Nothing feeds the rumor mill more than incorrect information—unless, of course, there isn’t any information at all. That’s why it is so imperative for schools to communicate as much as possible with families as they prepare to start the school year.
There is an incredible amount of uncertainty for everyone involved. From teachers to administrators to parents and guardians to students, none of us know exactly what the near—or long-term—future will hold or what will be involved.
Working with schools and districts throughout the U.S. and Canada, I’ve seen some do a fantastic job of being as open and honest as possible with key stakeholders…even if the communication has been as simple as, “We cannot promise the children will be in school throughout the year, but what we can tell you is what we are doing to make the school environment as safe and healthy as possible. Here’s how…”
I’ve also seen some schools and districts hesitate with their communication to families because they don’t have the answers to most of what’s being asked of them. On one hand, this is completely understandable, as erroneous information is dangerous. On the other hand, some key stakeholders mistake silence for not caring or not doing, which can feed that ominous rumor mill that those of us #schoolPR dread.
What families (and students and staff) need to understand, however, is that their concerns are heard and are being addressed in due time. There are few things more frustrating to a parent than when they have a question related to their child.
For example, I overheard a local mom express her frustration that her daughter’s school could not tell her what the process would be for welcoming kindergarteners to school since both the Kindergarten Orientation and Back-to-School Picnic were canceled.
Because her daughter was the oldest child in the family, it was their first experience with the school, and she was panicked about putting her five-year-old on the bus and “hoping for the best” when she arrived at school. She said she reached out to the school and district four times and was only told, “Don’t worry, we have a plan.”
A week before school was to start, she pulled her daughter from the public school and enrolled her in a private school, 20 minutes away because, as she put it, “They showed me what the school looked like, what the procedures for Kindergarteners would be, what the plan was in case they went fully virtual again. We just felt safe and reassured there.”
This mom is not alone. For the first time, parents are scrutinizing all the educational options available for their children: public school? Private school? Charter school? Home school? Virtual learning? Private tutor? Teaching pod?
And yes, communicating to families and stakeholders is yet one more thing for school administrators to do on top of everything else you’re being asked to add to your plate. But, here’s the thing: if you aren’t communicating to those you serve, who is? The rumor mill? The town’s Facebook page? A parent’s worst-case imagination?
In this day and age, communication is SO critical that it can’t be ignored. I encourage you to share the great things happening in your schools, even if they don’t feel so great to you. I know you’re stressed to the max and haven’t had a break in five months, but, if you look at what’s going on around you, you’ll be pretty darn impressed:
- The new virtual curriculum your team put together (snap some pictures of the teachers behind the screens).
- The new partitions installed on each desk (grab your iPhone and do a quick room tour to share with the students and their families).
- The bright décor throughout your school (don’t forget that students have been stuck at home for five months straight and would love to see something different).
- The cutting-edge tech skills your team learned throughout the summer (livestream a “Tech Sess With Mr./Mrs. _”).
- Even, the cool, new masks with your school logo that the administrators are sporting (host a “Guess-Who’s-Behind-The-Mask” Facebook mask giveaway).
Finally, don’t forget that YOU can shape the narrative through clear and consistent communication.
If you need help with communications prompts, resources or templates, check out the School Comms Lab membership community, built by and for school leaders.