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Leadership Superpower: The Art of Listening for School Leaders

It’s a superhero’s job to save the day.

But true superheroes don’t—and shouldn’t—wait for a crisis to jump into action. Prevention in itself is a superpower.

As part of our ongoing series on K-12 customer experience superheroes, we’re spotlighting three Texas school districts that use listening, and community engagement, to help prevent safety-related crises on and off campus.

Giving the community a voice in school safety

With 53,000 students in its care, safety has always been a top priority at Klein ISD. But an increase in school tragedies nationwide, including last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, spurred Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion and his team to give their community a stronger voice in school safety.

In many cases, says community relations manager Justin Elbert, conversations about school safety don’t stop when the bell rings at the end of the day—in fact, the conversation often picks up.

“Now kids go home and they’re even more connected than they are at school, and they’re sharing all these things that they hear,” Elbert explains. “Students are our eyes and ears. They know their friends and their community better than we ever could, and we needed to find a way to tap into that.”

That’s the thinking behind Keep Klein Safe, the district’s online initiative and training program that empowers students, parents, and staff to report safety concerns, ask questions, and inform the district’s evolving safety and security policies. The service is available 24/7 and managed by the district’s internal police department, in collaboration with administrators in other key departments.

Powered by a cloud-based community engagement and customer service solution called Let’s Talk!, from K12 Insight, the system both solicits feedback from community members and gives school leaders the ability to collaborate on responses. On the backend, a simple dashboard helps district leaders measure and improve the quality and timeliness of their replies and build trust with the broader school community.

Keep Klein Safe school safety

A special Critical Alerts feature lets team members flag messages that include potentially troubling keywords, such as bomb, gun, or suicide, and prioritize them for the fastest possible response.

“With the Let’s Talk! App, we’re able to provide almost instantaneous feedback, or at least very timely feedback, to our students, parents, and staff,” says Klein ISD Police Chief David Kimberly. “That’s part of making sure people feel safe as well as ensuring they are safe.”

Putting a stop to bullying

To ensure compliance with David’s Law, an anti-bullying measure in Texas, Spring ISD sought a way for its 36,000 students to report bullying anonymously, while ensuring contact with a victim’s family happened within 72 hours of a report.

The answer was an initiative called Stop Bullying, which features an online form powered by Let’s Talk!.

“This new tool adds another way for people to let us know about a potential bullying situation with the option of staying anonymous,” Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, chief communication officer at Spring ISD, said in a news release. “We have always encouraged our students, staff and parents to report any bullying concerns, and this just gives us another way to address those concerns.”

Dunne-Oldfield said the tool works because it gives administrators a “clear line of sight” from the bullying report to investigation to intervention.

“It gives us the ability to look across and see patterns that really help us inform how we bring education and awareness to what bullying is versus conflict,” she says. “But also, we can do some remediation on a campus if we see more frequent bullying incidents.”

Importantly, the district’s Report Bullying tool doesn’t just protect victims of bullying, says Dunne-Oldfield, it also gives administrators a means to identify students who are exhibiting bullying behavior and intervene to provide support and education.

spring isd stop bullying

Stomping out bullying one conversation at a time

Manor ISD bullying preventionJust outside of Austin, the 9,000-student Manor ISD also sought a way to comply with David’s Law. Though the district previously had a strong bullying awareness program, it needed better reporting, said communications director Scott Thomas. That’s when they turned to Let’s Talk!

“If anyone even mentions the word bullying or harassment or fights, we get a critical alert,” Thomas says. “Myself, our superintendent, our assistant superintendent who oversees bullying, and our director of student safety all get a notice saying someone is talking about bullying on the platform. That allows us to respond within hours if not the hour.”

The tool also allows district administrators to reassign reports to school site administrators who are best equipped to handle individual cases. As Thomas explains it, “We know the report getting resolved, but the person who’s best equipped to do that—the principal or assistant principal at the campus—can kind of take the ball and run with it after we’ve gotten that initial notification.”

This way, school leaders don’t simply hand off the dialogue to administrators and run the risk of losing track, Thomas says. “We’ve trained all of our school administrators to respond within the system so we know the parents have gotten a response. Even if we aren’t the ones responding to it, we follow it all the way through.”

Want to find out how you can better listen to your community? Sign up for a free walk-through of our Let’s Talk! customer experience solution.

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