What's Trust Got To Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for Leaders of Failing Schools

December 20, 2011

What's Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools offers a blueprint for education leaders on how to engage communities in transforming persistently failing schools so that they create the conditions under which teachers and students can succeed. The report includes best outreach practices culled from education, communications and engagement experts that hold varying perspectives on how to approach school reform. 

It helps leaders understand some of the primary ways in which communities react to various school turnaround efforts – and why – and offers eight clear and actionable steps to help leaders effectively communicate with and engage communities facing school turnaround. These are:

1.     Lay the groundwork: Talk with parents, students, teachers and community leaders early and often. Doing so after the decision has been made is too late.

2.     Have a vision: Help the community envision exactly what it looks like when school conditions that empower students and teachers to dramatically improve are in place, why those conditions are necessary, and what will be required to get there.  Dwelling on the negative aspects of school turnarounds without giving people a sense of hope can contribute to negative community reactions.

3.     Invite the community to help shape the vision: For a school turnaround effort to take root and become sustainable, a common vision for change must be shared by a fairly broad swath of parents, teachers, students and the general public.

4.     Provide information—not too little and not too much: Audiences also need enough information to be able to understand – and independently judge – the worth of a turnaround effort.  However, too much unnecessary information can become overwhelming and not useful.

5.     Remember to tell stories: Many people—perhaps most people—learn and retain more from a compelling story than from being exposed to a litany of statistics. Stories—of other schools, parents, teachers and students who have successfully undergone similar transitions – help people understand and envision possible courses and what to expect.  Stories don't replace more traditional, statistical data, but they can give statistics life and meaning.

6.     Avoid the “public hearing” format—or at least don't rely on it as your sole communication vehicle: Smaller, informal discussions with key stakeholders like parents, teachers and students in the school on a regular basis help build communication and mutual respect.  In contrast, large public hearings do not encourage thoughtfulness or any viable exchange of viewpoints.

7.     Communicate through trusted sources: Recognize that parents and teachers often want to hear from additional voices – beyond just district and school leaders – regarding school turnaround approaches. For example, parents often want to hear from local employers and local higher education officials.

8.     Don't surprise people—and don't mangle the communications basics: The basics of good communications are not mysterious. They include planning, empathy and taking a moment to think about what audiences need to know.  Yet many school leaders working on turnarounds often make a tough situation even worse by making clumsy communications mistakes.

Check out more information and access the full report in the link below.


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Wonderful piece. Congrats again on the new job and ectxiing new work. Leadership is an art and a process and an environment. Those who understand it on those terms and practice it with love will succeed, and more importantly give others the support they need to succeed as well!

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