. Looking at messaging from the audience’s perspective works to create effective details that the audience wants to know in order to combat the problem. Knowing why individuals believe false information will help in creating messaging that most effectively addresses the confusion. 

  • Empathy is key in problem-solving. Evaluate the information from each stakeholder’s perspective: families, teachers, staff, administrators, students. 
  • What is the issue that faces them and what is the most essential truth they need to know in order to fix the issue? Instead of just sharing opposing information it is better to create messaging that meets and audience where they are at and guide them through the information that will help them get back to the truth.

2. This is Not a New Problem

After a year of being in the pandemic, there is a great need for accurate and truthful information to draw from. However, misinformation is not a new problem. The pandemic has brought to light the need for valuable and trustworthy sources of information. In a world of false information and fake news, consistency and accuracy are needed in developing audience trust. Techniques for dealing with misinformation can happen in a variety of settings. Even though misinformation is sometimes unforeseeable and thus unavoidable what are ways to proactively prepare for misinformation situations? 

  • Parents, teachers, and students look to your district as a reliable source of information. Providing reliable, trustworthy, consistent, and quality content is the way school districts can build the trust of their audiences. 
  • When families, staff, teachers, and students already have a sense of trust in your district, they will look to you as a source of reliable information in moments of confusion and uncertainty. Create and maintain relationships through clear communication. This is essential to plant an anchor in navigating situations and communications related to the pandemic. 

3. Establish a Compelling Narrative – Maintain Trust

Creating clear and consistent messaging is essential in repairing a breakdown in communication. Managing something as complicated as communication during a pandemic can be improved through developing key messages and a compelling narrative. An essential part of developing connection through messages is making sure there is a story. A key difference between information and a story is empathy. Consider your reader and the best way to walk them through the message you want to present to them. Trust is more than just sharing information; it is building relationships. Relationships are best built through stories and clear narratives. Make sure your district’s story works to give a clear message arc. Take the hand of the reader and walk them through where the information is now to where it should be. Creating compelling narratives is what heals the separation misinformation causes.

4. Bring Value Through Accountability

Ultimately, battling misinformation comes from clear consistent communication and puts audience connection at the center. 

  • Accountable communication driven by integrity demonstrates value. Using consistent terms to organize information brings clarity. 
  • When working to repair a break in communication from misinformation it is important information is presented in a way that not only is accurate. Defining terms and using them are constantly just one example. Addressing specific concerns and sharing clear information can help build trust again with families and students. 
  • Uniform visuals work to keep information accessible when there is conflicting information or confusion. Organizing visuals with consistent terminology and designs help demonstrate quality communication. 
  • Ensure your district and its schools are communicating in one clear voice: Provide talking points to your board members, administrators, principals, and other key communicators so that they can provide the same, consistent responses to questions from your stakeholders.  The more people receive those consistent messages from your key communicators, the most trust they have in your communications.

Credibility is built on consistency and accurate information. When integrity is at the center of communication, your audiences’ trust will follow. 

For more inspiration on battling misinformation during the pandemic, you can visit The Drum’s website and read “How do you solve problem misinformation during a pandemic”. Misinformation is a problem during not only the pandemic but in other situations. Knowing how to effectively, clearly, and thoughtfully combat false information is essential for not only sharing the truth but repairing and maintaining the relationships of the school district.

Need help battling misinformation?

If you feel like you are already overwhelmed with managing your school district Sounding Board Marketing and Communications can provide strategic services to assist in communication. For more information visit strategic services and sign up for a 30-minute evaluation. Misinformation has become a growing issue to overcome. Clear communication to establish trust is not only possible but attainable for school districts. Ultimately, clear and trustworthy communication works to battle misinformation during the pandemic and beyond.

 

Top 10 Questions Parents Have About In-Person Learning

Are you ready for your school district’s transition to in-person learning?

 

Student wearing a face coveringThis month, we’re kicking off a series of blog posts on Trending Topics….no, not the Kardashians, but real, true trending topics–and challenges-that education leaders and school communicators are facing right now.  

