November/December 2019

10 Simple Tips for Telling Your District’s Story

Practical PR: by Natalie Symonds

If you don’t share your school district’s story someone else will. The idea of being responsible for the story of the school district can be daunting and sometimes even downright intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Sharing your story can be a simple, fun, and social way to let others know about the wonderful things happening in your buildings day-to-day. Here are 10 tips for sharing your school district’s story.
10 Figure out your “why”. This is something school public relations folks do daily. Why is this important to the community? Why does this story need to be told? Why did you want to become a board member? This practice will help clear your mind and make the idea of sharing your district’s story more manageable.
9 Set up a separate social media account solely for your work as a school board member in your district. Here you’ll be able to share photos from events, updates, and other information vital to your school district and gain a following with a shared interest and other board members nationwide. Being a part of a wider community helps: The #SchoolPR community on social media has helped me develop professional relationships and be a better member of the school public relations community. 
8 Tag your post. Use a hashtag (#) to let other people in the field see your post. Does your district, and do your schools, have a hashtag? Use it! If not, suggest one. In the wider community, use #SchoolBoard to see what others in your field are doing and sharing via social media, and if you ever have questions about communications, try #SchoolPR.
7 Show Up. In the movie Hardball, Keanu Reeves’ character tells the at-risk kids he is mentoring “One of the most important things in life is showing up.” That always stuck with me and rings true in my school PR role today. It’s important to show up for your school district and not just for meetings and workshops. Be there for community events, winter concerts, and PTA nights to show your support for your district. This is something I feel our school board at Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123 does so well: Our members support any event going on in the district, they are helping out, listening to community members, and making the faculty and staff feel supported. 
6 Find your district’s influencers. Is there a local politician that has children in your district? What about a PTA parent that other parents gravitate toward? Every district has those micro-influencers that have a large audience within the community, both at school events and online. They will willingly help to share your district’s story. Recently, the Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123 board approved a new strategic plan. To introduce the plan, I produced a video; some of the first people I contacted to be a part of the story were those community members I knew were actively involved in the process and are leaders in our district. 
5 Show what sets your school district apart from others. Are you piloting a new program? Do you have a student who has gone above and beyond? Make sure to profile them in some way. Celebrate them at a board meeting during announcements, congratulate them via social media, or simply thank them the next time you see them in the neighborhood. 
4 Connect with people on an emotional level. There is nothing more important to a parent than their child, so let your community know what your district is doing to ensure these children are ready to succeed in their future. Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123 principals share “Good News Calls” when a student does something, like acting out of the kindness in their heart without being asked, or celebrating a newly formed STEM club that successfully built an underwater robot.
3 Local reporters are always looking for stories. Invite them to your events, and if they can’t make it send the information they would need to produce a story. I regularly touch base with our local reporters and let them know about big events going in the district (examples include a St. Baldrick’s event and World Vision 6k). Typically media members will come out, but for smaller events I take pictures and send all of the information to the reporters. The story can still be told through the traditional medium but we are respectful of the reporter’s time. 

2 Be a resource. One of the best ways to share the story of your district is to be a voice for the district. Be a positive resource for people who need information. People might forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel. Make people inside and outside of your district feel included and welcomed. If someone has a question about when registration is, give them the info and more. You never want someone to have a negative interaction or perception because at the end of the day perception is reality. 
No story is too small. Celebrating smaller victories within the larger organization shows your community that no feat is too small. I love searching our district hashtag on Twitter or visiting a school and hearing stories that “Katie learned to tie their shoes today,” or “This student was recognized for her Reflections entry,” or “Did you hear this teacher is presenting at this conference?”  It’s so important for the culture of your district to celebrate the people that make a difference within it every day.
Natalie Symonds is communications specialist for Oak Lawn-Hometown SD 123.