A Plea For The New School Year

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Dr. Amanda Holdsworth interviewing a teacher for brand research

Hey, it’s me, Amanda, founder of the School Comms Lab, and I have something to share.

I’m exhausted. See those bags? It’s been a day. A week already.

School is barely back in for some states, and in the last few days, I’ve spoken to so many school communicators who, previously excited and pumped for a new school year, are already defeated. They’re exhausted. In fact, my exhaustion from working with school clients in my agency doesn’t even come close because they’re in the trenches…and they have been for so long.

They are fielding horrible social media comments from the community.

They walk into work through protests.

They take phone calls where they will be screamed at—and they still try to listen and help.

They answer their school or district’s hate email.

They counsel administrators and teachers internally, often writing/re-writing all communications that go out.

They field endless calls and emails from the media.

They’re afraid one wrong move—or word—will put their school or district at risk for being perceived as doing or saying the wrong thing, so every single word is scrutinized—often at 2am in the morning because they’re still working.

Yet they still come to work to tell the good stories of what’s happening in their schools or districts. They share the wonderful news, the student accomplishments, the teacher profiles and the program highlights. When the going gets tough, they think about how they can better “serve the students and staff” (direct quote from a #schoolPR friend).

Listen, these last 18 months have been a trip. Trust me. As an entrepreneur trying to run my business while simultaneously worrying about my kids’ health, yet still frustrated with school quarantines and remote learning, I was at the end of my rope.

Summer offered a welcome reprieve: lots of playing outside in the fresh air, away from screens and the synchronous school schedules we had to stick to.

But, as we approach the new school year, and I hear from clients and friends I’ve made in education over the last 20+ years, I’m saddened by how much negativity is already circulating.

So, please, be kind. We’re all frustrated with the pandemic: parents, teachers, administrators and communicators. But imagine being the person fielding everyone’s complaints day-in and day-out. It’s awful. I was there as a former district communicator—before the pandemic—and some days, you feel like you literally can’t catch your breath.

Dr. Amanda Holdsworth interviewing a teacher for brand research

Do I think all schools or districts have communicated well during the pandemic? Nope. But that doesn’t mean most aren’t trying their best. Some people are just done. D-O-N-E. Your mean comment could be the one that breaks them.

I’ve seen 10–TEN!!—of the best school communicators I know leave #k12 in the last year…some left education completely. I’m talking TOP talent…people who I thought would get their school logo tattooed on their bodies, they were so dedicated.

I am happy for their mental health. But I’m sad for the schools they left—storytelling, events, PR, employee engagement, you name it, they probably did it.

Those cute shirts your kindergartner got? They probably designed and ordered them. That graduation ceremony that went off without a hitch? They probably planned it. That newsletter your child was featured in? They probably wrote and designed it AND took the picture. That board meeting livestream? They probably set it up and made sure parents got the replay link. Those yard signs your grad got? They probably designed them, negotiated a great price, packaged them up and distributed them.

This was long, but I had a lot to say. Again, we are all over the pandemic. I think most people want their kids back in school, safely, going back to life as we knew it before.

And, I’m not saying that schools and communicators are 100% right—no one is right all the time. If you have a valid concern or question, you should inquire more.

But take a few minutes to proof your email or social media comment to see if you can take any of the edge off or rephrase something that could be misinterpreted. As my mom, now retired from the police force, told me back in the 90s, way before social media: whatever you put in writing, think about how you would feel if it was published on the front page of the paper (2021 translation: post gone viral).

My advice: think about what your child would feel if your harsh comment or email was read aloud to them in front of their classmates. So, let’s be a team and try to support one another this school year.

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