Donovan Group Insights

Does Your District Have a Communications Policy Handbook?

You’ve served your district for a while now. You understand its communication policies so well, you hardly have to think about them! Your team members understand district policies and protocols, too—for the most part.

It may seem like your team knows the ins and outs of communicating with stakeholders. However, if you were to ask each team member about a certain policy, they would probably come up with slightly different answers. Consistent, reliable communication is possible—and it starts with developing a district-wide communications handbook.

Why every district needs a communications handbook

Many school leaders will question why they need to develop a communications handbook. What’s the point in writing down policies and protocols when their team members already know what they are? Creating a handbook might seem unnecessary, but it’s actually one of the best things your district can do for its stakeholders.

Developing a communications handbook will:

  • Get everyone on the same page. Do you ever feel like your team is out of sync? Oftentimes, team members will have varying ideas on how to approach a situation or communicate with a certain group of stakeholders. A communications handbook can help eliminate inconsistencies by clearly defining how team members should respond to different situations. If someone doesn’t know what the protocol is, they won’t have to guess anymore. They can simply refer to the handbook.
  • Scale your district’s operations. The people who are currently on your team memorized the district’s policies and protocols a long time ago. But what if you have to expand your team? You need an easy, efficient way to educate staff members about communication best practices, no matter how big your team gets. A communications handbook will make it easier to scale operations on the administrative side of your district.
  • Ease the onboarding process. Every school district has talented, knowledgeable team members who have worked there for years, if not decades. Eventually, those team members will either retire or move on to the next chapter in their education careers. When new people join the team, they have to learn how your district works, including its communication policies, protocols and procedures. A handbook can make the onboarding process go smoothly and serve as a useful resource when team members have questions.
  • Save time and increase efficiency. Stakeholders need to receive communications in a timely manner. When team members are unsure about policies, it can take longer to develop and send out communications. In some cases, multiple team members might complete the same task, duplicating communications and expending energy that’s better served elsewhere. Communication handbooks save time by preventing foreseen obstacles and clearly defining each person’s responsibilities. As a result, your communication processes will become more efficient.
  • Create a culture of accountability. Chances are, some of your team members are confused about who’s supposed to communicate. When roles and responsibilities aren’t written down, it’s hard to hold people accountable when communication efforts fall short. Communication handbooks outline each position and the responsibilities that go along with them, which increases accountability and ensures messages are reaching stakeholders on time.

Policies and protocols to include in the handbook

Communication handbooks are designed to be a one-stop resource team members can turn to for answers. Your district’s handbook should cover everything related to communication, from engaging with certain stakeholder groups to fielding media inquiries after a school incident. A fully fleshed-out handbook will provide guidance to your team, enabling them to successfully navigate any scenario.

Make sure your district’s handbook contains these critical components:

  • Job titles and responsibilities: To achieve efficiency and accountability, every person on your team has to know their assigned responsibilities. In your handbook, outline the communication tasks associated with each position, including secretaries, marketers, administrative assistants and others. Outlining roles and responsibilities helps everyone do their jobs better, and it will be easier to train new team members in the future.
  • Guidelines for engaging different audiences: There are many different stakeholder groups in your community, and they all require slightly different approaches to communication. Create a section of the handbook that outlines special considerations for each stakeholder group. For example, your team might have to create ADA-compliant text or graphics for people with disabilities. Similarly, critical pieces of information will need to be translated for ELL students and families. Keep a running list of these considerations and more in your district’s handbook.
  • Style guide for written communication: Your district has to present a consistent image to the public. In order to achieve this, all communications should follow the same set of rules and guidelines. It’s important to write down these rules and guidelines, so team members can better understand and apply them to their communications. The style guide should include a description of your district’s brand voice, as well as words, phrases and images to avoid. The guide should also be completely unique to your district. There are no right or wrong answers!
  • Urgent and crisis communication: Effective communication is especially critical following an urgent or crisis situation. Establish protocols ahead of time so that if an urgent situation arises, your team already knows what to do and can act right away. This section of your handbook should explain which stakeholders to communicate with (and in what order), what language to use while communicating and the roles of each team member. Consider adding communication templates to this section, too, so team members can send professional, thoughtfully-worded messages more quickly.
  • Protocols for responding to the media: Positive media relationships are critical for maintaining a stellar reputation in the eyes of the public. You can foster those positive relationships by promptly responding to media calls and inquiries. In this section of your handbook, illustrate the appropriate way to interact with reporters by providing phone scripts and pre-formatted written responses. Also, list who’s responsible for responding to the media when you and other school leaders are unavailable.

Update your district’s handbook every year

Developing a communications handbook isn’t a one-and-done process. As communication needs change, so should the policies and protocols in your handbook. Your district might discover a more effective way to engage stakeholders or develop new strategies to connect with underrepresented members of the community. A current process might work well, but maybe there’s a different process that could work better. Communication evolves—so should your district’s handbook!

As a general rule, school leaders should review their handbooks once a year. Identify policies that are still relevant and ones that have become outdated. Brainstorm ways to replace old policies, so you can better serve the people in your community. Remember to run ideas past your team members to see what they think!

Start developing your handbook today

As you begin creating a communications handbook, remember that every district’s handbook is going to look different. The policies and protocols that go into it entirely depend on the stakeholders’ needs in that particular district. While these handbooks share some similarities, yours will be the most useful when it’s tailored to the stakeholders you serve. After all, they’re the reason you’re creating it in the first place.

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