Hopefully you haven't experienced a serious crisis in your school district and the communication nightmare that can follow if you don't keep your publics informed. But if you have, you know how quickly rumors spread, parents and community members get angry and media is notified. So how do you avoid that happening? Communicate, communicate, communicate! From the get go. Here are a few steps you can follow to keep a situation going from bad to worse:
- As soon as you know something has occurred about which you need to alert your community, work with your communication staff (if you don't have one, call me!) to prepare information. You first need to assess the situation and have all your facts in order.
- Then, notify your board and all staff members so they are aware of what is going on. While you may not be able to go into details depending on the situation, make sure you provide them with any accurate information so they are not propagating rumors. NOTE: Remind staff that all media requests must come through the main office. You want to be able to control the message, so you don't want a variety of spokespeople talking for the district.
- Next, distribute information to your parents and then community members. Use communication tools you're already successfully using to inform parents. If the situation warrants it, you might consider holding a community forum to discuss the situation where parents/community have an opportunity to voice their concerns and have questions addressed.
- Prepare talking points and/or media statements should the press contact you. Make sure anyone who answers the main office phones has the statement as well so he/she can email it to any reporters who reach out (if you need help with a statement, let me know). While this blog post is more about engaging and building trust with parents and stakeholders, it's equally important to show transparency among reporters. If they think you're hiding something, you've just made things worse because they'll be sniffing out any information they can get their hands on and will use any source who will talk to them.
- If the situation looks like it will be drawn out, plan to update your stakeholders on a regular basis so they know what is going on. Communication is not a one-and-done deal; you have to keep people informed, or they will look elsewhere (including the rumor mill) to find out information.
- Make sure your stakeholders know you are available to answer calls, emails or schedule in-person visits. If they feel their concerns are being heard and their input is valued, you'll build trust with them and they will be more likely to help you fight the rumor mill, should it get to that point.
Remember: while the situation may not be a positive one that you want to highlight, if you bury your head in the sand, I promise you, it will not end up well. I always emphasize that if you are not telling your district's/school's story, then who is? The same goes for negative stories. You must be prepared and out in front of the issue. You also need to be as forthcoming with information as the situation allows. If you don't, you'll potentially cause a snowball effect, and it's much harder to correct poor communication than it is to be up front from the very beginning.