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Among the reminders we continually provide to school communications professionals, superintendents and principals is the need to ensure alignment in their communications efforts. While being proactive is certainly important, ensuring that everyone is communicating the same set of messages is almost as important to school district communications planning.

However, alignment is about more than just message discipline—it also means alignment to communications goals. Allow me to explain.

In the Midwest especially, we are seeing more school boards creating communications positions in their districts. This is a fantastic trend. As school districts hire communications pros, we are seeing outstanding people take the communications reins in those districts. For many, the first few months of their new positions are exciting, and the job is incredibly satisfying. But we soon find that the honeymoon period seems to end for some after a few months, when the work that is being done does not match the expectations of board members who championed the position.

Setting expectations

The reason for this is that there is a lack of alignment in expectations for what the communications professional should be accomplishing. Some board members and district leaders may envision the role of the communications professional to be high-level and strategic. This role would be out of alignment with a communications person who is focused only on the delivery of content. For other board members or district leaders, the role they see for the communications hire in in pushing out content.

Therefore, the new communications person, along with the superintendent or other supervisor, should be clear about the goals of the position. To push a bit further, there must be alignment on these goals between the communications pro, the supervisor and board members. This is so critical for effective school district communications planning.

One way to do this is for the communications pro to begin his or her work in the district with some communications planning. The first step in this process is to hold a group meeting with the district administrative leaders, the school board president and perhaps another communications champion on the board and ask this simple question: “If we are successful in our communications this year, what specific evidence of success will we be able to point to as evidence of that success?”

This is a difficult question to answer, but it is the question. Finding agreement on specific evidence of success will allow the communications pro to develop key performance indicators about progress toward meeting those goals, the subject of a future post and, ultimately, alignment.

If you are a communications pro in your district or a superintendent, do not assume that everyone is on the same page as it relates to what makes for sound school district communications planning and messaging. Work to ensure alignment—it may be the best investment of time and energy you spend all year.