School administrators all over the world have been tasked with developing continuity plans for their community in lieu of the evolving Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. A thoughtful community strategy is an essential component for keeping parents, students, faculty, and staff updated. The following are some best practices we’ve gathered to assist you in developing and disseminating yours.
1. Reference state, national, and international health organizations
Your school is undoubtedly monitoring the recommendations of both local and extra local health organizations. When developing communication language, be sure to provide your community with links, data, and updates from multiple credible sources both locally and at large. By citing a wide range of sources, you communicate that any decisions you are making are not in isolation of the broader situation.
2. Develop a communication “hub”
Most communication will likely be sent via email, but establishing a central place for updates and resources to be easily shared will streamline your communication and limit confusion or redundancy. This will also free up staff to simply direct inquiries to one informational location. Your public website is a good option, but leverage existing parent, student, and teacher portals if possible.
3. Communicate frequently via the “hub” with a consistent, yet flexible message
Given the quickly evolving nature of the situation, members of your community will expect constant updates on how your school is responding. Frequent updates in the “hub” enforce that the health of your community is a priority. Each message should enforce a consistent message, but allow flexibility as the situation continues to change. Not every update needs to be about the virus specifically. Consider using the hub to share about innovative ways students are collaborating on projects, or how a teacher is altering the scope of work to encourage safety and to limit contact.
4. When necessary, tailor communication to address various constituencies
Consider the fact that you may need to develop targeted communications to best address individual group needs. It is likely that not all groups will be affected in the same way and it is vital to communicate with specificity when warranted. For example, off campus programs, athletic teams, and programs relying heavily on in-person resources may be uniquely impacted. Parents will be especially interested to see that the needs of each constituency are being individually addressed as needed.
5. Make sure the technology office is involved in strategic decisions
You are likely already relying on technology more heavily. And if not, you should begin building that inevitability into your planning. Your technology office will be central for any continuity planning. For example, deciding whether it is better to leverage your existing LMS (learning management system) or to use Zoom to conduct leadership team meetings, will require their input. A representative from the technology office should be present at all planning meetings to help develop and facilitate similar considerations.
6. Reach out to other schools in the area
Last week, Veracross hosted a cybersecurity event, which was attended by 22 different schools. Although COVID-19 was not a part of the schedule, every school I spoke with had spent most of their time over the past few weeks in meetings about how the school is responding. Reach out to your counterpart at a nearby institution to hear what they are doing and to share ideas. Leverage and combine experience as educators and administrators to find unique local solutions. We also recommend the ATLIS (Association for Technology Leaders at Independent Schools) clearinghouse for resources for technology leaders.
7. Lean on your school’s mission statement and values
Use this situation to reinforce the values that make your institution unique. For Veracross, these values are service, humility, and excellence. These values provide a framework and litmus test for every decision we make affecting our employees and clients. This is probably the hardest and yet most important part of any communication strategy. Once you have gathered the latest informational updates, isolate your institution’s key value(s) and assess all subsequent choices through that lens. Not only does this help keep your community feeling unified and secure, but also ensures that your planning will be curated based on facts and values rather than fear.
8. Place focus on creative solutions
Independent schools are uniquely equipped to explore creative solutions with more flexibility. Why not work by tapping into some out of the box possibilities and highlighting the special framework that independent schools have cultivated? Consider the courses that will be most directly affected by a move to an online format. How can we accommodate them best? How can we account for the human connection piece in a situation like this? What tools and approaches do we leverage to ensure relationships are not compromised in a time when social distancing is critical? Independent schools can and should approach these questions from a variety of angles to find a way to do what they do best: foster a meaningful connection.