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#TSPRA16: There is no trust in schools without listening

As school communications leaders gather in Austin this week for the Texas School Public Relations Association annual conference, there is sure to be plenty of talk about the changing nature of communications in schools.

While most school PR professionals are well versed in the art of messaging, few have been forced to compete for families and students in a free-market education system.

To get ahead, today’s communications leaders must do more than protect their brand. They have to earn the confidence of parents and students. That process starts with listening.

At the Hays Consolidated Independent School District in Kyle, a booming population, coupled with a growing need for language immersion, challenged school leaders to uphold longstanding traditions while pivoting to meet the evolving needs of its community—that, or risk losing students to other schools.

Faced with decisions that would impact decades of history and tradition, the district openly sought the advice of parents, teachers, students, and staff. Through a combination of community-based surveys and a commitment to always-on listening, education officials set about drafting a blueprint for reform based on mutual trust.

“Checking the pulse of our community really helps us make better decisions and prioritize things in ways that are closer to home for our stakeholders,” explains Christina Courson, the district’s communications specialist. Whether you can instantly solve an issue may be less important than how you respond to requests and keep your community up-to-speed on your decision making.

Hays isn’t the only district in the Lone Star State to set its sights on better community engagement.

At the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District in Fort Worth, Superintendent Dr. Jim Chadwell is doubling down on improved customer service. Chadwell urges his team to take a disciplined, business-minded approach to listening and responding to community concerns.

Parents and staff need to feel like they have a voice, explains Chadwell. Otherwise, “their stress level goes up and they’ll feel less trustful.”

Interested in hearing more about how educators at Hays and Eagle Mountain-Saginaw build trust through stronger community engagement? Representatives from both districts are presenting at TSPRA this year.

If you’re at the event, don’t miss “Your School Talks Too Much: Build Community Trust By Becoming a Better Listener.” The session kicks off in the Cypress Room, Wednesday, February 24, from 3:45 p.m. to 4:45 pm, local Austin time.

If you’re not in Texas for this year’s program and you want to do some more thinking on the topic for your school or district, this short infographic highlighting listening tips for school leaders and others is worth a look.

Have other ideas for ways to build trust through better listening at your schools? Tell us in the comments. Or share them on Twitter using the hashtag #TSPRA16.