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NSPRA 2018: We all need a little community

Julie Thannum

I was born in a small town.

I cannot type or read those words without singing. (Thank you, Mr. Mellencamp.) Even now, I can close my eyes and mentally travel back to my childhood. I grew up in a Southern Illinois town called Marissa. It was most definitely a small town–just about 2,400 people called this little community their home. But I loved it. It was quaint. And everybody knew their neighbors and took care of each other.

Growing up in a small town was wonderful. I remember riding bikes with the neighborhood kids, playing outside until it was dark, competing against nearby towns in little league softball, and eventually getting my license and driving my brother’s yellow Mustang up and down Main Street until curfew.

I remember family reunions, the annual Coal Festival, and the whole community coming out to support sports teams who won championships with a parade through town on the fire truck. My parents still live there today. They know their neighbors. They all watch out for each other and pitch in to help when needed. After all these years, the sense of community in small town Marissa remains.

In the past, community has traditionally been determined by proximity or location. Merriam-Webster defines community as “people of common interest who are living in a particular area.”

Not necessarily, says Steve King, a social media and digital content strategist who works as Manager of Capital Region BOCES Communication Services in Albany, New York.

In Steve’s recent episode of Podcast for Creatives, he and cohost Michelle Hickey explore new definitions for community. In fact, these two extremely creative thought leaders say it’s not about how many people there are or where they are located; it’s about the support you give and receive. And the ways to do so are now endless.

“Do you think we should be redefining what community is?” asks Michelle. “Is you connecting with just one person over Twitter–is that community?”

By Webster’s definition no. But social media has blown our preconceived ideas out of the water.

“I think anything that provides you support, whether it’s just somebody who likes a tweet or somebody who messages you or somebody who is looking out for a shared common goal,” King says. “I think a community can be two people.”

I agree with Steve.

My professional community was born in 1996 when I joined the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). I had been a member of my state chapter, the Texas School Public Relations Association since 1990, but I gained an even greater perspective when I became associated with NSPRA while pursuing my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR).

My first NSPRA seminar was in Phoenix, Arizona in July 1996. If there’s one place you don’t want to be in July, it’s Phoenix. They say it’s a dry heat. Right. . .TBH, it’s just hot. Still, I soaked up the expertise and knowledge shared by colleagues from all across the nation. I went home excited and full of ideas. Being with these #schoolpr people reminded me that I was not alone – that there were others just like me who “get it.”

I had found my tribe.

That first NSPRA Seminar would set me on a course for change for which I will forever be grateful.  My passion for school communications was fueled by PR greats like Pat Jackson, Bill Banach, and Rich Bagin. Decades later, I’ve been to NSPRA Seminars all over the US. Each July, I join colleagues and friends to learn from the best in our business. . .to network, to connect, to find community.

According to NSPRA, their National Seminar is the largest gathering of school communication professionals in North America, bringing together outstanding experts and practitioners in communication and leadership for four days of collaboration and learning. In the past 22 years, I have only missed two seminars–one because of a Superintendent search and one because of an H1N1 flu epidemic. The NSPRA Seminar is the place I go to recharge, refuel, and renew.

This year, it’s in Anaheim. And like a giddy little kid, I cannot wait.

A school PR colleague and past NSPRA President Barry Gaskins left this life way too soon, but his words remind me that I NEED to spend time with people who understand the stresses that fall on school leaders. My dear friend Barry would say, “Work hard, play hard, sleep when you get home!”  He understood the importance of connecting and networking with other people. He was the king of social.

Barry would have loved Twitter. I suspect he would be a regular in the bi-monthly online #k12prchats where education professionals across the country come together to share ideas, debate issues, and challenge one another’s thinking.

The great thing about a “no-borders community” is that you can take advantage of Twitter hashtags to join the conversation. No more will tight school budgets or schedule conflicts have to keep you from learning and growing. Sharing with others is one of the greatest things I’ve learned from the NSPRA community.

Some districts say they cannot afford a school PR professional. I believe that no district can afford not to have a school PR professional. Effective two-way school communications based on authentic public engagement is not a luxury; it’s imperative for every district. You need a strategic, well-articulated communications plan to guide you through day-to-day issues, crises, and social media storms. Somebody in your district has to be responsible for communicating with stakeholders. That skill takes training and expertise just like classroom instruction.

And nobody does that better than NSPRA. Don’t wait until a crisis to seek #schoolpr help. Join the NSPRA community and start benefitting from members like Steve King. His Podcast For Creatives is available by simply visiting http://www.apodcastforcreatives.com/about/.

Through this podcast, you’ll find ideas to help up your game, and share experiences with a community of creatives who understand what it’s like to work and create in a digital world.

Thanks to social media, we can now all live in a small town.

If you’re planning to attend the July 15-18 NSPRA Seminar in Anaheim, here are a couple of resources to help you maximize your experience:

PDF: Tips For Getting The Most Out Of the 65th NSPRA Seminar

Podcast: How to Make the Most of #NSPRA2018 Conference

And for those of you unable to attend, jump on Twitter and follow the learning and sharing @NSPRA using the hashtag: #NSPRA2018

This year I’ll be sharing some thoughts on Learning and Leading from a Growth Mindset. The July 18th 10:30 am session (Pacific Daylight Time) will include a live Twitter chat with panelists from #k12prchat. You, too, can keep the conversation going by joining us online every other Tuesday at 9 p.m. eastern time using the hashtag: #k12prchat

For those of you not in #schoolPR, reach out and let us know how you fill that innermost need for belonging and community.

About the Author

Julie Thannum
Julie Thannum, APR, is assistant superintendent for board and community relations at Carroll ISD in Texas and past president of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).

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