The value of futuristic thinking. – SCN Encourager

Take a close look at the headline above.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.52.12 PMFuturist David Zach believes the “.” should be replaced with a “? 

Remember when I wrote about him and futuristic thinking last week?

Well, you might’ve forgotten.

Zach didn’t.

In fact, he sent me several Direct Messages on Twitter later in the day that are still challenging my thinking as we head into a new weekend.

It’s not like I’m not used to having my thinking challenged.

Cindy and our daughters have been challenging my thinking since… well, forever.

But receiving some thought-provoking pings from Zach on my iPhone was a fun new experience.

Here are the five observations he sent me.

Whatcha’ think?

Old books.• We can be too futuristic.

• Historic might be more valuable.

• As G.K. Chesterton asked in the early 1900’s, “Why are school policies so often younger than the children?”

• If we believe that the future is just about change, then it means we have learned nothing.

• What endures is often more futuristic than the next brief change.

As Zach and I corresponded briefly back-and-forth, he indicated his willingness to keep the conversation going with us… somehow, someway.

So I’m going to explore the possibilities.

You don’t think I’m going to do all of this heavy-duty thinking all by myself do you?!? 


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The decision to close down a school permanently is painful all by itself.

And then you must begin to tip-toe through an emotionally charged PR “minefield.”

PE7A0061There’s no doubt about it.

In the life of every school leader and communicator some of the worst days on the job involve the slow build-up to a permanent school closure – and then the immediate let-down that follows.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to fall to your knees in prayers of thanksgiving later if you skirted your way through the minefield without something blowing up.

School closures are rife with conflict because school employees will criticize the decision, community leaders will make late-to-the-table pitches to explore alternatives, and neighborhoods will mourn the loss of a school as a breakdown in social infrastructure.

And there’s usually an outcry from alumni. Even if they haven’t driven by the school in decades, some will feel like their history is being wiped out if the building is closed, repurposed or demolished.

People will rail against the decision-making process – and who can blame them? Seldom is there policy or protocol for making the decision. School boards don’t have to include students, parents, community leaders, neighbors or alumni in deliberations.

Boards may hold stakeholder meetings before closing the school, but it usually feels like one-way communication to those who show up. Rarely is it open engagement over public policy.

Closing a school. Forever.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it! – SCN Encourager

Back when I was in high school, this expression was popular among my friends.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 7.51.50 PMBut maybe this was just a Flint thing.

I sure hope so – because now it’s only embarrassing.

Really, it is.

If I handed you one of my high school yearbooks and one of last Sunday’s newspaper advertising circulars for a national Halloween costume chain store – and you looked only at the photos of the people – you’d be hard pressed to see much difference between the two.

You’d eventually be able to guess which one was my yearbook, though.

The Halloween store circular doesn’t show anybody smoking cigarettes.

As much as it annoys me now to see so many fond parts of my past turned into laughter-evoking party props, I could never call this a crisis.

It comes close… given what Cindy and my daughters put me through.

But no, as school leaders and communicators, we know from experience what defines a real “crisis.”

This is why I was glad to see that MSPRA is bringing  Zac Rantz to Ann Arbor on Friday, November 14, to lead a full day workshop on crisis communications planning and engaging your community.

These are topics worth growing in what you know.

So take a look at MSPRA’s website.

I hope you’ll join me at the Fall Drive In Conference.

And hey! Maybe we can even coordinate our outfits and flaunt it!

But maybe this was just a Flint thing.


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Tuesday Tech Tip: Ready, Set, Plan!

ready set planPutting a video together is a lot like buying something in the store that says “assembly required.” You know what it’s supposed to look like, but you’re not exactly sure how to put it together. Success is often the result of  following good directions.

When you begin to create your own school video from scratch – from idea to distribution – good directions must be a big part of your planning; as they are your guide. So, now that you have learned about the tools needed to construct a good school video, here’s my final quick lesson in how to write the blueprint for one.

If you missed #1 in this five-part series and would like to get started, here it is!

If you must walk a mile in someone else’s shoes… – SCN Encourager

These are definitely the shoes to use.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 11.59.01 AMThey do the walking for you!

