June 17, 2016
When a crisis occurs in a school district, it is essential that calm be restored as quickly as possible. That happens more easily if stakeholders have confidence in school leadership. However, that confidence must be present not only after a crisis has been resolved, but also before and during a crisis. It can be built and reinforced through a targeted communications strategy.
The first step is to determine whether your district has a “confidence gap.” A simple survey of students, staff, parents and the community will determine whether your stakeholders believe your district can handle a crisis. Note that a crisis can range from a disabled furnace during a cold snap or an expensive lawsuit, to school violence or an unexpected death. Each requires a unique set of leadership skills. Any survey must account for that.
While your public may believe the district can repair a furnace, for example, they may not agree that the district is capable of handling school violence. Use the information collected from the survey to develop a communications plan for building, reinforcing, or restoring confidence. Special attention should be given to those areas in which stakeholders have the least confidence.
Confidence building communications should address these questions:
1 – How does the district identify a crisis?
2 – What is the procedure for reporting crises to affected parties?How does the district determine an appropriate response?
3 – How quickly will the district restore normal operations?
4 – When does law enforcement or other governmental resources become involved?
5 – Is any follow-up conducted to evaluate whether the crisis was handled effectively?
6 – What other steps are taken to ensure that the district is prepared to effectively address a crisis?
Maintaining confidence in school leadership requires continual assurance that the district is prepared to competently handle any situation that may interfere with the smooth operation of the schools. School crises elsewhere provide a valuable opportunity for school leadership to remind stakeholders that they are prepared to handle a similar situation.
Ultimately, the level of confidence stakeholders have in a school district plays an important role in how quickly a crisis is resolved. When school leadership is trusted and viewed as competent, it will be permitted to do its job, without outside interference.