Action Labs/Special Sessions

Action Labs and Special Sessions offer the opportunity to go in-depth on a topic in a two-hour format. Action labs are interactive mini-workshops that include a “hands-on” component, and provide tactics and strategies adaptable for immediate use by participants in their own districts. 

Check out this year's offerings below! 

Monday, July 16

Tuesday, July 17

Wednesday, July 18

Special Session – Monday, July 16, 1 – 3 p.m.

Weathering the Storm: Communication Before, During and After a Natural Disaster

When a hurricane hits, power and cell service could be out for weeks. How do you communicate with your employees? Your evacuated parents? Your students? Hurricanes Harvey and Irma both provided vital communication lessons for school districts in their path of destruction. Learn what you need to do right now to make sure you can successfully communicate through a two-week long disaster response in your district.


Presenters: Greg Turchetta, executive director, communications & community engagement, Collier County Public Schools, Naples, Fla.; and Justin Elbert, community relations manager,  Klein (Texas) ISD


Action Lab – Monday, July 16, 1 – 3 p.m.

Share Your Awesome: Increase Your Engagement Through Powerful Speechwriting and Storytelling 

It's 10 a.m. and you've been tasked by your superintendent to write them a speech for a community fundraiser that's happening tomorrow. Where do you start? In this session, you will learn and practice five key steps to effective speechwriting. You'll also have the opportunity to develop and practice your presentation skills because, after all, don't we all fear public speaking just a little bit? Learn how to speak with confidence and clarity on even the most contentious topic, and how we can increase engagement and empower advocates through powerful speechwriting and storytelling.

Presenter: Carla Pereira, APR, director, communications & community relations, Peel District School Board, Mississauga, Ontario, Can.


Action Lab – Monday, July 16, 1 – 3 p.m.

Yes, And: Mindsets for Impact 

If education is a human-centered endeavor, then we must start to see the entire organization as a living, breathing organism. This means seeing how we lead change in a much different light. How might we think and act differently to live differently? We believe this is the most important question organizations can ask themselves and is at the heart of what we will build, create, explore, play, and wonder together! Join us in exploring the mindsets of design thinking, improv, and well-being needed for today’s organizations to lead meaningful, sustainable change.


Presenters: Karen Geddeis, APR, director, public relations & communications, and Ryan Bretag, director, instructional innovation, Glenbrook High School District 225, Glenview, Ill.


Action Lab – Tuesday, July 17, 1 – 3 p.m.

Is America Ready To Talk About Equity in Education? What “I Can Do" and “The District Can Do" to Move Equity Strategies Forward 

Dig deep in this two-hour, interactive workshop that breaks down Equity into five components: define equity within your community, get familiar with your demographics, understand your data and identify opportunities for improvement, practice cultural awareness, agility and competence and make sure your student voice is heard. What are your district’s discipline patterns by subgroups? Are your curriculum materials culturally relevant to your students? Do students from all subgroups have leadership opportunities? Do you have policies that are barriers to students’ success? Does your district ever think about what is the breakdown of your teaching staff by age?

Each presenter will take you on a different equitable journey while integrating district scenarios for each of the five components of this Equity framework along with using the RACE formula for each step. You will learn to find your individual voice as a communication professional using this framework as well as understand how your school district can align the framework in your strategic plan. Hear student stories from across the nation that continue to overcome various disparities and how their schools are closing the equitable gaps. Learn about various authors and presenters who continue to focus on equity topics, and walk away with a framework of strategies, action steps and practices that will help you recognize which students and schools need additional support to help them reach the same benchmarks of success. 


Presenters: Heidi Vega, director, communications, Arizona School Boards Association, Phoenix, Ariz. and NSPRA vice president, diversity engagement; Carol Fenstermacher, APR, community engagement coordinator, Centennial School District, Portland, Ore. and NSPRA president elect; Carla Pereira, APR, director, communications & community relations, Peel District School Board, Mississauga, Ontario, Can.; Lesley Bruinton, APR, public relations coordinator, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools; Richard Franco, director, public relations, Florence (Ariz.) Unified School District; Susan Brott, APR, director, communications & community engagement, Edina (Minn.) Public Schools; and Joseph Ortiz, director, public relations & marketing, Tolleson (Ariz.) Union High School District 


Special Session – Tuesday, July 17, 1 – 3 p.m.

The Five Things You Should Never Say: The Forbidden Phrases of Great Leaders 

The world is full of “how to” books. But this new and provocative session is about the “how not." Each day, in our roles, we say pretty common phrases that actually limit us as school PR professionals, as educators and as leaders. Discover the meaning behind these forbidden phrases. What they truly mean for you, your role, your relationships and your district. Through the lens of the forbidden five, discover new, breakthrough ways to work and to lead. Understand how to change your language, and your actions, to make you not only a more powerful communicator, but also the strong leader public education needs. At the same time, you will unlock your potential to make change happen, have a genuine impact, and feel more personally fulfilled in your daily work. Are you thinking, “well, I’m not a superhero”? Because that’s the first of the phrases!

Presenter: Brian Woodland, APR, founder, BrianInspires, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Special Session – Wednesday, July 18, 1 – 3 p.m.

Creating Conversation from Chaos 

Hidden in the midst of the chaos caused by student or staff misconduct, troubled race relations, or crimes on campus is a chance to address needed change.  In this session, a four-person panel will present lessons learned from real-life case studies where needed change was realized by turning chaos into meaningful conversation.  Learn how you can use your role as a communications professional to affect positive change in an organization and community by using explosive situations to build improvement.


Presenters: Kelly Avants, APR, chief communication officer, Clovis (Calif.) Unified School District; Trent Allen, APR, senior director, community relations, San Juan Unified School District, Carmichael, Calif., and NSPRA Southwest Region vice president; Trinette Marquis-Hobbs, APR, partner & chief communicator, School PR Pro, Sacramento, Calif.; and Daniel Thigpen, director, communication & community relations, Folsom Cordova Unified School District, Rancho Cordova, Calif. 


Special Session – Wednesday, July 18, 1 – 3 p.m.

Capital Funding Campaign: Educate, Not Advocate 

Learn how the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev., overcame significant barriers and opposition and was able to educate the public about its needs, such that a ballot measure for a tax increase to fund almost $800M in capital projects over 8 years passed with close to 57% of the vote in 2016. No tax increase to fund capital projects had passed in the county since 1996, and no bond measure had passed since 2002. This Special Session will cover what the district did to "educate, not advocate" the public about the need.


Presenters: Riley Sutton, PR specialist - School Capital Needs Initiative, and Irene Payne, chief communications & community engagement officer, Washoe County School District, Reno, Nev.


Special Session – Wednesday, July 18, 1  2:30 p.m.

Gold Mine Session

Long a favorite session of Seminar participants, the Gold Mine roundtables let you gather a treasure-trove of best practice ideas on a variety of topics to try in your district. Here’s your chance to attend three mini-sessions of 20 minutes each (Seminar session speed dating!). Plus, you’ll receive a resource drive containing tip sheets from all the roundtables at the end of the session. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to capture the best ideas from your colleagues in a time-saving format.