Even though we’re now well into February, let me challenge you with one more New Year’s resolution – raise your hand and repeat after me – “I will resolve to improve my messaging and communication skills!" Seriously, it’s always a great time for you to think about how to identify and articulate what you want others to know about your school, and to understand what the most effective methods are for communicating your message.
Why is messaging important? For several reasons. First, clearly and coherently communicating your charter’s mission benefits students, parents, and staff members by facilitating a school culture focused on common goals and beliefs concerning the most important pieces of your educational program. A strong, clear messaging of your school’s mission helps to set expectations for students and staff that will help to make your program successful. Externally, precise messaging about your school helps your local community understand who you are, what makes you unique, and why your school merits support and recognition as a valid public school option.
Here are some thoughts on getting the messaging right:
Consider the content of your message. This is Communication 101. As a charter leader, you are the expert in regards to your school’s mission, vision, and every piece of data about your school in terms of student achievement, enrollment, staffing, the facility – you name it, and you need to be ready and able to talk about your school anytime and all the time. But don’t carry this burden alone. You can be sure that board members, staff members, and parents are always being asked questions about your school by curious community members and potential enrollees. Make sure that you spend the time to inform and engage your stakeholders internally so they can share an informed message externally.
Consider the medium for your message. I spend a lot of time on the road, and it drives me crazy to get a call and only understand about half of what is being said to me. Of course the person on the other end isn’t trying to sound garbled, but the cell signal is so weak it makes them hard to understand. So even if their message is coherent, the transmission is poor and the conversation is fruitless. In the same way, it’s a good idea to think about the medium for your message; that is, the way you are transmitting what you want others to hear.
For example, social media is an effective tool for your parents and supporters and those who know your story, but print media may be a better vehicle for those who don’t know who you are. Local papers are always looking for things to print. Spotlight a program and call the education reporter. Have bullet points ready to emphasize what you would like covered. Ask the editor if you can write a column or article about your school. Better yet, ask the paper if you can do this on a monthly basis. Not only are you controlling the message, but you are taking advantage of a free resource that is viewed by thousands of people. Getting your story in print gives your message credibility and longevity.
Consider the audience who hears your message. Your communication needs to be tailored to who you are seeking to reach. The message you share with the parent interested in your school may not be the same message you share with your state representative when you are asking his or her support in increasing charter school funding. Know your charter facts and tailor your message to your audience. Always be prepared to identify those programs, teachers, activities, and students that need to be put in the spotlight. Be ready in an instant to share the great things going on at your school with whoever is asking. If you are confronted with negative press or “alternative facts,” don’t avoid those assertions or try to spin them. Refute inaccurate data with the facts. Always remember that as a charter leader you are the number one advocate for your school.
Many of us have been prompted (usually by our significant other) with the phrase “I don’t want you to just hear me, I want you to listen to what I’m saying!” That's a good reminder for all of us in the charter business. You know that as a charter leader and advocate you are providing a great public school option for Texas students. If we want our stakeholders to really listen to our message and believe it, we need to make sure our content is correct, our medium is effective, and tailored to our audience. Take time to get the message right!