Public Relations Tips
Create positive gossip.
Learn the positive things that are happening in your school district, and tell other people about them. Schools do millions of things right every day, in addition to the occasional goof. Talk about all the things you are doing right in your school district and the positive affect that is having on student learning. Praise a staff member’s work to someone in the community or to someone else on your staff.
Use the grapevine.
Researchers tell us that nine of every ten people who receive a personal message will tell ten others, and one of every ten, the professional talker, will tell more than twenty others. There are communications grapevines in every community through which rumors travel, sometimes at alarming rates. That grapevine can also be an effective vehicle for taking your district’s messages to an existing system in your community whereby everyone is linked to someone else either personally or professionally.
Set up a personal key communicator network.
Talk to the opinion leaders that you know personally. Tell them about what is happening in your schools, and ask them to share that information with others. Also ask them to tell you what they are hearing about the schools from others and to call you immediately when they hear criticisms or something negative. Remember that some of the most influential key communicators are not necessarily the most visible people in your community.
Be active in the community.
School board members need to spend less time in the board room and more time on main street. Take part in civic club meetings and community events. Form partnerships with community organizations for your mutual benefit.
Attend parent meetings.
There are few topics in education on which there is greater agreement than the need for parent involvement to support student learning. School boards
and parent organizations are natural partners in advocating for children and for schools. By working together they can be more responsive to the needs of children. Both groups need to develop a system of communication and joint participation in school district decision making, as well as an understanding of each other’s purpose and responsibilities.
Be a booster.
Make an attempt to attend school events, such as plays, sports, concerts and assemblies. Buy some band candy or donate some time to the school bazaar. By demonstrating your school spirit you encourage others to do the same.
Tell others when they do a good job, have a good idea or make a positive contribution to your schools and your students. Even the grouchiest person will light up when he or she receives a sincere recognition. Look for opportunities to tell others that they are valued and that you recognize their efforts on behalf of your students. Use board meetings to systematically recognize staff and commend and honor volunteers.
Get to know your fellow board members.
Show an interest in other board members’ personal lives, their families, hobbies and jobs. Find out their interests and beliefs, and acknowledge the possibility that you may disagree on issues. School board members and administrators that work well together project a positive image based on trust and open, honest discussions.
Do your homework.
Preparing ahead for a board meeting is one surefire way for a board member to demonstrate leadership skills. Don’t be afraid to write all over your agenda. Jot down questions, thoughts or comments. Give administrators the courtesy of knowing in advance when you want more detailed information about a specific agenda item. If you come to a meeting unprepared, don’t fake it.
People usually hang onto their first impressions, whether they are about your schools or about your school board meetings. Those first impressions can contribute to the attitudes they form about your school district. Make sure that visitors to your schools and to your board meetings feel welcome and that they know that their involvement is appreciated. Greet all visitors, even your biggest critics, with the attitude that your shared goal is what’s best for your schools and your students.
Speak in plain English.
Talk so parents and others in your community can understand what you are saying. Avoid jargon. Jargon sets up barriers to clear communication. If you fall into the trap of using long and complicated words when simple, direct language will do, even those who are directly involved in education may not comprehend the message you want to convey.
Be an active listener.
Look people in the eye when they are talking to you. Question the speaker for clarity or paraphrase to be sure you heard what you think you heard. Reserve your judgment and listen to the full story before you respond. Take notes, but do so sparingly so that your note taking does not interfere with your paying attention.
Be courteous and attentive to speakers.
Even though you probably can read and listen at the same time, don’t. Eliminate personal habits, such as tapping a pencil, jangling change in your pocket or endlessly rustling your papers, that might be distracting to speakers. Don’t get into a debate with someone in the audience.
Attack problems, not personalities.
Be diligent about expressing your views in a thoughtful, professional way. An off-the-cuff, hurtful remark, even in jest, can greatly damage working relationships.
Set high expectations.
Set the tone for your school district by adopting policies and procedures that support strong public relations efforts and comprehensive school-family-community partnerships. Model what you want by your words and actions.
Keep confidential information confidential.
Avoid making comments or suggestions that could demean or embarrass a staff member. Board members and administrators have access to sensitive information that could, if released prematurely, severely tarnish the
district’s reputation and could have negative legal consequences. Information discussed in an executive session should remain confidential until an agreed time for its release.
Write personal thank you notes for jobs well done – even small jobs that seem insignificant. Arrange for special events that showcase your schools and express appreciation to all who are involved. Never miss an opportunity to recognize the contributions of others to the success of your school district.
Recognize employee contributions.
Let staff members know that you are interested in their programs by scheduling reports at school board meetings and by visiting their work sites. Develop a staff recognition program for your district that includes opportunities to honor the work of the support staff as well as that of the teacher corps and the administrators. Encourage parent organizations and other community groups to also laud staff achievements.
Encourage community involvement activities.
Support staff efforts to get people into the schools and to take the schools out into the community. Remember that school employees are the key ambassadors and spokespersons for your schools. A successful strategy for winning community support is to go direct to key groups via their opinion leaders, using the school family on a school-by-school basis.
Meet with employees face-to-face. Personal encounters, even in a group situation, can build trust. Arrange you visits for times when student learning will not be disrupted, and make sure the staff knows that you are coming to learn, not to inspect. Take time to talk to the students, too.
Establish a friendly relationship with reporters.
Develop a personal relationship with the reporters who are assigned to cover your schools. Establishing a positive rapport with reporters before a crisis hits will pay immeasurable dividends. Remember that the new media’s role is to provide objective, accurate information, not to make the school district look good. Provide reporters the information they need to do a good job. Be available, friendly, honest and frank, and occasionally ask reporters for their opinions.
Tell the truth.
Never lie to a reporter — or to your staff, or to the public, even if it hurts. It will hurt worse if someone has to dig out the facts because you haven’t been honest. Intentionally providing inaccurate or misleading information will affect your credibility and possibly tarnish the reputation of your schools.
Always speak “on the record.”
Be prepared to be quoted. If you don’t want your words repeated or quoted, don’t say them. What you say about the schools is news and, in varying degrees, influences public opinion. It is relatively easy for a reporter to turn information received “off-the-record” into an “on-the-record” quote from another source.
Recognize that bad news doesn’t get better with age.
Acknowledge, even announce, when you have bad news and then quickly begin discussing what you are going to do about it. If you are aware of a potentially negative situation, consider going on the offensive by telling the reporters before it becomes public. This gives you an opportunity to manage the situation more effectively. Look at bad news as an opportunity to establish or strengthen positive ties with the news media.
BONUS: Share what you learn at conferences and workshops!
One important thing you can do to better inform your community about education issues is to communicate what you learn at state and national meetings. Participation in conferences and meetings outside your school district is not only justifiable, it is mandatory for effective educational leadership. Summarize, for your board, staff and others in your community, the key points from speakers and workshops, and highlight information that specifically relates to local school projects or problems.