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Leading the Way: 4 Traits of an Effective School Communicator

Author: Barbara Hunter/Friday, December 1, 2023/Categories: News

This post originally appeared on the Finalsite blog at

While the ever-changing landscape of education and communication continues to evolve at what seems like lightning speed, traits of an effective school communicator have stood the test of time, serving as guideposts that practitioners can turn to during times of change or crises.

Beyond the tactical duties of drafting newsletters, distributing media releases, and coordinating events, school communicators serve as a critical conduit between school districts and the community. Strong communication is foundational to building trust and fostering positive stakeholder relationships. Still, school communication can be complex, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.

As we approach the new year, please take time to fill up your tanks with rest and relaxation to rejuvenate and re-energize. Then, as you consider how to best advance your district’s communication efforts in 2024, reflect on how the following four characteristics can help guide your strategy.

1. Leadership

Leadership doesn’t boil down to job titles. Whether you’re a chief communication officer who oversees a multi-person department, running a one-person shop, or serving in an entry-level position under a more seasoned practitioner, leadership can be demonstrated in a variety of ways by all school communication professionals, including:

Being Proactive

As veteran school communicators well know, being proactive is critical to telling the story of a school district. Though the saying may sometimes seem tired, the adage is true: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. 

This can mean something as large-scale as developing an awareness campaign about a program in the district or as simple as prioritizing your time to determine what tasks and projects warrant more of your efforts.

Being Adaptable

The only thing constant in school PR (and life) is change. When encountering the unexpected, doing your best to embrace the circumstance not only models behavior that can inspire those around you — but also presents a sense of calmness that colleagues seek during times of uncertainty.

Cultivating Relationships

Building relationships with colleagues, both within and outside your immediate team, allows you to broaden your professional horizons and continue building your personal brand.

2. Transparency

Being a transparent communicator is essential for fostering trust, collaboration, and understanding – hallmarks of an effective school communications office. School public relations professionals can turn to NSPRA’s Code of Ethics to navigate everyday tasks and challenging situations ethically and honestly and when working to engage stakeholders, advise colleagues, and make decisions.

Share Information

It can be easy to plow through your daily workload without coming up for breath. Make sure you carve out time to update your team or colleagues. Sharing information about your work, even to colleagues who aren’t communicators, provides an opportunity to gain additional perspective and relevant feedback.

Actively Listen

Active listening is one of the most challenging but essential communication skills you can build. This means providing your full attention to a colleague or stakeholder who is speaking without formulating a response or conclusions until they are finished. It’s one of the easiest yet overlooked ways to understand the needs of those around you better.

Acknowledge Challenges

Acknowledging and discussing challenges openly can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but doing so helps build a growth-oriented mindset and environment. Share your prospective solutions, but be receptive to feedback and advice.

3. Professionalism

Strong school communicators are always searching for constant improvement in their knowledge and skills. In school PR, making time for professional learning opportunities can fall to the bottom of your “to-do” list. But staying updated on education issues, communication trends, and best practices is crucial to being an impactful practitioner.

In 2024, make it a priority to:

  • Take advantage of NSPRA’s year-round professional development offerings, including 20+ webinars each year on timely and relevant topics FREE for members.
  • Explore earning your accreditation in public relations (APR) if you haven’t. The process of earning your APR takes your skills to the next level by exposing you to today's cutting-edge strategies and practices, assessing your skills to identify strengths and opportunities for growth, and demonstrating your personal and professional commitment to excellence.  
  • Embrace mentorship. If you’re a veteran school communicator, consider serving as a mentor to offer guidance and perspective to those new to the field. If you’re early in your school PR career, a mentor can support you, share knowledge about the field, and, sometimes, provide a much-needed objective perspective. If you’re a member of NSPRA, you can enroll in the free Mentor Match program to either serve as a mentor or register as a mentee.

4. Community Involvement

Active participation in your local community and understanding regional and national education issues are paramount to further strengthening your skills and strategic approach as a school public relations practitioner.

Check out NSPRA's award-winning community engagement plans, best practices, tactics, and more on our website to inspire your plans.

I hope your 2023-24 school year has started smoothly and you are looking forward to some respite before diving into the year's second half. As you return from winter break to the always-changing world of school PR, take a breath and anchor yourself in the qualities above when things get hectic. 

This blog post is part of an ongoing series from the National School Public Relations Association and Finalsite. Finalsite is proud to partner with NSPRA on the new School Communicator of the Year Award to honor one outstanding individual from the school public relations profession. The first SCOY award will be given at the 2024 NSPRA Seminar in Seattle.


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