Our teachers are going on strike. The only sport that students can participate in is swimming. Parents will have to lead instruction on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
My goodness. The rumor mill has been churning, and it is only picking up speed. Much like the coronavirus pandemic at large, the ever-evolving nature of school reopening leads to speculation, anxiety and assumptions.
For school district leaders, clear communication and community outreach has never been more critical. And yet, most school districts are missing one key ingredient — a single element that would make their public relations efforts effective and increase trust and stability among constituents.
Humans are creatures of habit. We like what’s predictable and familiar. And in the middle of a global crisis when nothing feels easy or normal, we like it even more. In fact, a study by McKinsey & Company found that a consistent customer experience across the entire customer journey increases customer satisfaction, builds trust and boosts loyalty.
So what does a focus on consistency look like for school districts right now? Well, first it means creating a set of set talking points and sticking to them. Repetition is your friend, because as the old marketing adage “rule of seven” tells us, it takes people hearing something seven times to finally remember it. Just when you are sick of sharing the details of your district’s reopening plans is right when your community is finally starting to hear it.
Next, it means tackling internal communications. According to the Data Quality Campaign, parents trust those closest to their child the most: 93% trust teachers, 88% trust principals and 83% trust guidance counselors to use academic information to appropriately support their children. Since parents trust these leaders so fully, it’s critical that they are equipped with all the information they need to answer questions from concerned families, students and community members. Consider sharing answers to your FAQs with your staff, along with your family-facing core messaging. This way, no matter where parents and caregivers turn for information, they are hearing the same thing.
Finally, it means creating reliability and consistency in your outreach. You’ll want to create a single landing page on your district website where parents can go to get the most up-to-date information. Then you need to resist the urge to change where you place the page on the website, so parents can bookmark it and come back to it regularly.
And remember to distribute regular messages to parents, from the same person, on the same day of the week, at the same time. Right now, our clients are seeing sky-high open rates for their email outreach, and that’s because people are thirsty for information. Even if you don’t have anything brand new to share, make sure that you’re still sending families information and resources on a regular basis.
In the end, setting up consistent communications channels and using them regularly will ensure that the rumor mill doesn’t spin out of control. You’ll give parents more certainty and build trust with your community.
Katie Test Davis is the author of Outreach Made Easy: A Toolkit for Communicating Your District’s Reopening Plans and the founder of the PR firm Forthright Advising.
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