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Responsible Communication Builds Strong Relationships

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National School Public Relations Association March 2008The <strong>Communication</strong> Factor inBoard Effectiveness<strong>Responsible</strong> <strong>Communication</strong> <strong>Builds</strong><strong>Strong</strong> <strong>Relationships</strong>There’s no denying that one of the most challengingroles in public education today is that of the localschool board. The current era of accountability —with NCLB at the federal level and various highstakesperformance mandates at the state level — hassignificantly ramped up demands not just on teachersand administrators to raise student achievement, butalso on school boards to set a clear vision and highstandards for success. Today’s board members mustcommunicate the district’s progress toward goals aswell as the outcomes of their efforts to provide qualityeducation for all students.Board members also provide a direct connection todistrict stakeholders and play a critical role inbuilding supportive relationships between the schoolsand community. Research conducted by NationalSchool Public Relations Association (NSPRA) leadersas well as other education researchers clearlydemonstrates how accountability, transparency, andinvolvement are fostered by strong communicationbetween schools and communities.This publication offers tips and research to helpschool boards redefine their work from a communityperspective, build strong relationships between theirschools and communities, and become more effectivethrough strategic, responsible communication.Thanks to NSPRA Vice President at Large – School BoardsFocus Tom Gentzel, executive director, PennsylvaniaSchool Boards Association; NSPRA Associate DirectorKaren H. Kleinz, APR; and the pro-bono assistance of theCenter for Clear <strong>Communication</strong>, Inc., for contributing tothis publication.To learn more about NSPRA’s <strong>Communication</strong>Accountability Program, membership benefits,communication audits, and other products and services,go to www.nspra.org or call us at (301) 519-0496.© 2008 by the National School Public Relations AssociationNational School Public Relations Association 15948 Derwood Road Rockville, MD 20855 (301) 519-0496 NSPRA@ nspra.org www.nspra.org


1. Hold Yourselves <strong>Responsible</strong> for Communicating with and EngagingYour CommunityEstablishing and maintaining meaningful, direct, twowaycommunication among schools, parents, and thecommunity is one of the key characteristics ofeffective parent and community involvement.Research NSPRA gathered for the <strong>Communication</strong>Accountability Program (CAP) — designed to buildunderstanding and support for the ways goodcommunication creates success for students andschools — clearly demonstrates that effectivecommunication boosts student achievement and leadsto student and school success.Effective school boards adopt written policies toguide their communication and public relationsefforts and demonstrate their commitment to buildingstrong relationships with parents and the community.<strong>Communication</strong> policies include:A commitment to providing comprehensivecommunication and public relations in an open,honest way that meets the needs, interests, anddesires of all internal and external publics.Formal and informal procedures fordisseminating information to internal andexternal publics.A commitment to and steps for actively engagingthe public in decisionmaking about the districtand schools.Guidelines for releasing information aboutindividual staff members, students, or clients.Procedures for employees, parents, and others toappeal policy or administrative decisions.<strong>Communication</strong> responsibilities and proceduresfor managing crises.Procedures for responsibly interacting with thenews media, including clarifying staff roles andresponsibilities.Good communication and public relations policieshelp ensure that strategic communication is integratedinto board governance and is evaluated foreffectiveness.2. Recognize <strong>Communication</strong> as an ImportantManagement Function and Hold YourAdministration AccountableEven if you don’t have a formal, plannedcommunication and public relations program in yourschool system, communication — both good and bad— still takes place every day at all levels. To beeffective, communication efforts must be strategic anddesigned to support your district’s overall mission,vision, goals, and objectives. At all levels,communication must occur consistently andinformation must be presented clearly. To accomplishthis with efficiency, you must establish processes andprocedures to incorporate a communicationcomponent into planning for all district initiatives,programs, and activities.Good communication doesn’t just happen. It takesthought, planning, and skill to implement strategiesand processes that inform and engage your publics.Ideally, your district has a communication director tomanage this critical function. If you don’t have adedicated position now, assign another administratorresponsibility for communication. In any case, train© 2008 by the National School Public Relations AssociationNational School Public Relations Association 15948 Derwood Road Rockville, MD 20855 (301) 519-0496 NSPRA@ nspra.org www.nspra.org


