School Business Affairs June 2020

10 JUNE 2020 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS 4. Key message. The message is the most essential element of the plan. The message should identify the change, why the change is occurring, and how it aligns with other relevant initiatives. Keep your messages simple and brief. Speak your audiences’ language, from their perspective, about things they care about. Ask yourself: “What do I want to tell my target audience? What do I want them to know or do?” 5. The right messenger. Who should deliver the message to stakeholder groups? Matching the messenger with the recipients is impor- tant. School principals or department heads must be prepared to carry the message to their staffs. Consider the teams on the front lines of change—those likely to be questioned by the community members who are seeking essential information. 6. The action plan: tools and methods. Your situation snapshot, objectives, and target audiences (components 1–3) will determine the communication methods that will be most effective in reaching your stakeholders. Ideally, you should use three to four differ- ent methods and platforms (electronic, print, in person) for sharing information; they might be in multiple lan- guages and accessible formats. Consider an information “home,” such as a webpage or intranet post, which makes it easy to share a link to keep everyone informed. Ensure that each phase of the plan has a clear owner who is responsible for its execution. 7. Two-way communications. Communication is not done to stakeholders—it should be viewed as engagement with stakeholders and align- ment of interests and views. Your plan should consider whether face-to-face communications or two-way engagement (e.g., forums, surveys) is necessary, and whether there is enough time to incorporate input. Additionally, consider whether you should bring in influential groups early that can offer a valuable sound- ing board or help share the message (e.g., media, ambas- sadors, PTA presidents, advisory committee chairs). 8. Timeline. A plan should clearly map timing for communica- tion at all stages of the program and by audience, beginning with internal stakeholders and key decision makers—usually the superintendent, leadership team, or the school board. Since stakeholders may need to receive information in stages, communicate with them throughout the program, especially before starting key activities or phases. 9. Budget and key dependencies. Ask: What’s the estimated cost of each step in the com- munications plan? Are additional investments necessary for events, language translations, design, or other materi- als and methods? What factors are essential to the suc- cess of the project? Communication is not done to stakeholders— it should be viewed as engagement with stakeholders and alignment of interests and views. 10. Monitoring and evaluation. Decide with your team how you will review your com- munications plan during and after its implementation. Look for ways to improve. Did the intended audiences receive your messages? How did they respond? The review can be a stand-alone activity or part of an overall program review. In Sum To be effective, communications plans do not need to be long and complicated. Taking the time to meet with your school division’s communications team at the start of planning will help you achieve your goals and save time in the end. Failure to do so may create a PR challenge for your school division that is difficult to unwind. Catherine Ashby is assistant superintendent for Arlington (Vir- ginia) Public Schools Department of School and Community Relations. Email: Frank Bellavia is the coordinator for media and online strate- gies for Arlington Public Schools and advises schools on com- munications strategies. Email: