I’m super passionate about bringing a human face, voice and personality to a large school district like ours. We know that parents, families and the community as a whole connect with individual teachers, principals and school sites, but connecting with a district is much more difficult. School-home communications play an important role.
Despite these difficulties, putting faces and names to every one of our communications is important. We recently began using a school-home communications solution to enhance and improve our district communications. This was an important step, because we now feel as if families are getting a message from a human versus a faceless and nameless office, district or bureaucracy.
Research shows that student, family or employee engagement thrives on human relationships, and relationships are based on knowledge, familiarity and trust. We also know that engagement contributes to improved outcomes and that employee engagement is key to our teachers’ and principals’ ability to support those outcomes — which is what we’re really all here to do.
Here are four ways we’ve successfully humanized communications across our large district.
1. Share daily social media highlights via school-home communications
Over the last couple of years, we’ve worked really hard to focus on and personalize the work that our district is doing. We have over 100 schools and over 40 departments, so everyone gets one social media highlight per year. That doesn’t sound like much, but it gives us an opportunity to reach out to our department heads and school site leaders and say: What do you want to brag about? They provide the content, and we turn it into an engaging social media post, knowing that people are recognizing and engaging with that content.
2. Have district leaders send weekly video messages
When I joined this district almost four years ago, our superintendent was sending weekly emails to all staff on Fridays. He’s a very open and communicative superintendent, and that was one way that he kept in contact with and engaged our more than 10,000 staff members. When the pandemic hit, we decided to switch these to video messages. That way, people could maintain that engagement as well as see his face and hear his voice every week. A couple years later, we’re now sending these videos out every one or two weeks via ParentSquare. This allows the audience to see and hear our leaders’ personalities instead of just seeing words on a screen.
3. Build consistent media relations
We pitch the media positive stories, and they turn them into wonderful news stories. We can then repurpose that content for our own audiences. It’s a win-win for us as a school district, as well as the media outlet, because we’re going to share that story and create even more engagement.
We used a third-party researcher to see where our audiences go for their news, but you can also use your school-home communications platform to gather that information. It helps to really understand where they watch the news most frequently and what they’re reading online.
4. Create audience advisory groups
We developed three advisory groups: student, parent and principal. We use them to gather feedback on and improve our communications plans, hot topics and overall services. The student advisory group includes time with our superintendent, as well as learning opportunities with staff and a culminating group project. We recruited one student from every one of our high schools and brought them together for monthly meetings and gathered their feedback on what we’re working on.
We also have a parent university and a principal advisory group. At the end of the day, the relationships and the communication that happen at the school site itself are critical because that’s where your families and students are most engaged. Ensure they’re weighing in on school-home communications.
Tip for staff and administrators
If you’ve been tasked with creating a post through your school-home communications platform to share with families or staff members, always include your name and photo. Put your profile together and state that it’s from you — not the communications office. Also, put your signature on every one of your posts. This really helps humanize the communications and shows that you’re telling them something that is coming from a human and being delivered to a human.
Lastly, always be yourself. Be authentic, share what you’re comfortable sharing and allow those relationships to really flourish.
Nikki Henry is the chief communications officer at the Fresno Unified School District in California. They use the ParentSquare platform for school-home communications.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.