Can’t beat that.

Of course, there’s no gain if you skip past the pain.

But, what the heck, if you’re looking for an easy way around this standard exercise in empathy, here it is.

Just get a pair of these puppies.

If you prefer to actually make some effort, however, you might want to follow Ray Edwards’ advice.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 12.12.46 PMSince Ray is one of the top copywriters in the country, he’s a wealth of experience.

I offered a few of his writing and marketing tips more than a year ago.

Last week, I stole from Ray again when I was asked by a first-year school communicator if there was a list of possible school crisis scenarios.

She wanted to begin envisioning her district’s crisis response plan and outlining possible messages and she wondered if there was a best way to proceed.

What would you say?

Where do all of our possible school crisis scenarios begin?

Where do they end?

Doesn’t it seem that our crisis scenarios, emergency situations, and unplanned “pop-ups and flare-ups” are nearly impossible to quantify and list?

But, in a kind of “walk in someone else’s shoes” twist, Ray Edwards would suggest we try this:

Close your laptop, put down your pen, and take 20 minutes to mentally walk through a day in the life of one of your parents. Do this before you begin outlining your messaging possibilities. You need to come to grips with the hopes and fears of your parents first. 

This made sense to me, so here’s what I emailed her.

Have you ever had an Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train” week? – SCN Encourager

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 9.42.13 PMThe past few days have been one wild ride –

and I can’t even remember the conductor yelling, “All aboard!”

It’s not that things have been going poorly for me –

I just feel like I’ve been in a slump “connecting the dots.”

There’s really no reason for it.

On Wednesday I received a friendly and thoughtful note from futurist David Zach.

I’m looking forward to sharing his insightful comments with you next week.

And today I received a email from a “newbie” school communicator who indicated that some of my recent tips actually helped her with a big presentation she had to make.

I felt great about that… even though I suspect she’s been her best advice by talking to Cindy on the side.

I’m going investigate this and share more about this with you next week, too.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 8.44.10 PMThe one big swing and miss I feel I made this week involved SCN feature writer Kym Reinstadler’s fine article about Ron Koehler and his Kent ISD team’s School News Network yesterday.

It’s a whiff I’ll correct right now.

I’ll be honest.

When I first saw that Kym had posted up her story on our website, I spent more time making sure our hyperlinks were working and that I hadn’t messed up anything on my end. (You know, editor kind of stuff…) 

It was not until later on last night that I logged onto the School News Network to actually read some of the cool stories about our area schools.

While I was happy to praise Ron’s team for working to get positive news to the public earlier in the day, I discovered that all of those “good news” stories have amazing value for us as school communicators  as well.

Sometimes in the midst of a “Crazy Train” week… I tend to skip past all of the fantastic things that are taking place in our schools.

Way too often I have difficulty seeing beyond the problem of the moment.

Ron’s team delivered a much needed “attitude adjustment” to me at a much needed time… and for this I’m grateful.

Cindy thinks I’m in a temporary funk just because of the Tigers post-season nosedive.

Nah, I don’t think it’s that.

No one could be that shallow.

But if Ron’s team has some ideas for improving the Tigers in 2015, I’m all ears!


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As good stories about our schools are swept away, this team battles to stem the tide.

The headline typically reserved for school news

The headline typically reserved for school news

Schools are full of positive stories that are seldom covered by traditional media outlets. To remain solvent in a digital world where revenue is tied to clicks, only stories expected to generate high readership are produced.

If anything’s to blame, it’s human nature. More readers will read a story about a bad teacher than a good student.

Believing that positive education stories deserve headlines, too, superintendents in Kent County, Michigan, decided they should publicly highlight the many success stories they saw in their schools everyday.

How to do that was the $64,000 question.

Since emerging from the 2008-2009 recession, only one of 20 public school districts still employs a full-time communications specialist.

So, superintendents tapped the Kent Intermediate School District’s three-person communications department to launch their own news outlet, School News Network, now in its second full academic year.

