Devices? Check. Software? Check. Communications Plan? Whoops.
Like many of you, I make the rounds of edtech conferences looking for golden nuggets of wisdom about how to successfully implement blended learning in schools. I hunt for case studies, lessons learned, best practices. I’ve learned that when school leaders launch blended learning initiatives, they typically think about devices, software, (hopefully) student learning goals.
But communications planning? Not so much, and not enough.
At conferences like SXSWedu, iNACOL and the Future Ready summits, I have heard district leaders repeatedly say they wish they had communicated about their blended learning efforts with their key stakeholders earlier and more effectively. I recently read that Summit Public Schools CEO Diane Tavenner said she's realized Summit needs to double or triple its communications efforts with parents and the community.
It is clear to me that communications is a cornerstone of a successful blended learning plan, but too many districts do not think about it early enough in the process.
Why is communications planning happening too little, too late?
Many school districts lack communications expertise and capacity.
The largest districts may have a public information office, or a communications director. But the majority of mid- and small-scale districts manage communications tasks with existing staff, many of whom lack communications know-how. As technology and the Internet have revolutionized how we receive and process information, communicating now happens anywhere, anytime, and among multiple interested parties. It can be a lot of work to manage communications and, unless there is a crisis, many districts consider communications planning a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.”
As more schools shift to blended learning, district leaders are recognizing the need for communications assistance to build understanding and support for their implementation efforts. But there are few (free) tools available to help them.
Communications Planning for Blended Learning: A Step-By Step Guide
Over the past several months, I have reviewed existing communications tools, interviewed communications and blended learning experts, and discussed communications needs with education leaders and school districts.
The result is a free step-by-step guide that helps district leaders understand the importance of, and how to develop, a blended learning communications plan.
The guide is intended for district leaders, whose commitment to communications as a district priority is crucial for success. However, the guide includes many tips and links to additional resources that others (communications directors, technology officers, principals, and teachers) may find useful.
I encourage you to use this guide to customize a blended learning communications strategy for your unique district. Please share with me what works, what doesn’t, and what is missing, so I can develop a more comprehensive version of this guide in the future.
Here is a summary of the communications planning steps:
1. Communication vs. Engagement
Communication should not be one-way, from you to your audiences. Work to create two-way conversations that build true engagement with your stakeholders.
2. Communications Goals
Establish clear communications goals that focus primarily on building understanding and support for your blended learning objectives and your district’s overall strategic plan for student learning. Districts often fall into the trap of talking more about blended learning’s technology than its transformation of teaching and learning.
3. Communications Resources
Assess your district’s communications capacity and identify existing communications resources, as well as gaps in your capabilities and expertise. This process can be as thorough or high-level as you want. The important step is to know what communications tools you have at your disposal.
4. Stakeholder Audiences (Identify, Know, Reach)
Identify and understand your key audiences, what they care about, and how best to reach them. Stakeholders include school leaders, teachers, parents, community members, and students.
5. Key Messengers
Although the Superintendent is the official “messenger” for the district, identifying and preparing other trusted sources to deliver key messages about your blended learning program is essential. For example, according to a recent PDK/Gallup poll, teachers and principals are the messengers most trusted by parents.
6. Key Messages
Articulating a clear message that captures the core reason behind your blended learning program is enormously helpful in building understanding and support for your efforts. Segmenting these messages by audience will ensure the information you are sharing is compelling and relevant.
Review The Learning Accelerator’s Blended Learning Messaging Guide for sample messages targeted to key audiences.
One of the most powerful ways to communicate your key messages is through storytelling. Think about ways to deliver information through visuals, video and vivid language. Using real-life characters (students and teachers) and a compelling plot will translate your messages into an inspiring story that your audiences will remember and respond to.
As you develop your communications strategy, be sure to link the communications timeline--with its milestones, activities and tasks--to the calendar for your blended learning implementation. And start early!
9. Issue Spotting
Try to spot issues that may be of concern to your stakeholders ahead of time. Blended learning initiatives can cause apprehension for certain audiences; districts should continually survey the landscape and be prepared to address emerging fears or misunderstandings.
10. Success Metrics
Determine if your communications efforts are succeeding, based on the goals you set in your strategy in Step 2 above. If parent or community awareness is an objective, consider doing a survey at the beginning of your roll-out and periodically thereafter to gauge effectiveness. Similarly, a teacher “listening tour” at the beginning and mid-way points of your implementation efforts can highlight communications successes or problems.