Effective communication is a cornerstone (and a requirement) of any successful school management plan. It’s crucial for districts to keep parents, students, and staff well-informed about all the latest developments, events, and news — both big and small, good and bad. That’s where the importance of a school communications committee becomes clear.
When school offices are aligned in their communications approach and utilize the appropriate tools, districts can create a unified, efficient, and comprehensive communication strategy — one that solidifies the messaging, streamlines the distribution process, and ultimately, creates trust within the district.
But for districts looking to establish their own committees and optimize their communication efforts without having too many cooks in the kitchen, where does one even start?
Here are the best practices for creating a committee, deciding on communications tools, and managing the overall communications process.
Forming Your District Communications Committee
Identifying Key Stakeholders
First things first, let's talk about the main players in this game. When it comes to creating school communication teams, there are a few key stakeholders you'll want to involve:
- District administrators
- School leaders
- Support staff
By including representatives from each of these groups, yes, even students... you'll ensure that everyone's needs are considered, making your committee as effective as possible while involving a diversity of thought, background, and expertise.
Defining Roles and Responsibilities
With your stakeholders in place, it's time to assign roles and responsibilities. Here are a few suggestions for roles you might want to include:
- Chairperson: This person leads the committee, overseeing meetings, and ensuring everyone stays on track.
- Administrators: You’ll need representation for major decisions regarding your school’s policies and procedures.
- Content creators: These talented folks are responsible for creating engaging content for the various communication tools you'll use. Don't forget to include your students here for valuable user-generated content.
- Social media managers: These individuals manage your school's social media accounts, ensuring your social presence is on brand.
- Website administrators: These team members maintain and update your school's website, ensuring it's always a reliable source of information.
The Northshore School District Communications Department is committed to working collaboratively with its community to meet the district's goal of providing open communications for all families, students, staff, and community partners. Department directories, PR contacts, newsletters, and stories from the district are just a few of the resources provided on its webpage.
Establishing Committee Goals
Now that your team is in place, it's time to set some goals to determine how your schools communicate with parents. Here are a few objectives your communications committee might aim to achieve:
- Enhance communication within the school community: Keep everyone informed about events, news, and other important happenings around the district.
- Enforce and improve the school's branding: Showcase your school's strengths and achievements to the wider community.
- Facilitate the sharing of important information: Make sure critical news and announcements reach their intended audiences quickly and efficiently.
- Chain of command: What’s the process for distributing urgent announcements? Who crafts the message, who provides the distribution lists, and who eventually hits “send?” Knowing who does what and when can help eliminate any confusion when a communication needs to go out.
Deciding on District Communications Tools
When it comes to communication tools for schools, there are plenty of options out there. Let's explore some of the most popular school communication tools and how they can benefit your committee:
Email is a tried-and-true method for reaching a large audience quickly, but consider both the pros and cons of using email:
- Advantages: Email is accessible, easy to use, and offers the ability to include attachments.
- Disadvantages: Some people may ignore or overlook emails, and there's sometimes the risk of ending up in the dreaded spam folder.
- Best practices: Use attention-grabbing subject lines, keep your messages concise, and always include clear calls to action.
Mass notifications are great for getting the word out quickly across multiple platforms, especially for urgent communications. Here's what you need to know:
- Advantages: They can be sent via text message, phone call, or email, ensuring your message reaches everyone, regardless of their preferred communication method.
- Disadvantages: They can feel impersonal and may not be suitable for all types of information.
- Best practices: Reserve mass notifications for urgent or time-sensitive updates, and always follow up with more detailed information as needed.
Social media is a powerful tool for connecting with your school community. Here's how to make the most of it:
- Advantages: Social media allows for real-time updates, engaging content, and easy sharing of information.
- Disadvantages: These public platforms can be distracting, and managing multiple accounts can be time-consuming. Plus, not everyone is on social media.
- Best practices: You don’t have to be on every platform, so choose the platforms that best suit your audience, post consistently, and engage with your followers by responding to comments and messages.
Virginia Beach City School’s Department of Communications and Community Engagement oversees the district’s Office of Family & Community Engagement. Through an Instagram account, they’ve leveraged the power of social media to strengthen connections and communication with families and students. Consider how you can incorporate social media communications too.
Mobile App Announcements
Mobile apps are becoming increasingly popular as school communication tools. Here's why:
- Advantages: They offer a direct line of communication to parents and students, and can include features like calendars, directories, and push notifications catered to different audiences like separate schools, divisions, or interests.
- Disadvantages: Not everyone may be used to checking a mobile app regularly.
- Best practices: Ensure your app is user-friendly, frequently updated, and compatible with various devices.
Your school's website is an essential hub of information. Make sure it's working for you with these tips:
- Advantages: Through a parent, trustee, or student portal for example, websites offer a central location for all your school's information, and can be easily accessed from any device.
- Disadvantages: Websites can be overlooked if they're not regularly updated, and may not be the best medium for urgent updates.
- Best practices: Keep your website up to date, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly.
Managing Your Communications Committee
Developing a Communications Plan
To make the most of your chosen communication tools, it's crucial to develop a strategic plan. Here are some steps to get you started:
- Identifying target audiences: Determine who you're trying to reach with your communications, such as parents, students, or staff.
- Setting objectives: What do you hope to achieve with your communications? This could include raising awareness, driving engagement, or informing your audience.
- Establishing a timeline: Create a communication schedule, outlining when and how often you'll share updates.
Monitoring and Evaluating Effectiveness
It's essential to track the success of your communication efforts, so you can make adjustments as needed. Here's how:
- Measuring reach and engagement: Use analytics tools to track the number of people who see and interact with your content.
- Collecting feedback: Regularly solicit feedback from your audience to identify areas for improvement.
- Adjusting strategies as needed: Use your data and feedback to make changes to your communications plan, ensuring it remains effective and relevant.
New Hanover County School’s Family Communications Committee concisely outlines its goals for its district-wide parent communication policies and discusses innovative ways to involve parents, among other priorities.
Kudos for including a feedback form for families to submit questions and comments about to school and district communications policies and processes.
Ensuring Accessibility and Inclusivity
Lastly, it's crucial for your team to agree on the best way to ensure your district’s website and communications are accessible and inclusive to all members of your school community. Keep these tips in mind:
- Adhering to accessibility standards: Make sure your content is easy to read, understandable, and accessible for people with disabilities. Consider selecting a content management system with a built-in accessible checker or web accessibility partner, like AudioEye, which can flag accessibility issues and suggest changes, as well as create a more accessible web experience for users.
- Providing translations and alternate formats: Think about finding a translation partner, like Weglot, to offer content in 100+ languages in just a click.
- Promoting a culture of inclusivity: Foster a welcoming and supportive environment through your communications, making sure all voices are heard and valued.
Remember, effective communication is the key to fostering a strong and supportive school community. With the support of your newly formed communications committee armed with the best communications tools for schools, it's time to get out there and start connecting with more families.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.