2020 has been a year of unprecedented change, to say the least. Starting with COVID-19 hitting the United States quickly with ease and depth, and the Black Lives Matter movement sparking attention in late spring, inspiring and demanding social justice for the Black community, and people of color across the board. I think it’s fair to say that no one expected such rapid movement in a matter of months.
Quarantine and Education
While I am now back on my own and out of my mom’s house, I did spend several months there during the height of the pandemic, enduring quarantine with my family as best I could. Everyone in the household was going through the same struggles with online school; both my mom and dad are public school teachers, I’m now a senior in college, and my younger siblings are all still in school. I was able to have many conversations with my mom, as we shared the same workspace for much of quarantine, and the more I listened to the issues the school district, and individual teachers, were having to transition to online, the more I found myself finding solutions from studying to become a PR professional.
Life as an Unprepared Online Teacher
As a fifth grade teacher, my mom handled all subjects during the school day, with additional projects that were planned to be started and finished up in the time of quarantine, before COVID-19 made its rearing appearance. Much of the concerns my mom discussed with me about the transition to online within her school district involved problems with communication between administrators and other staff. The superintendent provided little support to teachers after directions were given, and reported overexaggerated, and sometimes false, information to the public, to appease questions coming from the concerned public. He frequently gave information to the public before consulting or informing the teaching staff, leaving his staff some of the last to know about updates about the coming weeks. He also made statements explaining how fully prepared the staff was to transition to online, though once my mom heard these claims, was baffled and dumbfounded because she knew they had almost zero concrete plans for the future. Consequently, many teachers dealt with and experienced mass chaos and confusion.
PR in Education
As I discussed and analyzed the situation with my mom, I discovered a site dedicated to this exact reason, called the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). As an operating organization since 2004, NSPRA provides input on why PR is essential to the success of public schools, which revolves around constant communication. The NSPRA proposes every school district develops its own plan for mass communication, which most districts do. But what seems to lack is the anticipation for the worst-case scenario, and a communication plan to follow. The more I spoke with my mom about the ways in which the school district left many of her colleagues and herself without answers and not much effective direction, the more I found ways to talk about what I’ve been learning in school. The number one complaint from my mother and the majority of her colleagues throughout the transition process was a lack of communication, regarding the overall plan for the school district, with the overall message changing multiple times, and really no set end goal in sight.
PR Consulting Suggestions
I shook my head and explained to my mom how easily the confusion could’ve been avoided with a simple communication plan, outlined with objectives, strategies, and tactics. Although the school system has a website, weekly communique, etc., it doesn’t mean it is effective and doesn’t need improvement. With the right consulting from a professional who deals with situations like this year-round and could offer effective solutions, rather than administrators scrambling together a weak communication plan. Formal press releases, FAQs, and a section of the district website dedicated to COVID related issues would have also been another great step in the right direction, providing organization for both the public and the teaching staff. The superintendent could have also created a set of videos each time he had new information to release, which could have been sent to each school and viewed by teachers, possibly allowing for less confusion and a greater appreciation for the way in which he communicated.
The conversations I had with my mom about PR, the public education system, and communication in general, made me reiterate that the work I will, hopefully, be doing in the future is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Everything I’ve learned through my program at Grand Valley has also already paid off in some ways; realizing that PR is everywhere, and more importantly, needed everywhere. Looking into the future, I can see myself helping to create a better operating public school district, a multi-million dollar corporation, or maybe even running a firm of my own.