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GUEST BLOG: Leading Change? Don’t Forget Your Communications Plan

by Mark Hennes | Dec 04, 2017

This week's guest blogger is Kira Keane, who is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. With more than 20 years of experience in communications and public affairs, Kira manages external communications for TLA, as well as develops communications tools and training workshops to help school districts implement blended and personalized learning.

Innovating in education is difficult and complex work. It takes clear eyes and a steady hand to navigate the challenges school districts face when embracing change. We’ve learned that it also takes a rock-solid commitment to open, ongoing, two-way communications - which is why we developed a communications planning guide for leaders who are spearheading blended and personalized learning initiatives in their districts.

School districts that develop thoughtful communications plans do more than just push important information out to their stakeholders. These districts, and their leaders, build a culture of engagement, transparency, and trust that is critical for innovation both to take hold in the classroom and to be sustainable and scalable across many schools. Poor communication can lead to unmanageable expectations, confusion, and opposition to change.

The Learning Accelerator, in partnership with Education Elements, developed this guide because communications is one area most districts have little experience with, but which can have a huge impact on success. The guide highlights real-world examples from eight school districts across the country and includes dozens of resources and recommendations district leaders can put into practice today. Here’s where to start:

 - Plan first, then worry about tactics. It is really easy to come up with a list of great tweets. It is harder to develop clear goals for communications, determining key messages and audiences, and developing a comprehensive approach to communications. Take the time to come up with a strategy before you dive into tactics - you will be much more effective.

- Listen, don’t just talk. Too many communications strategies focus on what a district is going to tell its stakeholders. Just as important is listening to what your stakeholders have to say. Whether its teachers, leaders or community members, it is important to make sure you have two-way communications. Think about how to use Twitter, surveys, and town-hall style meetings for your communications. Don’t forget the power of small groups and 1:1s when possible. Build a culture of engagement, transparency, and trust.

- Determine your messengers and your messages. Just as we know we can’t treat all learners the same, we have to think about each audience as having different needs too. For each audience consider both the right messages and also the right people or channels to use to deliver those messages. At a minimum you want to consider school leaders, teachers, students and parents but there may be more audiences to think about or more ways to split them up (for example you might want different messages for your secondary vs elementary teachers). And just because Facebook works for the district down the road doesn’t mean it will work for you; take the time to figure out what channels work for your district.

- Show, don’t tell. For many, seeing is believing and your strategy needs to include ways to bring this work to life. Find videos and visuals from other districts to share when you are starting out. But don’t stop there. There are likely examples from within your district you can use even at the beginning, and you can grow that list of resources as innovation spreads. Capture testimonials, go into classrooms and videotape what you see. Storytelling is a great way to make the work your team is doing tangible and highlights for everyone what is possible.

Sections of this piece first appeared in a blog post co-authored by Kira Keane (Partner at The Learning Accelerator) and Anthony Kim (Founder and CEO of Education Elements) which ran in EdSurge on 03/14/17.

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