Ron Koehler

Ron Koehler

“Schools are good at providing information, but I’m not sure we’ve been great at story telling, which is the way of conveying stories that will stick with people,” said Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of KISD’s organizational initiatives and community issues. “Those are stories the public deserves to hear about their public schools. That’s what we’re hoping to provide.”

Building consensus for something new

About five years ago, when local newspapers stopped routinely staffing school board meetings, Koehler admits some K-12 superintendents were not disappointed.

But it wasn’t long before they discovered the down side. The only school news being reported was bad news.

Furthermore, with local media no longer covering board deliberations, dissent became noticeably “uninformed,” Koehler said.

K-12 superintendents leading districts of varied size and demographics tapped Koehler to recommend engaging ways to get the good news out, and provide educators with a venue to comment on education issues.

Do I owe this expert an apology? – SCN Encourager

I’ve been thinking. Perhaps I owe you an apology as well.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.52.12 PMOne thing is certain.

I’ve woefully understated futurist David Zach’s value to what we do as school leaders and communicators.

You see, I’ve written about about my admiration for his work before (a fantastic NSPRA 2000 presenter, etc.), but after a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning, I realize that I used the word “futurist” to describe him way-too-lazily for you without fully understanding or appreciating the true value of his craft.

For all I knew about what a “futurist” could deliver to our respective school leadership tables, I might as well have introduced him to you as David Zach, street juggler… or David Zach, new closer for the Detroit Tigers. (Hey! now we’re talking!)

But I’ve learned.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 9.15.51 PMThe speaker at this morning’s Chamber breakfast here in Holland (MI) was Ron Price, nationally known leadership authority and author.

He referenced a comprehensive survey of organizational and business leaders, in which the respondents were asked to rank “their skills” from the most proficient to the most deficient from a list of 25.

The leadership skills included those touching upon hiring and firing, team building, goal setting, accountability, communication, measuring and evaluating.

Price challenged our group of 200 to name “the one skill” that the vast majority of leaders admitted they struggled with the most.

While I wish I could report to you that I knew answer, but kept silent out of respect for the other 198 people and my superintendent who was sitting to my right, I had no clue.

Nobody else did, either.

Then Price said that the one skill leaders said they needed the most was “futuristic thinking.”

And this was when my mind jumped to Zach.

According to Price, “In order to guide their organizations toward new success, tomorrow’s leaders will need to think further into the future, and do it faster and more precisely.”

He then asked us if we knew of any “futuristic thinkers” we could learn from.

So now, while I can report to that I had a good answer for the speaker’s question, I still kept silent out of respect for the other 198 people and my superintendent who was sitting to my right.


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Tuesday Tech Tips: icing on the cake for your video

icing on the cakeThe icing on the cake, it always makes it a little sweeter. That’s what these final tips are… Small measures to make a good video great.

These take more time and focus at first, but they’re worth the effort to give your videos a professional edge.

Hey! If you missed #1 in this series and would like to get started, here it is!

Breaking News! Seriously speechless on Saturday. – SCN Encourager

Here’s another reminder why offense is better than defense.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 5.57.00 PMSports talk radio sometimes doesn’t help my marriage at all.

And I’m sure I wasn’t the only spouse ensnared by the intense outcry taking place over the airwaves Saturday morning.

As we often do, Cindy and I were up and about on Saturday – going to breakfast, visiting the farmer’s market, and running a few other weekend related errands.

I’d list them all, but I think by now you have enough proof that I’m boring and predictable.

Anyway, as Cindy and I were zipping around, I made the mistake of having the radio turned on to my favorite sports talk station.

In between giving the Friday night high school football scores (good) and giving updates about the upcoming MSU, Notre Dame, and U. of M. contests (even better), the two radio hosts were blasting a recent decision by Heisman Trophy Committee (causing trouble to brew).

“Hey, did you hear that?” Cindy asked. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Huh?” I deflected, reaching to turn down the radio.

“Wait, I want to hear this.” Cindy said. “Why would anyone take the word ‘integrity’ out of their charter? What a joke. They should lift up standards, not lower them. What’s up with that?”

“Heck if I know,” I said.”When did you start following Heisman Trophy stuff?”