2020-2021 Superintendents to Watch-Dr.Tawana Grover

Dr. Tawana Grover,

Dr. Tawana Grover
Grand Island (Neb.) Public Schools
@DrTGrover @GIPublicSchools

What does leadership mean to you?

Being superintendent, I appreciate the importance of leading from the top, being around the table with influencers and simultaneously treading in the trenches as to never lose sight of the vital roles everyone plays in helping students succeed. Leadership requires strong conviction towards a moral imperative. Leaders can not lose sight of the north star. During very innocent interactions and moreover, complex circumstances, we are always building trust. Communication is crucial. Partnerships help create a vision that people want to be a part of and authentically serving others with a genuine heart is the linchpin of leadership that makes what seems impossible possible.

How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?

As a team, we were determined to make our strategic plan actionable by intentionally integrating a communication element. Objective eight of our strategic plan states the Grand Island community will be regularly engaged as partners in ensuring our students’ success. We rebranded our communications department to a vision of strategic partnership and stakeholder engagement. Over the last four years, we have added two new positions to advance the strategic plan efforts. When building our annual communication plan, we consider the role of communication to support our four pillars: Empower, Personalize, Design, Partner. Training principals on constructing effective communication is part of empowering administrators to be instructional leaders. We continue to collaborate with the media to consistently involve the community in strategic plan initiatives. We present the annual plan to the Board of Education and utilize data tracking to chart key performance indicators for stakeholder engagement.

What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?

I’m most proud of the “Changing Shoes” project, which involved me shadowing and doing the job of different staff members. The project captured me on video experiencing these roles. 

Displaying empathy has become part of our fabric. This was an incredible approach to better understand the experiences of our staff.   I worked in one of our middle school cafeterias, where I learned the kitchen staff sometimes paid for meals if kids didn’t have enough money. Each video uncovers even more heartfelt examples of the love our staff have for their jobs and our kids.  Stepping into what some of our staff do on a daily basis made me appreciate them even more. I learned so much through the “Changing Shoes” project, but I believe our staff and community also learned about me as a leader and a learner.  Ultimately, we showcased the somewhat behind the scenes work in our district and spotlighted staff, and as a result, our entire school district connected on a deeper level.

What communication tool do you enjoy using the most in your profession? Why?

My weekly blog is special because I can share the wonderful happenings in our district.  Stakeholder groups involving staff, community leaders, parents, and students allow for idea sharing, problem solving and a means to receiving feedback.  Through videos and live events via social media, I can connect with broad audiences. The video and live events seem to instantly produce a level of genuineness and allow space for clarity that can sometimes be lost in one-way written communication tools.   We have a weekly radio spot and I appreciate how the airways are open to a wide-range of folks. I love including voices from the field during the segments and we sometimes go live on social media from the radio studio. Often being a guest speaker offers me unique opportunities to spotlight our district, staff and students. I take any chance I can, whether I’m serving on a panel or conducting a training, to leverage “microphone moments” to reinforce our mission and make a call to action.

How have you used social media in your strategic communication efforts?

Access to information is an equity issue, and we must continue to evolve for every student to make every day a success.Social media has proved to be a vital tool. During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we started “Story Time Live,” which was a Facebook Live video every night of a different GIPS staff member reading a children’s story. This helped us stay engaged with our families and staff while in remote learning. We also created a Facebook page for our social workers to share videos on social-emotional tips with families. One of the greatest feats was live streaming graduation on Facebook.   Social media is a go-to for live updates from events such as meal distribution, fun runs, band nights or as a way to thank the community.   We recognize the value of the student voice and created district-supported social media platforms  that allow our student leaders to connect with the student body. Our virtual town halls are now a staple.