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Exploring the Merits of a Permanent Campaign Amid Declining Enrollments

A megaphone is a heck of a tool. It’s loud—and it gets the message out. But if your school communication strategy feels outbound obsessed, it’s time to up your game.

In a world where seemingly everyone in your community is online and on social media 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s natural that parents and teachers and students would talk about your schools. The question is whether you’re doing enough to be a part of that conversation.

Public education looks different today. The rise of school choice in America means public school districts, charter schools, and private schools now compete for the same students. Parents, employees, and community members want and expect a voice in important district and school decisions. These days, you can’t assume students will show up at your school doors in the fall—or that their parents will be fine with the decisions you make when they do.

As a school communicator, it’s more important than ever that you get your community members the information they need, when they need it—and they need it all the time.

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A changing landscape

Simply put, the role of school communications has changed, and your strategy needs to change with it.

One and done communications plans won’t work anymore. Real community engagement is an ongoing process—one that is constantly adapted and updated based on the conversation your community is having, something I like to call “The Permanent Campaign.”

Want to get your permanent campaign started? Here’s what you can do right now:

1. Think about your approach

When it’s time to communicate about an event or a critical school system issue—say, your new bond campaign or the results of your annual school climate survey—it’s easy to think only about your primary goal: Getting the right information to the right people. But each community touchpoint is an opportunity to tell your story. Consider establishing overarching themes or pulling core talking points from your strategic plan. Then map your touchpoints to those ideas.

2. Remember: Perception trumps message

Is your district seen as one that is willing to listen to and understand the community’s needs? Can people find you—and your messaging—at the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood associations? Or, do they see you as someone who comes along only during budget time or ahead of a bond election?

3. Get your school buildings on board

Your district office is home base for operations, but your schools are where your community spends its time. It’s critical that your schools embrace and share the same overarching message. Create a process for filtering communications to school leaders for their publications, school websites, and social media. And make sure building leaders understand why your brand matters.

4. Don’t shortchange other services

Of course, academics and test scores are critical, but it’s not the only thing you do. Chances are, your district offers services that your community knows little about. Whether it’s programs for the homeless, or the use of facilities for sporting and community events. Knowing everything your district does to serve families will impact how your community feels about the work that you do.

For more on how to create a permanent campaign, check out the School Leader’s Definitive Guide to School Communication.

Is your district already working to create a permanent communications campaign? Tell us about it in the comments.