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Consider Hiring a Professional School Communications Coordinator

And if not, then here are 7 tips for you do-it-yourselfers

Image of happy communications professional using cell phone

With so many communication avenues at our disposal, this is a miraculous time to be a school leader. With a phone, a laptop, an email, or a social media post, we can tell our school’s stories—with pictures! Parents, students, teachers, and staff can add their photos to our stories or tell their own school’s stories via Twitter, Instagram, Google Classroom, the PTA newsletter, or an email. 

At the same time, with all these school communication avenues, there are pitfalls. The 24-hour news cycle, round-the-clock events, and unforeseen circumstances that need our immediate attention mean we sometimes rush the story out before we have fully considered what we are communicating. 

  • Or, we might put a lot of time into a message that is never read. 
  • Or, we might get caught up communicating with the same ten parents—those we see on a weekly basis—and we forget about the other 5000 parents in our community. 
  • Or, our “crowd-sourced” content might have spelling or grammar mistakes, which are never acceptable from a school. 
  • Or, we start out with a communications plan (“I’m going to do a weekly newsletter!”) but then get caught up with the daily events of the school and let months go by without any communication. 

You get the idea—strategic school communication is difficult. 

That's why hiring a communications professional might be an economical investment for a school district. This might seem like a shameless attempt at job security because I work for School Webmasters—a small business in Arizona that helps schools with communications and marketing by designing websites, helping with ADA compliance, and assisting with public relations—but schools all over the nation are starting to recognize the importance of school communications. 

I live in a town in Connecticut and help School Webmasters with the communications for the school district I live in. I report to my district’s assistant superintendent and with my contact in Arizona regularly. I’m also in regular touch with the nine principals in our district as I try to keep parents and staff informed of all the exciting stories from our schools. 

So what makes a dedicated school communications coordinator worth the investment? Because I work primarily from home, I have the luxury of uninterrupted time to write and think. I go to meetings about once a month, compared to the back-to-back meetings that school leaders go to. My phone never rings with the day-to-day challenges school leaders face such as a parent whose child has been acting out, a teacher who has to go on emergency bedrest, a bus that is broken down and will be late to pick up the students, an unexpected snow squall at dismissal, etc. 

In short, I just have more mental space to think about the message that the district and school want to communicate. My background in journalism means I can make the weekly newsletter deadline every week. At the same time, the school district benefits from School Webmasters’ vast knowledge. The company understands ADA compliance, has social media expertise, and employs website quality control experts who monitor the district’s complicated information on a consistent basis to help keep links current. And, School Webmasters is affordable.  

Image of various communications strategies

Whether or not you choose to hire a professional to help with communication, please consider the following advice when it comes to your school communications. 

  1. Get everything proofread. No spelling mistakes ever. I consider myself to be a good speller and grammarian, an English major with a long career in public relations and journalism. Still, I have been mortified to see a text where I wrote, “I here we’re seeing you later.” My daughter’s fifth-grade homeroom teacher sent a welcome letter and every sentence started with “I will be…” While this is not technically wrong, a quick look or a second set of eyes would have probably prevented the gaffe. Proofreading also helps to catch wrong dates and incorrect information as well as help you clean up your final draft. Don’t think of this step as adding time to your already busy schedule; think if it as good school public relations. Mistakes have the potential to erode trust and confidence in your school district, which takes endless time to fix. 
  2. Attribute appropriately. Whether you’re writing about a recent board of education meeting or a school tragedy, please don’t plagiarize. There are many sources available that can make school communications easier. However, I recommend exercising caution when using open-source material. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel every time you send out a letter. It does mean putting things down in your own words or giving credit to your source. For example, if you find communication from another school district that encapsulates your feelings better than you can, try something like: “Finding the right words to express how devastating this event is, is challenging. My colleague Wilma Shakespeare at Blank High School said it best when she wrote, …” It’s okay to borrow, but it’s not okay not to acknowledge it. 
  3. Check media opt-outs. My first day as the communications coordinator, I took the district’s video camera to film an eighth-grade off-site arts and science program. I enjoyed filming the kids working together and was thrilled when I caught on camera a girl in a hoodie saying, “This is so great! I love this project!” When I was ready to assemble the video, I checked the media-opt outs for the class and had to delete almost all the footage I had taken that day. The girl-in-the-hoodie’s parents didn’t want her to be filmed. For school communications, this tip is huge—check media opt-outs first! Teachers should know which students can’t be photographed in their class, and they can point them out to you. 
  4. Utilize all your sources. One of the most time-consuming parts of my job is coordinating. I’m reaching out to principals and art teachers on a weekly basis. From there, I’m communicating with school librarians, classroom teachers, and probably my most important resource, school secretaries. I’m scrolling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for district news items. Also, I’m in the central office regularly, so I hear district priorities being ironed out and articulated sometimes more clearly than the individual school leaders in the district. Your school is rich with source information—utilize it!
  5. Show the whole picture. It’s important to show the variety of programs and activities your school has to offer. Sure, everyone in the community is excited if the girls soccer team is the state champion. However, If you just focus on one thing—like athletics—you’re not showing the whole picture. Our school’s newsletter has a weekly art gallery, book recommendations, and math updates. I realized recently that we hadn’t done a lot with science and discovered that the annual Physics Cardboard Boat Race was happening that week at our local pool. It ended up being a great newsletter with pictures of our students working together to solve engineering problems and having a blast doing so! 
  6. Establish good relationships with the local press. Even in this day of social media, traditional media relations are still very important to school communications. Many community members, including seniors, still rely on the newspaper to get their news. That’s why it’s so important to have the local school beat reporter’s email on file to tell the good stories happening at the school and also to help in emergencies. 
  7. Manage all your channels. It’s great to tweet the latest victory at your school’s Invention Convention, but don’t neglect your school’s website in favor of social media. Keep communications flowing to the right places throughout the school year. This tip is especially difficult to manage on your own—but you don’t have to

Clearly, there is much to think about when considering effective good school communications—consistency, quality, and authority. I return to my original recommendation: Consider hiring a professional. Our district is committed to being ADA compliant and to getting our website up-to-date. It’s the law, and it’s also the right thing to do. However, it’s not easy. We have been working with School Webmasters to make steps toward ADA compliance. Having experts who have done this before and are up-to-date is helping us tackle a daunting proposition. If you do want more information about what School Webmasters can do for your school communications, reach out to owner Bonnie Leedy