School Communications Amid COVID-19: Now What?
Join us for a free webinar Wednesday, May 6th at 3 p.m. EST: REGISTER NOW
By Joe DiBenedetto, Managing Director, Education & Social Impact
There are few things in life as consistent as the school calendar. From back-to-school to summer break, it’s as reliable as the change in seasons. As children, we all grew up with the school calendar, and many have continued to follow it through professional careers in education. Enter COVID-19 and the reliability of the school calendar is in question. Uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.
Having worked closely with superintendents for more than 25 years, I’ve always respected but never envied them, given the countless challenges, early mornings and long nights filled with Board meetings and other school activities, and having to please so many different audiences. That feeling has never been greater than it is today, as superintendents across the country work tirelessly alongside fellow educators to figure out what the education landscape will entail next week, let alone several months from now as the traditional back-to-school season approaches.
While I’ve yet to meet a superintendent or school administrator in possession of a crystal ball and we simply don’t know what the fall will bring, there are some things that can be controlled for. We can all lay the groundwork now for what and how to communicate with the school community. Effectively communicating to stakeholders, especially families, is always essential for schools, but never more so than at present.
Families are stressed out, grieving or experiencing financial hardships. Their lives have been turned upside down. Many never realized how much they relied on schools for a sense of normalcy in their lives and the lives of their children. For that reason, it’s critical schools keep an open dialogue with families—ensuring they’re apprised of information that is critical to their children’s education. This transparency will not only alleviate stress, it will strengthen the district’s relationship with families and build trust to last for the long-haul.
As schools do their best to prepare for the 2020-21 school year, there are more questions than answers. Will the disruption during the current school year lead to an earlier start to the next? What happens if the Governor calls for a delayed opening of school buildings—will schools start online and shift to in-person later in the year? If so, are there labor implications that need to be addressed? How will extra-curricular activities—such as sports and theater—continue?
Schools don’t have all the answers and may not for weeks or even months. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stay silent. School leaders should proactively ask those questions in their communications to families and community partners, sharing that the district is diligently working to resolve these issues and will update residents as soon as possible. Demonstrate a commitment to student well-being and continued education, and a long-term view for the district.
Assemble a nimble communications plan today, understanding the many variables in play. Consider options A, B, C and D, and how families will be reached in each scenario. Doing so today will save districts many a headache tomorrow.
Communications amid COVID-19 requires two primary considerations: being transparent to the extent you’re able and demonstrating empathy. Remember, we are stronger working together than we are alone.