There is No One-Size-Fits-All for School Communication

Topics: Community Partnerships, Education Policy, ESSA

A Minnesota superintendent shares the approach her school district used for school communication in her community and why it works. Guest post by Mary Tighe

How do you engage an audience around a goal? How do you convince them to care?

These are constant questions for communication professionals in any field, including personalized learning.

Throughout the field, communicators have used various strategies to share why personalized learning is the best path forward for education. We’ve written inspiring student success stories and told tales of school transformation. We’ve pulled graduation data and shared dire data about a future filled with unknowns. We’ve created videos and taken beautiful photos, shared parent quotes and explored teacher perspectives.

Unfortunately, these messages fall flat unless you tap into the audience’s specific motivations. Parents may believe an education system that worked well for them will also work well for their children. Community members may be skeptical of ‘feel-good’ messages without concrete facts. Educators may disengage around ominous data.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for school communication and community engagement.

Lessons learned from one community on effective communication to the community

Recently, I chatted with Lisa Snyder about the need for Lakeville Area Public Schools to figure out their ‘compelling why.’ When the Minnesota district started exploring personalized learning, the entire community needed a mind shift and better understanding to support the movement. There was a common argument among parents: “If I was educated in this way and am now a successful adult, why won’t it also help my child succeed?”

Students will grow up and enter a world where work and life look very different than today, Lisa explained. Education isn’t preparing students for that future.

To effectively communicate, she knew the district needed to learn more about their parents and community members.

“We weren’t connecting with our stakeholders and understanding what parents wanted for their kids,” Lisa said.

The district dug deeper into community motivations and concerns through a survey, with one main takeaway: Parents were concerned their children might not find work in the region after school, forcing them to move home or across the country for work.

District leaders then looked to local economic data and found that by 2020, most jobs in Minneapolis and St. Paul – the nearest urban area – would focus on healthcare and technology. With that, the district considered the curriculum and any gaps in preparing students for those fields, and they readjusted their communications approach and strategic plan. They focused on telling a data-driven story about how to prepare students for a successful career with a local company.

Since implementing community surveys, the district has not only built community will around personalized learning, but has also passed three school levies in six years.

“We asked the right questions and aligned our responses to what parents and communities said they wanted for kids,” Lisa said.

Are you looking to rally parents around personalized learning? Here are twelve tips from Superintendents in districts that have already made the switch.