Crisis Communication in Schools
Updated: Jul 15, 2019
We all send our kids to school in hopes of them receiving an education and becoming a productive member of society. We have seen a rise in school incidents in the past years. The worst feeling for a parent is not being able to get to your child in time of crisis. Seeing your child's school on the news for any type of severe event will make any parents stomach drop. Parents in fear become quite irrational. All these factors lead to something that might not have been necessary for schools 20 years ago, all districts and programs need a crisis communications plan. Teachers and administrators seem to have a new task thrown on them each semester, but an important part of being a teacher is knowing how to communicate.
Forms of Communication
School districts need to have multiple ways to disperse their information. Schools need to be able to give information out in three tiers; text or e-mail, news coverage, and social media. This gives parents a personal alert as well as a public alert from their news and social media access for up to date information. First a text message or e-mail alert sent to all students, staff and parents. It's important in this to just list the facts you have available at the time. You want to list these facts in as mild of a manner as possible as the school cannot respond to the flood of emails and texts it receives in a timely manner. After parents have been notified you want to contact local news authorities. This is important because you want to be the first to break the story to them so you control the narrative, rather than them getting incomplete or false reports from anyone else. This will allow the media to trust you since you did in fact break the story so you have no reason to cover it up.The final step is to give accurate and appropriate information via social media, your social media acts as to current happenings. While the news gets the main gist out to the public your social media goes over the fine details of the story.
Who is Communicating
Who is saying what? Who is in control here? The Principal or Superintendent should be calling the shots correct? Yes and no.
Secretaries: One of our most important communicators and best at it are our schools secretaries.They should be the people writing press releases and if trained have access to the schools social media accounts. They will need all information as it comes as its their job to disperse it to the proper locations. If phones are available in crisis it is safe to say you will need multiple people to field calls. Secretaries are typically fielding calls connecting people with the correct information, this aspect of their job makes them a great choice for a communicator. They should be contacting district officials and acting as a liaison between principal and the district administration.
Counselors: Dealing with parents and students emotions are tough especially when adding in the layers of a crisis. There is no one more equipped to handle the emotions of this situation than the school counselor. Their psychology degree can come in handy when dealing with students, parents and staff during a crisis. They should be helping secretaries field calls as well as dealing with students and teachers who are facing emotional turmoil during the time. It's important to keep people in a calm state of mind, your counselor should be doing all of this. A counselor should have the tools to keep their own emotions at bay as well as others, as they communicate the necessary information.
Principals: So where are the principals in all this? It's your principal's job to be the communication between the staff and administration. While most people think the principal should be on the phone talking to media and the school district, it's actually their job to provide calm during the storm. They should be visible to the students and staff in this time of crisis. The Principals are the theoretical "captains of the ship". Your principal is supposed to give kids and teachers that safe feeling that is why their face being seen during the crisis is imperative. You want the narrative of the students to be "Mrs/Mr principal was there the whole time making sure we all got out safe", instead of "I didn't see them at all".The Principals should only be communicating with media for a press conference all other communication should be handled by the secretary's
Teacher: It's the teachers job to remain calm and take care of their classroom. Teachers need to only worry about the safety of the children and communicating the necessary information they need. Making the students feel as safe as possible is key to a crisis, it's easier to get people to do what you need if they are in a calm state of mind especially children.
Superintendent School District: The school district's job is to be a constant talking piece for the media, reassuring the school is handling everything the correct manner. They should be communicating with the principals and secretaries to make sure they have all the resources they need to do their job. If there are extra bodies that can help they should be getting them to the appropriate spots, if they can be on the phone fielding calls they should be doing that too. It's the school district's job to take the pressure off of the school. If the district has a crisis communication plan set then they should be assured their employees are handling it in the proper way.
When it comes to schools there are so many moving parts that have to be communicated. It is necessary to have proper crisis communication and strategy planning for the whole district. The district should provide annual workshops and training. If they can have a full time crisis manager or PR specialist this would be the most ideal.