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Will Your School Communication Build Raving Fans This Year?

Posted by Grace Lee on Sep 23, 2013 7:10:00 AM


Laws of the Grapevine

Communication is fundamental to virtually every aspect of life. How many people do you know who are great communicators and have been fired from a job? I suspect that number is far less than the list you could make of people with poor communications skills that you or someone else has had to replace.

Reflect for a moment on a couple of questions to evaluate yourself as a communicator:

  • If I ask the people in your personal and professional network to rate you (1-10) as a communicator, what number would they give you?
  • What adjectives will they use to describe your communication skills?
  • Would the quality of your life increase if you improved your communication skills 25%? 52%? 100?

This is the final installment in The Laws of the GrapevineTM series, where I have shared techniques for building depth and trust into your relationships by using a deliberate sequence, frequence, and flow in your school communication. For school leaders, below are some examples that illustrate how you can effectively plan and share messages throughout the year to strengthen your communication skills and word-of-mouth marketing.

Messages from the Board

In an effort to increase trust and confidence in the school's executive leadership, messages will need to be shared this year from and about the school board. The boardroom can often be a “black box” to the people in the school community because they don't hear about what happens in there. Effective board leadership requires a boundary between governance and management, but if the school Grapevine feels entirely removed from the actions of the board, then you have a communication weakness that will feed mistrust.

What are some messages you might want to share this year in order to cultivate your Grapevine? Here are some ways you can enhance a connection with your Board:

  • Share a quarterly update--What is the board doing? What are the priorities? Sharing this information through a couple of different mediums is a good way to help families understand what the board is accomplishing and to engage the community. If you are only communicating messages from the board when you have a tuition increase, then there isn't going to be a lot of trust and support.
    How would you send a board update? Put together a summary of activity rather than sending out board minutes--that level of detail isn't appropriate. People want some meaningful stories and data so they can understand the board along with the plans and decisions being made.
  • Other board communications might include family survey results, updates on construction projects, a capital campaign update, and/or the status of the annual fund.

Messages about Fundraising

It is important to share key messages around fundraising. Here are some messages to consider sharing:

  • 100% Board and faculty commitment to the annual fund
  • Impact of donations (Return on Investment)
  • Wow factors! - You can build a significant amount of momentum when you can show physical, tangible results of your annual fund efforts.
  • Fundraising status - Remember to sequence your message: Up, Out, Down & Around. If you update the fundraising thermometer in the parking lot before communicating in this sequence you will be missing out on ways to create momentum through your message and strengthen relationships.

Messages about a Teacher

What messages will you need to communicate about Teachers?

  • You find it necessary to communicate that a teacher has dismissed, or will be replaced mid-year
  • A teacher may have to leave for another reason, such as maternity leave or family relocation

(Before discussing how to communicate these changes, it is crucial to make sure you have a good strategy for building up your bench of talent so that you’re not starting recruiting on the spot.) With a healthy Grapevine, the emotional intelligence of your organization will be able to better handle these types of announcements. For this reason, emotional intelligence is a huge indicator of the long term success of your organization.

If you’ve been using the other Laws of the Grapevine (sequence, frequence, flow, etc.) then when it comes time to share such an announcement you already have a foundation of trust. People will give you the benefit of the doubt, and you won’t be dealing with as many "conspiracy theories" or as much mistrust from the school community. Even if some faculty does not agree with the decision, they should have a level of trust where they will defend the reason and prerogative for making these kinds of difficult changes.

Messages about a Coach

It is not unusual to have to communicate a message about a coach during the school year. For example you may be announcing a new coach about whom you’re really excited. What mediums would you use to communicate this message? It depends on what happened to the previous coach! If they left in a bit of turmoil, then you’re going to want to sequence this very carefully with more time in between each level. If it is a replacement because the old coach resigned, then there should be a lot of enthusiasm around your announcement! In this case you would want to share this Up via a personal announcement or phone call to the Board, or an email if it’s an expected announcement. After receiving feedback from them, you would share next send the announcement Out, Down & Around. You may want to give a personal call to the returning students and parents that played on the team the previous year before announcing to the rest of the student body; this communicates value in your relationship with the team members.

This is definitely the type of announcement you want to share on your social media channels after it has been communicated to your internal Grapevine. In order to create enthusiasm around the announcement, remember the law of Capacity and be sure to share your message on a “slow news day” when there is not a lot going on in news in your community or around the world.

You may have to share an announcement about the coach that isn’t so good. Again, Sequence is crucial here. There are some situations where the message should be communicated all the way through the Grapevine, but there are others where it should be communicated Up and should go no further. Respect that law in order to strengthen relationships when determining how far to share the information.

Messages about a Student

It is likely you will have an issue regarding a student during the school year. Again, preparation with your faculty and administration ahead of time will significantly help you when the situation actually arises. As with the coach, there may be times when the message is appropriate to share throughout your Grapevine, but in the case of discipline decisions sharing should be very limited. Often in these cases other families will want to know all about it. It is important to communicate to the parents involved that you will not be sharing the information with all the other families, and that you will not be sharing information about the other families with them. This ensures trust and confidentiality with the families in your school.

In cases of student success, that is a message you will want to share all the way through your internal Grapevine, and certainly out to your external Grapevine as well.

Special Events

Hopefully you have some outstanding special events coming up this year! Putting these up immediately on your Facebook page will bypass the levels of Sequence. Make sure you’re planning your communication sequence now so that you don’t fall into last minute communication traps. Be prepared, and build trust through the event.

Which Mediums

In conclusion, when determining the appropriate medium to communicate your message, choose according to the personal level of the message. A blanket email to everyone is obviously not as personal as a phone call or a handwritten note. If you’re interested in sharing personal communication creatively, you can use the Vsnap app to send a short (less than 60 second) personal video message to your target cluster. You have a lot of options to choose between in communicating your message, but for best results always respect The Laws of the Grapevine as your are sharing your communications.

Topics: Communication, Laws of the Grapevine

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