Your work as a school board member is directly connected to your community. Knowing how to effectively communicate with different groups and individuals in your district can make a huge difference in gaining their trust and support. Here are some tips to help you build that support system.
1. Direct questions appropriately
Whether at the grocery store, church, gym, or school event, trustees are often asked questions about their school district. Sometimes the questions are general, like when is the fall play taking place this year? And sometimes the questions are more specific, like what is going on in Ms. Hernandez’s third-grade class? In the ebb and flow of conversations, the discussions go in and out of the general and specific.
The best thing to do is to direct concerned parents or other community members to a source close enough to the problem to solve it appropriately. This could vary depending on the situation, and who is already involved.
- Have you spoken with Ms. Hernandez about that?
- Have you spoken with her principal?
- Have you discussed this with the superintendent?
It’s an important aspect of good governance to completely avoid administrative matters—especially anything that has to do with personnel. Remember that school boards have one employee. They hire a superintendent and empower him or her to manage the district.
2. Work as a team
It’s critical that your board function as a highly effective team, together with the superintendent. Effective school boards empower superintendents to provide administration and management of the school district.
When trustees publicly question the authority and decisions of the superintendent, it undermines the work of the district and threatens public confidence in the school system.
If the superintendent isn’t doing a great job or not doing what the board as a whole wants, whose fault is that? Sometimes, the board has either failed to hire the right person or hasn’t given clear and specific goals and direction to the superintendent.
3. Designate a spokesperson
Every board needs a designated spokesperson. Typically, this is the board president, but sometimes it could be the superintendent or, in a large district, a communications officer. The designation is especially important for districts with an active media presence. Some of the most sensational stories can come from one board member saying one thing and another saying something else. Decide who will act as spokesperson.
4. Know the message
Your district should maintain a unified public message, with your superintendent or other designated person serving as the official voice. When a neighbor, friend, or family member wants to discuss the district with you, remember that your message should be similar to that of others on your board. This doesn’t mean they should all sound like scripted robots, but rather that the main points are similar.
Promote messages that are:
- Supported by your full leadership team
- Clear, calm, and reassuring
- Factual (here’s what we know, here’s what we are doing, here are organizations we are working with)
5. Connect with your community
We know there is a relationship between an informed and involved community and improved student success. Boards that have strong and positive connections with their community encourage support that goes way beyond tax ratification elections and bonds. Positive connections can foster opportunities for partnerships, tutoring, mentoring, sponsorships, and encouragement for student success.
The best way to cultivate a connected culture is through ongoing strategies that engage all stakeholders.
Community mapping is one strategy that helps ensure all voices are heard and that positive relationships expand throughout the district. In this process, the board assigns liaisons to each community group, including parents, families, senior citizens, students, businesses, and every cross-section of the community. In order to improve outcomes for all students, your board must ensure that all voices are heard.