Currently, as schools across the nation are returning students to in-person learning after a year of distance learning, this week’s topic focuses on the Top 10 Questions that parents are asking as their child returns to in-person learning. 

Return to In-Person Learning

As districts are looking to transition to in-person learning, there are many considerations and steps that need to be implemented in order to ensure a smooth transition. Navigating the return to in-person learning is a transition that is new territory for many. Managing communication during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one that has felt like a constant crisis without any playbook, and cannot rely on traditional communications plans. So in this unprecedented season, it is essential to stay proactive in clear and effective communications. Are you ready to handle questions about returning to in-person learning? 

After working with several school districts that have been transitioning to in-person learning, there are some key questions that should be answered as early as possible to prevent rumors and misinformation, and to reinforce stakeholder trust.

Navigating a New Landscape

As school leaders are finding, there is not one correct way to transition to in-person learning. Depending on the grade levels of students being served, classroom sizes, the number of students returning to in-person learning, employee negotiations, state and local health department requirements and more, the planning in-person learning planning process that school leaders are undertaking are detailed and time consuming.  But, remember that this is also a new experience for both students and parents, and they have questions about the process and what to expect. Questions and details left unanswered about transitioning to in-person learning can lead to misunderstanding, rumors, and the spread of false information. Being aware of individuals’ concerns while navigating this new landscape is essential in building and retaining trust throughout this process. 

Proactive Communication

A way to overcome miscommunication is to be proactive and answer common questions ahead of time. Many parents and students have valid concerns about the process and return to in-person learning. Although it is challenging to manage so many details, proactive communication can help demonstrate student safety and maintain parent trust. Implementing a Frequently Asked Questions page on the district’s and schools’ websites, along with the in-person learning plan will help to funnel many of these questions and reinforce trust and your relationships with families.  Share the FAQs via email and social media to ensure that your families see the information.

Student Holding BooksTop 10 Questions Parents have about In-Person Learning

  • What is the schedule? Being clear about the details of the schedule–what days cohorts are attending and during which hours–is an important first question to provide for parents and students. This can be explaining how the schedule will change and similarities to the current structure. A schedule with easy-to-view data will be immensely helpful in funneling initial questions to help accommodate parents. Keep in mind that families need to plan for childcare and adjust their own schedules when these transitions occur.

 

  • How will I be informed about COVID-19 cases in the classroom, on the school campus? Providing specific procedures will help give order and peace of mind to parents so they know exactly what to expect in case of a COVID-19 case on campus. Being clear about covid cases will help show intentionality and transparency.

 

  • What if the teacher or someone in my child’s class is COVID-19 positive? This is an important question for both parents and students to know what to expect. Having clear procedures and expectations and steps to follow will help give clarity to parents.

 

  • Where do I drop off/pick up my student from school? Providing maps and visuals will give a reference to parents. In-person learning will be different from attendance before the pandemic. Communicating specifically the procedures ahead of time for dropping off students will help ensure proper social distancing and safety to help maintain order on the day of returning.

 

  • How will snacks, recess, lunchtime be handled? The daily routine of in-person learning is different from when the pandemic began. What are ways that these daily activities are carried out realistically and safely? This will be an important question to answer not just for parents but students as well since many are curious to see how their interactions with one another will change or feel the same.

 

  • What will be done to promote physical distancing? Since physical distancing can have many applications it is important to define the steps to ensure clear procedures. Having clear expectations and procedures for social distancing will help give peace of mind to parents to see a safe learning environment.

 

  • What are the disinfecting procedures? Demonstrating thoughtful and clear procedures for disinfecting will help to model the promotion of a safe learning environment. What are regular disinfecting practices throughout the day and what are deeper janitorial practices that will be implemented?

 

  • What measures will be implemented on campus to ensure the safety of staff and students? Beyond physical distancing and regular disinfecting what safety measures can students and staff expect? What types of screening procedures will be required of students and staff? Are there similarities and differences between the procedures between staff and students? Include visuals and graphics to help make steps memorable and clear.

