K-12 Education and Coronavirus Communications: Guidance From Our Nation’s K-12 PR Experts

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From Maine to Alaska, and everywhere in-between, school districts across the United States are working hard to help their students, staff, and communities respond to the outbreak of COVID-19.  As a technology partner in education, it is important that our products are ready to facilitate student success, even when classes and schedules may be disrupted.  And, we also know that we are uniquely equipped to help bring K-12 education leaders together to share their best practices and guidance as this situation unfolds.  This post includes a variety of helpful materials that we are offering to assist districts during this challenging time:  NSPRA Resources, Blackboard Support, and Peer Guidance. 

NSPRA Resources 

We looked out into the world of K-12 PR and Communications and thought about the resources and insights that would best enable everyone to deliver accurate and timely information to families, enroll and empower communities, and most importantly, keep kids learning.  Already, NSPRA, the National School Public Relations Association had developed a set of excellent resources to help districts of all sizes as they keep their communities informed during the spread of Coronavirus and protect the families they serve. We recently partnered with NSPRA to bring these resources free of charge to all public schools and have shared those resources on our Coronavirus Communication Resource page.  Additionally, we will be hosting a “Communicating COVID-19” webinar with NSPRA, and a panel of leading school PR experts from around the country on March 18, 2020 at 11:00 Eastern. We invite you to join us, and to bring your questions for our experts. 

Blackboard Support 

As our clients leverage Blackboard tools to facilitate learning and communications, we want to provide plenty of support and assistance along the way.  We have planned a series of Open Office Hours covering topics such as ideas for student engagement, virtual collaboration tips, and online learning management best practices. There are also Blackboard tools that schools may want to consider adopting or enabling, several free of charge.  Information on Blackboard tools and office hours can also be found on our Coronavirus Communication Resource page. You also may want to check out another recent Blackboard blog post from Brent Mundy, Sr. Director of Product Management, for more suggestions and resources offered to Blackboard clients around the globe. 

Peer Guidance 

We also reached out to a group of K-12 leaders and clients in our network.  These are people whom the K-12 community relies upon to share what has worked for them, to offer guidance, and oftentimes, shoulder to lean upon when life throws a curveball.  Also, in collaboration with NSRPA, we are bringing these influential leaders forward in a few different forums to offer their perspectives.   

Read below for a preview of insights from four amazing K-12 PR experts about how they are preparing and informing their local communities.  We will be sharing their full blog posts this week, one per day.  (You may want to bookmark this page.) 

Lesley Bruinton, Tuscaloosa City Schools 

First, breathe. Your colleagues are looking to you for guidance on how best to communicate–because, after all, you are the expert. Your demeanor and your communication efforts must communicate the calm to stakeholders. Secondly, determine a protocol for resource sharing. Work with your colleagues to find out which pieces of information should be shared and when. Recognize (for the time being), this will be an on-going communication issue and you don’t have to disseminate all the resources at once. 

Tracy Jentz, Grand Forks Public Schools 

Inform your administrators and employees first of communications, and then students and families. Employees receive many inquiries and using this format, they will have consistent information to share and help dispel rumors and inaccurate content. Don’t forget to leverage all appropriate communication channels (face-to-face, phone call, email, SMS/text message, website, mobile app, etc.). The more ways we convey and repeat our message, the more opportunities we have to share accurate information. 

Julie Thannum, Carrol ISD 

A public health situation like COVID-19 does not discriminate. We need to make sure we are taking care of providing facts to everyone equitably. But we also need to take extra measures to protect the unprotected. We talk about shutting schools down for cleaning, but where do our homeless students go and what do our free and reduced lunch kids do for food?  School is often the most friendly, inviting and safe place for our students to be. Sending them home for unknown periods of quarantine or isolation can sometimes cause greater anxieties. As school communicators, our voice at the table has to include questions and provisions for those in our district who need us most. 

Tove Tupper, Highline Public Schools 

My advice is to communicate early and often. The guidelines and updates coming from our local public health agency are frequent and constantly evolving. We want to make sure our staff and families receive factual information and stay calm. To do this, we have committed to providing at least one update per day to staff and families. 

We thank you for your dedication and hard work on behalf of all our students across the country, and we are eager to help you in this great effort.  Please visit our Coronavirus Communication Resource page for these and other resources over the coming weeks.