Among all that is great about public schools is that they are governed by boards made up of community members who live alongside the families of the schools they serve.
In many communities, the school board is the governing body closest to their constituents. While it may be very rare for most people to come into direct contact with their U.S. senator, they have much more access to their local school board members.
At the same time, we know from history that some of the most contentious issues of the day can play out in school board rooms. Public schools can be a microcosm of the larger society, including the political divisions our country is currently experiencing.
Taking this together, we should not be surprised when school board meetings get messy. The question we have received from school and district leaders over the last month is: What should we do if we have protests at our school board meetings?
In addition to creating a one-pager that outlines some actions your board and school leadership team can take to ensure community members have opportunities to voice their concerns and meaningfully address the board, we would like to share some thoughts.
1) Free speech is critical and must be defended
As we all know, free speech and the ability of community members to address their elected board members is critical to the success of any democratic government. It is especially important for schools. Board members, please remember that education is always emotional because your work is about children. Who doesn’t want great things for their kids?
Moreover, we must recognize that people communicate differently. While board members should never feel they are being threatened, it is helpful to recognize that some people will raise their voice to make a point. It’s important not to match emotion with emotion.
Finally, board members should recognize that when a large group of people turn up at a board meeting, they do so because there is trust in the system. Consider this: If constituents did not believe in the system of school board governance, would they show up at meetings?
Reasonable people can disagree, and so long as constituents are following board rules, the meeting is safe and it can proceed, having a large number of attendees exercising their right to speak to the board is a very good thing.
2) Safety is always the priority
While we want constituents to be free to voice their opinions in accordance with board rules, board members must recognize they have an obligation to keep those in attendance—including fellow board members, staff and others—safe. The best way to do this is to ensure that meeting rules are followed, that order is maintained and that clarity is provided to all participants about how the meeting will proceed.
We have provided some additional information about what can be done before and during the meeting in our one-pager.
3) The meeting must go on
In so many ways, the word “protest” can have a negative connotation. We must recognize that protest is simply a way for constituents to share their thoughts and communicate. Protests that are peaceful and that occur within the rules set by the board are perfectly appropriate. However, where protests can turn negative is when safety is threatened, when meeting rules are broken and when the meeting cannot continue.
Board members have a responsibility to ensure the work of the board is done in an open and transparent manner. A board meeting should never be taken over by a protest group.
4) Focus on students, mission and vision
For those board members and administrators who face ongoing protests, there can be a situation in which a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to the protest. Board members and administrators alike should seek to continually remind themselves why they are engaged in this work. Their work should always center on students, their needs and the mission and vision of the school district.
In this way, it is sometimes helpful for board members and administrators to speak to the why behind certain decisions. The fact is that people will disagree about the methods by which goals are met, but the mission and vision of the district—what the district seeks to do for the children it serves—is generally not something most will disagree with.
At the end of the day, we must all remember that what makes school district governance so difficult is that we are working to meet the needs of children. The success of our children is something on which we can all agree.
5) Keep the conversation going
Despite how difficult protests can be for board members and administrators alike, such efforts can be seen as an opening to more fully engage community members in the future. In this way, district leaders should continue looking for ways to bring community members together around their shared values for our children. Continue sharpening your communication plan, consider a communications audit or a community survey and look for opportunities to further the conversation.
Again, we have created a one-pager that outlines some things your board can do to ensure that community members can voice their concerns and meaningfully address the board, while also keeping things safe and ensuring a productive meeting. You can download the document here.
As always, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave comments or reach out to us by phone or email.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed so much of the work of school and district leaders, there are some traditions that carry on. This includes a changing of the guard, as new superintendents replace veterans who are soon to enjoy well-deserved retirements.
We have always said that the first 100 days of a new superintendent’s term is a critical time. That’s even more true during this era of COVID-19. With that in mind, below are some communication-related tips to help you make the most of your time as you gain your bearings in your new school district.
Before jumping in and creating the various items listed below, the first thing you should do is reflect for a moment. Consider exactly what you want to communicate. What do you want the district community to know about you, your leadership and your personal vision? What are the three or four critically important messages you would like to communicate with every staff member, parent and community member in the district?
Consider some key questions, such as:
Who am I as a professional?
Why did I choose to work in this district?
Why did I choose to work in education and what motivates me to this day?
Why am I so grateful to be your superintendent?
Keep it light and do not be afraid to show your heart as you write these messages.
We believe it’s important for every superintendent to have a “stump speech.” By this, we mean they should have, at the ready, a three- to five-minute speech that can be presented at a moment’s notice. This speech can be built around the message points detailed above.