 

  • What happens if a student comes to school ill? Addressing possible scenarios helps give clarity to parents, staff, and students on the proper actions and steps to take in case of an illness. This will help to demonstrate further the safeguards in place to promote a safe learning environment in multiple situations.

 

  • Will my child be assigned to a different teacher? This is an important question to answer for both parents and students. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help in the transition and allow students to best connect with their teacher.

The Bottom Line: Communication Matters

Implementing questions and answers about in-person learning is helpful in not only maintaining organization but builds parent trust. Proactive communication helps minimize the spread of confusion and helps to funnel common questions. 

 

We Are Here to Help

If you’re balancing school/district leadership with communication responsibilities, and you’re finding yourself falling behind on timely and consistent communications across your communication channels, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help. You can discover services to help school districts navigate communicating well in an unfamiliar landscape. To learn more about communication services that best fit the needs of your district you can explore Sounding Board Marketing & Communications Strategic Services. Schedule a 30-min consultation today and discover proactive communication to help fuel a positive and impactful transition to in-person learning.

8 (Easy} Ways to Use Social Media to Ring in 2021


It’s the last day of 2020, and while most of us are ready to kick this year to the curb, one of the positive things that happened this past year is the increased following and engagement on schools’ and school districts’ social media platforms.  

Welcoming the new year is a great opportunity to look back and reflect on the highlights of 2020, and also look ahead.  Here are five easy ways to use your social media platforms to ring in 2021, and close out a most challenging year in a positive way:

Student Reflections

We see so many stories in the news about what is going wrong with the pandemic–yet, studies show that expressing gratitude is healthy and is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.  What better way to share and express gratitude than through student’s reflections? Use these reflections as a series of posts that feature a quote about what students enjoyed or learned from 2020, and use a creative hashtag to group them.

Highlights Reel

Whether you put together a collection of photos in one post, or decide to kick off a “Top 10” collection of posts over the next few days, a highlight reel helps shine a light on the ways that your staff and students achieved, persevered and did their best despite the circumstances.  Some ideas include highlighting the achievements of each of the high school classes (including 2020), people who made a difference, and pictures of significant moments (virtual proms and/or graduations for example).

crossword puzzleNew Word or Phrase of the Year

With all of the changes that came from the pandemic, many districts began adopting motivational phrases like, “Stronger Together”, “We’re in This Together” and “Safe and Healthy Together”. You could kick off 2021 with a new word or phrase–or a few.  You could also create an easy crossword puzzle in Canva and ask people to find the word or words, and reply with the word(s) that they see.

 

Special Announcement

Do you have a new principal, teachers or staff members joining your school/district in January?  Did any of your staff members welcome a new child or pet over the holidays? Welcome them in a new year post!

Behind the Scenes

With so many schools doing distance learning or in person learning with masks on, students and families would love to see what their teachers and other staff members are doing outside of Zoom or from beyond their masks. What are your staff members up to during the break?  Ask them to send pictures and highlight the fun activities they’re doing with their families in a Happy New Year post or collection of posts.

Milestones

Are any of your schools or programs celebrating an important milestone in 2021? This is a great time to begin promoting and organizing the special celebrations (drive by, virtual, drive in…whatever is the safest for your community!) to commemorate it.

Motivating and Heartfelt Message

After a year of constant change and losses, a motivating and heartfelt message is a welcome respite from the information and news posts that have dominated your social media platforms. A new year is about new beginnings and the opportunities ahead, and that, while 2020 may have tested your school’s or district’s resilience, that the community is heading into 2021 stronger than ever before.  

School Updates and Improvements

Have some school updates and improvements that will greet students and staff in 2021?  Maybe a new mural was painted, a new garden was planted, or some bond measure projects were recently completed. Or, perhaps you’re breaking ground on a new project in January.  Kick off and share the progress and updates of these projects with your families on your social media!


What are some other ways you are using your district’s/school’s social media to ring in the new year?
Leave a reply below to share more ideas with our community!

