As the school year comes to a close, we’re thinking about graduations and summer vacations and, of course, next year. We’re always thinking ahead—it’s just the way we are!
And if they aren’t already, communicators for schools and education organizations will soon be thinking about the next school year, too.
Education has a special place in our hearts. We want all students to have access to quality education. We’ve worked with several education organizations over the years, and we’ve especially valued opportunities we’ve had to help organizations that support underrepresented students. And our director of client services, Sinikka Mondini, previously served as executive director of communications for the highest performing large unit school district in Illinois.
Based on our experience, here’s what we think schools and education organizations can do to improve their communications.
Overcome language and technology barriers
When you’re communicating with your school’s community, it’s important to be mindful that students’ families may:
- Speak languages other than English.
- Have different access to technology.
Working in education, we should look for ways to make every student feel comfortable and welcome at their school. As communicators, we can work with administration to create that environment. Having access to information and opportunities and being in a supportive and inclusive environment are key ways to improve educational outcomes. Communications play a role in that.
Here’s how to overcome language and technology barriers:
- Provide translations of important documents and announcements in multiple languages. Choose languages based on the communities your school or organization serves. This goes for written and audiovisual communication as well as for in-person events.
- Use simple language that’s easy to understand. Avoid jargon and acronyms, which can inadvertently exclude families that don’t have the same background as the people using the jargon.
- Make sure your communications are accessible to people of all abilities. Whether it’s your website, videos, or in-person events, make sure that you make it accessible.
- Get information out through multiple channels. Social media, email, and your website are, of course, popular channels. But not everyone uses the same technology or uses technology the same way. Drop off flyers at popular locations like community centers, daycares, and grocery stores.
Build relationships with local reporters
There’s wisdom in this for all of us. Although individual schools don’t have their own communications people, the way that school districts and education organizations might, it’s still important to think about relationship-building.
Why? Because you want local reporters and outlets to know who you are, what you stand for, and how you operate.
“We built relationships,” Sinikka says of her experience. “I would have a handful of reporters I’d email with an announcement and why it’s important. We stopped doing press releases for routine announcements because if you know your local reporters, that’s all you need. In most communities, you don’t need a huge list. It’s about building those relationships, inviting them, having conversations with key stakeholders, and introducing them around so that they have that knowledge so they can report accurately.”
Here’s how you can build relationships:
- Be responsive to media requests. Make yourself available to share the information you can in a timely manner—and be upfront on why you can’t share some information with them (such as to protect student privacy).
- Invite reporters to school events. Include them in what’s going on with your school so that they can meet key stakeholders and learn what your school stands for.
- Get to know the reporters who cover your school. Read what they cover and what they post on social media. Plus, in the unfortunate situation that someone wants to paint a negative picture no matter what you do or say, then you’ll be able to prepare.
Create consistency in processes
When people know what to expect, they’re more likely to trust you. This goes for reporters, students, families, teachers, and community members.
So, for example, your process for an announcement may be to update your website, send an email to your list of reporters, then share it on social media. Following this routine consistently lets your audience know what to expect.
And it helps your organization act quickly in an emergency situation. “You have to communicate fast. Parents will spread it faster than you could ever get it out there,” Sinikka shares. “Frequent and quick communication, being open and honest about what you can and cannot share, or when you will be able to share additional details. If it’s an organization, a school system, or higher education, once you’ve built that rapport, then you have that trust, and they’ll believe you.”
A consistent process also helps curb communication breakdowns, whether from misunderstandings or from people who want to cause problems. If someone creates a Twitter profile and pretends to represent your school, for example, they can mislead students, families, and community members. But if your audience is already used to finding that information on your website and a secondary source like social media, or from a specific leader, then this kind of issue is a lot less likely to happen.
So as we celebrate the end of another school year and look ahead to future opportunities, let’s think about ways to improve communications and, consequently, better serve our communities.
These practices are how we approach communications for schools and education organizations. By following them, we’re able to create effective strategies that are inclusive, get to the people we need to reach, and build a more positive educational environment.
What are your tips for improving school communications? Share your ideas in the comments below!