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  • Writer's pictureYolanda King Stephen

Ace Your Back to School Communication...During a Pandemic

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

Me...After the Last Kid Was Delivered Home Safely

While the fall months are reserved for last minute vacations, back to school shopping, and trying to get back on a regularly-scheduled program, this back to school season has been anything but regular.

Last week we started school. That’s right. Full blown school. Our parents had a choice of either virtual learning or in-person learning. It’s been a mind-boggling, fast-paced, and doozy of a year to say the least. Kind of like a rollercoaster of emotions mixed with the feeling of Will Smith touching that little ball that zig-zagged all over the office in Men in Black… just all over the damn place!

But you are in the business of school communication and the show must go on…err, the school year must start. And you have to be the Oz of Back to School Communication. Here are some tips to help you manage communicating a school opening:

1. Everyone is not going to like your plan. Neither are they going to understand it. That’s okay. On this one, leave all your personal feelings at home. It’s important that you have a say in the plan details so you can normalize the language for parents. For longer plans, add headers, highlight important text, add numbered lists wherever you can.

2. Use all communication channels. No one is going to read a long plan. Not your staff, not your parents, not even the people in central office. It’s cute and you spent loads of time on it, but they aren’t going to read it in its entirety. You will have a few exceptions, but you already know those troublemakers! That’s why it’s important to use all communication channels:

-Call your favorite journalist for an interview
-Create Canva’s with bulleted tips so it’s in bite-sized pieces
-Post it on your website
-Host Google meetings
-Host weekly Facebook Chats or Twitter Talks with different leaders (e.g., Technology Director to discuss devices or hotspots, Custodian Director to discuss cleaning, Nursing Director to discuss Covid-19 Matrix and how quarantine will work, etc.)
- Give faith based and community leaders talking points to share with their sphere's of influence. My Superintendent put out a plea to those leaders to open their wifi for families who didn't have wifi at home. Guess what, they did! 

3. Social media is not the only media. I get it, budgets are tight. We can easily fall into the trap of relying on social media because it’s free or low-cost. Now is the time to create a Covid-19 webpage so your community can use that as a reference. Now is the time to call on partners. Now is the time to pull together your ambassadors. Now is the time to call on your faith-based leaders. Now is the time to pull out all the stops, think creatively, and use your resources and relationships to your advantage. This recent survey from the National School Public Relations Association about the use of communication channels can give you an idea of some of the media available.

6. You are not the Covid-19 Police. Media and parents will be swarming around waiting for the first covid case – and there will be one. Make a plan of how you will share the cases and number of students and teachers quarantined. Doing this daily will place a lot of strain on you and other departments. I suggest bi-weekly and then tapering off to weekly. I also suggest posting a Covid-19 dashboard on your website as opposed to on social media as that creates panic and undesirable conversations that are difficult to manage. Posting on your website will show you are being transparent and you can direct people to the website if they have questions about your cases or practices.

7. Take a break, and take your feelings with you. This school opening, whether remote, hybrid, or in-person, will be different than any other school opening you have ever communicated. You are going to need some ‘you’ time. It’s easy to get caught up with Keyboard Vigilantes or frustrated with the third request for a video in two days. Don’t fall prey to your feelings because you may end up without a job! Whether it is a brisk walk around the office building, going out to lunch, or chatting it up with one of your co-workers, you are going to need moments in the day that are just for you. Take them and be okay with not responding to the latest snarky social media comment or saying no to the video request.

While we are physically distanced, we are not working alone. There are many school districts and businesses that are facing changes. Take note of your successes so you can share them with others. Hopefully, your leadership and staff are supportive and they are right there on the front lines with you. It’s important, as the communications leader, to use all communication methods, create templates, share your priorities, be prepared for changes, remove your feelings, and take a break. Good luck and welcome back to school!

*If you would like more information or examples, please leave a comment or send me an email by clicking here.

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