 

 

Do Your Surveys Suck? 5 Tips For Creating Better Surveys

Over the past seven months, school districts are using surveys more than ever to gather stakeholder preferences and feedback for their COVID-19 beginning of the school year planning and implementation of some form of in-person or hybrid reopening plans over the next few months.

While surveys are and can be a useful tool, a survey’s utility is only as beneficial as its design.  In addition, survey results can have some intended consequences (providing the information being sought), and some very unintended ones, as well (stakeholders holding the results and positioning them as “votes” over the district’s head to pressure their leadership to take certain positions).

One of the biggest mistakes I am seeing right now is that school districts are using the term “survey” to define a number of things, from collecting information about learning preferences, feedback about distance learning, and more.  The problem is, these are not all surveys.  For example, I am seeing a number of “surveys” that are collecting information from parents about whether their child will be continuing to learn in a distance learning or will be transitioning to in-person (hybrid or otherwise) learning. These “surveys” collect student name, school, and contact information data, so that the districts know which students are returning to in person learning and which ones are remaining in distance learning. In reality, parents are not completing a survey–they are completing a registration form. Likewise, if you’re looking for the answer to one specific question, a poll might be a better choice, and if you’re looking for general feedback about your stakeholders’ overall experience with a program or approach to learning, asking for a review could be most effective.

Another mistake I am seeing is that surveys are asking for learning model preferences without providing all of the details to stakeholders.  These questions fail to include all of the known information, and stakeholders may be opting for certain responses without understanding the impacts of those choices.

For example, a five day a week schedule in your district may mean that student cohorts will be split into morning and afternoon schedules, and will spend fewer hours in the classroom.  Learning in person may mean that students will be required to remain with their cohort, will encounter restrictions during recess, will eat lunch in their classroom, and socialization will be greatly limited.

This is not to say that in person learning is filled with insurmountable challenges, but in parents’ excitement  to return their children to school, they also may have certain assumptions of what that will look like, and similarly staff and teachers may also have certain assumptions as they complete their surveys.

Without painting a clear picture of what each survey choice means, stakeholders may be selecting certain options based on expectations and assumptions, and if those are not met, then your district risks creating confusion and disappointment, being accused of lacking transparency and losing trust in the process.  This is why providing clear information to stakeholders in advance of sending surveys is so critically important–you don’t want to create more confusion when you send your surveys.

Maybe it’s been a decade since you took your research methods class in grad school–or maybe you never took a course at all. In any case, anytime you want to create a survey, you need to be thoughtful and thorough.  So, here are five ways to improve your surveys so that your stakeholders feel valued, you will collect the data you need, and you’ll prevent confusion and unintended consequences.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Surveys
  1. Be prepared. First, establish your survey’s goals and objectives. What information do you want to gather–preferences, taking the temperature of your stakeholders, obtaining registrations?  How do you want to use this information? Would your survey be best suited to be split up into two surveys?  If you have vastly different goals, you may want to consider sending two different surveys so that you aren’t confusing your stakeholders.  Lastly, determine whether a survey is the best approach for gathering the information you are seeking, or if focus groups or an advisory committee would be more effective.  
  2. Be informative. Provide clear information in advance of sending your survey–on your website, through video, and through stakeholder meetings.  Your survey should not be the first (or only) place where information is conveyed.  Make sure you are preparing your stakeholders with the most up to date information before asking them to take a survey, otherwise your survey results will not be accurate, and your stakeholders will accuse your district of lacking transparency.
  3. Be clear.  Are you collecting information, do you want people’s commitments, are you taking a poll or wanting a review?  A survey collects data. Registrations collect commitments.  Polls collect preferences, and reviews collect feedback. So, be clear with your audience about how you will be using the information you are collecting, and clearly and accurately title the survey.  Additionally, avoid jargon, keep questions clear and concise, and don’t ask loaded questions.
  4. Be thoughtful. Based on your survey goals and objectives, develop easy to understand, bias-free survey questions. Make sure that you are not asking leading questions.  Do a test run with friends and family outside of your organization to catch any problems or issues with your questions or survey design.
  5. Be varied. Provide a balance of different types of survey questions being asked, and based on the goals and objectives of your survey, you approach to survey questions should support those goals and objectives.  Hubspot provides a great summary of the different types of survey questions, and how to use them, but here is their easy-to-understand summary of the question types in case you needed a refresher: 
    • Multiple Choice: Multiple choice survey questions are questions that offer respondents a variety of different responses to choose from. 
    • Rating Scale: Rating scale questions (also known as ordinal questions) ask respondents to rate something on a numerical scale assigned to sentiment. 
    • Likert Scale: Likert scale survey questions evaluate if a respondent agrees or disagrees with a question. 
    • Ranking: Ranking survey questions ask respondents to rank a variety of different answer options in terms of relative priority or importance to them.
    • Semantic Differential: Semantic differential survey questions also ask for respondents to rate something on a scale, but each end of the scale is a different, opposing statement. Use semantic differential questions to get clear-cut qualitative feedback from your stakeholders.
    • Dichotomous: Dichotomous survey questions offer only two responses that respondents must choose between. 
    • Close-Ended: Close ended survey questions are questions that have a set number of answers that respondents must choose from. 
    • Open-Ended: Where the survey types above all have closed-ended answers that you input as different options to choose from, open-ended questions are usually accompanied by an empty text box, where the respondent can write a customer answer to the question.

