Master Community Engagement With These 3 Steps

Table full of icons and palletsBetter communication is a top priority for school district leaders.

It’s a common refrain among administrators, “If only we could get parents and teachers and students on the same page, committed to the same goals—oh, the work we could do together.”

School leaders have spent countless hours and much money developing strategies and programs intended to reach out to and connect with disparate stakeholder groups.

An open and honest pipeline of community feedback is fundamental to a school or district’s ability to build trust and drive positive change in classrooms. But simply opening the floodgates to let in information is not a recipe for success.

You have to have a mechanism for listening to and thoughtfully responding to critical members of your school community. It could be teachers. It could be parents. In many cases, it’s students. Anyone in your community who stands to be affected by the decisions you make.

There was a time when much of this dialogue took place face to face through regular town hall meetings. But in an age where social media, including Facebook and Twitter, enables parents and others to voice their opinions, informed and otherwise, at the push of a button, school leaders need solutions that promise to connect with stakeholders where they already are: online.

A tougher challenge
Setting up dedicated school-owned social media accounts to monitor and respond to feedback would seem an obvious solution. But, as countless school leaders have already discovered, social media can be a difficult, often inherently risky platform on which to engage your school community.

Few subjects ignite more passion than those that concern our schoolchildren. The slightest misinterpretation of an online statement or act taken out of context can fuel a public relations crisis of epic proportions. More than a few good school principals and district superintendents have watched their careers evaporate under the weight of seemingly innocuous online gaffes.

If setting up a solution for listening and responding to community feedback is the first step toward bringing school leaders and members of their local communities closer, developing a replicable process to use these tools respectfully and with discipline is the difference between failure and success.

So, what can school leaders do to ensure their foray into social media is met with a positive response? These three steps are absolutely critical.

  1. Develop a system. Every school needs a system for listening and responding to community feedback. Give parents, teachers, students and others a safe way to reach out and connect with you online. Create a listening station to actively monitor different social media and flag comments about your school or district. Pause before you hit the reply button and be sure to always formulate a safe, effective and respectful response.
  1. Create a process. Once you’ve got an effective system in place, you need to develop a process that everyone who interacts with members of your school community can follow. Empower the right people within your school or district to respond to comments and feedback. Set clear parameters and guidelines so that faculty and staff are accountable for responding to members of the public in a timely fashion and ensure that everyone in your organization knows what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of an effective online response. And don’t forget to track and monitor the data and feedback you receive from local community members. Analyzing that information will help you make better, more informed decisions.
  1. Train the heck out of faculty and staff. Training is critical. Make sure every member of your staff understands the overall goals of your communications effort up front. Each person should understand their role and how their contribution affects the long-term success of the program. Make sure everyone involved is comfortable using whatever technology you choose. If a teacher needs extra training on how to use social media, provide it. If an administrator wants clarity about the information that you plan to collect from the local community, give it. Get to the point where you feel comfortable moving forward together, across the entire organization.

Looking for a communications tool that brings these three pillars and more together in a single solution? Let’s Talk! is something to explore.  

Author: Corey Murray

Education writer and editor

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