Most districts have space on their website for a message from the superintendent, along with a photo. Be sure to use this space! In the earliest days, many people, staff, students and parents will want to learn about you. Use this space to introduce yourself and make this language consistent with your stump speech.
Remember, this information is for parents, students and staff. It’s not for a graduate school seminar. Do not provide overly technical information and avoid the use of acronyms.
After you take over as superintendent, you should distribute a news release. This will be rather formal and include quotes from you and from your board president. We also suggest including a quote that describes how grateful you are to work in the district.
Within the first couple weeks of your arrival in the district, we suggest you have a letter published in the local newspapers. The letter should be simple and hit the points noted in your messages, described above. The letter should be published with your photo.
During your first week as superintendent, send an email to all staff introducing yourself. This can be simple and build on the messages outlined earlier. If it is easy for you to do so, consider creating a video message.
Whether you choose to do a video or a letter, do not make it overly formal. Be professional, but again, allow people to get to know you as a person.
Your first board meeting is a good opportunity to hit some of the messages that you will return to over the course of the year. This could be a modified version of your stump speech. Make the most of that first meeting!
In many districts, leaders can reach a large portion of the community by submitting articles of 400 to 500 words on a semi-monthly basis to the local newspaper. Toward that end, we suggest we create an editorial schedule detailing what topics these articles will address throughout the year. Use this opportunity to your advantage to share your story. Again, the district community will be eager to hear what you have to say!
Next, as you introduce yourself over the summer, plan to use your first-day-of-school presentation as an opportunity to engage staff around some critical messages. We find it is easiest to draft this presentation over time, and then refine and revise it based on your understanding of the district, the community and the local culture.
Next, we suggest you make a point of going to the various service clubs in your community. These may include Rotary, Kiwanis and the local Chamber of Commerce meetings. While at the first meeting, consider making a quick introduction and perhaps give your stump speech. Then, look for an opportunity to return at a later date to give a more comprehensive presentation.
Finally, after you have introduced yourself to the district community, update your communications plan. Often, we find that even if an incoming superintendent is replacing a veteran with great communication skills, the plan needs a refresh. Consider starting this process with a robust communications audit to determine what is working, what doesn’t work and where opportunities exist to ramp up your communications efforts.
For any school leader, administrator or communication professional, it can be a challenge to keep track of all the holidays, holidays, events, appreciation days, weekly celebrations and other occasions that take place throughout the year.
To help make this a little easier, we have compiled a list of these events for the next year, starting in July 2021 and running through June 2022. These events include national recognition months, staff appreciation weeks and various well-known and more obscure holidays and days of awareness.
We hope you find this resource helpful as you plan events, communications and social media content this year.
National Picnic Month
National Ice Cream Month
July 4: Independence Day
July 30: International Day of Friendship
July 30: System Administrator Appreciation Day (#SysAdminDay)
National Truancy Prevention Month
Get Ready for Kindergarten Month
August 9: Book Lovers Day
August 13: International Youth Day (#YouthDay)
August 26: Women’s Equality Day
Suicide Prevention Month
College Savings Month
Hispanic Heritage Month
September 6: Labor Day
September 8: International Literacy Day
September 12: National Grandparent’s Day
September 13: Positive Thinking Day
September 15: National School Backpack Awareness Day
When it comes to school communication, we often refer to the use of various tools. In fact, we often refer to an “invisible” toolbox that educational leaders use to communicate.
As we continue to work through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is value in considering the various communication tools we have available to us—and to ensure we are using the right ones.
We often speak and write about a specific method of communication planning. For every communication a school or district leader creates, we believe there are four simple corresponding questions that should be asked in order. They are:
1) As it relates to this communication, how will I know that I am successful? What are my goals with this communication?
2) To achieve the goals I have outlined in the first question, who do I need to reach? Who is my audience? With which stakeholders do I need to connect?
3) To achieve the goals I have outlined in the first question, what do I want to make sure my audience knows, understands and feels? What are my key messages?
4) Finally, to achieve the goals I have outlined in the first question, which communication tools can I use to convey my messages to my stakeholders?
Communication planning can be as simple as answering these four questions.
There are, however, two challenges we must be aware of as it relates to the final question, which relates to tools.
First, there is a tendency of choosing our communication tools before determining our goals, stakeholders and messages. This creates problems, as it is akin to going to your home toolbox, pulling out a hammer and using it for every it for every home project, no matter what it is. Just as you would not use a hammer to tighten a screw, you would not use a single communication tool to communicate all things to all people.
Like the tools we use to fix things, there is a time and place for each of our communication tools.