The bottom line: Sending a survey is a lot like Thanksgiving dinner. You’re gathering the family around the table and feeding them the opportunity to share their thoughts. Remember to set your table with care before feeding your family. Your stakeholders will thank you for it.

 

5 Things To Update on Your District and School Websites-Today

It’s September 28, 2020, and for many of you, your schools have been in session for about a month now.  Although it feels like it’s been a lifetime, it has been only 4-6 weeks. During this time of constantly shifting priorities, it’s easy to lose site of cleaning the proverbial cobwebs that might be growing on your website pages.

Have you updated and cleaned up your website content lately?  I’m not talking about the millionth-plus-one “Update” that you posted on Friday in response to a recent board or MOU decision…I’m talking about the rest of the stuff you posted since the crazy, ever-changing weeks before the first week of school, and everything since.

I’m currently working through updating a client’s website content on their school reopening and distance learning pages, and as great and informative as that content was before school began, there have been some changes, there is information that is not as useful now, and I want to make sure that their audiences know that those pages are continually updated, especially as the district prepares for potentially opening their school buildings to hybrid learning in three months.

In the hustle and bustle of long board meetings, shifting requirements and policies, and trying to stay on top of the great news that is happening in your district, it’s possible that these updates have slid off your priority list.  But, for a parent who is wading through the masses of information on your website, more information isn’t necessarily better, especially if it’s outdated.  And, if a parent needs to wade through a page of a half a dozen or more date-stamped updates going back three months, it’s really time to streamline your web content.

So, here are 5 things to update on your district and school websites–today:
  • Change all future tense verbs to present tense.  Is your content geared for a parent/staff audience anticipating information about the upcoming school year?  A month in, the school year is off the ground, and no one is anticipating last month’s information.   For example: “the 2020-21 school year, which begins on August 19th” should be changed to “which began on August 19th.”
  • Archive any updates that occurred prior to this week. If you don’t already have a “Process” page as part of your school reopening information web pages, I strongly suggest creating one, which can include a timeline of important decisions that have been made (and ones scheduled in the future) with links to relevant documents and announcements.
  • Clarify which decisions/plans still stand, despite changes to county/state criteria. The state of California has had a couple of shifts to its criteria for loosening restrictions, as elementary school waivers, and if your MOUs and/or board decisions differ from these at all, then it’s important to clarify the district’s plans and timelines.
  • Update timelines: Are the timelines current?  Are they clearly communicated?  Don’t expect that timelines verbally expressed during a board meeting or nestled into a presentation or a report will be read or known by your stakeholders.  Clearly communicate important timelines, and even if timelines are tentative, this information also needs to be conveyed in a transparent manner.
  • Review website categories, page headers, subheads and links. Are your pages still organized in a way that prioritizes the preparation activities for the school year?  Now that information needs have shifted, be sure to rename your website categories, links, headers and subheads accordingly, and ensure that the highest priority information is listed first, and if new pages need to be created for specific categories (especially if certain pieces of information should be housed on its own page, like wellness resources, academic assistance, etc.  Also double check that links to pages are updated.

