Donovan Group Insights

What Constitutes a Crisis?

When something bad happens, school leaders are quick to call it a crisis. The word “crisis” gets thrown around a lot, and over the years, it has started to lose its meaning. That leaves school leaders with some questions. What actually constitutes a crisis? And how is a crisis different than any other negative event?

Let’s explore what a crisis really is and how to handle one appropriately.

The definition of a school crisis

When a negative event occurs, a school leader’s first instinct is to get the word out as quickly as possible. However, the first thing you should do is assess whether the incident truly falls under the definition of a crisis.

A school crisis is any incident that disrupts learning. The incident will also be considered a crisis if it poses a threat to the safety of students, staff or any other people on school grounds. As you might’ve guessed, a crisis also requires urgent communication with the involved stakeholders.

Determine whether it’s actually a crisis

Now that you know the definition of a crisis, you can more accurately assess future incidents to see if they constitute a crisis or not. Remember, calling something a crisis is a huge deal. The word carries a lot of weight with your stakeholders.

Think of the boy who cried wolf. He thought a wolf was there when it actually wasn’t. It happened so many times that people stopped believing him. When a real wolf showed up, nobody tried to help him. The same principle applies here—don’t call it a crisis unless it really is one.

Gather the necessary information first

If your school is experiencing a crisis, you’ll need to communicate within a reasonable timeframe. Communication needs to be urgent, but it also needs to be informed. Spreading false information can be just as damaging as not communicating at all. Make sure you have all the necessary information before engaging stakeholders.

Communicate with the appropriate stakeholders

During a crisis, it’s important to remember that not everyone needs to hear all the details. Transparency is one thing—oversharing is another. Identify which stakeholder groups are most affected by the crisis. Then, determine which pieces of information you need to relay to each group. Some details might be critical to one group but irrelevant to another.

A district should always strive to maintain open, honest communication with its stakeholders. However, communication also needs to accurately reflect the reality of a situation. Word choice matters, and a word like “crisis” shouldn’t be used lightly. Save that word for when it really counts.

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