Why Does Your District Need a Communications Plan?
Communication is critical to the success of any school district. But that’s not enough—your district has to communicate effectively, too. And to do that, you have to start with a communications plan. Sure, you could create content as the ideas pop into your head. However, that content would be a lot more effective if you mapped it out first.
A communications plan can benefit your district in many ways. Starting with a solid plan boosts stakeholder engagement, increases access to information and, in some cases, can even save lives. It also creates greater consistency, both in your district’s brand voice and how staff members handle certain situations. Next time you want to get a message across, make sure there’s a well-though-out plan to back it up.
Establish protocol for responding to situations
Communication is a team effort. All the administrators, assistants and staff members in your district need to be on the same page about handling certain situations. A communications plan establishes protocol that your team can follow. No matter who’s responding to a situation, a clear protocol ensures their message is accurate, professional and thoughtful.
For example, let’s say you get a voicemail from a local news reporter. They need a response by the end of the day, but you don’t have time to call them back. Instead of participating in a phone interview yourself, an assistant can submit a written statement on your behalf. Long before you get that media call, a communications plan needs to be in place detailing how your staff should respond to reporters. This helps get your message across, even if it’s not coming directly from you.
A communications plan also creates consistency across district administrators. Handling the same situation two different ways makes your district’s actions unpredictable, which can diminish trust and strain stakeholder relationships. Administrators have to stay consistent, whether they’re communicating internally or with external members of the school community. When you have a communications plan, your administrative team can confidently respond to situations and ensure stakeholders get the right information they need.
Communicate effectively following a crisis
A communications plan is critical during and after a crisis event. Your district should create a crisis communications plan long before something happens at one of your schools. Creating a plan well in advance can help teachers, staff and administrators stay calm and keep the crisis under control. That way, you can all work as a team to minimize its disruption to student learning and the broader community.
Your district’s crisis communications plan should assign a task to each staff member. Every person should also receive a secondary role in case they have to cover someone else’s task. Assigning roles to each staff member helps your district communicate with stakeholders in a timely fashion. When a crisis occurs, a lot can change very quickly. Swift communication is critical during a crisis, and a pre-established plan can expedite that communication.
A crisis also requires you to rank stakeholder communication by order of importance. This is something your district should figure out before a crisis is happening right in front of you. During a crisis, stakeholders are split into first- and second-tier communications groups. Stakeholders in the first tier require urgent communication, while those in the second tier can wait until the crisis is under control. Creating a communications plan ahead of time helps you prioritize stakeholders who need the most support.
Align staff with the district’s values
Administrators aren’t the only ones communicating with external stakeholders. In fact, many community members get their information from teachers, staff, students and their families. These groups represent your district, so their messages need to align with your district’s mission and core values. The information they share can influence public perception of your district.
A communications plan can help internal stakeholders portray a consistent, positive image of their district. Remind staff and students about the district’s values and how to convey them in their communications. Emphasize that they’re ambassadors of the district, and they should work to uphold a culture of integrity and inclusivity, regardless of whether they’re on school grounds or somewhere out in the world.
Your district should plan to communicate with internal stakeholders on a regular basis. Ongoing communication ensures teachers, students and staff don’t lose sight of the district’s mission and core values. If a situation arises at one of your schools, you might send a letter home with students reminding them and their families about the district’s code of conduct. You might also choose to hold an assembly or PTO meeting that counsels internal stakeholders on the appropriate ways to speak at or outside of school.
Engage stakeholders and meet their needs
Communicating with stakeholders is a bit more complicated than it looks. You can’t share the same content with the whole community and expect it to resonate with everyone in the same way. There are many different groups within your school community—parents, teachers, law enforcement, elected officials and many others. Their interests vary greatly, and district communications need to reflect that.
A communications plan can help you identify what information your stakeholders need and how they prefer to receive it. The answer will likely be different for each stakeholder group. Familiarize yourself with their interests to gain a better understanding of what information they’re looking for and which media channels they use the most. Creating a plan leads to strategic, well-informed communication efforts that can boost stakeholder engagement.
Your district’s plan should also consider the most effective ways to meet stakeholder needs. For instance, parents and family members might have concerns they want to address with the school board. Some groups might prefer to participate in a live Q&A session on social media. Others might prefer to attend an open house, a PTO meeting or another after-school event. A communications plan will map out the appropriate channels for each group so you can efficiently address their needs.
Create a consistent brand voice across channels
Creating a plan can also help your district achieve a consistent brand voice across all of its media channels. Your district communicates through a range of channels, which may include email, social media, websites and printed marketing materials, among others. A communications plan coordinates the content on these channels so they promote a consistent image of your district. Not only will the image be consistent, but it will be in line with your district’s values as well.
A consistent brand voice is essential for your district. Consistent branding gives stakeholders a clear idea of what your district stands for and how you’re improving public education. It also makes your district more memorable in the eyes of prospective students and their families. To achieve this consistent brand voice, create a comprehensive plan that illustrates how to reflect your district’s brand in every form of content.
Effective communication always starts with a plan. Your district should think carefully about every piece of content it produces, whether it’s a lighthearted video or critical updates following a crisis situation. A communications plan will ensure everything you create serves a purpose—and it’ll serve the right people in your community, too.