Through updating and streamlining your website content, you will keep your audience engaged, continue to communicate in one clear and consistently messaged voice, and reinforce transparency.

We’re here to help

If you’re balancing school/district leadership with communication responsibilities, and you’re finding yourself falling behind on timely and consistent communications across your communication channels, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help.  Contact us for a free 30 minute consultation, or sign up for any of our services.

What are some other topics that you are keeping updated on your websites?

Leave your reply below in the comments!

 

Don’t Forget About Employee Morale

A conversation with a friend the other day shed a bright light on the casualties of pandemic leading, management and meetings. My friend is well-established in his career, works in public education, is in upper management and is an incredibly hard working, and also humble person.  He is the first person to compliment others’ work, always credits the team, and is least likely to accept credit and compliments for his own work.

Since March, COVID19 closed public schools and transitioned everyone into some form of distance instruction and remote work and my friend, like many others, was able to resume regular meetings via Zoom, and continue his work via email, file sharing and telephone.

When my friend contacted me because he was troubled by his feelings of being under appreciated.  As I mentioned before, my friend is not someone who strives for compliments and recognition, so for him to feel this way meant, to me, that many valuable things may be missing in his environment–and probably many work environments of others who are working remotely–that are having an impact on employee morale.  And, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel appreciated and recognized–we’re hard-wired as human beings to appreciate rewards for hard work, thanks to our brain chemistry!

Having worked remotely for a better part of my career, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way. The biggest piece of advice I can give to leaders and employees is to be intentional and purposeful when bridging genuine and authentic connections with others.  This doesn’t happen by chance or by mistake!

  • Problem: Lack of Human Interaction: Although Zoom has resumed the “business of holding meetings” they only get the job done of holding meetings and sharing business in meetings. Regular in-person meetings accomplish so much more: the time before the meeting when people have casual conversations to catch up, people sharing the same space creates an environment that reinforces shared norms and values–not to mention eye contact and observing body language, even the time after the meeting’s conclusion offers opportunities for additional casual conversations and banter.  These personal touchpoints allow for bonding and real human interaction.With remote work, these casual touchpoints also disappear–gone are the “watercolor conversations” and drop-in discussions.Email and telephone interactions are typically transactional or, what I call, “lobbing the ball over the net” until you get the ball returned.It is through these in-person meetings and conversations, whether formal or informal, that compliments and praise are easily and naturally provided, smiles and laughs are a part of the environment, and the true culture of an organization ebbs and flows in the everyday.

    Remedy: While offices are still closed (or are limiting the number of employees on site), offer to meet with people one-on-one, over lunch or coffee. Take some time to have the casual conversations, offer praise for their work, and discuss goals.  This interaction may be just what the other person needs to also feel valued.

  • Problem: Lack of Praise: The pandemic has created a crisis-like environment where everyone’s thoughts and actions are centered around the unfamiliar and tackling the situations at hand. While in crisis, teams are in “fight or flight” mode where there is a common understanding that everyone is getting the job done, going above and beyond where necessary.  When in crisis-mode, there is not always time to take a deep breath and say, “We’re doing a great job” especially when the results of the efforts–either positive or negative–are completely unknown.As humans, we’re conditioned to cross the finish line before we celebrate, and we’re even more deeply conditioned to only celebrate if we know we have been successful.  In this pandemic, with public education, we have no idea if our efforts are successful, because we are literally building the ship while we’re sailing it.

    Remedy: The number one factor behind the happiness of employees is appreciation.You still have to remember to celebrate and recognize employees, each day.  According to a recent post from Leadership First: When employees feel valued, they will contribute more and perform better at work. They tend to be more engaged, passionate, and incredibly loyal to their work to help the organization fulfill its purpose and vision. How can you make your employees feel valued, here are a few simple examples according to Bridget Miller:

    • Recognition. Provide employees with the recognition they deserve.
    • Say “thank you”—simple, but effective, and often overlooked. Tip: Consider writing and mailing a handwritten thank you note.
    • Solicit their opinion and utilize it as often as possible.
    • Invest in their continued development.

There are many more strategies one can use to genuinely show their appreciation; these are just a few.

It’s okay to celebrate in the middle of this race–celebrate the small wins along the way. We don’t know how it’s going to end, whether we were 100% successful, and we definitely don’t know where the finish line is. However, you don’t want your team to drop out of the race before it’s finished, so remember to cultivate genuine connections where possible, show appreciation, and keep their morale at the forefront, no matter what–your outcomes will be much more successful.

Peace. Unity. Understanding.

We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools. MLK Jr.About 20 years ago, I worked as the Chief of Staff for San Jose City Councilmember Forrest Williams. I learned so much from him during the time I worked for him, but one thing he taught me wasn’t from his work as an elected official, from his PhD and Masters Degree in Engineering, or his 30-plus years of work as an engineer for IBM.  It was living life as a black man in America, and the lessons he had to teach his son.

As always, his most impactful lessons to me started as a casual conversation (as they always did in his office). It wasn’t a lecture and it didn’t stem from a certain instance, but when I asked him about his newest grandchild, a son, born to his son, whose pictures adorned his office.

After sharing the latest adorable updates, Forrest shared with me the conversations he hoped that his son wouldn’t have to have with his son, but probably would, about being a black male in the United States.  About being careful of his actions and his perceived actions, and being more careful about the company that he kept. Having been raised in the same part of San Jose where Forrest raised his family, I was struck by the fact that my parents never had to have this conversation with my brother, and I would never have to have this conversation with my future sons.

It is then that I understood, as a blonde haired, blued eyed white woman, how deep my privilege truly was. I realized that even though I had friends of every color and who spoke many languages, and even though I am a truly empathetic person by nature, I would never know what it is like to live in the skin of someone who is not white.  And with this acknowledgment came great responsibility.  A responsibility to stand together with my brothers and sisters of all colors.  To understand them. And to work toward peace and justice.

It also meant that I had–and continue to have–a responsibility not to just be not racist in my words and actions, but to work against racism.  Being a blonde haired, blue eyed white woman, I have been on the receiving end of “wink, wink” sotto voce racist remarks made by other white people who think I align with their thinking.  I have been on the receiving end of conversations that talk about white supremacy. And I have used my voice to speak out against this, even in the midst of responses like, “Oh, it’s just a joke” and “You can’t think I’m being serious.”

Racism is serious.  Jokes are serious. Huge fires come from small sparks, and if we don’t extinguish the small sparks of racism in our own homes, friendship groups and communities, then they will become big fires.  Similarly, we can use our privilege to start positive sparks of understanding, peace and unity in our own communities, so that we stoke bigger and more positive flames in the future.

I constantly use Forrest’s lessons and the lessons I’ve learned from every one of my clients serving students of all colors to inform my work: that communication isn’t about just writing up messaging and sending it out, but that it’s a purposeful and vital bridge to build equity and bridge parents (many of whom felt marginalized while in school) to the positive benefits of schools–and the people who work in them–for their children, and to build mutual understanding and support.

