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Takeaways from The Big Easy #NSPRA2021

group of people sitting on an inflatable coach in the middle of the street

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) Conference in New Orleans, N’awlins to locals, birthplace of jazz, The Big Easy. After 30 years of attending educational conferences as a learner,  this was my first as a vendor; admittedly, I was a bit nervous and although I wasn’t there to learn, that is exactly what I did. 

Toot Your Own Horn 

Parades are generally held for their own sake allowing people to toot their own horn, so to speak,  and in New Orleans you can join in the fun becoming part of the second line. Educators tend to be part of the second line. They quietly slip into celebrations cheering on the accomplishments of their students, not wanting to take any credit for themselves. Their stories often go untold, their accomplishments uncelebrated. 

crowd of people in a street in new orleans

This week, I learned that School Public Relations Professionals understand the importance of telling the stories of these great teachers and their students. They understand that schools need to market themselves. They know if schools don’t tell their own story, someone else will. 

Interestingly, even though almost every school district has “communication” as part of their school improvement plan, only a small percentage have a line item for marketing expenses in their budget. Monies for merchandise, posters, camera/video equipment, or a social media management platform, typically come from other lines in the budget such as “office supplies” or “technology” or “extras.”

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the need for schools to tell their own story. Education is not the same as it was when I was in high school 30 years ago; conversely,  all those people who went to high school 30 years ago (or 20 or 10), don’t know this. Here’s the deal: we don’t need to wait for another pandemic or other crisis to start sharing our success stories. Share the great stories happening in your schools every day! Start showing and telling those stories today! Communicate, market, relate to the public. I don’t care what you call it, just do it. Toot your own horn!

Learn from the Scary Stuff 

Supposedly, New Orleans is one of the most haunted cities in the United States, and I love taking ghost tours when I visit a new city. The guides are always unique characters and offer interesting insight into their city as well as notable historical information. I took the undoctored picture below in a ballroom in the Hotel Monteleone. Although several in my group were freaked out by the blurred image of what could be the ghost of a young boy, after this year, nothing really spooks me or most other school personnel for that matter. 

dark and spooky looking room

What I do find frightening is the lack of importance placed on having a designated public relations specialist or department in one’s school system. The line item in the budget noted above should include financial support for the person in your district designated to create, implement, and oversee the communication plan. “What communication plan?” you may ask. Exactly. Figure out who this person is and hire them. I met people this week with backgrounds in television, newspaper, and education. All are storytellers who care not only about getting the story, but also about the people living that story. 

Revel on a Daily Basis

Did you know a krewe is a group of revelers who band together and participate in social events throughout the year? Me neither, until now. Who makes up the krewe in your district? Who is shouting the loudest? Who is staging the parade? Who is in the front line? 

group of people around an inflatable couch in the middle of the street

Communication is a shared responsibility: one to be taken seriously and one to be celebrated. People are meant to communicate, respond, and engage–especially School Public Relations professionals. The one trait that really struck me about the people I met at NSPRA is that they are open to talking about their struggles and finding solutions. For these few hot, humid days in July, they needed in-person learning, in-person beignets, and in-person shenanigans. Although attendees left the NSPRA conference exhausted, they were also renewed and full of ideas to take home and enhance their work.

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Author: Jill Johnson, EdD

Over her 30 year career in education, Dr. Jill has served in various roles including secondary ELA teacher, professional development consultant, and high school administrator. After completing her doctoral study, Technology Leadership Qualities in Secondary Principals in Nebraska who Support Student-led Social Media Teams, Jill began her tenure as Class Intercom President.

Jill can be contacted at jill@classintercom.com

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