This is especially true now, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be sure, if we could look into the invisible communication toolbox of most school or district leaders, we would see many of the same tools. We can send emails to all parents and all staff. We can post to social media. We can add updates to the website. We can distribute news releases or convey information by video. However, some of our best communication tools—those that involve in-person gatherings like tours, open houses and in-person meetings—are currently unavailable to us.
While COVID-19 has created many challenges for school leaders and the students and families they serve, there are some hidden communication opportunities. We know, for example, that many of you, in your efforts to connect meaningfully with staff, parents, students and others, have employed new tools to communicate and have gotten quite comfortable with them. For example, many of you have added the ability to present virtually to your toolbox. That is terrific!
As we emerge from this COVID-19 era, we encourage you to take stock of what worked to engage stakeholders before and which communication tools you should use again. Also think about what worked especially well during COVID-19 that you should continue in the months and years ahead.
Use these tools and methods to not only be effective in your communication, but also to push yourself to be truly exceptional in telling the story of your school and district.
Joe Donovan is founding partner of the Donovan Group.
If you’re in charge of your school or school district’s social media content, you’ve likely run into a familiar problem. It can be difficult to get into a rhythm to consistently use social media to effectively tell your district’s story.
For one, it’s tough to find the time. Your day-to-day demands can make it feel nearly impossible to post engaging social media content as often as you would like. Plus, when there’s so much already on your plate, it’s a challenge to come up with a topic for a new post every single day.
For these reasons, establishing consistency with a district’s social media communications can quickly fall by the wayside.
The good news is that, with a little planning, you can make it easy to publish social media content aligned with your key messages every day — or at least several times a week. To do so, check out this simple Google Docs template. In it, you’ll find a table that allows you to schedule out and create content for an entire week.
The table includes space to insert the date each post will be published, which platform it will be published to, the text that will be posted and an image or graphic that will accompany each post.
Each Thursday or Friday, you can use this template (or a variation of it) to create a few posts for the following week. This gives you a nice foundation of posts you can use, preventing you from scrambling to come up with ideas in the middle of a hectic work week. You can then supplement this pre-written content with any other urgent or more timely items that may arise during the week.
Please feel free to make a copy of the template document above and use it as you see fit. We hope it’s helpful as you continue to tell your district’s story through social media.
Last spring, we covered creative ideas to celebrate graduating seniors at a time when nearly all schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many schools and districts have now returned to full in-person instruction, others continue to use hybrid models or fully virtual models.
This post features some ideas for celebrating graduating seniors at a time when social distancing still remains necessary.
Live-streaming graduation ceremonies
Although most high schools are holding some type of in-person commencement ceremony, These events may come with attendance restrictions to allow for ample social distancing. For friends and family members unable to attend the in-person event, schools and districts can use live-streaming platforms to give them the ability to watch from a distance.
The ceremony can be streamed live online on Vimeo, Facebook or YouTube—as well as on local TV stations, in some cases. It can also be worthwhile to provide each graduating senior with a copy of the video and post the video to YouTube so that families can watch again in the future.
Social media celebrations
Last spring, Iowa’s Storm Lake Community School District created a cool social media template to highlight each member of the Class of 2020. Below is an example. Each day, the district posted to Facebook and Twitter a customized version of this graphic for each student. The same can be done this year to complement a limited in-person ceremony.
To make this happen, district staff reached out to students’ families, asking for a photo of when they were young and a more recent photo (usually a senior picture). Between the two images, the student provides a short reflection of what they’ve learned during their K-12 academic careers.
Many schools are working with the local news media to publicly celebrate the accomplishments of seniors in new ways. This can take the form of a daily or weekly “Senior Shoutout,” through which a local media outlet can take a few seconds to share an achievement or a fun fact about a member of the Class of 2021.
Here’s an example from a TV affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina:
Lawn signs honoring graduates
Many schools have been providing seniors with lawn signs to display in their yards or windows each spring for years. This can be an especially nice gesture during our current times. Schools can make this happen with a simple design and by working with a local print shop.
We’ve even seen some businesses step up and donate these signs as part of their efforts to support their communities during COVID-19.
‘Light Up the Stadium’ events
During these brief events, schools turn on their stadium lights, with students and families invited to stay in their vehicles and take part in a demonstration of solidarity. Some have volunteers passing out popcorn and beverages, while music plays from the stadium’s PA system. The principal or another staff member may also give a brief address celebrating seniors.
One fun idea we’ve seen is lighting up the stadium for 21 minutes, from 8 to 8:21 p.m. — or 20:21 in military time. Whatever you do, just make sure everyone knows to maintain social distancing when they come to watch!
The above examples highlight just a few of the creative ways schools and districts are celebrating their graduating seniors in all new ways during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us.