Be the Chief Storyteller for Your School

7 strategies to lead beyond the newsletter by the national panel on innovative communication.
By Julie Bloss
July 2018, Volume 41, Issue 11

Because there has been a dramatic shift I the past five years regarding student and family communication, I was extremely excited to attend “Beyond the Newsletter: National Panel on Innovative Communication & Student Voice” at NAESP’s 2018 annual conference in Orlando. The session description promised to “empower the principal to lead beyond the newsletter.”

Moderated by NAESP’s Kaylen Tucker, the panel featured Amber Teaman, Latoya Dixon, Brad Gustafson, Jon Harper, and Lynell Powell. Because I follow so many of the panelists on social media, I knew the session would definitely leave me empowered and full new ideas for the upcoming school year. Here are my top 7 takeaways.

1. Choose the right communication tools for your school, students, and families.
Select a variety of communication tools to reach your audience. It isn’t useful to use a tool if your audience doesn’t use it or have access to it. For example, if your audience population doesn’t use Twitter, gravitate to the social media tool that they do use. Consider whether families in your district have access to devices and Wi-Fi. Also, determine if families will also want print copies of items such as newsletters.

2. Try new tools.
What platform will deliver the biggest “bang for my buck” to transform communication? Facebook stood out as the go-to platform for the panelists. Principals can use it to highlight what students and schools are doing daily, as well as showcase instruction and share announcements. By communicating this type of information in “real time” verses the traditional weekly or monthly newsletter, families are better connected and informed. 

3. Help students show ownership.
Involve students in telling their own stories. By simply creating a school hashtag and using the same phrases or references, families and community become connected to the school site and students. Examples: #proudprincipal, #wearewhitt, #GWreads. Such hashtags build relationships with families and help them immediately become a part of whatever message you are sharing.

4. Be the chief storyteller.
The principal should be the chief storyteller of the school. But when the storyteller is quiet—others provide the story—and it may not be the correct one or the one you want told. Social media is a powerful communication tool—use it to highlight student learning and to show families what is happening in schools in real time. 

5. Use innovative strategies to communicate with you staff.
Video record your weekly staff bulletins, and then consider throwing in a carpool karaoke to jazz things up. Panelists suggested using Smore and Flipgrid to spice up communications.

6. Hold small group meetings.
Some parents may fear schools due to misconceptions or based on their own negative experiences. Consider having monthly small group meetings with parents to discuss key issues and to assist nervous parents who may have qualms or need reassurance.

7. Don’t forget face-to-face and other low-tech strategies.
Panelists discussed going on home visits to distribute welcome materials and to introduce themselves, sending postcards, and making daily positive phone calls. If people don’t feel seen and heard, they will not care about your social media presence. One panelist shared how he tries to listen on the phone more with upset callers and then carefully selects his words to help the caller feel heard and understood.  Another principal shared how she purposefully hosts a variety of parent activities before school begins in order to have positive face-to-face contacts.

While communications platforms have evolved over the years, the key components are still the same. Families need to be informed about their children’s progress at school, programs, and engagement opportunities. Through determining your audience’s preference of tools (paper, social media options, face-to-face contacts, phone calls, written correspondence, websites, etc.), the principal now has many options available to become the chief storyteller of his or her school. Be bold! Be passionate! No one knows your school, students and story better than you!

Julie Bloss is principal of Grove Early Childhood Center in Grove, Oklahoma.

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