I had the opportunity to attend Sacramento’s MLK Celebration in January, where Ruby Bridges spoke about her experiences as the first black child attending into a newly desegregated school in New Orleans, and then as a mother of a son who was brutally murdered.  Her outlook in life has been full of grace and forgiveness, and here are a couple of my biggest takeaways from her (in her words):

-We have to unite if we are doing good

-We each have to do something good so we can unite and do something good together

So, use today, this week, and your lifetime to unite together to do something good with others. While recent events have heightened our awareness of the problems our country faces with racism, the fact remains that this has been a historical and current problem that will continue if we are not each individually proactive.   I started a Facebook group, Peace. Unity. Understanding. to provide a forum where we can increase awareness and understanding through the sharing of information and resources that will help educate and challenge our own personal beliefs and others’, as well as doing good through unity by sharing ways we can support causes that improve social justice and resources for marginalized populations. Lastly, we can also use this forum to share opportunities to peacefully engage online or on the ground to support unity.  Join the group, contribute to the conversation, and fan the flames of peace, unity and understanding.

Running Your Communication Offense & Defense

Picture showing offense and defenseThe best PR tip I can offer in the midst of COVID-19 (or any crisis, for that matter) is that you should be running an offense and defense at the same time.

This can be a challenge to do, if you’re a one person PR team (or administrator wearing multiple hats, including PR). So, if you haven’t already put together a communication and PR team, start now.

However, it is incredibly important to not only manage the current reality, but also to paint a picture of the future.

I read a great recent article on PR Daily that I’m going to summarize here, and put into context for education organizations, particularly during COVID-19 school closures and re-openings.

Your Defense Team

Your “defense team” includes those managing the current crisis. This team should be comprised of the most resilient—those who are quick to take action, are the voice of calm and reason, and who survey the current landscape and adhere to the facts as they manage the crisis.

In a school district your defense team should include someone from HR (familiar or involved with current negotiations), an instructional administrator (like an Assistant Superintendent for Instruction/Curriculum), and a student welfare/social emotional health administrator.

Your Offensive Team

Your offensive team looks to the future and is not involved in the current crisis. Those best suited for this team are curious and self-starters—they veer away from comfort zones, are competitive and strategic, and can see at least six months down the road.  This could be your CBO, facilities director, health officer/administrator, and a principal rep for each level in your district (elementary, middle, high school).

You, as the communication leader, will work with both teams and manage the strategic direction and progress, and your superintendent will also be involved with working with both teams, as they set the direction for the district as a whole.

Both teams should be providing talking points to your Board of Education and coaching your board members on resisting the urge to post articles or opinions that may cause confusion about the district’s messaging or plans.

Keeping an Eye on Your Future

While your stakeholders are living in the present, they are also shaping their opinions about the future.  While yes, parents are focused on what grading options are available and how Class of 2020 graduates will be honored during  shelter in place, they are also creating some very strong opinions about distance education–not just the delivery, but also the quality.  Parents and staff members are also concerned about schedules and safety when schools re-open.

  • Communicate about your district’s commitment to providing a high quality educational experience and your district’s values: Parents have choices, and there are many online education programs that may be delivering distance education in a higher quality format and approach than what is being offered by their school district. With the prospect of distance education being some part of a hybrid educational approach in the 2020-21 school year, it is imperative that you are reinforcing parents’ confidence in your schools by letting them know how you are planning on ensuring that students are receiving a high quality education and what that will look like in 2020-21.
  • Communicate about what discussions are in progress about the upcoming school year: Silence is not golden in the world of communications.  Silence opens up too many opportunities for other people to fill in the blanks.  Provide your stakeholders some information about the conversations you’re currently having about next year’s re-opening plans, what assumptions will be made, and your district’s priority on the health and safety of students and staff.
  • Show empathy: Acknowledge that you understand that parents and staff desire to have concrete answers so that they can plan ahead, and show gratitude for their patience. Let them know that the upcoming school year will be different for everyone, and that the district is planning for providing more emotional/social supports for students and staff in navigating the changes ahead.

Every great team has a strong offense and defense running parallel, and in school districts, you can develop two strong communication teams that can effectively manage the current needs while also keeping an eye on the ball, so that you can have a winning approach to keeping your district’s reputation and relationships strong and intact.

Need help developing your winning team?

As an integrated partner and strategic advisor, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can come alongside you in developing your communication team and providing strategic advising to implement successful communication approaches. Give us a call at 916.673.8868 or hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net