5 Communication Strategies to Prepare for Challenging Times

As the jury deliberates in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, communities across the country are again preparing to digest a verdict with wide-reaching impacts.

Some education leaders may feel moved to share their school districts' perspectives with students, families and employees on important issues that could emerge from the verdict, including issues that could give rise to local protests or other civic action.

The National School Public Relations Association offers a Race Relations and Equity Communications Resources webpage and a Resources for Supporting Democracy and Politics in Action webpage, both of which include articles, webinars, school district examples and other resources to help communicators plan and respond to such challenging issues. In addition, NSPRA offers the following five strategies for school public relations professionals who want to prepare for communications during these potentially challenging times:

  1. Check your mission. School district leaders refer to their mission statements in relation to the educational program, but a mission can also be a guide when determining whether, why and how your district should respond to national issues. Review your mission in light of these current issues and engage your leadership in a conversation about the potential opportunities and challenges of demonstrating that mission in action by speaking up.
  2. Confer with your thought leaders. Don’t let district leadership be surprised by protesters and news crews showing up across the street from a school building. Reach out now to your student class presidents, parent-teacher association presidents, union leadership and local government representatives as well as the leaders of community organizations representing people who are Black, Latino, Asian American, Indigenous, immigrants and other people of color. Ask what related concerns they are hearing from within their network, and whether they see an appropriate, supportive role for the school district to play on these issues.
  3. Review past messaging on challenging issues. If you have issued statements in the past on difficult issues related to social justice, equity, gun violence, school resource officers and other such topics, reflect on how those messages were received. What, if anything, tripped you up and led to a negative response? Are there word choices you would change? Were there issues with the timing of a release in relation to the inciting incident? If it’s not your practice to release statements on all of your communication platforms, how will you ensure you treat important topics and audiences equitably in terms of sharing information?
  4. Don’t go it alone if you don’t have to. It is common practice when closing school for weather to monitor what neighboring school districts are doing before announcing the decision for your district. In a similar fashion, neighboring schools may want to consider making joint statements or previewing one another’s statements on challenging issues before release. When those statements are promoting a social good or positive change, they can be more powerful and garner more attention as a united group. At a more personal level, school PR pros can and should turn to one another for advice, editing and brainstorming support, whether that’s through a phone call, email, on social media, in a virtual hangout or via an online community forum.
  5. Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know. You may feel uncertain how to approach communication on these issues if you have never experienced them yourself. Before typing that first line, consult the representative organizations for affected groups and other expert resources to establish a background knowledge. Reviewing special reports, feature articles, blogs and academic papers can increase your awareness and sensitivity in addressing these issues. Then after you draft your communications, consider whether you have a colleague or friend with more personal experience on the issue who may be willing to review your work from that lens. Don’t ask someone to “represent” an entire demographic as your peer reviewer, but do ask someone with a different perspective than yours to share what they think of what you wrote.

In addition, the NSPRA Communication Equity and Diversity Task Force has regional representatives you can consult for more advice. Find your representative at www.nspra.org/nspra_committees#equity.  

Please also consider sharing your work with NSPRA to add to the Race Relations and Equity Communications Resources webpage by emailing editorial@nspra.org


Last updated: 11/23/21