4. Speak with One Clear Voice on Behalf of Your Students and SchoolsA strategic communication plan not only gives staffdirection on communicating the board’s goals, italso gives your board a structure to focus keymessages and advocacy efforts so that you speak inone clear voice on major initiatives and decisions. Partof each board member’s responsibility is to questionand seek answers to issues brought before the board;no one expects boards to make unanimous decisionsall the time. But once the board has made a decision,you must present a collective front in supporting thedecision and explaining the rationale behind it.Few things are as divisive to a district’s trust andcredibility as school board members who disagreewith a decision and actively work against it ratherthan supporting the majority viewpoint. <strong>Responsible</strong>leadership involves respecting the process and oneanother, recognizing that the board only hasauthority as a collective body, and understandingthat the priority must always be what is in the bestinterests of all students and the community.Clear, consistent messages are also critical intimes of crisis. Board members as well as staff mustknow and understand their roles and who thedesignated spokespeople are for any given situation.Having a communication plan in place helps ensurethat correct information is delivered in a timelymanner to quickly resolve the problem.5. Establish a Culture of Effective, Two-Way <strong>Communication</strong> andEngagement with All StakeholdersSmart school boards recognize that studentachievement and school success depend oncollaborating with and actively involving families andthe community. Part of being accountable to yourpublic is taking responsibility for creatingopportunities for all stakeholders to engage with yourdistrict in meaningful ways that allow them to have avoice in important decisions affecting students.An analysis of communication audits NSPRA hasconducted in school systems across North America inthe past decade found that despite school boards’well-intentioned efforts, when asked if they feel theirdistricts offer them opportunities to have input intodecisionmaking, focus group participants consistentlysaid, “They provide opportunities, but nobody listens.”In many cases, we found that the public was invitedinto the process too late to have an authentic voice,causing them to question if their input was valued. Insome cases, participants felt the district did not fullyembrace parents and staff as partners in the educationprocess.To build strong relationships with stakeholders andinstill a sense of shared responsibility for studentsuccess, smart school boards:Make a commitment to their relationship with thepublic;Determine expectations and create opportunitiesfor shared decisionmaking;Explore community values and beliefs; and Find common ground for taking action that leadsto student achievement.To create a true culture of engagement, boardsmust bring stakeholders together not just to give theirinput on issues, but rather to expand the conversationby delving deeper to identify the core beliefs andvalues that drive accountability for studentachievement in the community. You can use a varietyof strategies to initiate dialogue — from town halls,forums, and study circles to board “listening” sessionsand informal coffee meetings around town. The key tosuccess is making the commitment to “listening,”taking action based on all the information at yourdisposal, and “closing the loop” by keeping the publicinformed each step along the way.Key Components of Effective EngagementActive listeningDialogue and deliberationCollaborationShared responsibility for outcomes© 2008 by the National School Public Relations AssociationNational School Public Relations Association 15948 Derwood Road Rockville, MD 20855 (301) 519-0496 NSPRA@ nspra.org www.nspra.org


6. Demonstrate Accountability Through Effective SchoolGovernance Standards Supported by Effective<strong>Communication</strong>Characteristics of High-PerformingSchoolsClear, shared focusHigh standards and expectations for allstudentsEffective school leadershipHigh levels of collaboration andcommunicationCurriculum, instruction, and assessmentaligned with standardsResearch on the characteristics of high-performingschools shows a clear relationship between effectiveschool governance standards and communication.Research conducted by the Pennsylvania SchoolBoards Association also demonstrates the importanceof a balanced governance structure. (See the box on theright.)Smart school boards understand that to governeffectively they need clearly articulated standards,identified indicators of success, benchmarks forcredible evaluation, self-assessment instruments tomeasure progress, and a comprehensive and efficientprocess to communicate effectively with stakeholders.They also understand that they are accountable totheir communities for timely and relevantcommunication, just as they are accountable forstudent achievement.As district and community leaders, school boardsshoulder a huge responsibility for educating ourchildren. Making communication a priority does morethan simply keep your community informed. Itcreates connections, builds relationships, and inviteseveryone to share in the rewarding work of helpingeach student succeed.Effective School Governance StandardsTo promote student growth andachievement, effective school boards:Govern through policyEnsure effective planningCommunicate and engage thecommunityMonitor resultsSource: PA School Boards Association© 2008 by the National School Public Relations AssociationNational School Public Relations Association 15948 Derwood Road Rockville, MD 20855 (301) 519-0496 NSPRA@ nspra.org www.nspra.org


About NSPRA <strong>Communication</strong> AuditsNothing is more important to building trust and support and enhancing the relationshipbetween your district and community than the quality of your communication.But how do you know if your communication effort is having an impact?Tight budgets, pressure to demonstrate accountability to taxpayers, and successfully reachingstakeholders who are overwhelmed with communication in their work and personal lives allmake it challenging to get your message out and engage your parents and communitymembers.Getting the most from your communication dollar is important. NSPRA’s <strong>Communication</strong> Auditcan help you reach your communication objectives and close the gaps. We will evaluate yourprogram and recommend proven, cost-effective strategies that will work in your school systemwith the resources you have available.An NSPRA <strong>Communication</strong> Audit is a rigorous review of your overall communication effort,including district and building-level publications, web sites, communication and marketingplans, policies, budget and staffing, and other important aspects of your district. In addition, ourauditors meet with focus groups that represent your key internal and external audiences to gaina true understanding of people’s current perceptions about your schools and to gather inputabout where your stakeholders get their information, what information they want to receive,and what the best methods are to reach them.An NSPRA <strong>Communication</strong> Audit gives your district meaningful benchmarks for trackingcommunication efforts as well as proven recommendations that will form the framework of yourstrategic communication plan.You won’t make a better investment inyour communication program than anNSPRA <strong>Communication</strong> Audit.For more information about how to evaluate yourcommunication effort, contact:Karen H. Kleinz, APRNSPRA associate director(301) 519-1227kkleinz@nspra.orgwww.nspra.org© 2008 by the National School Public Relations AssociationNational School Public Relations Association 15948 Derwood Road Rockville, MD 20855 (301) 519-0496 NSPRA@ nspra.org www.nspra.org

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