“You know what I heard?” is generally followed by a hot rumor that may or may not have any basis in reality.
The hottest of rumors tend to be about people – particularly principals and other Administrators –, program or curriculum changes, or impending decisions. With the arrival of social media and other forms of rapid communications, something out of one person’s mouth can become common knowledge in a matter of minutes.
So how can school district leaders effectively manage the rumor mill without driving themselves just a bit crazy?
First, it’s important to determine if it’s a rumor or a falsehood that can be proven. If it is a rumor, see “Second” just below the next paragraph. If it is a falsehood, determine whether it is worth a response or not.
Small, day-to-day things don’t deserve an official comment, unless they continue to be a regular conversation topic. Big things like, “All our boundaries are changing!” merit a response, if it’s not true. But, in doing so, make it more of an “update” and less of a “There is a rumor going around...” That lets the district and its leadership reclaim the narrative on this subject.
Second, if it is a rumor, start by cataloging the rumor somewhere – just an Excel file with a brief description of the rumor, date, and how it become known to Administration will be sufficient. Then, make a determination about whether this needs immediate attention or just monitoring, to see if the rumor has staying power.
Those that continue to fester (or that are seen as serious enough right off the bat) should be addressed through communications based on the source of the rumor – at the building level via information to principals, the parent level through email and/or social media, or the community level though traditional media, if you have any within your district.
Above all, watch your tone. The message should be one of information, not of “This is wrong, here is the truth!” Your goal is to disprove the rumor without bashing its existence or its source. That is how you build stronger bridges with those who spread rumors.
P.S. – “Rumor watch”-type spots on your district website are a great tool, as well. Just make certain it’s not the only thing you do to address the spread of misinformation.