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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Buy low, sell high.

Cindy will never notice I made another trip to the buffet table.

Resist the temptation to exhaust your reader.


Zac Rantz

$85 all day …am/pm … plus lunch

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?”

Were your grandparents optimists or pessimists? – SCN Encourager

The fact that you are “up and about” answers this one.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.52.12 PM

According to futurist David Zach, we’re both walking, talking, real-world proof that our ancestors consistently looked ahead to the future with hope in their hearts.

I do think that if Zach knew my grandparents, he’d be forced to acknowledge that the power of prayer and keeping one’s “fingers crossed” often helped keep that hope alive.

For sure, my brothers and I – over the course of two and a half decades – probably caused my grandparents to re-assess their optimistic view of the future many times.

But the misbehavior of my younger brothers aside, Zach is right.

The hope our ancestors had for the future is a primary contributor to the success and lifestyles we enjoy today… and now we’re similarly duty-bound to pay-it-forward to support and encourage the next generation.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 4.07.25 PMZach’s been right before, you know.

Seven months ago, I wrote about his insightful presentation at NSPRA 2000 in San Antonio.

A few weeks after this I was lucky enough to score a copy of Zach’s book.

His keen quick peeks into a wide variety of topics have never failed to improve my thinking.

It was Worth Remembering – the future value of old ideas that jarred me into wrestling with the role our grandparents are still playing today.

Zach’s format offers an effective blend of old and new.

On every page, he highlights an old quotation or two, and then attaches his own commentary.

For example, he featured this quote from Arnold Bennett (1867-1931):
Pessimism, when you get used to it, is just a agreeable as optimism.

Then Zach mused:

People often ask, “Are you an optimistic futurist?” and I suspect that few would hire me if I wasn’t. Sure, I have my fears and doubts, but I believe that optimism is both practical and preferable and the virtue of hope is something of a moral imperative. If people of the past still held hope through all of the trials (they must have, because we are still here) then we must do the same.

Sounds good to me.

We don’t have to be the richest, the slimmest, or the wittiest to make a positive contribution to the future.

We just need to choose to be hopeful.

This I can do.

And it might even motivate me to “titlejack” Zach’s wonderful book and write one of my own –

Hardly Worth Remembering.


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Is your staff stretched? Or are you a one person office? Advance your message with “V” power!

So, how can you get more exposure for your school district when the marketing budget is already stretched paper-thin?

Sara DeVries

Sara DeVries

Train volunteers to advocate for your schools — not at school, but through their connections in your community.

Prepare to be inspired by Sara DeVries, marketing and communications director at Herrick District Library, which serves people in the City of Holland (Mich.) and three adjacent townships.

Sara, like most school communicators, is a one-person office. Her district library weathered the economic recession, but now has 25 percent less operating funds and 25 percent less staff who, remarkably, are doing twice as programming.

Sound familiar, school communicators?

“Staff was feeling the pain of being stretched thin,” said Sara, remembering why HDL initially passed on doing a local version of the popular Geek the Library campaign, even though funding for materials was available through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Staff only has time for in-library duties. There are no paid hours for them to work in the community to raise the library’s profile, even though HDL needs to lay the groundwork for a millage election in 2016 – its first funding request in 20 years.

Can we afford not to do it?

Sara contended HDL couldn’t afford not to do the campaign. Other communities have successfully built broad-based community support through Geek the Library – a campaign template created by OCLC (Online Community Library Center), the same nonprofit organization that provides the online catalog WorldCat. Mark deRoo geeks mountain climbing.

Premise of the campaign is that, no matter what a person “geeks” (i.e. is passionate about), they’ll find value in the library. Hallmark of the campaign are professional portraits of familiar local faces printed poster-sized with a line about what they “geek.”

Sara got board-approval to proceed with “Geek the Library” – as long as she could find volunteers to do the community outreach.

A graphic arts intern was brought in from neighboring Hope College to assist with print materials and event planning, but otherwise Sara was on her own.

Getting Geeks

Libraries, like schools, love volunteer power. But using volunteers to represent the library in the community was a new animal.

With the goal of creating and informed and invested bank of volunteers that could also support the library’s millage request in two years, Sara decided to seek “geeks” who are already tapped into the community and comfortable with public speaking.

She began by hosting a gathering for the library board, library staff and “friends” group. Nothing lavish – just music and a disco ball because Sara “geeks” disco. Attendees suggested neighbors they thought would represent the library well.

“Our goal wasn’t owners of international businesses who have their names on buildings around town,” Sara said. “We were looking for key influencers throughout our community. PTA (Parent Teacher Association) presidents, Chamber of Commerce members, small business owners.”

Eventually, 120 geek ambassadors were photographed who thought of ways they could promote the library in their circles of influence.  Professional photography for the Geek campaign was provided through Macmedia, a nonprofit organization located at that time in Herrick District Library. Another 30 geek volunteers made the commitment to plan and staff one informational community event.

Spreading the Word

Sara resolved to keep the commitment manageable.

Geek ambassadors promised to post their geek image as their social media cover photo and share information about Geek the Library on their wall. They also agreed to arrange one informational event. Other volunteers planned and staffed 23 informational events.

“Being open to ways that volunteers want to connect is, key,” Sara said. “If we define what needs to be done, then just go out and find a volunteer to do it, that feels like filling a job description. Volunteers feel no ownership if they don’t plan the activity.”

Geek the Library entourage pushes book carts in Holland parade.

Geek the Library entourage pushes book carts in Holland parade.

Soon “Geek the Library” posters were hanging in frozen yogurt shops, coffeehouses, and even motorcycle repair shops. Some geeks marched in parades and ran races. Others answered questions at an annual meeting of Ready For School, an early literacy initiative.

Geek ambassadors took turns being “Geek of the Week” on the library’s Facebook page. The geek buzz, Sara said, eclipsed anything the library could generate.

For example, library’s Facebook posting of a leader of a nonprofit organization in front of his “Geek the Library” image rendered as a billboard drew a respectable 34 likes. But when the leader himself posted the same photo, it immediately got 237 likes and dozens of comments. When the leader’s wife posted the photo, it drew more than 100 likes, demonstrating the reach of social media.

Training the Troops

Many organizations would consider using volunteers for advocacy too problematic, but Sara said volunteers didn’t require appreciably more training and management than if library staff had been used.

She had to train geeks, provide materials, give them monthly updates on how the campaign was progressing, and listen to their feedback to know how to modify the program.

Training emphasized three main points: 

  1. Know your pitch
  2. Have open body language. (Greet people, don’t wait for them to come to you. Stand in front of the table, not behind. Etc.)
  3. If you can’t answer a question, help make a connection with library staff who can.

To make training as convenient at possible, she provided it virtually by posting a PowerPoint presentation on Slideshare. The training included short answers to common questions, including: How is the library funded? Why is the library open fewer hours than it used to be? What were the implications on staff when the library moved to RFID (self-checkout)?

Library circulation figures reverberated with geek power. There was an uptick in electronic collections of books, audiobooks, music, movies, TV shows and magazines, suggesting that pockets of the community didn’t know the library loans these materials.

“Geek the Library has definitely helped increase community awareness of the immense value the library adds to the community,” Sara said.

How could your school district better use volunteers to promote its value to your community?