Communicating with Staff and Community Members During COVID-19 School Closures
As of last weekend, President Trump has extended the national shutdown in the U.S. for a month and warned that the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic is yet to come.
Staff, parents, community partners, and local media are asking even more questions about the school closures that these circumstances and related decisions are creating. Everyone is looking for guidance on what to do to meet students' needs and continue learning while school buildings are closed, and a lot of confusion and frustration are on everyone's minds.
Clear, proactive communication may allow you to answer the most pressing questions for your community, and focus on taking actions. Here is a list of what we believe is top of mind for your audience. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, but we hope to provide a place to start.
Staff and Teachers
Direction on expectations for teachers and staff during school closures
Buildings are closed, but learning is still happening. Staff and teachers must be clear on their role and expectations so that students and families are well supported. Give clear directions and guidance on what your staff and teachers are expected to accomplish while staying home: converting classes to virtual? Doing so, entirely or partially? Is everyone expected to work the same number of hours?
Communicating with staff and teachers regarding pay
Be clear on how the district will handle pay for teachers and staff while school buildings are closed. If your school board is passing resolutions to handle this matter, make sure to communicate it clearly, as staff members may be worried that they won’t be paid if they are not in the school buildings.
Encourage teachers and staff to be in touch with students and parents regularly via virtual meetings, emails, phone calls, Google hangouts, and/or other channels
During this time of uncertainty, and disrupted routines for kids and parents, it is extremely important to provide a small sense of normalcy during a time that’s anything but normal.
Also, parents homeschooling their kids and juggling that with working from home will very much appreciate guidance and resources from teachers to help them continue keeping their children learning while school buildings are shut down. Providing daily or weekly lesson plans for families would be a tremendous help.
Insist on the importance of and encourage professional learning and collaboration with peers
In this downtime, but also a very busy time of adjusting to a new rhythm, style, and system of working (that is, remotely), it is important that teachers invest in their learning and grow professionally as they are learning new practices. Encourage the learning, and provide your staff with the right resources. This will also include creating the capacity for teachers to be able to set aside time for professional development.
Don't forget about school and district administrators!
With schools closed, are school admins and district admins expected to work from home or from their buildings? Even if your intent and highest wish is that everyone works from home, without clear directions, admins may still feel accountable to be in their buildings. Be clear about how you will handle these decisions and encourage them to limit their travel to the office to only essential activities.
Families and Guardians
Will the school foodservice continue to provide meals to students—perhaps via a drive-thru, pick-up process? What is that process exactly – and what is the schedule? Make sure to share any specific directions on how to pick up food and where it will be available.
This is a short list of what we believe are some of the most critical pieces of information you should be communicating with your community. But your school district’s situation is unique, and you may have a variety of other items to communicate.
Emergency Services and Support
Are you creating any resources to provide mental health support for students and families? Are there local, state, or federal initiatives that your communities can participate in and benefit from? Many areas are providing food pantries and delivery services of essential items.
Additionally, have you put any systems in place to support your employees with emergencies, questions, or technical needs as instruction and work continues? Step one is to create a support system, and step two is to make sure your team knows it exists! Here's an example from Miami-Dade County Public Schools of a dedicated webpage for information related to COVID-19, the district's response and plan, and multiple links to services and information.
Will instruction continue while school is closed? Will schools reopen? Will there be testing? Will there be grading?
"Florida has canceled all tests for the year, Kansas has decided to keep schools closed, Arizona plans to announce the suspension of makeup days and California said parents should be prepared for their state to be next." CNN 03/18/20 What about your district and schools? We know that circumstances and data are changing very quickly. If you made a decision, make sure it's communicated to the families, parents, and guardians of your students in a timely matter. If you have not made a decision yet, keep families informed and updated with everything you know.
Share how students can continue learning during the school closures
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen impressive efforts by teachers to connect with their students digitally, whether it’s through hosting class time virtually using meeting platforms or through recording a lecture and sharing through YouTube links or resources. Be clear about what your district's instruction plans are. Teachers will keep providing what is expected from parents and families in terms of homeschooling their kids. Provide the necessary materials, guiding resources and instructions.
Access to technology
We know this is a tough one. If your district is continuing education virtually, you have to address virtual learning equity, at least at a minimum, by providing devices and/or working with internet providers to ensure internet access, etc. You should create clear directions for how students can access devices, an internet connection (if they don’t have already have access at home) and any other tech they might need. We recommend that if equitable access to devices and internet is an issue, to base your strategy around offline channels and resources as much as possible.
Catch our on-demand webinar about Equity in School Closings as we navigate the impact of COVID-19.
Regardless of whether you're communicating with staff, students, or your community, here are some recommendations for doing so effectively.
Share information on a predictable basis by drafting and sharing updates related to COVID-19 at a regular cadence. For example, send an update out every Wednesday, even if nothing has changed - just let everyone know that that's the case. If urgent matters arise, do communicate them as quickly as possible.
Schedule standing meetings for reflection and messaging. Hold a dedicated meeting with a cross-section of leaders to reflect on the past week or few days. Use this time to review your current plan and guidelines and make adjustments as new learnings, information and data arise.
Use social media to your advantage! More and more people are turning to social media to broadcast information widely to team and community members. A Twitter account or Facebook page for your district or school can quickly become the go-to resource for staff and families seeking information. Think about creating an Instagram account to keep in touch with students, or consider hosting a weekly video update on YouTube, or try a service like VideoAsk to encourage two-way interaction and build connections even while social distancing. Use these platforms to both communicate information, and just keep in touch with the students, teachers, and family members who are likely missing school as usual during these times.
The Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak has prompted school districts across the country to take stock of their crisis communications preparedness. Use this list to address the most pressing questions for your community, and as a starting point for managing communications during an unpredictable time. If you're looking for more guidance around questions of equity, teacher support and retention, strategic planning, and leadership as we navigate this global crisis together, check out our series of webinars and articles, Educating Through COVID-19.
About Yosr Najjar - Guest Author
Yosr Najjar is Marketing Director at Education Elements. She has been working in marketing since 2009 when she got her master's degree in Business & Marketing. Passionate about branding, multilingual, and a world traveler, she served as marketing manager at the international Ogilvy & Mather network where she led marketing and communication efforts for multinational brands in the MEENA region. After 6 years supporting various tech, finance and CPG brands, driven by her passion for education, Yosr joined Education Elements in 2015. Yosr has an 11 year track record in defining, managing and launching innovative marketing campaigns across offline and online channels for large and small, local and international brands. In the past few years, Yosr has translated these experiences into building the marketing function and team at Education Elements, and has been supporting districts in telling their stories and showcasing their work through videos, events, and case studies.