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.
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.
To begin anticipating from where a crisis might pop up, walk through a typical school day of an imaginary parent from beginning to end.
You’ll soon get an idea about the many “potentialities.”
Begin with the child getting ready to come to school. The possibilities are endless. Maybe there’s a bad scene at home, a bad scene in the neighborhood, poor supervision of the children in general, an unsafe walk route to school or policy driven bus transportation issue. There could be a creepy person following or menacing a child. Perhaps the traffic flow or parking situation at the school campus before class begins is so hectic that parents yell and threaten each other. Sometimes a child can get distracted and lose their way – and their tardiness ignites worries. It’s not always easy for a school to provide adequate supervision or good outside lighting before school. either. Sometimes a parent might bring their childall all the way to school only to find out that school was closed for the day. That happens, too… though it hurts to admit that bad communications can play a factor.
Once school begins, the various possibilities for crisis continue. And it’s never easy to find out the facts for any of these situations, either. Consider a pulled fire alarm. Is the threat real? It probably isn’t, but you have to assume that it is. In crisis time, it’s your job to contemplate “what’s the worst that can happen?” before most of your peers. You may also have incidents in common areas or the cafeteria. Sometimes a school may have a poor culture of expectations and support, so much so that there are frequent fights and insubordinate behavior toward staff. There are also weather related safety threats that will reveal to you whether your school “trained” or drilled properly. Look around you. There’s lots of expensive technology on campus that may not work or may not be used to its potential. There may be difficulties in tracking and accounting for the technology, too. The overwhelming nature of a teacher’s responsibilities lends itself to something going amiss. Maybe a group of students skip class and create an issue elsewhere. Maybe bad stuff is going on in the parking lot or in the bathrooms of your school. It’s possible that all of your crisis drill planning did not include any of the substitutes who were on site at the time of the actual crisis. Maybe your alert system malfunctioned in some way. An isolated bullying or “gang member influence” type situation may be so severe, that teachers are afraid to get directly involved. It’s not always easy to get a handle on cyber-bullying or sexting when it is so foreign to the threats you grew up with in school yourself. And you always must be ready for a chemical or toxic materials mishandling, a threat to public health, or an angry and warped individual who may bring a weapon to school with the intention to use it.
By now, you get the idea.
Even when the child starts heading home from school, many crisis possibilities still remain.
In sum: Do your best to provide “truth in context.”
(And the bedrock “context” for us is all of the wonderful things that are taking place in our schools everyday.)
Usually the facts aren’t easy to come by, and there also may be facts you simply can’t or shouldn’t report. But you (the school communicator) aren’t the one who ultimately defines the magnitude of your school crisis anyway, it’s your parents that do.
Communicate the overall crisis situation – and how you’re addressing it – by reaching out speedy-kwik to the hopes and expectations of your parents and you’ll do just fine, even if the media is clamoring all around you. Besides, due to social media, it’s likely you have a group of parents that are already more “influential” in your community than traditional media.
Really, a crisis is whatever a parent (typically) believes it to be. Always respect this reality, even though sometimes you’ll find yourself mud-wrestling with “rumors” while waiting for all of the facts to come in.
Know that you’re never alone in working through all of the intensity and stress a crisis brings.
A crisis may always be nearby (sure enough), but good people are always nearby you, too.
Reach out for their help and you’ll be amazed.
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Prior to launching SCN I was the communications director for Holland Public Schools in Holland, Michigan for 20 years. The challenges for in-the-trenches school communicators are many – and if I can help you in any way, give me a call. I'm a former teacher and I've managed more than 100 election campaigns of all types and sizes over the years. (I was even featured in the Wall Street Journal... a very, very slow news day, no doubt!) I created the School Communicators Network because I believe the noble purpose of education deserves the best marketing and PR possible. And there's a lot of talent and expertise we can tap into! I'm also convinced we can support each other while remaining human and having fun, too. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.