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August 2020

Three messages you should deliver in a COVID-19 world

by Ken DeSieghardt

While I know that “COVID-19 World” sounds like the absolute worst theme park on planet Earth, here we all are. We can bemoan the existence of the virus – which is OK to do now and then; doing so will help keep your blood pressure in check – but school districts also have a responsibility to bring as much calm about the situation as possible when sharing messages with key stakeholder groups.
The idea is not to downplay the virus and its risks, but to demonstrate what you are doing to push through this challenge. You need to connect your actions to key messages so your stakeholders will see that there is method to dealing with the madness we all find ourselves in.
As you think about how to organize your communications to build and nurture greater trust in your school district and its actions, consider the following:
Health and safety of those for whom we are responsible is our top priority. Such a pronouncement creates a foundation for your district’s plans that doesn’t topple over at the first sign of dissent. It’s a great defense against well-meaning (or, perhaps, not-so-well-meaning) parents and others who would seek to influence your decision-making using sketchy information or just an overwhelming passion to “get back to normal!"
You can welcome commentary – and banal as it may be – and then easily fall back on “health and safety are our top priority” without causing too much dyspepsia, because you aren’t fighting with people, you are explaining your decision-making process.
Our protocols will adapt to new discoveries and updated recommendations from local and state officials. This message lets you offer hope to those who are disappointed with what they see as your district’s overabundance of caution. They think wistfully about what life was like just a few months ago, and want to know that it won’t always be this way.
That hope is, of course, still an open question. But, if you can fit any change you make under the umbrella of “We adapt when the advice from experts change,” you seem less like you are digging your heals in just to be obstinate.
We will stay in constant contact with you and make it easy for you to provide feedback and to get questions answered. Keeping the news flowing to key stakeholders on these issues is essential to managing feedback. 
How you do so is up to you, but make certain to follow the “three legs of the stool” approach that Patron Insight talks about all the time – say what you will communicate, do so, and then report what you have discovered when you do.

“Thank you for taking my call.” (?)

The roles played by Patron Insight and by school district leadership in our relationship are pretty simple to define: The school districts are the clients and we are the strategic communications and research partner.
So, I was taken aback recently when a client called me and began our conversation with, “Thank you for taking my call.” As I reflected on it, I realized what a lesson in leadership that statement was for me and for Patron Insight.
While my mother taught me that saying “Thank you” – no matter what the situation – should always be my default behavior, it’s easy to miss opportunities to make someone feel better, well-served, appreciated and important.
With the 2020-2021 school year likely to be the strangest and most stressful in decades, due to all that’s been thrown at educators, a few extra “thank yous" – will build teamwork, strengthen relationships and set a positive tone during a challenging time.
Thanks to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Rick Atha, Shawnee Mission (Kan.) USD 512, for giving me the idea for this story by his demonstration of courtesy.

Short newsletter videos on hiatus

At my church, our minister likes to say that “When a certain ministry needs to fade away or be rethought, it will be evident.”

 Such is the case with the brief video presentations that have appeared in each of these newsletters for the last several months. While readership of the newsletter itself has been very strong, there have been only a handful of clicks on the videos. Because we want your time spent with our e-newsletter to be valuable, we are rethinking this content. Thank you for the feedback that has challenged us to do better!

Patron Insight, Inc
19733 Birch Street | Stilwell, KS 66085
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