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Review Your District's Strategic & Crisis Communication Plans

Review Your District's Strategic & Crisis Communication Plans

No matter the position you hold in your school, you play an important part in its communications plans--the overall strategic communication plan and the one focused on crisis situations. But when was the last time you looked at either of these? Do you even know what your role is? If you don't know the answer to these questions, consider taking some time to become familiar with them. If you are a district leader, make sure you communicate with your staff how integral they are in sharing positive stories and what their role is when a crisis hits. If you are a teacher or other staff member, make sure you get answers to all your questions.

Strategic Communications Plan: What's the Point?

When you think back on all your district's events and causes for celebration thus far, ask yourself: do you consistently inform your stakeholders about the great things going on in your schools, or is all the positive news kept within the school building's walls? If the latter, now might be a good time to re-evaluate your district's communication strategy.

Consider:

  1. You are the chief storytellers of your district. Whether you are the superintendent, an administrator, a classroom teacher or a custodian doesn't matter. What matters is that you and your fellow staff members--who are all on the front lines--know better than anyone the success stories that happen every day in your buildings. And if you don't tell those stories, who will?
  2. Furthermore, it's critical that you are part of the conversation that is going on with or without you. If you don't take to social media, for example, you have no way to control any part of the message that is being shared. This is often where incorrect information and those dreaded rumors run rampant. If you don't have a presence there, you cannot provide the public with accurate information.
  3. Your community wants to hear specific examples of how their schools are providing their children with high-quality, well-rounded educational experiences. Again, if you don't share those, how will they know?

Ask these questions:

  1. What is the process for getting news out? Do you have a communications director or point of contact for the district? What is the protocol for providing that person with news that needs to be shared with your public?
  2. Who handles your district's social media? What is the protocol for providing that person with content to share out? If your district doesn't have social media accounts, why not? Also, does your district have social media policies for staff and students? If not, let us know. We can help you develop those.
  3. Who speaks to the media on behalf of the district? Are those people comfortable with doing so? If that responsibility is new to them, have they been trained on interview techniques? If not, we can help!
  4. How does your community prefer to receive news about what's going on in your district? A website? Social media? Newsletters? Have you asked them their preference? Are you using those preferred methods? If not, what is holding you back?

Crisis Communications Plan: What's the Point?

It is imperative you not only consider the threats you could realistically face in your district but also that you have a well-defined plan for how you will share information during any such event. You must be prepared for an active shooter situation, a tornado threat, a widespread flu outbreak or any other number of situations that require reacting sometimes at a moment's notice. If something serious happened in one of your schools, would you be ready?

There's a lot that goes into creating a thorough crisis plan. You must be able to efficiently communicate with staff, students, parents, board members, your community and reporters (who no doubt will appear on your campus to report the incident). So what do you need to address? 

Below is a list of critical items to consider when creating a crisis response plan, including a communication strategy that shares accurate, continuous information with your public.

Create your crisis response team

Identify key internal staff who will form your school/district crisis team. As positions change and people move on, reevaluate this list every year (or more often if necessary).

  • Superintendent
  • Communications director/public information officer
  • School safety coordinator (SRO, security staff)
  • Counselor
  • Nurse
  • Assistant principal or other designee to supervise students/staff
  • Assistant principal or other designee to coordinate student/parent reunion
  • Translator (if necessary)
  • Several individuals to cover logistics (building, food/water, transportation, supplies/equipment, etc.)
  • Finance leader (to document crisis expenses, handle reimbursements, etc.)

In addition to internal staff, your crisis team should include key first responders within your community:

  • Police
  • Fire
  • Other community emergency official(s)
  • City manager/other city official(s)
  • Health care official(s)

Create an official list of all personnel selected for the team. Each person should have his/her contact information listed, and all members of the team should have a copy. Further, it's important you go through the plan at least once a year so everyone is familiar with their roles and can perform their duties without having to think twice. Likewise, as staff members leave and you replace them with others, new staff who are part of the crisis team will need to be trained on all aspects of the plan. Remember: When a crisis hits, there may not be time to think about what you're supposed to be doing. Everyone should be able to perform their roles without a second thought, which requires practice, practice, practice.

Last Thoughts

District/school leaders: Always make sure your staff members are all familiar with their roles in communicating information as well as official policies related to social media, talking to reporters, etc. Never assume staff know their communication roles or district policies regarding sharing information.

District/school staff: If you have questions about the sort of information you can share out, take time to ask. Also, if you see an area in either plan that could use improvement or an update, share it! You may see something from a perspective that hasn't been considered, so don't be afraid to voice your ideas.

Sarah Julian

Director, Communications

Sarah serves as the Director of Communications for the OPSRC. In this role, she provides support, consultation and training on a variety of critical tools and PR functions, including communication plans, social media policies, crisis communications, media relations and website content.

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