Communicating Common Core State Standards to Stakeholders

Most districts already are deep into the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). However, understanding of the standards and their intentions, together with informative communications to stakeholders, has lagged behind the curriculum work.

Creating a communication plan for Common Core State Standards

The Common Core State Standards are part of a larger initiative, led by educators from many states. These standards are intended to raise the bar on academic achievement to ensure students are prepared for college and careers. To date, 46 states and the District of Columbia are working to implement CCSS, and develop assessments that will be consistent across the states.

Remember, CCSS is not a radical change for your district. Your communication plan and messages should describe clearly how CCSS fits naturally into the district’s overall plan for educating students. Common Core State Standards are tools that support district academic achievement and current efforts directed to long-term student success.

Take the time to become very familiar with the basics concerning Common Core Standards. This familiarity should include the standard questions: Who (developed CCSS); What (does this mean for our district); When (does CCSS implementation begin); Why (is CCSS important to our students, parents and stakeholders)? Do preliminary research to find out what your stakeholders already know about CCSS; and, in particular, how they prefer to receive information from your district. Educate and work closely with your superintendent, curriculum and instruction directors, and all active parent groups in your district to ensure everyone recognizes the communication gaps around CCSS and how to close those gaps.

In your communications, remind stakeholders - in simple and direct statements - why CCSS is good for students and the community. Here are some general examples:

  • “CCSS better prepares all kids for college and careers after high school.”
  • “Through CCSS, lessons and learning will be relevant to the world in which kids now live.”
  • “No longer will subject matter be presented as general information/isolated facts about a lot of separate ideas. Through CCSS, learning will be connected to real-life applications and meaningful concepts.”
  • “Learning will become more sequential, with one ‘building block’ of information/knowledge leading to another in a natural progression.”

You and your district’s leaders should be prepared to manage expectations around CCSS. Tell stakeholders clearly what they can expect to be different and what will stay the same; what will be better and why. Parents will want to know the implementation timetable for their son/daughter’s school. Control the “how, when and who” with your messaging.

Work smart: Opposition to CCSS already has surfaced in some states, with emotional claims being made that CCSS is a “government takeover of schools,” and that the new “national curriculum” promotes homosexuality and denounces capitalism. Get the facts out. Communicate early and often with parents, parent organization leaders, and your key external stakeholders.

Be clear: Common Core Standards are NOT national standards, nor are they a federal program. These are standards that grew from the grassroots level of state administrators and educators, and will make sense to local students, teachers and parents. Make the direct connection between CCSS, your district, and state education plans. Focus attention now on clear, informed-with-facts messages. State how essential CCSS is to your district’s success. You want to be out first, presenting the facts about CCSS to your community…and to show your enthusiasm as a district for these learning outcomes.

Communications Methodologies

CCSS demands time-sensitive and critical message delivery. Jump-start your communications with the basic, trusted forms of district messaging: school board meetings; letters to the editor; routine district newsletters; e-newsletters; face-to-face meetings with opinion leaders and key stakeholders; presentations at civic meetings, etc.

However, even with the variety of traditional communications, using social media is now a “must.” Make certain the district talking points are on your website (and easy to find). Use Facebook and a Twitter feed to drive constituents to the district website. Start tracking your CCSS supporters, and those who will need more information to come on board.

Your district principals are a CRUCIAL internal audience! They must be on board early, and will be the primary leaders for informing teachers and parents. The smallest unit of change is at the school level. Give principals the tools they need to communicate CCSS to their faculty and school community. Make certain their comments are up on the school’s webpage, as well as the district’s page.

Talk to a group of Key Communicators early in the process and ask them to help you share the message about common core standards in your community.

Meet with uncertified staff and tell them what is going on with CCSS. Ask them to help you communicate CCSS to their friends and family. Give them tools and messages to help them be successful.

Do not oversell Common Core State Standards as a be-all, end-all for education concerns. CCSS is a step in the right direction. Explain to your internal and external constituents the priority CCSS will receive in the district, and how CCSS connects to academic proficiency. Be straightforward about the actions to adopt and implement Common Core Standards…what may seem different, and what remains the same (such as a teacher’s choice of lesson plans).

Present clear messages concerning funding: how will your school district meet the funding challenges…and exactly what is the “return on investment”?

As a communications professional, you know that a single message, sent through a single medium, does not mean the message was “communicated.” With CCSS, be prepared to communicate the information at least five times through different channels. Get ahead of the curve! Make a list of your district’s local audiences (or key groups), then partner the CCSS communications task with the right person, the right media, at the right time, using the right messages for each group. Evaluate how well the messages worked. Kick-start the “message-channel-receiver-feedback-sender-message cycle” all over again. (Note: This tactic is in your NSPRA media tool kit. Contact NSPRA if you need assistance.)

If possible, work collaboratively with other neighboring districts. Model your communication efforts using the very tenets championed by the Common Core Standards Initiative (collaboration, in-depth work, efficacy, research based decision-making, realistic and sustainable goals, best practices); also, repetition of the same clear message will be helpful across all the suburban districts in the same general region.

Summary

Your communication plan will need to be an “all hands on deck” effort. Every traditional partner, from superintendent and staff to parent leaders, must work with the district’s public relations/communications team to share accurate and accessible information, strategies, messages and contacts.

Plan your work to utilize a wide variety of channels to reach a wide variety of audiences with messages tailored for each group. As always, evaluate your efforts and results as you go so that appropriate changes can be made to keep the messages accurate and effective.

Communicating the Common Core State Standards demands your best professional work.