Barbecue, boot stompin’, and beautiful weather: It was a solid combination for communications and school PR professionals as TSPRA (Texas School PR Association)’s annual conference came to a close February 23rd in Fort Worth. An event quite unlike any other, the group played host to an active and growing NSPRA (National School PR Association) chapter of diverse and experienced professionals from across the state. With discourse surrounding so many aspects of communications, members embraced the diversity in their experiences and focused on what it means to build authentic school communities. In true TSPRA fashion, presenters and attendees leaned in, centering on authenticity, experience, and innovation to offer practical insights and takeaways. ICYMI (in case you missed it): Here’s a recap from our time in Texas.
The Power of Authentic Storytelling
Never has authentic storytelling been more important for schools and school communities. When schools get it right, teacher and student experiences come to life in incredibly powerful ways. Discussions at TSPRA’s annual conference gave members actionable ideas and new ways to think about student voice, student experiences, and highlighting powerful moments and impact.
Session leaders approached storytelling from various angles. The event hosted CALSPRA’s Executive Director, Trinette Marquis, APR, who took an analytical approach, hitting on the power and importance of using data to guide communications and decision making. Others focused on engagement, including #SocialSchool4EDU’s Andrea Gribble–social media guru and recognized thought leader. Andrea’s session focused on highlighting the good and provided best practices for rethinking social content, empowering others to capture it, and boosting community engagement. Meanwhile, other PR professionals and thought leaders led timely conversations around reaching and partnering with school community members from various cultural backgrounds. Still others highlighted the importance of reigniting your audiences by re-engaging those who tune out or miss out on information for one reason or another.
TSPRA Top Moment #5 - Pre-Conference Sessions!— TSPRA (@tspra) February 28, 2023
We had over 180 TSPRA members show up a day early to learn from some of the top presenters out there! With topics ranging from bond elections to video production, there was something for everyone! pic.twitter.com/UcdFIK4AXD
A number of sessions highlighted visual media and how it resonates with school communities who consume it across social and digital platforms. CESO (Center for Effective School Operations)’s Justin Dearing hosted a particularly insightful show-and-tell session, inviting attendees to share experiences with workflows, equipment, and capturing content. A team from Coppell ISD (a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb) also shared insights on shifting out of crisis mode to focus on the massively positive and impactful stories happening in our schools and districts.
At the same time, many sessions broached heavy but important issues with a careful eye toward authenticity, experience, and innovation. The event’s general session panel was devoted to a rich discussion of school safety. TSPRA’s Dr. Celina Bley of the Texas School Safety Center hosted an impressive cohort of school safety professionals for a memorable and timely discussion. From threat assessments to media relations, and from training for emergency operations plans to leading and facilitating restorative practices, the panel dug deep to share their diverse perspectives on what it means to keep students and staff safe.
The Impact of Engaged School Communities
Many presenters shared their experiences in ways that tied the importance of day-to-day storytelling back to broader issues like crisis management, competitive enrollment environments, and bond issues. In doing so, the focus turned to engagement and the many ways in which stakeholders across school communities can (and should) engage their audiences.
Not surprisingly, social media plays a central role for many Texas schools and districts. NSPRA’s Melissa McConnell teamed up with Andrea Gribble to acknowledge the challenges school social media managers face as social channels and audience expectations evolve rapidly. The two even addressed some of the current events at Twitter and their impact.
Had a rip-roaring time at the @tspra 2023 Annual Conference! Still floored by the BIG support, leadership, and dedication these professionals bring to the table. We're honored to back their mission of connecting Texas schools with their communities!#TSPRA23 #trailblazingtogether pic.twitter.com/b4vZyXQ5ko— Class Intercom (@classintercom) March 1, 2023
Crandall ISD’s Communications Coordinator Courtnie Nix took a different approach to engagement, challenging attendees to think differently about how content is collected and shared. Her session acknowledged the challenge of trying to be everywhere at once and encouraged attendees to recruit a team of content creators, rather than attempting to share diverse and meaningful stories across multiple clubs, classrooms, groups, and even buildings single-handedly. Courtnie highlighted the importance of technology, and ways that communications professionals can leverage it to introduce innovative programs that not only empower students and staff to capture compelling content, but provide them an easy and secure way to do it.
“Crandall’s approach to authenticity in its storytelling across social media has been so inspiring to watch,” noted Class Intercom President Dr. Jill Johnson. “The team has excelled at drawing out these really relatable and inspiring moments that extend beyond the classroom–a picture of an elementary school principal in the tunnel on the playground; kids reading with their teachers–just these really great moments the community loves,” she adds, noting the power of an engaged community. “It’s not just about engagement, but investment. When the community is inspired by the moments happening in schools, their investment in teachers, programs, and districts as a whole grows tenfold.” Dr. Jill followed up with practical tips that help schools capture these moments in a roundtable session on social media and storytelling.
Leaning in & Coming Together
Amid a tumultuous political landscape, the ongoing challenges of crisis management, a competitive enrollment environment, bond issues, and a national teacher shortage—suffice to say, the role of school PR professionals is a challenging one. Beyond its professional development opportunities, the annual conference gives these unique leaders a place to convene. In doing so, it serves as an important reminder that we’re all in this together.
“It’s hard to overstate just how committed the state’s school PR and communications professionals are to their schools and students,” says Dr. Jill, noting that it wasn’t uncommon to see conference attendees fielding urgent phone calls and managing high-stakes situations between meetings and sessions. “The role they play in the education sector is an incredibly important one for so many reasons—not the least of which is that they have the unique and challenging responsibility of bringing school experiences to life and are so committed to representing the complex and multifaceted communities they lead.”
TSPRA Top Moment #1 - YOU!— TSPRA (@tspra) March 4, 2023
No matter if this was your first TSPRA or your 31st, this year felt different as we all learned and networked together. To our 200 first-time attendees, thank you for being an active part of this association! TSPRA is better with everyone together! pic.twitter.com/Tfi8WJB94s
Another Great Year
A special thanks to our friends at TSPRA for another great event! We’re honored to know and serve you and your schools, and are already looking forward to next year.
If you missed us at TSPRA but want to get in touch, drop us a line!