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The Growing Importance of School Communicators: What’s Next in Education

Julie Thannum
Julie Thannum, APR

Today’s school leaders are quickly learning that quality academics alone doesn’t ensure school success or parent loyalty.

In today’s shifting education landscape, how well schools engage community members and include them in important decisions is often the difference between retaining or losing students.

It’s why school communicators play such an important role on today’s K-12 district teams.

Julie Thannum has witnessed the impact of effective school communications first hand. As assistant superintendent for board and community relations at Carroll ISD in Texas and past president of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), she’s become a leading voice on the power of school communications and PR.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce our latest TrustED column: On Point with Julie Thannum.

Each month, Julie will bring her unique perspective on the challenges faced by school communicators—challenges such as ethics, building new strategies, and marketing and branding—to the TrustED audience. Look for the first edition of her column next week.

Can’t wait for Julie’s insights?

Ahead of her column’s official launch, we asked Julie to share the three most important communication trends she envisions for school districts in the months ahead.

So, what’s next?

1. Public Schools will experience an even greater reliance on mobile communications, social media, and research

As more millennials become public school parents, school districts need to meet those parents where they are.

“Although face-to-face will always be the best way to communicate,” Thannum says, “the challenges of a mobile society will continue to force K-12 organizations off the printed page into the cloud of growing social media consumers.”

Districts will increasingly rely on students and teachers to “virtually” bring parents and community members into their classrooms through social media and other tools, Thannum says.

Thannum points to Collier County Public Schools (@collierschools) in Florida, where Greg Turchetta (@NewsBoss), executive director of communications and community engagement, has recruited a cadre of “tweetchers” to help tell their district’s story via social media.

On the backend, social media channels give districts important data through which they can hone their messaging and target specific audiences. But, as Thannum reminds us, “the challenge of keeping up with emerging technologies will become imperative for schools to maintain relevance in a world more increasingly reliant on them.”

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2. K-12 schools will emphasize a message of inclusion in the face of national political rhetoric

Says Thannum: “In talking with PR colleagues around the nation, we feel nurturing inclusivity is as important now as it was during the Civil Rights movement.”

At the heart of this dialogue, Thannum says, is an emphasis on the importance of diversity and the celebration of differences among students and staff.

A great example of this can be found across our northern border, in Canada, she says.

Peel Schools (@Peelschools) in Ontario, for instance, has worked to create a culture of inclusiveness through their communications program, led by Carla Pereira (@Carla_Pereira2) and Brian Woodland (@brian_woodland) before her.

As the political rhetoric in this country grows more divisive, Thannum says schools have an important role to play in shifting the national dialogue.

3. The role of the school public relations professional will expand as school leaders understand the importance of engaging their communities

Thannum says she’s seen many superintendents working to expand their communications teams and budgets.

That’s because “expectations for consistent school-to-home communications have changed, and taxpayers in our communities demand more two-way, systemic conversations with their public schools. No longer do educators have the luxury of making decisions without involving, educating, and engaging their audiences.”

For those districts working to build out their communications and engagement strategies, Thannum recommends groups like NSPRA (@NSPRA), who provide communications resources and expertise for school districts.

She also points to a growing list of online communities and forums, such as #k12prchat and #suptchat on Twitter, as safe, productive places where school communicators can share and discuss successful strategies and impediments to their work.

Do you agree with these trends? Are there others that you think should be on this list? Tell us in the comments. Or, share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #WhatsNextTrustED. And don’t miss Julie Thannum’s new column, On Point, starting next week.